2010 Blog Archive

   


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Sunday December 26, 2011 - Predictions for 2011

Sunday December 19, 2010 - EV Myths

Sunday December 12, 2010 - Leaf - It's a Go

Sunday December 5, 2010 - Honda, Getting Fit

Sunday November 28, 2010 - New EPA Sticker

Sunday November 21, 2010 - 2010 LA Auto Show

Sunday November 14, 2010 - Plug-in America PSA Campaign

November 7, 2010 - US News EV Bashing

Sunday October 31, 2010 - Plug-in Hybrid Emissions Testing

Sunday October 24, 2010 - Fleets Lead the Way

Sunday October 17, 2010 - Volt Storm in a Teacup

Sunday October 10, 2010 - 2010 Paris Auto Show

Sunday October 3, 2010 - Santa Monica Alt Fuel Vehicle Expo 2010

Sunday September 26, 2010 - Local Use Vehicles

Sunday September 19, 2010 - X-Prize Winners

Sunday September 12, 2010 - Tazzari With The Brakes On

Sunday September 5, 2010 - US Uses Less Energy, More Renewables

Sunday August 29, 2010 - The Prius Effect

Sunday August 27, 2010 - Lloyd's Chatham House Report

Sunday August 15, 2010 - Portland Installs Fast Charger

Sunday August 8, 2010 - CPUC EV Charging Decision

Sunday August 1, 2010 - Volt Pricing

Sunday 7/25/2010 - Leaf Charger Survey Upsets EV Drivers

Sunday July 18, 2010 - Rollout of J1722 Chargers

Sunday July 11, 2010 - Scientific American EV Bashing

Sunday July 4, 2010 - Volt Sales Area Expanded

Sunday June 27, 2010 - Pollution Proposition

Sunday June 19, 2010 - UK Trial First Test Results

Sunday June 13, 2010 - Life Beyond Petroleum

Sunday June 5, 2010 - Swiss Post Electric Scooters

Sunday May 30, 2010 - Sold Out

Sunday May 23, 2010 - NEVs Under Attack

Sunday May 16,2010 - Kerry Lieberman American Power Act

Sunday May 9, 2010 - Ghosn's Big Gamble

Sunday May 2, 2010 - Oil Spill

Sunday April 25,2010 - Venus

Sunday 18 April, 2010 - Peak Oil 2014

Sunday April 11, 2010 - 2010 New York Auto Show

Sunday April 4, 2010 - Hawaii and Electric Vehicles

Sunday March 27, 2010 - Goodbye ZENN

Sunday March 21, 2010 - Electric Commuter Vehicles

Sunday March 13, 2010 - Range Anxiety

Sunday March 7, 2020 - 2010 Geneva Motor Show

Sunday February 28, 2010 - Survey

Sunday February 21, 2010 - Peak Oil Report

Sunday December 14, 2010 - Chicago Auto Show

Sunday February 7, 2009 - NiMH Controversy

Sunday January 31, 2010 - e-Drive

Sunday January 24, 2010 - J1772

Sunday January 16, 2010 - 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Sunday January 10, 2010 - Dual Mode Transportation Systems

Sunday January 1, 2010 - Spectrum Magazine Bashes EVs  

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Sunday December 26, 2011 - Predictions for 2011 - We are coming to the end of an exciting year so I thought this would be a good time to do my annual predictions for the upcoming year.

In 2010 we saw several manufacturers start shipping electric cars.  Nissan is shipping just a token number of cars this year. So far just one car to each of their initial sales areas.  Chevy has also started shipping the Volt but again it has been just a handful of cars.

Daimler started a trial of the Smart ED but still had about 100 cars left in early November.  They should have leased all of these by the end of the first quarter of 2010.  Ford also started shipping their Transit Connect electric van but will only ship one
to each of the ten fleet customers participating in the trial.  They will ship the other 140 vans early next year but I don't expect them to make the vans available to the public until 2012.

By mid 2011 I expect to see gas prices over $4 a gallon when people go back to taking road trips as the country continues its recovery from the recession. 

The gas price increase will result in a shortage of EVs for all of next year.  GM will only be making 10,000 Volts f2011 so there will be a huge shortage of that vehicle and GM will not have any real competition until 2012.  Look for them increasing production in the second half of next year.

If Fisker manages to get the Karma into production they may be helped by the shortage of Volts.  They are really competing in a different segment of the market, the luxury segment, so this impact is going to be low.  Fisker will remain a low volume manufacturer for the foreseeable future.  For them to succeed it is essential that they get into production soon so I expect cars to start going to customers some time in the second quarter.

Nissan plan on bringing 25,000 Leafs over to the US this year and 20,000 are already spoken for.  The rest will sell out quickly.  Mitsubishi will be able to take advantage of this and should be able to sell all their I cars as quickly as they can get them here.

Wheego Th!nk and Coda could also benefit from the shortage of EVs.  Of the three Wheego is in the best position but they need to get production under way soon.  They will also benefit from selling in all 50 states since, for most states, they will be the only option.

Th!nk has already started production in their Indiana factory and recently delivered 15 cars to that state's fleet, but they are currently concentrating on fleet sales so they won't be shipping to the public until the third quarter of 2011.  They have the advantage of name recognition, and are built in America not China, but their limited top speed relegates them to the city car category so they will be a hard sell unless they can bring them in at a price significantly less than the Leaf or I.

Coda may have some advantage because they have a larger car but they keep slipping their production schedule and the longer they wait the less likely they are to do well.  With production currently delayed until the second half of 2011 things don't look good for Coda.

Things don't look good for the three wheel vehicle makers either.  With plenty of four wheel cars coming to market the three wheel  vehicles will be relegated to niche vehicles.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Aptera fail without going into production.

There will also be some shakeout in the NEV  market too.  Unless there is a move toward a European "Quadracycle" law, and I consider that unlikely now that there are electric car options from the major manufacturers,  the fully enclosed NEV market will go away.  The golf cart style NEV will continue doing fine because such vehicles are still desirable in enclosed communities and campus settings.

 

Range anxiety will end up being a storm in a teacup as people begin to realize that even a 40 mile range car will fit most of their driving needs.  The advent of a growing number of public charging stations will mean that the fear of being left without a charge will go away for all but the most risk averse. 

 

Public charging stations will come out in two flavors, free like those being installed at car dealerships around the country, and fee based chargers like Coulomb.  I will expect to see sites like evchargernews.com update their listings to show which sites are fee based and which allow you to charge for free.  I expect people to make more use of the free chargers, but the fee based chargers will also get used as some people would rather pay for the convenience of charging close by their destination.

The coming year will be exciting as we start to see more and more EVs on the road.  There are opportunities for startup companies that are nimble enough to get their cars into production.  The longer these companies take the less likely they will be to succeed.


Sunday December 19, 2010 - EV Myths - The rollout of the latest electric cars from major manufactures is under way and this has intensified the number of articles bashing electric vehicles.  These articles almost always bring up several ideas that have attained the status of myth.  

 

Most myths have a basis in fact and this is true of the two big myths surrounding vehicle electrification.  The myths have been debunked on many occasions but like a bad penny they keep turning up.  Now, with the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt both being delivered to customers, and the Ford Transit Connect has been delivered to several fleet operators, the number of articles EV bashing has skyrocketed.

 

The first myth is that EVs are dirtier than ICE cars because they are charged from coal fired plants.  There is an element of truth to this since coal fired plants are relatively dirty, but EVs are not charged from coal fired plants, they are charged from the grid which uses a mixture of power sources.

Most electric cars are charged overnight when demand is low.  The three main types of power generation overnight are nuclear, coal, and wind.  The first two are there because long startup times make it impractical to shut them down so when demand drops steam is bled odd directly to cooling towers so charging EVs overnight allow the power plants to run more efficiently.  For wind power the wind just blows more consistently at night.

So, electric vehicles make current electric generation facilities more efficient and allow for huge growth in wind production.  Charging during the day also opens up a huge potential for expanding solar energy.

The second big myth is that electric vehicles don't have enough range.  There is truth here as well for those that drive hundreds of miles each day, but most drivers travel less than 41 miles each day so an electric car with a reliable range of 70 miles is quite adequate for most drivers.

Now, if you are a one car family and like to take long trips they you may need a plug-in hybrid, and until there is a PHEV Minivan there will be a gap for some American families. 

Most families have more than one car and the more cars in the family the more an electric car fits into the mix.  Even single car families can make an EV work by renting a car for the occasional road trip.  Some people do this anyway on the principle that the rental cost may be cheaper than the cost of putting a lot of miles on your car on a road trip.

As more public charging becomes available range will become less and less of an issue.  I remember Greg Hansen telling me that when he first got his EV1 he took out his Thomas Guide and drew a circle with 20 miles radius which represented the area he could safely drive in.  After he had owned the EV1 for a while he learned that by careful driving he could get a lot more miles out of the car, sometimes more than 90 miles.  He also found that he could make his charger portable and then he could plug in anywhere that there was a 220V outlet, and the EV1 had a 110V charger too so he could use that even if he couldn't find a 220V outlet.  On one occasion he drove his EV1 from Irvine, CA to Hilton Head, SC, bit outside the 20 mile radius circle he drew on the Thomas guide.

 

There are a few things that I have found out about electric cars over the years.  Many drivers who really get used to electric cars never want to go back to driving ICE vehicles.  The electric car is more often than not bought as a second car for occasional use but it is the ICE car that gets relegated to that status, often sitting for months between outings.  There is also a natural progression from electric cars to solar and many EV drivers end up installing solar panels on their roofs.

 

Those trying to kill electric cars will try almost anything to stop their mass introduction.  After all, there is a lot of money to be made selling gas even if it is being brought from places around the world where Americans aren't liked very much.  I'm not saying that all the attacks on electric cars are produced by the oil companies and related industries, there are many out there that are resistant to change, but there is now a clear choice, electric cars are here.  They will be showing up in car rental locations soon so give them a try if you can - you are going to like driving them.


Sunday December 12, 2010 - Leaf - It's a Go - Yesterday was a banner day for those who love electric cars.  It was the day that Nissan finally delivered the first Leaf to a Customer in the US.

 

On Saturday December 11, 2010 Redwood City resident Oliver Chaloubi, who was the first person to place an order for the Nissan Leaf, picked up his car from North Bay Nissan in Petaluma, CA.  After accepting the keys to a shiny black Nissan Leaf SL he drove the car, along with an honor guard of 4 other Nissan Leafs, the 40 miles into San Francisco where he plugged into a public charger at City Hall before taking part in a press conference.

 

Mr. Chaloubi, who has a daily commute of about 10 miles to his job as CFO for internet startup Fanhattan, is replacing an electric bicycle with the Leaf.  His wife drives a regular ICE car and they plan to use this for longer journeys. 

 

You can see video of the delivery on youtube

 

Over the next ten days a series of cars will be delivered to people who placed orders early in the six primary areas where Nissan will roll out the car, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington State, Tennessee, and North Carolina, starting today with delivery of a car to a man in San Diego.  

