The transition from the above-mentioned hybrid vehicles to pure electric cars in auto racing will happen, but it is still some years away, according to Brett Smith, the co-director of manufacturing, engineering and technology at the Center for Automotive Research.
“Electric cars are still not great for racing,” Smith said, “except for the fact that electric motors are fabulous performance pieces. “Energy storage in a battery does not compare to liquid storage in gasoline. The reality is it won’t be there in the next five years, maybe not even in the next 15 years. So racing is possible with constraints.”
Although Waters says experimental electric cars have achieved sustained speeds of more than 180 miles per hour and established world speed records above 300 mph, the issue will continue to be endurance on the track. But in a recent speech to the American Chemical Society, Waters said the real advantage electric cars have is “instant torque,” the twisting motion that turns wheels that has enabled electric test cars to go from zero to 60 in less than four seconds.
“Electric race cars have not sustained speeds more than 150 miles per hour because the lithium batteries currently used only last about 10 minutes before a pit stop,” Waters said.
Meanwhile, some researchers are working on the all-important issue of cooling the engine during a race.
“The ability to keep things cool is the ability to achieve higher power levels without things overheating,” said Wally Rippell, chief technology officer for AC Propulsion, a high profile developer in the EV market. “The horsepower rating of an electric motor is based on the ability to cool itself. If you look at races that last more than a few minutes, 10 miles or more, the cooling function becomes a central part of it,” said Rippell, who has worked on EVs since the 1960s.
Meanwhile, the consumer electric car industry is making the long hard climb into the American culture. Tesla Motors, under the direction of visionary Elon Musk, recently introduced a luxury sedan, the Model S, starting at $50,000. The lowest capacity Model S battery powers the car up to 160 miles per charge – at least 60 more than most competitors. The prices are still too steep for most car buyers, but it has been reported that next year Tesla will introduce another new model, starting at $30,000.
“My advice is the market will drive the product,” said Waters. “Make a better product that’s more fun to drive and people will buy it. The Model S is like that. Driving the Model S is a life changing experience.”