In a few short years, Tesla has almost single-handedly legitimized the electric car. In 2014 alone, the company announced that a series of upgrades will give its Roadster model a 400-mile range and introduced the dual-motor, 691-horsepower P85D, a four-door luxury sedan that can compete with some of the world’s finest performance cars.
The recent introductions of the Volkswagen e-Golf, BMW i3, Mercedes-Benz B-Class, and Chevrolet Bolt concept show that the world’s biggest automakers are finally beginning to take electric cars seriously, and the initial success of the Formula E racing series is showing that racing doesn’t need internal combustion to be competitive. With more manufacturers signing up for the second season, innovations from the racetrack should reach the road even sooner. As the electric car continues to evolve, what happens when the P85D and the Roadster become the old guard?
Like the dawn of the automobile era, more than 100 years ago, small companies are springing up all over the world to take nascent electric car technology further into uncharted territory. While Tesla’s plan to release the sub-$35,000 Model 3 by 2017 signals the company’s move into mass-market cars, these startups are more interested in outperforming the world’s most powerful supercars. With the benefits of instant torque and blinding acceleration, these burgeoning automakers are looking to unseat the old guard with sheer power and speed — and make gasoline-powered engines look obsolete.
Last year, a strange car with a stranger name came from one of the smallest countries in the world and caused a sensation at the Geneva Auto Show. The Quant e-Sport Limousine was built around a ground-breaking flow-cell battery built by parent company NanoFLOWCELL AG in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Somewhat misleadingly billed as “the car that runs on saltwater,” the Quant uses a fuel cell with positive and negatively charged electrolyte solutions to power the battery, which sends an incredible 912 peak horsepower to the car’s four motors. With power going to all four wheels, the Quant can go from zero to 60 in just 2.8 seconds on its way to a top speed of 236 miles per hour, at least on paper.
There is promise in the Quant’s technology, but there are also some serious drawbacks. While the flow-cell battery allows for an estimated 250- to 370-mile range, the car is incredibly complex and heavy. The four-seater is 7.2 feet wide and 17.2 feet long (as long a Mercedes-Benz S550), with 6-foot-long gull-wing doors for easy entry and exit. With a its two 200-liter tanks full of fuel, the car weighs well over two tons. Compared to supercars with similar performance numbers like the 14-foot-long, 3,119-pound Koenigsegg Agera S, the Quant is a giant.
NanoFLOWCELL is serious when it comes to building a production-ready car, and the company is busy preparing an updated model called the Quant F. While the F maintains most of the e-SportLimousine’s proportions and styling, the revised car has a range of nearly 500 miles thanks to larger storage tanks, and it produces an astonishing 1,075 horsepower — more than a Bugatti Veyron 16.4. The F is a more production-ready car than the e-SportLimousine, but experts say production could be a few years off, as the car has only just been certified as road legal in Europe.
The other big hurdle is the Quant’s price. Analysts say that if Quant were to put its car into production, it would carry a price tag of well over $1.5 million, putting it in rarefied (and competitive) territory as one of the most expensive cars in the world, right between the $1.3 million Pagani Huayra and $2 million Koenigsegg One:1.
Another electric supercar coming out of an equally unlikely place is the Rimac Concept_One from Croatia. The Concept_One is the brain child of Mate Rimac, an engineer who was 21 years old when he began designing the car. Like the Quant, the car has a motor at each wheel but uses a battery of Rimac’s own design that’s larger than the one in a Tesla Model S.
This gives the car a range of 373 miles while putting up serious supercar numbers. The Rimac can go from zero to 60 in 2.8 seconds and crush a Ferrari 458 in a drag race. Even with a price tag of more than $1 million, there is enough interest in the Concept_One for the company to begin production on the car later this year, with an ultimate production goal of 88 cars. Rimac benefits from a charismatic founder and a number of lucrative partnerships with major automakers, so with a little luck, Rimac could soon be seen as the European answer to Tesla.
In a cryptic series of press releases, small Finnish company Toroidion has announced that it will be releasing its first car at the Top Marques Monaco in April. Little is known about the car other than that it’s called the 1MW for the megawatt of electricity the car’s electric batteries produce. The 1,341-horsepower supercar is being tightly kept under wraps for now, but if the 1MW comes to fruition, it’ll be one of the most powerful cars in the world.
Unlike the avant-garde Quant and Rimac, the small American startup Renovo is delivering supercar power in a familiar and timeless shape. Billed as the “first all-electric American supercar,” the Renovo Coupe is built in Tesla’s backyard in Silicon Valley. The coupes are set to be delivered this year, and company founder and Chief Executive Officer Chris Heiser believes the car is poised to shake up the supercar field. “The Coupe will re-calibrate your expectations of a performance car, with an all-electric powertrain designed around pure, unadulterated performance that revives and intensifies the connection between driver and drivetrain,” he told Autos Cheat Sheet in an email.
That drivetrain combined with the Coupe’s gorgeous Shelby Daytona body makes the Renovo the ultimate all-American electric track car. While it only has a 100-mile range and a top speed of 120 miles per hour, the Coupe is a pure acceleration machine. The drivetrain’s 1,000 pound-feet of torque and 500 horsepower to take the car from zero to 60 in a very quick 3.4 seconds. Heiser said that “where most cars are shifting into second, the Coupe continues to accelerate at g-levels that are at once unexpected and hugely rewarding to the torque requests of your right foot.” Like the Quant and Rimac, the Renovo isn’t cheap, with a $500,000 price tag, but with that price comes a level of exclusivity — fewer than 100 will be made.
Rimac’s website points out that “even primitive (DC) electric motors can outperform any combustion engine in almost all fields.” With cars like the Quant, Rimac, Renovo, and Toroidion, the question isn’t necessarily what comes after Tesla, but what happens when the internal combustion engine isn’t powerful enough anymore. The 1,001-horsepower W16 Bugatti Veyron was considered to be the apex of automotive engineering when it was introduced in 2005, a year before the Tesla Roadster was released. Just 10 years later, electric cars are producing numbers that were long thought unthinkable.
As legendary companies like Ferrari and Lamborghini focus on emerging as global brands, electric startups like these have emerged with the same passion and fervor for their cars that the older brands once had. Renovo’s Heiser summed it up this way: “We set out to build the most exciting vehicles in the world: addicting throttle response, epic linear acceleration, and a pure driving experience that redefines not only the limits of automotive performance but also the future of automotive industry.”
In less than 10 years, electric cars have gone from curiosities to boasting performance numbers that were long thought unthinkable. While Tesla attempts to find a larger audience, boutique automakers like these will continue to push the performance envelope and possibly give the likes of Bugatti, McLaren, and Ferrari some serious competition. These cars signal that the era of the electric supercar is here. Who knows where we’ll be in another 10 years?
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