Watts Up: EV News of the Week For November 4, 2022


November 4th, 2022 11:49 AM

The big news this week, for just about everyone who exists in and around the automotive industry, was SEMA. The world’s largest automotive trade show has, once again, descended on Las Vegas and brought with it thousands of vendors and exhibitors, each vying to outdo the others with increasingly wild displays of automotive excess.

Ed. note — this is the first in a series of weekly recaps of EV news. Hope you enjoy it. Now back to the article.

Stellantis showed up with an interesting Jeep CJ Surge “concept” that takes a classic Jeep CJ and stuffs it full of EV tech. It’s an interesting piece, too, with electric motors sending torque through an old-school two-speed Jeep transfer case with selectable gearing (translation: it’s a manual) while the battery packs are sealed into a custom “shell” mounted in the rear of the passenger cabin that’s visually reminiscent of an off-road fuel cell.

Other mods include a set of knobby, 35-inch BFGoodrich AT tires wrapped around matte black 18-by-9″ Black Rhino Solid paired and a 2″ lift kit, Jeeps says the CJ Surge concept is “a true Jeep 4×4.”

And then, of course, there’s the high-dollar paint job.

With a spotlight on electrification, Mopar is in a great position to fully enhance the customer experience with quality-tested, factory-backed parts and accessories,” said Mark Bosanac, North America senior vice president, Mopar service, parts and customer care. “The Jeep CJ Surge concept explores a future zero-emission propulsion system kit and supports the Jeep brand’s mission to become the leading electrified SUV brand in the world.”

So, what makes this particular vintage Jeep a forward-looking “concept” car? It’s not the car, itself, but rather the battery-electric powertrain under the CJ Surge’s skin. That’s because electrifying classic vehicles is becoming something of a trend in the aftermarket industry, with startups like EV West joining legacy brands like Ford and GM/ Chevy in offering drop-in “motor swaps” for anyone looking to tackle a project like this on their own.

Something similar could be found over on the Nissan side of things — but despite the fact that the Nissan restomod didn’t have the same factory support that Jeep’s CJ Surge did, it still delivered some SEMA-level, show-stopping style.

Built by Tommy Pike Customs (TPC), this 1987 Nissan Sunny pickup body has been given the full Paul Newman/BRM Datsun visual treatment and hides a 2nd-generation Nissan LEAF powertrain under its classic, JDM lines.

And, while that LEAF motor is good for “just” 147 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, it’s worth mentioning that that’s more than twice the horsepower — and nearly three times the torque! — than the original four-cylinder engine the Sunny came with.

“I bought the Sunny Truck because I thought it was such a cool piece of Nissan history and heritage – especially when I saw it was a right-hand-drive model,” said Tommy Pike, who owns both TPC and this Sunny. “Taking the unexpected step of converting the Sunny to electric power while wrapping it with the Brock Racing Enterprises livery felt like the perfect way to pay homage to Nissan’s heritage and modern innovation.”

Somewhere in between the big-budget OEM build and the hometown hot-rodder’s shop build was Optima Batteries’ Rivian project, which was built to showcase a pair of solar-powered, rechargeable battery trailers that allow users to charge their EV rigs, electric powersports, and power camping accessories when their owner’s adventures take them way, way off the beaten path.

It’s an interesting concept, and one that successfully combines two of the most popular automotive trends — namely: EVs and “overlanding” — in a relatively practical way (I mean, practical by SEMA standards, at the very least).

“The two custom trailers from Turtleback Trailers,” reads the official copy. “One Utility Turtle and one Kitchen Turtle, are both fitted with BFGoodrich All-Terrain K02 tires. The Kitchen Turtle trailer will showcase the 110kW lithium-ion battery pack and the revolutionary deployable Merlin Solar awning that will aid in recharging when camping off-grid. It will also include an overland kitchen unit with an electric stove, a sink with running hot and cold water, and a 45-gallon water tank. The Utility Turtle features two CAKE Kalk OR Race electric motorcycles and storage for all the adventure gear an overlander requires.”

I’m a huge fan of the CAKE bikes, and their efforts to combat illegal animal poaching, so you already know I love all of this.

The Silence Was Deafening

More interesting than who was at SEMA, however, might be who wasn’t at SEMA this year. Namely, Ford, GM, and Hyundai — three companies who have committed fully to electrifying their product portfolios and who are busily doing everything they can to make their stock behave more like Tesla’s (at least, before Elon’s Twitter debacle).

That announcement was made back in May, so it wasn’t necessarily a surprise to not have Ford or GM make an appearance, but the effect of their absence was surreal.

“SEMA is a gasoline show,” said one fellow industry wag, when I asked him what he thought Ford’s absence meant for the show. “These companies don’t want to be associated with it anymore. It’s an embarrassment.”

For every EV conversion or widebody Tesla out on the floor, you can bet there were a half-dozen or more lifted, squatted, and totally over-the-top 4×4 pickups on the floor, along with another half-dozen or so open-pipe street racers with “for off-road use only” parts on them. And if you’re a major car brand hoping to score some sweet, sweet Inflation Reduction Act money, that’s a bad look.

If you’re a small shop, it’s probably bad for business, too, depending on how the next few rounds of CARB/BAR test cases go.

In Other News

Demand for electric vehicles of all kinds continues to grow, with BMW reporting its YOY EV sales have more than doubled this year, with soaring demand fueling overall revenue growth.

Over in China, Tesla has slashed the prices of its most popular Model 3 and Model Y electric cars in order to qualify for the latest versions of that country’s EV incentives. Depending on who you believe, this has either caused orders for Chinese brand EVs to plummet and is great news for Tesla or it’s a sign that Tesla can no longer compete on brand cachet alone, and has been drawn into the same sort of familiar price wars as Chevy/Ford or Toyota/Honda.

Not that anyone asked me, but if you raise your cars’ prices by $6,000 only to drop them by $7,000 four months later, well — let’s just say it doesn’t seem, to me, like these are the sort of decisions a major company should take lightly.

And, finally, the European Union (EU) has doubled down on its plans to legislate EVs into the mainstream by officially putting ink to paper on what amounts to a near-total ban on internal combustion passenger cars and commercial vans in 2035.

“This agreement will pave the way for the modern and competitive automotive industry in the EU,” says Jozef Síkela, Czech minister of industry and trade. “The world is changing, and we must remain at the forefront of innovation. I believe we can take advantage of this technological transition. The envisaged timeline also makes the goals achievable for car manufacturers.”

The new ban makes exceptions for “low volume manufacturers” like Lamborghini or Pagani (for example) to continue making bespoke track cars, but without the ability to drive those cars into major city centers to impress the lads and ladies and attractive people of the other assorted genders, it remains to be seen if there’s any kind of business case for that outside of the odd Radical or Caterham with some previously established following.

That’s just my take, though — you’re the Best and Brightest, let us know what you think of all this EV news in the comments.

[Images: Stellantis, Tommy Pike Customs, Optima Batteries]

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