Fans of Morgan’s eccentric approach to cars who also happen to like the notion of electric propulsion don’t have long to wait. The upcoming EV3, Morgan’s battery powered edition of its open-topped 3 Wheeler, should be ready to go on sale in October. Or maybe November.
For a company that has barely changed in more than 100 years, there’s probably no need to rush.
The man responsible for completing the job, however, say’s he’s very focused on getting it right first time. John Beech, Morgan’s chief engineer, only joined the company in February after 14 years at Lotus. He worked on lightweight sports cars like the Elise, Evora and Exige, and the EV3 will be his second electric vehicle after a battery powered van developed for a Lotus client.
“I’m one of a number of people brought in to help shape Morgan going forwards,” Beech says. “We’re developing a new product introduction process to ensure that the kind of issues, concerns and failure modes we’ve had previously are addressed.”
Those issues include some fairly major hiccups prior to Beech’s arrival – such as cracks to the chassis of early petrol-powered 3 Wheelers, following its introduction in 2011.
Teething problems sorted, the 3 Wheeler has gone on to become Morgan’s best-selling model. With a twin-cylinder, 2.0-litre motorcycle engine throbbing up front, the combustion-powered trike is a relatively simple, single-minded device with no doors and no roof. When it rains, you get wet.
Morgan’s aim with the EV3 is, put simply, to replace the engine and gearbox with a battery while powering the single rear wheel with a beefy electric motor. The rest of the car is left largely intact.
Morgan is a small company without the huge resources of a major car maker. It employs just 180 people, from the boss through to the apprentices. Beech says his job is to make the best of limited engineering resources by applying rigorous processes, double checking technical decisions and avoiding the temptation to cut any tricky corners. Early customers might still be wise to consider themselves part of the testing team, however.
Coventry-based Potenza Technology is helping Morgan achieve its goals for the EV3. Potenza specialises in electric and hybrid technology and has worked on all sorts of vehicles from aircraft to scooters. “We’ve got weekly if not daily communications going on with the team in Coventry,” says Beech.
Potenza is developing the EV3’s bespoke battery, among other components. The value of its experience can probably be measured by the increase in battery capacity from 9kWh a year ago, when the EV3 was first unveiled at the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed, to 20kWh today. More than double the original electrical capacity has been squeezed in without any increase in weight.
The battery fills much of the nose of the car as well as what was the transmission tunnel. Weight distribution should improve on the front-heavy petrol 3 Wheeler. “From a ride and balance and handling perspective, we feel we’re in a good place,” says Beech.
The EV3 battery is built from a large number of cylindrical lithium-ion cells – 1,914 in all, wired up in 66 banks of 29 and providing a working voltage of just over 100V. The small cells have allowed a snug fit in the available space.
Unlike a Tesla or BMW i3 battery, but in common with a Nissan Leaf, the cells are air-cooled rather than sitting in a bath of antifreeze. This helps to keep both complexity and weight at bay.
The rear-mounted motor, by contrast, is liquid cooled. A small radiator and fan live under the EV3’s bathtub rear end. The motor is made by UK-based Ashwoods and is rated at 46kW (86bhp) and 130Nm. At moderate loads and speeds it can hit 92% efficiency, allowing Morgan to predict a 150-mile range between charges.
As with other electric cars and hybrids, the EV3 will also recapture energy when the driver brakes or lifts off the throttle. Unlike a BMW i3, which has regen that feels like stepping on the brake, the EV3 will employ relatively mild regeneration. There won’t be a higher regeneration level to select, Beech adds, to keep things simple.
Potenza is also tackling the issue of electrical safety, not least for Morgan workers who will assemble the EV3 and don’t currently deal with high-voltage electrics.
Under its curvy skin, the EV3 has a welded tubular steel chassis to which all the major components are attached. Over the top of this slips a traditional wooden frame, skinned with alloy and, uniquely in the case of the EV3, sections of carbon-fibre panelwork.
“We will build the rolling chassis here,” says Beech, including fitting the electric motor at the rear of the car. “Then we’ll send it to Coventry for the battery and additional hardware, and we’ll get back an electrified rolling vehicle for us to do body and coachwork, up to a complete vehicle.”
There’s also the issue of customer safety. Potenza is working to make the battery fail-safe in the event of an impact, while the EV3’s tubular steel chassis has been modified to provide a crumple zone at the front.
A prototype EV3 will be physically crash tested before the model goes on sale. Impact testing will be a voluntary step, however, so don’t expect a five-star Euro NCAP result. As a lightweight three wheeler, the EV3 is exempt from most of the safety legislation that applies to cars. Go looking for airbags, for example, and you’ll come up empty.
Working within the constraints of its low volume, 3 Wheeler design, Morgan’s intends to make the EV3 as safe as it possibly can, Beech says. “If it’s not right it’s not going ahead,” he adds. “We won’t get a second chance.”
In other aspects, Beech hopes to spring a few surprises beyond the published figures for the EV3, which predict a 500kg car with 150 mile range, 90mph top speed and enough oomph to reach 62mph in under 9 seconds.
“The development process is designed to provide a car that is comparable if not better than the petrol 3 Wheeler,” notes Beech. “Weight is one thing we know will be less, but range, driving experience and other performance issues are a little bit difficult to truly qualify at this moment. We have our targets, and a strong feeling we’ll over-achieve in some respects.”
So far, the EV’s development programme has yielded progress in almost every area, Beech says. Price may be another matter, however, with the EV3 expected to sell for about the same as the petrol 3 Wheeler, which starts at just over £31,000. That may feel like a lot for a bathtub-sized vehicle with no roof, or pretty cheap for a hand-built pedigree sports EV, according to your personal perspective.
“We set ourselves a price target that’s challenging given the technology currently in the marketplace,” Beech admits. But alas Morgan’s modest size means it can’t buy in bulk: “We don’t have the purchasing power to generate the kind of cost reductions we would like.”