It’s pretty accepted wisdom these days that electric cars are good for the environment; they produce zero tailpipe emissions, which means no harmful pollutants such as Nitrogen Oxides. In this world of Extinction Rebellion and declarations of climate emergency, this is important. Allied to this, the enforcement of stricter emissions targets, and the introduction of Ultra Low Emissions Zones in places like London have shown the way forward is cars that have a lower impact on the environment.
But the one thing that will really drive the uptake of electric vehicles is, quite simply, how good they are. Electric vehicles are beginning to redefine what’s possible in a car. The way they’re built, the technology at their heart, and the engineers driving this tech means innovation in electric vehicles is moving at a frightening pace.
2019 has so far been a big year in the transition of electric vehicles becoming the ‘new normal’. According to recent industry sales figures, electric cars are one of the only motoring sectors showing growth; new vehicles like the Tesla Model 3 have arrived with a very attractive price point around £40k, and the Jaguar I-PACE dominated the World Car Awards in New York. And when Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) binned off his iconic Audi R8 for a pure electric E-Tron in Avengers: Endgame, it’s safe to say they’ve arrived. And, with a whole host of new launches and innovations coming into the market, this is just the start.
What’s interesting is that there are two divergent types of company in the race to make it in the world of electric vehicles; the traditional vehicle manufacturers and the disruptors.
The established manufacturers have the know-how of getting large volumes of cars of a production line and now recognise the need to move to battery electric models; the likes of the Porsche Taycan, the Audi E-Tron and the Mercedes EQ are all great cars that look set to carry the fight to Jaguar and Tesla at the luxury end of the market.
Then there’s the disruptors that are really shaking things up. Tesla are undoubtedly the most high profile of these, and have decent pedigree with the Model S and Model X increasingly common sights on Britain’s roads (and motorway service stations, where their Supercharger network makes travelling long distances a breeze).
Another of these upstarts is Rimac, a Croatian manufacturer specialising in electric hypercars and drivetrains. Rimac live and breathe electric vehicles, and, like Tesla, have never built a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. Mate Rimac, their 31 year old founder, established the company with the idea to build a world-changing electric hypercar; first with the Concept One and now the Concept Two, which is rumoured to do 0-60 in 1.85 seconds. This is truly mind boggling.
The technology that Rimac are developing for their hypercars is being adapted and rolled out across a range of manufacturers. Aston Martin, Red Bull, Koenigsegg and Porsche are all their customers, and the brand new Pininfarina Battista running on a platform developed by Rimac.
Granted, most of us will never in our wildest dreams be able to afford any of these cars, but the technology being developed to achieve this kind of performance is crucial in our transition to carbon free transportation. Porsche have recently invested in Rimac, buying 10% of the business. This is an atypical move by Porsche, as they normally love to build things for themselves. For the German behemoth to reach out to another manufacturer speaks volumes about the way these new companies are innovating at a breadth and pace far beyond that of the traditional players. It also demonstrates the potential to integrate cutting edge technology into vehicles at all levels of the market, not just at the top end.
There’s little doubt that a Porsche Taycan will be running high-spec Rimac technology in a year or two, and it will trickle down through to the other marques in the group like Audi and Volkswagen. KERS (or Kinetic Energy Recovery System to give it it’s full name) was a big noise in Formula 1 a few years ago; you can now experience this same technology in Nissan Leaf with the E-Pedal in a car you can buy today. You can experience a Carbon Monocoque like the Rimac Concept Two in a BMW i3 that’s sat on your local dealer’s forecourt right now.
The technology we see in these vehicles are reaching real cars quickly as the rate of innovation in electric vehicles is rapid. The technology in a new electric car for sale today was probably tested only a year or so ago. The rate of change is so quick because this new frontier of motoring is a new sandpit for engineers to operate in.
And then, of course, there’s Tesla. They’ve probably done more than any other manufacturer to make electric vehicles sexy, and their rate of innovation shows no sign of relenting. Recently they announced a change to its drive unit, which basically increases the Model S and Model X range without the need to change the battery pack. This was pushed out through an over the air upgrade.
No longer do you need to accept the car that you bought; your car evolves as technology evolves. So, as Tesla develop innovations for, say the new Model 3, they’ll also be able to release this to the rest of their inventory. Improvements to a vehicle can now happen overnight. If you drive a 3 year-old Model X, chances are it’s nothing like the car you bought 2016, and you wouldn't have had to do anything to make that happen.
This is an innovative, fast moving industry where the rule book is being ripped up and established business models are being challenged. Electric vehicles are here. And they’re here to stay because they’re going to blow people away.
This article was originally published in MyGreenPod