Automobile companies have been naming their engines almost as long as they’ve been making them. In fact, the word “motor” is literally part of many automakers’ corporate branding; more specific to vehicles’ powerplants, Buick was advertising its “Valve-In-Head” engines more than a century ago. Besides actual brand names, automakers’ alphanumeric type designations—like General Motors’ LSx or LTx V-8 engines, Toyota’s JZ family of inline-sixes beloved by the JDM tuner crowd, and Jaguar’s legendary XJ inline-six—have become part of the common parlance of car enthusiasts. Those enthusiasts have even generated their own appellations and nicknames for their favorite powerplants, like Ford’s “Windsor” and “Cleveland” V-8s, named after the cities and assembly plants where they were made.
Besides descriptive brand names like Buick used, there have been evocative monikers like the Blue Flame Six that was the Corvette’s original powerplant, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the current Mustang is powered by another member of the automotive animal kingdom, the Coyote V-8. The Coyote, of course, is not Ford’s only current engine brand. There is Ford’s family of forced-induction three-, four-, and six-cylinder EcoBoost engines.
Invented brand names go back at least as far as Kodak, a meaningless word that George Eastman understood would stick in peoples’ minds, but many marketers today prefer brand names that convey some kind of technical meaning, like the EcoBoost brand. Engine names don’t have to be that technology specific, though. Jaguars new Ingenium family of gasoline and diesel engines seems to be so named so that we’ll think Jaguar’s ingenious engineers have apparently harnessed unobtainium.
Some of those engine brand names have even become part of popular culture. Oldmobile’s Rocket V-8 inspired the first rock and roll song, and MOPAR’s Hemi was such a legendary brand name that Chrysler brought it back with the popular “Got a HEMI in That?” advertising campaign—even if the current HEMIs are completely different engines than the 426-cubic-inch “elephant motor” of the 1960s, or earlier 1950s vintage Hemis.
Why, then, has no maker of electric cars started giving its motors brand names? It’s almost as if what makes an electric car electric isn’t worthy. The hybrid age brought us GM’s Two-Mode Hybrid and Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, but those are inclusive brands for the entire powertrain, not the motor alone.
Can you think of a single EV maker that has branded its electric motors? The most prominent producer of electric cars, Tesla, isn’t doing anything other than specifying the type of motor, in the case of the most recent upgrade, a three-phase, four-pole AC induction motor with a copper rotor. In fact, when Tesla upgraded the front motors in the all-wheel-drive Model S and Model X, the EV startup was perfectly happy to somewhat awkwardly refer to the new “permanent magnet synchronous reluctance motor.” How exciting. Which would entice you more, PerMaSync or “synchronous reluctance”? The latter sounds more like the name of a jam band than a powerful motor. Also, do consumers really want a reluctant motor?
Corvette Blue Flame Six Engine
[Editor’s note: Reluctance is actually a term from magnetics. It’s the magnetic analog to electronic resistance. To blues harp fans, one of the holy grails of harmonica microphones is a vintage Shure “Green Bullet” with a “Controlled Reluctance” element.]
Most makers of battery-electric vehicles don’t even go into as much technical detail about their motors as Tesla does. They usually just list power and torque specs, although sometimes we’ll see things like “permanent magnet” and “synchronous.” Occasionally, we’ll see a reference to AC or DC.
Nissan refers simply to the Leaf’s “100-percent electric motor,” as if you could have something like a 50-percent electric motor that ran on something other than electrons the other half of the time. Lotus promises that the Evija will have 2000 horsepower worth of, as yet unbranded, electric power. Electric truck startups Rivian, Bollinger, and Workhorse also mention power specs but don’t bother to give their motors any special names. The exception seems to be Rimac, which provides technology and consulting services to a number of automakers working on EVs, including Porsche (which holds an equity stake in the Croatian company), in addition to making the CTwo electric supercar. The quad-motor CTwo’s front and rear motors are labeled PM500 and PM700, respectively, in images on the site although they’re not mentioned by brand name on the Rimac website. PM700 sounds technical, but does it have the same appeal as Blue Flame Six?
