Let’s put aside for this piece that fully electric cars actually being the future is rather unlikely. The fact that no electricity supply infrastructure in the world could support even 30% of cars on the road being electric vehicles is just one issue. Then of course there’s the danger of batteries putting out that much power – think a Samsung Note battery pooping off in your pocket is unpleasant? Wait until the battery equivalent of Takata becomes a thing and the safety legislation starts ramping up and impedes development.
All that aside, the rise of the electric vehicle is a great example of why the internet is a wonderful thing. One minute you can watch a video of a Tesla electric car blowing away conventional big power cars from a standing start due to the inherent instant power and huge torque of an electric motor, then read an article by someone bemoaning EVs for being the end of the enthusiasts car.
So, let’s address some of the concerns.
First there’s the idea that there will be no soul, no beating heart to an electric car. There’s a lot of people out complaining it won’t be possible to form an emotional connection with an all electric car.
Well, a car is an inanimate object. It has no flesh and no heart either physically or metaphorically. It only has our projections of character guided by its design in terms of aesthetics, tactility, handling characteristics and aural sensation. An electric car is still a car. The only obvious differences are how quiet an electric motor is compared to a combustion engine and a lack of gearbox, but the manual gearbox is finally coughing out its final gasps anyway.
Everything else is down to the design and execution of the vehicle – just like any other car. The reality is with the overwhelming sound of an engine bellowing you can hear all the auditory cues you use when driving a car enthusiastically a lot clearer and feel what the car is doing without all the vibration that comes from an engine being put through its paces. For example you can hear the tires and how close they are to losing grip to the road clearly, and the feel of the car through the seat is accentuated through hearing the chassis dealing with the road surfaces.
Clearly some of the drama of driving an internal combustion car will be lost, but in reality all the actual sensations of driving are still there.
The second common complaint is how the satisfaction of working on your own car will be lost. Again, the only thing that has actually changed here is that you have a single electric motor instead of a large and complicated internal combustion engine requiring all manner of additional elements that fail.
An electric motor. Or a broken hairdryer. I’m not actually sure.
How many of us actually strip down an engine and rebuild it rather than take it to a shop to have a two dollar head gasket replaced for $800 in labor costs? I certainly don’t have a machine shop in my garage or the education and skills to use one. I take no joy in spending $60-80 in oil and filters and then changing the oil myself. I’ll bet 90% of people reading this don’t either.
Definitely not my garage.
I do get the joy of working on a car when there is no pressure to fix a daily to get to work the next day, and it’s still a car. An electric car still has a suspension system, steering, brakes, wheels, tires and all that fun stuff we do actually end up working on. All that fun stuff is where the tuning happens for most people. 99% of us aren’t adding forced air induction to our engines ourselves let alone reboring cylinders, polishing ports or balancing internal components in our garages.
Linked to that is the idea that you won’t be able to tune electric motors or do anything with the braking or the suspension systems coming down the line, and that really is an odd complaint. It’s as if people think car companies will only being selling little town cars like the Nissan leaf and people that want to drive sexy sports cars will no longer be a demographic they want to sell cars to. It’s as if people suddenly think the idea of a fast well handling car will be a thing of the past and companies like Porsche will suddenly decide “screw the Nurburgring – we make tiny economy tin cans for students now”.
No, fast cars aren’t going anywhere and that kind of technology will lead to tuning a car being done from a touch screen in the same way you tune your fake cars in a video game. Imagine sitting in your car and wanting a tiny little extra brake bias going to the front of the car, popping up the menu and dragging a slider to alter how your car brakes into a corner. Or having a basic dry track day profile to work from where your throttle response is ultra aggressive, your brakes are set for bias and your suspension set lower and stiffer. The of course leads to a wet track day profile that softens everything up and dials in some traction control and ABS for when things get slippery.
Wait. You don’t need to imagine. You can see this stuff in action:
Hell, imagine you had profiles for in town, freeway and country roads – and all of those had a wet condition equivalents that can be tripped manually or even by a moisture sensor on the car and a geo location service. You come off the freeway where your suspension is set to comfort and follow a long curvy road… so the throttle response sharpens, the suspension drops and gets harder and the brakes become more aggressive to less input.
Then when you come into a town or city with rough roads the suspension raises and gets softer while the throttle and the brake responses dull down so you can be nice and smooth.
On top of THAT, if you don’t think companies will be making upgraded motors and batteries you can drop into your car, then you don’t understand capitalism. Instead of an engine swap taking a whole bunch of time, complication and fabrication it opens up that extreme kind of customisation to those of us with mechanical knowledge but don’t tear down an engine to polish ports – let alone can actually do motor swaps in our garage.
If you think car systems will closed by some manufacturers you’re probably right, but if you think that having all that adjustment at peoples fingertips isn’t a selling point or stuff won’t be hacked wide open before the first car of the production line’s warranty has run out then you haven’t been paying attention.
Finally for this piece, I have seen people bemoaning that things like steering and braking will lose their feel as they will effectively be fly by wire and/or electric motors… but that’s purely down to design!
The feedback you get in a car right now with a steering pump and brake boosting is designed into the car, and when it’s done by electric motors it’s easy to adjust and tune in comparison. Car companies have for a long time but with varying degrees of success tried to design steering so it’s both responsive and has all the feedback when driving enthusiastically, doesn’t over react to input at higher speeds yet is nice and light when it comes intensive low speed manoeuvring (or parking as we call it). With electric motors and a good computer controlling it then that becomes a reletively simple thing to tune.
At this point I would argue that electric cars would actually be a better solution for enthusiasts overall.
Yes, you lose the sound of a combustion engine and it’s going to take time for the development of this stuff to get really good; but in the long term having the ability to bolt on and plug in parts and then fine tune your vehicle to the Nth degree through menus and sliders is my idea of car heaven.
Laying underneath a car in the freezing cold draining six quarts of oil to dispose of and then refill again for $60… not so much.