 

There are more Leafs on a boat from Japan that are expected to arrive in the US just before the holidays.  Some of these cars will be delivered to buyers in Hawaii and Texas early next year.  After that we should see the flood gates open and more and more Leafs will be delivered over the next year.  I wouldn't expect to find one in your local Nissan dealership any time soon though since Nissan already have 20,000 pre-orders and with only 25,000 cars allocated to the use for the coming year it will take most of 2011 to get these cars delivered.  I am now wondering how long it will be before we see one on eBay.

 

While GM was expected to begin shipping in November they have had to delay delivery and  Nissan has jump ahead of them to be the first to roll out a mass produced plug-in car.  The production Volt with serial number 001 has been placed in the GM Heritage Museum.  GM isn't going to begin deliveries until after December 16. 

 

GM is currently running a charity auction for Volt number 002 at Volt.CharityBuzz.com with all proceeds to be donated to Detroit Public Schools.  The Auction runs until December 14 and the winner will be announced December 16.  Last time I checked bidding was up to $185,000 but the car has been stuck at that level since December 3.  I would expect some additional bids close to the close of auction but I suspect that a national based charity would have pulled in more money that one that only impacts one city.

 

I expect the Volt to begin showing up in showrooms in the targeted areas soon after the results of the auction are announced.

 

In any event, delivery of the first Leaf by Nissan is a great step forward for electric based transportation and I am glad to see that this day has finally arrived.  I am now looking forward to seeing them on the roads of Southern California.


Sunday December 5, 2010 - Honda, Getting Fit - This year's LA Auto show will probably be noted as the kick-off pinto for of the move to electric transportation.  Car manufacturers were falling over themselves to show off their electric cars and one of the stars of the show was the Honda Fit EV.

 

Honda was one of the companies that had a small number of their Honda EV+ leased to the public back in 1997 These were collected and crushed, although unlike GM, Honda waited until the car developed a serious problem or until the car was returned by the owner before they crushed them.

 

Honda is now a big proponent of fuel cell vehicles and current have their Honda Clarity leased to a small number of customers in the LA area.  They now seem to have accepted that fuel cell vehicles aren't going to be viable any time soon and have finally begun moving toward battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars although they still see these as a stop-gap measure.

 

Their first offering; an electric version of their popular Honda Fit (Jazz for those in Europe).  The Honda Fit EV will be powered by a lithium-ion battery pack although no details have been released yet on battery capacity.  The coaxial electric motor will be the same technology has the one used in the FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle. 

 

The top speed of the car will be 90mph and Honda give an estimated driving range of 100 miles per charge on the EPA LA4 test cycle but qualify this by saying that the range will be 70 miles when they apply the EPA adjustment factor.  They go on to say that the batteries can be charged in 12 hours using a standard 120V outlet which leads me to believe that the 70 mile range is going to be more realistic for most drivers based on the amount of energy you can push into a battery in 12 hours from a standard domestic outlet.  Charge time from a 220V outlet would be about 6 hours.  I wouldn't be surprised if both these numbers are adjusted up when the production specs come out.

 

The car will also offer the same three driving modes as the Honda CR-Z hybrid.  Normal mode can be used for most situations and offers a good balance of acceleration and power recuperation through regenerative braking.  Econ mode gives you less power for acceleration and makes regenerative braking more aggressive.  Honda say that econ mode can increase driving range by as much as 17%.  On the CR-Z econ mode is meant for those times when you are stuck in stop and go traffic and it would be a good option on the Fit EV in that situation.  Sports mode allows more power to the electric motor under load and makes the car drive similar to the version of the Fit that comes with a 2.0 liter ICE.  Sports mode will negatively impact range.

 

Like many of the new generations of EVs, drivers will be able to do things like check the status of charging from a PC or smart phone.  Honda are planning aps for both the iPhone and phones that use the Android operating system.  In addition to this the Fit EV will come with an interactive remote that will allow the owner to monitor the vehicle without the need for an internet or phone connection.

 

Remote access will also allow the driver to set charging start and stop times and to trigger functions like heat and cooling to start before they get to the car allowing these functions to be powered from the grid rather than from the batteries.  On a hot or cold day this can make a huge difference in range since cooling the car from say 140F or warming it from 32F takes a lot of power from the batteries..

 

The Fit EV will come with a standard Navigation system that will allow the driver to locate nearby public charging stations.   It will also come with 24 hour road side assistance.

 

The Fit EV should be in dealerships some time in 2012 although they will provide a small number of these cars to fleets starting this month to do real world testing.

 

Also slated for 2012 is a Plug-in hybrid but so far Honda has not released details of what the car will look like.  I expect we will see this car announced at the Detroit Auto Show in January.  

 

The Plug-in Hybrid, also slated for sale in 2012, will come with a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine running the Atkinson cycle coupled to the front wheels via Honda's electric continuously variable transmission (E-CVT).  The 6KW lithium-ion battery pack will provide a range of around 10-15 miles in electric only mode.  At speed above 62mph the ICE will also start and when cruising on the freeway the car will drive the wheels via the ICE motor only.

 

The Honda Fit EV will provide another option for EV buyers when it comes out in 2012 and will provide an EV option for loyal Honda customers.  I would have liked to see a little more range on this car but 70 miles is quite adequate in a second car for most families and if the price is competitive with the Nissan Lead and Mitsubishi I it should sell well.


Sunday November 28, 2010 - New EPA Sticker - The advent of a new breed of cars, the plug-in hybrid, has caused a problem that actually held up shipping of the Chevy Volt - the EPA sticker which must be attached to all new cars didn't reflect the fuel consumption on the Volt.  Before GM could start shipping their ground breaking car the EPA had to design a whole new sticker for plug-in hybrids.

 

Fortunately the new sticker has now been issued.  Like the old sticker it shows two mpg ratings but these are not the old city and highway mpg you are used to seeing.  Instead the two numbers are the miles per gallon equivalent (mpge) when the car is running in electric mode only, and average mpg when the car is running on the gas engine.

 

For the Chevrolet Volt these come out at 93mpge and 37mpg.  The issuing of this sticker clears the way for the Volt to start shipping to dealers and we should see them on the roads quite soon.

 

The full press release from GM is listed below.

 

DETROIT – When the 2011 Volt begins arriving in Chevrolet showrooms over the next few weeks it will have an all-new fuel economy label to go with its unique propulsion system.

 

With its ability to operate completely gasoline- and emissions-free for 25 to 50 miles and then continue indefinitely with its range- extending engine, the Volt’s energy efficiency depends on how you use it.

 

Because the Volt works like no other car before it, General Motors and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency collaborated to design a new label to help consumers understand what to expect when they drive the Volt.  Before plug-in cars like the Volt, calculating fuel economy was simply a matter of filling the tank with fuel, driving the vehicle and dividing the distance by the amount of fuel consumed.

 

Even though they have no tailpipe emissions, electric cars still use energy so the MPG equivalent (MPGe) is determined by measuring electricity use and converting it based on the energy content in a gallon of gasoline.  This MPGe rating allows consumers to compare the Volt’s efficiency to other cars in its segment. 

 

The Volt uses two energy sources, electricity from the grid, and gasoline from the pump, with the mix depending on how far you drive and how often you charge the battery. The Volt is a complex vehicle that is incredibly easy to use.  And while the new fuel economy label also looks complex, it has more information than any EPA label before it.


Sunday November 21, 2010 - 2010 LA Auto Show - This week I attended both media days at the LA Auto Show.  This year was the year of the electric car with the all electric Leaf and the plug-in hybrid Volt both going on sale shortly.  Other manufacturers also announced plans for electric cars and plug-in hybrids.

 

There were two things that came out of this most strongly, an increasing optimism within the car industry after two years of miserable results, and 40 is the new 30.  

 

The recession really hit the car companies badly with really poor sales results for the last two years.  Now, people are starting to go back into showrooms and sales are climbing, especially in the compact and mid sized car categories.  

 

In the past, car companies would tote how many cars in their lineup could get 30mph on the highway.  Now, 30mpg is pretty common and the new 30mpg is 40mpg with cars from Ford, Chevy, and Hyundai hitting the 40mpg mark under EPA testing.  New cafe standards are pushing the envelope on mpg and the car companies are beginning to respond building lighter more aerodynamic cars without compromising safety, and getting more power from smaller more economical engines.

 

The first press conference I attended was for Chevy and the first thing I noticed was that they had a Volt sitting in with the other GM cars out on the convention center floor.  Not surrounded by ropes or up on a turntable but just sitting among the other cars.  On the stage was a second Volt but this one was covered in dust and grime.  The reason the car was so dirty is that Joel Ewanick, VP of US Marketing, had just driven it from Detroit to LA.  In his remarks he said that he had driven the car 1100 miles before he set out but he hadn't put a single gallon of gas in the tank until this road trip.

 

He was a bit fuzzy about when the car would go on sale, first saying that deliveries had begun then reversing that and saying deliveries would begin immediately after Thanksgiving.  He also brought a group of about 10 people on stage who will be the first LA residents to take delivery of their Volts. 

 

They showed the first two commercials for the Volt that will air latter this year.  While these are not a groundbreaking as the commercials they did for the EV1, they do a much getter job of getting the word out about the Volt.  Both of them emphasize the benefits of home charging.  The tag line "more car then electric".

 

After the press conference I got to talk with one of the power train engineers and got a definitive answer to the confusion I had over the Volt power train.  He confirmed that the Volt uses only the electric motor to drive the car when in battery mode and only used the engine to help propel the car when the battery is depleted and the car is going over 70mph.

 

Jaguar showed their C-X75 Concept car for the first time in North America.  The C-X75 is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack, that gives the car a 68 mile all electric range, driving 4 electric motors one for each wheel.  Once the battery pack is depleted two micro-turbines kick in to give the car a total range of 560 miles before you need to refuel.  The car develops 780bhp and can go from 0-60 in 3.4 seconds.  Speed tops out at a little over 200mph.  This car is a pure concept and Jaguar has not announced plans to build a production version.

 

While GM hyped up the Volt, Nissan didn't show the Leaf at all although they did have one on display on the convention hall floor, but it was roped off.  In his opening remarks Carlo Tavares, Executive Vice President of Nissan America, mentioned that Nissan now had 20,000 orders for the Leaf with first deliveries scheduled for early December.  he then went on to announce the Murano cabriolet and the Ellure hybrid, a conventional hybrid.

 

Ford announced the new Focus and emphasized the magic 40mph highway number, even on the automatic.  I was very disappointed that there was no mention of the Focus EV at this press conference even though the car is supposed to be going on sale next year.  

 

After the press conference I took a look around the Ford Stand and came across the electric Transit Connect.  I asked one of the Ford employees about the availability of this car and was told that Ford are already accepting fleet orders and delivery should begin early in 2011.  More importantly he told me that a Mulit-Space option, with rear seat and windows, would also be available.  The van is currently targeted at Fleet sales only, but if the Transit Connect appeals to you try talking to the fleet manager at your local Ford dealership they may be able to wangle you a vehicle.

 

When I got to the Honda press conference there was an EV+ sitting on the stage.  I wondered if Honda had reused the EV+ again as it did when it built its first fuel cell cars.  When John Mendel, Executive VP of American Honda came on stage he talked about how Honda had gained experience with electric drive trains from the EV+ program and had used this experience to build the hybrid and fuel cell vehicles currently in Honda's lineup.  

