Last month we asked for your questions and put them to our founder and CEO, Christian von Koenigsegg. This is the 3rd set of questions to be answered.
Part 1 addressed some general questions looking at why Koenigsegg focus more on handling than top speed, whether we’ll make mass-market cars and Christian’s vision for what might have happened with Saab back in 2009.
Part 2 dealt with the early years of Christian’s vision to make cars and the beginnings of Koenigsegg as a car company.
This is part 3, addressing questions about Racing and Technology.
Are you going to enter any form of motorsport since your try with the CCGT in Le Mans?
CvK: We had the perfect opportunity to go racing during the GT1 era. The GT1 category was for our type of car. We built one – the CCGT – and we were very happy with it. We would have had a great shot at being very competitive with that car. It performed really, really well in our initial testing.
As soon as we got into testing, however, the powers-that-be decided that you had to produce 350 cars per year to be allowed to enter. Then they shut down the GT1 category completely one or two years later. So we were never able to enter at all.
The highest categories in GT racing right now are GT3 and GTE, as far as I’m aware. These categories are governed by a regime called ‘balance of performance’. Even if we were allowed to enter with our low production numbers, I’m not sure it would be interesting to us. Under this ‘balance of performance’ regime, all the cars are gathered together by the organizers and taken to a test track at the beginning of the year. They drive laps with equipment inside the car and make adjustments so that they all lap with similar times. They might add ballast to the car, for example, or restrict the engine.
So, what does a regime like that mean for us?
Anyone who bought a Koenigsegg race car would pay triple the price of, say, a Ferrari 458 or Porsche 991 GT3 and they would be no faster, thanks to this ‘balance of performance’ regime. They would potentially be beaten by a comparatively inexpensive car and if they crash, they would have much more expensive repair bills than in the other cars. That’s not good for buyers and ultimately, it’s not good for us, either. We work hard to build performance advantages into our cars. Why expose them to an environment where those advantages are deliberately taken away?
I love racing. I would love for Koenigsegg cars to go racing, but it has to make sense. This just doesn’t make sense.
The other thing we could do, or course, is start up our own racing series. That’s been done before by Porsche, Maserati, Lamborghini, Ferrari and others. But, to me, that’s not very interesting, either. On one hand, you’ll always win! But it doesn’t show the competitiveness of the cars.
Steven Wade (moderator)
Are there any special categories in races such as Le Mans that we could enter?
CvK: We could, maybe, have a chance with the Regera but it would be outside any of the main categories. We would have to try and enter it as an ‘experimental car’, which they have provisions for.
If we’re outside of the main categories and we’re successful, the result isn’t officially recorded, so that limits the appeal. It basically becomes a big marketing exercise, but it could still be a good thing in terms of proving the technology.
I don’t know whether they would accept the Regera as an ‘experimental car’ or not. We’re putting it into production so is it still experimental? On the other hand, it’s a whole new way of building a drivetrain and other manufacturers would consider something like this to be ‘experimental’, I’m sure. I haven’t checked if we could do it or not and realistically, we would need a racing team to take this on with our cars.
Is it true that some Koenigsegg engine blocks are made by Ford Racing?
CvK: OK, the Ford connection. I’ve had this question a few times over the years.
In the beginning, we were going to use an engine from Audi, but Volkswagen wouldn’t let us tune it. Then we were going to use a flat-12 engine from Carlo Chiti (Motori Moderni) but he passed away and the company went bankrupt. We were a brand new company and for the third time in a very short period, we found ourselves looking for an engine supplier (see part 2 for the Audi and Chiti stories).
A supercharger company I dealt with put me on to a company in the US. This company would take a Ford V8 engine, tune it for more power and in such a way that we should have been able to get the car homologated for sale. So we bought an engine from them and put it into our prototype car. Sadly for us, it turned out the engine was designed for race fuel, with very high compression, race cams etc. The engine blew the piston rings, head gasket etc. Somehow they did not have the same understanding of regular fuel and road compliance as we did.
So once again, we were facing an unsuitable engine solution but this time we had to find a way to make it work. To change engines completely all over again for a fourth time was not an option. We had to adapt. So we started looking into the engine, asking ourselves OK, what’s wrong with this?
It had flat pistons. The compression ratio was 11.5:1. It had over 1 bar of pressure from the supercharger. That wasn’t going to fly.
