Are you ready for the green machine revolution?
By Popi Bowman
In the wake of Tesla’s success, which proves a fledgling electric car startup can take on the biggest carmakers, a ripple effect is creating the equivalent of a sonic boom in the automotive industry. Since Tesla first broke the 200-mile (322 km) range barrier and released Ludicrous Mode, making the Model S the fastest-accelerating production car in the world, the race is on to increase electric vehicle power and performance. The question, however, is will consumers buy enough Electric Vehicles (EVs) to keep the segment afloat? Even the top-selling Model S barely cleared 50,000 units worldwide last year. And by the end of 2016, the all-time best-selling plug-in EV – the much more affordable (and less sexy) Nissan Leaf – sold just over 250,000 vehicles worldwide since it first came on the market in late 2010.
Until recently, the biggest obstacles to selling the electric dream have been a lack of style and, ultimately, not enough power. We may want to “do the right thing” by driving an electric car, but we also want to look good doing it – and get there quickly without worrying about whether we’ll have enough power to get home.
But while automakers are obligated to produce affordable electric “urban commuters” such as the all-new Chevrolet Bolt, which has an estimated full-charge driving range of approximately 383 km, they’re also letting their imaginations run wild with the huge potential of these new technologies. Or maybe they’re simply playing a game of catch-up: earlier this year, Tesla released an industry-leading battery option for the Model S that allows for almost 540 km of driving on a full charge (even surpassing the range of many gas-powered cars). Beyond increased range, today’s subtler advances, from more weather-tolerant batteries to body-mounted solar panels that power auxiliary systems, are also adding up to some big changes in the future of driving. And when it comes to high-performance engineering, carbon fibre is becoming the quintessential building block for producing durable, lightweight body components, which help compensate for heavy (and usually quite bulky) EV batteries.
Ironically, the road that was first paved by the homely, underpowered Toyota Prius hybrid may soon welcome some of the most impressive high-performance vehicles created, running only on electrons. For those who want to argue against the impending electric takeover, a recent event might give you pause: last September, the EV land speed record was broken at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats by the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3 (VBB-3) dragster, which reached almost 549 km/h powered by two 1,500-horsepower electric motors and eight lithium-ion battery packs. To put that speed into perspective, planes in flight often cruise at around 500 km/h. The VBB-3 was able to hit 442 km/h while in first gear, at 10,000 rpm (while a track demon like the gas-powered Audi R8 V10 tops out at 8,700 rpm). If you follow high-performance racing, you’ll recognize the Venturi name from the recent FIA Formula E competition, the world’s first electric street racing series, which completed its third season this July in Montreal.
But an electric dragster like the VBB-3 isn’t what you’ll see on city streets. For those with around a million dollars to spend, the Croatian-made Rimac Concept One supercar currently holds the EV “dream car” title. A super sexy carbon-fibre two-seater with 1,088 horsepower, it boasts a 500-km estimated range per charge and reaches 100 km/h in under three seconds. Despite the name, this isn’t a concept car; it’s been available since early 2013. Another limited-production electric supercar, the Austrian-made Kreisel EVEX 910E, is based on the Porsche 910 but is retrofitted to be fully electric, with a range of up to 350 km and a zero-to-100 km/h speed of 2.5 seconds. But you’ll pay dearly for style, exclusivity, and speed – to the tune of around $1.5 million. More familiar supercar names are jumping on the electric bandwagon, too, with the Fisker EMotion rumoured to be revealed later this year, sporting an incredible 640-km range. Meanwhile, it was recently reported that McLaren is developing an all-electric version of its hybrid P1 supercar that will be “more exciting to drive than a P1.”
That isn’t to say you’ll need to spend a million dollars to drive a truly high-performance electric vehicle. With Tesla in their targets, automakers from Audi to Volvo are fast-tracking EV development – especially after the Volkswagen not-so-clean-diesel fiasco. The blowback from Dieselgate inspired VW to promise several electric vehicles in the next few years, starting with this year’s release of the all-new e-Golf, while aiming to sell at least 1 million EVs yearly by 2025.