 

He then introduced Takanobu Ito, President and CEO of Honda Motors, who said something so profound I put the quote on the evfinder home page.  "We must move from using less petroleum to using no petroleum"  He then went on say that Honda plans to built a plug-in hybrid for the 2012 model year and then introduced the Honda Fit EV, which will also go on sale in 2012.

 

The Fit EV is an electric version of Honda's popular Fit.  It will offer a range of about 70 miles and will offer three modes of driving, sport mode, normal mode, and eco mode.  Eco mode is expected to extend range by as much as 17%.  The car will be placed into demo programs later this year but will not go on sale to the public until 2012.

 

In contrast to Takanobu Ito, Jim Lentz, President and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales USA came on stage and pushed out the old drivel about how few RAV4 EVs they had sold.  He emphasized that Toyota had a long term commitment to fuel cell vehicles and looked at battery electric vehicles as a stop gap measure.  

 

He then introduced the new RAV4 EV.  This car is basically a conversion of the existing RAV4 using a Tesla designed power train.  They are going to built 35 of these vehicles that will be put into demo programs by the end of this year.  These vehicles were dubbed the phase 0 vehicles and would have a range of around 100 miles.  A new RAV4 EV, dubbed phase 1, will be fully engineered to be an electric vehicle, and offered for sale to the general public starting in 2012. 

 

On the second day LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa commented on how he wanted to "Transform LA from the car capital of the world to the EV capital of the world".  To accomplish this LA has streamlined the whole process of getting permits for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations.  In most cities it takes five to six weeks to get a permit to install a charging station but in LA the process takes less than seven days.  DWP will also offer a rate incentive of 2.5 cents per KWHr to charge overnight during off peak times.  This will help them make better use of wind farms that provide most power at night.

 

Public infrastructure will also be upgraded over the next two years, including the installation of J1772 charging stations that had just been completed at the Convention Center in time for the start of the show.  

 

Following Mayor Villaraigosa, Southern California Edison and the Electric Drive Transportation Association gave a presentation about a new web site they have set up goelectric.com which can help find more information about owning and living with an electric car.  

 

After this presentation and the awarding of the green car of the year award to the Chevy Volt by Green Car Journal, I got to talk a little with Pedro Pizarro, Executive Vice President for Power Operations for Southern California Edison.  Southern California Edison provides power to all the cities outside of Los Angeles proper, that make up the greater Los Angeles are.  They have the difficult task of working with each of these individual cities to try and get them to speed up permit processing.  They are focused on that right now rather than on public infrastructure set-up as most charging will be done at home and so there is more impact on the purchase decision for electric cars if it is easier to get your home charger installed.

 

Edison also has the largest fleet of electric vehicles in the nation, over 250 EVs, and they are continuing to work with  several manufacturers to trial their electric vehicles.

 

At the Mitsubishi press conference Yoshikazu Nakamura, General Manager of Mitsubishi Motors EV said that Mitsubishi have sold more than 4,000 i-MiEV around the world.  He introduced the new American spec vehicle with they call the I.  The car is one foot longer than the i-MiEV and 4 inches wider.  It will also come standard with stability control, and more importantly for US consumers, the steering wheel will be on the left side.  

 

The extra weight of the US version reduces range to 85 miles.  Top speed is 85mph.  The car will go on sale to the public in the fall of 2011 at a base price of $30,000, slightly less than the Nissan Leaf.  Mitsubishi has also entered into an agreement with Eaton Corporation and Best Buy to manufacture and install charging stations. 

 

Mr. Nakamura also hinted that Mitsubishi would be announcing a plug-in hybrid soon and projected that 20% of cars sold by Mitsubishi by 2020 would feature electric drive.

 

Tucked down in Kentia Hall was Wheego, maker of the Whip NEV.  Mike McQuary, President and CEO of Wheego introduced the Wheego LiFe.  The Capital F in LiFe is not a typo, the word is derived from the symbols for Lithium (Li) and Iron (Fe) because the car uses Lithium Iron batteries.  The car, which looks very similar to the Whip and has a body built by the same Chinese company, offers a 100 mile range with a top speed limited by software to 70mph.  

 

The car can be charged from empty in around 8 hours from a 220V supply.  Charging is done via a J1772 connector and the charging station is the same Aerovironment model that is used by Nissan for the Leaf.  The car also comes with a Clipper Creak 110V charging cord.  

 

Base price for the two seat LiFe is $32, 995 and Wheego plan to build 2,000 cars next year.  It will be available through 38 dealers around the country and for those not near a dealership Wheego will send out an engineer to help familiarize buyers with the car or to do any repairs.  Unlike the cars from the major manufacturers the LiFe will be available in all 50 states.

 

Mr. McQuary said that they have bodies on a ship headed into Long Beach and once these arrive they will be taken to the Ontario, CA factory for assembly.  After that it should take about 6 weeks to build and deliver the cars that are currently on order.  This is basically the same story I heard back in October at the Santa Monica Alt fuel festival so I am not sure what the real delivery date might be.

 

I also got to look at the Smart ED.  Smart are currently running a trial program and 250 of the cars have been allocated to the USA.  I talked to the Smart employee at the Smart stand and he told me that there were still 100 of the cars available for lease.  The lease is a four year lease which costs $599 per month.  Lessees will have the option of getting one of the newer electric smarts at lease termination.  Anyone interested in leasing a Smart ED should talk to their local Smart Dealer.

 

A new era of electric vehicles is starting this month and the LA auto show served to highlight the importance that car makers now put on electric cars.  Soon we should be seeing electric cars on our roads in large numbers, at least here in Southern California.  It may take a while before they become common in many other states.  


Comments

 

A little back ground since I last e-mailed you, have had my old Schwinn converted to an EV, my first. Took the opportunity to attend the Green Car Expo at Pt. Richmond California during the Fall & found it a good venue to sample some EV's & Hybrids. Took a ride in the back of an I-MEV but foremost in my memory was driving the "THINK" City. This is my current choice for personal ownership, next year, I hope. I read no mention of this vehicle in your fine article about the LA Auto Show. Curious that they would make the effort in Pt. Richmond & not present at LAAS. I see that they are assembling 300 gliders in Elkhart presently so perhaps marketing will start in ernest next year. I did enjoy seeing the SMART EV at the Fall Electric Car Rally in Palo Alto. Followed it all the way to San Jose on I 280, the performance was impressive. It is my second choice if I fall out of love with the "THINK" before buying. Thank you for all the hard work to keep your Grand web site current for us.

 

Greg Beemer San Jose, California


 

Sunday November 14, 2010 - Plug-in America PSA Campaign - Only the most skeptical among us would doubt that a new era of electric vehicles is approaching with the speed of an express train.  GM is expected to start deliveries of its much anticipated Chevy Volt later this month, and Nissan, who have already started the production line in Japan, should begin delivering the Leaf to customers in December.  Despite the efforts of EV advocates the general public is still woefully uninformed about electric vehicles.

 

To address this lack, Plug-in America has created a series of Public Service Announcements (PSA) to begin educating the public on the truths and benefits of the new flock of electric vehicles soon to be on our streets. These public service announcements can best be viewed on the Plug-in America channel on youtube.  

 

Plug-in America was formed in 2008 by pulling together a group of activists who had been involved in the various protests to save vehicles like the EV1, Ford Ranger, and Th!nk City from the crusher.  Organizations like dontcrush.com and saveEV1.com had mixed success, saving many Ford Ranger and Th!nk City cars from a date with the crusher but failing to stop GM from murdering the EV1.

 

The Chris Paine came out with his landmark film "Who Killed the Electric Car" which, in my opinion, did more to spur interest in electric cars than any other single thing including the California ZEV mandate.  About the same time Sherry Boschert published here excellent book "Plug-in Hybrids the Cars That Will Recharge America" which served to raise awareness of the plug-in hybrid.  Interest in electric cars was starting to grow and a group of EV drivers, most of whom had participated in the protests against crushing the Ford and GM EVs, formed Plug-in America.

 

Since then Plug-in America have gone out to spread the word about Electric Vehicles.  The organization itself became registered as a public charity August 18, 2008.  The work it does is funded mostly by donations from its members and many members also donate a great deal of their own time to the cause.

 

Their work hasn't been in vain, most large car makers are actively working on electric vehicles.  The problem now is that people's perception of electric cars is shaded by the NEV, that golf cart type car that can do 25mph and usually has a range of around 20-30 miles.  People still think they need every car in their garage to be able to drive long distances and are often fearful that an electric car, with its limited range, will run out of charge and leave them stranded.  It was clear that education on electric vehicles was needed.

 

Then one day Douglas Stansfield, president of the New Jersey Electric Auto Association, was talking to Plug-in America's Alexandra Paul and asked if it would be possible to create public service ads to educate the public.  Alexandra Paul ran with this and  as a result on June 19, 2010 over 50 volunteers got together to film 7 PSAs.  

 

These PSAs are somewhat derivative of the Mac v PC ads that have been very successful for Apple.  In the first one, gasoline, played by Marvin Campbell has made himself a gas powered cell phone which produces a big cloud of dark smoke when he starts the engine, while Electric, played by Stephen Zimpel, looks on as he talks on a nice clean electric powered cell phone  In the second one Gasoline introduces Ocean Crude and his "fixer' who is there because Ocean Crude is having problems with some spillage and the "fixer", who is a lawyer, is there to "deny any involvement".  Electric introduces his oceanic friend "Windy" played by the gorgeous Lauren de Long.  

 

The other five PSAs will be released over the next few weeks and will be available for viewing at the Plug-in America web site (for links see the evfinder home page) or on youtube using the link above.  Future segments star people like J Karen Thomas. Colette Divine, and for the ladies, Fabio.

 

Right now the spots will be aired only on a TV station in Washington DC so mostly information about these ads is being spread by word of mouth.  Still, initial viewership of the first two spots was enough to crash the server that hosts the Plug-in America web site.  Here's how you can help - spread the word.   Send links out to friends who might not know much about electric cars.  If you know people at your local TV stations try contacting them and see if you can get them to air some of the spots, even if it is only in a news segment.


November 7, 2010 - US News EV Bashing - We are getting closer to a time where we will start seeing the first electric cars and Plug-in Hybrids arriving in showrooms.  Chevrolet will start deliveries of the Volt later this month with Nissan following in December with the Leaf.  Along with this we have seen a distinct rise in the number of articles bashing Electric Cars.

 

One article which illustrates this is "5 Reasons Electric Cars Will Disappoint" by Rick Newman, published in US News and World Report on October 28, 2010.  US News and World Report competes with Time and News Week and presents a Conservative viewpoint.

 

When you first start reading the article you think it was very pro EV even though the title implies EV Bashing.  His opening paragraph says simply "They're cool. That's for sure."  He calls the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt "Cute" in his second Paragraph.  I'm not sure I would call either the Leaf or the Volt "Cute", but Cool they certainly are.

 

It's not until his fourth paragraph that his tone changes with "Now for the bad news: Hardly anybody will buy one". In his next paragraph he says "Despite all the attention, EV sales in 2011 will probably number 30,000 or less in the United States".  Of course that's easy to say since GM are only going to make 10,000 Volts in the 2011 model year and Nissan is making around 16,000 Leafs for the US market.  It appears that both of these production runs are already sold out.  There may be a few other electric cars available from independent manufacturers such as Coda and Wheego, but they are only expected to sell a small number of cars even though both have big production plans. 

