The other day I met someone who thought the Tesla Model S was the first electric car ever made. That took me by surprise – but then I realized, to a non-gearhead, that probably sounds about right. I mean, it used to take 20 years for a new thing to become a household name, and now one company can practically make it happen overnight. But like ice skating or learning to yodel, it still takes years of effort to become an overnight celebrity – and small electric motors have been powering cars for a very long time.
Just so that one guy doesn’t get confused, though, let’s start from square one.
Why are Small Electric Motors Awesome?
We know Teslas have instant power the moment you put your foot down. We also know modern supercars have massive torque figures that were unheard of a few decades ago. But how did this all come about? The answer lies in the small electric motors at the heart of electric vehicles. They’re easy to understand, and while I don’t have time to explain them here, you should totally read this quick article and this Wikipedia timeline to learn how small electric motors work and how we got where we are now.
When they’re not exerting power, small electric motors use regenerative systems to recharge an onboard battery. That’s not enough to keep the car going forever by itself, so the batteries must be charged using grid power, like solar or the outlets at your house – hence the phrase “plug-in hybrid” or “plug-in EV.” In a hybrid, the small electric motors assist the engine instead of replacing it: the battery powers the motors, the motors recharge the battery, and everything is peaches and rainbows.
Either way you cut it, emissions are reduced and fuel economy is increased. In the case of pure EVs like Teslas, to discuss efficiency we use the metric MPGe – that’s the “miles per gallon equivalent” of the amount of electricity the car uses to cover a mile. For a Tesla Model S, that works out to about 100 MPGe. In addition to getting seriously great fuel mileage, it can outsprint pretty much any gas-powered car ever made. Not bad for a technology that was first taken seriously about 20 years ago.
Let’s look at some of the most exciting cars of today and tomorrow that are powered by small electric motors.
Cars of Today
That’s right, this countdown of badass, tire-smoking, rip-roaring hybrid electrics starts with a Honda Accord. You see, in 2004, about the only cars wearing batteries were Prii, Insights, and Civics. Those were all powered by lowly four-pot engines and were designed with fuel economy in mind, with the electricals boosting fuel economy by as much as 20% over the dino-powered mills alone.
Those small electric motors were mainly used to relieve the engine of having to power your AC and sunroof, as well as your 15-inch subs, your PS2, and whatever else Xzibit was putting in cars back in 2004. Then Honda had the revolutionary idea of strapping small electric motors to V6 Accords for the express purpose of making more power, and the result was what Honda themselves referred to as the world’s first “muscle hybrid”. Lol.
Paying an extra $3,000 over a regular V6 Accord bought you an entirely different engine – the one from the Odyssey minivan – with variable cylinder management and a small electric motor. All this effort netted the Accord Hybrid 15 more horsepower and 20 more torques, bringing figures to 255 and 232 respectively. Early models were capable of a 6.5-second jaunt to 60 while obtaining 30 city / 37 highway MPG under light-footed use, and up from 21/30 for models without small electric motors.
Mm, yes, the perfect car for the performance enthusiast who likes his cars beige-on-beige.
This improbable trailblazer of muscle hybrids was discontinued in 2007 and didn’t return until 2014. Apparently, the world wasn’t ready for something so divergent for another few years. But you know what else you could buy in 2014?
Tesla Model S
That right there is a 1981 Honda Accord, and the powertrain of a P85 Model S has turned it into a proper muscle hybrid. Seeing this Frankenstein contraption rip to 60 in under 3 seconds is a stark reminder of just how insane the Model S really is. It’s easy to forget just how quick electric cars really are, and something about a pseudo-gasser 80s Honda powered by small electric motors really puts in perspective.
The best things about the Model S is that it isn’t some multi-million-dollar hypercar that all five are spoken for – it’s a family hauler you can find on used car lots for under $35,000. The newest versions can reach 60 in under 2.3 seconds, or faster than any car made before the year 2000. Less than ten years ago it was a huge event to see a Tesla on public streets, and an all-electric future was still very much the stuff of dreams. Today, it’s all a given. How’s that for progress?
Now that we have some perspective, let’s find out what level today’s electric hypercars are on.
Rimac Concept One
The world’s first electric supercar, the Concept One, reached 60 in 2.8 seconds… way back in 2013; the same year Miley Cyrus released Wrecking Ball. The Rimac is better to look at, and with nothing but the whir of its small electric motors to keep your ears company, it’s better to listen to as well.
Rimac is a Croatian company that specializes in producing supercars with small electric motors. It’s one of the only Croatian car companies around, though Croatian parts are used by VW, BMW, Audi, Ford, and most other major automakers.
The Concept One has some neat party tricks, like 1073 horsepower and 1200 pound-feet of torque, and the ability to switch between front and rear-wheel drive at will. It can go 215 miles on a single charge, and later versions took the 0-60 run down to just 2.4 seconds.
EVO Magazine praised its torque-vectoring system, Road and Track described its carbon tub as being “as rigid as a nuclear bunker,” and The Grand Tour… well, they liked it so much they bought it. It’s hard to imagine a car this advanced can still keep you safe in an accident, but we now have living proof of modern safety standards immortalized on Amazon Prime.
