There’s no longer any doubt that Tesla Motors is going to have some serious competition out there. During the last couple of months, we heard about:
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- The all-electric Jaguar E-Pace, a potentially smaller version of the F-Pace crossover that could take on Tesla’s Model X. Not much is known, but it will have super-slippery aerodynamics of just 0.28 g and all-wheel drive. The model could be profitable
with sales of 20,000 a year, which is possible if the country club set takes to it as it has Range Rovers and the plug-in Porsche
Cayenne S E-
- Aston-Martin, whose previous cars have relied on fossil-fuel horsepower (often V-12s), plans to introduce the ultra-high-performance (and stratospherically priced) RapidE (a version of the Rapide) in two years. This is clearly at the prodding of new CEO Andy Palmer, who seems to have liked the electrics he saw while at Nissan. The company also showed an electric DBX concept at the Geneva Motor Show. There were few details, but it reportedly has all-wheel drive and four wheel motors. At the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit this month, Palmer said, “I believe the future is electric and that comes down to strong economics. We have to overcome the range anxiety. We’re talking about an electric Aston-Martin with between 800 and 1,000 horsepower, courtesy of electric power. Imagine having all that torque on demand.”
- Let’s not forget that both Audi (with the e-tron Quattro Concept ) and Porsche (with the four-seat Mission E) are planning high-performance EVs for 2018. It’s definitely good news for the two divisions that the financial hit for the VW diesel scandal is sparing them. We hear that non-essential programs are being sidelined at the VW Group.
- There are also a solid corps of start-up pretenders, all-electric with crazy horsepower. These include Rimac's Concept One from Croatia, the Renovo Coupe (a version of the Daytona Cobra) from the U.S., and the Toroidion 1MW from Finland.
The Toroidion, with a whole megawatt of electric power (hence the name) and the equivalent of 1,341 horsepower is definitely one of the craziest supercars I’ve ever heard of, capable — are you sitting down — of 280 mph. And funny things happen at those speeds. Don’t even think of controlling the car yourself — it’s drive-by-wire time. Forget about throttle cables or mechanical linkages that can break or bend.
Greg Furlong, a senior engineering manager at Honeywell’s sensing division, told me that Toroidion is using its smart position sensors (often seen in heavy equipment like bucket loaders) to provide highly accurate steering and accelerator pedal response. “At 280 mph, controlling the steering and pedals is critically important to survival,” he told me. “There’s a constant feedback loop that stays accurate over time” as it measures movement in the steering wheel. “You don’t develop ‘play’ the same way you would in a worn-out ’56 Buick.”
I love the way the new electro-entrepreneurs are going to have to figure out a whole new form of mobility. Porsche says about the Mission E, “Compact electric motors, no combustion engine, no exhaust system, no transmission tunnel. Plenty of opportunities to question and rethink previous forms.” That car’s bristling with new sensor technology also, and even something Tesla tried and couldn’t get away with — cameras instead of outside rear-view mirrors. Good luck legalizing that in the U.S.
Another Porsche feature, one-upping Tesla’s electronic dashboard: Cameras track eye movement. If you look at a menu feature, the car cues it up and the driver confirms with a push of a button.
Inside the Porsche Mission E. Cameras track eye movement and intuit which dashboard menu feature you want to bring up. Any resemblance to Tesla's electronic dashboard is, well, you decide. (Photo: Porsche)
As Palmer noted, there’s no real limit on what you can do with a big battery pack and huge electric motors — 1,000 horsepower, and more, is within reach. But if you’re building cars like that you better make them safely drivable, even by neophytes.
But the tech rollouts have to be done carefully. Some criticized Tesla for making its self-driving software download available to any Model S owner with $2,500. NPR ran such a piece on "All Things Considered." “So there’s a feature that Tesla markets as autopilot,” said reporter Sonari Glinton. “It’s supposed to help drivers if they’re distracted in traffic. Well, after autopilot came out last week, drivers started taping themselves using it going at high speeds with their hands off the wheels and video cameras, and things went wrong.”
That’s nuts, of course. Tesla has been very clear about drivers with autopilot keeping their hands on the wheel. It’s not a fully autonomous system. You’re responsible for stopping at traffic lights and things like that.
Three cheers for electric innovation, I say. Here's how to responsibly drive an autonomous Tesla Model S (even with hands not always on the wheel):