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Electric Vehicles Should Stop Trying to Be Actual Cars

Front right side of the Tesla Model 3
Justin Duino / Review Geek
One of the main things holding back EVs from true innovation is trying to be "just like a regular car." They can do and be so much more if they throw off the mold of what came before.

Electric vehicles have made great strides in recent years, both in terms of technology and uptake. They’ve gone from being an impractical niche to a regular sight on our roads and highways. But there’s still one big problem with EVs. Their manufacturers keep trying to pass them off as actual cars.

While that opening statement may seem inflammatory, it’s quite true. Despite outward appearances, an electric vehicle and a gas-powered car are two entirely different beasts. Electric vehicle owners know that, EV fans know that, so why can’t manufacturers get their heads around it?

EVs Are Never Going to Have the Same Kind of Culture

Engine start stop button in a car
Hannah Stryker / Review Geek

We’re still in the early days of electric vehicles, and an EV-based culture is still a long way from developing and establishing itself. Yes, there are enthusiasts, and those enthusiasts will be responsible for nurturing the acorn that one day becomes the EV-culture tree, but the thing has barely been planted yet. An exception to this could be Tesla’s fanbase, which is very large and incredibly enthusiastic. It could be compared to the dedication and loyalty some Australians hold for the likes of Ford and GM. Or then again, it could have a lot to do with the “Cult of Elon Musk.” Tesla’s owner is one of those rare figures who spawns as much admiration as he does criticism. And strong opinions lead to strong followings. But that’s just one car brand, and it doesn’t cross over with the rest of EV culture.

There are a few paths cultures could develop down, but it’s too early to tell if any of them will take off. None of the current wave of EVs have been around long enough to become classics yet. Those that are old enough to be considered classics are tremendously bad and almost unheard of. Racing events exist, but they’re very niche.

One area where EVs aren’t going to develop the same culture is in the world of amateur mechanics. Many a gearheads lifelong ambition revolves around buying a classic in rough shape, and lovingly nursing it back to health. They take pride in turning a rust heap the world has abandoned into a show winner.

You’re not really going to be able to do that with EVs. The electrical parts of relatively modern cars tend to haunt the nightmares of backyard mechanics everywhere. EVs are all electric, and far more complex. Then there’s the way classic cars are graded. Many organizations like everything to be original. In a best-case scenario, every bolt, nut, and bar on the car is the same one that was attached in the factory. If that isn’t possible, sourcing older parts from the right model and era is a must. The only parts you can’t really do this with are things like gaskets, which decay over time, and brake pads, which are going to wear down.

With an electric car, large major parts will fail within a decade or two and require a complete replacement. The battery is a notable one, but the vehicle’s motors will also call it a day eventually, as will various other bits. You’re probably not going to see middle-aged men making a battered 40-year-old Tesla the focus of their midlife crises a few years down the line, so EV culture will likely have to develop in a different form.

They’re Appealing to the Wrong Markets

Harley Davidson, which is arguably the world’s most iconic motorcycle manufacturer, ran head-on into this culture clash with its “Livewire” brand of electric motorcycles. The specs were there, it could easily outperform a standard gas Harley. But the sound, smell, and feeling are all missing.

To compound matters, the standard Harley enthusiast is probably more likely to be skeptical of EVs on the whole. Caring about clean air and a greener planet doesn’t really go hand in hand with the outlaw biker, not paying attention to the rules, and not caring what people think of you mindset.

As a result of this, the company has struggled to sell Livewire motorcycles. The whole division responsible for the electric bikes has actually been fractured off into a different company, though Harley Davidson does still own a major stake in the new business.

Harley riders might be the clearest example of a distinct group that was specifically targeted, but refused to make the switch to EVs. But they aren’t alone, and sometimes companies have looked a bit silly when trying to “give the people what they want.”

It’s Embarrassing At Times

You might think an electric Harley is a silly idea — but at least it’s functional and has some merits. Manufacturers have made significantly worse decisions in an attempt to appeal to gearheads. A great recent example is Dodge’s Charger Daytona SRT concept car. It was unveiled around the same time Dodge announced that its Charger lineup, one of the world’s most iconic muscle car lines, would be going all-electric in the near future.

As you may expect, there was some degree of backlash. Social media contained plenty of comments from muscle car enthusiasts saying the move would kill Dodge or that they were done buying from the company. Dodge might have anticipated this reaction, as they seem to have made a very strange decision in an attempt to appeal to this very demographic.

