Who Cares If Electric Racecars Are Not As Fast As Gas Cars?

By · July 03, 2013

Nobuhiro Tajima, the fastest EV driver at Pikes Peak

Nobuhiro Tajima, the fastest EV driver at Pikes Peak

About a month ago, there was some hope an electric car could win the Pike Peak International Hill Climb. Mitsubishi and Toyota both had official teams, with substantial money invested, and Mitsubishi had entered two cars.

Nobuhiro Tajima, who has already won this race nine times, was also driving an EV this year, a hugely powerful 100-percent purpose-built machine. That made four electric cars contending for overall victory. Even the Wall Street Journal played with the idea, but that was all before we had the first news from Sebastien Loeb.

The French race driver has won every race he entered in Europe, and the WRC title several times. It was his first time in Pikes Peak, but he won. The point here is that the fastest EV finished in fifth position, at an embarrassing 92 seconds behind Sebastien Loeb.

The Mercedes SLS AMG Electric Drive on the Nurburgring

The Mercedes SLS AMG Electric Drive on the Nurburgring

There was similar news last month when the Mercedes SLS AMG Electric Drive set a record for the fastest production EV at the Nurburgring race track. Sure, it was fast, but the standard gas model is even faster. Nissan has announced it will enter a plug-in hybrid in Le Mans next year, and it's a nice idea, but the manufacturer has already acknowledged it will be slower than the gas and diesel leaders.

Some people say the electric car needs more time, but the real question should be about the usefulness of superior performance. Who needs it? Who wants it?

It's All About Range, Not Speed

An EV has several key advantages over a gas car. It's nearly silent, with no vibration, and no pollution at the tailpipe. These are the traditional virtues of electric propulsion. Despite these benefits, EV sales are modest—but there's no data to show that speedier performance is holding back sales of electric cars. Good performance is certainly nice, and nobody likes to lag behind, but it's range that most EV owners care about. Is there a single Nissan LEAF owner who would rather have more performance over more range?

The Mitsubishi MiEV Evolution II, the second fastest EV at Pikes Peak

The Mitsubishi MiEV Evolution II, the second fastest EV at Pikes Peak

It's certainly true that fast EVs, racing EVs, play a role. They help raise people's interest and awareness, but ultimately, range and price are the convincing arguments. In Europe at least, there's an "anti-car" movement, and but the EV escapes vilification. That's because it's not aggressive—thanks to its quietness, limited range and performance. Rude people drive noisy, smelly, smoking gas cars while subtle thoughtful people glide along in silent electric cars.

Not everybody is suddenly going to become sophisticated, but it would be sad if the electric car had to lose its soul, and take on the characteristic of fast petrol-powered vehicles, in order to achieve greater success. Think about the Toyota Prius, which has never been a fast car. It's lack of driving excitement doesn't hold back sales. There have been a few examples of hybrid race cars, with the most successful at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which Audi has won for the second time in a row with a hybrid. But I doubt these wins for hybrids on the race track have resulted in more hybrid sales. The same things will be true for electric cars.

New to EVs? Start here

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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
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