• Wed. Apr 28th, 2021

Automobile Magazine – UK


Electric cars on the Olympic mountain…


Aug 17, 2020

28 years ago, in the middle of August 1992, an electric car drove ahead of the Marathon event at the Barcelona Olympic Games, a SEAT Toledo that was specially developed for that historic occasion. But the milestone has a much greater significance – it shows the depth of the historical roots of SEAT’s electric ambitions. An offensive that today includes the SEAT Mii electric, the hybrid versions of the SEAT Leon and the SEAT Tarraco, as well as the CUPRA Leon eHybrid, the future CUPRA Formentor and the CUPRA el-Born, which will be 100% electric. In fact, the company has announced investments worth 5 billion euros over the next five years with electrification as its main focus.

Today, we bring together SEAT’s current electric model, the Mii electric, with an Olympic model that pointed to sustainability almost three decades ago when its challenge was to lead the way in the 42-kilometre marathon with an urban-cycle range of only 55 kilometres.

A bit of background. SEAT’s first electric car came into the world in 1992. Marathon regulations state that the vehicle leading the runners has to be zero emissions. So SEAT took advantage of its recently launched Toledo to develop an all-electric version and got it ready in just over three months. For Thomas Kurz, the group’s engineer who participated in the Toledo’s conversion to electric, it was quite an achievement: “At that time, making an electric car was completely new, so it was very exciting. It was such a novelty that when we finished it we had to register it first in Germany, because we didn’t know how to register an electric car in Spain.”

One versus six marathons. The main goal was to ensure that its 500 kg battery had enough energy to last the entire marathon, just over 42 kilometres in total. And it was achieved. “Back then, there was no talk of the electric car as a consumer item. The weight of its batteries, the low power output and reduced range didn’t make it viable as a standard car. It had just enough range for the marathon, taking into account that there were steep climbs that made the electric Toledo consume more” explains Thomas.

By contrast, the SEAT Mii’s 250 kg battery has enough power for six marathons, as it has a range of 260 km. “Electric cars consume less in the city and recover energy when braking, which is why the Mii electric has a range of up to 260 km in a combined cycle, and up to 360 km with 100% use in the city,” says Santi Castellá, the head of Electromobility at SEAT.

Hardly any modifications to the bodywork. The two models have one thing in common despite their 28-year age difference: the few modifications that were made to their bodywork to adapt them to the electric version. In the case of the Toledo there were hardly any changes: a sort of basin was installed in the boot to house the battery, and the brakes had an oversized drum to compensate for the weight of the car when braking. “When we passed the MOT inspection, we had to prove that it could go at 50 km/h and that it could come to a stop over a specific distance from that speed” says Thomas. In the case of the SEAT Mii, its chassis also remained virtually unchanged. Today’s new electric models are designed to fit the shape of the batteries, which lie at the bottom of the vehicle. On the other hand, when converted to electric, the Mii did not undergo any changes to its structure or interior space, since batteries are manufactured specifically for this model.

From 16 to 61 kW of power. Almost three decades ago, 16 kW (22 hp) was more than enough to fulfil its purpose. The electric Toledo had to keep pace with the marathon, which did not exceed 30 km/h. The complicated thing at that time was to test the course to see if the car would reach the finish line at that speed. “We couldn’t test the electric SEAT Toledo on the real course, because we would’ve had to close off streets, drive in the opposite direction… so we tried it out on the test track with the parameters we’d collected with another model. And yes, we tested it and it was successful, both then and a few weeks later at the Paralympics” recalls Thomas.

We drove around the Olympic stadium on the Montjuic mountain with the 61 kW (83 hp) SEAT Mii electric and the electric SEAT Toledo, which has been remodelled and is in perfect running order after being handled by the SEAT Museum’s restoration team led by Isidre López, head of SEAT’s historic car collection. “The electric SEAT Toledo is one of the jewels we have in the museum. Our vehicles are not just exhibition pieces, we want them to work, to retain their essence. We replaced the old lead-gel batteries and updated the electrical system. A great job was done in 1992 and the car works perfectly and nowadays it could do the occasional marathon,” concludes Isidre.

The 1992 electric SEAT Toledo

16 lead-gel batteries

Maximum power output of 16 kW (22 hp)

100 km/h top speed

0 to 70 km/h acceleration in 28 seconds

50 km urban cycle range

The SEAT Mii electric

14 Lithium-ion batteries

Maximum power output of 61 kW (83 hp)

130 km/h top speed

0 to 50 km/h acceleration in 3.9 seconds

260 km range in combined cycle and 360 km in full city use