Morgan’s electric future – why it’ll be ready for the future of sports cars
We speak to Morgan about why it’s confident about its future, even as the world turns to EVs
Of all the UK’s specialist car makers, Morgan is far and away the oldest and most celebrated. It was founded in 1909 by HFS Morgan, a motoring pioneer who designed a light and inexpensive three-wheeler as transport for the masses that sustained the company well into the 1930s. By then, HFS recognised it was time for change and in 1936 introduced the 4/4 (four cylinders/four wheels). It was an immediate hit and the handsome Plus 4 derivative has set the style for most subsequent four-wheel Morgans.
Change comes slowly; HFS’s sliding-pillar suspension was still in use until 1975 and the third-generation three-wheeler has just been launched (see evo 296). Meanwhile, the current Plus Four and Plus Six share the look of the 1950s Plus 4 and, although based on a bonded aluminium chassis since 2017, actually feature more structural wood than that ladder-framed original.
What, then, is Morgan’s strategy for dealing with the looming 2030 ban on new internal combustion engine (ICE) cars? Well, the Malvern Link-based car maker is not as technically unadventurous as the above description suggests. Bodies are still largely hand-formed from aluminium and there is lots of wood, but as well as that bonded aluminium chassis the four-wheelers have used globally emission-compliant running gear supplied by BMW. The firm has also researched alternative propulsion, building a hydrogen fuel cell car in 2009, an EV in collaboration with Zytek, the ‘Plus E’, and most recently a stylish, electric three-wheeler, the EV3.
More than that, the company has the backing to decide its future. In early 2019 Morgan was bought by Investindustrial, a venture capital company that also has an interest in Rimac and has previously held stakes in Ducati and Aston Martin. Just a few weeks ago, Morgan appointed a new CEO, Massimo Fumarola, who joins the company from Lamborghini where he was chief project management officer. Steve Morris, who was CEO, is now executive chairman.
Fumarola, 52, has also held senior positions at Iveco, Ferrari and Audi and is a long-standing admirer of Morgan. ‘Since I was a boy, I’ve always been in love with this brand because it’s unique, it’s authentic, it’s timeless,’ he tells us. ‘So it has been really a very emotional decision to join Morgan. But after four weeks, I can tell you I really am more than happy to be here.
‘I’ve moved from the largest to the smallest car maker in the world,’ says Fumarola, but even though a big car maker produces more cars in a week than Morgan makes in a decade, he sees this as an asset, not a hindrance. ‘As a brand it has true potential. To leverage and to amplify everything Morgan stands for, to go more international, to go more into lifestyle, to bring Morgan to the next level, this is the challenge that attracted me.’
As for electrification, Fumarola thinks that there will be some different regulations for small car manufacturers in the future, but that this shouldn’t be relied on. ‘The big question mark is not about if we go electric, but when we should go electric.’
To this end, another big signing for Morgan was Matthew Hole, 41, as its new chief technical officer with responsibility for electrification. Hole studied automotive engineering at Oxford Brookes University and after working for Arrows GP moved to Romax Technology, one of the world’s leading companies for electrified propulsion systems and transmission simulation. He arrives at Morgan from his role as vice president at transatlantic firm Drive System Design. At DSD he worked with every major Tier 1 electrification company and most of the significant OEMs (in Europe, Korea and the US) building electric cars.
Hole’s depth of knowledge could be crucial to Morgan making EVs that are true Morgans; he knows what EV technology is available, what’s coming and what is most appropriate for a Morgan. The Malvern Link firm enjoys an excellent relationship with BMW, which currently supplies turbocharged four- and six-cylinder drivetrains and is willing to share its EV technology, but Hole reckons that while it might be convenient and cost-effective, there would be too many compromises.
‘We’d really like to keep Morgans small, nimble and lightweight,’ he says. ‘If we adopt a mainstream platform, one of the key things for us to absorb would be the battery and we’ll end up with a wider car, a heavier car, and we’ll lose all the elements of the styling of the Morgan. The direction I’ve been given from the board and investors is “make sure you make the best Morgans, ICE or EV” and that means light weight and nimbleness.’
