You won’t believe it but a lot of people still think Rapide E is a concept,” says John Caress, Vehicle Line Director for Rapide E at Aston Martin Lagonda. “But we’re actually doing it — we’re out of the test tube now and into real life and excited by the challenge. The programme is a reality.” Back in early 2015, the historic British carmaker first revealed plans to launch something revolutionary, something even the biggest marques in the world were still trying to get their heads around — an electric car. Aston Martin’s answer would take the form of the RapidE, a concept car based on the four-door Rapide S, which demonstrated Aston Martin’s appetite to make the world’s first super-luxury electric vehicle (EV). Just three and a half years on, the resulting production Rapide E sparks into life as deliveries begin later this year, defining a path for the 106-year-old marque as it hurtles into a zero-emissions, battery-powered future.
Instigated by Aston Martin’s CEO Dr Andy Palmer, the ambitious project started to take shape just months after he arrived in 2014. Palmer was able to call on his long experience at Nissan, particularly the development of the all-electric Nissan Leaf. “We needed to find a long-term solution to reduce emissions and Rapide E is the start of that zero-emission pathway,” says Caress. By mid-2015, an early all-electric prototype car based on the existing Rapide was ready to drive. “It was a success. It made perfect sense for it to be based on the Rapide — it was almost serene in its nature,” he remembers. But it wasn’t until October 2015 that Aston Martin finally revealed its revolutionary thinking to the world, pulling the covers off a fully-formed concept during a visit by the Chinese President Xi Jinping to London.
“It was our own little step, but a huge step not only organisationally, but also in terms of skills, processes and facilities, too,” recalls Caress. “People internally were apprehensive to start with as it was nothing like we had ever done before, but the team soon embraced this pioneering project. It was like a mission to Mars — first you have to get to the moon.” While creating the world’s first super-luxury electric vehicle is no small order, the Rapide E is the first of many steps for the marque as it embarks on the larger task of introducing electrification to its entire fleet. Palmer confirmed this commitment at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2018 when the reborn Lagonda brand was heralded by the futuristic Lagonda Vision Concept. “All our cars will have some form of electrification by the mid 2020s,” insists Caress.
When the Rapide E launches later this year, it will have the highest torque of any Aston Martin ever created — 950Nm, to be precise. “In terms of a performance feel, we’re dialling it up. The real-world performance of this car won’t be far off a DBS Superleggera,” says Caress. Using the race-ready Rapide AMR as a foundation, Aston Martin’s team applied a healthy dose of carbon and aluminium to cut down the Rapide E’s weight.
Rapide E is showcasing our vision, desire and capability to successfully embrace and prepare for the radical change that’s already here
Sports performance is just one side of the coin. For more than a century, Aston Martin has gained a reputation for creating some of the most iconic GT cars. From the timeless beauty of Bond’s DB5 to its current line-up, Aston Martin’s bloodline of GT cars is the foundation of its being. “We’re finding new challenges every day. It’s a voyage of discovery,” says Caress. One of the biggest challenges, he admits, was finding out how to maximise the range and usability, while still keeping true to Aston Martin’s high-performance principals. “We embarked on an aerodynamic optimisation programme to reduce drag — it was like Olympic training to get those important marginal gains,” explains Caress, detailing how the team of engineers painstakingly squeezed out every possible mile from the Rapide E’s 800V battery to achieve a 200-mile range under the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP). On top of that, Aston Martin’s pioneering EV boasts a projected top speed of 155mph and a sub-four-second 0-60mph time, killing off any speculation of performance being sacrificed for sustainability credentials.
With an influx of EVs due later this year and next, the Rapide E will soon be joined by more battery-powered competitors. But when the project started out in 2015, EVs were thin on the ground in Aston Martin’s home markets of the UK and Europe. “People defaulted to Tesla because it was the highest quality they could get,” says Caress. “I’m sure if there was an equivalent electric Aston Martin at that time, the first adopters would have chosen this kind of luxury product instead.”
Some 5,000 miles east of Aston Martin’s Gaydon headquarters, the EV market is in rude health. China, home to the world’s largest such market, is awash with brands making battery-powered vehicles for the mass market, but “the high luxury EV market simply doesn’t exist yet”, insists Michael Peng, President of Aston Martin China. In 2018 alone, the Asian powerhouse shifted just short of a million electric cars compared to just over 60,000 in the UK. With few competitors, if any, Rapide E will lay the foundations for the super-luxury electric car market all over the world, but perhaps most notably in China.
“Authentic British luxury products, especially cars with a GT bloodline, are well perceived by Chinese customers,” says Peng. “Bringing Rapide E to China will demonstrate Aston Martin Lagonda’s vision for electric vehicles, create credibility for our future models as well as help us create a more sustainable future,” says Peng. With some of the most polluted cities in the world, the Rapide E will no doubt be a welcome arrival in China.
“Rapide E is showcasing our vision, desire and capability to successfully embrace and prepare for the radical change that’s already here,” says Caress. “We have to develop a new kind of car to meet current consumer requirements, but also to appeal to our future customers.” With Aston Martin’s “home of electrification” already established in St Athan, Wales, and a fully-functioning collaboration with Williams Advanced Engineering, the Rapide E is a homegrown success story, set to send shockwaves through a rapidly evolving global automotive industry.
From the early days of pre-war specials to the age of the mighty V12-engined Aston Martins, the Rapide E is the beginning of another radical new chapter for the much-loved marque: the dawn of Aston Martin’s second century as a new generation of sustainable, super-luxury sports cars.