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It's Time for EV Makers to Back Off on Performance

Sam Abuelsamid
Sep 29, 2020

Guidehouse Insights

I enjoy driving as much as anyone, and I particularly enjoy driving quickly. Over the near 40-year course of my driving life, vehicle performance has improved dramatically thanks to modern electronic controls, materials, and construction methods. In just the past decade, performance has taken another huge leap thanks to electrification. However, as much as my younger self never thought I’d say such a thing, it’s time to scale performance back, especially for manufacturers of EVs.

As EV Technology Advances, Performance Accelerates

When Tesla came out of stealth mode in mid-2006, the startup stunned the automotive world with a beautiful little sports car that claimed to sprint to 60 mph in just 4 seconds, ranking it among the quickest cars in the world. Remarkably, Tesla did it with zero direct emissions. Tesla set out to demonstrate that EVs could be more than the glorified golf carts that only appealed to certain crowds. 

The Roadster could provide all of the excitement and style of any fossil-fueled sports car. I got my first drive in January 2008, and I was hooked. Every subsequent Tesla that emerged got progressively faster, and many of the brand’s competitors have tried to meet or exceed the benchmarks established by Tesla. Performance has turned out to be one of the key selling points of Tesla vehicles and a huge margin inflator.

But the ever faster EV competition is now getting ridiculous. British sports car maker Lotus is developing a new electric supercar called the Evija with 2,000 horsepower. The first of GM’s new generation of EVs coming in 2021 is the GMC Hummer pickup, with up to 1,000 horsepower and 0-60 acceleration in 3.5 seconds. Hummer hasn’t publicly revealed this new model yet, but its design is heavily inspired by the old H2 pickup from 2005. No one needs a giant, high riding pickup truck that accelerates that fast.

The latest entry is Lucid Motors, which just introduced the production version of its first car, the Lucid Air luxury sedan. The high end version has two electric motors that combine for 1,080 horsepower and quarter-mile acceleration of 9.9 seconds at 144.4 mph. This is the kind of speed that not long ago was limited to purpose-built drag racers like the Ford Mustang Cobra Jet.

To its credit, Lucid has put a major emphasis on efficiency with the propulsion, battery, charging, and power electronics systems of the Air. Adjusting for the size of the battery, the Air gets 14% more miles/kWh than the current longest range Tesla Model S. These advances are expected to be important in reducing the battery requirements and cost for more mainstream EVs in the coming years.

EV Makers Should Agree on Performance Standards

EV makers have made the point: the instant torque available from an electric motor is great for performance and drivability. But an estimated 300 new EV nameplates will be launched globally between now and 2025, and frankly, few drivers are skilled enough to handle that level of performance, even with modern electronic controls. Also, this performance cannot be used safely on public roads, and few people go to track days. 

It’s time for the industry to come together, agree that EVs are quick, and set some reasonable standards for performance. In the 1990s, when autobahn speed limits were threatened, German automakers agreed to a voluntary 250 km/h top speed limit. EV makers should agree to limit their products to 0-60 in 4 or even 5 seconds. After all, it’s better to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.