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The mid-engine car is dying; long live mid-battery

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General Motors' BEV3 platform and Ultium batteries

The future is electric, and tomorrow’s EVs won’t just change how we buy and drive cars. They’ll change how cars are made, and how we think of high-performance cars.

The mystique behind many ultra-exotic cars will fade away with their gas engines. The switch to EVs will mean the end of the mid-engine car as we know it.

Say goodbye to the mid-engine Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Bugattis you thought you knew. Get ready for mid-battery.

General Motors’ BEV3 platform and Ultium batteries

Weighty decisions

The engineering behind electric vehicles is so different from internal-combustion cars, it’s already introduced a slew of words to the enthusiast vocabulary, terms such as kilowatt-hours, sleds, skateboards, and prismatic cells. “Mid-battery” could soon join that lexicon, because it’s how most cars of the future will be designed, barring any huge breakthroughs in battery packaging.

Why did mid-engine design evolve in the first place? In a car designed around an internal-combustion engine, the powerplant is most often located ahead of the driver, which doesn’t provide the best weight balance. The purpose of a mid-engine layout is to shift the heaviest component, the engine, behind the passenger cell to improve balance. With better balance, the car can put its power to the ground more effectively in a rear-wheel-drive or rear-biased all-wheel-drive configuration. That’s why the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette went mid-engine.

What happens when there’s no engine, just a much lighter electric motor or motors and a heavy battery pack? The car’s platform essentially becomes a sled or skateboard for the battery pack, and it puts it under the floor in the middle of the vehicle. That’s a recipe for ideal weight balance.

2022 GMC Hummer EV

2022 GMC Hummer EV

Motors, inverters, and DC converters generally add up to about the same weight as the exhaust system and fuel tank of a gas-powered vehicle. Most motors are located on the axles, though some EVs place them elsewhere. The Lordstown Endurance pickup truck, for example, rides on a sled chassis but has the motors on the wheel hubs. Rivians can be ordered with as many as four electric motors, two on each axle. The Porsche Taycan and Tesla Model S can be outfitted with three motors, two in the rear and one in the front.

While the vast majority of mass-production vehicles will be mid-battery, there will be exceptions to the rule. Particularly trucks and SUVs where having the most vulnerable powertrain component in the middle might not be the best place due to potential damage while off-roading or working. In those scenarios the packs might be split up in various places around the vehicle including fore and aft of the axles and or frame rails.

This mid-battery layout will make EVs easier to tune for handling, and potentially make them safer because it places the center of mass lower and allows for significant crumple zones front and rear. Engineers won’t need to package vehicle structures around the engine, transmission, or exhaust system. This will cut some weight and allow for smarter packaging with more room for passengers and cargo. While some batteries can take up irregularly shaped spaces inside and above the sled, they will still be located between the wheels.

Rivian R1T, R1S chassis

Rivian R1T, R1S chassis

Here’s to the future

Today’s batteries are heavy. Green Car Reports’ Senior Editor Bengt Halvorson notes that a typical electric car weighs 600-800 pounds more than a comparable gas-powered car, or even more. Many of today’s battery packs weigh 1,000-1,150 lbs. But they will get lighter. The introduction of the solid-state battery will reduce charge times and possibly double energy density, though it may not necessarily reduce weight. More carbon fiber, high-strength steel, and other lightweight materials will further remove weight as material costs come down.

Electric motors don’t need to advance to take EV performance beyond what a gas engine can accomplish. They’re already more powerful, and they deliver incredible performance. The Tesla Model S can rocket from 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds. It’s unlikely electric motors will get lighter, though, not that they add much weight.

That leaves the issue of sitting up higher on top of a battery pack, but there’s already a fix for that. The Porsche Taycan stacks its battery cells higher in some areas and lower in others to allow the driver’s seat to sit lower. Anyone who has sat behind the wheel of a Taycan knows it feels like a sports car.

The mid-engine car will soon be dead, but its concept of ideal weight balance is here to stay and will in fact grow with the proliferation of electric cars. The industry will make an effort to tackle the weight problem that electric batteries present, but just about every car will start with better weight distribution. Performance as we know it is about to change and even pedestrian daily drivers will have a handling leg up on their gas-powered predecessors.

Bring on the mid-battery era.

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Autos

2022 Audi Q4 E-Tron, 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz, Mercedes-Benz AMG One: This Week’s Top Photos

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2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS

Audi expanded its lineup of electric vehicles with the reveal of the new Q4 E-Tron and Q4 Sportback E-Tron. The handsome compact crossover duo arrive at dealerships later this year and should offer around 250 miles on a charge.

2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS

Another new electric vehicle in the headlines this week was the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS, and it did not disappoint. The svelte electric sedan combines an S-Class grade interior with impressive technology, and this should help it attract well-heeled buyers looking to make the switch from gasoline to electrons.

Nissan GT-R Nismo Special Edition

Nissan GT-R Nismo Special Edition

Nissan is close to launching a redesigned Z, but the automaker’s other sports car, the GT-R, will soldier on in its current form for a little while longer. This week, Nissan introduced a special version of the GT-R Nismo range-topper. It features a unique look and upgraded engine internals.

