It might sound like a youth entrepreneurship program, but don’t let that fool you.
Right now, in the second week of 2018, it’s CES’ time to shine. The world’s largest tech expo (the Consumer Electronics Show to say it in full) has quite recently become a showcase hub for things unexpected and the automotive presence there has expanded year over year as cars become less complicated mechanically and more sophisticated technologically.
The prerequisite for showing off a car at CES is that it not be powered by internal combustion - there’s the Detroit Motor Show coming up soon for that, luckily - so it would be a little jarring to come across the Genovation GXE at this year’s convention. Based on a C7 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport, the GXE looks every bit like the machine to deliver a V8 dropkick once the key is turned.
Instead, what lies up front is a pair of electric motors. It’s rear wheel driven, too, and in between lies a 6-speed manual transmission. Very strange, but also very intriguing. Genovation’s purpose in building the GXE is quite simple: to make it the fastest road legal electric car on sale, and to do that they’ve adapted the traditional layout of a internal combustion powered car - gearbox, clutch pedal and all - to this purpose. In fact, they say it’s essential to it capable of over 350km/h if given a long enough stretch of road.
The small firm plans to produce the car in quite limited quantities, each with 590kW and 950Nm under foot with twin inverters to rein in the delivery of collective instant torque from those twin motors to that unenviable transmission. Basically, they’re there to keep the clutch from being vaporised.
With a normal EV road car, slow to medium speed driving is prioritised far more than top speed, and letting a car like the Tesla Model S have a direct connection between the motor and wheel(s) fits this need perfectly. However, while this maximises acceleration, the car is now limited by the how fast the electric motor can spin. Electric car companies have hit a wall with this and typically cap their EVs at around 200km/h.
One other - perhaps secondary - advantage to pairing a manual transmission with an electric motor is returning a much needed sense of driver involvement into a segment of vehicle characterised by an inert experience: silent operation, effortless acceleration, very little need for anything for that lump of meat in behind the wheel than to steer.
To those not willing to concern themselves with a clutch pedal, a certain portion of GXEs built will also be mated instead to a 8-speed torque converter automatic - with paddle shifters, of course - but that’s hardly as much fun in a car with this much performance.
Of course, with such a high demand for speed, those motors need some wide tolerances for power - both in in total volume and supply bandwidth - and this is where the Genovation team arguably encountered the toughest hurdles. Electric cars, if they are to be fast, need vast reserves of power upon which to draw. And when they do ask for it, these batteries need to deliver them in torrents.
Because the engineers at Chevrolet weren’t at all thinking about the C7 Corvette’s viability as an electric car, the GXE is batteries are separated throughout the car. There are 5 main banks in total that amount to a collective 61.6kWh.
It may not be ideal for repair or replacement, but it does allow Genovation to fine tune the car’s weight distribution by increasing or lowering the amount of cells they place at a given location. Thankfully, linking these disparate power cells up to operate as a single unit was also a solvable problem. However, packaging constraints limit the total charge the car can carry. No range figures are published, but we don’t expect it to be anything remarkable. In its high speed element, we can’t imagine it lasting too long before needing a recharge either.
To deal with the extra mass that comes with the electric conversion, pegged at around 320kg, the GXE also has had some adjustments made to its suspension geometry as well as having Brembo carbon brakes installed to cope with the punishment of stopping 1,800kg electric supercar at speed.
It might be, the world’s most analogue electric car, and one that’s nearly bare of the kind of luxury and futuristic in-cabin technology we’ve come to expect from EVs, but that doesn’t mean the GXE has a hope of being even a slight mass market appeal. Only 75 units are planned to be produced, costing a gasp-worthy US$750,000 for the conversion alone, meaning you’ll also have to supply the Corvette.
As far as reaching broader audiences go, the Genovation definitely won't leave a much of mark behind. However, we certainly hope more automakers explore the concept of mating an electric motor with a manual transmission.