No, Tesla Won’t Beat Lamborghini At Handling Anytime Soon

Lamborghini Tesla

A recent article at The Drive tells us that Lamborghini is giving up on trying to be the fastest vehicles in terms of acceleration. Electric vehicles like Tesla are just too powerful to beat with a combustion engine at this point. Instead, Lamborghini is going to be focusing on handling. Unfortunately, many Tesla fans are under the mistaken assumption that Tesla will be able to quickly beat them at that, too. With one possible exception (which I’ll get to at the end of the article), this is probably not going to happen for 10–20 years.

It all comes down to weight, and batteries are still heavy.

Energy Density

Let’s look at the numbers. A gallon of gasoline weighs 6.3 pounds. That gas contains up to 33.7 kWh of usable energy, of which the average combustion vehicle can use about 25%. That means that it takes 25.2 pounds of weight (11.4 kg), making for an effective energy density of 2.95 kWh/kg (or 2950 Wh/kg). Tesla’s current battery packs are around 250–260 Wh/kg. This means gasoline has more than a 10:1 advantage over batteries in terms of weight. People estimate that in 5 years, it’s possible that Tesla will achieve 500 Wh/kg, but even then, it’s still around six times the weight.

Here’s Engineering Explained’s take on the energy density issue:

People arguing with me about this made several points, but they aren’t nearly enough to overcome the weight advantage supercars have (and will continue to improve upon).

But What About …

The lower center of gravity helps with handling, but the laws of physics are still going to be in play for cornering. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, we call that inertia. A vehicle with a greater mass will have inertia trying to pull it off the road and into the ditch more than a lighter car. The center of gravity being lower helps keep the vehicle planted, but it doesn’t eliminate inertia. Only an inertial dampener like they have on Star Trek can do that.

Gasoline vehicles have heavier motors and transmissions, but that doesn’t make up for anywhere near the weight penalty of carrying a big battery pack around. Sure, a BMW performance sedan is fairly similar in weight to a Tesla Model 3, but we are talking about supercars here, not BMW sedans. Look, I love BMW sedans, and have done a lot of stupid (and highly entertaining) things in them on mountain roads, but they’re positively obese (in the 3800 lb ballpark) compared to something like a Lamborghini (the subject of this article, BTW), which weights in more than 1,000 pounds lighter.

Plus, Gordon Murray’s T50 shows us where the industry is going. That vehicle has a V12 engine and weighs only 2,173 pounds. That’s the better part of a ton lighter than the Model 3. That’s only 300 pounds heavier than the estimated weight of the battery pack alone of the upcoming Tesla Roadster 2. The new Roadster will probably weigh around 3000–3500 pounds.

Given how much greater density gasoline has, we won’t see an EV that’s competitive in weight to something like the Lamborghini until energy densities for batteries are 3–5× what we predict they will be in 5 years. That’s why I’m saying that we can’t expect this for 10–20 years.

What This Means In A Race

What this means is that some types of races will go to the Roadster 2 while others will go to the Lamborghini (and similar vehicles).

On a straight track, like drag racing, expect the Roadster to annihilate the Lamborghini. The sudden and continued torque, no hesitations for shifting, etc. will lead to the Roadster dominating, probably by seconds. On a curvy track, the Lamborghini will eat the Roadster. All that battery weight (that’s almost as much as the whole Lamborghini) will be pulling on the car at every turn, trying to take it into the bushes. To not lose control, the vehicle will have to slow down more in the turns. Sure, the center of gravity will be lower, and it will have big, sticky tires, but that can only do so much.

On a track with a mix of straight and curvy segments, the vehicles will be competitive, and it will come down to how much of an advantage the Roadster will be able to gain before losing ground to the Lamborghini again in the turns. Track layout will be a huge factor here. Predictions won’t be simple.

How To Build A Vehicle That Roasts Both Tesla & Lamborghini

There’s a way to get the advantages of both vehicles.

First, start with a very light EV with no batteries. Then, add the smallest battery pack you can get away with. Probably 5–10 kWh of pack would be enough to have a buffer for the hard pulls on a track. Feed this battery pack energy from a very small and light combustion engine, like a Wankel Rotary or a small microturbine. Fill the tank for the engine with just enough fuel to finish the race.

This vehicle would have the hard pulls of the EV but corner like the Lamborghini, and would beat them both. It would also likely get much better efficiency than the Lamborghini, likely requiring far less energy.

How Tesla Might Be Able To Make Up For Inertia

This is where the SpaceX thruster package might be able to help some.

As a big and heavy vehicle approaches a turn, all of that mass wants to keep going straight while the tires are pulling it to the side for the turn. It’s like the time I was running down the halls in 7th grade with a big, heavy backpack and tried to turn a corner — the backpack kept going and I smashed into some lockers. Except, we’re talking about almost two tons of batteries, steel, and a little bit for the people inside the car.

If the thrusters can be controlled with enough accuracy, it might be possible to fire some thrust against the inertia during the turn to fight the car back onto the road. This will come at some cost, possibly slowing the car down a bit, but more trust fired from the rear after the apex of the turn might be able to compensate for that, too.

I don’t know where the thrusters will be placed, whether they can be aimed a bit, and whether they’ll have variable thrust, but if the computer that controls them is able to detect inertia and compensate for it, you might be able to beat the Lamborghini on a course with twisty sections.

None of that is going to make up for the inertia of the vehicle’s occupants, their internal organs, and their inner ears. Expect to experience a fair amount of nausea and possibly sustain some injuries if you blow through a course fast like this. Speed never killed anybody. It’s the sudden stops (and sudden changes in direction) that are a problem.

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