The all-electric Morgan 3 Wheeler is due to drop at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. But our deputy editor asks, is this really what Morgan stands for?
Chances are, much like Porsche and Lotus SUVs, electric 911s, off-road Ariel Atoms, and near-400hp Golf GTIs, this topic has already done the rounds at your local water cooler. And I admit, when talking about ‘the purity of a brand’, the grooves of this particular record have been worn almost smooth over the years through overuse.
But I’m afraid I can’t help myself here, since I just can’t see the point of an all-electric Morgan 3 Wheeler.
Said prototype is due to make its debut at the upcoming Goodwood Festival of Speed, and given that the Morgan Motor Company name positively oozes more than 100 years of heritage, it’s tempting to pass the news off as a handy marketing campaign on one of the grandest motoring stages in the world. Lest we forget the zero emission Renault Z.E. and Mercedes SLS AMG Electric that have graced Lord March’s lawn in recent years…
The concept though of a hyper fuel-efficient Morgan is hardly a new one. Company CEO Charles Morgan has long since championed the idea of ‘niche’ driving fun and the potential of electric sports car performance, with previous projects including the Supersports-based E+ and Plus 8-inspired Plus E of just three years ago. Nor was this mere preamble, Morgan himself publicly lauding the 94bhp Zytek-powered Plus E’s performance capabilities and suggesting that, even if high running and maintenance costs – plus insufficient power stations – were high enough to make the project implausible, it could well be the driving force for Morgan further down the line.
And on paper at least, the new electric 3 Wheeler – or EV3 – does back this up. Details remain thin on the ground, but the rear-mounted electric motor sends 75kW/101bhp to the rear wheel as opposed to its predecessor’s 70kW/94bhp output, enjoys 240km of range compared with the Plus E’s 190km, and – somehow – weighs in ‘less than its combustion based counterpart’ at 450kg. A lighter chassis and, as a result, smaller batteries account for not only the weight loss but also reduced production costs. Stylistically the ‘Morgan look’ remains intact, albeit with a more rounded and ‘aerodynamic’ bodykit, plus the loss of that 2-litre V-Twin protruding from the front end and the now obsolete side-mounted exhaust pipe. With a revised electric powertrain, a modified design and a production plan already set for 2016 (pending market reaction), the EV3 could – theoretically at least – become THE future of the Morgan Motor Company.
But, I ask, should it?
Morgan is far from the first manufacturer to uphold both its heritage and its founder’s original company image whilst simultaneously aiming to keep the accountants happy: Mr Luca Di Montezemolo for instance could no doubt tell a few stories about the new, less exclusive turbocharged Ferraris that are currently being churned out the Maranello gates with greater philosophy. But while Ferrari today continues to develop performance machines of their time – LaFerrari being today’s best example – rarely has this been the case for Morgan: the fifth generation Aero 8 may well be the ‘most refined’ example yet from the company, but even with the 367bhp 4.8 litre BMW V8 intact, it could still slot into early 1930s Britain with limited fuss or consternation. In looking for ‘the niche’, Morgan is still all too aware of its roots, and one does wonder exactly how an electric powertrain would fit that mould.
I admit, though I have driven cars faster, more powerful, more practical and more fuel efficient than the combustion-powered 3 Wheeler, very few – VERY few – have instilled the same thrill of driving as Morgan’s most distinctive model. There are no anti-lock brakes, no power steering systems, no boot space, no windscreen, barely enough room for a full-sized adult, and less than half a dozen gauges and switches, technologically advanced driver assistance systems given the boot in favour of 87bhp, a 185kph top speed (if you’re brave enough) and a wonderfully dramatic sense of ‘Britishness’: I remember feeling a twang of disappointment on climbing aboard the Roadster 3.7 and finding a multi-CD changer and remote where I had half expected to find a gramophone playing the light programme. It’s an experience created not via windtunnel testing or aerodynamic bodywork but through hours of handmade engineering and panelling by a small team in Malvern (presumably with a cup of Tetley’s in the pot0, into which its difficult to see an electric or hybrid powerplant slotting seamlessly. I just wonder if a Morgan for the modern age, regardless of the ‘new niches’ it brings, is to miss the point of the brand entirely.
Of course, just ten years ago many said much the same thing about the Porsche Cayenne.