Johannesburg - Audi clinched the Formula E GP world championship in New York last weekend. Nissan's just launched a Nismo version of its Leaf. And, in the USA, Tesla's Model S and Model X are slaying 544kW Lamborghinis. Electric cars are getting cooler, yes they are.
Jean-Eric Vergne won the final race of the all-electric Formula E season in New York last weekend, but German automaker Audi took the team title. The ex-Formula One driver, who races for Chinese-owned Techeetah team, had clinched the individual crown in Saturday’s penultimate race, however Audi ended up winning the championship by two points after Brazil’s outgoing champion Lucas di Grassi and Germany’s Daniel Abt finished second and third.
Formula E growing from strength to strength
Upon the formula’s launch in 2014, Formula E racers have been on the receiving end of many jokes; chiefly because the top end of their electric race cars are capped at around 225km/h compared to an F1 car at around 335km/h. However, earlier this year, di Grassi said in an interview with Autosport that these electric racing cars are going to breach 300km/h soon.
“In the current configuration, with the power we'll have available, on a long straight this car could surpass 300km/h without a problem, I would expect. And, when the car starts to go over 300km/h you're talking substantial speeds, so nobody will be able to say the car is not fast," he said.
As the Formula E season comes to an end, with Audi on top, it’s expected that the next season will attract and even greater ‘fan’ following. Formula E’s coordinators say that compared to Formula 1, younger generations are watching and following the sport through the internet and social media. Battery technology progress will also ensure that the cars improve each year.
Carmakers pushing ahead with electrification
While Formula E leads the proverbial charge when it comes to electric cars, mainstream automotive manufacturers aren’t backing off the accelerator pedal. In South Africa, we have the previous-gen Nissan Leaf and you can buy an electric BMW i3, but overseas there are numerous electric models for motorists to choose from.
In Japan, electric cars are growing in popularity as people look to reduce their mobility costs in clogged cityscapes. It’s the same story in Europe and in the USA.
Last week, Nissan unveiled its new Nismo Leaf. That’s right, the same guys that tweak GT-Rs have lent their wizardy to the company’s electric car to unleash a little more personality and punch for people that don’t want to drive dowdy (electric) vehicles.
According to Nissan’s chief of design Alfonso Albaisa in an interview with Autocar, a ‘racier’ Nismo Leaf is being produced to provide the second-generation electric hatch with a halo model. He explains that this would contrast with the previous Leaf range, which came with few design variants and had a look that ‘wasn’t popular with the majority of people’. (We didn’t call it ugly, they did.)
Albaisa says the new Nismo Leaf is lower, wider and sportier, but the point of the design is to offer greater accessibility. In terms of sporting credentials, the Nismo Leaf certainly looks the part, but Nissan is yet to release official performance numbers. The car is however expected to scamper from a standstill to 100km/h in less than 7 seconds, giving petrol-powered cars like the Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Clio RS and Volkswagen Polo GTI some stiff competition from a dig.
Electric is thumping petrol already
A quick scan of Youtube will unlock a world of content (particularly from the USA) showing Tesla’s Model X thumping Hemi and Cobra-powered Dodges and Mustangs. Last year in August, though, a Lamborghini Aventador SV learnt the hard way that the Tesla Model X P100D and Model S P100D aren’t to be messed with.
In a flat-out 1/4 mile drag race battle at Palm Beach International Raceway, the Tesla Model X P100D set a new world record for being the world’s quickest SUV at 10.947 seconds over 400m.
Watch the video here:
So, what does the future hold for electric cars?
Ford announced at the Detroit Motor Show 2018 that it will invest USD11 billion in electric vehicles, and plans to have 40 electrified vehicles on the road by 2022, 16 of which will be fully electric, while the rest will be plug-in hybrids.
Volkswagen also announced plans to build up to three million electric vehicles annually by 2025 and market 80 new electric Group models. This year, another nine new vehicles, three of which will be purely electric-powered, will be added to the Group’s electric portfolio, while the company also plans to run 16 production sites around the world that will start producing electric vehicles by 2022.
Mercedes-Benz has said that it plans to introduce 10 new EQ-badged electric car models within the next five years.
Those are just a handful of examples, and most auto manufacturers are going electric in a big way.
Elon Musk wants more manufacturers to jump into the electric car ring with him. “I really do encourage other manufacturers to bring electric cars to market,” he notes. “It's a good thing, and they need to bring it to market and keep iterating and improving and make better and better electric cars, and that's what going to result in humanity achieving a sustainable transport future. I wish it was growing faster than it is.”
So, whether you like to admit it or not, as a petrolhead or as someone that prefers manual gearboxes to automatics; the world is changing and so too are electric cars. Porsche’s Taycan and Jaguar’s iPace are on the cards for SA in the near future, and once there’s more progress on the charging station front, you might find yourself in a predicament; do you stay with petrol (or diesel) or go electric too?