 

Consider this, the Prius only sold 24,000 cars the first year they were introduced into the US.  The motoring press said they would never sell more than a handful.  Now, with over 2 Million Prius on the road they have become the best selling car in Japan and are now considered mainstream here in the US.  Only Europe, with its focus on diesel, hasn't embraced them.  

 

Mr. Newman also says "J.D. Power & Associates predicts that even a decade from now, EVs will account for less than 1 percent of all U.S. sales."   Sale and lease of new cars in 2009, the lowest total sales for the last 20 years, were just a little over 10 Million vehicles.  If electric cars were only 1% of that number by 2020 we are looking at only 100,000 electric cars sold per year by that time.

 

Mr. Newman's  five reasons why people won't by electric cars begins with a reason that I heartily agree with, "They're way too expensive."  I do agree with that conclusion, the cost of battery packs makes the cars more expensive than the equivalent gas car and if people bought cars purely on economics then everyone would be driving a Hyundai Accent, but it is the "Cool" factor that Mr. Newman used to open his article, is the very reason why most people will want to buy one of these cars.  

 

One trick used by people bashing EVs is to compare the price using the base price of a similar car to the price of a fully loaded EV.  For example he compares the Leaf to a VW Golf but the price he quotes is for a base model, while most of the options standard on the Leaf, like a navigation system, are not available on the Golf.  Similarly he compares the price of the Chevy Volt to the base model Chevy Cruze, not even the automatic model but the stick shift.

 

Having said that the cost of current battery technology is still too high and you could certainly buy an equivalent car for less.  For example a fully loaded Prius would come out at little over thirty thousand dollars compared to forty-one thousand dollars for the Volt.  The fully loaded Prius and the Nissan leaf are actually pretty close in price.  The good news is that there are several promising technologies that will drastically increase battery capacity allowing the cost of batteries to be much lower.  Large volume production will also allow the cost to be lowered over time.

 

His second reason is limited range.  He says "Still, the Volt's battery will only power the car for 25 to 50 miles, depending on conditions, and for drivers who frequently exceed that distance, there's no point in paying extra for an EV."   The average car in the US drives 150,000 miles per year which works out at 41 miles per day.  When you factor in longer road trips it turns out that most of people drive less than 40 miles on most days.  

 

He conveniently forgets about plug-in hybrids after that and concentrates only on pure electric cars.  He acknowledges that "The Leaf can go about 100 miles on a charge" but goes on to say "Nonetheless, the Leaf has a glaring shortcoming: You can't use it for long trips. And running the battery down without being sure you'll make it to an outlet can produce "range anxiety". " There is a grain of truth in this, but since the average person drives a lot less than 100 miles per day the Leaf will work for most people as their second car.  What we have found over the years is that the EV actually becomes the Primary car with the old gas car being reserved for those longer trips that the EV can't manage.

 

He also talks about the lack of charging stations and how those that are being built now will be concentrated in certain areas of the country, forgetting to mention that these areas are the areas where the Leaf and the Volt will initially be sold.  He also conveniently forgets to mention that both the Leaf and the Volt can be charged from a standard domestic 110V socket, the kind that you would find in almost any hotel parking garage and would more than likely be available at Grandma's house when you went to visit.  The Volt of course is immune to this as it can run without being charged for as long as there is gas in the tank.

 

His third point is that "environmental benefits aren't persuasive".  He quotes J.D. Powers, "Just 10 percent of car buyers say environmental impact is one of the main things they consider when choosing a car" which, when you think about it is a sad reflection on the American population.  

 

He also explains "And while they don't emit their own pollutants, cars charged through an outlet require power plants to crank out more electricity, which usually means burning more coal or natural gas. So the overall reduction in pollution depends on how cleanly the local power plant produces electricity, which an individual driver obviously can't control."   This is actually quite refreshing since he doesn't lead with the usual rubbish about electric cars being dirtier than gas cars because of power plant emissions, he actually has it right, electric cars are cleaner than gas cars but how much cleaner depends on the source of the electricity.

 

Personally I think that people will tend to base their decisions on what is happening at the moment.  The gulf oil spill, which occurred after the J.D. Powers survey he quotes, probably had a big effect, causing many more people to consider the environment when they buy cars.  Now that the hoopla has died down this will go away, until the next great environmental disaster.   In any event, it is the cool factor that is going to be a primary driver in the adoption of vehicles like the Leaf and the Volt.

 

His next point is that "Competing technologies are getting better, fast."   He goes on to say "Electric cars might take off quickly if gas were $10 a gallon and EVs were the only alternative. But automakers are rolling out all kinds of high-mileage technologies"  he goes on to say "New "clean diesels," mostly from European automakers like Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, get mileage that can reach into the 40s."  I have been tracking EV sales for years now and I have seen the demand for EVs rise as gas prices spike.  Each time prices shoot up by a dollar or more, demand for electric cars will also shoot up.  Given that we may have hit peak oil already, these price spikes are likely to happen with increasing frequency over the next ten years.  It is my contention that once people switch to electric the majority won't want to go back.

 

What surprised me most though was that he then goes on to talk about two other cars, the plug-in Prius and the Fisker Karma.  Both of these are actually plug-in hybrids like the Volt but where GM has sold the Volt as a range extended electric car, Toyota and Fisker both call their car a Plug-in Hybrid.  The Prius has less range  than the Volt, and runs the gas engine at speed above 62mph, the Fisker actually has more range than the Volt and is also a lot more expensive, but still they are both vehicles that can be driven by electricity from the grid.

 

His final point is "America is not the right place for electrics".  He goes on to say "But we also have a huge country, a vast highway network , and a unique motoring culture in which mobility, freedom, and even speed are highly valued. EVs aren't optimized for that."  Well, the Volt can exceed the speed limit on any highway in America, it can travel anywhere you could go in your family sedan, and it can do it at great gas mileage.  The Leaf, of course isn't designed for long distance travel but as Mr. Newman points out "Sure, we have plenty of big cities with bad traffic and millions of commuters who could cut down on fueling costs with an EV."

 

The truth is that EVs won't be top selling cars right away.  In fact most areas of the country won't seen electric cars in showrooms at first, roll-out of the cars is going to start in a limited area and then expand over time.  If you live here in Los Angeles, which will be one of the fist places to take delivery of both the Volt and the Leaf, you will soon be seeing quite a few on the roads over the next few months.  If you live in Billings, Montana it might be a while before you see one, but eventually they will arrive there as well.  

 

Companies like IBM are already working on batteries that will offer 300+ Mile ranges on an EV at a much lower cost than current battery technology, but it is going to be ten years before such technology is readily available.  In the interim I see the typical multi-car family owning a plug-in Hybrid Minivan and an electric commuter car.  We have the electric commuter car, or will have in a month or so.  The big question now is where is the plug-in hybrid minivan?


Sunday October 31, 2010 - Plug-in Hybrid Emissions Testing - This week someone forwarded me an article from Autoblog Green about CARB ruling that the Chevy Volt does not meet SULEV standards and has been declared ULEV.  When you dig into the facts behind this you find that the whole thing relates to how these emissions are tested.

 

Based on the CARB tests the Chevy Volt produces more emissions than a Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, or even a VW Jetta TDI.  Wait a minute I can hear you say, isn't the whole point of plug-in hybrids that they produce less emissions?

 

The problem here is that the CARB tests require the gas engine to be running and apparently the gas engine on the Volt isn't that clean.  Not that it's really dirty, it does qualify for ULEV status, but it isn't quite clean enough for SULEV status.  The issue is that the Volt produced 1.2 grams per mile of carbon monoxide and to qualify for ULEV the car needs to produce no more than 1 gram per mile.

 

It is clear that while the car does produce more emissions when the ICE engine is running, the whole point of the Volt is that the ICE engine doesn't run that often in normal usage.  Let's look at an extreme case.  Volt Owner has a daily commute of 5 miles each way on weekends he runs errands and typically does an average of 20 miles per day.  He has solar panels on his house which provide enough energy to power his home and charge his volt.  Twice per year he takes a trip to Las Vegas (about 300 miles each way) and each summer he takes a driving trip up the coast to Monterey (again about 600 miles round trip) with stops along the way meaning he drives no more than 150 miles in any day.

 

Now, assuming he can charge overnight at his hotels and that on those long trips he only sees 30 miles per charge on the Volt, he drives a total of 270 + 270 +270 + 270 + 120 +120 + 120 +120 = 1560 miles per year with the ICE running (and that assumes he doesn't stop to charge on route when he does his trips). That would be a grand total of 1560 * 1.2 = 1872 grams of CO.

 

Now, lets look at Prius Owner who does exactly the same trips but in a Prius not a Volt.  Prius Owner is going to drive 10 miles per day for lets say 240 days per year plus which is 2400 miles for his commute.  He will also drive 300 + 300 + 300 + 300 + 300 + 300 = 1800 miles.  On a weekends and holidays he drives 114 * 20 = 2280 miles. Total annual driving is 2280 + 2400 + 1800 = 6480 miles per year.  The Prius produces 0.1 grams of CO per mile  which works out at 6480 * 0.1 = 648 grams of CO per year, much less than the Chevy Volt.  The Jetta TDI, which produces 0.5 grams per mile would produce 3240 grams of CO per year which is more than twice the amount produced by the Volt.  The Honda Insight which produces 0.3 grams per mile would produce 1944 grams per year, still quite a bit higher than the Volt.

 

The problem with measuring emissions on a car like the Chevy Volt is that you need to know how it is being driven.  If it is being driven most of the time on battery it can be quite clean.  If, on the other hand, the owner never bothers to charge the car and drives with the ICE running all the time it isn't going to be any cleaner than any other car rated ULEV.   Any measure given by CARB or the EPA isn't going to match individual drivers vehicles.

 

What is clear though is that the current test, which measures the car with the engine running represents the worst case scenario not the most likely scenario and gives a totally wrong impression of the car.  What is also apparent is that Chevy still has a lot of work to do to clean up the ICE engine in the Volt.  They are currently planning on doing this by the 2013 model year with an engine that should produce significantly lower emissions and will also be E85 capable.  We will have to wait to see if they really do this.


Sunday October 24, 2010 - Fleets Lead the Way - One of the problems with electric vehicles is the cost.  To reduce the cost of electric cars and trucks we need to have volume production but the high cost of electric vehicles is a barrier to reaching high volumes.  This is where fleets come in.  Fleets often have large numbers of vehicles that are used in ways that are perfect for electric vehicles.  

 

To get an idea about this, if 100 people go to coda and each buys and electric car then Coda will have sold 100 electric cars.  On the other hand, if Enterprise Rent a Car goes to Coda it can order 100 electric cars in one transaction.  Enterprise has already done this and will provide Coda electric cars for rental at some of its locations starting next year.

 

Hertz is another company that is getting into the Electric Car rental business.  They are going to be offering both the Nissan Leaf and the Prius Plug-in Hybrid in selected locations starting with San Francisco, New York, Washington DC, and London.  For some reason they are not going to offer electric car rentals in Los Angeles which seems odd since EV Rentals made quite a good business renting electric cars at LAX until the supply of EV1, RAV4 EV and Honda EV+ cars dried up.  Hertz expects to have 100 electric cars available for rent by the end of 2010 and 1,000 by mid 2011.

