Aside from the zero exhaust pipe pollution, which (as I’m sure you’re feed up of me saying, can be achieved with much cheaper gas-powered cars) my feeling was that the great advantage of being powered by electric motor was smoothness, refinement and in-gear performance.
With the benefits of exceptional drivetrain refinement, to me, logic would have suggested that the Volt (with its ability to run on petrol power for longer journeys) would have been better conceived a larger, luxury car, both playing to its inherent strengths and justifying the inevitably higher price of a car with a big battery pack.
Some time ago I suggested on Autocar’s pages that a luxury car, based on stretched Volt platform, with a higher quality interior, would play to the strengths of the range-extender drivetrain and the £35,000 price tag.
Vauxhall/Opel, to their great credit, have jumped into this conceptual slot with Monza. Even better, the Volt’s heavy and expensive battery packs have been replaced with gas tanks. The CO2 released per kilometer by gas power can be with a few percentage points of the same for electric cars charged from the European mains network.
Indeed, VW’s gas-powered Up city car emits 79g/km of CO2, compared to 75g/km for a battery-powered car charged from the EU mains. And with Germany set to close down its Nuclear power stations, that gap can surely only close.
Equally it’s also great to see a manufacturer finally unveil a production car that takes advantage of electric drive in the context of performance and handling.
BMW's i8, like future all-wheel-drive cars to come, is finally leveraging the electric motor’s extraordinary torque delivery, and the speed of its reactions. And by using the motor to help with acceleration, the primary combustion motor can be considerably downsized without denting the sub-supercar performance.
The upshot is that I’m still not convinced that the best and most cost-effective use of electric motors and battery packs is in small cars, used mainly for town driving. I suspect that Autocar’s first drive in the production i8 will confirm my suspicions.
The car industry needs to make greater use of electric motors, and exploit the benefits of the huge leap in refinement, low-down torque, rapid torque switching between the wheels and their key use in future lightweight all-wheel-drive systems.
If you want to potter around town in a low-pollution manner, I recommend the £12,000 gas-powered VW Up.