With a massive production run of eight units (of which slightly fewer remain – thanks, Hammond), you probably won’t be seeing one of these $1,000,000 supercars in person anytime soon.
Porsche 918 Spyder
Here’s one you probably will see in person now and then, especially if you live in a car lover’s Mecca like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, or New York. By all accounts, there are fewer than 300 of these in the United States, yet it seems like a 918 or two comes to every Cars and Coffee in every major city in the country. But don’t be quick to label it the common man’s hypercar: this beast cost upwards of $845,000 when it was new.
In 2013 one such 918, fitted with the high-performance Weissach package, lapped the Nürburgring in just 6:57. It was the first production car to set a sub-seven-minute lap time, something everyone thought was impossible back in the early 2000s. That’s partially due to the Weissach package dropping an extra hundred pounds from the stock curb weight, but mostly thanks to a 4.2-liter V8 assisted by a duo of small electric motors, making a total of 887 horsepower and 940 torques.
Hop behind the wheel of a 918 Spyder and you’ll be at 60 in under 2.5 seconds. At the time it was the fastest production vehicle to 60 ever made. Of course, it took over a hundred years to reach that figure and only a few to beat it: the LaFerrari (2015), Chiron (2017), Huracan Performante (2018), and Challenger Demon (2018), have all bested that figure in just five years’ time. Some of those even exceeded 2.5 seconds without the help of small electric motors, and that’s proper insanity.
Fun fact: in 2014 all 918s were recalled because of both front and rear control arms being prone to cracking. The release stated that “control arms may break, causing difficulty to control the vehicle” which “increases the risk of a crash.” You don’t say?
We’re back at the Nürburgring again, a 12.9-mile mega-track that brings the best and worst qualities out of any car that tries to best it. One wrong move over the course of its 170 corners and you’ll be riding back to the pits in a tow truck. For an EV to set a time here, its batteries and small electric motors must be working overtime for the entire length of the lap. That’s put several would-be contenders out of the running, but Toyota wasn’t one of them.
Toyota Motorsport GMBH is a performance arm of Toyota that’s based in Cologne, Germany, where their sole purpose is to create fast cars: they’ve built rally cars, F1 cars, and even LM racers. TMG is the shop behind the P002 EV, which set an unassisted 7 minute and 22 second ‘ring time in 2012, making it (by this measure) the world’s fastest electric car. A duo of small electric motors and a 42kWh battery provide 663 lb-ft of torque and 469 horsepower, propelling the lightweight racer to a top speed of 158 miles per hour.
That top speed was probably the most limiting factor for the lap time, as the ‘ring has a substantial straight stretch called Döttinger Höhe where cars routinely exceed 200 miles per hour. Gearing is complicated when it comes to small electric motors, but by 2017, manufacturers had worked out how to go even faster at the top end.
This is currently the fastest electric road car in the world.
In 2016 newcomer NIO sent their EP9 electric car around the Nürburgring, and it blew TMG’s record out of the water: 6 minutes and 45.9 seconds. That’s faster than a Zonda R! This bonkers hypercar set similar lap records at the Circuit of the Americas, Circuit Paul Ricard, and the Shanghai International Circuit. It has a gigantic hydraulic rear wing which produces 5,395 pounds of downforce, allowing the car to corner at 3 G’s. That’s what astronauts experience on their way to outer space!
The EP9’s party trick was setting a 2:40 lap time at the Circuit of the Americas without a driver. That’s not far off the pace of MotoGP riders, and the manned 2:11:30 lap time made it the fastest road-legal production car to ever see that track. See, NIO is one of those names you’ve probably never heard of, but they’ve been active in Formula E for years now and their understanding of autonomy and small electric motors is nearly unparalleled.
Watch for big things from NIO in the future, but don’t expect to own any of them: all six EP9s are spoken for, at a cost of over $1.4 million each (which kind of seems like a bargain). Lucky for us, there are plenty of new electric hypercars on the horizon.
Cars of Tomorrow
Tesla Roadster 2.0
Let’s start with a car that people who aren’t the Sultan of someplace will be able to afford. We’ve covered this beast before, and it’s gotten a whole lot cooler now that Elon put a first-gen Roadster in space. Employing three small electric motors powered by a 200kWh battery pack, the Roadster 2.0 will supposedly have over 7,300 pound-feet of torque on tap. That’s enough to propel it to 60 in just 1.9 seconds, and to break every rule we thought existed about production cars and G-forces.
The rest of the car had better handle better than a hundred old Mazda Miatas, because that’s how much it costs: $200,000.
Seriously though, at what point will it become a health risk to sell a car that accelerates too quickly? When will people start getting whiplash from their cars, and will natural forces ever rip a suction-cupped GPS right off the windshield? Engineering Explained, you have a call on Line 1.
This Tesla proves how far small electric motors have come, and these next cars remind us that all rules are made to be broken.