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

2021 Volkswagen Arteon

Volkswagen updated the Arteon for 2021, adding new technology and styling tweaks that push the svelte sedan even closer to near-luxury status. This week we posted up our review of the car.

2021 Toyota Supra

2021 Toyota Supra

Another car we tested was the 2021 Toyota Supra, specifically the 6-cylinder. The car’s got gobs of power, but the same enthusiasts who are eager for this might find the lack of a manual gearbox unforgivable.

Mercedes-Benz AMG One spy shots - Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

Mercedes-Benz AMG One spy shots – Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

Development of Mercedes-Benz AMG’s Formula One-powered hypercar is almost complete, with prototypes this week hitting the Nürburgring for the first time. While the One may be delayed, the wait will definitely be worth it for the 275 future owners.

High-riding Porsche 911 prototype spy shots - Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

High-riding Porsche 911 prototype spy shots – Photo credit: S. Baldauf/SB-Medien

Another car testing on the ‘Ring was a high-riding Porsche 911. Porsche has said such a car would be a good idea, and now it looks like one is coming.

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

And finally, Hyundai revealed its 2022 Santa Cruz. The compact pickup truck is related to the Hyundai Tucson, and we’ll see it at dealerships this summer.

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Filling in for the Chinese Grand Prix

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Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari (Imola)

Round two of the 2021 Formula One World Championship takes us to historic Imola in Italy this weekend, where a special race, the Made in Italy and Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, is being held.

The race fills in for the usual Chinese Grand Prix which was canceled this year due to disruptions caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This will be the second year in a row that the Imola racetrack, officially the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, hosts an F1 race.

The anti-clockwise circuit, which in previous times has hosted the Italian and San Marino Grands Prix, has been in continuous use and updated considerably over the years. For instance, the old Variante Bassa is gone and the long straight heading into Tamburello is now broken up by two right-hand corners. More run-off areas have been added, especially at Variante Alta.

As for the track itself, it stretches 3.08 miles and is quite narrow in places, which adds to the challenge of overtaking and puts an emphasis on strategy. Although it was given fresh asphalt prior to last year’s race, it is still quite bumpy and there are some big curbs, placing notable demands on the cars and drivers.

Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari (Imola)

Just over 70 percent of a lap is taken at full-throttle, the third-highest percentage of the 2021 F1 tracks. This includes 15 seconds of foot-to-the-floor lap time from the exit of the final corner to the braking zone for Turn 2.

Looking at the weather forecast, we should be in for fine conditions for most of the weekends. However, there’s a chance we could see some rain during Sunday’s race. Pirelli has nominated its mid-range C2, C3 and C4 tires for the race.

Following the first practice session on Friday, Mercedes-Benz AMG’s Valtteri Bottas was the quickest, followed by fellow Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton. Rounding out the top three was Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen who hopefully will challenge the Mercedes duo for victory like he did in the season opener in Bahrain.

Going into Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race, Hamilton leads the 2021 Drivers’ Championship with 25 points. Verstappen is second with 18 points and Bottas is third with 16 points. In the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes leads with 41 points, versus the 28 of Red Bull and 18 of McLaren. Last year’s winner at Imola was Hamilton driving for Mercedes.

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Electric Ferrari locked in for 2025

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John Elkann

Ferrari will unveil an electric vehicle in 2025, Chairman John Elkann said on Thursday during the company’s annual general meeting.

The news of an electric Ferrari doesn’t come as a huge surprise as patent drawings filed by Ferrari for a modular electric drive system were discovered last year.

Elkann didn’t provide any details on the vehicle but former CEO Louis Camilleri in 2019 said the company was studying the potential for a grand tourer-style car, suggesting it won’t be a supercar like the upcoming Lotus Evija or Rimac C_Two.

Camilleri, who stepped down from Ferrari last year due to personal reasons, also said in 2019 that an electric Ferrari would eventually come, though only after 2025.

John Elkann

During Ferrari’s annual general meeting, Elkann also said that the search for Camilleri’s replacement was ongoing, and that the lucky man or woman will give an update on Ferrari’s future plans during a capital markets day presentation to be held in 2022.

Recent rumors have pointed to Ferrari’s first EV being a crossover, which does make some sense as a heavy battery would be less likely to negatively affect the performance of a crossover compared to a supercar. Ferrari next year will launch its first crossover, the Purosangue, and according to the rumors the platform of the high-riding Prancing Horse has been designed to support electric powertrains.

Ferrari in the past has flip-flopped on the idea of launching an electric car but stricter emission rules and changing market trends has likely convinced the automaker of the need for having one. The company has previously cited a lack of suitable battery technology as the main hurdle.

While an electric Ferrari is still a few years off, the company will focus on plug-in hybrid technology in the interim. The company has just launched the plug-in hybrid SF90 Stradale and targets a 60-percent electrified lineup by 2022. The company is also looking into more alternatives, such as using hydrogen or biofuels.

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