Meet the world's fastest electric car
Tesla veteran Ian Wright has built the fastest electric car on the planet. Fortune's Sue Zesiger Callaway takes it for a test drive.
(Fortune Magazine) -- Imagine a superclean driving machine capable of beating a Lamborghini Murcielago, a Porsche Carrera GT, even a Winston Cup car - and which gets the equivalent of 170 mpg. I have seen that future and, even better, I am the only automotive journalist who has driven it.
Ian Wright, founder of Wrightspeed, has built a 1,536-pound, 300-hp electric prototype, the X1, with a 0 to 60 of three seconds. It has a 100-mile range and recharges in under five hours. In sum: insane power and efficiency - no tradeoffs. Drooling yet?
Wright, 51, an electrical engineer, was the first person hired at Tesla Motors. (The company's $98,000 electric sports car, based on a Lotus and considerably slower than Wright's X1 with a 0 to 60 of about four seconds, is due next spring.) For a year he oversaw engineering and vehicle development, but ultimately his vision of an electric performance car and Tesla's were too different.
"What Tesla has done so far is great - they're selling energy efficiency," Wright says. "What we're doing is the next step: We're selling performance and hoping to displace ten-mile-per-gallon vehicles - supercars first and eventually pickup trucks."
He may not be touting efficiency, but that's the principle guiding Wright's work. With an electric powertrain, the wheels are driven only by an electric motor, so about 85% of the energy it takes to charge the lithium-ion batteries gets to the wheels. In a comparable high-powered internal combustion engine, 85% of the energy is thrown away as heat.
I recently took the X1 for a drive (a speed blur, actually) in Northern California. I climbed over the exposed steel tubing and down into the unpadded seat, clicking all five points on the racing harness into place. (Wright used an Ariel Atom from Britain as his test mule.) I was at eye level with the X1's Hoosier A6 Autocross tires. The gauges ranged from a g-meter (Wright has experienced a face-sucking 1.4 g's in the car to date) to a sophisticated electronic stopwatch and a watt-hour/mile meter.
A terribly understated rocker switch between the seats, marked R, N, and F (forward), was my shifter. I pushed F. Silence. I put my right foot onto the accelerator pedal and whoosh! Half a block covered as I blinked. I backed off immediately, and thanks to the engine braking Wright has dialed into the system (which captures regenerative energy), the X1 instantaneously slowed even before I could hit the brakes.
Once I had it pointed straight on a long, clear patch of road, I tried again. Since the X1 has only one gear, no clutch, and all the torque available all the time, there was no power crescendo, no shift time - just an unbroken and terrifying blast of speed that felt as if we were going to achieve liftoff. It was hard to keep my watering eyes focused as we rocketed down the road with the hurricane-gale wind threatening to remove my hair, if not my head.
"Any advice?" I yelled. "Don't accelerate in the corners," Wright shouted back. "I had a friend plant it in a telephone pole trying that technique." After an hour of play, I realized I hadn't even tickled the limits of the thing. I'm in lust.
Wright's X1 prototype is, sadly, a one-off, so none of us can purchase this slingshot. The good news is that he is hard at work on his first production vehicle, which will be a plug-in series hybrid - electric with a diesel engine fueled by biodiesel to recharge the batteries when needed.
It will be a 50-states-legal sports car capable of doing 0 to 60 in around two seconds. Wright intends to make the production version still racecar-like in design but more practical than the X1's skeletal form (he promises a sticker under $200,000 and hopes to have it to market in about two years). There's much more, only I'll lose my place in line to drive it if I spill Wright's beans. But trust me on this: You'll want one.