AN ELEC­TRIC FU­TURE

Are You Ready for the Elec­tric Age?

4WDrive - - Contents - WORDS BY BUDD STAN­LEY, PHOTOS COURTESY OF NIKOLA

We are amidst a very in­ter­est­ing time in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try. Tech­nol­ogy is about to dras­ti­cally change both the ve­hi­cles we drive and the way we drive them. The burn­ing of fu­els will soon be­come ar­chaic and, pos­si­bly out­lawed, as clean en­er­gies work their way for­ward, and the cabin will be­come less like a cock­pit and more like a lounge. How­ever, with this evo­lu­tion, there comes a very im­por­tant ques­tion, will the com­ing age of the elec­tric car kill off the 4WD off-roader? In these pages, I have been guilty of rant­ing pas­sion­ately about the evils modern tech­nol­ogy is com­mit­ting to the purist’s au­to­mo­bile, but when it comes to elec­tri­fied driv­e­trains, I’m not ashamed to say I sup­port them whole­heart­edly.

EVs (Elec­tric Ve­hi­cles) are noth­ing new. They have been around since the early 1900’s, and have once again be­come a mass-pro­duced prod­uct in the last 5 years. How­ever, you don’t see any elec­tric 4WDs do you?

The rea­son you don’t see 4WD EVs is quite sim­ple, they are for the most part larger and heav­ier than stan­dard ve­hi­cles and there­fore more waste­ful in their deployment of energy. Not to men­tion that off-road­ers are likely the most sen­si­tive driv­ers when it comes to range anx­i­ety. There are no charg­ing sta­tions in the back coun­try and it’s not like you can bring an elec­tric Jerry Can along with you.

Iron­i­cally, elec­tric driv­e­trains are the per­fect match for our life­style. Now, I love the sweet, sweet sounds and smells of in­ter­nal com­bus­tion as much as any­one, but I have also driven just about ev­ery EV cur­rently on the mar­ket and I love the ben­e­fits they pro­vide. They are su­per re­li­able, have fewer work­ing and wear­ing parts, drive smooth as silk, cost very lit­tle to fuel, don’t pol­lute, are ex­tremely quiet, and they ac­tu­ally make you feel bet­ter as a per­son by do­ing a lit­tle more for the en­vi­ron­ment.

How does this equate to a great off-roader? Well, de­spite the range anx­i­ety is­sues, a 4WD EV would have less me­chan­i­cal is­sues, would not spill harm­ful oils and flu­ids when dam­aged or rolled and would have a much lower cen­tre of grav­ity. Most im­por­tantly, a torquey mo­tor with a lin­ear power curve is ideal for off-road­ers look­ing to tra­verse ex­tremely chal­leng­ing ter­rain. The elec­tric mo­tor is ac­tu­ally per­fect for this; it pro­vides 100% of its torque in­stantly and through­out the rpm range while pro­vid­ing sur­gi­cally pre­cise throt­tle con­trol.

Not only that, but if you have an elec­tric mo­tor placed on each axle, you can now do away with the added weight, space and ex­pense of the trans­mis­sion, trans­fer case, dif­fer­en­tials and lock­ers. With four mo­tors, each driv­ing a wheel un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a com­puter, 4WD trac­tion as well as axle and front-torear lockup are even more ef­fi­cient than a locker, as a com­puter, and not me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents now con­trol each wheel.

Will the elec­tric car kill the 4WD? Ab­so­lutely not, as long as you don’t mind run­ning silent in the wilder­ness, it will only make 4WDs more ca­pa­ble, eas­ier to drive and the act of off-road­ing more plea­sur­able.

So why hasn’t some­one built a 4WD EV? Funny story; as I started writ­ing this fea­ture ques­tion­ing why an elec­tric 4WD hasn’t been built yet, I re­ceived a press re­lease from a com­pany called Nikola, stat­ing – you guessed it - that they are go­ing to build an elec­tric 4WD. Al­beit, the Nikola Zero is go­ing to be a four­pas­sen­ger UTV.

Now, we don’t do the UTV thing much here at 4WD, but be­yond the Nikola Zero be­ing an EV, there were a cou­ple other traits that caught our eye when look­ing over this off-roader on paper.

Let’s start with 32-in tires and 20-inches of sus­pen­sion travel. Yeah, not too shabby for a UTV. Oh, and it has 520 hp. You read that right, five hun­dred and twenty horse­power in a UTV that weighs 862 kg (1,900 lb). That’s down right awe­some, but what would you ex­pect from a com­pany that is also build­ing hy­brid semis that use nat­u­ral gas pow­ered tur­bine

en­gines as bat­tery gen­er­a­tors.

Com­pletely de­signed and en­gi­neered in-house with the co­op­er­a­tion of Pratt & Miller En­gi­neer­ing (the same Pratt & Miller who build Corvettes with a habit of win­ning the Le Mans 24h race), the Zero is chang­ing the way we think a 4WD should op­er­ate.

Each wheel gets its own 400V AC mo­tor that de­liv­ers over 150 hp per wheel and is IP67 cer­ti­fied for shock and wa­ter­proof­ness. A 50kWh Lithium Ion bat­ter pack pro­vides main drive power of­fer­ing a range be­tween 160 and 240 km. An ad­di­tional 600 watt so­lar roof gives the12 volt bat­tery bank an ex­tra charge and re­duces the drain on the main 400 volt lithium bat­tery ar­ray. This so­lar roof can out­put up to 3 kilo­watt hours (3kWh) of energy each day. Charg­ing also comes from a stan­dard J1772 charg­ing con­nec­tion that can make use of pub­lic charg­ers or home units with ei­ther 120V or 240V.

As we men­tioned, FOX 3.0 in­ter­nal reser­voir coilovers soak up 20-in of travel and are con­nected to Baja style hubs and heavy duty bil­let alu­minium con­trol arms. This gives the Zero 14.5-in of ground clear­ance thanks to 32-in tires mounted on Method Wide-Five bead­lock wheels.

In­side, pas­sen­gers are treated to four Beard off-road seats and four-point har­nesses. Two 7-in and a sin­gle 10-in dig­i­tal dis­play in­forms the driver of ve­hi­cle vi­tals, off-road ca­pa­bil­i­ties, drive distri­bu­tion as well as ad­di­tional vi­sion via four cam­eras. If the four cam­eras missed that nasty mud pit, the zero has two 3,500 lb winches (one front and one rear) to get you out of sticky sit­u­a­tions.

It has fi­nally hap­pened, some­one has fi­nally built an off-road fo­cused EV, and we can’t wait to get be­hind the wheel. Oh, and as for that range anx­i­ety thing, Nikola ac­tu­ally makes an elec­tric Jerry Can to pack along to in­crease the range with a two hour charge and dou­bles as a genset.

Four seats, four­wheel-drive and 520 silent horses.

“Why yes, that is a sec­ond winch on the rear.”

32-in tires and 20-in of sus­pen­sion travel comes courtesy of FOX 3.0 coilovers.

A 600 watt so­lar roof gives the 12 volt bat­tery bank a great charge and re­duces the drain from the main 400 volt lithium bat­tery ar­ray.

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