EV Technology will Bring in a New Era For Rolls-Royce and Bentley, But Not For Sports Cars.
Giving electric sports cars a distinct personality is one of the most difficult difficulties that EV manufacturers confront.
The shift from internal combustion to electric propulsion will benefit the vast majority of vehicles, from city-dwelling superminis to continent-spanning luxury limos. All will replace noisy engines with near-silent motors that run smoothly and emit no local pollutants.
Massive engines are dear to the hearts of manufacturers like Bentley and Rolls-Royce, who will send them an emotional farewell when the time comes. Both, though, see the potential for drive train technology to make their vehicles even more luxurious than they are now.
Bentley bid goodbye to its 6.75-liter V8 engine, which had been in production for 61 years, in the summer of 2020, and expects to discontinue the manufacture of its renowned W12 engines by 2030.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce will launch its first all-electric vehicle, the Spectre, in 2023 and will go completely electric by 2030. As a result, the business will fulfill founder Charles Rolls' forecast from 1900, when he drove an early electric automobile and called it "absolutely noiseless and clean." "There is no scent or vibration," he continued. When fixed charging stations are available, they should be quite handy."
In 2022, Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-tvös told me, "We tested with an electric Phantom 10 years ago...
Clients said it's perfect, it's Rolls-Royce in its purest form, and they enjoyed driving it. Even quieter than a 12-cylinder."
Rolls-Royce now has clients who will not buy a car unless it is electric. "That's a fundamental principle of theirs... "The combustion engine is dead for them," Müller-tvös stated.
Companies that convert historic cars to electric vehicles are soon entering an even smaller motoring niche. Lunaz, for example, is seeing tremendous success by replacing the engines of historic Bentleys and Rolls-Royces with electric motors. However, for the time being, electrifying classic Ferraris and Lamborghinis aren't as popular.
Range concern is soon becoming obsolete, owing to larger electric vehicles with ranges of 200 or even 300 miles. Charger anxiety persists as public charging networks struggle to keep up with consumer demand for electric vehicles (EVs), but I am certain that the situation will improve in time. Particularly at the high end of the market, where private garages and off-street parking appropriate for charging are more widely accessible.
At the other end of the market, electric city cars like the Honda E and Renault Zoe are popular, with the latter boasting a range of more than 200 miles.
However, the future will be more tough somewhere in the middle, in the realms of sports and supercars. The revolving dashboard of Bentley replaces changeable...
The essence of the problem is that if all EVs employ essentially the same electric motor and battery technology, the latter of which makes them heavier than ever, how do companies that pride themselves on handling characteristics and driver involvement differentiate themselves? How does one brand outperform another when their drivetrains are nearly identical?
"That's the billion-dollar question all the car makers are asking themselves," Mate Rimac, founder of Rimac and CEO of the newly established Bugatti Rimac, told me. We have these conversations all the time... The high-performance firms, such as BMW M, Audi Sport, and Mercedes AMG, as well as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Porsche, face a considerably greater battle."
Since our conversation in 2021, Rimac has joined this group, having acquired Bugatti with Porsche. Bugatti will electrify under his leadership, saying goodbye to its massive W16 engines and welcome, eventually, to an all-electric successor to the Chiron. Rimac discussed the challenges that performance car businesses face with me last year. "When all automobiles are required to observe the speed limit, you are not driving it, so there is no driving feel." These are existential concerns for which these companies have no answers. I'm sure a lot of folks are nervous."
The weight of batteries is a major problem for sports car manufacturers and its buyers. These massive packs can weigh up to 500 kg in some situations, but their placement on the floor of a car can at least be used to lower the centre of gravity and reduce roll-through turns.
Ex-Formula One engineer Gordon Murray, whose T.50 and T.33 supercars are fuelled by high-revving V12 engines, is hoping that electric cars don’t have to be boring. When the T.50 was shown in 2021, Murray assured me, "Hopefully, we'll never produce a dull electric car... Whatever we do and whatever powertrain we use, it will be the most enjoyable vehicle to drive. In comparison to a natively aspirated V12? Most likely not. But how does it compare to other people's electric cars? Definitely.”
This is echoed by Lotus CEO Matt Windle, whose 2,000-horsepower Evija hypercar is slated to be the most powerful road car ever built. "Our [electric] sports cars will be tailored around the drivers," Windle previously told me. It will not be a boring setting; rather, it will be an intriguing one. I used to work for Tesla and spent a lot of time driving the original Roadster. I can tell you that electric sports cars are also a lot of fun to drive... [An electric drivetrain] provides a completely new sensation, and people will grow accustomed to it... These vehicles present numerous opportunities."
It will be some time before any of this can be verified. For the time being, it's lot easier to picture the pleasures of an electric Rolls-Royce than the handling characteristics of a battery-powered successor to the Lotus Elise or McLaren F1. I, like many other petrolheads, will be curious to see if manufacturers can actually deliver on their EV sports car promises.