DRIVING

Will your next new car run on electricity?

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Since Autoeditor readers are affluent, there’s a fair chance that you already drive an electric vehicle. The question is whether electricity is your only fuel choice or do you hedge your bet with a petrol-powered machine. And how comfortable do you feel if electricity becomes your mandated future?

It’s a Matter of Time

Battery electric vehicles are growing in popularity, but comprise just two-percent of national sales and just shy of eight-percent in California, the segment’s hottest market. So far, the largest drivers of electric vehicle acceptance have been federal and state consumer subsidies, automaker’s incentives and Tesla. 

That Tesla, a newcomer from Silicon Valley could so quickly capture the industry’s luxury vehicle title as well as become the world’s most valuable automaker is stunning. And the pugnacious firm has done this without a dealer network, subsidized leasing, media advertising or all the other conventions of the auto industry. But serious competition is just around the corner, both from established automakers and a local startup rival who really seems to get it, so we’ll look at a few new EVs with promise.

How much momentum is behind electric vehicle adoption? Glad you asked. Just after I began writing this article, California’s governor announced, with great fanfare, that all cars and light trucks sold in the state by 2035 would be electric powered. The Honorable Gov. Newsom asserted this authority by ordering the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to mandate that rule. Since my household just acquired a portable generator to supply a few electric requirements when we’re plunged into recurring blackouts, perhaps the good governor might have started with supply before exploding demand. But logic is often trumped by politics.

Even without government handouts and draconian mandates, forces exist in favor of transportation fuel moving from petroleum to electricity. For those of us lucky enough to own a home, and especially if it has solar panels, we also have our own refueling station. And all battery electric vehicles are clean, quiet and nearly maintenance free.

Every automaker has offered an electric vehicle in their product portfolio, mostly driven by government fuel economy mandates. The math was simple. Big, expensive sedans and SUVs were thirsty but profitable. So “zero emission” vehicle sales could offset the guzzlers and comply with “corporate average fuel economy” (CAFE) regulations. But these “compliance” cars offered short range on a full charge, were not very exciting to look at or drive and were leased at a loss to capture the few “green” buyers who either wanted to demonstrate their collective love of our planet or just snap up a cheap second car. It’s hardly a sustainable business model.

Getting Serious

Back in 2008, when electric vehicles were still a curiosity that few took seriously, I visited a little skunkworks operation in San Carlos, California called Tesla run by founders Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning. Their creation seemed not that remarkable, a Lotus Elise sports car supplied by the British automaker without its gas engine or transmission, was the foundation, then an electric motor, control system and battery pack were then fitted. It was all very familiar – a couple of earnest engineers building a kit car.

Eberhard gave me a tour of his battery package that used hundreds of small lithium ion cells, wired together in packets for high energy density. The cell packets could be individually serviced and liquid coolant kept the battery system stable. It was far more advanced and provided more power and range than predecessors offered by major automakers a decade earlier. A short drive confirmed that this little roadster was even more fun than the petrol-powered Lotus.

Three years later, after principal funder and visionary Elon Musk had asserted himself as Tesla’s CEO, I got a sneak peek of the Model S. It was staged in a photo studio and my reaction was that if it ran as good as it looked, the fledging automaker had a winner on its hands. On June 22, 2012, I witnessed the dramatic launch of the new sedan at the Fremont plant and since then I’ve marveled at the company’s success in this notoriously competitive, capital intensive automotive industry.

I’ve also marveled at how Tesla has not faced serious competition from either established automakers or new electric vehicle startups. Although the young company has some interesting technology and a Silicon Valley entrepreneurial attitude, it doesn’t possess a secret or patent that can’t be replicated by others. For established automakers, part of the answer is the 100-year legacy of combustion engines, a delivery system they’re quite good at. And for new entrants, the capital requirements are so breathtaking, they need to show potential investors a clear strategy of success. 

Finally, a combination of world-wide government rules, a major expansion of EV charging infrastructure and serious new competition from old and new automakers are creating competitive new electric vehicles. EVs that have performance and range that equal and can exceed conventional, gas-powered equivalents. And because electric power systems have fundamentally fewer parts, they are fundamentally easier to produce in volume.

New Choices

While it’s certain that an electric vehicle will be part of car buyer’s future considerations, what choices are available now? We’ve picked a handful of new offerings that you can order right now and a few that are right around the corner. With two exceptions, all offer at least 300-miles of electric range and one promises enough energy and efficiency to drive from Silicon Valley to Hollywood on a single charge. 

