Electric Cars: When Did This ‘Old Rubbish’ Become Cool?

Apple [NASDAQ:AAPL] might have officially gone bonkers. I get the feeling they’re trying too hard to be everything to everyone. I say this because in the last week there have been reports about Apple getting into making electric cars.

Now this wouldn’t be out of place for a company like Google [NASDAQ:GOOG]. Google is renowned as a ‘Moonshot’ company. They go with the out-there project like self-driving cars. Whether or not they turn out to be a success…who knows? But Moonshot projects are as important to Google as their search engine.

But at the core of Apple they make very pretty computers and smartphones. So why on earth would they be considering electric cars? Maybe things are worse at Apple than we realise?

Just the idea and rumour of Apple getting into electric cars is a revelation in itself. It means that a ‘cool’ company like Apple believes these kinds of cars are a fit for the brand.

Just a few short years ago hybrid and electric cars were very ‘uncool’. I’m sure every Toyota Prius came with an Al Gore poster and a ‘Welcome to the Club’ letter on hemp paper from Leonardo DiCaprio.

It’s not like there haven’t been attempts to bring the electric car industry to life. You can look back 100 years to find examples of battery powered electric cars. Yet until the last few years, most failed.

The most notorious example of failed electric cars was the GM EV1. Some believe an underhanded conspiracy by the major oil companies signed the death warrant for the EV1. But if you take it on face value, perhaps it failed because it was possibly the ugliest, most ‘uncool’, and rubbish looking car ever made.

Fast forward to 2013 and 2014 and it’s a whole different story. It’s simple…electric cars are back. And this time they’re here to stay.

The big car makers known the time is right

Anyone with an electric or hybrid car now is a trendsetter, a pioneer, a saviour of the earth. It’s about time too. I believe the auto industry needs to make electric power the standard when it comes to car making. And it looks like a few of them might just agree.

Electric charging infrastructure has been one of the car industry’s failures. But with the success of the Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] supercharger network across North America, it’s clear to see this failure is about to be fixed.

Speaking of Tesla, you have to give a lot of credit in the resurgence of electric cars to Elon Musk. Tesla is the first car maker that makes electric cars people want to buy. Simply, it’s jam-packed full of tech, looks amazing and smashes other electric cars with its range.

And the fact Musk has built a $25 billion car company that only makes two models says something. There’s a huge market for electric cars with a genuine bit of sex appeal. And as Tesla release an SUV, and an ‘affordable’ electric car, this is going to be a hotly contested market.

Because of the increasing popularity of Tesla cars, other car makers have realised that the time is ripe to push this technology through to the masses. If they don’t they’re going to fall behind, fast.

BMW now has the i3. It too is an electric car (with an optional petrol range extender). The i3 is also full of new technology and looks like something you’d want to drive. Not to stop there, BMW also has the soon to be released i8 (a hybrid), which is even better looking and will be sold alongside Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. And BMW’s use of carbon fibre really has car makers talking.

More on carbon fibre shortly. But what’s clear is that car makers around the world know that hybrids and electric cars are inevitable. That’s why other electric cars you can already buy include the Fiat 500e, Renault Zoe, Chevrolet Spark, Volkswagen e-UP! and soon the Audi A3 e-tron.

If you have any doubt that the immediate future of cars is hybrid and electric, just look at those names. We’re talking the biggest car companies in the world. And they’ve all figured out that for EV’s and Hybrid to be a success they need the x-factor. A bit of sex appeal. They need to be ‘cool’.

To realise this you only need to look at a comparison of today’s tech-laden ‘green’ cars versus yesterday’s… It’s the modern day McLaren P1 versus yesterday’s GM EV1.

© Copyright McLaren Automotive Limited   Source: RightBrainPhotography (Rick Rowen)

It’s pretty easy to see which you could term ‘inspiration’ and which you could call ‘aberration’.
The McLaren P1 is more than just good looks though. It’s possibly the biggest leap forward in car making since the Model T Ford.

If you’ve never heard of the P1 here’s a brief explanation. It’s the future of cars. It’s the world’s most technologically advanced road car. Sure it’s got a 3.8 litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine, but it’s also got a 176 horsepower electric motor. Its CO2 emissions are sub 200 g/km (about on par with a Ford Mondeo) and you can even switch it into full electric mode for pottering around short distances.

Now although the P1 might cost north of $1.5 million, it’s full of technology that’ll eventually find its way down into passenger cars over the next five to 10 years. One of the biggest advances you’ll see filter down is the P1’s full carbon fibre monocoque.

What that means is the car is basically all carbon fibre. McLaren’s Press Release explains it best,

On the McLaren P1™, the new carbon fibre MonoCage forms a complete structure, incorporating…the vehicle’s roof and distinctive snorkel air intake.

The release continues to explain,

At just 90kg, the McLaren P1™ has one of the lightest carbon fibre full-body structures used in any road car to date, and uses the most advanced carbon fibre technology. A combination of Formula 1 style pre-preg autoclave technology and precision resin transfer moulding (RTM) achieves a single piece.

From Le Mans and Monte Carlo to the dealers of Melbourne

The use of carbon fibre composites in car making isn’t all that new. Motorsport championships like F1™ and Le Mans series have used carbon fibre monocoques for years. But what happens is the tech from F1™ and Le Mans finds its way into the workshops of car makers. Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes, Audi and McLaren are a few car makers that benefit greatly from this process.

And as the technology improves over time it filters down from the supercar makers to the rest of the auto world.

Carbon fibre is crucial to the long term future of ‘green’ cars with low emissions. The big problem is it’s always been expensive to use in the car making process. However, one Aussie company, who I can’t name, thinks their proprietary carbon fibre composite system is the answer car makers have been looking for.

They’re currently in discussions with leading car makers about licensing out their system. The technology this Aussie minnow has could completely change the auto industry. Instead of carbon fibre being commonplace in cars that cost six figures and more, you could see carbon fibre on your next Corolla, Mazda 3 or Hyundai i30. It’s this kind of technological approach and innovation that’s going to drive the auto industry forward in the coming years.

Even when driverless cars are on the road, how car makers put them together will be crucial to a sustainable, ‘green’ world. Carbon fibre in cars makes them stronger, lighter and more fuel efficient. It improves safety, economy and makes the cars look cool. So you can see the potential this has in the modern, ‘green’ world.

The P1, i8, Model S and soon to be released Porsche 918 Spyder are the aspirational cars of the future. They combine pioneering technology with car making and motorsports. The sophistication and technology used is simply mind-blowing.

Thanks to these hybrids electric cars are finally cool. Although some of these ‘hero’ cars aren’t technically full electric, the fact they use electric motors and electric energy systems, is a huge step forwards.

Advanced technology companies like Tesla and McLaren just happen to also make cars for a living. And that’s a good thing. With these tech pioneers at the helm of car making, the future looks bright for hybrids and electric cars.

Sam Volkering+,
Technology Analyst

Ed note: The above article was originally published in Sam Volkering’s Tech Insider.

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One response to “Electric Cars: When Did This ‘Old Rubbish’ Become Cool?

  1. The relatively small numbers of Tesla owners can afford solar arrays to charge them. But once all the world can afford cheap Chinese models, how will they be powered – and produced? For the conceivable future coal-fired power stations are the likely answer!

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