EVs: The inadequate substitute
Coming soon to a dealership (or driveway via “disruptive” direct sales) near you, from the people who brought you plant-based “meats” and water-soluble cardboard straws, it is electric performance cars! They are monstrously quick off the line and are even making tremendous strides in the field of hero laps. And yet, just as “vurgers” and paper straws have struggled for footing with people who care about trivial things like how their food tastes or the structural integrity of their drinking implements, EVs haven’t been able to make many inroads with serious drivers.
Where enthusiasts and EVs don’t mesh
The practical reasons keeping EVs off of John Q. Public’s shopping list have been well documented: range anxiety, excessive charge times, charging infrastructure limitations, and a power grid that is woefully unprepared for mass EV adoption. For enthusiasts, there are at least three more reasons to be skeptical, detailed as follows.
Lotus founder Colin Chapman famously obsessed over simplifying and “adding lightness” to make his cars faster, more “tossable,” and more enjoyable to drive. He said that “adding power makes you faster on the straights; subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.” Variations of this ethos have produced the most loved cars in history, from cult favorites like the MX-5 Miata to cutting-edge supercars like the McLaren 765LT and perfect in-betweeners like the fifth-gen Viper.
Compared to the speedy slot receivers of the internal combustion world, EVs are hulking middle linebackers. The hottest new EV on the market, the Porsche Taycan, tips the scales at a spit-take-inducing 5121 pounds. To put that into perspective, the Taycan’s (also hefty) internal combustion sibling, the Panamera Turbo, weighs in at 4579 pounds while its four-door countrymen, the BMW M5 Competition and the Mercedes-AMG E63 S, weigh 4345 and 4515 pounds, respectively. When looking at the IC Americans of the segment, you’ll find the 4586-pound Dodge Charger Hellcat and the svelte, soon-to-be-replaced Cadillac CTS-V, which only brings 4141 pounds to the party. Even though the Taycan and the 4998 pounds. Tesla Model S P100D play in the sedan space; they actually fall smack-dab in the middle of a weight class that used to be the sole domain of half-ton trucks.
Porsche Taycan Turbo S 5121 pounds
Porsche Panamera Turbo 4579
Tesla Model S 4998
BMW M5 Competition 4345
Mercedes-AMG E63 4515
Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat 4586
Cadillac CTS-V 4141
Ford F-150 Super Cab 4529–5320
A whopping 1389 of the Taycan’s 5121 pounds can be attributed to its 93 kWh battery pack, giving the car a massive 37 percent weight penalty for going electric (not even accounting for the electric motors to which the batteries send their power). Swapping in the 7.0-liter LS7, and assuming that the weight of the fuel tank and lines wouldn’t exceed the weight of Porsche’s motors, the Taycan would then hit the scales at an extremely competitive 4186 pounds. The plug-in Porsche’s bat-pack is so heavy that you’d still be within 12 pounds of it by cobbling together an LS7, its supercharged LT4 successor (529 pounds), AND a 6.2-liter LS3 (418 pounds)!
For too long, automotive journalists and enthusiasts have done performance cars a disservice by fixating on frivolous numbers in an attempt to quantify how “good” a vehicle is. In reality, like Jimi Hendrix, it was an intangible “experience,” not raw data, that elevated all of the past century’s best cars to greatness. Unique engine placements, cylinder and valvetrain configurations, number of driven wheels, and induction methods give each internal combustion vehicle a personality of its own. It is these highly-personalized, one-of-a-kind temperaments that keep demand for air-cooled 911s, big-block ’60s muscle cars, early ’00s M cars, and unmolested examples from the height of the JDM era high even though none of them are overly quick by today’s standards. It is substance and depth of character that driving aficionados genuinely desire.
Many, especially tech-minded proponents of the “quiet revolution,” struggle to wrap their minds around this aspect of motoring. A car’s torque, 0-60, and range don’t equate to a computer’s processing power, refresh rates, or RAM. A truly great automobile can’t be boiled down into statistics; winning a drag race just makes one car quicker than another one, not necessarily a better, more enthralling one.
Getting a performance-oriented IC car down the road or track is a complicated athletic and intellectual activity. It is a sophisticated dance between human and machine; simultaneously steering, clutching, shifting, braking, keeping the engine spinning at its optimum speed, planning your next move, and searching for your own limits and those of the car. Like anything worth doing, it is challenging but completely immersive and vastly rewarding, on a level usually reserved for bright-eyed children learning to do things on their own for the first time. With a light switch of a “gas” pedal, no gears to interact with, and a lack of different engineering solutions across the industry, EVs bring all the charisma of cordless drill to a spirited drive. As our fearless leader said, back in 2016, “… electric cars have a ways to go before they are going to capture the hearts of most auto enthusiasts. The Tesla Model S might be able to humble a C6 Corvette Z06 in the quarter-mile, but we all know which one you’d rather spend a day lapping around Mid-Ohio or VIR. Overcoming massive weight with a gobsmacking amount of zero-rpm torque only goes so far when it comes to making a car truly fun to drive.” Let’s not forget about the auditory satisfaction (also unique to individual IC vehicles) that is entirely absent from electric driving, either!
