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Fossil fuel's Nemesis? - First drive: Nemesis

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Yes, it's a Lotus-based electric car, but it's not a Tesla - meet the Nemesis, one man's concept of the electric future.

DALE VINCE, OBE, is an unlikely-looking businessman. When we meet at his Gloucestershire country house, he’s wearing artfully torn jeans and a faded T-shirt, and there’s loud rock music playing somewhere in an upstairs room; with his long hair he looks more like a successful musician than the boss of an electricity company. Or, indeed, the driving force behind a radical new sports car.

The Nemesis is a Lotus Exige-based creation that takes performance to a new level, in electric car terms. Its lithium-ion battery pack gives the equivalent of 330bhp, and a range of between 100-150 miles. This car is only a prototype but Vince himself has an impressive CV as the founder and MD of Ecotricity, the world’s largest supplier of ‘green’ electricity. In Vince’s case, appearances are not entirely deceptive. ‘For 15 or 20 years I was a drop-out,’ he explains. ‘ I was living in a trailer on top of a hill. That’s when I became interested in windmills…’

That ‘interest in windmills’ led to Dale setting up Ecotricity, which provides wind turbine-generated electricity. But Dale is as much of a speed-freak as any petrolhead – he just prefers his energy to be non-polluting. So he pulled together a small team of experts, including McLaren F1 designer Peter Stevens, to help develop the Nemesis. ‘It had to be a no-compromise car,’ says Vince. ‘It had to look fantastic, go like hell, and handle properly. People won’t accept electric cars if they don’t work at least as well as the petrol-powered cars they already have.’

The major problem with public acceptance of electric cars is so-called ‘range anxiety’, the fear of being caught out by a depleted battery on a long trip. Vince says this fear is understandable but largely misfounded: about 96% of UK journeys are of less than 100 miles, and battery technology will soon reach the point when it will be possible to recharge to 50% capacity in five minutes. The Nemesis will travel at least 100 miles in one hit; that’s less than the US-made Tesla, but the Nemesis is also lighter – 1150kg compared with the Tesla’s 1235kg – and faster.

Basis for the Nemesis was an eBay-sourced Lotus Exige, which has been lengthened by 900mm and given an entirely new carbonfibre rear section aft of the doors. The centre of gravity has been lowered and shifted forward; weight is some 150kg more than a supercharged Exige’s but, with a claimed equivalent of 330bhp from its two rear-mounted 125kw electric motors, the power-to-weight ratio is much higher, too. This is very much a prototype, so no attention has been paid to luxuries such as heating or noise insulation. Performance is everything.

And boy, does it perform. Push the throttle hard and the Nemesis gathers speed like an F14 being catapult launched from the USS Enterprise; if any car can fulfil your Top Gun fantasies, it’s this one. It makes an incredible jet fighter roar under acceleration, a noise which abates only slightly at cruising speed, when there’s a multi-layered turbine like whine that varies in pitch but not much in intensity. Frankly, it’s pretty exhausting and it’s markedly different to the discreet whoosh emitted by a Tesla.

So the Nemesis is noisier and less civilised than the Tesla. It is, however, undoubtedly faster, with a claimed 0-100mph time of 8.5sec, and – as far as we could tell from a drive on crowded B-roads – better handling. Unlike in the American car, you don’t notice the extra weight of the batteries, and the Nemesis’s Exige suspension has been left largely unchanged aside from uprated dampers at the rear. It handles like a Lotus, in other words, rather than a Lotus that’s carrying a payload it was never designed to carry, and it has the same communicative steering and compliant ride.

This car won’t go into production, but the experience gained has been invaluable, says Vince. ‘Here we were constrained by the limitations of starting with a car designed for an internal-combustion engine. Imagine how much better it could be if we were starting with a clean sheet of paper.’

And that’s just what Vince and his team are doing. They have nothing less than the land speed record for production cars in their sights, with a 4wd electric supercar that will develop the equivalent of over 700bhp. All they need is the funding…

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