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On A Charge

LinhPTK | May 26, 2017

Electric cars have evolved from being simple battery-powered boxes to fast and powerful range-extended plug-in hybrids.

Just a few years ago, if you wanted a car that had anything to do with electric propulsion, the popular choices were either a Toyota Prius or a G-Wiz, which was the Reva in some markets. While the original Prius was just a simple hybrid that used an electric motor solely to assist the conventional petrol engine, there are a new crop of cars that use electric motors as their primary means of propulsion.

Moving Forward, Further

With the advancements in technology in recent times, new ways of harnessing electricity for propulsion have been adopted; chief among those being range-extending technology. Range extension is basically the concept of using electric motors to drive the car using power from the battery pack, but with a conventional small-displacement internal combustion engine starting up, when the battery charge level nears depletion, to help recharge the main battery pack. This not only uses a fractional amount of petrol or diesel as the case may be, but it takes care of the one aspect that had people keeping their distance from electric vehicles like they were the plague – travel range. While most of these new cars can travel around 50 miles on electricity alone, the supplemental use of an engine extends that figure to 6 times or more.

Additionally, you have technologies like brake energy regeneration and solar panel supplementation working together with advances in design like low rolling resistance tires, low weight and more aerodynamic bodywork; each contributing in making the car more efficient and eco-friendly as an overall package. So which are the cars that have managed to raise eyebrows and change opinions? Here are a few examples.

Volvo V60 D6 Plug-in Hybrid

The V60 is one of Volvo’s more exciting designs to have come out in recent time. Based on the sporty new S60, the V60 is a proper sportswagon, delivering equal doses of comfort, practicality and performance, and an even larger dose of traditional Volvo safety. Put them all together and the effect is fantastic. The D6 is essentially a plug-in hybrid drive system using the D5 2.4L 5-cylinder inline 215 hp diesel engine, driving the front wheels; while a lithium-ion battery powered electric motor mounted on the rear axle delivers upto 51 kW (70 hp) and 200 Nm (147 lb-ft) of torque. This puts total system output at 285 hp, and an even more astonishing 640 Nm (472 lb-ft) of torque, which is more than some conventional V8 petrol engines with displacements over 6.0L!

Of course, Volvo have realized that those numbers are considerably huge, and have used a selectable drive method allowing the car to be driven in one of three modes, effectively giving you three cars in one.

• Pure, the first mode, allows you to drive solely on electricity for up to 50 kms as a zero-emission vehicle.
• Hybrid, the default mode on start-up, uses the electric motors to drive the car, while the diesel engine kicks in when you need the acceleration, or to charge the battery pack when needed. This also delivers consumption figures as low as 1.9L/100 kms, emissions of just 49g/km pf CO2, and a range of over 1000 kms!
• Power, the third mode, uses both the electric motor and the diesel engine to drive all four wheels and deliver maximum acceleration, with 0-100 km/h coming up in just 6.2 seconds. The electric four wheel drive system is active till 120 km/h owing to limitations on the electric motor.

Volvo XC60 T8 Plug-in Hybrid

The second coming of Volvo’s PHEV technology is the XC60. Riding on the success of the XC60 worldwide, Volvo has created this model specifically keeping the North American market in mind. You guessed it; the first change is the use of a turbocharged petrol engine instead of the diesel used in the V60, which using the same hybrid drive system. This T8 badged XC60 uses a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cylinder petrol engine making 280 hp and 380 Nm (280 lb-ft) of torque. The configuration stays the same as the V60, with the petrol engine driving the front wheels and the electric motor driving the rear wheels; only here, the combined output is 350 hp and 580 Nm (428 lb-ft) for the electric all-wheel-drive system.

The XC60 T8 uses the same three drive modes, Pure, Hybrid and Power, but witch slightly different results owing to the use of a different engine. Pure mode allows a range of up to 35 miles on electricity alone. Hybrid mode delivers a certified 50 mpg rating and a range of just over 600 miles. Power delivers more than sufficient thrust, and is capable of launching this XC60 to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds!

Fisker Karma

If you’ve had enough of electric hybrids solely focused on maximizing economy, and practicality isn’t high enough on your list to go for either of the Volvos above, this is the car for you. The Karma is the first proper full-production electric sportscar on the world market. Designed by Henrik Fisker, who was also responsible for the BMW Z8 roadster, this Finn sportscar on a charge dances to a completely different tune. It is designed to be as eco-friendly as possible, using an array of materials for construction explicitly certified by notable green committees. Everything from the seat foam, wood inlays and carpet backing are made from environment-friendly bio fiber, reclaimed lumber and recycled materials respectively.

Of course, a sportscar is about performance, and with the green side of your brain at peace with construction of the car, you can let the other side enjoy the 403 hp and Bugatti Veyron humbling 1300 Nm (960 lb-ft) of torque that the electric driveline has to offer. The Fisker Karma uses a pair of electric motors on the rear axle, each making 650 Nm (480 lb-ft) of torque, driving the rear wheels via a single-ratio transmission sending power through the limited speed differential. There is a 2.0L 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that acts solely as a generator for the battery pack, allowing for extended travel range, and allowing the electric motors to be used to their full potential when needed. That is a lot to take in at first; and with numbers like those, you will always have that feeling of unadulterated excitement every time you look at, and get into, the Karma.

The Karma is designed to be as lightweight and aerodynamic as possible. Still, with a heavy mid-mounted battery pack, the car weighs 5300 lbs (over 2400 kg). That weight figure however seems to become just another number when you unleash the performance on tap; 0-60 mph comes up in just 6.3 seconds, and the Karma will race to a limited top speed of 125 mph. The Karma too, like the Volvos above, has drive modes; but unlike the Volvos above, has just two modes – Stealth and Sport. Stealth mode allows the car to driven only on electricity for up to 50 miles, while Sport engages the petrol motor as needed to maintain a constant supply of electricity to the battery pack, making sure the electric motors don’t run out of juice. Total range then is 300 miles.

The Karma also has the advantage of having a solar panel on the roof, allowing the use of several functions like the audio system or the satellite navigation system without affecting the charge of the main battery pack. Besides, the Karma, like the Volvos above, comes with the convenience and safety features you get a well-equipped standard production car. Everything from entertainment systems, brake assist, stability and traction control systems and even a reverse parking camera and cruise control are part of the feature list.

Expected Developments

Of course, this is just the beginning of what is sure to be a flurry of innovative ways to power cars while reducing our dependence on carbon-based fuels, and the overall carbon footprint of the car itself. Developments are underway and the big names of the automotive industry, the likes of Volkswagen, Honda, Toyota, Mercedes, BMW, Ford and several others, are hard at work developing solutions to combat the inevitable global fuel crisis. Very soon, their innovations will be incorporated into cars that appeal to every buyer in some way or another and deliver on the fronts required, be it performance, comfort or sheer efficiency.

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