AN ELECTRIC FUTURE
Are You Ready for the Electric Age?
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.