Nissan unveils 186-mph electric Le Mans race car

As slow as electric cars have been to catch on among the general public, they've made less progress on the race track. This year's Pikes Peak hill climb will feature a handful of electric cars, and there's a growing association of electric drag racing devotees, but otherwise all-electric power hasn't been allowed onto the track against fossil-fueled competition in a major race. That will change next year if Nissan meets the goals announced today to put an electric race car in next year's 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Based in part on the DeltaWing, Nissan says its Zero Emission On Demand Racing Car, or ZEOD RC, will be capable of speeds of 186 mph. The ZEOD RC will run in a special class at Le Mans for experimental vehicles — but Nissan says the ZEOD RC will allow it to test a variety of technologies that the company can use to build a full-blown Le Mans prototype to compete against the fastest cars in the field, and in theory discover engineering advancements for cars that never see a track.

Nissan remains the automaker who's made the largest gamble on electric cars, and while the Nissan Leaf has sold well below expectations and suffered some controversies, sales in the United States have picked up in recent months after a steep price cut. In an endurance race, an electric car suffers from two main hurdles — a worse power-to-weight ratio and the time it takes to recharge batteries. As Tesla showed on Thursday, the battery recharging time can be cut to a matter of seconds with swappable systems; the power-to-weight problem isn't so easy to solve, but the DeltaWing design was engineered to be far lighter than other race cars. Nissan has 12 months to build its car, and it will need every second.