If you drove the most recent Corvette and thought “this baby needs double the horsepower but way less sound,” Genovation has a surprise for you in the form of the Genovation Extreme Electric. It’s essentially a C7 Grand Sport with two small electric motors in place of the usual V8, and for an extra dose of Americana, those motors only power the rear wheels. Instant power to only two wheels. Did someone say burnouts?
AND THEY BROUGHT BACK THE ROUND TAIL LIGHTS.
Forget the power, I’d be tempted to pay the conversion’s $750,000 price just to have that glorious ass to stare at.
A perfect 50:50 weight distribution ensures all that money won’t cost you much in the handling department, though weight will probably be a factor when these hit the road sometime in 2019. Those compromises are no great shakes for the right to own the most expensive Corvette ever made – once you buy a fully-spec’d Grand Sport, buy the GXE conversion, and pay all the taxes, you’ll be into this bowtie nearly $1,000,000.
And it’s about to be the fastest American car to ever use small electric motors.
I can’t wait to see one of these at a burnout contest somewhere in rural Kentucky.
Tesla can sit right down, because the Rimac C_Two can jump to 60 in a mind-bending 1.85 seconds on its way to a top speed of 258 miles per hour. Suddenly 1.9 seconds seems so 2018.
Rimac is back again, with a car that from the back looks like a C7 Vette shagged a BMW i8. It seems like only yesterday that the Veyron’s 1,000 horsepower was unthinkable, and less than 15 years later production cars are about to double that. The four small electric motors at each wheel produce a whopping 1,914 horsepower and 1,696 torques, proving that the Rimac C_Two is Moore’s Law in action.
Six-pot calipers stop all four wheels, and a liquid cooling system prevents the 120kWh battery from getting hot as you attempt to rip the tires off the wheels. It also has level 4 autonomy, meaning it can navigate roads, tracks, and anything in between without you having to do much actual driving. Not that you’ll want to use it.
Rimac says the onboard AI can also suggest cornering and braking lines when you’re on the track… Forza is no longer just a game.
Only 150 C_Twos will be made, and the cost? If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
Aston Martin Valkyrie
This hybrid supercar extraordinaire is a contestant for the most awesomely-named car ever made. Codenamed Nebula (also epic), the Valkyrie is collaboratively developed by Aston Martin, Red Bull Racing, and others. It’s what happens when a Pagani Huayra meets the Batmobile, and though we won’t see any of them on the road until 2020. When it drops it will make 820 horsepower from a 6.5-liter Cosworth-developed V12 backed by a myriad of small electric motors.
The Valkyrie is slated to reach the venerated 1-to-1 power-to-weight ratio, allowing it to hit 200 miles per hour in just ten seconds. That would make it one of the fastest cars ever made by anyone, ever. This bodacious homage to modern machinery is the first of an entire line of mid-engine Aston Martins with small electric motors. The drawback: they’re only making 175 of them, and most will probably end up sitting around in collections.
That’s a real shame because this is the sexiest, most futuristic, most bedroom-wall-poster thing I’ve ever seen. Between the Valkyrie and the Ford GT, it’s safe to say we’ve arrived at the future of automotive design.
Speaking of design, I’m a little leery of this one. See, Renault has this nasty habit of showing up to Concours events and international auto shows with the most ridiculous in-your-face concept car you’ve ever seen, and then never selling anything close to it. Seriously, do a Google image search for “Renault concept car” and prepare to scroll for ten minutes. Quit being a cocktease, Renault.
The French say the small electric motors slated for use in the Trezor will propel it to 60 in under 4 seconds. I should hope so, since it’s 2018 and all. My neighbor’s dog can get to 60 in 4 seconds. Speaking of nonsense, there’s no damn way that roof will make it into production, not to mention that whole scene is totally ‘shopped. I know what you’re thinking: “How could you tell?” Oh, and Autocar claims the wheel spokes are shaped like the Eiffel Tower. That may be a bit much, but it’s better than saying they’re shaped like penises.
One neat and oddly 90s design element is the complete lack of hard edges. Besides where the “top” meets the body, every surface is made entirely of curved lines. This gives the Trezor a 0.22 drag coefficient, which makes it one of the most aerodynamic cars ever made. Renault claims that some form of this is going into production in 20200, and if it does I’ll regret not buying that bridge in Brooklyn when I had the chance.
Small Electric Motors are the Future
Today, almost every single one of the fastest cars ever made has small electric motors. On March 3rd Pagani announced they’re working on an EV hypercar, and Lamborghini, Ferrari, and Porsche are all onboard as well. In case you needed convincing that small electric motors are here to stay, there you have it – the future is definitely electric.
As you can see, small electric motors are going to be changing the world for a long time. The origin story of how they got to this point is as interesting as where the future is headed, and if you’d like to learn more about small electric motors and the electric cars of days past, I encourage you to check out the links near the beginning of the article. Knowledge is power, people, and this is one trend you’re going to want to be a part of!
Did we miss any sweet hybrid or electric cars that we should’ve covered? Let us know in the comments and we’ll cover them in a future article!