Road cars' 2022 destiny: early march to electricity?

Road Cars

Andrew Frankel's favourite type of sports car looks to be on the wane – however, as he writes, 2022 still holds excitement and intrigue for the discerning driver

Alpine A110 GT

Alpine A110 GT: a 'driver's car' – and the last of a dying breed?

Alpine

Gently slithering out of a medium to slow speed corner on a slightly damp, quite cold road, suddenly I was aware of certain sadness descending upon me. Was it because the car I was in was unworthy of the mountain road across which I was flinging it? By no means, because for the money the Alpine A110 is the best driver’s car in the world that you might also choose to use every day. And none is better than the Legende GT, which comprises the soft suspension of the standard car with the additional poke of the S motor. Was it that I realised I’d overdone it and that shortly the Alpine and I were to make an unscheduled appearance in a field full of sheep several hundred feet below the road I was on? Not this time, I am pleased to report.

“This is one of the last of a certain kind of car I am likely to drive”

The sadness derived from the growing certainty that this is one of the last of a particular kind of car I am likely to drive, at least when it is new. Inconveniently, these are also my favourite kinds of car: lightweight, usable, driver-oriented sports cars.

Over the next year or more I can see two kinds of alleged ‘driving’ machines emerging. The first can be easily guessed, for they are those that think raw power is some kind of replacement for delicacy and feel. It’s not, but they will be betting on their customers not caring about any of that, and I expect they are correct in that assumption.

Lotus Emira

Lotus has chosen a car which looks more to the past than the future as the first of its new era

Lotus

Then the second group will emerge and, actually, I’m quite looking forward to them. For I think genuinely lightweight sports cars will still be possible, even with electric power. An electric Caterham Seven of the future may not offer rifle bolt gearshifts or a twin Weber soundtrack, but it could still weigh less than a tonne, will probably be even easier to skid about, and still have that precision and agility for which such cars have become rightly famed. And all that will be possible because it will be then what it is today: a purely recreational car. So it won’t need huge range because owners will always have something that’s better over a distance, so it won’t need a massive battery pack so it’ll be light. And because it’s light it won’t need much power so it will have a small electric motor which will make it lighter still. A true circle of virtue.

It is only cars like the A110, which somehow manage to provide both exceptional driving pleasure and daily transport that are going to fall down the crack in the back of the sofa.

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Which is one more reason why the Lotus Emira has to be exceptional. For while the A110 belongs to a dying breed, the Emira looks likely to be akin to Lonesome George, the Galapagos turtle who was for 40 years the last survivor of his entire species until he died, somewhere north of his 100th birthday in 2012. It seems strange that Lotus should choose as its first post-resurrection production machine a kind of car it has no intention of making again but you won’t be hearing complaints from me.

Turning to yet more sporting machines, the two most interesting motors look likely to be the somewhat belated launch of the McLaren Artura and the Ferrari 296GTB. Because both are mid-engined, two seat, rear drive hybrid supercars boasting brand new, similarly sized, fashionably 120 degree twin turbo V6 motors, it is tempting to see them as rivals. But they’re not, the Ferrari being by a distance the more powerful and expensive. Each interests me for different reasons: the Ferrari because it looks likely to be the car the SF90 always should have been – a genuinely usable supercar with decent luggage space so you can actually go somewhere in it – at a far more affordable price. It’s better looking car too, at least to these eyes.

The McLaren? Whatever the company says about the Artura not being a make-or-break car for it, the importance of it succeeding would be hard to overstate. On paper it seems well equipped for the job, but we’ll know if it’s really the answer to McLaren’s troubles in the spring.

McLaren Artura

Will the McLaren Artura to some extent help cure the supercar maker’s ills?

McLaren

And while the McLaren and Ferrari hybrid systems are clearly what’s needed for such cars while they wrestle with the challenge of creating all electric supercars, for everyone else hybrid is looking increasing old hat. The EV roll out is coming thick and fast, indeed I’d say the majority of all new cars I drove this year were powered by electricity alone, and if you’d suggested as much even two years earlier, I’d have laughed the notion right out of the room. Indeed, unless there are compelling tax reasons to buy a hybrid model – and they are dwindling fast – I’d say you’re now likely to be better off either buying what may be your last pure internal combustion engine car, or taking a deep breath and buying an EV, whether you like the idea or not and whether they are anything like as good for the planet as advertised.

But if you do, don’t expect electricity to remain a cheaper option than petrol for long. Even now if you charge at public fast-charging sites, the cost per mile is not so very different to filling with petrol meaning there are only huge savings to be made if you’re lucky enough to be able to charge from home. And for every unit of electricity that goes into your car, that’s an amount of tax the Government won’t be receiving as it would were you still using gasoline or diesel. Consider that in a normal (non-Covid) year, the treasury would expect to earn around £27 billion from taxing petrol, you can see it can be only a matter of time before it starts taxing the electricity you put in your car instead.

But how, if it’s coming from the same supply as that which powers your television? I don’t know, but expect road pricing comes into it, with those living in poor rural communities who have no viable public transport options and big mileages to cover to get to work likely to be the most severely affected.