Automobile

The Electric Caterham Is Coming

Illustration for article titled The Electric Caterham Is Coming

Image: Caterham

Last month the official news came out that the Caterham brand of anachronistic sports cars had been sold to Japan-based VT Holdings. The legendary British brand is currently seeking possible avenues to electrify the flyweight sports roadster, though VT Holdings has promised it would never dilute the company’s ethos for the sake of zero emissions driving.

The goal here isn’t to build an electric sports car. The goal is to build a Caterham which happens to be electric. Autocar magazine discussed the possibility of an electric offering with Caterham boss Graham Macdonald, and he confirmed that the company wants to build an EV that maintains the Caterham soul, ride, handling, and feel. While electric cars typically come with the trade off of adding lots of weight in batteries, the weight can be placed quite low in the chassis, and centralized between the axles to help it maintain a nice low center of gravity.

The electric Seven, which has not yet been given a name, is set to be an extremely back-to-basics electric. To save weight and complexity, it’s possible the car won’t even have modern amenities like regenerative braking or power anything. Of course, Caterhams rarely have anything that would stoop to being called an amenity anyway, so that’s pretty standard. The priority of the Caterham team is to offset the weight of the bulky electric powertrain, so you can expect things like lightweight wheels and bodywork to be pretty normal.

While I’m sure range would be a bit short, it’s not impossible to power something fast and fun with a relatively powerful electric motor and a small battery pack. Look to electric motorcycles like the LiveWire (now just LiveWire and not Harley-Davidson) or any of Zero’s products, for inspiration. Or, perhaps, something like Vanderhall’s Edison electric three-wheeler.

“It’s very much like a go-kart. It’s two pedals, you’ve got rapid acceleration, and it’s a different product to drive. No less exciting, but exciting in a different way,” VT Chief Executive Kazuho Takahashi said after running in an early electric Seven prototype. He later claimed it would run similar 0-60 times as a Caterham 620R, so more or less 2.8 seconds.

“My ambition is to keep combustion engines going as long as we possibly can, as long as we can find an engine that fits our product, but that’s becoming harder now. Everybody is going smaller and fitting turbochargers, and that’s not what he want,” he explained.

Takahashi-san claims the electric Caterham, which sources its motor and battery array from another as-yet-undisclosed manufacturer, will be on sale before 2026. There’s obviously no plan to phase out gasoline-powered cars under the Caterham name, but many European nations are making that decision for the small company. If it wants to sell new cars in places with zero emissions mandates, it needs to adapt, and quickly. The UK, Japan, and dozens of other countries, states, cities, and municipalities have announced intentions to phase out gasoline power. For a company still selling cars rooted in the 1950s, this is a surprisingly forward-thinking move.

I’d like to put in an order for two, please. 

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