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Cars: All plugged in

Is the long-mooted electric car revolution finally picking up pace? In a word, yes...

“It is the future.” You might have heard such wisdom before about electric cars, but this time it’s not coming from a dyed-woollen-cardigan-clad EV evangelist. Indeed, when the person making such a forward-facing statement is the CEO of a company responsible for some of the past decade’s most remarkable petrol-powered hypercars — Ralph R. Debbas of Dubai-based W Motors — then you can be sure things just became rather real.

The long-mooted electric car revolution genuinely does look like it is finally kicking off in earnest in the UAE, and the remainder of 2019 will see prominent launches aplenty.

From high-end SUVs to mind-blowing supercars and even a homegrown fully autonomous model, one thing that connects them is a lack of any petrol pumping around their automotive veins.

W Motors’ own debut contribution is the space-age-looking Muse, developed in collaboration with its China-based EV sister company Iconiq. A test fleet of this fully electric self-driving vehicles is expected to take to Dubai roads in special zones when the Expo2020 rolls around, followed by production models in 2023. It will have the ability to do something no other EV has so far mastered: at the click of a button, it will transform into a revving beast with the sensation of traditional gear changes, yet remain fully electric.

Mercedes-Benz EQC. 

“You still have the thrill, you have the torque, you have the performance, you have everything you need,” asserts Debbas, who founded W in 2012. 

He tells Debonair the customisable nature of his new battery-powered supercar will add personal appeal, with the ability, for example, to choose between rear-wheel, front-wheel and four-wheel drive configurations. 

Will it be as fast as Automobili Pininfarina’s Battista? It certainly has a battle on its hands, because the carmaking arm of the famed Pininfarina design studio — responsible for the lion’s share of history’s most beautiful Ferrari outlines — isn’t doing things by half measures. The numbers are staggering: 1,900hp, 2,300Nm of torque and less than two seconds to hit 100km/h from standing. The Battista’s acceleration is, its manufacturer claims, faster than a Formula 1 car’s. Its range of a little shy of 500km isn’t to be sniffed at, either.

Its preview tour made a stop in Dubai earlier this year, so you can be fairly sure a few of the UAE’s many monied car enthusiasts will have one flaunting in their garages as soon as the deliveries begin. Pininfarina calls the Battista “a new poster car for the EV generation” — yup, sounds about accurate.

Pininfarina Battista.

Visionary German-Swiss brand Piëch aims to make a similar impact with its Mark Zero — and the company has a fine pedigree, given that one half of its core team is Toni Piëch, son of Porsche/VW magnate Ferdinand.

The Mark Zero’s mind-boggling leading statistic isn’t its speed, power or torque, though — rather its impressive claim that the Mark Zero can hit 80% charged in four minutes and 40 seconds. Replenishing in the time it takes to brew a good cuppa suddenly makes this whole EV ownership lark fiercely competitive. Most days, you will queue longer at your local petrol station to fill up the tank of your internal combustion engine.

The SUV game is heating up to become the first mass-market battleground for EVs, with the Mercedes-Benz EQC and highly capable Jaguar I-Pace two notable leaders in the field limbering up to take to regional roads imminently. Both attempt to soften the transition away from petrol power with subtly modernised designs that, put simply, won’t give you away as an EV driver if you’d rather keep it on the down-low.

Piëch Mark Zero. 

W Motors will also enter the electric SUV game in 2021, with what Debbas calls a “full-electric, carbon-fibre, high-performance supercar on steroids”. 

Two long-established names in the sports-car world are similarly enthused about electric’s potential: Porsche is debuting its beautiful Taycan very soon, while the Mission E Cross Turismo variant has also been confirmed for production. And Aston Martin’s Rapide E is a bold first step in a journey that will see the brand’s Lagonda marque position itself as the world’s first zero-emissions luxury brand.

Aston Martin Rapide E.

Aston boss Dr Andy Palmer has called the Rapide E “a truly historic step” for the company, “one that signals Aston Martin is prepared for the huge challenge of an environmentally responsible and sustainable future”. That won’t be at the expense of Aston’s famed driveability, though. “In embracing EV technology, we should not let go of those unique qualities that define an Aston Martin,” Palmer says. “I believe the Rapide E embodies that desire and paves the way for a hugely exciting future.”

The electric race as also necessitated some unexpected partnerships. The BMW Group and Jaguar Land Rover recently announced plans to jointly develop future iterations of BMW’s electric drive unit or eDrive technology, the fifth generation (“Gen 5”) of which will power the BMW iX3 Sports Activity Vehicle launched in 2020. According to a statement, “The cooperation allows the BMW Group and Jaguar Land Rover to take advantage of cost efficiencies arising from shared development of future evolutions and production planning costs as well as economies of scale from joint purchasing.”

Porsche Taycan.

However, the brands will produce the electric drivetrains independently in their own manufacturing facilities. 

Elsewhere, there is one small downer: Volvo-birthed Swedish electric innovators Polestar tells us that “regrettably, there are no current plans” to introduce its Polestar 2 fastback in the Middle East. Other European invaders could be nearer to the horizon, though: the Mini Electric will launch globally this year, with fully electric versions of the existing Jaguar XJ and Volvo XC40 also in the pipeline.

Among all this excitement and multiple launches, let’s not forget true pioneers in the field: Tesla. The UAE’s first examples of Elon Musk’s debut unit-shifter, the Model 3, are due to land on tarmac during 2019; the Model Y will follow, to add to the existing Model S and X, to, ahem, spell “S3XY”. After that comes the second-generation Roadster, which is set to become the fastest-accelerating production car of all time. Now do you believe us that electric = exciting?

The last word, however, goes to W Motors: “We will hopefully switch to full electric in the next three to four years,” Debbas says. “You either go full electric or you stay where you are.” 

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