The Charger Daytona SRT has an electronic “exhaust.” That’s a speaker attached to the vehicle that is designed to make a sound similar to the exhaust you’ll find on an actual muscle car when the driver puts his or her foot down. It’s an utterly pointless attachment designed to make the Charger concept look like something it isn’t. It’s shallow, it’s stupid, and it shows contempt for Dodge’s customer base.

Furthermore, vehicles like the Charger, Challenger, Mustang, and other muscle cars are, very much like the Harley, too deeply tied to their engines. Rather than hijack the vehicle’s name, you could argue that manufacturers would be better off just starting a new range. Ford does at least attempt to slap some vaguely unique labeling on its electric vehicles., It’s not an F-150, it’s an F-150 Lightning. It’s not a Mustang, it’s a Mustang Mach-E. But EVs should get a chance to flourish on their own. It won’t annoy fans of the old vehicles, and they’ll get a chance to carve out their own legacies without the baggage.

Some Contests Are Like Comparing Apples to Oranges

Electric vehicle manufacturers and fans have tried to generate plenty of hype by pitting EVs against conventional cars in a variety of contests. You don’t need to look far to find footage of an EV, even an electric SUV or truck, absolutely smoking a conventional sports car in a drag race. Even the Bugatti Chiron, a gas-powered vehicle sitting at the absolute peak of engineering, gets destroyed by a Lucid Air Sapphire and barely scrapes past a Tesla Model S Plaid. Equally, there was the time a Cybertruck easily beat a Ford F-150 in a tug-of-war while pulling uphill.

But these contests aren’t exactly fair; they’re tailor-made for EV victories. The reason why is all down to torque. Electric vehicles have a lot of it, and all of that torque is immediately accessible. On the other hand, conventional vehicles tend to have less torque — and that torque only peaks within the car’s “power band” which it hits between certain speeds. So a conventional engine will need to get to a certain RPM before all of its torque starts to rapidly increase, it isn’t available from a standing start. Torque also dictates how much a car can “pull,” so in the tug of war, it’s capable of using all of its strength before its opponent has even got a grip and steadied its feet. To make things even more one-sided, the Cybertruck also weighed more (mainly due to its huge battery) and had all-wheel drive. The Cybertruck also got a bit of a head start. If the Cybertruck is what Tesla claims it is, it shouldn’t need cheap gimmicks to stand out.

Putting an electric vehicle against an EV in these kinds of contests is a bit like throwing Michael Phelps up against Usain Bolt in a 100-yard dash. They’re both exceptional athletes, but one is far better suited to the event.

EVs lack gearing, which tends to limit their top speed. Their range and recharging times, along with recharging infrastructure, are still a source of criticism — despite huge advancements being made. But we never see EVs taking on gas cars in a longer drag race where the gas car would have an advantage. Nor do we see them racing cross-country. All of these contents are just petty, biased, point-scoring exercises designed to make people choose a side — and they’re stupid.

The Concept Needs to Play to Its Strengths, and Develop Its Own Culture

A Tesla "Frunk" open with plenty of space
Justin Duino / Review Geek

Although you never really know what tech is just around the corner, as things stand it looks like EVs are going to play a large part in a lot of people’s lives in years to come. There is also a growing community of EV enthusiasts who are in love with the concept. Manufacturers need to focus on this community and nurture it instead of attempting to convert people who love the petrol engine.

Die-hard gearheads aren’t going to be won over by spec sheets and pointless contests. It’s not always about specs. A quartz watch is far more accurate and reliable than a mechanical watch would ever be, but watch collectors don’t really care. Quartz is a separate thing, it doesn’t count. They want accuracy, but they want that accuracy to be achieved a certain way. That way may be archaic and no match for the next generation, but that’s not what it’s about.

Cars are the same way. Stop trying to pretend EVs are just upgraded gas cars. They’re their own thing, with their own community, and own potential. It’s time to accept and embrace that fact. If anything, the desire to be cars could hold EVs back massively. Part of the reason cars look like they do relates to the fact you need a large engine, an exhaust system, a cooling system, and a reasonably sized fuel tank, amongst other parts. EVs have a chance to literally break this mold. Electric motors don’t tend to be as large as an ICE and don’t require as many auxiliary parts.

There is no need for any kind of air intake or exhaust, and as for “fuel,” battery packs are very versatile. In fact, many EVs simply install the batteries on the vehicle’s floor to save space and halp balance the vehicle. So why not push the concept to its limits? The world could end up with something new, exciting, and unique — EV manufacturers just need to drop their obsession with ICE cars first.

Dave McQuilling Dave McQuilling
Dave McQuilling has spent over 10 years writing about almost everything, but technology has always been one of his main interests. He has previously worked for newspapers, magazines, radio stations, websites, and television stations in both the US and Europe. Read Full Bio »