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Plug-in Passion

LUX 1.2 is pleased to welcome back our guest writer, motoring journalist and broadcaster Jason Barlow. A bona fide heavyweight on the automotive scene, Jason will be very familiar to long-standing fans of Top Gear, Britain’s GQ magazine and Top Gear magazine.

For this issue, he provides us with an update on the plethora of high-end electric cars launching over the next 12 months.

Words: Jason Barlow

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The writer, thinker and polymath Malcolm Gladwell was the first person to tip me off to the idea of the tipping point. This occurs when a confluence of factors; societal, environmental and technological, pushes an idea into mass acceptance. In 2019, the electric car has reached that moment, but what would make you switch from a conventional car to a pure electric one? Its design? An end to the ‘range anxiety’ problem that blighted early adopters? Or environmental guilt?

Whatever the impulse, this year certainly sees a wealth of new product. Jaguar’s terrific I-Pace recently won the coveted European Car of the Year award, the first fully electric car to be so honoured, and a major boost for Jaguar and its repositioning. Tesla, led by electric avatar, rocketeer, and the real life Tony Stark that is Elon Musk, recently unveiled its compact SUV, the Model Y, and continues to expand in its bid to justify a market capitalisation that gives the company a higher value than industry titans GM or Ford. This is despite having made a profit in just three quarters across its entire 16-year lifespan.

Tesla clearly has some ineffable magic. But aside from the cult of personality that envelops Elon Musk, it’s also pragmatic. An effective charging infrastructure is the other critical component in public acceptance, and there are 12,000 Tesla superchargers across the US, Europe and Asia, with 99% of the American population now covered. In the UK, there are 360 individual bays, in 50 locations. Tesla’s new V3 supercharging has just been introduced, and its 1 MW power cabinets, similar to its utility-scale products, offer peak charging rates of 250 kW per car. That equates to 75 miles range in just five minutes. The company has also just launched On-Route Battery Warmup, so the car knows when you’re heading to a charging station and heats the battery to the optimum temperature for charging. Tesla says this cuts the average charge time by 25 per cent. This is incredibly astute thinking.

Its Model 3, meanwhile, has finally arrived in the UK in Long Range Rear Wheel (271bhp) and Long Range Dual Motor (346bhp) guise. Whatever the spec, the Model 3 is very satisfying to drive, handles adroitly despite being relatively heavy (as all EVs are) and has a seductively minimalist interior that actually maxes out on the connectivity via the portrait touchscreen. Tesla has always done things its own way and isn’t about to stop.

The company also deserves full credit for doing the disrupting necessary to hasten the tipping point. But in a rapidly changing landscape, things are about to get a lot tougher for the Californian company. Porsche is arguably the ultimate automotive engineering company, so expectations are sky high for its Taycan EV, which will be unveiled this autumn. Around 20,000 customers have each placed a €2,500 deposit on the car, prompting Porsche to revise its production targets upwards for the car. ‘I drove it in Sweden three weeks ago,’ Porsche CEO Oliver Blume recently told me. ‘It will have a driving dynamic you have never seen before on an electric car. There will be 911 GT3 drivers who will be interested in the Taycan and have both of them. A dream garage.’

The new car will come in three versions, with 300kW, 400kW and 500kW power outputs (that’s equivalent to 396bhp to 661bhp), with dual motors and all-wheel drive. The batteries sit low in the chassis to achieve the best possible centre of gravity. Steering and braking feel intuitive. Dynamics and chassis integrity are all key Porsche attributes the company is working hard to preserve, even as it ditches the other thing that makes a Porsche so good; a charismatic engine. The company is also promising an 80% charge in 20 minutes using one of its own branded 800v chargers (similar in concept to Tesla), equating to a range of 310 miles depending on spec. It’s also set up for wireless charging. A second Porsche EV, the Cross Turismo, is due in 2020, and it too will only enhance the appeal of EVs.

Volkswagen’s ID electric sub-brand is another hotly anticipated arrival, not least because VW is still atoning for its 2015 diesel emissions-rigging crimes. The Golf-sized ID.3 will be unveiled in September, with an ID Cross, the Buzz minibus (inspired by the legendary VW Microbus) and a coupe to follow. All will use VW’s new MEB electric platform, with three powertrains: a 48kWh battery for a 200-mile range, a 55kWh one for 250-280 miles, and a 62kWh for 340 miles. Charging can be done with 7.2kW or 11kW AC sources, with fast DC charging at up to 125kW recharging the battery in approximately 45 minutes. The concept cars that have trailed the new ID range all look very convincing, and VW plans to license its new EV architecture to other companies so they can explore niches that they deem uneconomic.

Elsewhere, new EVs from Audi, BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes and Renault are all incoming. Most of these cars deliver a 300-mile range under the industry’s tougher WTLP (worldwide harmonised light vehicle test) protocol, on a full charge. That’s thought to be the magic figure in terms of negating range anxiety, even if most users average around 50 miles per day. The important thing is knowing you could go further if you wanted to.

Meanwhile, electricity is also beginning to redefine the outer reaches of the automotive world. Ferrari’s SF90 Stradale harnesses three electric motors to its 3.9 litre, twin turbo V8 for a total of 986bhp. Lotus recently unveiled a spectacular new pure-electric hypercar, whose design really runs with the possibilities opened up by the electric car’s unique powertrain configuration: its rear end in particular celebrates the absence of an exhaust system by looking truly stunning. Italian design legend and former Ferrari partner Pininfarina has shown the first car in its long history to be built under its own brand, the Battista. Its fully electric powertrain produces approximately 1900bhp, and it promises F1-levels of performance to go with its magnificent looks. Its very existence is predicated on an ‘asset-light’ business model, that basically sees it licence from other suppliers rather than invest millions in its own proprietary tech. So, its electric architecture is from the deeply impressive Croatian start-up, Rimac, which is also building its own range of high performance EVs. The company’s founder, 31-year old Mate Rimac, is often compared to Elon Musk, and also wants to make the world a better place via zero emissions electric cars. ‘I could see the potential and I couldn’t understand why no one else could,’ he told me when I visited the Rimac HQ near Zagreb earlier this year.

You’ll be hearing a lot more of this name over the next decade.