Putting the grrr into green motoring

The quiet revolution in supercars

Porsche 919 hybrid racing car (1)
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I have to confess to being a petrol head. I've grown up with the growl of the internal combustion engine and frankly, there's nothing quite like the roar of a V8 engine in full voice. So admitting that its days are numbered is a hard thing. No, actually, it's nigh on impossible. I'm going to have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, out of my Porsche 911. I like the chug of the six cylinders, the kick of the turbo and even the occasional whiff of exhaust when she's at full throttle and sailing over a climb.

But even I have to admit that things are changing. We're seeing the unstoppable rise of the electric vehicle.

Electric -vehicle -parking (1)

What I'd once have said was only the province of the die-hard eco-evangeliser, willing to forgo any form of convenience to transport the organic shopping from Waitrose to the off-grid low-carbon yurt, has become a practical reality for people of a much less utopian persuasion.

The technology has improved and the range of electric and hybrid cars has grown exponentially, the network of refuelling points has expanded into every corner of every region (if you don't believe me, check out Zapmap). They've proved that they hold their worth - at the outset I reckoned that the early adopters basically gambled on their purchase - especially if they took out any form of finance. What would happen at the end of three years? Would they have a vehicle with any value left? However the gambles turned out to have paid off. Second hand values have stabilised and car finance for electric and hybrid vehicles is pretty run of the mill these days. Thus, electric cars are spreading, slowly but surely, into the mainstream.

Alongside the isolated eco-enthusiasts, support from the Office of Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (yes, they even have their own branch of government), has created experimental projects to demonstrate how they might work at higher densities. And one way or another, they've grown to a sizeable market, whether owned outright, leased or shared through car clubs.

And this can only be a good thing in many ways. Electric technology definitely has a big role to play in areas like Oxford Street, which has levels of nitrous oxides dangerous to health. It seems a no brainer to take diesel buses and cars off these routes with all their emissions and replace them with quiet, emission free equivalents. It's only a matter of time before an ultra low emission zone is enforced in London (and likely other urban centres). Eventually, electric vehicles will be the only reasonable cars in dense conurbations.

But even more interesting (and, to me, exciting) is the innovation that electric motors are bringing to sports cars. I firmly believe that the future of motor racing lies in hybrid vehicles. The sheer acceleration that an electric motor has will enable incredible speeds and thrilling races.

I recently saw this Porsche 919, the new Porsche hybrid racing car on display. The car is powered by an electric motor which turns the wheels and enables lightning acceleration. The electric motor is in turn powered by a lithium ion battery which is charged by a two litre, four cylinder, turbo-charged petrol engine (we've not quite dismissed the internal combustion engine yet - although this incarnation is made more efficient by an exhaust energy recovery system).

Whilst the 'greening' of Formula One is a response to concerns about its incredible consumption of fuel, tyres, components and indeed whole cars, Porsche's hybrid 919 is more an exploration of the doors this new electric technology can open. The car has already made its competitive début at the 2014 6 Hours of Silverstone and was most recently driven by Mark Webber at 24 hours of Le Mans.

Porsche's related hybrid supercar - the 918 Spyder - is the consumer incarnation of this technology. Like the Tesla, the poster child for aspirational electric vehicles, it's a production model that brings the electric engine to the high performance sports car market.

With developments like this - electric cars that even I could (maybe at a stretch) aspire to and the technology permeating through all levels from the super utilitarian Twizys and Nissan Leafs, to the super car of many a dream - I can see that the cough and throb of the petrol engine will, in time, become a much rarer sound on our roads, until an exhaust pipe roar will hark back to a very different age.

by James Cartwright at 20 Sep 2014, 00:00 AM