Electric and hybrid engines are primarily known for their economy and green credentials, but in truth they aren’t the first things that spring to mind when someone mentions supercars. Perhaps that’s all about to change.
If you’re going to build an electric supercar, then it certainly helps to have your own private racing team and a great set of contacts. Lord Drayson has both. He used to be a minister in the UK government until 2010, and now he’s devoting all his efforts to making his electric car go really, really fast.
Back in late June, 2013, Drayson obliterated the world land speed record for an electric vehicle at Elvington Airfield in Yorkshire. He clocked up a speed of a little over 204 mph in his converted B10 Le Mans car, beating the previous world record of 174 mph set 39 years ago. That pales in comparison to the current overall land speed record of 760 mph, but it’s certainly pretty impressive for an electric vehicle.
What’s important about this is probably not Drayson bombing around a track at unprecedented speeds per se, but instead the spotlight that this shines on electric vehicles. It goes a long way to dispelling the misconception that electric cars are forever limited to being pedestrian, plodding vehicles that you might want to pick your kids up in, but you certainly don’t want to take out on the interstate.
It’s not that anyone should be traveling at that speed on any public road – that’s more in Scott Tucker American Le Mans territory – but the perception that electric vehicles are slow leads to a general view that their performance is underwhelming. In fact, electric engines develop significantly more torque than their gasoline counterparts, and therefore deliver exceptional acceleration. For example the Tesla Roadster, one of the world’s fastest production electric cars, goes from 0 to 60 in under four seconds.
Of course, that’s not to say that Drayson has overcome the problem of battery performance, one of the limiting factors in both speed and performance. However, he does say that his racing team is working with another company to develop a wireless charging system that will significantly reduce the time it takes to fill the electric tank.
Perhaps the US Government is finally getting serious about solving the battery problem, however. Back in November 2012, the US Department of Energy came up with $120 million in funding to establish a center for battery research at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. The mission of the center is to develop batteries that are five times as powerful as the ones we have today, and cost a fifth as much. The goal is to do this within five years.
So, the next time that someone in a Ferrari pulls up next to your Prius at the stoplight and challenges you to a drag race, just tell them that you don’t want to embarrass them by leaving them in the dust. It may not be true, but perhaps someday in the not-too-distant future, it will be.