x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Delta harnesses green energy to produce a viable sports car

Matt Majendie finds that, despite a rickety pedal, Delta Motorsport's E-4 electric sports car could work.

The makers of the Delta E-4 are looking for financial backing so the vehicle can be taken beyond the prototype stage and to mainstream production.
The makers of the Delta E-4 are looking for financial backing so the vehicle can be taken beyond the prototype stage and to mainstream production.

One piece of advice: when offered the chance to drive an electric sports car prototype that's one of just five and whose development costs were something in the region of £750,000 (Dh4.5 million), don't break it.

If only I'd been warned. Delta Motorsport has produced a battery electric E-4 coup and, before I stepped into the driver's seat, only five people had driven them - all of them Delta employees.

I felt privileged to have the first opportunity of anyone in the world to take to the wheel of the car, developed by Delta, which was set up in 2005. As well as the EV, the team has worked on a variety of different projects ranging from designing the cars for the GP Masters series - which saw former Formula One drivers such as Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi do battle in single seaters - to working with officials in Birmingham, in the UK, to design the microcab - a lightweight vehicle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell to transport people around cities and large industrial complexes. It's certainly evident that the company's going places.

After signing the customary waiver form over personal liability before taking to the Stowe Circuit at Silverstone, home of July's British Grand Prix, and with the new, multimillion-pound pitlane and paddock complex in the background, I was ready for a brief talk about the controls of the car.

I got myself comfortable in my seat, stretched out my legs to check I was in the right position to take to the circuit and then "crunch" came the rather ominous noise from underneath my right foot.

"That didn't sound good," was my nervous response. The member of Delta staff's panicked nod suggested he was in agreement with my take on proceedings. We both peered down to the footwell to see that the plastic accelerator pedal had snapped clean off.

Protestations of "I didn't press it hard, honestly" were followed by a quick huddle of Delta staff and the car was pushed back into the garage for a quick repair.

To their credit, the car was back on the circuit in no time and Delta's managing director, Simon Dowson, was light-hearted about my destructive streak.

But while those repairs were being done, I was presented with the black Delta to drive instead and Dowson introduced me to my new passenger, with a grin, as "the destructive one". My new Delta passenger, though, reassured me that my damaging efforts might yet be beneficial. After all, this is still a prototype being fine-tuned for the wider public.

The E-4 is much like any automatic car in that you select drive and, once the brake is released, you are ready for action.

But what's immediately noticeably different is the noise, or should I say the lack of it. When someone else drives it later on at Silverstone, what's memorable is that, if you weren't watching it, you certainly wouldn't notice it pass.

Inside the cockpit, the noise is more apparent. Because of the carbon-fibre frame, it reverberates a little but the hum is still negligible compared with your normal petrol-powered sports car.

Well, what about the car itself when you're not breaking it? It's an impressive little thing. On the track, it manages 0 to 100kph in less than five seconds and it has a top speed of 241kph.

I'm not exactly sure what I expect but it certainly exceeds expectations. It's zippy and, although you don't hear the grunt of a sports car, you certainly feel it. Sadly, I am limited to a top speed of 112kph on the day and the confines of the Stowe Circuit configuration mean that going any quicker would be an impossibility.

But it leaves me wondering how much more the E-4 can deliver. The way it picks up speed in the straights and darts around the tight, twisting turns would suggest quite a lot.

Its handling is surprisingly good considering on board is a 350kg battery pack. But the fact is that battery pack is laden on the very base of the floor under my seat and, as a result, it makes the car stick neatly to the ground however much you choose to attack the corners.

The particular model so far produced by Delta is a rear-wheel drive, although there are plans for a four-wheel model.

Going back to the noise, there are some issues. Every time you come to a halt, there is a slight juddering noise and a further clunk-like sound when you turn off the ignition.

That said, they're strangely reassuring, giving you the confidence that all the electrics are switched off and you're free to open the gull-wing doors.

In a bid to keep the car as lightweight as possible, every care and precaution has been taken to strip weight off the car. As a result, the doors seem light in the notoriously unforgiving Silverstone winds and their shaking while stationary is a little off-putting.

But it's worth pointing out that the car weighs just 975kg and more than a third of that is made up of batteries.

Secondly, this is a prototype and there are bound to be gremlins in a prototype. But the reality is that, during my limited running in the car, the gremlins aren't that evident, bar a slightly flimsy throttle pedal, of course.

Regarding the throttle, Dowson seems genuinely surprised and bemused that it should have broken. He explains: "I've driven that a lot on the roads and I've not once had a problem." I guess a track test - this was its first - is a different beast altogether and clearly some fine-tuning is needed.

Delta's E-4 boasts an excellent range of 320km between charges, although the company admits that is merely a factory prediction.

But the issue is that the recharge is still a lengthy one; something in the region of 10 hours to get the car fully charged and back on the road once more.

Okay, there are issues, but the positives outweigh those. For one, the car looks nice. It's sporty without being over the top, it's been tidily built and it's impressive considering it has been built by such a small company (Delta has just 10 engineers and technicians).

Nothing, admittedly, is manufactured in-house but, with Delta based at Silverstone and lying in a hub surrounding by Formula One teams known as "Motorsport Valley", there really is no need.

Dowson explains: "It's so much more than an electric vehicle. It's a showcase of our business and what's achievable from a small business of British engineering. We wanted to show the way to the bigger guys."

Delta clearly needs to get the bigger guys on-board to take the next step. It has already spent £750,000 on getting the five cars developed, partly through local and national government funding but also through its own money.

And it is looking at a further cash injection of £1-1.5m to take the project further.

He adds: "We can't live off grants forever. We're looking for investment to make the best going forward. We want to shout about this vehicle and we want to showcase it."

Should it get the cash injection required and start building the cars in their hundreds, then the price tag is going to be something in the region of £60-70,000, some £20,000 cheaper than the Tesla Roadster, which, one can only assume, it is trying hard to emulate.

Already, there has been plenty of interest, according to the technical director, Nick Carpenter.

He says: "This is a test bed for future technology. We're getting a lot of interest from vehicle manufacturers. We're keen to take the car further with a partner, having taken it to the point where it is now."

Judging by the previous track record, Delta should be able to get people on-board but money talks and, without it, a British electric sportscar to rival the Tesla will not come to fruition.

On the evidence of our track outing, one only hopes someone wealthy can delve into their ample pockets.