As electric/hybrid cars become increasingly mainstream with the global pursuit of an environmentally friendly alternative to the 100% gas-reliant engine, I contemplated a big question on one of my daily COVID walks: Are electric cars cool? To answer this question, we have to review the attributes most important to car enthusiast―is it fast, fun, and would I actually want to drive it on a daily basis. Let’s get started.
I’m a technologist and engineer by trade so I’m intrigued by the latest advances in consumer electronics generally, and specifically in the auto industry. It’s the reason I love Formula 1―it’s the bleeding edge of technology. I started to take notice of hybrids and electrics when F1 introduced their hybrid power plants in 2014. They have been using battery technology since 2009 with their KERS (kinetic energy return system) technology which provides racers short bursts of power at the touch of a button. The current F1 powerplant is a full hybrid setup that uses a turbocharged V6, supplemented with a battery and an electric motor. While everybody is nostalgic for the screaming V12s and V10s of the past, the Mercedes factory F1 car driven by World Champion, Lewis Hamilton makes over 1000hp!
In the early 2000s, my college friend bought the 2nd generation Toyota Prius. I remember him bringing it to a friend’s birthday party. Party goers gathered around and were generally interested. I had a different reaction. I looked at his new pride and joy with complete disgust.
I couldn’t believe anyone thought that was cool and would actually spend money on what looked like a kitchen appliance on wheels.
As the years went by, electric and hybrid cars started to grow in popularity, yet it still seemed like a fringe technology. I understand the appeal of electric cars and automakers tried really hard to showcase innovative design to go with this emerging technology.
They failed. We got some dreadful looking cars that seemed to be designed by a computer algorithm, and not an automotive designer.
Fast forward to 2012. Tesla is front and center with the Model S. When I first saw the Model S on the street, it really stood out. It’s a good looking car instead of trying to look like a car from the future. It had a long sleek body with large stylish wheels that gave it real presence. I didn’t know much about Tesla. I thought it was just another Fisker, the boutique automaker responsible for the Fisker Karma. After some research I saw the performance numbers of the Model S and was blown away by the 2.3 seconds it took to reach 60mph, and watched several YouTube videos of Teala’s blowing away Ferraris and Lambos. Suddenly I was excited about the possibility of the electric car. It started to check the boxes. Is it fast? Check! Is it fun? Check! Would I want to drive one on a daily basis? Hmmm, maybe?
The reason I’m still undecided is electric cars lack personality. When I start up my primitive sports car it fires to life with a snorty roar from its quad exhaust that resonates through my bones. It has a wonderful analog feel when you’re shifting through gears at redline. It generates a beautiful sound that can only come from a traditional internal combustion engine. Horsepower alone doesn’t make a car cool or fun. It’s all those little sensory elements that give a car its true personality. I don’t know if an electric car will ever achieve that last check box. Sadly, I probably won’t have a choice in the not too distance future.
I do think electric cars are on the right path. Tesla is leading the pack with the most innovation with a new roadster on the roadmap. Most of the big manufactures in 2020 have some kind of battery technology, or a full electric option. Porsche had the hyper powered, and hyper expensive 918, Ferrari had LaFerrari and the upcoming SF90 Stradale while and Lamborghini joined in with the Sian, all models with extreme performance at extreme MSRPs, if you can even find one. For the more plebian among us Porsche just released their all electric car, the Taycan and hybrid versions of the Cayenne and Panamera along with several BMW hybrids. The Volvo Polestar 1 looks awesome too. There are even rumblings that the new Corvette C8 will have some kind of hybrid drivetrain. The future is here but I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace it. Let’s get back to original question, are electric cars cool? I’m going to say, yes, but with an asterisk.