A brand-new four-part series called HARD CELL launches on the new streaming service MotorTrend this coming Sunday, and I got the chance to speak with its presenter Tom ‘Wookie’ Ford last week to find out more about the show and what inspired him to create it.
I quickly discovered that Tom is a die-hard petrolhead like me and has a string of motoring shows to his name. Currently he is Associate Editor of BBC TopGear Magazine and new website electrifying.com, which is all about electrified vehicles. And for those of you new to the world of electric vehicles, it has an extremely helpful A to Z EV Directory to help cut through all the EV jargon.
Previously, Tom was Road Test Editor for CAR Magazine and presented on Channel 5’s ‘Fifth Gear’, BBC America’s ‘Mud, Sweat and Gears’, BBC Brit ‘MotorHeads’ and Dave’s ‘Lazy Boy Garage’. He currently writes, presents and produces for various television shows, magazines and newspapers.
In-between filming, Tom enjoys putting together outrageous automotive travel and adventure stories, usually unsupported, and with a healthy dose of plausible deniability on behalf of the health and safety people. I am told that you will often find him somewhere in the world, driving a wholly inappropriate vehicle, trying desperately to stop things exploding!
The focus of the new show is the electric car, and quite rightly so, as I have seen a real increase in press releases talking about investment in electric and hybrid from all the major car manufacturers over the last eight months or so. Electric vehicles aren’t on their way, they have already arrived and are here to stay. And you can’t dispute the environmental and financial benefits they offer. But will they replace traditional internal combustion engine cars, particularly in the world of motorsport? That was a question I put to Tom.
Electric cars won’t replace supercars in the foreseeable future nor will Formula E replace Formula One. However what Formula One has shown us is that some form of hybrid can work extremely well. Likewise, although many may lament the lack of noise in Formula One today, and more so in Formula E, electric powered racing cars are fast, reliable and can be exciting to watch when you have a full grid. However, when I asked Tom about electric powered car series such as the brand-new ETCR replacing conventional cars series such as the British Touring Car Championship, he believes they won’t. In fact, Tom took one of the Jaguar I-Pace eTrophy cars around a racetrack and found it to be rather underwhelming. But you can find out more about that in episode 4.
I asked Tom whether he thought we will see much advance in battery technology in the next few years, as one of the problems is their size and weight. He believes that we should not expect any large leaps, but rather incremental increases in capacity of around 5% year-on-year in density. He also believes that once hybrids can achieve a range of over 50 miles on pure electricity power, then they will be taken more seriously by governments.
There is also a great deal of misinformation surrounding the recycling of car batteries. A used car battery can be recycled and can, for example, be used to power streetlights for as long as 50 years!
Episode 1 – Does the EV supercar actually exist?
In the first episode of HARD CELL, of which I got a sneak preview, Tom takes a look at whether there really is an electric supercar in production that you can buy, and pays a visit to Lotus, Pininfarina and Rimac, who are promising 2000bhp electric supercars. This may sound a bit fanciful, but are they a myth or reality? And besides being extremely fast, do any of these vehicles actually give the driver the things they crave, i.e. the noise, fury, smell and theatre that is part of the whole supercar experience?
For us to first understand what a supercar is, Tom visits the home of the supercar, namely Italy, and asks, what does the word ‘supercar’ mean to us the viewer? For most of us it’s probably a mixture of things, which include the great sound they make, screeching rubber and of course they ideally need to have a name that ends in an “i”. Think Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bugatti and Pagani. For Tom the things supercars must be are that they are fast, expensive, crazy, theatrical and let’s face it, a bit nuts. To prove the point, Tom takes a Lamborghini out for a spin, which epitomises all the things a supercar should be in his mind.
There are however a few manufacturers out there that see things differently, such as Lotus in Norfolk, which is Tom’s first port of call, where he comes face to face with the brand-new Lotus Evija, the most powerful production car proposed so far anywhere, with 1,973 brake horsepower, two and half times the power of a Lamborghini and priced at £1.5million. Powered by four electric motors, the Evija effectively has a Ferrari F40 at each wheel or a Bugatti Veyron at each axle!
The second car Tom takes a look at is the Pininfarina Battista and as he says, looks like a Hypercar should. It has almost 1,900 brake horsepower and a 120 kW battery that take the car from 0-62mph in under 2 seconds. Only 150 are going to be built, so it’s going to be pretty exclusive. They are also claiming a range of up to 500km, which is pretty good.
Tom’s third port of call is the relatively small Rimac, based in Croatia, that specialises in making electric dreams into reality. A high-tech fast mover, Rimac has started out making an EV supercar for the 21st century and beyond. The CEO and founder, Mate Rimacs is a petrolhead but without pistons. He has that same passion and slight obsession but gets his kicks from volts and not vapour.
Porsche bought a stake in Rimac last year and the new Battista relies on Rimac tech and the company has recently seen investment from Hyundai and Kia. This is a company going places.
The new Rimac C_Two has 1,887 brake horsepower and has the looks and ridiculous doors Tom loves in a supercar. It will do 0-62mph in 1.9 seconds and 0-100mph in 4.3 seconds, and has a top speed of 258mph, so it is blistering fast. It should also have a range of around 400 miles on a full charge.
The goal is to create a car that feels like a proper car that you can enjoy and have fun with and show that electric cars do not need to be boring and slow.
On the basis of the C_Two, the electric Hypercar isn’t coming, it’s already half arrived.
And as Tom says, the battle for the electric supercar is not going to be about its horsepower or how fast it is but rather how it feels when it comes to the chassis and ride, and how the car talks to the driver. We’re not witnessing the death of the traditional supercar at all, just the birth of something completely new.
In Episode 2 of HARD CELL, Tom looks at whether an EV can ever be an icon and pays a visit to Porsche with its rich heritage and achievements that are second to none. He asks whether the Porsche Taycan, the company’s first production electric car, will ever achieve the same significance. There is no doubt that this EV super-saloon is ground-breaking but in the context of a journey around Porsche’s museum, and trip to a racetrack and a visit with some very special 911s, does the Taycan have the right ingredients to ever be seen in the same lights as Porsche’s iconic sports car?
In Episode 3 Tom takes a look at whether you can have a proper adventure without a plug in sight. A very good point, as there are no power sources out in the desert or wilderness. But with the attributes of an EV making it perfect for off-roading, the founders of Formula E plan to launch an equivalent adventure series next year.
In the final episode of HARD CELL, Tom drives a new Extreme E car in the Saudi Arabian desert and asks whether motorsport can still be fun when it’s silent. As already mentioned, Formula E gets criticised for a lack of noise as well as its weird computer game-inspired regulations. However, both Porsche and Mercedes have joined this season’s championship, competing against the might of Audi and BMW, with Mercedes scoring a podium finish in their very first race. And as we have already mentioned, Formula One, the pinnacle of motorsport, already runs hybrid engines in their cars. But what about all the other championships around the world, whose regulations aren’t dictated by a commercial need to promote a company’s latest electric road car? Tom takes a look at not only circuit racing but also rallycross, ice racing and an EV dragster to see whether electric can ever truly compete with the good old internal combustion engine.
So, when it comes to electric motorsport, Tom believes that a lot of it comes down to a generation gap. The older generations will miss the noise while the younger generations who grow up with electric will see it as being more of a norm. That said, Tom believes that electric motorsport will not replace conventional motorsport that we know and love. Thank goodness for that!
HARD CELL will be available to watch from Sunday 12th April exclusively on MotorTrend, the new streaming service, and offers a great selection of motoring shows for all you petrolheads out there.
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Photographs courtesy of MotorTrend