“BUILD US AN EV THAT’S LIGHT, SIMPLE AND AFFORDABLE. IT’LL BE A BREATH OF FRESH AIR; THE EV WORLD’S EQUIVALENT OF THE MAZDA MX-5”
THE BIGGEST challenge facing electric cars is … let’s stop there for a second. There are so many hurdles to EV ownership that it’s likely your mind has thrown up a reflex response. Range? Weight? Recharging infrastructure? Price? These are all genuine concerns, though anyone who has driven a Mercedes-Benz EQC (our reigning Car of the Year) or a Tesla Model 3 will also know they’re quickly and resolutely being overcome as the EV movement gains momentum. Well, except for price that is.
Yet there’s one beachhead where EVs are struggling to gain traction: how they’re perceived by petrol heads. I’m not talking about the ferocious adoration and cult-like intensity shown by the growing hordes of Teslarati. They’re a new (and very welcome) kind of enthusiast. No, I’m talking about the kind of people who read magazines like this one. Old-school car lovers might respect the engineering of an electric car, but there’s still a way to go before they’ll love them in the same way they do a lightweight sports car with rear-wheel drive and a manual gearbox.
Car companies know this, of course. Change is hard and acceptance is gradual, though I fear the strategy being used to win the hearts and minds of enthusiasts is misguided. The solution to making EVs desirable, it seems, is to throw performance at them. A power war is brewing between companies as far ranging as Lotus, Rimac, Tesla, Porsche, and even Volkswagen, where victories are measured in larger outputs, larger batteries (read more weight), higher price tags, and quicker 0-100km/h times.
The Lotus Evija is a case in point. It produces 1470kW/2000Nm, can hit 300km/h in 9.0 seconds, weighs a very un-Colin Chapman 1700kg, and costs more than A$4 million. And I couldn’t care less. Like the current breed of hypercar, EVs are quickly painting themselves into irrelevance. The tech might be admirable (if you can understand it) and the numbers mind-boggling, but do I lust after one in the same way I do a 911 Turbo, an AMG C63 or a BMW M2? Honestly, no, I don’t.
So here’s my solution. Abandon the performance war altogether and build an EV that’s light, simple and affordable. It’ll be a breath of fresh air; the EV world’s equivalent of the Mazda MX-5.
Think about it. Even the most old-school of enthusiasts would understand the appeal of a rear-drive sports car with instant torque, around 150kW/310Nm, a range of 350km, and a circa-$50K asking price. Would it be a big seller, or even a sales rival to an ICE powered MX-5 or Toyota 86? Absolutely not, and nor would it be a money spinner, but man, it’d do wonders for the image of EVs.
The issue, of course, is weight. Batteries are notoriously heavy, though while some sacrifices would have to be made, this hurdle isn’t as insurmountable as you might think. A 45kWh battery pack weighs between 250-300kg (an aluminium four-cyl petrol is around 120kg), so some basic maths suggests it’d add about 180kg to the weight of an MX-5. But the centre of gravity would be low, plus you’d gain some kilos back by ditching a conventional gearbox, and it’d allow some interesting design freedoms…
Where things get dicey is when you crunch the dollars and cents. Sports cars are fiendishly tricky to make money from, and as Andy Enright writes on p15, the margins on EVs are even worse. The economics of electric cars are so dire that some manufacturers are making them at a loss. So why not leverage an existing R&D spend? Re-skinning the architecture of the upcoming VW ID3, which is rear-drive and offers ample power/range, is just one possibility.
What I’m really getting at is the need for a paradigm shift. Just as I find an Alpine A110 infinitely more interesting than the latest windscreen-less McLaren, I’d wager I’m not alone in finding an EV sports car aimed at the everyman more appealing than one with a bazillion horsepower built for Silicon Valley fintech founders.