Hole says bigger OEMs are under pressures that result in them engineering EVs like appliances and he’s very conscious that an EV Morgan needs to be fun. ‘I’m a fan of driving. One of the reasons for wanting to come to Morgan is to deliver an exciting EV. I think we can do it but the key thing is selecting the right kind of technology and the right partners. That’s something we’re in reasonably advanced stages of. We’re already making progress.’
Arguably, for Morgan, specifying the right size battery pack (and therefore weight) is even harder than for a mainstream car maker because while a Morgan is rarely an owner’s first car, some use their cars for weekend blasts and others undertake huge adventures. The firm’s recently launched and quickly sold-out CX-T, based on the Plus Four and designed in conjunction with Dakar rally experts Rally Raid UK, is the ultimate expression of that spirit.
‘We’re still in the midst of – but coming to the end of – consultation with existing Morgan owners and potential Morgan owners,’ says Hole. ‘The dealers have a good understanding of customers, too. What we’re doing at the moment is matching drive cycles to different technologies and using a simulation tool to determine the best compromise.
‘Some level of modularity has been in our thinking, but we’ve just got to make sure that the car is ultimately fun and not overly compromised for the few.’
A big part of the appeal is how a Morgan drives. Mass apart, can an EV have the same character? ‘The reality is, when you place EV gear in the car, usually you don’t stick it in the front if you want to drive the rear wheels, because there’s a lot of gubbins that you can dispense with, so that affects the weight balance. But I imagine that the driving dynamics will be similar to existing Morgans – maybe not for all variants, but we’ll be trying to keep the same feel of driving a Morgan.’
Weight can really impact fun. A current Plus Four weighs not much more than 1000kg, and it will be difficult for an EV Morgan to get close to that. Has Hole set himself an upper weight limit? ‘I have… but I’m not gonna share it with you! I can tell you it is real, it will be something we will be striving for. We’ll also be working with the guys supplying the existing platforms to see how we can continue to take weight out of those, which will eventually benefit the electrification platforms in the future.’
Morgan is conscious that it can’t move too far away from what’s made people buy its cars in the first place. It knows that much of the appeal of a Morgan is how it looks and the craftsmanship that goes into it, but there’s no escaping the fact that the petrol engines bring loads of character too.
‘It being a hand-crafted Morgan will take us most of the way, but we will need to add some spice, some sauce into the mix,’ says Hole. ‘I’m hell-bent on making EVs that are exciting to drive. That’s the thing that’s going to keep me up at night. I’ve done plenty of studies in how to make EVs interesting and exciting and I think the world of psychoacoustics [how humans perceive sounds] will come to fruition through this next round of EV development.’
Morgan is making its biggest ever investment in R&D, mainly for electrification but it will continue to build and develop ICE cars for some time yet, for markets such as the US. ‘One of the things that really impressed me about Morgan is there’s a real desire to continue to develop the projects,’ says Hole. ‘There are some developments in the four-wheel cars later in the year that’ll surprise people.’
In terms of production, incorporating EVs will throw up considerable issues of complexity. Morgan has been on the same, sloping site in Malvern Link for over 100 years and production is far from a simple production line. That said, great steps have been made in recent years. The production process was streamlined considerably with the introduction of the bonded aluminium ‘CX’ chassis. Before, there could be 110 cars in various stages of build, but now that is down to just 50. However, adding new models with new technology – battery packs and electric motors and regulators – into the mix presents significant issues.
‘One of the key elements of our electrification strategy is how we can manage both within the facility,’ says Hole, ‘and I think it’s our intention to continue building here. So how can we manage both running down the line at the same time, in a safe manner? Then there’s our growing dealer network. At the moment they’re only used to servicing and maintaining ICE cars. We’ve got to be really conscious of that because a Morgan dealer is not like a Ford dealer.’
So, when can we expect an EV Morgan? The process has begun but there’s no rush; technology is developing rapidly and customers aren’t currently demanding an EV Morgan. ‘A Morgan is always going to be the third or fourth or maybe even the fifth car in our customers’ garage,’ says Fumarola. ‘Our customers are going to start going electric with the other cars first, so probably we have more time than other car makers.’
This article was first featured in evo 299. To subscribe, or purchase any back orders click here to be taken to our online store.