Historic automaker Hispano Suiza returns ready to sell cars in Canada
I was at the 2019 Geneva Auto Show when Hispano Suiza, a Franco-Spanish automaker who hadn’t released a new car for almost a century, unveiled the Carmen. It was a fully electric hyperlux grand touring that paid homage to the H6B Dubonnet Xenia, one of the most elegant and luxurious vehicles built by Hispano Suisse in 1938. The Carmen takes its name from Miguel SuquÃ© Mateu’s mother, the founder of the company.
A flashy new supercar unveiled at a Swiss motor show is never a surprise. Geneva is known for its flamboyant displays, expensive vehicles and celebrity appearances. Unfortunately, some of these boutique start-ups die at the design stage, fail to become salable products.
But when the Carmen was unveiled, it sat amid a trio of cutting-edge super electric machines alongside the Chinese-made Arcfox GT and GTs. What these cars all had in common was that they were powered by a transmission supplied by QEV Technologies, the Spanish specialist who developed and supplied EV components for road and race applications, with an active presence in Formula E.
In other words, there was some serious performance and viability supporting Carmen’s stunning design. Did Carmen end up working for Hispano Suiza? It turns out that it is. The company even wants to expand its lineup and eventually sell cars here in Canada. We spoke with Sergio Martinez Campos, CEO of Hispano Suiza, to get a glimpse of the company’s aspirations.
When exclusivity works in your favor
Obviously, Hispano Suiza doesn’t expect to outperform the sales of major automakers, or even niche supercar makers in its first few years back in business, but that’s also the goal. Only 25 Carmens will be handcrafted in Spain thanks to the Dream One customization program organized by the company. Six such examples are the even more exclusive Carmen Boulogne, a lighter, faster and even more performance-oriented variant.
It takes between six and nine months for a Carmen to be built depending on the type of customization the client requests. This limited production attitude gives Hispano Suiza more time to develop as a business and establish itself in the market.
Before we get into the details of how this tiny automaker plans to spread its wings around the world, let me give you a crash course in limited production Carmen and its specs. With a price tag of $ 1.7 million, that’s not exactly achievable, which also helps it to remain scarce. In this category of vehicles, exclusivity and eccentricity are at the top of the list of priorities of the target consumer. Tired of stopping in a Monaco casino in the same old Bugatti? Try a Hispano Suiza for size. It’s that kind of exclusivity that the company tries to capitalize on.
While the Carmen borrows electrical and mechanical components from QEV technologies, Sergio Martinez Campos tells us that the entire car is a Hispano Suiza effort. The design, chassis, suspension tuning, and even the calibration of its electrical systems were all done in-house.
Sitting in a T-shaped configuration in its carbon unibody chassis is an 80 kWh lithium polymer battery that powers two rear-mounted electric motors. A trio of radiators control the 700 liquid-cooled cells as they send up to 750 kW of power to both engines. That’s the equivalent of 1,005 horsepower and over 700 pound-feet of torque. The range is rated at 450 km by WLTP standards, or just over 350 km if the Carmen has been EPA tested.
As of this writing, Hispano Suiza is preparing an improved battery for the Carmen, with a maximum capacity of 105 kWh. And thanks to a carbon fiber battery box, owners will be able to swap out the battery as new ones are released.
The result of all this material is a 0 to 100 km / h time achieved in just under three seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 250 km / h. Even though the Carmen is rear-wheel drive, it accelerates just as fast as some of the fastest all-wheel-drive electric vehicles on sale today.
Obviously, the Carmen’s tour de force is not the performance, but its appearance on the road and the experience of luxury and craftsmanship it offers its driver. No other automobile has such a striking presence on the road. There is a nice mix of pre-war art deco and modern industrial design in its style. The tapered rear, with the integrated circular taillights and covered wheel arches, is reminiscent of the original H6B Dubonnet Xenia, an automobile considered today to be one of the finest works of automotive art ever created.
But why now?
It took 82 years for Hispano Suiza to build another car. We ask, why now? Why suddenly come up with a new model, construction process, and weirdly aggressive business plan in an age when the auto industry is oversaturated with high-end performance offerings?
Mr. Campos explains that Miguel SuquÃ© Mateu, the president of Hispano Suiza and the great-grandson of the brand’s founder, has been looking for a way to honor his family’s legacy for some time. He was just waiting for the right time.
He believes that, given that the auto industry is currently going through a renaissance thanks to new electric propulsion systems, Hispano Suiza believes that there could be no better time than now to relaunch the company.
âThis is the perfect time. Electrification has opened the door to new possibilities and the desire of consumers to explore new car brands. Hispano Suiza delivers it all, with the added bonus of premium exclusivity, a unique family heritage, stunning design and race-proven EV technology to back it up, âhe said.
He took it a step further by stating that he thinks we’re slowly seeing the return of bodywork, which was at its peak during Hispano Suiza’s golden years. âAs we move forward into the future, more and more automakers will use shared platforms and battery technology. What will set a car manufacturer apart will be the style, the personalization and the overall experience that will accompany a vehicle, âCampos added.
What’s next for the company and, perhaps more importantly, will we ever see a Hispano Suiza roll on Canadian roads? The answer is yes, said the CEO of the company. âThe Carmen is approved for use in North America and we have already started delivering cars to Mexico and the United States. Canada is also on our target. If you are interested in purchasing this car, we invite you to sign up for our Dream One program on our website, and one of our Brand Ambassadors will contact you. ”
It will certainly be interesting to see how Hispano Suiza plans to develop as a niche car maker in a much more digital world. We’re also really curious about what kind of new products will come out of what the CEO of the company likes to call, âthe oldest startup in the worldâ. One thing is for sure, with a solid EV base to back it up, as well as intensive involvement in racing, this tiny Spanish boutique looks more poised for the future than some of the big automakers.