EVs cheaper than an exotic sports car, almost as fast

This article was originally published HERE


The 2022 Ferrari F8 Spider reaches 60 mph from a stop in just 2.9 seconds — no surprise for a storied sports car. Still, the more than $300,000 Ferrari would barely beat the 9,000-pound GMC Hummer EV pickup in a drag race.

The massive electric truck hits the same speed only a couple tenths of a second later thanks to its electric architecture. It is about a third of the price, and other electric vehicles about half the Hummer’s price can match that pace.

Generally, electric vehicles democratize acceleration by pricing supercar speed at a fraction of the cost. Automakers find that a great sales tool, but it brings up safety questions. How many average drivers can handle a supercar?

The would-be Ferrari vs. Hummer highlights an advantage electric vehicles have over internal combustion power counterparts. Electricity provides instant torque and acceleration. There’s no need to move pistons, spool turbochargers or shift gears.

“It all comes down to physics. You have an electric motor that’s all torque, you can get to peak power in a tenth of a second, and there are no dips for transmission shifts,” said Tim Grewe, General Motors’ director of electric strategy.

Battery electric vehicles are far more efficient than internal combustion engine-powered counterparts, due to lack of combustion losses and simpler drivetrains, according to a report of EV acceleration and efficiency from AlixPartners. Electric vehicles convert 89 percent of energy to the wheels compared with 16 percent for combustion engine vehicles, the consulting firm said.

The physical architecture of an electric car also enables more speed, said Gregory Shaver, a Purdue University professor of mechanical engineering.

Electric vehicles have heavy batteries typically along the bottom of what has become known as the skateboard platform. Compared with an internal combustion engine vehicle, the EV design distributes weight more evenly across the car and forces the tires down, helping to maintain grip.

Anyone who has seen high-powered Ford Mustangs or Chevrolet Camaros spin out has witnessed what happens when engine power overwhelms tire adhesion. That’s why the aerodynamic components of Indy and F1 race cars work opposite of wings on an airplane. They force the car down to maintain contact with the pavement, both to accelerate and to stay planted on high-speed turns.

“How do we make a car accelerate faster? We give it less mass and give force between the wheels and the ground while minimizing wheel slip,” Shaver said. “You want to be on that hairy edge.”

Electric vehicle efficiency

Electric vehicles convert 89% of their available energy to the wheels. That compares with just 16% for internal combustion vehicles. EV efficiency also gets a boost from regenerative braking.
Energy stored 100%
Battery charging losses -10%
Accessory losses -3%
Engine losses -18%
Auxiliary electrical losses -2%
Regenerative braking +22%
Remaining energy to wheels 89%
Energy stored 100%
Accessory losses -1%
Engine losses -70%
Auxiliary electrical losses -1%
Parasitic losses -5%
Drivetrain losses -4%
Idle losses -3%
Remaining energy to wheels 16%
Source: AlixPartners

Immediate power

Electric vehicles generate 100% of maximum torque from a standstill and maintain it for the first several thousand revolutions per minute, while internal combustion engines must accelerate to a couple thousand revolutions per minute before they reach their maximum torque.


Hover over or touch chart for a detailed view.


Hover over or touch chart for a detailed view.
Source: AlixPartners

And that’s what automakers are pitching in many of the latest electric vehicles.

With the first electric vehicles, the key metric was range — how far it could travel on a single battery charge. Automakers now increasingly talk about the acceleration of EVs. GMC advertises the Watts to Freedom rocket launch of the Hummer. The focus on acceleration sometimes reaches absurdity. Tesla says its unladen Class 8 truck will reach 60 mph in 5 seconds, an interesting data point but not particularly useful for hauling freight.

“I went in the Lucid Air Dream Edition with a 1,000 hp. It was like a launch out of a roller coaster,” said Roger Griffiths, Andretti Autosport’s chief technology officer.

“To be honest, at those kinds of speeds, you are basically a passenger. I don’t know how much control you have,” Griffiths said. “The only thing faster are these top fuel dragsters.”

To be sure, speed demons can get their thrills for much less than the $169,000 Lucid Air Dream.

The $30,500 Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle does 60 mph in about 3 seconds. There are also other lightning-fast EVs available for a fraction of the Lucid price.

“Tesla is claiming you can get a 3.1-second 0 to 60 in a $56,000 Tesla 3,” Shaver said.

While electric vehicles have held a consistent advantage in acceleration over gasoline-powered vehicles, they have lagged on top speed, according to Delta-Q Technologies, a charging technology company in Vancouver, British Columbia. But as EVs have evolved, that’s no longer the case, the company said. The Tesla Model S Plaid can top 200 mph.

“These types of speeds are well above what the average driver would ever dream of going, but it is an indication that the top speeds of an average electric car are rising. Reaching these milestones eliminates a factor that initially prevented consumers from making the switch to electric,” said Conway Hui, Delta-Q’s director of customer support and application engineering.

Automakers are pitching electric vehicle speed “to make EVs seem sexy and cool and not just environmentally friendly,” said David Zuby, chief research officer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Safety advocates and race experts question whether it’s a good idea to offer this acceleration capability to everyday drivers.

“There’s a big difference between a 50-year-old guy and the race car driver,” Griffiths said.

That’s why there are so many YouTube videos and news articles about new owners crashing their Lamborghinis, Ferraris and other supercars within days of purchase, he said. Safety officials don’t have data on new supercar crashes, but the Highway Loss Data Institute found that more than half of the collision insurance claims for high-performance motorcycles came within the first 120 days of ownership.
Race car drivers have far superior agility and training, and they are focused on the track and surrounding cars, Griffiths said.

A typical commuter, however, “probably has coffee in his cup holder and is thinking of other things but has just launched on the way to work because it is fun to do,” Griffiths said.

There are other issues, said Zuby of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“You are with other road users. And the roads we travel to and from work are not designed like the pavement on racetracks,” Zuby said.

While the electric motor lends itself to quick acceleration, automakers don’t have to make it the top feature of the vehicle.

“You don’t have to give race car performance. All of that is controlled digitally,” Zuby said.

Automakers also could use geofencing to determine the locations where drivers can use extreme acceleration capability.

“You can only unlock it when you are in a setting in an approved database. That strikes me as a more sane way of doing that,” Zuby said.

GMC does issue a warning, saying its Watts to Freedom mode “is designed for use only in closed courses. It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that driving style and acceleration do not endanger or inconvenience other road users.”

GM has no other safety measures that limit use of the Watts to Freedom launch.

Shaver said there are plenty of performance driving schools where owners of superfast cars can learn to handle their vehicles safely. Additionally, features such as stability control and automatic emergency braking can help mitigate errors.

For example, vehicles equipped with forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking are about half as likely to cause front-to-rear crashes, according to a study from a partnership between the U.S. Department of Transportation and several automakers. But other studies have demonstrated that such systems are more effective at slower speeds and acceleration levels.

Regardless, Zuby said safety officials should start examining whether a transition to electric vehicles increases crashes caused by speeding.

“It is an area worth looking at,” he said. “But it will be a while before there are enough EVs to do that type of study.”