So we started changing things to make it run the way we had hoped it would – with emissions compliance, fuel tolerance, driveability etc. We bought just the Ford parts we needed. We chose and/or created our own rotational parts specifications when it came to connecting rods, pistons, piston rings and bearings. We modified the ECU (and before production changed it again all together). We put another compressor on the engine. We installed our own air filter system, exhaust, flywheel, clutch, drysump system (that is also a part of our chassis) and intercooler system. We also took our first patent when I came up with the ‘Rocket’ catalytic converter that created a natural overflow over the pre-cat to reduce back-pressure at high RPM. This gave over 150hp extra compared to previously known and homologated solutions.
We had to get the blocks re-bored to meet our tolerances. We basically started drawing our own stuff, sourcing our own stuff and building the engines from scratch here at the factory. Some people thought that we just bought crate engines from Ford and put them in the car. That never happened. It was modified Ford parts, together with our own parts in those earliest engines.
We ended up building the engines they way they were supposed to be from the beginning i.e. what we needed them to be in order to reach our goals. It was a crash-course, learning everything we needed to know about engines and combustion principles in a relatively short time. We had no choice. We had to make it work. Basically we became engine experts and engine builders in 2 years’ time, in parallel to developing the car.
The end result? We received the Guinness World Record for the most powerful, homologated production car engine in the world with 655 hp when we started production in 2002. This made all the effort worthwhile and helped to kickstart our business.
With this positive experience fresh in our minds, we went on to break our own Guinness Record in 2004 with the twin-supercharged, 806hp CCR engine before any other manufacturer had a chance to react. To complement the unique Rocket catalytic converter, I came up with an idea to get rid of the blow-by valve by adding an extra set of throttles on the intake side of the superchargers. We also received a patent for this and our owners got better response, less noise and better mileage as a result.
We eventually noticed some limitations on the block design. The first blocks we got were really, really strong. They were cast at a foundry in Italy, one that also made blocks for Ferrari. Ford might have thought they were too expensive, though, because later blocks were cast elsewhere and while they looked really nice, they weren’t as good under load as the Italian ones. They were not going to be suitable for us for the future because we knew we’d be running more and more power through them.
From 2006 onwards we have been using a bespoke and unique engine block that is specifically cast for us and machined according to our exact dimensions and drawings. The first car to receive this amazing block was the 2006 CCX. The engine block is cast by Granger and Worrell in England, who also cast engine blocks for Bugatti and some Formula 1 teams. The block is truly unique and compared to the Ford block it’s got much thicker walls for stiffness and strength. It’s got massive cooling channels, increased oil flow, stiffer bearing mounts, thicker deck etc etc.
I would say that when we did the CCX we used 75% or 80% of our own parts and the rest was standard parts from other engines. Now, I would say we have 95% our own part designs. In my mind I think you’re allowed to say it’s your own engine when it’s at least 75% unique.
The engine is completely drawn here, it’s now very different from anything from Ford, or any other manufacturer, for that matter. And the best part is that it’s reliably taken us all the way up to 1,400hp – with homologation.
I have never heard Christian himself mention it but he mentions a damn near stalker-like obsession with carbon fibre advances, but I have never seen a peep from him about CNT (Carbon nano-tubes). So have you guys been experimenting with CNT componentry yet, since it’s the thing I have been looking forward to for over a decade as the material has advanced – a CNT bodied car that is mind-bogglingly light?
CvK: Have we experimented with it? Yes.
We have tested it but so far, we haven’t seen a great benefit from it. We’ve made some sample parts and tested them but we really haven’t seen any great benefit from it yet, in practical terms. We’ll definitely stay on top of what’s happening with it, what could be useful, etc. And it’s not only the carbon fibre but also resins, temperature resistance, things like that that can make a difference. We keep an eye on all of it.
CNT should provide a major benefit, theoretically and logically. We just haven’t seen that benefit yet.
For us, it’s a matter of getting the material right for our needs. We don’t make the source material ourselves. We rely on suppliers to do that. We make things from that source material. So that’s where the challenge rests right now – on the supply side. If technology comes along that has different properties and promises to be more useful for us, then we can change our lay-ups to take advantage of that.
Have you ever considered using a V10 or V12 engine for more power?
CvK: This is a question that comes up quite often.
There’s a certain ‘exclusivity’ associated with V12 engines, maybe even more than Bugatti’s W16, for some reason. People just think V12’s are very exclusive and luxurious. That might be because they sound ‘better’ to some people, some of the time. BUT….
Koenigsegg’s priority is not to be the most exclusive, even if our low numbers mean that we are very exclusive. Our priority is to be the best. And ever since we refined our V8 engine package, trying to be the best has never led me to consider putting a V12 in the car.
A V12 makes the engine much heavier and more complex than what we need in terms of performance and function. We still haven’t seen the limits of what our V8 engine package can do. Our lightweight V8 engine package is an essential part that makes our cars what they are. We have better power than anyone else, regardless of the number of cylinders. We have better low-end torque. And, I would say, better drivability.