Maybe EV makers treat EV motors as almost generic devices because, unlike internal combustion engines, electric motors are relatively simple devices. Call it a Rube Goldberg invention or a synchronized mechanical ballet, an ICE with pistons, valves, and a crankshaft, along with ancillary induction and exhaust devices is an impressive feat of engineering. Even the most advanced electric motors essentially have one moving part, the motor armature. The simplicity of electric motors is a main reason why EV advocates tout reduced maintenance costs for electrically-propelled motor vehicles.
Not only are they simpler than combustion engines, electric motors are typically quieter. There’s some whine as the motor comes up to speed, but nothing like the basso profundo of an American V-8, or the soprano shriek of a Ferrari V-12. Maybe it’s easier to give a brand to something loud.
Electric motors may be quieter than combustion engines, but there’s no reason to hide them behind a mere part number.
When it comes to branding things, I’m partial to portmanteau words like Harmonicaster. For EVs, so far I’ve come up with motor names like Whispower, InstaTorque, InductaPower, and TriPhase, but I’m sure that you can come up with some that are better.
If you were responsible for branding an EV’s motor (or motors), what names would you create?
Auto FashionFrom what I can deduce, SEMA is a fashion show for cars. I’ve thought about it quite a lot over the years, so let me explain… Cars are functional art put on display to vie for your attention. Just like fashion, trends come and go and come back around again. You have high-end (read: … Continue reading “Six Of The Best Cars You Didn’t See At SEMA 2019”
With the value of Porsche 356 models rising exponentially over the last number of years, most surviving examples are being kept in original condition or restored to perfection these days. But every now and then you get an owner who goes against the grain, and usually with great results. The owner of this eye-catching 1961 356B 1600 has a real … Continue reading “The Carrera Panamericana-Inspired 356 Outlaw”
In the last Project NSX update, we were spinning dyno hubs at Chequered Tuning. A couple of weeks later it was time to push the rubber down the road. It all started a few months back at the packed Black Label event in Melbourne, where I was busy chatting to people at the VicRoads Custom Plates stand about the recent work … Continue reading “Project NSX At The Honda Nats”
Like it or not, the next decade is about to witness a dam burst, with a wave of electric cars and trucks flooding the market. If you’re still in denial, here’s convincing evidence that more hybrids and combustion-powered vehicles are making the leap to all-electric propulsion next year.
Last week, GM sold its Lordstown, Ohio, manufacturing plant that built the late Chevy Cruze to investors backed by the Workhouse Group which has announced intentions of mass producing its Endurance electric pickup. Along with India-based Mahindra, Workhorse is one of the finalists in a government contract competition to manufacture 180,000 new postal delivery trucks. That volume will surely lower prices sufficiently to bring a small all-wheel-drive truck within reach of retail consumers.
Tesla will soon reveal more details about its Cybertruck, which is expected to start at $50,000 or so when it reaches the U.S. market next year.
Rivian R1T Concept
Rivian, which showed its R1T pickup and R1S SUV at last year’s LA auto show, recently scored $1.2-billion in backing from Ford and Amazon. Ford’s fond hope is that sharing technical advancements with Rivian will accelerate development of its own full-sized truck planned for release in 2021.
The anticipated star of this year’s LA auto show is the Ford Mustang Mach-E, a blend of sports sedan and crossover genes with electrons as the exclusive power source. Official info spells out prices ranging from $43,895–$60,500 (before the $7500 federal tax credit), driving range between 210 and 300 miles, and 0-60 mph acceleration between mid-3 and mid-6 seconds. Top models reach dealers late next year followed by the more affordable Mach Es in early 2021. Deposits are currently being accepted for a spot in line.
Piston-power stalwart Mazda revealed a fresh zoom-zoom concept at October’s Tokyo motor show called the MX-30, with smooth exterior design, rear-hinged back doors, and a new e-Skyactiv powertrain consisting of a 141-hp electric motor driving the front wheels and a 35.5-kWh battery pack. A production version will go on sale in Europe next year with the distinct possibility of a U.S. introduction in 2021. Mazda’s compact gasoline rotary engine could be revived as an onboard range extender.
