When it comes to motor sport, there is none as challenging as the annual Dakar Rally. Tackling some of the toughest off-road conditions around the world, the annual extreme endurance race has given many a nightmare to hardened race professionals and keen amateurs alike, and all with good reason: in its illustrious history, few years have gone by where neither a competitor or a spectator has lost their life as a consequence of a tragic accident on one of the many stages.
To put it bluntly, Dakar is not for the faint-hearted. Even without accidents or fatalities, less than half of those who enter it every year actually cross the finish line. Those who don’t make it are usually crippled by mechanical failures, broken suspension, severe accidents or disqualification for failing to meet the tough time requirements for each stage.
This year’s Dakar rally, which finished just a few days ago in Rosario, Argentina, attracted a total of 558 different teams ranging from motorcycles and quad bikes through to trucks and custom-made rally cars. Of those, 557 teams were powered by an internal combustion engine burning gasoline or diesel.
The other team — Team Acciona — was driving a custom-made T1-class rally car powered by a Tesla-like 150 kilowatt-hour battery pack capable of providing up to 200 kilometers (125 miles) of range per charge under race conditions. And while the all-electric rally car was one of the 340 vehicles to drop out of the race before the finish line, it is the first electric car in Dakar history to compete in the world-famous race.
What’s more, it tackled the majority of the race with aplomb, leaving the competition just two days before the finish line due to a failure to make the start of stage eleven on time. And while it didn’t make it over the finish line, it proved one thing once and for all.
Electric cars are just as robust as gasoline-powered ones: they just happen to use a different fuel source.
Founded in 1997, Acciona is a Spanish conglomerate group which focuses on the development and management of renewable energy projects and infrastructure around the world. Based in Madrid, Acciona has been researching and developing an all-electric rally car for the past four years, with twenty dedicated professionals working on making a competition-ready, world-rally car powered by electricity. While it entered in last year’s Dakar race, it pulled out after just three days due to a navigation system malfunction. With lessons learned, further development under its belt and successful completion of the 2015 OiLibya World Rally, the car was entered for competition in Dakar 2016.
While the car itself is build on a T1-class space frame complaint with all FIA/ASO technical and safety regulations, Acciona’s 100% electric rally car uses a lightweight carbon-fiber body fitted with solar panels under which lies a 150 kilowatt-hour modular lithium-ion battery pack made up from Tesla battery cells driving a 250 kilowatt electric motor and all-wheel drive system.
Just like most electric cars on the road today, the Acciona Rally car can be charged from a 220-volt domestic power supply or rapid charged using a 50 kilowatt DC quick charging system. It can also use three-phase 400-volt power supplies, ensuring it can charge wherever there’s power.
But while the Acciona Rally car was quite happy with the tough conditions throughout the first ten stages of the race, its failure to make it to the start line for stage 11 in time (which we understand was due to the car not being fully charged in time following a late arrival the night before) meant that it was disqualified.
Some may argue that the car’s failure to finish the Dakar rally is proof that electric cars aren’t ready for prime time yet — but we’d argue the complete opposite.
Indeed, plenty of conventionally-powered gasoline motorcycles, cars and trucks pulled out of the epic endurance race long before the all-electric Acciona car, highlighting yet again that whatever a gasoline-powered car can do, so too can an electric car.
At least, it can, given a large-enough battery pack and a reliable high-powered charging point.
Acciona has already hinted that it intends to come back next year and hopes to finish the race. Based on what we’ve seen this year, we think it has more than a healthy chance of doing just that.
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