 

Now, the requirements for fleet vehicles may not be the same as for regular users.  For example, Coca Cola can't deliver soft drinks to your neighborhood supermarket in a Coda electric car.  It needs a large truck.  Since 2007 Coca Cola has been introducing hybrid electric trucks into its fleet.  The trucks are about 37% more fuel efficient than their none hybrid counterparts.  These hybrid trucks are now use throughout the USA and Canada, including deliveries to our local supermarket in LA

 

Another company that has started to move into electric trucks is Staples, the office supply company.  Staples has a delivery fleet of around 2000 trucks and has recently placed an order with Smith Electric Vehicles for 41 Newton medium duty delivery trucks.  Thirty of the trucks will go into service in California with ten being placed in Ohio, and the other one going into service near Smith's factory in Missouri.  

 

Staples is joining company with Frito Lay, AT&T, and PG&E who have also purchased Smith Electric Vehicles for their fleets.  I shouldn't forget Coca Cola who, along with PG&E,  took delivery of the first Smith Electric Vehicles sold in the USA.  They now have at least 4 electric trucks on routes in New York and Washington DC. 

 

It is easy to see how selling 100 Coda sedans in one transaction, or as many as a thousand Nissan Leafs at a time can bring down the cost of an electric car, but you may ask how Coca Cola buying a large truck to make deliveries in Washington DC is going to help reduce the price.  Well, electric cars are made from components and even though the individual vehicles may be very different much of the items that go into building the vehicles have some commonality so the sale of hundreds of hybrid trucks to Coca Cola may mean that the manufacturer of electronic components reaches enough volume to reduce the cost of individual parts and this will help drive the price of all such parts down.

 

Large fleets can help put lots of electric cars on the road in a very short time.  It can be frustrating too as cars are diverted to fleet applications instead of being in showrooms.  Even more frustrating is when manufacturers make vehicles exclusively for the fleet market.  This is likely to be the fate for the Ford Transit Connect EV although ford may be pushed into selling the car to individuals later, as Toyota was with the RAV4EV and Ford itself was with the Ranger EV.

 

We can influence this push to some extent ourselves by going out and renting an electric car.  I did this back in 1999 when I spent a day with an EV1.  It is also a very good way to see how an EV might work for you.  If you are on the fence about driving an electric car then try renting one for a few days if you have the opportunity.  


Sunday October 17, 2010 - Volt Storm in a Teacup - This week the media has been all of a twitter after GM revealed on October 11 that the Chevy Volt wasn't the series hybrid everyone thought it was, but was actually a parallel hybrid.  

 

The word "Lied" was used with great frequency after GM came out with statements that basically said OK, now that our patents have been approved we are going to tell you how the car really works.  Up to that point everyone's understanding of how the volt works was that it was a series hybrid where energy from the battery drives the wheels while the ICE drove a generator to provide electricity when the battery pack was low on charge.  GM had made statements saying that the gas engine would never drive the wheels directly.  It turns out that his is not the case.

 

The truth is that the Volt, like the hybrids from Toyota, Ford and Nissan such as the Prius, has a power split device that will allow the engine to directly drive the wheels under some circumstances most notably when the car is going over 70mph.  It appears that the gas engine will start once the car goes faster than 70mph too and the car will run with both electric and gas power at high speeds.

 

From what I understand is that, unlike the Prius and similar hybrids, the Volt will  never be driven by the gas engine alone, the electric motor will always be engaged.  Having said that the car cannot now be considered and electric car, it is a parallel hybrid.  Of course, evfinder.com has always considered this a plug-in hybrid but I did have to update the Volt listing on the EVWatch page.

 

What has made the world journalists angry is that they don't like being fed false information, even if some of them, thankfully the minority, parrot false information regularly without checking the facts first.  GM have been making statements that say that the Volt will never be driven by the gas motor and now, suddenly, they have switched horses, and made much of what was written about the Volt incorrect.

 

This has opened up an opportunity for all those who dislike electric cars, dislike GM, or both, to really rant against the Volt.  It turns out that there have been articles in the press about the possibility of the volt using the motor to drive the wheels.  The most notable was one from the UK's Daily Telegraph called Volt Shock, that appeared at the end of June and quoted a project engineer from Opel called Andreas Voight as saying, "We are considering driving the wheels directly from the petrol engine".  Now Voight was talking about the Opel Ampera which is the European version of the Volt but since the cars are basically the same, and the first generation Ampera will more than likely be built stateside, it should be expected that the Volt would work the same way.

 

A few days after the Daily Telegraph article Hybridcars.com published an interview with GM Spokesperson Rob Peterson.  When they asked Peterson if the gas engine would power the wheels he didn't say no, he said “You could do it. Absolutely. It’s a matter of software. You have some motors, a planetary gear box, there’s a variety of things we can do in there.”

 

In response to these articles someone under the name Lyle published a post on the Chevy Volt forum titled "Combustion Engine Does Not and Will Not Turn the Volt's Driveshaft Ever, Got It".  Lyle called the Hybridcars.com article "Another bad piece of journalism" criticizing the web site for not having bylines on their articles.  I think this is a bit rich since I couldn't find anything in the post that told me who Lyle was.  However, he did ask Volt vehicle line director Tony Posawatz if the rumors were true and quotes Posawatz as saying “No I don’t know how those folks got so confused.”

 

It appears that Tony Posawatz was the one who was confused and once GM let the cat out of the bag it set of a firestorm across the web as people screamed "GM Lied about the Chevy Volt".  Many articles dragged out the old 238mpg announcement and some even went back to the GM EV1.  It is clear to me some people at GM didn't give the straight answer.  They wanted the car to come out as an electric car and so some spokes-people said its engine wouldn't drive the wheels.  Others, as you can see above, told a different story.

 

Personally I can't see too much of an issue with this, I think it has been blown out of all proportions.  GM didn't want to give away trade secrets until its patents were safely in place and that's not too hard to believe.  Personally I have always considered the Volt to be a plug-in hybrid not an electric car and that's what we need to call it now.   The only real difference is that the ICE is going to turn on when you go above 70 mph which means that it will be running for many when they drive on the freeway where people habitually drive 75-80mph even when the speed limit is 65-70mph.

 

The whole thing is really just a storm in a teacup.  GM's detractors have a new reason to dislike GM.  Those who don't want to see EVs succeed have new ammunition to trash electric transportation.  Those of us who think that electric cars are the way of the future should recognize that the car still delivers on its promise.  The biggest barrier I see to success for the Chevy Volt is the high MSRP of the car.  If I could afford one I would still buy one.


Sunday October 10, 2010 - 2010 Paris Auto Show - The world's very first Auto show was organized by Albert De Dion and took place in Paris in 1898.  The Paris Motor Show is now held every two years and this year's show, running from October 2nd to October 17th, included over 100 electric and hybrid models.  

 

There were three events in at the show that are of special interest.  The EDF electric vehicle test track allows visitors to the show a chance to drive some of the electric cars that will be available in showrooms soon.  The renewable energy Pavilion will showcase renewable energy and its link to transportation, and regional authorities will showcase their efforts to build public charging infrastructure.

 

There was just too much to mention all the vehicles on show but I will try and highlight some of the more interesting entries.

 

Two automobile makers, BMW Mini and Smart, showed of concept electric scooters.  The Mini scooter E Concept has taken its queues from the old Lambretta scooters that I rode in my youth.  The Smart scooter is more Vespa like and uses a 6hp hub motor that will drive the scooter at up to 30mph.  Range is a respectable 62 miles.

 

Several manufacturers were showing off electric sports cars this year.  

 

The Jaguar C-X75 Concept uses four electric motors one for each wheel that offers 778bhp giving it a 0-60 time of just 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 205mph.  The system is driven by a lithium ion battery pack that gives an electric only range of up to 68 miles while two micro-turbines extend the range to a maximum of 560 miles before needing to be refueled..

 

Renault showed off the DeZir concept, a two seat all electric sports car with doors that lift straight up.  The car has a Kevlar body to give it low weight, and a 0.25 coefficient of drag.  It will go from 0-60 in 5 seconds and a tops speed of 112mph.  Range is given as up to 100 miles on a charge.

 

French company Exagon Motors unveiled the Furtive-GTE, an electric 2+2 sports car that is projected to go into production in 2012.  The car has an electric only range of about 160 miles, but an optional range extending ICE will increase the car's range to 500 miles.  The car can accelerate from 0-60 in 3.5 seconds and offers a top speed of 178mph.

 

Another French car maker, Peugeot, showed off the EX1 Concept, a teardrop shaped sports car that is driven by two electric motors that give a combined 335hp.  Peugeot have not released specs on this car other than to say that the electric motors can provide 1g of acceleration.

 

Spanish Automobile manufacturer Seat also had an all electric sports car, the IBe Concept.  The 2 door coupe is powered by lithium ion batteries that give it a top speed of 100mph, and a 0-60 time of 9.7 seconds.  Range is given as 100 miles on a charge.

 

Other sports cars on display included the Audi eTron Spyder concept, the Fisker Karma, and the 2011 Venturi Fetish.  Citroen also showed off the Survolt, a car that was first debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2009.

 

Renault showed off the ZOE electric car.  This version of the ZOE is said to be very close to the car that Renault is set to start selling in 2012.  The ZOE has an 80hp electric motor driven by a lithium battery pack that offers a range of around 100 miles.  Top speed is 84mph and the car can go from 0-60 in 8.1 seconds.  Renault's sister company Nissan had the Leaf, which goes on sale in December, on display and also showed off their Townpod Concept, a boxy car with a round nose.  Unfortunately they didn't have any information on the drive train for this car except that it was electric.

 

Another car on show by Renault is the Twizy, a narrow car that seats two in tandem.  The Twizy is powered by a 20hp electric motor which will power the car to a top speed of 47mph and its lithium battery pack is expected to provide a range of around 60 miles.  The car will go on sale across Europe starting in 2010 and, in the UK, is expected to be priced starting around £6000 (a little under $10,000).

 

A trio of electric cars from Citroen, Peugeot and Mitsubishi are all based on the iMiEV, one of the few electric cars that is actually on sale at the moment.  The Citroen C-Zero, and the Peugeot Ion will go on sale later this year in Europe.  Mitsubishi also showed off the Euro Spec version of the iMiEV which is expected to go on sale in 14 European countries starting in December. 

 

There were also three versions of the Chevy Volt on display.  Alongside the Chevy Volt Opel showed off the Ampera and the British wing of GM showed off their latest right hand drive version the Vauxhall Ampera.  All three versions will be on sale in Europe starting in 2011 although it seems that the first generation car will probably be built in the USA.

 

Most of the large manufacturers are now making hybrids or have hybrids in the works.  The big hybrid announcement at the Paris Motor Show was the Honda Jazz hybrid.  The Jazz, which is marketed as the Fit in the US will be fitted with Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system.  So far Honda has not indicated its intention to sell a hybrid version of the Fit in the US.  Peugeot showed off its 3008 Hybrid 4, a crossover vehicle that incorporates a diesel engine into its hybrid power train.  The Peugeot 3008 Hybrid 4 goes on sale next spring and is expected to turn in fuel economy of better than 60mpg.