This summer, Volvo made headlines by announcing that its Polestar performance division will focus exclusively on electric technology, and all of its cars will be at least partially electric-powered by 2019 (five new Volvo EVs are in the works, with the first due the same year). Meanwhile, Audi estimates its hybrid/electric “e-tron” division will account for 25 percent of sales by 2025. Following its two current plug-in hybrids (the e-tron A3 and Q7), Audi’s first-ever electric vehicle is due to be released next year; the e-tron Quattro SUV will provide approximately 500 horsepower and a 480-km range. In 2019, Audi also plans to produce the all-electric e-tron Sportback sedan, with approximately 430 horsepower and a 400-km range.
If you’re looking for a bit more panache, Audi’s competitive cousin Porsche promises to bring its Mission E electric sports car concept to production by 2020, with a variety of power options starting under $100,000. And of course, Mercedes-Benz and Bentley have confirmed plans to produce their first all-electric vehicles, with release dates as late as 2020. While a bit slow to join the EV game (but with a strong foothold thanks to its Smart Car division), Mercedes-Benz has promised to reveal 10 electric vehicles by 2022, with the first – a compact SUV with up to 500-km range – under its new, all-electric EQ badge in 2019.
If you just can’t wait that long to get behind the wheel of one of these eco-luxury beasts, the Jaguar I-Pace is due to hit the market next year. With 400 horsepower, all-wheel drive, and an estimated range close to 390 km, this SUV will likely give Tesla a fair run for its money. Naturally, it wouldn’t be fair to challenge Tesla without a few startups joining the fray, but one that’s generating the most buzz – or, in this case, hum – is Lucid, a Silicon Valley-based automaker that promises to bring its glass-roof Air luxury sedan to market by 2019. With Faraday Future floundering, this is the up-and-comer to watch, especially because the Air boasts an Autobahn-friendly top speed of 235 mph (about 378 km/h), with a 1,000-hp version in the works. Also in 2019, in the realm of entry-level supercars, the Aston Martin RapidE will see a limited run – only 155 lucky customers will be allowed to spend around $250,000 to drive this beautiful electric machine.
Of course, many of these EVs will incorporate self-driving elements such as automatic braking and parking, although the days of being able to read a newspaper while “driving” are still far-off due to government regulation and infrastructure. The surprising perk of all this electric technology, however, is instantaneous torque; with power often delivered directly to the wheels via electric motors, there’s no waiting for peak horsepower. Another perk: with so few moving parts compared to internal combustion engines, in the future we’ll probably worry more about where to plug in than where to get our car fixed. And many of the “fixes” will be downloadable, rather than mechanical.
As infrastructure and technology advance, “range anxiety” and hard-to-find plug-in stations will become a thing of the past – while some would argue that 20th century vehicles will become almost obsolete. Essentially, a need to reduce global emissions is transforming yesterday’s V8 muscle cars into zero-emissions, high-g-force green machines – and really, who can argue against that? Even Ford admitted it’s working on an electric-hybrid Mustang.
Only a few challenges remain: establishing more clean energy sources, expanding charger access, and producing less toxic (and easily recyclable) batteries. But at the current rate of innovation, these are “problems” that can be quickly solved. In the meantime, it might be worth waiting a few years before buying that new dream car – because our dreams are changing quickly.
Whether a daily driver or a dream car, electric is the way of the future.
It looks like a vintage Porsche, but that’s where the similarities end. This limited-production electric supercar can jet to 100 km/h in 2.5 seconds, but you’ll pay dearly – close to $1.5 million.
Not the barrel-roll record winner but newsworthy nonetheless, the I-Pace is Jag’s first electric vehicle – a 400-horsepower “performance SUV” with seating for five. It comes to showrooms in late-2018.
Designed specifically for racetrack-worthy performance, this 600-horsepower, super-sleek four-door will feature some of the most advanced tech available, with high-speed (and inductive) charging for up to 80 percent power in 15 minutes.
Aston Martin RapidE
Enough with chasing women and criminals – when James Bond turns over a new leaf, this is the machine he’ll drive. And so will only 155 other exclusive customers, with deposits already being accepted.
This million-dollar, carbon-fibre slice of sexy boasts 1,088 horsepower and a 500-km range per charge. More importantly, it reaches 100 km/h in under three seconds.
Standing for “electric intelligence,” the EQ moniker will encompass the M-B family of electric vehicles “as well as the associated products and services,” says the luxury automaker. The first vehicle, a compact SUV, arrives by 2020.