EVs Killed the Roadster Fun, but Roadsters Sparked the EV Revolution

Long before Elon Musk was born, or even his grandfather, in 1890, William Morrison from Des Moines, Iowa, made the first successful electric vehicle. Unfortunately for him, the long charging times and the absence of widespread electricity killed the original EVs while in their infancy. It took mankind more than a century until 2008 when the Tesla Roadster broke the covers of magazines.
GMC Hummer EV open top 10 photos
Photo: GM
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Even though it was not the first EV on the market, Tesla Roadster was successful because it focused on fun and had a decent range. It could threaten other sports cars, its instant torque was a blast, and the roadster bodywork worked like a charm for its customers. So even though it wasn't sold in high numbers, it was the spark. Two years later, Nissan launched the Leaf, which became successful, selling more than 20,000 units in its first full-year production time in 2011.

Then, the EV revolution gained momentum, and nowadays, most carmakers have at least one electric vehicle in their lineup. Of course, there are also supercars and hypercars "fueled" by electricity. But, despite all that concern about performance, ecology, and long-range vehicles, you have to dig deep to find an open-top EV.

True, some shops convert older roadsters into electric vehicles, such as the beautiful Jaguar E-Type or the beloved Mazda Miata. But how about a full-size open-top vehicle carrying four adults in comfort? Well, there are not that many. In fact, we're waiting for that GMC Hummer EV SUV, which will be unveiled (pun intended) next year, to enjoy a drive with some friends under the sky and with an electric drivetrain.

In their quest to offer a longer range, better comfort, and a family package, carmakers have focused on closed-top vehicles. They are lighter than convertibles, more user-friendly, and users don't have to worry if a downpour suddenly starts. This might be because roadsters and convertibles buyers are less interested in EVs and more in gasoline-powered vehicles; the kind of cars that are screaming loud through straight pipes.

That brought us to why the carmakers are not offering EV roadsters. BMW has a long history of open-top vehicles, and the same goes for Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Mazda, Chevrolet, Chrysler, and Ford, to name just a few. Even though Chrysler doesn't make any open-top vehicles anymore, that doesn't mean that it won't build them again. One of the reasons for not having an open-top vehicle from these carmakers is that such a car would be heavier than its coupe sibling. Moreover, aerodynamics plays a crucial role in an EV's range, which might scare some people.

So, it's all going down to the beancounters who are afraid to approve a convertible with an electric drivetrain. But let me point a few things out. Roughly, if you add 10% more weight to a vehicle, the efficiency will drop about the same percentage. Usually, a convertible is about 200 lbs (91 kg) heavier than its coupe sibling. If you put that into a 2000 lbs (907 kg) car, it's 10%, but EVs are heavier than that, so the energy lost due to the added weight will be even lower.

Now, let's focus on aerodynamics. That is important at speeds above 60 mph (97 kph), and that's a fact. I drove convertibles with the top down above 125 mph, and I can tell you that it's not that pleasant anymore. The wind noise is terrible, and the draft might give you a real headache. So, usually, convertibles are driven with the top down at lower speeds most of the time, even below 60 mph, where aerodynamics is not that much of an issue. True, the range of an open-top vehicle will be lower than of its closed-cabin sibling, maybe by 10%. But ask any cabriolet-lover if that will really matter to them.

That's why GM can make the Hummer EV with a top-down version. The SUV won't be heavier since it already has a chassis, and the vehicle is already aerodynamic as a brick, so it doesn't really matter. But how about an EV Miata? That should work. Also, MINI already has an electric version and a convertible; why not mix them? Last but not least, I would love a EV Camaro convertible daily driver. Hey Chevy, you already know how to do that! Bring it on!

What do you think about this? Leave your comments in the section below and enjoy the summer, which is finally here, and we are enjoying the open-top month at autoevolution.
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About the author: Tudor Serban
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Tudor started his automotive career in 1996, writing for a magazine while working on his journalism degree. From Pikes Peaks to the Moroccan desert to the Laguna Seca, he's seen and done it all.
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