All-electric cars, with few exceptions (e.g., Tesla Model S), haven’t been particularly great. They’re expensive, they aren’t particularly sexy and, even though Americans drive less than 30 miles a day on average, there’s still lingering anxiety over their range. Realistically, while gasoline still seems a reasonable option for ownership, the electric car doesn’t make much sense. But from the looks of it, we’re on the cusp of an EV revolution of sorts.
EVs today are still in their teething stage, but the future of the EV is looking bright. The soon-to-be-sold Chevrolet Bolt is leading the charge, and will offer double the current range EVs offer at $30,000 after incentives — a lower price than the current average cost of a new car. And at some point the Tesla Model 3 will burst onto the scene, and it will offer roughly the same price and range. The second-gen Nissan Leaf will also be around that mark.
Hyundai is also ready to debut the Ioniq EV, which is based on a platform, from the ground up, to accept electric power as well as internal combustion. Volvo, meanwhile, claims it will sell a million EVs within 10 years and has recently shown off the underpinnings to the upcoming 40 Series, which, like the Hyundai, is designed from the ground up to accommodate both electric and combustion drivetrains. Even if the “electric or nothing” Tesla approach isn’t being fully adopted, there should be some serious electric options for consumers in the next few years.
With this seemingly imminent electric future, the gas-burning, transmission-shifting, tire-shredding enthusiast might feel the future of their passion is threatened, but it actually isn’t. For one, it’s doubtful the future of transportation will be fully electrified (or automated, for that matter), and, what’s more, there’s a lot of enthusiast appeal to the electric car. The future is bright for a handful of reasons.
Batteries Are Cheaper and Better.
Two of the biggest reasons electric vehicles don’t appeal to most consumers — their high prices and low ranges — are both linked to the same thing: the high-cost, low-energy battery. As recently as 2012, lithium-ion battery packs costed as much as $600 per kilowatt-hour. Consider early EV applications like the Chevy Volt, and it’s easy to see how a battery pack is a burden. Using only the power from the 16kWh battery pack in the original Volt, it could only move 35 miles, but added an additional 400 pounds of weight to the car and, by Slate‘s estimate, likely costed as much as $8,000 to produce.
But GM says that its batteries only cost $145 per kWh, and Tesla estimates that once it finishes its Gigafactory, the cost of their batteries will decrease to around $100 per kWh. On the whole, battery packs are getting cheaper, helping to lower the cost of EVs and reducing the cost of larger storage options. Range is also helped by the simple fact that batteries are just getting better. For example, Tesla’s partnership with Panasonic has yielded batteries with 60 percent more storage capacity than in 2008 thanks to incremental changes in engineering and manufacturing.
Electric Motors Are Simple.
As much as I love a big, powerful V8 (believe me, I do), an electric motor makes a lot more sense for powering a car than a combustion engine. Take, for instance, the AC Induction motor used in the Tesla Model S. The system uses no transmission and fits snugly between two wheels along the axle. It’s incredibly simple, basically boiling down to two parts — it’s the same basic setup you’d see powering an electric fan. Yet despite the motor’s simplicity and its compact size, it still puts out a considerable 416 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. The compact size and absence of a traditional transmission helps clear up interior space.
There’s Less Maintenance.
Because of the electric motor’s simplicity, there’s much less need for regular maintenance when compared to an internal combustion car. Think about it. With fewer moving parts, there’s less to go wrong — and, there are none of the parts and consumable fluids needed in an internal combustion engine: no oil, no transmission fluid, no spark plugs, no filters, etc. Essentially, you’re only on the hook for things like brake pads and tires, and the eventual battery replacement years down the line.
It shouldn’t be news to anyone at this point, but the top-tier Tesla Model S can do 0-60 in less than three seconds. But it isn’t just a Tesla thing. In 2015, Pike’s Peak veteran Rhys Millen drove his eO PP03, a 1,367-horsepower prototype racer, up the hill in 9 minutes and 7.222 seconds, setting a record for the fastest EV up the mountain and winning the event outright. This year, driving an improved version, the 1,595-horsepower PP100, Millen beat the EV record with a time of 8 minutes and 57.118 seconds.
Thing is, while EV top speeds still pale in comparison to internal combustion, it’s the acceleration that you feel most and use more, and electricity is inherently more conducive to better acceleration. With an internal combustion engine, when you accelerate you don’t get torque right away; it involves multiple steps. It has to bring in air and fuel into the engine, all the engine’s parts need to get turning, and then that power needs to go through a crank shaft, flywheel and transmission before it gets spinning. This requires a considerable amount of energy and time, and it’s why an internal combustion car can’t deliver torque from zero rpm. But in an EV, an electric current is instantly sent to the motor, which is directly attached to the wheels, giving electric cars their characteristic instant torque.
Electricity Can Improve Old Cars.
Electric hot-rodding is already on the rise: various companies have begun building and selling electrified classics like VW buses, Porsches and DeLoreans. Eric Hutchinson of Electric GT even put a battery pack and electric motor in a rebuilt Ferrari 308. Hutchinson’s 308 is perfect example of what electricity is capable of in an old package. The Ferrari, when powered with its original Italian V8, made 240 horsepower and 209 lb-ft of torque. And with electricity? 400 horsepower and 330 lb-ft — and it only weighs 150 pounds more than it did with the old engine. Classics are small and light compared to modern cars because they aren’t beholden modern safety standards, and even with relatively new and heavy battery technology, they provide a great platform for showing off the performance benefits of electricity. As time goes on, technology will only get better, and faster.
That’s the thing: plenty of world-changing technologies looked clunky and inefficient when they were first introduced. Cell phones and personal computers are two big examples. But the EV still needs to compete with the regular combustion car. Consumers, and enthusiasts, need to then consider all the current benefits EVs offer, and how those will likely become more and more refined as the technology progresses. Theoretically, those benefits outpace internal combustion, both in practical ways for commuters and in thrilling ways for car enthusiasts.