Minimal areas of interest and DIY wrenching
The previously touched-on lack of moving parts and differentiation between brands makes the EV tedious for detail-obsessed car nerds. Even worse, it takes the wrench away from the shade-tree mechanic that finds their automotive solace in building and modifying their ride. Both groups of car enthusiasts will be let down to learn that manufacturers have taken most of the control out of their hands, applying iPhone-esque “over-the-air updates” to unlock more performance for all customers without ever setting foot near the car. Computer-savvy modders looking to gain an edge have also seen their efforts foiled by the car’s maker, further removing freedom of expression from car ownership.
Can EV Makers overcome these shortcomings?
In April of 1973, Motorola’s Martin Cooper made the first mobile telephone call from handheld equipment. The device that he used measured 9.1 inches tall by 5.1 inches deep and 1.8 inches wide. It weighed 2.4 pounds, took ten hours to recharge, and only had a call time of 30 minutes between those recharges. It took around two and a half decades, but eventually, the cell phone and its corresponding networks reached the point where they were reliable and convenient enough for mainstream consumption.
Even though they are already working with state-of-the-art technology, it is possible that we are in the “brick” stage of the EV lifecycle and that advanced “Moto Razrs” and “Androids” are on the distant horizon. Several battery breakthroughs are needed for electrics to supplant their fossil-fuel-burning forbears. Everyday buyers will need to see proof of gas-station-quick charging capabilities before they make the switch in significant numbers. As far as enthusiasts are concerned, EVs might as well not exist until the bat-packs can shrink from the bulk of a full-grown Holstein cow to something more manageable … possibly a large llama? Getting cumbersome EVs into beach shape will be the easiest of our three hurdles to clear, though.
Turning an appliance into something that can rival a 911 GT3, 458 Speciale, or even a Camaro ZL1 for thrills doesn’t seem overly probable, and we have to consider the possibility that it isn’t a priority either. EV makers seem content with beating “antiquated” internal combustion machines between stoplights while they pursue their true ambition; autonomous driving. Driver satisfaction is going to be challenging for EV companies to achieve, and it is also tough to imagine companies giving any control over their creations to “reckless” hotrodders. People looking for maximum engagement or the option to “turn up the boost” themselves don’t look like they are part of the plan moving forward.
Does internal combustion have a future?
Governments worldwide, including those of France, the UK, and California, have intentions of becoming “carbon neutral” by 2050. One of the stepping stones on the path to achieving this “ambitious” goal is banning the sale of new gas-powered cars sometime between 2030 and 2035.
It isn’t just “the man” who is gunning for internal combustion, either. General Motors, once the largest automaker in the world, has committed to the “bold” strategy of pivoting their whole portfolio of vehicles to an electric segment that has never even cut itself a 3 percent slice of the new vehicle pie, and they aren’t alone in this plan.
With consumer demand largely getting ignored in lawmakers and manufacturers’ thought processes, things are looking pretty grim for both car enthusiasts and people who enjoy having freedom of choice. Luckily, there are still some like-minded people left in the industry looking into ways to keep our precious V-8s while appeasing the eco-conscious juggernaut. McLaren is experimenting with synthetic fuels, and there are some promising advancements with compressed natural gas. Still, there has to be more effort on the part of enthusiasts if our right to choose what we drive is to survive.
What can we do?
Suppose GM and California’s fantastical future with zero crashes, emissions, or congestion isn’t something that you want to take part in. What can you possibly do to stand up against governments and corporations pushing their values upon you?
Well, it starts at the polls; tomorrow, we have a twice (sometimes thrice) per decade opportunity to cast our votes on how our country will be operated for the next four years. If individual liberties are important to you, do your due diligence. Look into every name on the ballot. See where they stand (provided that candidate believes the electorate deserves to know their stance prior to election day) on issues like emissions, fracking, and any other environmental hot-buttons that could affect your buying power at the pump and/or inhibit the ability of the companies who share your affinity for enthusiast driving to greenlight Hellcats, Predators, and M178s for your amusement.
Secondly, much like the League of Shadows, fans of internal combustion wield a sophisticated weapon: the checkbook. If the first wave of GM’s $20 billion EV assault is met with public indifference, like the majority of EVs that don’t wear a Tesla badge already have been, the folks in the General’s boardroom will be forced to reconsider their priorities. Like an awkward kid trying to get in with the popular kids, will they continue to ape Silicon Valley in a virtue-signaling effort to impress Wall Street, or will they repent and go back to building vehicles that their actual customers want to buy? Time will tell, but for now—what’ll it be, enthusiast community? Prime rib or an “Impossible” Whopper? The right to choose is ours.