Nissan Ariya Pole-to-Pole
Nissan Ariya Pole-to-Pole expedition vehicle.

Extreme Adventure Electric Vehicles Are Here and Ushering In a New Era

If you think EVs are slow, stodgy, and extremely limited by range, you’re in for a surprise.

Come next March, a Nissan Ariya piloted by British adventurer Chris Ramsey will attempt a 17,000-mile run from the North to the South Pole, a journey in which the EV will face temperatures ranging from 20 below to 90 above, while navigating across glaciers, deserts, and rain forests.

VW ID4 Uturuncu Volcano
Volkswagen ID.4 near the 19,000-foot summit of the dormant Uturuncu volcano in Bolivia.

Ramsey isn’t alone in pushing to the limits with a battery-electric vehicle. German Reiner Zietlow has captured an assortment of world records using EVs, most recently taking a Volkswagen ID.4 to the 19,000-foot summit of the dormant Uturuncu volcano in Bolivia.

In recent years, EVs have become an increasingly common presence during the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and there will be more on hand when the next event takes place on the last Sunday in June.

The latest battery-electric vehicles are quick, fun to drive, and are pushing to the extremes, whether on the race track or traveling in environments that would challenge even the most rugged gas- and diesel-powered models.

Battery-electric vehicles have also become more commonplace on race tracks, with series such as the Formula E and Extreme E.

EV sales have risen sharply over the last 5 years, with as many as one in four Americans now seriously considering one. And such feats may be a factor in winning over skeptics.

Electric Vehicles Tackle Extreme Adventures

“Our mission is to show that electric vehicles can tackle the harshest of environments — from the bitter cold of the poles to the hot and humid jungles of South America and illustrate that they are exhilarating to drive whilst meeting the daily demands of drivers around the world,” said Ramsey, who has already set a number of records with battery-electric vehicles.

He was the first to use one to complete the 10,000-mile Mongol Rally. He also holds the world record for traveling the farthest on an electric bike in 12 hours — clocking 180.75 miles. Ramsey’s ties to Nissan began in 2015 when he and his wife completed a 1,652-mile run in a short-range Nissan Leaf while only using public chargers.

The Ariya he will use for the Pole-to-Pole run will have a number of modifications to its body and suspension, including flared fenders and all-terrain tires. But it will rely on the same dual-motor e-4ORCE all-wheel-drive system, making 389 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, found in the production vehicle.

Zietlow similarly stuck as much as possible to stock drivetrain technology to prove the capabilities of his Volkswagen ID.4.

“Our aim was to demonstrate that electro-mobility can perform well even at extreme altitudes,” said the German adventurer, who now has set five Guinness World Records.

From Track to Showroom

Formula E Gen 4 racer
Formula E Gen 4 racer; (photo/Formula E)

There’s an old adage in the auto industry: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

And with global automakers collectively committing more than $500 billion to convert from gas to battery power, the industry is hoping that mantra will prove out once again.

Formula E has certainly gained traction since its debut in Beijing in 2014. Where many questioned its viability early on, the all-electric race series has steadily grown in attendance — and now sees some of the world’s most important manufacturers fielding teams, including Porsche, Nissan, Jaguar, and Mercedes.

Among the familiar names associated with the program are Andretti and Penske.

The program has evolved substantially since its early days, when limited range required drivers to pit halfway through a race, jump out of their vehicles, and switch to a second car. The third-generation vehicles set to debut later this year can not only handle an entire race but can also top out at over 200 mph.

“Formula E’s Gen3 race car represents a leap forward for motorsport and electric mobility,” said the series’ CEO Jamie Reigle. “Designed to demonstrate that high performance, efficiency, and sustainability can be packaged together without compromise, the Gen3 car is our most powerful, lightest, and fastest race car to date.”

Going to Extremes

Extreme E race
Head-to-head electric off-road racing in Saudi Arabia; (photo/Extreme E)

For those who think Formula E isn’t enough of a challenge, organizers recently launched a second series, Extreme E. This series will stage EV races in some of the world’s harshest environments, from the Arctic to the Saudi Arabian desert.

While some manufacturers are pushing performance, others are aiming to counter perceptions of limited range.

In May, a Lucid Air landed another Guinness record, with a hypermiling 687 miles on one charge. Even in fully stock form, the sleek electric sedan already is king of the hill with the EPA, rated at up to 520 miles per charge with the Air Dream Range edition.

Modern Electric Vehicles for All

Today’s EVs have come a long way from the original Nissan Leaf, the first mass-market battery-electric vehicle and that couldn’t even muster 100 miles per charge.

Range is one area where the industry has achieved big gains. But performance is another. The Tesla Model S Plaid can launch from 0 to 60 in barely 2 seconds.

2022 GMC Hummer EV truck Edition 1
2022 GMC Hummer EV truck Edition 1; (photo/Bryon Dorr)

The new GMC Hummer EV punches out 1,000 horsepower and, for those with deeper pockets, the $2.5 million Pininfarina Battista takes the pony count to 1,417, with a top speed of 217 mph.

For those who want a work truck, the new Ford F-150 Lightning can haul up to 2,235 pounds of payload, and haul up to a 10,000-pound trailer. And at 426 horsepower, its twin-motor drivetrain tops the output of the gas-powered F-150 Raptor.

Winning Over Buyers

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning towing
2022 Ford F-150 Lightning; (photo/Ford)

Whatever factor you credit, there’s little doubt that the public’s perception of battery technology is beginning to change. According to the newly released J.D. Power Electric Vehicle Consideration Study, 24% of American motorists say they’re “Very Likely” to consider an EV next time they’re in the market. And the more experience a person has had with battery power, the more favorable they’ve become.

While a substantial number of motorists have yet to be won over, the trend is clearly moving in the right direction for EV manufacturers, increasing 6 percentage points since just last year, the Power study reveals.

Battery-electric vehicles only reached 1% of the market for the first time in 2019. It’s now up to 4% — sales nearly doubling in 2021. So, the Power study shows there’s likely to be substantially more growth to come — suggesting that extreme demonstrations of EV capabilities really are paying off.

Paul Eisenstein
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Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning publisher, photographer, editor, and one of the world’s most widely published automotive journalists. His work appears in a wide range of print, broadcast, and electronic outlets, including AutoWise, GearJunkie, NBC News, Forbes Wheels, and his own automotive website, TheDetroitBureau.com. He’s a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror, and board member and past president of the Automotive Press Association. J.D. Power also named him a “Pioneer of the Internet."