Automobile makers face obstacle as speed of superfast cars climbs higher

McLaren F1

Remember the McLaren F1? The lightweight sports car that held the record for the fastest car in the world? Well, the 241 mph average it clocked was seen as unbeatable for generations to come by many petrol heads. That was until it got blitzed past by the Super Sport variant of the Bugatti Veyron a few years ago.

The Veyron went past 267 mph and bagged the title for the fastest street-legal production car in the world. The sweet feeling in the hearts of Bugatti staff was short-lived for Koenigsegg sent their Agera RS to a recorded speed of 457.94 kph, or 284.55 mph – to those living in the UK or USA – much to the despair of their German-owned French counterparts.

Bugatti Veyron

Carmakers are now looking at going above and beyond 300 mph, as they push the limits of what can be achieved in the given time. There are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account like the fuel used in the car, engine temperature, surface temperature and even wind speed. Although, 300 mph can be achieved, I worry that it might be the last aspiring top speed that us humans might be looking at. Why? because almost all manufacturers are looking at making electric supercars and hypercars and those cars cannot do the same speeds as petrol-engined ones.

It is very simple: the characteristic of the internal combustion (IC) engine is that power and torque increase as engine revs climb, thus enabling the higher top speed. Modern-day transmissions have been developed precisely to suit the character of IC engines as well, utilising the revs as and when needed. That is the reason why we can pootle around town at low revs and eke out more economy while on the highway slot in the highest gear and cruise, again, eke out more economy and when needed speed.

Koenigsegg

But electric cars are not like that. Their torque curve is flat, very flat because they provide instant power from the first rev. This means instant acceleration and that is great for drag races. With instant power, people might well be accelerating off the line at traffic lights, leading to chaos at all times. The good thing is that too much usage of the throttle will drain the battery of such vehicles much faster, so the cops can catch them using their petrol or diesel powered cars.

But what about the famed top speed runs? Well here is the problem. Electric cars are too sensitive. The battery pack loses efficiency when the temperature is too hot or too cold. But the biggest disadvantage is their weight. Stopping such heavy cars means huge brakes must be fitted and that adds more weight.

Well, even if electric cars are made to react like petrol cars, then they need to use transmissions that are akin to those used in current times, meaning they will reduce the efficiency of the electric car. You see the electric car is nearly 85 per cent efficient when compared to the normal petrol car which is around 40 per cent efficient.

But in order to make an electric car drive on the road, transmissions must be used, reducing the efficiency. Further, the battery pack cannot be charged completely all the time, for it will lose its longevity. Think about it, is growth when the efficiency of an EV is reduced or is it if we can increase how cleanly IC engines burn their fuel?

I digress. Coming back to the top speed runs, people like to know that their watch can work in space even though they are not going to travel to space. It is the same with cars. Knowing that a car can reach such speeds with consummate ease is a good feeling. But most importantly, it is the constant endeavour of human nature to go beyond what can be achieved. A common person can fly at over 20,000 feet at over 600 kph today because half a century ago pilots hit supersonic speed and scientists found that there are metals and materials that can handle such pressure.

I feel sad that in the name of ‘growth’ and environment, we will not be able to go any further. Now what is growth about that? Back to the drawing board, eh manufacturers?

Praveen Kumar S