While GM has pledged that its future will be pure electric, the Chevrolet Bolt’s success thus far has been modest in spite of cash rebates, cut-rate financing, and one battery capacity upgrade. That hasn’t hindered GM from committing $3-billion to convert its Detroit car plant to battery manufacturing. The Hummer nameplate could very well be revived for a line of electric trucks slated for assembly at this plant.
A key attraction that makes electrics irresistible to every large manufacturer is that they slash the powertrain bill of materials from over 2000 to fewer than 20 parts, significantly reducing labor costs.
2011 Tesla Roadster
Four years ago, the British vacuum cleaner maker Dyson spent $15-million to buy Michigan-based Sakti3 for its advanced battery design expertise. This spinoff from the University of Michigan had high hopes of producing solid-state lithium-ion batteries resembling computer chips with major cost and performance advantages over today’s liquid-electrolyte batteries. But after investing some $2.5-billion in a radically different electric car design, Dyson recently threw in the towel because it couldn’t find a way to make the project a commercial success.
Unlike Tesla and GM, Dyson’s enterprise is privately held, making profits essential. A key event in this firm’s past was a high-performance clothes washing machine that sold for 30 percent more than conventional machines but still lost money. When it was withdrawn from the market in 2005, founder James Dyson promised his firm would never again sell any product below cost while hoping that the market would evolve in his favor. Dyson’s efforts to sell his effort to someone, anyone, in the global electric vehicle manufacturing space also failed.
Noteworthy tech strides
In spite of one notable setback, the electric vehicle train is gathering momentum. Those who buy and drive battery-electric vehicles often pledge they will never return to petroleum-powered alternatives. In addition to the faith in electrics demonstrated by the half-dozen brands cited above, there is encouraging news on the technological front.
Lithium-ion battery costs have fallen an average of 18 percent per year since 2010 according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Beginning at $1160 per kWh in 2010, the price is expected to dip below $100 per kWh in 2020. When some maker perfects the solid-state design pursued by Dyson, expect major gains in safety, cost, and packaging density.
A budding Chiba, Japan, enterprise called AC Biode Limited has created the world’s first AC battery. The appeal of such a device in the electric vehicle context is the elimination of energy sapping power inverter (DC to AC) and rectifier (AC to DC) equipment. Internally, this battery uses what’s called a “biode” serving as both the anode (positive electrode) and cathode (negative electrode). Thus far, Biode’s technology exists only in a 20-watt prototype cell but plans are afoot to scale it up so that worldwide battery and parts makers can exploit this breakthrough.
Early in the 20th century, electrics shared the budding car market with gasoline and steam-powered buggies. While there’s no chance steam will make a comeback, electrics appear finally ready to elbow their way back into the transportation mainstream.
We all have our own ways of extracting maximum joy from cars. These methods are generally shaped over the course of our lifetimes and are influenced by our surroundings, upbringings, friends and family. There is no right or wrong way (within reason I suppose, don’t go sticking chainsaws on the outside of your car) to enjoy … Continue reading “It’s Okay To Like Low Cars”
It takes a certain sort of person to own a classic British sports car for anything more than a short period of time, and it all comes down to expectations versus reality. You see, it’s very easy to picture yourself dropping the top and blasting down a narrow country lane with the wind blowing in … Continue reading “Britain Meets Japan In A Restomod MG”
So there I was announcing my happy return to Speedhunters after a few months spent working behind the scenes on Need for Speed Heat, when Mother Nature felt a need to intervene. Just days after publishing my editorial piece, one of the many typhoons that hit Japan during the late summer/early autumn months completely flooded the lower floor of … Continue reading “Automotive Magic: SH Live With Dynamo”
Whether it’s Adam West’s sleek, sixties Batmobile or even Walter White’s delightfully dorky Pontiac Aztec, Iconic TV and movie cars have been around as long as TV and movies themselves. In some cases, the vehicles bring as much to the table as they actors do.
If you want something done right, you usually have to do it yourself. After owning Subaru’s “Bugeye” WRX for years, Thai Quan (known by many as ART) wanted a project car with a more modern appeal. He had already fallen in love with Subaru’s all-wheel-drive performance, so he decided to stay loyal when it came … Continue reading “2012 Subaru WRX STI – ART in Motion”