Lightweight, simple, and extremely British, the Caterham Seven might be the purest sports car you can still buy today. An evolution of Jim Clark’s popular Lotus Seven, it’s a wonderful relic of a bygone era. However, the world is changing, and Caterham is changing with it. This Caterham Seven is electric, and it’s way more than just a feel-good city ripper.
Beyond being daily-drivers for the lovably insane, Caterhams are often used for motorsport and trackdays, so this Seven’s mission is to lap for 20 minutes, charge at up to 152 kW for 15 minutes, and lap again for 20 minutes. The ability to lap for 20-minute sessions requires considerable battery capacity, so the EV Seven features a pack with 40 kWh of net capacity. Where on earth did they fit it in? A Seven is the size of a Vans Sk8-Hi, that’s a huge battery pack for such a tiny car.
Ah, that’s where. It’s all where the engine would normally go. Mind you, battery pack capacity doesn’t necessarily translate to weight. The EV Seven weighs a surprisingly reasonable 154 pounds more than a Seven 485, or still virtually nothing. I mean come on, total curb weight clocks in at 1,543 pounds, which is roughly half of what a GMC Hummer EV’s battery pack weighs. Lucky number Seven, indeed.
All that juice goes to special electric drive unit from Swindon Powertrain that pumps out 240 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. Caterham reckons this electric Seven is good for zero-to-60 mph in four seconds or so despite the added weight. While not quite the savagery of full-psycho Seven variants, that’s still plenty brisk.
As an intriguing bit of trivia, this electric drive unit has some serious pedigree. Swindon Powertrain goes way back several decades with Caterham. As Swindon Powertrain Ltd. Managing Director Raphaël Caillé said in a statement, “Our history of working with Caterham spans more than three decades – we developed the Vauxhall engine used in the JPE [Jonathan Palmer Evolution] edition Seven in the early 1990s.”
I love the idea of an electric Seven because it’s the right sort of EV performance. Sure, obscenely quick zero-to-30 runs are fun for a while, but there’s nothing quite like throwing a light car into the corner. I don’t even mean an absolute featherweight, I mean anything that weighs noticeably less than two tons. Many of today’s performance EVs are incredibly capable, but everything is bound by the laws of physics, especially 5,000-pound luxury EVs.
For now, the EV Seven remains a testbed, a way for Caterham to experiment with maintaining some of that classic sports car feel in an increasingly-electrified world. However, it’s only the beginning. Caterham plans to unveil another electric sports car concept later this year, and it’s only a matter of time before an electric Caterham road car emerges from the ether. Oh, and if you want to see this prototype in the metal, it’ll be on display at this year’s Goodwood Festival Of Speed.
(Photo credits: Caterham)
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Between this and a Tesla roadster, my favorite electric cars started out as Lotuses. I don’t suppose they will take a Smart ED in trade?
Please god make it stop. Electric drive is a fine platform but why do we have to try and put it everywhere. This unholy mess transforms a car designed for pure driving enjoyment into something as exciting as an appliance.
A Caterham was on my dream cars list for decades, until I had a ride in one. At the time I was daily driving an S1 Elise, but the massive step down in space and comfort was a shock, and I’m only 5’9”.
I ride motorcycles too, so it’s not like the safety put me off either.
I was so disappointed.
If you think 40kWh (usable) is impressive at this size and weight, the actual (gross) capacity is 51kWh! That’s wild. They likely want the enormous buffer to preserve performance when the battery is low and charging speed when it’s high. Also: immersion cooling. Very neat.
But before I get too excited, a 2018 leaf battery (40kWh gross, 39kWh usable) weighs 458lbs, and the Caterham EV is still a concept, to be produced “when the future generation of battery technology allows it,” according to the CEO. It’s not clear how much of this is a concrete plan that they can execute on, and how much is just a wish list.
Thanks for the reality check, I was wondering how they get that much kWh in so little weight. It’s in the ballpark of reality though.
The batteries in the Tesla Model 3 can already do close to what is needed. 40 kWh of those cells alone is about 320 lbs. They will need a housing structure, BMS, and thermal management, but a complete pack weighing under 400 lbs is not out of the realm of possibility. The motor, control system, wiring, and charger for the sort of power required of this car combined could weigh in at well under 100 lbs.
This is why better aero is important. If this were an 11 replica instead of a 7 replica, you could cut about 50 lbs of battery to get the desired result on the race track due to pushing less air out of the way, while range in normal daily usage at street legal speeds would see a massive jump.
51kWh of Panasonic/Tesla cells at 280wh/kg is still 402 lbs of cells alone. 550 lbs for the drivetrain is optimistic — immersion cooling is not known for being lightweight.
I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s deep enough to the grey area that it’s not clear just how “aspirational” these specs really are, especially when their wording strongly implies they’re waiting on a battery chemistry that’s still in development.
It will be a great track car…when tracks can afford to be equipped for an EV fire. My local track isn’t, and I don’t think they will be soon. So not only will there be no safety equipment, but no charging spot either. So no EVs allowed there. I’m sure this will be less of a problem at big tracks with big budgets. It is a shame as one of the track’s headaches is the idiot neighbors (track was there long before they were) who have gotten noise ordinances passed that require running only at certain times at at certain decibel levels. Just like the morons who move next to an airport and complain about the noise, it’s hard to have any sympathy for them.
You think that’s bad, consider that 1 gallon of gasoline is 37 kWh of energy and some cars have multiple gallons of the stuff.
I was wondering when they were going to do an EV variant. I love this car.
This needs a role cage delete option to save some weight and increase performance and range.
Shouldn’t that say Colin Chapman’s Lotus Seven?
Well the Seven was around when Jim Clark met his untimely demise and he did drive for Lotus so he might have had one.
So like saying “Michael Andretti’s McLaren F1”?
I’m pretty sure that the Seven was around when Clark met Chapman.
I recall a time when journalists had Editors and fact checking teams.
After James May offroaded one in Madagascar through some serious (and possibly actual) shit I gained a ton of respect for the vehicle.
It’s really the perfect vehicle. Like a Miata but even more Miata.
I like this and can live out my prisoner fantasies. “I know every nut and bolt and cog, I built it with my own hands!”
Caterham Seven or Morgan S3? Caterham Seven or Morgan S3? Such a dilemma. It’s an imaginary dilemma, for sure, since I can afford neither, but it’s nice to dream.
Every now and then, I think of what cars I would own if money were no object. None of them are practical and most are downright bad.
You’re among friends, Tom. I’m betting most of us have that affliction.
A true weirdo enthusiast’s Dream Garage would make Jay Leno raise the part of his forehead where his eyebrow was.
How about a Liberty Ace? https://thekneeslider.com/pete-larsens-new-liberty-ace-combines-art-and-engineering-with-retro-racer-style/
Saw one last Saturday, a little weird but cool-looking. Weighs 1050 lbs with a Goldwing engine.
Wow, that is right up my alley. I wonder if it has enough range to drive to/from the track or go on a 100 mile mountain jaunt.
Given its craptastic drag coefficient, I suspect range per charge at 70 mph on the highway to be around 80-100 miles.
A greatly more slippery Lotus 11 replica with the same drive system and battery would likely get 2.5x that range at steady state cruising of 70 mph on the highway. And would probably have an extra 5 minutes runtime on a track under racing conditions(hard accelerations and hard braking being a constant) as well.
The Caterham is pretty near the top of my “When I have more garage space” list. Here’s hoping these find their way stateside if they actually make production.
at least in EV world you’ll never need to worry about emissions control again!