Whenever I hear someone say "electric cars are the future" I just shake my head and laugh. Sure, all those gas cars, millions of them, along with thousands of gas stations will disappear over night. And all the muffler shops and emission centers, too!
And then I try remember the last time I walked into a Blockbuster Video and it convinces me that the world changes rapidly. I bet steam engines disappeared the same way. Why bother with water and warming up when you have fuel? And to take it to the next level, why bother with fuel when you have electricity?
Whether electric cars are the immediate future or a distant dream seems besides the point now that I've driven a 700-hp electric BMW M3 that kicked the crap out of me in the best way possible.
Fuel is a hell of a lot more portable than electricity. Seven pounds of fuel (roughly one gallon of gas) will take you as far as 50 miles if used properly. How far can you go on seven pounds of electricity? Pretty damn far. But the thing you store it in weighs a ton. For 50 miles of range you need roughly 350 pounds of battery and assorted electronics (going off the Leaf). And then you have to replenish it, which leads to other problems.
Until the infrastructure is in place for us to do more useful things with electric cars it seems they're better used for racing, where the rules can be made to support the current limitations (and develop better solutions). Think of short, 30-minute bursts of energy. Like the electric R/C cars we played with as kids. They were horrible for distance but for the 30 minute they worked you found yourself laughing and giggling through every turn and flip.
Or in EV West's case, 10 to 13 minutes. Which is all they need to cover the 12-mile race up Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. I share a shop space with EV West and they let me drive their crazy 700-hp modified electric BMW. So what's it like?
Strange. Fast. Smooth. Quiet. It surges. Seriously. The power comes on so much differently than a combustion engine. You get the same torque at any RPM, at any speed, any time you press the throttle.
That consistency is cool. But it's more how smoothly the power is delivered that most caught my attention. It just flows. A combustion engine feels like 100 elves pounding away with hammers 80 times-per-minute on the crankshaft. I think I can feel the little hammer blows.
Electric feels like some strange water drive. As if the power was made with fluid or something soft like a rubber band. Like God reached down, pulled back on the car, and wound it up. You press the gas and the car jumps forward. Throttle response is a thing of the past. Same with the sound of the exhaust opening up as you climb into the RPM sweet spot. That's gone, too.
But in its place you get 700 electric horses and you get them all the time, every time. Well… until the batteries need to be charged for the toy to work again.
The idea of 1,000 miles of racing all on electric while miles from civilization in arguably one of the hardest races on the planet is an insane idea. But I think SRD can do it. And they win most of the time they race, anyway. They won Class 5 in the Baja 1000 last year. Why would this be any different?
And don't worry, I remind them all the time they are going to ruin motorsports with their quiet little engines, but after driving their M3, I'm not sure I care. I do wonder if we are all going to trade in our nomex for rubber, shock-proof suits some day, but until then racing is racing and no matter what powers it, once you get in the car it's all the same.