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How do you solve a problem like Evija?

Lotus's new hypercar is its biggest statement since the launch of the Elise. But is it the right one?

By Dan Prosser / Sunday, July 21, 2019

How is it that a British sports car manufacturer I have a lot of affection for can unveil a new hypercar with 2,000hp and mind-bending acceleration figures, and I feel unmoved by it? I don't particularly mind that the Evija derives its motive force from motors and batteries, nor that it'll cost £2m (I would be no more likely to buy one if it cost one-tenth of that). I suppose I feel a road car capable of clocking 186mph in half the time it takes a McLaren 720S to do the same is so utterly unnecessary.

I already think high-performance cars are becoming too fast. Drive a 720S on a British road and you'll manage three or four second bursts of acceleration at best, getting nowhere near the limit of what it can do. Machines like the Lotus Evija represent a quantum leap in road car performance at a time when they're already too fast. They move us inexorably to a point where performance cars are defined not by how fun they are to drive nor by how cohesive they feel dynamically, but by how quickly they accelerate. It's just daft.

What's particularly frustrating in the case of the Evija is that Lotus always understood better than most that speed in a straight line is not what makes a car rewarding. I look at the Evija and though I adore its styling - and though I hope a couple of hundred million quid in revenue and the brand recognition Lotus will pocket around the world helps it to produce a new Elise soon - I find myself wishing Lotus had built a lightweight electric sports car with usable performance that genuinely broke new ground.

But I know precisely why it's given us the Evija instead. The technology doesn't exist for any other sort of high-performance EV. Not right now, anyway. Where there is consistency there is truth, and for Lotus and technical partner Williams Advanced Engineering on the one hand, and Automobili Pininfarina and Rimac on the other to arrive at the same concept for the their ultra-exclusive EV hypercars - 2000hp or so, one motor per wheel, staggering performance, enormous battery pack - says to me that there actually isn't any other way.

While Lotus and Pininfarina, as well as Tesla with its forthcoming Roadster, have all announced warp-speed machines that'll do 0-62mph in two seconds, nobody has yet had a credible go at building a lighter and more affordable EV sports car with a level of performance you can actually deploy on the public highway.

Why is that? It's all to do with the limitations of current battery technology. The very first problem car engineers address when building battery-powered cars is range. That might be range in terms of day-to-day driving, or in the case of a high-performance car it might be range on circuit. Two laps of the Nurburgring on a single charge, or perhaps two full sessions during a normal track day, is probably the minimum permissible range for such a vehicle. Anything less would be close to useless.

Immediately, then, you need a vast battery pack. In the case of the Evija that's a 70kWh lump, weighing something like 500kg. Once you've added motors, heavy duty cables and the various control systems, you're looking at a powertrain weighing more than 600kg and a very chunky vehicle even before you've thought about the rolling chassis, the body, the cabin and so on. (Let's quickly acknowledge that the Evija is substantially lighter than a number of similar cars, which certainly is in keeping with the Chapman ethos. But it's still a porker.)

So how do you overcome all that weight? You give it a couple more motors, making it slightly heavier still but sending the power-to-weight ratio through the roof. Once you've decided on a high-performance electric vehicle, there is only one logical outcome. You inevitably arrive at 2,000hp. Lotus and Pininfarina both worked that out independently of one another.

Could you halve the size of the battery, remove a couple of motors and address the problem that way? Not really. Your car will be lighter by 300kg or so and with 1000hp it'll still be astonishingly fast, but it'd have a hopeless range. Particularly on circuit. Nobody would buy one. So you forget that idea and get on with the heavier battery and the four motors and the 2000hp headline figure. Besides, when you're offering that sort of performance you can charge £2m. Kerching.

Given the current technology on offer, Lotus' hands were tied. Or at least they were once it decided to go electric. As it is, the Evija and the Pininfarina Battista are bound by the physical limitations they face to the point of being defined by them. That's the opposite of progress. The most innovative performance cars throughout history actually overcame the limitations they were up against by deploying new techniques and pioneering new technologies.

That day is coming for the EV hypercar, but we're surely several years away from it yet. When battery technology improves and they become lighter, or when somebody cracks solid-state, there will arrive a game-changing lightweight EV hypercar that will merit comparison with cars like the McLaren F1. It will spawn affordable EV sports cars as well, but neither the Evija nor the Battista is that car.

Still, we have to start somewhere. Lotus and Pininfarina find themselves right at the bottom of the performance EV development curve, but at least they're on it. I just hope that Hethel and the rest one day come up with better ideas than simply making their electric cars faster and faster and faster.

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