Why I'm excited for electric four wheel drives

January 2020 | Words by Daniel

The world of vehicles is undergoing a pretty major and fundamental shift at the moment - the internal combustion engine, while not going anywhere anytime soon, is under attack from the electric motor. I love the sound of a turbo diesel spooling up or petrol V8 roaring away as much as the next person but the future of propulsion excites me greatly - especially when it comes to off-roading.

New Zealand is pretty much perfect for an electric off-road vehicle. None of our routes are more than a couple of hundred kilometres long and you’re almost guaranteed to find a town at the end where you can recharge or refuel. And let’s be honest, how often do you refill from jerry cans? In all our years travelling we’ve never done it.

Range anxiety is going to be the biggest thing people struggle with, especially heading into remote areas - and there are some real issues there if you do run out of juice, there’s no getting past that. But if you have a 500km+ range in your electric 4WD, it’s not all that different than exploring in your diesel or petrol powered truck. We have a safe 600kms in our Hilux, more than enough to easily explore vast parts of the country without needing to visit a fuel station too often.

The upsides are amazing though - imagine a vehicle with four electric motors, one per wheel, with instant torque and decent horsepower numbers. No need for diff locks, the computer can take care of controlling the slip and keep you moving. The ground clearance will be amazing - no diffs, prop shafts or low hanging driveline components getting in the way, fewer components in better places. Snorkels will become a thing of the past along with the fear of taking a gulp of water in through your intake and destroying your engine. And no more complex emissions gear! The simplicity of the driveline compared to what we have today is hard to ignore.

And probably the thing I’m looking forward to more than anything else - the quiet. I love switching the engine off in the middle of nowhere and enjoying the silence. A day of bumbling around in low range isn’t quiet exercise - between the engine and driveline whine, there’s a bit of noise going on. Imagine cruising through the bush with not much more than a whine from the electric motor?

There are still issues that need to be solved - no currently produced electric vehicle is ‘affordable’ and I’m still not sure batteries are the best way to go for long distance vehicles. There are issues storage with hydrogen and it’s not exactly environmentally friendly to produce. But 120 years ago getting oil out of the ground and turning it into a useful fuel wasn’t exactly straight forward either, and look how quickly things changed there.

Of all the vehicles coming out, the Rivian R1T has me the most excited - apart from it’s odd headlights, it looks like a pickup truck - they’ve made real good use of the space where engine and fuel tank would be and have produced some awesome overland styled concepts. I’m less sure about the Cybertruck, but I completely understand why it what it is.

The future is looking exciting - and, in my opinion, is closer than we realise. And to anybody who hasn’t driven an electric car, go drive one, they’re far more exciting than you’d think.