 

Electric cars are poised to hit dealerships soon and it will be interesting to see if consumers warm to then in large numbers.  I think that the 2010 Paris Auto Show shows marks the start of the electric power train revolution, just like the original show back in 1898 ushered in the automobile age.


Sunday October 3, 2010 - Santa Monica Alt Fuel Vehicle Expo 2010 - I have attended the Santa Monica Alt Fuel Vehicle Expo since its inception but this year was the first time I have been invited to attend Media day.  Unfortunately it wasn't quite what I expected.

The major exhibitors were there but nobody else was.  To make matters worse, most of the promised ride and drive vehicles weren't giving rides.  Only GM seemed to be well organized.

Things started well.  After registering I walked over to the cars which were lined up starting with the Nissan Leaf, then the Chevy Volt then the Zero truck followed by a couple of Wheego cars and finally a three wheel meter maid style car from Good Earth.  The latter vehicle was loaded onto a truck and driven away right after the TV crew finished their shoot so I never did get any info on it. 

I checked with the guy from GM who was there with a black Chevy Volt and he told me that they were going to give test drives but that there was currently a TV shoot and they couldn't start until they were finished.

While I was waiting I went off to check out the Coda.  They have made a few changes since last year and they are still tweaking the car.  I asked about test drives but the guy from Coda said they were still not ready to have people to drive the car.  That doesn't look good for deliveries this year.  He thought they may have a car available at the LA Auto Show.

Next I went to check on the Wheego - more disappointment.  The two cars they had where both Wheego Whips.  They didn't have a Wheego Life available.  Their rep said they expected to have them in a couple of weeks, but again this doesn't look good for deliveries any time soon.

I went back to the Volt and hung around for a while until they were able to start test drives.  Finally I had my hands on the keys to the volt.  The test drive was too short of course but was enough to show me that GM have done an excellent job with this car.  Now i just need to figure out how I can afford one.  For more details of my test drive please go to "Chevy Volt Test Drive".

After my test drive I went over to check out Li-ion motors.  They were proudly showing off the Wave II, which recently placed first in the X-Prize for two seat cars with side by side seating.

The lime green car is highly aerodynamic.  Since this is a one off prototype I wasn't surprised that they weren't giving test drives  but they did let me sit in it.

Getting into the car required something of a contortionist act and involved a bit of pain as I moved muscles that haven't had a lot to do in quite a few years.  Once inside it was surprisingly comfortable if somewhat austere.  I thought I might have trouble getting out but it wasn't as difficult as getting in had been.

They also had one of there conversions there, a Mini.  I did intend to test drive this later but never got back to take one.

I checked back to see if anyone from Nissan was around to give test drives of the Leaf but I Couldn't find anyone.  They had lots of cars but nobody to give test drives.

I walked back to where the California Fuel Cell Partnership had a whole variety of FCVs on display.  They had a KIA SUV that they let me drive.  The KIA. With 700 bar hydrogen storage has a range of over 400 miles.  This particular SUV had been driven from LA to San Francisco on a single tank.

Each time I drive a fuel cell vehicle they seem to get better.  The Kia's ride was really smooth and extremely quiet.  Noisy pumps are a thing of the past.  Even road noise was hardly discernable. 

On my drive we followed the Chevy Volt as he turned on Olympic.  They realized that they should have gone on to Colorado so they let me drive around the circuit again this time taking the longer route.  I really enjoyed driving the Kia but with the major problems still needing to be overcome I still think that battery electric is the way to go.

 

When I got back to the Civic Center I went over to where the people from Toyota had the Plug-in Prius.  They also told me they were not giving test drives as they only had one car.  The Prius looks just like the current model Prius but has a larger battery pack which allows it to go up to 16 miles on a single charge.  The ICE comes on when the car reaches a speed of 62mph so it is intended to run like a standard Prius on the freeway.  They told me the Prius should be in dealerships by early 2012.

 

I went back to the area where they were setting up the Nissan Leaf display and finally found someone.  He told me that they were not giving test drives until the following day and those would be by appointment only. 

 

It was now getting close to lunch time and the only things left to see were a couple of commercial trucks so I decided to call it a day and left.  I was a bit disappointed with the press day, but at least I did get to drive the Chevy Volt.  Next year I think I will go back to attending the event on the public days.


Sunday September 26, 2010 - Local Use Vehicles - Russell Sydney has been an advocate for electric vehicles for many years and championed the efforts at both the state and federal level to make Medium Speed Vehicles street legal.  I have corresponded with Russell for a good number of those years.  A few weeks ago he contacted me and asked me to review a new web site dedicated to Local Use Vehicles.

 

After some feedback from me and a few others he launched the new web site this week with a stunning email to the sustainable transportation club.

 

The email contained some very interesting facts that I wanted to share.  

 

There are over 255 million registered vehicles in the US most of which use conventional gasoline as a power source.  Over the last ten years we have sent over 2 trillion dollars - that's trillion with a T - to other countries to pay for the oil and gas.

 

I haven't verified these numbers but I have no reason to think they aren't accurate.  It is clear that a vast amounts of money is leaving the country every day to pay for our addiction to oil, and much of this goes to countries that don't like us very much.  At least some of this money is driving international terrorism and the drain it puts on our economy has to be part of our current economic woes.

 

The idea behind Local Use Vehicles (LUV) is simple.  You use an LUV to do the things that you need to do locally such as going to the store or dropping off one of the kids at a sleepover.  This car can also be used to take you to a transportation hub where you can catch public transportation to take you to work or to go see grandma.  Here in Southern California the South Coast Air Management District (SCAQMD) is currently running an LUV demonstration project in the South Bay area where it is common for people to use their car for journeys that are three miles or less.

 

LUVs can be any type of vehicle designed for local use but would typically be an electric car, Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, Electric Scooter, or even a Bike.  Typically these kinds of vehicle have a limited range but since you are going to use this for short journeys range is not very important.  What is important is that these vehicles can be bought for a lot less than the typical family SUV.  An electric scooter can cost just a few thousand dollars and there are NEVs on the market that cost less than ten thousand dollars.  

 

The plan proposed by Russell indicates three things need to change from the current status quo.  The first two deal with how government needs to change in their focus and the second is about the need for change by the bit automakers.  The third point is the most telling.  Consumers like you and me need to move away from our current expectation that we need all our vehicles to do everything, to a point where we recognize that we have a role in solving the problem caused by the use of cars and make our second or third vehicle a LUV.  Basically the more vehicles people possess the less excuse people have for not having a LUV in their garage.

 

Personally I see a time when the garage of the future will typically contain a plug-in hybrid minivan for those long family road trips and one or more LUVs for people to use as their normal daily driver.  The Minivan will be operated in electric mode most of the time but will have the ICE engine for those times when the family takes a road trip.  The LUVs will be totally electric.

 

Over the years I have spoken to a large number of electric vehicle drivers and the bulk of then have the same story to tell.  They buy the electric car as a second or third vehicle and it quickly becomes the primary vehicle with the old ICE car being relegated to being used just a few times a year when the trip is beyond the capability of their electric car.   The more range a car has the more it will get used.  I just got a note from a long time RAV4 EV driver who's car just crossed the 200,000 mile mark and currently has plenty of life left in its second battery pack.  The RAV4 EV, which can easily do 100 miles on a charge is at the upper limits of what I would consider a LUV but it is clear that with only 100 miles of range it is still possible to average the 15,000 miles a year that the typical American drives there car.  The eight year old RAV4 EV mentioned above has average over 25,000 miles per year.

 

It is now clear to almost everyone that using oil to power our transportation isn't a good idea.  The Limited Use Vehicle site offers a concrete plan to get us weaned off oil so it bares closer scrutiny


Sunday September 19, 2010 - X-Prize Winners - This week, after months of competition which whittled down the original 111 entrants to a handful of hopefuls, the results of the X-Prize competition were announced and I must say that I was quite disappointed.

 

The Winning car, receiving $5 million in prize money, was the Edison2, an ultra-light 4 seat that was powered by a gas small gas engine running on E85.  There were two other cars that were both awarded 2.5 Million dollars.  In the Tandem seat category which went to the electric powered fully enclosed motorcycle called E-Tracer.  In the two seat side by side category the prize went to the Li-ion entry Wave II.

 

Edison2 winning the competition wasn't much of a surprise.  The mainstream prize required the car to be able to seat 4, have enough space to carry their luggage, get over 100mpg, and have a range of over 200 miles.  The Edison2 was the only finalist that could meet this criteria.

 

The biggest problem I had with the victors is that none of them look to me like they can make any sort of impact.  I would not expect either the Edison2 or the Wave II to be able to pass US crash tests and unless they can accomplish this very difficult task they will always stay as low production volume (up to 100 per year) vehicles.   Both cars are ultra light and very aerodynamic but neither of them looked to me like they could take the impact of a block roughly the size and weight of a Ford Taurus hitting them in the side at 35mph, and to pass crash tests they need to do that without causing serious injury to the passengers.

 

That isn't to say that these cars haven't been engineered for safety, and the truth is that overall you will stand less of a chance of dying in an accident in these than in some SUVs, but the crash tests are what they are, and there is a good reason that the typical family sedan weights a lot more than these two cars.  The Edison 2 weighs in at just 800lbs while the Smart Fortwo, which has passed US crash tests, comes in at around 1690 Lbs

 

Another issue I had is with emissions.  The Edison2 runs on a very small Yamaha motorcycle engine that has been modified extensively.  The X-Prize testing included emissions testing and with such a small engine running on E85 emissions can be expected to be quite low.  Having said that, the testing was to comply with EPA standards but to sell a car successfully in the US you have to comply with the tougher California standard and that typically means more emissions controls adding weight and robbing power.

 

The vehicle most likely to make it in the real world is the E-Tracer.  This Swiss built vehicle which incorporates an ACP power train, is a fully enclosed motorcycle so there is no need for crash testing.  Since the vehicle is also electric there is no need for emissions testing.  ACP are currently in negotiation with Paraves, the developer of the E-Tracer, to build 100 per year here in the USA.  While I expect to see this vehicle on the roads, I don't expect volume to be high, at least not here in the USA, where such motorbikes are not popular.

 

The good news is that each of these companies incorporated new technology into their vehicles.  This technology is going to make it into the mainstream car market and this will help develop a whole new range of vehicles that are lighter and more fuel efficient while still maintaining the standards of safety that the US demands from the vehicles on its roads. 

 

I expect that the major automobile manufacturers are going to be knocking on both the doors at both Li-Ion and Edison2 very soon now and some of their innovations will be in showrooms in the next 3 to 5 years.


Sunday September 12, 2010 - Tazzari With The Brakes On - On September 1 I added new entries to both the City Car page and the NEV page, but in reality these two are the same car, the Tarrazi Zero.

 

So, you might ask, why have the same car on two different pages.  The answer is simple, the Tarrazi Zero is designed to comply with Europe's Quadracycle rules but there is no equivalent rule in the USA so to sell the car here it has to be downgraded to a top speed of 25mph and sold as a NEV.  

 

If I go to the EVStores in London I can put down £21,500 and drive of in a shiny new Tazzari Zero.  The little two seat car, which is about the size of a smart for two but looks more like a mini, has a top speed of 62mph and a range of about 87 miles on its lithium pack.  