So if you ignore the ‘exclusivity’ perspective and just look at the goal of being the best, the answer is “No”. If we were looking for 2500hp from a combustion engine, then it might make sense……
GARY RAYNER ALAINA HORTON
I was wondering if you have ever thought about creating an AWD Koenigsegg to handle even better the brutal power your cars have on tap. Has an AWD model been put off because you feel the car will lose much of its personality and the fine drivers car feel it is known for or is it because in pursuit of the perfect car you feel the AWD system would actually hinder your cars Performance by creating extra weight, possible understeer and generally not performing as well?
CvK: That our car would be rear-wheel-drive was a decision that we made very early in the piece and we’ve taken maximum advantage of that decision.
If you look at our layout in a traditional sense…. we have a mid-engined car. We need a transmission in the centre/rear of the car and so to install four-wheel drive, you would need a prop-shaft going forward. For that, you need a wide centre tunnel. You need to push out the seats for this wider centre tunnel, which then means your mass within the car is not positioned as centrally as you want it. It also means changes for the cockpit area because the windscreen area has to be wider. That increases the frontal area and therefore, wind resistance. Not many people realize that the decision between two-wheel-drive and four-wheel drive can have such an impact on the aerodynamics and the driving dynamics of the car.
So we took a deliberate decision very early to not have four-wheel drive. When we looked at cars like Lamborghini, for example, the basic version was rear-wheel drive, the middle version was four-wheel drive and the top version, the SV, was rear-wheel drive. And it was faster around a race track than the four-wheel drive version because it was lighter. Porsche does the same thing with its 911 range.
Basically, we are doing exactly what other manufacturers do, except that we only build the ‘top’ model. We don’t have ‘lesser’ models in our range.
Those comparisons are for dry conditions, which is what our car (and others) are optimized for when it comes to track driving and lap times. We have great traction control systems and suspension systems to keep the car stable in the wet, but we acknowledge that we would never beat a good four-wheel drive car in the wet. By the same token, though, no four-wheel drive car would beat one of our cars in the dry.
Making the car RWD also allowed us to make a really compact front end; we were able to make it low and yet still get the roof in. We designed our original car with Le Mans GT1 regulations in mind – 2 meters wide, which is still the regulation for width. The cockpit area has to be at least 70% of the width of the car, which we just meet. We had to push our seats together to get that, which means there’s no way we could have that centre tunnel anyway.
The other aspect of four wheel drive is that it also means front-wheel-drive, which means torque-steer. You can avoid the torque-steer if needed, but that means you get a more numb steering feel. So you have to choose where you want to be on a scale of numb-to-torque-steer when it comes to steering feel. That’s not a nice to choice to have to make. With no front-wheel-drive involved at all you can develop fantastic steering feel, which is very important for a sports car.
Of course, nowadays you can have electric front-wheel-drive, such as in the Porsche 918. That’s a different thing. If we were to do this on our cars, it would have to be via hub motors. We have a very compact front-end and we still have to get the roof stowed away in the front. The motors would therefore have to be super-small, super-light (to minimise the extra un-sprung mass) but still effective. I don’t think we’re there just yet but I know it will happen and when the right hub motors do become available, then we can look at electric four-wheel-drive.
When will we see a car with the “free valve” technology and can you tell something about how the development is going?
CvK: We converted a Saab 9-5 to run on Freevalve technology at least eight years ago now. So that’s already happened. That car had Generation 3 FreeValve actuators, initially. Right now we are working with Generation 6 actuators.
Generation 3 was pretty basic, but worked well. Generation 4 was better. If we had been desperate, we could have released Generation 4 into production as a first version and it would have worked OK.
Generation 5 made everything smaller, quieter, smoother, which was even better, but we didn’t put a lot of effort into making it easy to install or manufacture in high volumes. We’ve done that with Generation 6. It has the functionality of Generation 5 – with a few very minor improvements – but the difference is that you can put it together quickly, you can install it in a cylinder head quickly and it’s much easier to produce in series.
So FreeValve has been working for a long time. The big change is that it’s now at a point where a manufacturer can design/adapt their engines for it and install it easily.
The biggest change was from Gen 4 to Gen 5, which was about the time we started talking to big OEM’s about it. The OEM’s were quite cautious because it’s a big change to have the valves completely independent from your traditional timing gear. The OEM’s wanted to know exactly where the valve was/is at any given time, so from Gen 4 to Gen 5 we had to develop and install a valve position sensor to give them that information. We knew the FreeValve system was reliable because we’d done plenty of everyday driving and testing with it, but they wanted this position sensor to see exactly what was going on inside the cylinder head at any given time.
