A few days ago I was watching an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage with an interesting segment on electric cars. He was driving down the highway in his AC Cobra powered by an engine that never found its way into the real thing, the very rare and powerful, 427 SOHC, his develops, according to Jay, somewhere between 600 and 700 horsepower. He was on his way to have a little grudge race against a Tesla Model S. Ignoring the ridiculous theatrics of the show, the driver was allegedly someone’s Grandma, he squared off with the Tesla and at the drop of the flag, the Tesla simply ran away from the Cobra. It wasn’t even close. After seeing how well Jay drove race cars on some other shows, he’s no slouch, and whoever really was in the Tesla was likely very capable, but I doubt a perfect launch in the Cobra would have made a winning difference.
As you may know, the Tesla’s driver can choose from multiple performance selections, one actually called “Ludicrous” which puts 532 horsepower and 713 lb-ft of torque at the driver’s disposal. Since electric motors have all of that torque available from 0 rpm, and the Tesla Model S has AWD with traction control, the acceleration on tap (2.8 seconds 0-60 mph) will embarrass, well, … damn near anything, including 427 AC Cobras.
The Tesla doesn’t look like a race car, it looks like the high end luxury performance car it is, it would fit right in next to any BMW or Mercedes in the parking lot, nothing extraordinary in its appearance, and that’s the point. A perfectly ordinary car with phenomenal performance on tap for anyone at the push of a button.
I grew up in the original muscle car era and the sound of an American V8 engine with serious horsepower pushes all of my emotional hot buttons, but I like performance, too, and the acceleration of the electrics is enough to make anyone take notice. The range in the Tesla is upwards of 250 miles per charge, the new Porsche concept, just announced as headed for production, will be over 300 miles. Yes, the weak link is recharge time, but getting less, so. The Tesla supercharger stations being installed around the country give you an 80 percent charge in 40 minutes and a full charge in 75 minutes, though the stations are still pretty thin on the ground. Charging from 110 or 240 volts takes longer than a supercharger, but an overnight plug in puts you back at full charge. The Porsche will reportedly charge much faster. Electric cars also have far fewer moving parts so maintenance is going to be less frequent and the cars are filled with high tech extras, like wireless software upgrades at night and autopilot.
Until the recharge can match a gas station fill up, a lot of potential customers will simply say no. Of course prices are a factor, too, but for those who can afford one, the cars are getting perilously close to being a viable choice, perfect for any day you’re driving less than 250 miles, which for most of us is almost every day. How do heating and air conditioning affect the range? I don’t know, that is likely another hurdle, but the more electric cars on the road, the more chargers become available and the less of a problem those hurdles become.
Will performance be enough to put electric cars over the top and on the road to acceptance by muscle car era motorheads like me? I don’t know, I like vacuum tube electronics, too, but CNC routers and smartphones make a pretty convincing case for what we have right now. It doesn’t take too many heads up races seeing the old icons fall before you start to recalibrate your preferences.