 

If I go to EV Car Co in Fort Worth, TX I can cough up about $32,000 and drive off in the same car with the same Lithium battery pack and about the same range, but the car will be limited to a top speed of 25mph.

 

The reason for this difference is the crash test requirements in the USA that require companies that manufacture vehicles capable of travelling at more than 25mph to go through expensive crash testing procedures.  These tests can cost a company anything from ten to twenty million dollars and most small manufacturers just can't afford to spend that much on a car that might have very limited sales. 

 

A good example of this was ZAP who decided to crash test and sell the Smart for two in the USA.  ZAP got lucky because the Smart was able to pass front crash tests right away and they had only to add a cross beam to the doors to get through the side impact tests.  Still, crash testing cost them a little over ten million dollars which added ten thousand dollars to the sales price of each car.  In the end Daimler-Chrysler brought the Smart over for the 2008 model year so even with the ten thousand dollar markup ZAP still ended up losing money.

 

To get around this, what most manufacturers are doing is modifying the software in the controller to limit speed to 25mph.  They usually allow some kind of programming interface so that if the buyer lives in a state that has medium speed electric vehicle rules in place they can modify the car to go 35mph pretty easily.

 

Tazzari isn't the only company that has compromised here in the US.  Reva, which is currently the top selling electric car in the UK under the name G-Wiz, also tried to bring the car into the US but finally gave up.  The Miles NEV is actually quite capable of 55mph but again is artificially limited to 25mph.  Miles opted not to try and get their NEV crash tested and instead are close to launching their own electric car based on a Chinese made compact sedan.  The Parcar Mega line of vehicles are based on a French built quadracycle as was the ZENN.  Both ZAP - as the LUV Intimidator - and American Motors - as the Kurrent - brought the Italian built Start Lab Open quadracycle over here but failed to sell enough units as NEVs to make it profitable.

 

Wheego also brought over a Chinese made car, the Nobel, fitted it with an electric drive train, and began selling the car as the Wheego Whip.  They took the unusual step of getting the car crash tested and the Wheego Whip Life city car is due to go on sale this month.  

 

Several other companies are importing Chinese made EVs into the US including a number that are set up at 120 Volts which much higher than the 48 or 72 volt systems of most NEVs.  Some, like the EV Nobel, are actually the same vehicle as the base car for the Wheego Whip while others, like the Wildfire WF-120V has been copied from the Smart design.

 

I have been advocating for several years now that the US needs a new classification of vehicle that is equivalent to the European quadracycle rules.  This would allow these small manufacturers to get into the US market with a vehicle that has more mainstream appeal than a NEV.   Why would I spend $32,000 for a Tarrazi Zero that only goes 25mph when I could buy a Nissan Leaf for about the same price and get a freeway capable car with all the support of Nissan's extensive dealer network.  I might be tempted to spend the money on the European version where I would have a vehicle that has at least limited freeway capability and the decision then becomes more about looks and needs rather than top speed.

 

It often comes down to the old case of the motor cycle helmet.  If you force motorcycle riders to where approved crash helmets it greatly increases their chances of surviving a crash but it also means that you are forcing people who would otherwise not wear a helmet to do so.  

 

In any quadrcycle law I would be looking to see requirements like driver and passenger side air bags, 5mph bumpers, and three point seat belts as a must, along with all the requirements needed for NEV certification like lights and a horn.  

 

Given that more people are likely to die from the effects of automobile emissions than they would from crashes involving a quadracycle, assuming that the law only allowed certain alternative forms of propulsion such as CNG or Electric, the lack of really strong rules would be a tradeoff that we would need to make to give the transition to electric propulsion a boost.


Sunday September 5, 2010 - US Uses Less Energy, More Renewables - The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory just released its Energy Use Chart for 2009 and it shows an encouraging trend in the amount and type of energy being used in the USA.

 

First overall energy was down from 99.2 Quadrillion BTUs (Quads) in 2008 to 94.6 Quads in 2009.  This is the second year in a row that usage has dropped.  The decline was spread across all areas; residential, commercial, industrial and transportation.

 

Even more encouraging was a move toward using more renewable energy.  Wind power in particular rose from .51 Quads in 2008 to .7 Quads in 2009.  Growth was also seen in the amount of solar and geothermal energy being consumed.

 

There was also a drop in the amount of fossil fuel used.  Coal has the largest drop going from 22.42 Quads down to 19.76 Quads.  This was partially due to the increase in the use of renewable sources but also driven by a move from coal to natural gas for electricity generation.

 

Energy use in transportation, which mostly means oil, fell by .88 Quads.

 

Now, some of this can be attributed to the lower demand driven by the recession.  With more people out of work and spending less, there is less need for energy in our factories and businesses.  At the same time, people are having to be more careful with what they spend so they are trading in those gas guzzling vehicles for smaller more efficient models.  

 

We are probably going to pull out of this recession over the next year as, inevitably, people need to start replacing worn equipment.  In the past we have back-slid when this kind of thing occurs.  Once the economy stabilizes people go back to their old wasteful ways.  

 

This time I hope it will be different.  This time we have vehicles coming onto the market that will allow people to get comfortable vehicles and still use less gas.  The Nissan Leaf is a highly efficient car that will make an ideal second car for many families.  Since these cars are probably going to be difficult to come by over the next year or two there are other options coming along including the two seat Wheego Whip Life which should be going on sale later this month, and the Coda compact sedan which should be going on sale later this year.

 

The Chevy Volt, which is expected in showrooms some time in mid-November, is a plug-in hybrid that will allow most people to do their regular daily driving in electric only mode and then do longer trips using the ICE.  This will work for families than can get by with a four seat compact sedan, and lets face it, most families of 4 or less can do quite well in a compact sedan the size of the volt, they don't really need a Cadillac Escalade.

 

In the home we now have compact florescent lights that can cut energy used to light a home by one third.  There is a new set of lights based on LED technology starting to appear in stores that can cut energy use even further.  We are starting to look at other places where energy cuts can be made including consumer electronics and appliances.  As this new generation of energy efficient products becomes more common energy use will continue to be driven down.

 

For the last two years we have been moving in the right direction on energy use - Let's keep it that way.


Sunday August 29, 2010 - The Prius Effect - I found a new term this week, "the Prius effect" but when I started to do some research I came across a whole set or articles that used this term to mean different things.

 

One article used it as a synonym for "keeping up with the Joneses".  The idea being presented was that people buy green products like the Prius to make a statement about themselves rather than for the benefits it would have for the environment or, in the case of the Prius, better fuel economy.  

 

Another writer used it in the context that developing more fuel efficient vehicles, and the Prius is the current poster child for fuel efficient vehicles, is undercutting light rail.  The writer cites a study by the Cato Institute that looked at light rail in Denver and compared the CO2 per mile with the CO2 per mile produced if everyone drove alone in cars.  The conclusion they came to was that it was cleaner to drive alone than to use light rail.  The Denver system used in the study is grossly underutilized averaging only 14 passengers per mile.  It is also fed by a power company that uses mostly coal and natural gas.  I would bet the study also didn't take into account the increased congestion caused by putting the additional cars on the road.  The answer, of course, is to increase utilization on the light rail system and increase renewable energy in the power mix not to increase the number of cars on the road.

 

My definition of the Prius effect is the one more generally used, becoming more efficient because of direct feedback.

 

One of the fun things about owning a Prius is the big display screen in the enter of the dash.  This screen is used by the navigation system in those cars that have navigation, but can also display lots of other information including feedback on how you are driving.

 

I've seen people driving their Prius with the screen showing the introductory CYA message from Toyota that requires you to press the agree button to say that if you get into an accident because you are fiddling the navigation system instead of paying attention to the road you won't sue Toyota.  But most of us Prius drivers usually have the display on one of two screens, the energy flow screen or the energy usage screen.

 

The energy flow screen shows where the energy is coming from to drive the car at the current time, the internal combustion engine (ICE), the battery, of both.  There is also a display at the bottom of the screen that shows the mpg you getting at that moment.  The energy usage screen shows a bar graph of of the mpg you average in five minute increments over the last 30 minutes, and the mpg you are getting at the that moment.  It also shows the mpg that you have averaged for the current tank of gas.  There are also a bunch of Prius icons that show you how much energy you recaptured through regenerative braking.

 

The Prius game is to improve your mpg by trying to get the car to run without using the ICE.  I tend to favor the energy flow screen.  The objective is to feather the accelerator to try and get the energy flow screen to show no energy flow.  In other words the car is coasting along not using any energy from either the battery or the ICE.  On a level or slight down grade the car can run a surprisingly long way without loosing a lot of speed.

 

With the energy usage screen the objective is to try and keep the instantaneous mpg bar at 99mpg which is the highest mpg the car can indicate.

 

The use of these two screens helps Prius drivers increase their mpg by anything from 5-12% over people who drive the car with say the navigation screen displayed and don't do anything to try and improve mileage.

 

This idea of using feedback to increase efficiency, the Prius effect, is now being brought into other aspects of our lives to see if positive feedback can help in other ways.  

 

FitBit is a good example of this.  This is a device that clips onto your belt and collects statistics about how many steps you take.  This is not a new concept, the pedometer has been around for many years, but what makes FitBit different is that the data can be downloaded to a computer via a USB port.  Software is provided that will graph miles walked, and calories burned making it much easier than trying to add the data to a spreadsheet.  I haven't tried this device personally but I would expect the feedback from the device will aid fitness.

 

Google is also getting into the game with a device called the Google PowerMeter.  This device allows a user to take data directly from their electric smart meter and display it on a Google enabled device like a smart phone.  The information will show you how much electricity you are using at a given time and will also help identify phantom loads like a TV that is sitting in standby mode.  It is hoped that this will trigger the Prius effect and encourage people to cut back energy usage.

 

We are going to see more and more devices that give us feedback of our energy usage and environmental impact.  We know we need to reduce our energy usage and the Prius effect will help us do just that.


Sunday August 27, 2010 - Lloyd's Chatham House Report - In Early July Lloyd's of London and the Royal Institute for International Affairs, better known as Chatham House, released a report on the risks of "peak oil" and warned of "catastrophic consequences" for companies that fail to prepare for a low carbon future.

 

One of the things that gives this report a lot of clout is that Lloyd's is one of the primary companies that deal with risk management.  The venerable insurance company has had the management and assessment of risk at the center of its business for over three hundred years.

 

The report itself doesn't really tell us anything new but it does present some key items that need to be taken into consideration by companies going forward.   Items from the executive summary listed below should give any CEO worth his title nightmares.

 

"Businesses which prepare for and take advantage of the new energy reality will prosper - failure to do so could be catastrophic".

 

"Market dynamics and environmental factors mean business can no longer rely on traditional energy sources."

 

"China and growing Asian economies will play an increasingly important role in global energy security."

 

"We are headed towards a global oil supply crunch and price spike."

 

"Energy infrastructure will become increasingly vulnerable as a result of climate change and operations in harsher environments."

 

"To manage increasing energy costs and carbon exposure businesses must reduce fossil fuel consumption."

