British-built electric cars - the UK's EV icons past and present

  • Electric cars
  • Oct 02, 2020

As this week's news revealed, the collective fate of British built electric cars lies very much in the hands of Brexit negotiators. It’s time to celebrate the British icons amongst the growing pack of electric cars on the market, with this look at british made electric cars.

Iconic British names Jaguar, Land Rover and even Rolls-Royce are all rumoured to be bringing new all-electric models out in the near future.

Silent Shadow: Will there soon be an electric Roller?

Hopes for an electric roller originate from rumours that BMW have applied for a trademark for ‘Silent Shadow’, and since many Rolls-Royce models have ‘Shadow’ in their name, the Roller conclusion is not too hard to draw.

Rolls-Royce actually dabbled in all-electric models back in 2011 with its Phantom VII body but it never made it to production. That car was called the Rolls-Royce 102EX, it was powered by a pair of electric motors and it raced to 62 mph in 8 seconds.

The first electric Rolls-Royce, the 2011 Phantom VII
The first electric Rolls-Royce, the 2011 Phantom VII

To achieve that it had the largest battery pack ever fitted into a passenger car - 71 kWh (for reference 64kWh is pretty common size today). It was ahead of its time with relatively fast charging too, and could replenish the battery fully in around 8 hours.

Today, Rolls-Royce’s management is adamant that this EV is an answer to stringent emissions regulations and zero-emissions zones rather than customer demand. We’d love them to be more positive about the car, but it’s the result that counts!

It is likely that it won’t look like the Phantom, but a coupe or convertible to replace the Wraith and Dawn.

The Rolls-Royce Dawn - possible candidate for an electric makeover?

While Rolls-Royce continues to insist there aren't any customers interested in EVs, there's already a British company building and selling electric Rolls-Royces, rebuilt from the ground up in Silverstone. Lunaz is a British automotive engineering company that has designed and developed an electric powertrain to breathe new life into classic cars. It has brought a number of celebrated classics back to life, including a 1961 eight-seat Rolls-Royce Phantom V, Rolls Royce Cloud and a 1953 Jaguar XK120.

In the ultimate example of upcycling, Lunaz source cars that are no longer functional and create beautiful, clean and usable electric classic cars.

Rolls’ German owner (BMW) has already brought to market another British icon in all-electric format.

She's electric: the unforgettable Electric Mini

About as far as you can imagine from the opulent but thirsty Roller, the Mini came about as a smaller and more fuel efficient response to the price hikes of the Suez Crisis. It is no surprise then that the Mini Electric is £600 cheaper than the equivalent Mini Cooper S with an automatic gearbox. That doesn’t happen often with an EV, as you expect to make savings after you start driving not before!

The Mini Electric is built at the same Oxford factory as its ancestor starts at under £25,000 (after the £3,500 plug-in subsidy), sixty years after predecessor revolutionised small car motoring and became a symbol of the swinging sixties.

Stiff upper lip for this British icon: the Mini was built for fuel economy

The Mini is timeless and classless - equally at home outside a suburban family house as the London pad of the pop stars of the day.

The electric Mini has various references to it’s UK roots - from the tail-light union jack to the, slightly more subtle, UK three-pin plug design on its hubcaps.

The Mini Electric is powered by a 184 horsepower (135kW) motor, which draws its charge from a 32.6kWh high-voltage lithium ion battery arranged in 12 modules.

She's electric: The new Mini Electric has been launched and it will cost a shade under £25,000
Cool Britannia: The Mini Electric - spot the British references?

On a fast charger (50KW direct current) the electric Mini can achieve 80 per cent of its charge in just 35 minutes, says Mini. That's two-and-a-half hours on a standard home electric car wall charger. Plug in to a domestic socket for a slower full charge while you sleep (ready in around 12 hours).

Despite the heavy batteries, it weighs only 145kg more than a petrol version.

