Is Electric Power the Future of Side-by-Sides? Looking at Both Sides of the Argument

Nikola NZT

Electric power is nothing new in the world of propulsion or off-road, but is it truly going to become the main type of motor for side-by-sides of the future?

In the automotive industry, things are turning towards electricity, and while the fuel source certainly hasn’t yet gone mainstream, slowly we seem to be marching towards the inevitable: all electric vehicles.

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So how do you think this will work in the world of ATVs and side-by-sides?

Well there are many arguments for and against why all-electric side-by-sides are an excellent idea and a poor one, so let’s take a look at some of the key areas and we’ll present the pros and cons. And don’t miss the video above, where I have an argument, with myself, about electric off-roaders.

Driving Range

Arguably the most important aspect of an all-electric side-by-side is the range. Currently, the Nikola NZT packs the most range of any all-electric side-by-side, claiming to be able to run for 90 to 150 miles of “hardcore riding conditions.” The rest of all the electric side-by-sides, like the Polaris Ranger EV, Textron Prowler EV, and the HISun Sector E1 are all good for about 45 or 50 miles of range.

Polaris Ranger EV

Pros: That’s more than enough range to spend a day on a farm or around your own property and get all your chores done. Just make sure to plan where you’re going to go and how far you need to get.

Cons: That means that you can’t venture very far from your charging station, for fear of running out of juice. So it’s clear that range needs to improve before electric side-by-sides become mainstream.

Charge Time

The time it takes to charge back is a big consideration too. For the Nikola NZT, it can be as short as three hours to get charged back up, but that is with a DC Fast Charger. A 240-volt plug can net up to eitght hours of charge time, while a normal old 110v plug will take 18 hours to fully recharge this machine. Polaris claims 6-8 hours of recharge time for its Ranger EV using just a standard 110v plug.

Pros: It won’t take longer than overnight to get your machine charged back up, so use up the battery, go to sleep, and by tomorrow, you’re back out riding.

Cons: That pretty much means you’re getting one charge a day, so don’t plan to go out riding all morning, charge back up and then head back out for the trails again.

Textron Prowler EV

Weight

Batteries are heavy. As technology advances, this has already been changing, but the truth still remains that a large battery pack is adding a large amount of dense weight to a vehicle.

Pros: Having a concentrated weight can be a good thing, if it’s positioned as low as possible in the machine. The battery packs on these machines are usually built into the floor or the lowest frame rails, while the electric motors can be built right into the wheels, making sure that your cg if very low. That will stick these machines to the ground. Plus, electricity can produce instant torque, so getting the mass moving shouldn’t be an issue.

Cons: Electric side-by-sides will be so heavy that they’ll always feel slow, and as you increase weight, you decrease range, so eventually you’ll hit a point where you can’t add more batteries to get more range.

No Sound

All-electric side-by-sides can run silently, but does that take away some of the fun?

Pros: If you’re a hunter, you’ll be able to silently creep through the woods instead of pronouncing yourself loudly with an internal combustion engine (ICE). Plus, none of the incessant drone to listen to all day, ringing in your ears.

Cons: Half the reason I love internal combustion engines is because of the sound! Screaming through the woods with the rpm high is a wonderfully aggressive way to spend your time, and the aural experience is all part of it. Taking that away would make riding these machines way too boring.

Price

So how does the price differ on these all-electric side-by-sides? Well currently, the price isn’t all that inflated if you go electric. The Nikola NZT starts at $28,900 USD, an expensive price tag to be sure, but in that segment, not at all out of the ordinary. And with 20-inches of travel and and 260 horsepower, this machine not only competes, but raises the bar a little bit for the standard competitors from Polaris and Can-Am.

A work-focused machine like the 2018 Polaris Ranger EV sells for a more modest $11,299, a little more expensive than the basic gas versions of the Ranger.

Pros: So far, the industry has proven that you can sell all-electric versions of these machine for competitive prices, and as battery technologies continue to advance, these should only get cheaper.

Cons: Why am I paying competitive prices for a machine that is limited by its range and charge time? These machines should be cheaper than the competition based on their impracticality, but battery prices will always keep them expensive.

Performance

All-electric vehicles have very different drive characteristics than ICEs, but does that mean that they’re worse?

Pros: Electricity can deliver all of its torque, all at once. That means that climbing, pulling, hauling and pushing will be no issue at all with a big enough battery pack. And when not working, electric vehicles are some of the quickest out there. Electricity is also not affected by altitude, and in theory, any electric side-by-side can go into infinitely deep water as they don’t need air to operate.

Cons: Sure you can unleash full torque all at once, but pushing these batteries that hard will kill them in a short period of time. Plus, all the power all at once sounds scary like that machine will always trying to kill you. At least an ICE with a belt-driven CVT is a little more progressive, helping to keep things in check.

Now, this argument could probably go on forever, so I think we should end it here, with one last important thought. In the automotive industry, government regulations are pushing manufacturers to improve fuel economy, something that hasn’t happened in the off-road world. So right now, the market will dictate what is sold.

But, one day the gasoline will run out, so electricity does seem to be the inevitable future, whether it be straight batteries or even hydrogen. The question for the off-road industry is when? Will these brands decide to bring these machines to market before they are forced to?

That’s the toughest question to answer, so let us know what you think in the comments below.