Lucid Motors 

Seven years ago, startup Lucid Motors offered journalists and potential investors short rides in its spacious luxury sedan. The prototype vehicles where not finished to production standards, but the performance was every bit as strong as Tesla’s Model S and the interior was much more spacious. Lucid’s CEO and CTO, Peter Rawlinson, was recruited from Tesla where he was Chief Engineer for the Model S, so I was unsurprised that this Lucid Air sedan appeared to be an improved alternative. But was that adequate enough to launch a car company?

Despite producing good looking prototypes with brisk performance, it wasn’t clear that Lucid Motors would survive any more than other seemingly similar EV startups. But the fledging enterprise soldiered on, demonstrating its engineering prowess by setting speed records and booking orders at events including the Pebble Beach Concours.

Lucid’s survival was assured when the company received $1-Billion in funding in exchange for equity from Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund. Much of the investment has been used to finish production prototypes and build a new manufacturing facility in Casa Grande, Arizona.

2021 Air Dream Edition

The first model will be the Lucid Air Dream Edition, a fully optioned flagship sedan that takes a page from Tesla’s original Model S strategy with a retail price of $169,000. At that price point buyers expect the best, and the Dream Edition delivers not only sub-three-second sprints to 60MPH, but a quarter mile finished in just 9.9-seconds. That’s not only faster than any production sedan, the Dream has an unofficial range of 517-miles. In comparison, the Porsche Taycan Turbo S isn’t as quick, has a 192-mile range and retails for $185,000.

For the long term, Lucid will follow with more affordable Air sedan models with MSRPs under $80,000 and an SUV configuration. The company, under its original Atieva brand, is the exclusive battery system supplier for Formula E racecars and is working on new powerwalls and control systems for residential use. It’s been quite a ride so far. www.lucid motors.com.

2023 Cadillac Lyriq

General Motors was in the EV game early, with its EV1 electric vehicle in the 1990s. In fact, Tesla’s co-founder Eberhard started his company because GM wouldn’t let him keep his leased electric vehicle. But after its short electric vehicle experiment, GM returned to fossil fuel power systems before creating the Chevy Volt, a 35-mile-range EV with a hybrid engine that could extend the range to a useful 380-miles. Most Volt owners enjoyed fuel economy in the triple digits with simple overnight recharging.

When Tesla’s Model S arrived and began devouring big chunks of the luxury car market, Cadillac borrowed the compact Volt platform, topped it with a stylish coupe body and asked $75,000 for the result. If Cadillac executives were trying to repeat marketing disaster of the 1980s Cimarron, a compact based on a Chevy offering, they were wildly successful.

So it’s been a while since the venerable luxury brand ventured into electrification, but its upcoming Lyriq looks like it may erase previous faux pas with proper drama. In fact, if the new battery electric Lyriq drives as good as it looks, Cadillac will quickly reverse its past missteps. And why not? This is the same corporation that just produced the new Corvette supercar.

The Lyriq is built on a new, dedicated Ultium skateboard platform with 50/50 weight distribution and a low center of gravity. Its 100 KW battery system provides at least 300-miles of useful range and fast recharging times. Inside the plush cabin, a 33-inch curved LED screen provides useful data and Cadillac’s Super Cruise provides hands-free semi-autonomous driving on most major highways. The Lyriq will even self-park with the driver in or out of the car. And a $60,000 starting price before rebates is planned.

Ford Motor Company 2021 Mustang Mach E

Before the end of the year, Ford will begin deliveries of its Mustang Mach E electric crossover, a quick utility that sports an EPA estimated range of 300-miles in California Route 1 trim. It’s $49,800 MSRP is a bit less than Tesla’s new Model Y price and that’s without the nearly $10-grand of federal and state rebates that still apply to the Mustang EV.

Based on the enthusiasm at the Los Angeles Auto Show introduction in late 2019 and the hundreds of preorders, Ford can make a dent in this emerging market. Other Mach E trim options are available to order through your nearest Ford dealer.

Polestar 2

Polestar has been Volvo’s racing sub brand, similar to Mercedes AMG and BMW’s M. Now it’s the new name for the Swedish/Sino automaker’s electrified offerings. Its first offering was the very limited Polestar 1, a hand-crafted, carbon fiber coupe boasted 600 combined horsepower from its gas/electric hybrid powertrain and sold briskly at $155,000.

The Polestar 2 is a pure battery electric EV with a more modest $59,900 price for the well-equipped Launch Edition before state and federal incentives. Although the 78 kWh battery provides a modest 233-miles of EPA range, independent testing and my own experience suggests a more useful distance of nearly 300-miles. The useful five-door hatch style provides crossover utility and the full Android/Google Assistant will please techies and others who take the time to master commands. www.polestar.com