Emissions trading, global warming and high petrol prices seem to be adding up to spell the doom of the just-for-fun sports car form of transport, but a new crop of all-electric vehicles is hoping to change that.
The trend was kick-started by American company Tesla, and now a British company has announced it will be joining the fray with a production version of its Lightning GT sports car, which was revealed yesterday at the London Motor Show.
So far, only the Tesla Roadster has been designed and marketed toward high-end electric sports car enthusiasts, and it has had next to no competition in the segment. Lightning’s GT marks the first real competitor to the Roadster, and raises hope that more will follow. The company first started taking orders for the car late last year and will soon be ready to start deliveries of its first vehicles.
To save weight, the car’s body is made from carbon fibre and Kevlar, and even with the full array of batteries on board the GT has a near ideal weight distribution of 48/52 front to rear. The car is also available with luxury items such as air-conditioning, satellite navigation, and full leather trim. Unfortunately, it's not a likely candidate for Australian import, despite its almost certain right-hand drive configuration. Its limited production numbers and high expected cost mean certification for Australian roads would drive the car’s price beyond what would be commercially desirable.
Proprietary battery technology helps achieve high power figures
Powering the GT is a new 552kW electric powertrain featuring nano-titanate battery technology, which is enough to propel the car from 0-100km/h in a flat four seconds and take it a top speed of about 210km/h. The electric drive system, dubbed Hi-Pa Drive, packs four permanent magnet brushless motors developing at least 120kW in each wheel and features full traction control and regenerative braking on all four wheels independently.
American rival Tesla Motors has had some major issues with the transmission system in the Tesla Roadster in the months following up to their planned release date, however Lightning should have no such problems. Due to power being developed separately in each wheel, there are no gearboxes, differentials, axles, drive shafts or propshafts in the Lightning sports car, reducing the complexity of the car significantly and improving the interior packaging.
This drive configuration will also make traction, wheel-spin and braking almost infinitely controllable by the onboard computer, since it won’t have to deal with mechanical interference from connected moving parts.
The battery pack will be made by AltairNano using the company’s NanoSafe technology, which use nano titanate materials instead of graphite which makes them far more thermally stable and able to recharge in as little as 10 minutes, rather than hours like conventional batteries. Additionally, the NanoSafe batteries have a life expectancy of over 12 years and can retain as much as 85% of their original charge even after 15,000 cycles, alleviating much of the concern over limited lifetimes and high replacement costs of the battery packs.
Torque-on-demand, low operating costs and zero emissions
One of the key benefits of electric vehicles is that they have maximum available torque at the wheels at any speed, unlike a petrol engine where maximum torque is only obtained high up in the rev range, where it quickly starts to taper off. That means lower gears can be used while cruising, enhancing efficiency, and yet acceleration will be almost instantaneous, since there is no necessary wait for the car to enter its power band.
Company officials claim charging the batteries for just ten minutes will provide up to 155km range, and at current prices driving one kilometre will cost just 1.5 cents, compared to 8.5 cents per kilometre for a car rated at five litres of petrol per 100km fuel efficiency. Add with the complete lack of tailpipe emissions and the car’s day-to-day and yearly operating costs will be appreciably lower than a petrol or diesel-powered car, especially once emissions trading schemes around the world begin.