Mini Electric or hybrid? Typical savings stack up for the electric, especially at higher mileages

The Oxford plant employs 4,500 people, building 223,000 new cars a year, of which 80 per cent are exported. As soon as the Mini EV leaves these shores it goes by the rather inconspicuous name ‘Mini Cooper SE’.

What are the prospects for Mini in a no-deal Brexit? The UK is BMW's fourth largest market and the third most profitable. But export tariffs would be likely to spell a re-think on UK production.

Turning over a Nissan Leaf

Maybe not exactly your first thought amongst British electric institutions, but the Leaf is an institution in the world of EVs and it is British built. The Nissan Leaf is built in Sunderland with imported battery cells from Japan and has been the best-selling electric car in Europe.

A Nissan Leaf - a best-selling British built electric car

The first Nissan Leaf, the Mk1, was a true electric car pioneer. The recently released 2020 model builds on this with an improved range, a better price and new tech designed to help get the most from its electric drive system.

If you go to Nissan’s website, you’ll see that they insist on capitals for their flagship EV - LEAF - which stands for Leading, Environmentally Friendly, Affordable, Family Car.


Exciting plans afoot at Jaguar

Jaguar Land Rover has also been investing heavily in new electric Jaguars at its Castle Bromwich factory near Birmingham, including a new battery-powered flagship XJ limousine.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in January 2020 announced investment into a battery site at Hams Hall that will produce hybrid and pure-electric systems for its cars.

A full electric Range Rover and the full electric Jaguar XJ are expected to be announced any day now. With new XJ expected to roll out of Castle Bromwich by spring 2021.

Castle Bromwich will produce Land Rover’s BEV nicknamed the ‘Road Rover’ and the  Jaguar J-Pace. The I-Pace will, according to insiders, continue to be built on its unique platform in Austria and have a “normal lifespan”.

You might have noticed that electric SUVs are more diminutive that their petrol relatives. With battery range all-important, smaller frontal areas will also be a key element of these new-generation models.

The J-Pace will have a much more luxurious interior and more modern styling. It’s also understood that the J-Pace will eventually be available with a conventional internal combustion engine powertrain, though if the ban on new sales of ICE is brought forward to 2030, this remains to be seen...

The future has landed: Arrival is electric

Just down the road from Mini, the English electric van manufacturer and vehicle developer Arrival has moved into a new plant in Bicester built on what they call a ‘skateboard’ platform.

Arrival was founded in 2015 and has production facilities and research and development centres in the USA, Germany, Tel Aviv, Russia and Great Britain. This new factory in Oxfordshire will deliver the electric delivery vans from UPS’ bulk order.

UPS has ordered 10,000 electic vans from Arrival

The US logistics company had recently ordered 10,000 electric vans from Arrival, with an option for a further 10,000 electric transporters. That is said to be worth more than $440 million.

Arrival can’t fulfill the order from the UK, but plans to open “micro-factories” near Los Angeles and New York to produce the vehicles for North America there. But the plan is to assemble all European vans in the UK.

Hyundai-Kia are investors with an eye on its ride-hailing or shuttle vehicles.

The British battery is the backbone

In five years' time, the EU trade deal will see any car more than 40% 'non-British' subject to tariffs. This makes British-built batteries even more important.

Step in BritishVolt. Their planned 2.7-million-square-feet plant in the North-East of England will aim towards an annual battery production capacity of up to 35GWh, putting it on par with Tesla's Gigafactory in Nevada, US. It will be one of the largest industrial investments in British history.

The move is intended to make Britishvolt a global leader in producing high-performance lithium ion batteries, with the firm claiming it will “become one of the largest industrial investments in British history”. It’s planned to open with an annual output of 10GWh – enough for 130,000 EVs – and hit 30GWh by 2027, eventually creating up to 4000 jobs.

Coventry’s Hyperbat is another battery producer to watch. Hyperbat is a joint venture by Williams, the engineering arm of the Formula One racing team, and Unipart. They’ve invested in bringing their electric technology from research phase to scalable production.

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