New carbon-fiber teaser suggests a return to performance luxury.
The Hispano Suiza Carmen Boulogne is a run of five 1100 horsepower luxury EVs
Last year, one of the surprises of the Geneva Motor Show was the return of the Hispano Suiza brand, a new Barcelona-based EV venture headed by the Suqué Mateu family. The connection? Four generations ago, it was Damián Mateu and a group of other Spanish businessmen who helped Swiss engineer Marc Birkigt get out of a previous bankruptcy and start Hispano-Suiza.
The name literally translates to “Spanish-Swiss”, and between 1904 and 1938, the company produced over 12,000 luxury cars, along with a wide range of aero engines. Before and between the two wars, Hispano-Suiza-engined prototypes and sports cars were also a popular choice among gentlemen racers, while the firm’s bigger road cars landed with members of high society as prestigious daily drivers. Even the King of Spain, famously, drove a Hispano Suiza—the 64-horsepower Alfonso XIII model introduced in 1912.
Today, SEAT wouldn’t be Spain’s national automaker if it wasn’t for Hispano-Suiza. In 1940, Hispano-Suiza, a bank, and several Spanish industrial companies set up “Sociedad Ibérica de Automóviles de Turismo” (S.I.A.T.), the company that later became SEAT. After WW2, what was left of Hispano-Suiza’s once racing-focused luxury brand was soon turned into a contractor for the aviation industry, a business which then transformed into a bigger player in the defense segment.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and Hispano Suiza (no hyphen this time) is back in the automotive sector as a limited-series EV maker based in Barcelona, starting off with last year’s 1005-horsepower Carmen. Named after the mother of Hispano Suiza’s current president Miguel Suqué Mateu, this car, the company’s modern interpretation of the art-deco masterpiece 1938 Hispano Suiza H6C Dubonnet Xenia, is limited to just 19 units.
Now, two years before production is set to begin on the Carmen, Hispano Suiza came up with a sportier alternative called the Carmen Boulogne. With 1100 horsepower and 1180 lb-ft of torque, the Boulogne is 132 pounds lighter, and it boasts exposed rear wheels in the name of spirited cornering.
With this much electric juice, clever torque vectoring, and traction control software, Hispano Suiza claims a zero-to-sixty run in 2.6 seconds. That’s a seriously impressive acceleration figure for a rear-wheel drive car, and the company says top speed is limited to 155 mph. Out of the 19 Carmens planned for production, only five will be Carmen Boulognes, ready to remind onlookers of all that noted pre-war racing legacy.
To learn more about the brand’s ambitions, I sat down with members of the Hispano Suiza team in Barcelona for a discussion. They assured me that since last year’s Geneva Show, the silver Carmen prototype went through a complete transformation. As a result of the company’s continued development efforts, almost every component on the car has been upgraded or redesigned so that production Carmens can truly deliver both the speed and comfort they advertise.
For both models, an interesting feature is that the Hispano Suiza Carmen is the first production car with carbon-fiber crash structures as well as subframes, which are connected to a carbon monocoque weighing just 430 pounds. Hispano Suiza says that only a battery-electric car can have such composite structures, thanks to the lack of heat that would otherwise destroy the bushings and other rubber components needed to counter the rigid carbon’s vibrations.
On top of the more powerful 410-kW permanent magnet synchronous motors that are now supplied QEV Technologies, the Boulogne cut 132 pounds from the Carmen’s weight by having an optimized double wishbone suspension, chassis lay-up tweaks, a full carbon-fiber body including the roof, and plenty of CNC-machined metal parts.
The result is a target weight of 3593 pounds, with composites used for electric insulation as well. Inside the cabin, the Boulogne features suede and Alcantara surfaces instead of the Carmen’s wooden finish, or any of bit of trim that feels like it could have come from 1938. Exposed carbon fiber, improved ergonomics, and the promise of an ultra-fast gran turismo with an upgradeable range of 250 miles—that’s a Hispano Suiza for the 2020s.
What’s undeniable is that these two-seater performance EVs are different from the Rimac C_Twos, Pininfarina Battistas, Lotus Evijas and Aspark Owls of the world. Hispano Suiza says that after its 19 Carmens are gone, other models will follow. Will they all be luxury cars running on 305-wide Pirelli Trofeo R tires? Only time will tell.