Bright Spark

Bright Spark

Have you ever heard of the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon? It really is quite a machine. Under its enormous bonnet scoop, youíll find a huge 6.2-litre supercharged petrol engine that pushes out 840 horsepower, and according to its makers, thatís enough to make it the most powerful production V8 ever. 


Dodgeís US website is full of performance claims like that ñ the highest G-Force, the first wheelie, the fastest acceleration to 60mph of any production car, and so on. Look a little more closely, though, and thereís some small print. Most of these boasts are caveated via a series of footnotes to exclude modified vehicles and cars with hybrid powertrains, while a claim that the Demon is the fastest car to 100mph excludes electrics as well.


The Demonís raw all-American appeal ñ captured in the strap-line ìdomestic but not domesticatedî ñ doesnít just rely on its acceleration figures, of course, but the fact remains that cars with alternative powertrains have started to grab performance honours all over the place. An electric Volkswagen race-car currently holds the record for the tough Peakís Pike Hill climb and Teslaís top Model S competes with the Bugatti Chiron hypercar in terms of acceleration, to name just a couple of examples. 


The inevitable result is that while the American muscle-car scene may be dominated by the Challenger SRT Demon for now, one of Dodgeís rivals has decided to go electric. Chevrolet has just unveiled the high-performance electric Camaro eCOPO and is looking at selling a ìcrate motorî version of that carís powertrain separately for the modders and rodders.


And even the producers of mainstream electric cars seem to have caught the performance bug ñ the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, BMW i3 and the Volkswagen e-Golf have all had a fairly decent power boost in the last year or two. But is this emphasis on performance really the right thing from the point of view of developing the market for electric cars? Iím not so sure. Of course, as an electric car fan, I quite like the idea of high-performance electric vehicles giving the fossil-fuelled opposition a bit of a poke in the eye. On the other hand, even the most basic electric cars already have very zippy performance. Nobody gets out of a Leaf after trying one for the first time saying: ìI quite liked that, but it could do with a bit more pokeî. On the contrary, an electric motor generates maximum torque at zero revs, a characteristic that gives the cars an almost addictive liveliness and effortlessness, even when driven gently.


So, wouldnít it be better if the manufacturers put boosting performance to one side for the time being and instead put more emphasis on tackling the genuine obstacles to electric car adoption, such as range and the limited supply of new cars? In the case of range, boosting performance probably makes things worse. Constantly drawing on the full performance of an electric car in fast open road driving can send the driving range plummeting. Give drivers more power and some of them are going to use it all the time, with predictable results.


When Nissan upgraded the Leaf last year, as well as boosting the power of the motor, it also increased battery capacity by about a third ñ from 30 to 40kWh. Those were both worthwhile improvements, but a better balance might have been to leave power unchanged, while trying to get to 60kWh of battery capacity for a range of up to 250 miles. 


A Leaf with a bigger battery is at least supposed to be on the way, which gets us to the issue of supply. There are mainstream electric cars out there which already have a battery capacity of 60kWh or more, but it is quite difficult to get hold of one. The prime example is the 64kWh version of Hyundaiís Kona, for which there are reports of long waiting lists. Another long-range option, General Motorsí 60kWh Chevrolet Bolt, did make it to continental Europe as the Opel Ampera-e but not to the UK as a Vauxhall. And with PSA Group now at the helm of Opel, I wonder how long itíll be sold for, especially with an all-electric Corsa set to go on sale soon. And while Tesla is now selling larger numbers of its entry-level Model 3 in the US, European electric car fans are still waiting to get their hands on them.


 At least while we wait for that lot to get the supply of affordable electric vehicles flowing properly, thereís an exciting showdown between the Challenger SRT Demon and the Camaro eCOPO to look forward to.


David Wilkins 

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