If you own an electric car and venture too far out of the urban jungle (even in the age of the Tesla Model S and its fantastic Supercharger network) you’ll encounter a large number of people willing to scorn at your vehicle choice.
Without pulling on too many stereotypes, those critiquing your zero tailpipe emission ride will likely scoff at its physical form, make some judgement about ‘limited range’ and tell you that you need a real car, like a V-8 SUV or pickup truck. Even if you just managed to pass them on a snow-covered mountain road, your electric car, in their eyes, is no match for the real world.
Luckily, the increasing visibility of electric vehicles in motor sport thanks to Formula E, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and Electric GT — not to mention advocacy of well-known race car drivers like Lellani Munter — has helped change the opinion of many oil-blooded motorheads. But still, some hold out, arguing that electric vehicles are still aways from successfully completing long-distance endurance races.
Except they’d be wrong.
That’s because earlier this week an electric rally vehicle successfully crossed the final finish line of the world-famous Dakar rally, becoming the first electric vehicle and the first zero-emissions car in history to complete the grueling race. Sponsored by Spanish energy company Acciona and named ‘100% EcoPowered,’ the custom-built rally car has proven its critics wrong once and for all, showing that electric vehicles have what it takes to perform alongside their fossil fuel-guzzling cousins.
Unquestionably the most extreme of endurance races, this year’s Dakar rally took place in South America, covering more than 5,800 miles through Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. But don’t think that gaining entry to the race means you’ll finish it. In its long (and infamous) history, the Dakar Rally has not only claimed the lives of 28 competitors but 42 spectators, support crew and journalists covering the event. Then there are the numerous race retirements every year which (due to either vehicle problems or health problems) claim between a quarter to a third of the starting field.
In other words, finishing is quite a feat, regardless of the type of vehicle, be it car, truck or motorcycle.
And that’s exactly what the El Acciona 100% EcoPowered did, crossing the line to finish 57th overall (last in its class). Having attempted the rally in both 2015 and 2016 only to pull out due to technical difficulties (retiring in one of the final stages last year), this year’s finish is a big achievement for Acciona and its drivers Ariel Jatón and Tito Rolón.
“The odyssey is over,” Jatón said after safely completing the race. “This year’s Dakar was very tough, with some very intense stages complicated by the weather, and the altitude in Bolivia. It was the most grueling race in South America, so we are thrilled to have reached the finish line, particularly in an electric car.”
Entered into the NRJ Openclass, the El Acciona 100% EcoPowered race car was designed from the ground up to ensure that it could tackle the toughest terrain, with a four-wheel drive system powered by a 250 kilowatt electric motor producing 590 pound-feet of torque. Weighing just shy of 4,630 pounds (2,100 kilograms), the race car packs in a total of 150 kilowatt-hours of on-board energy storage, split between six high-performance battery modules. Combined with an on-board charger that can accommodate 220-volts AC through to 400-volts three-phase power, as well as 50 kilowatts off-board DC fast charging, the modular battery system apparently makes stops a little quicker. There’s also a 100-watt, 12-volt solar panel built into the carbon-fiber body panel which is meant to help power the various on-board communications and navigation hardware usually found in a Dakar vehicle, although we note that with the usual dirt and grime associated with such a race we’re not entirely sure how effective it is.
That said, we still feel congratulations are in order for the Acciona team. Yes, it may have managed the slowest time of its class, but finishing is certainly not something to be sniffed at. And if we’re right, we’ll see the Acciona team right back next year with a more powerful, more capable race car.
We can’t wait.
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