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A history of record-setting EVs

13 August 2019

Records exist to be broken. From the 19th century to today, electric vehicles have been going toe-to-toe with combustion and coming out on top. Today we’re leafing through the history books and the Guinness archives for a look at EV excellence and record-setting feats.

It’s hard to believe, but electric vehicles were extremely popular in the earliest days of the automobile. Prior to long-distance and high-speed driving in the early 20th century, EVs were an attractive purchase for trend-setting commuters in the US & Europe. Not quite record-breaking, though.

The first major record broken by an EV was the 100 km speed threshold. In 1899 the coveted milestone (kilometrestone?) was reached by Belgian racer Camille Jenatzy in a bullet-shaped EV called La Jamais Contente (The Never Satisfied). 

Jenatzy was sporting a sailors cap and a bright red beard as he set his record, no doubt striking an imposing figure as he sped past his Parisian audience. Yet, while his facial hair is lost to history, the Contente can still be visited today at its home in the Museum of Compiègne.

Unfortunately the 20th century wasn’t so kind to EVs; the Model T’s dominance forced them out of the limelight as combustion took over the world’s roads. We’ve got to go a long way forward to see them flourish once again.

All the way to the 21st century. The Tesla Model S, a 5-door 2-tonne sedan, has the fastest acceleration of any production car sold today with a 2.28 second 0-100. The only one faster was the Porsche 918 Spyder at 2.2 seconds, but it’s no longer available to buy.

Acceleration is EVs’ obvious advantage thanks to their 100%-off-the-line torque, but it isn’t the only area where they excel. That same torque has produced some incredible feats of towing.

In May last year Tesla set the Guinness World Record for “heaviest weight towed by an electric car”, pulling a 130-tonne Boeing 787-9 at Melbourne airport. Strangely, no such record seems to  exist for combustion or production vehicle classes. 

Even that almighty tow has been matched off-the-record, however. Earlier this year we wrote about Ford’s stunt tow of a ~450 tonne train with their electric F-150 pickup truck.

And the records don’t stop at torque, or at cars. The Lightning LS-218 is the fastest street-legal production motorcycle sold today with a 351 km/h top speed — that’s 45 km/h faster than its closest combustion competition: the BMW S1000RR HP4. 

Two Lightning LS-218s in action

It is edged out by the Kawasaki Ninja H2R in the production category, but that bike isn’t legal on the street so we’re still calling it a win for electric on this one.

Insane speed isn’t enough on its own, though. The real test of any racer is its lap times, and that’s where Volkswagen have recently excelled with their serial record-smashing I.D. R electric hypercar. 

The I.D. R and its ankle-breaking splitter

The I.D. R is a one-off all-electric prototype developed by Volkswagen specifically for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. In 2018 it succeeded in its task with a record run of 7:57.148 — the first sub-8-minute time ever recorded. This only served to embolden the Volkswagen team behind the I.D. R, who went on to smash other hard-fought track records including the UK’s Goodwood Hillclimb and the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife loop.



And, of course, EVs are leading the automotive pack for efficiency. While the record for vehicle efficiency is held by a tiny hydrogen prototype, a more practical record is held by an EV developed by the Sunswift solar team at UNSW. Their solar-powered EV averaged only 3.25kWh/100km on the 4100km drive from Perth to Sydney.

The record-setting attempt was made last year for less than $50 worth of electricity, using about 17x less energy than the average Australian car.

Image: UNSW

So case closed, right? EVs are beating combustion in power, on the track, and in efficiency. Well… not entirely. There are still plenty of records held by combustion vehicles around the world, and EVs have a ways to go before they can win them all.

Take it from us, though, that they will secure them. The dominance of the technology behind EVs makes their ascendance inevitable on the world record stage — and there are models on the way that are promising to make that a reality.



The 2020 Tesla Roadster is one of those models. Elon Musk has been making waves since 2017 with a series of announcements about just what this car will be capable of. It’s set to destroy the supercar market for price, acceleration, top speed, and range when it launches next year.

Can EVs replace combustion’s crop of automotive records? We’re betting they can, and we’ll be covering it all on the JET Charge blog. You can follow our Facebook page for updates or contact us at info@jetcharge.com.au with your own EV charging enquiries.