We looked for the right sensor for four years. One was too big. Another was good at some things but not at others. This one would over-heat. That one wouldn’t fit. Nothing would work the way we wanted it to.
Then one of our guys figured that we could make our own. We designed it and we did it. It’s turned out to be the cheapest, lightest, most compact, most accurate sensor for positioning a metal object without contact that’s ever been created (as far as we are aware). So now we’ve got a patent for it and it’s in the Gen 6 actuator. Really great stuff.
It’s the world’s first directly digital position sensor without analog conversion … ever (again, as far as we are aware). That’s quite unique. The processor asks a digital question and gets a digital answer from the metal object with no analog conversion in-between. We can measure the position 100,000 times per second with one-tenth of a millimeter accuracy and that’s with the processor we’re using now. If we use a faster processor, we will get more and faster measurements per second. The sensor also consumes a factor of 100 times less energy compared to other ‘power-up’ sensors.
So, from my perspective, all of that functionality, combined with the production advantages of Generation 6 means that the use of Freevalve in the car industry is now….. imminent.
Emissions regulations are getting tougher to meet all the time. Some OEM’s are telling us that by 2020, apart from going fully electric, they don’t see any alternative solution that will allow them to meet regulations, aside from something like this.
NOTE: FreeValve technology has been developed by FreeValve AB, a “sister” company to Koenigsegg. Engines equipped with FreeValves will have no camshaft and the valves will be operated by FreeValve actuators. Christian likens the system to one that enables engine tuners to play beautiful music with the valves, likes keys on a piano, where before they could only hit the piano keys with a broomstick (the camshaft), operating all keys/valves without finesse. Now they will be able to tailor the movement of every valve independently.
If you take a modern, optimized two-litre engine, it would probably have turbocharging, direct injection, high compression, etc, and can produce a reliable 300hp. With the application of FreeValve technology to such an engine, we can lower the emissions by between 20% to 50%, depending on spec. At the same time the FreeValves will create more torque, more top end power and reduce consumption, while the engine becomes smaller and lighter in the process – a no brainer, really.
The engine becomes much smaller and lighter because the manufacturer can remove the camshaft and all the associated gear. The engine can be shorter because you don’t have any cam drive. Thereby engine bay size can be reduced. This new found space can be used for increasing safety and/or interior space. Effectively, the whole car can be re-designed around the space and weight savings made by using the FreeValve system.
You can get a LOT more bottom-end torque because you can run the valves similarly to a low revving and torque-rich truck engine. It is also possible to open the intake valves “late” to get a charge from an under-pressure piston that’s going downwards. This way it is possible to get up to 0.2 bar supercharging but with no supercharger. These are just examples. The list of opportunities when it comes to new ways of combusting the fuel and air mixtures are almost endless.
With the help of FreeValves it is actually possible to remove a gear from the transmission and still get the same kind of performance you were getting before implementing FreeValve, thereby saving the space, weight and cost of one gear. Or you can keep all the gears and get more performance.
Another interesting thing…. direct injection is not turning out to be the blessing it was first thought to be. Basically, there are some non-combusted, potentially carcinogenic, nano-particles coming out of the exhaust system and while car manufacturers aren’t penalized for these pollutants yet, they most likely will be in the future. With our FreeValve system, there is no need for direct injection any more. Regular port injection will do the same job because we can optimize so many other facets of the combustion cycle. It will burn much cleaner. Doing away with direct injection is going to save manufacturers a lot of money as it’s a very expensive piece of technology.
It even seems likely that we can remove the pre-cat due to the clean cold-start characteristics of the FreeValve system. This reduces back pressure, engine packaging volume and around 50 euro of the BOM cost.
Given all the above – a 3-cylinder 1.5 litre engine will have similar torque and power as a direct injected camshaft 4-cylinder two-litre engine. However it will be much smaller, lighter, leaner, cleaner and cheaper to build.
Will there ever be another manual Koenigsegg?
CvK: …….. [Long pause]……
I don’t know. I really enjoy driving our manual cars. We had a great manual gearbox. The clutch was progressive rather than being heavy. The shift was very direct. It’s nice and it’s a lot of fun. If we get enough demand for it, we might do it.
It’s not as efficient. It’s not as fast around a racetrack. But it’s very engaging and it’s fun.
We’ve said “No” to customers who wanted a manual gearbox in their Agera RS. The biggest headache is that the gearbox would only be six-speed and it would have to be reinforced for the power levels we are at now.