 

All these points should act as warning flags to companies around the world that they need to start taking action to reduce energy consumption and switch away from traditional energy sources toward renewable sources.  For example 

the report repeats the prediction by Dundee University Professor Paul Stevens that oil will reach $200 a barrel by 2013.  If companies are going to survive this price spike they need to start buying more fuel efficient vehicles and they need to start now, not in three years when prices have spiked and they have a large fleet of gas guzzlers sucking away profits.

 

The report suggests that we will see a transition stage as companies move away from oil toward coal and natural gas to fuel their industry.  It maintains that there is enough natural gas to support this move until about 2030.  The growth in coal is being driven by the growth of Asian economies, led by China and India.  The report predicts that China has gone from a net exporter of coal to a net importer because, while it has the third largest reserves of coal in the world, it is using coal faster than it can develop mines to feed the increasing demand.

 

This report just adds more fuel to the growing realization that the end of the age of oil is close at hand.  If we are going to have any hope of sustaining our current standard of living we are going to have to make some fundamental changes in how we get our energy.  This means moving from a fossil fuel based economy to a renewable energy based economy.  It means making our every day energy consumption lower by using that energy more efficiently.  

 

If we are going to keep the freedom that the automobile has provided for us over the last 120 years we are going to have to move from fossil fuel based vehicles to ones powered at least in part by electricity.  Battery electric vehicles will be a significant part of this new transportation paradigm.


Sunday August 15, 2010 - Portland Installs Fast Charger - On August 5 the Portland Tribune reported a story that will have a huge impact on the future of Electric Vehicle sales.

 

The article was about Governor Ted Kulongoski unveiling the first of a series of Level 3 fast charging stations that will be opened in the Portland area.  This fast charger, the first of its kind to be installed in Oregon, is situated in the PGE garage located Southwest Naito Parkway and Taylor Street and will be available to the general public.

 

This charger was installed as part of the partnership between Nissan and the State of Oregon and is intended to allow Nissan Leaf customers the ability to recharge their cars in about 25 minutes.  As a bonus, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is also expected to come with a compatible charging port when it goes on sale in the US.

 

While Nissan has said that using the fast charger constantly with the car will eventually degrade the batteries the use of these chargers for opportunity charging will greatly increase the usability of the Nissan Leaf.  Being able to grab a full charge while having lunch can effectively double the daily available range of the car.

 

The plan is to install other fast chargers throughout the Willamette Valley making the whole area, which includes the cities of Corvallis, Eugene, Portland and Salem, easily accessible to any Nissan Leaf driver.

 

This wasn't the first public fast charger installed in the US however, that honor goes to the tiny little town of Vacaville (often known as voltageville in the California EV community because of the number of EVs and public charging stations in the city) which installed one of the Nissan fast chargers at a city owned lot off Davis street in Vacaville.  The Charger, which is installed as part of a solar charging island is right behind a Sonic Burger fast food restaurant and is just a block away from Interstate 80.

 

This one charging station makes the round trip from San Francisco to Sacramento easy.  According to Google maps it's about 75 miles from San Francisco to Sacramento via I80.  So the round trip would require 150 miles which is greater than the range of a Nissan Leaf or Mitsubishi i-MiEV.  If you are willing to keep speed down to around 55mph then you could easily make the trip to Sacramento, put the car on a level 2 charger while you spend the day in town, then drive home again in the evening.

 

If you are like most American drivers you won't be content to cruise along at 55mph though, you would want to drive at 70 to 75mph the whole way.  The fast charger would allow that.  Even at 75mph you could comfortably make the 50 mile trip from San Francisco to Vacaville.  Stopping at the Sonic Burger for breakfast would give you plenty of time to recharge the car at the fast charger then off to Sacramento, another 25 miles.  

 

Once in Sacramento you have the choice, charge the car using level 1 or level 2 charging while you spend the day in the city, or simply find a nice parking space and enjoy the day.  You would even have a good 20 miles or so of range to drive around town if you needed to.  In the evening you can drive the 25 miles back to Vacaville and have dinner at the Sonic Burger while the car charges and then it's off home to San Francisco.

 

Just to be clear, if you did the trip at 55mph it would take you around 1.4 hrs to cover the 75 miles while if you did the trip at 75mph with a half hour recharging stop then it would take you 1.5 hrs to cover the distance, so the slower speed drive would actually be quicker but would leave you with less charge for driving around in Sacramento afterwards.

 

The availability of Fast Chargers, if they are intelligently placed, greatly enhances the usability of an EV like the Nissan Leaf.  It does take a little bit of planning, and the availability of one charger poses a risk since that charger may be blocked, in use, or broken when you get to it.  In our imaginary journey, even if the fast charger was out, you could still top up using a level 2 charger in about an hour with enough juice to get you the 25 miles to Sacramento since you probably had enough to get there anyway but with a very small margin of capacity.

 

The trip From San Francisco to Lake Tahoe would still be too much for a Nissan Leaf without a longer stop on the way to recharge using a level 2 charger, but as fast chargers get rolled out along corridors like I80, the trip would be quite easy with just two 30 minute fueling stops.

 

I have long maintained that fast charging is one of the keys to successful EV adoption so I am happy to see these chargers being deployed in key locations.


Sunday August 8, 2010 - CPUC EV Charging Decision - On July 29 the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) came to a decision on the sale of electricity for EV charging by third parties which could potentially have a huge impact on the growth of electric car sales.

 

By a unanimous vote the CPUC ruled that companies which sell electricity for the purpose of charging electric vehicles should not be regulated as a public utility.  This opens up the door for companies like Coulomb who plan to roll out a network of charging stations across the state that will be partially funded by sales of electricity.  

 

It could also mean the end to free EV charging at many locations since companies are now able to sell electricity to the EV driver and recoup a little of the amount it costs to install and maintain the chargers.  In the crowded urban environments around California parking spaces are at a premium and so many locations have not bothered to deal with people driving regular cars when they block an electric vehicle charging station, known as ICEing to EV drivers.  If the parking space is now generating income then shopping centers and other businesses are much more likely to enforce parking restrictions at EV parking spaces.

 

Since many States tend to follow California's lead I would expect that other states will adopt similar policies as companies start selling electric vehicles in these States.

 

The change is meant to foster competition and if you have competing companies install electric vehicle charging stations then prices will trend lower as each company looks to attract customers.  The down side of this is that it could also lead to price gouging in areas where there is only one supplier of charging stations.  This is not unlike the high prices we see for gasoline at stations on the highway where drivers have little choice about where they can refill.

 

I am not sure how the economics of EV charging is going to work out.  It can cost as much as $5,000 to install an EV charging station and electricity can only be sold for a small amount.  For example the cost of electricity in Southern California Edision's region varies from about 13 cents per KWHr to about 31 Cents per KWHr depending on how much energy you use.  Basically the more energy you use the more that energy costs.  

 

Now, lets say the electricity for the Charging station costs an average of 15 cents and you can sell the energy for 25 cents so you make 10 cents profit on each kilowatt hour.  25 cents per KWhr can be considered equivalent to an ICE car that gets 50mpg on $3 a gallon gas.  To recoup a $5,000 investment you will need to sell 50,000 KWHrs which, if you assume the charging station is in use 12 hours a day 365 days per year and the charging station puts out 6KW it will work out at just under 2 years to cover the cost of installation.  

 

12 hours a day is probably a bit on the high side though considering that many EV owners will do most of their charging at home.  If the charging station sees 6 hours of use each day then the payback would be 4 years, and at 3 hours of use each day we get to 8 years for payback.   

 

This isn't the whole story though.  The cost of electricity is still pretty trivial.  Most early adopters of electric vehicles will be reasonably well off individuals with lots of disposable income and if you are a business owner this is just the kind of person you want to attract to your location and if having an electric vehicle charger is what it takes to get them there then the money they spend will be much more profitable than the few dollars earned from the EV charging station.

 

Cities may also find that the availability of EV chargers will bring people into their locations.  For example, consider Newport Beach, CA.  For people in LA the round trip of around 100 miles would be too much for the current crop of electric vehicles as this is pushing maximum range and would make touring the area, for example visiting Balboa Island and the Newport Peninsula or checking out the surfers at the wedge impossible.  EV charging stations at the Fashion Island Shopping Center would allow the EV driver time to explore Newport Beach then pay a visit to the Mall and get enough charge to return home while doing some shopping at the Mall.

 

Travelling round trip to Laguna Beach, another 10 miles down the coast, would be beyond the capabilities of most of the current EVs which have a round trip limit of around 100 miles, so a visit to the Pageant of the Masters would be out of the question unless you took an ICE vehicle.  The City of Laguna Beach has a parking lot which costs $7 per day and provides a free trolley service to get to other areas of the city.  Having level 2 (220V) EV charging in this lot would allow EV drivers from LA or San Diego to attend events like the Pageant of the Masters or the Sawdust festival and still feel confident that they will have enough charge to get home.  This brings affluent EV drivers into the city and in the end this means tax revenue.

 

I have argued all along that the best way to roll out electric vehicle charging stations is to be able to obtain revenue for them.  The decision made by the CPUD allows this and is to be welcomed.  Now all we need is Electric Cars that can use these charging stations.


Sunday August 1, 2010 - Volt Pricing - This week GM finally announced the pricing of the Volt and while it was in line with expectations I was somewhat disappointed that their final price, starting at $41,000,  was a little higher than I had hoped it would be.

 

The car is eligible for a $7,500 tax credit which brings the final price down to $33,500 plus tax license etc.  GM is also offering a lease program with lease rates starting from $350 per month with $2,500 due at lease signing, which is quite reasonable although I know a lot of people will be wary of leasing an electric vehicle from GM given the EV1 debacle.  The lease rate allows for 12,000 miles so if you average 15,000 miles, as most Americans do, then you will have to factor in excess mileage chargers that can mount up quickly.

 

Now the bad news, while the Volt has a fairly good warranty,  3 year, 36,000 mile bumper to bumper coverage, a limited 5 year, 100,000 mile warranty on the engine, 5 year, 100,000 mile road side assistance including 5 years of On-Star,  and 8 years or100,000 miles on the batteries, the battery warranty is not good enough for the California Air Resources Board (CARB) which requires a 10 year, 150,000 warranty to qualify a vehicle for AT-PZEV.  The result of this is that the car will not qualify for the $5,000 California Clean Vehicle incentive.  This was pretty much a deal breaker for me.  The other thing that this means is that the car will not be eligible for the white stickers that allow drivers to drive clean air vehicles in the carpool lane.

 

I seem to remember Bob Lutz saying that in lab tests the volt battery had a capacity for around 28 miles of electric only driving after 150,000 miles but to meet CARB's requirements it has to be no lower than 80% capacity which would require a range of 35 miles.  Clearly GM does not want to have to do a battery replacement under warranty on every volt so the decision makes sound fiscal sense for the company.  Purchasers just need to know that they are going to loose battery capacity over time, and let's face it, 28 miles will be quite adequate for many people.

 

To add to the woes, it was also announced that the gas engine on the Volt requires premium gasoline.  Now, I am not sure if this was done on purpose or if there was some overriding reason why the engine would need to use premium fuel.  I can't think of any reason why they would need a high compression engine in the Volt if its only going to drive a generator to provide power when the batteries are low.  I suspect that using premium gasoline is GM's way of encouraging drivers to charge up their Volt since the cost of running the car as a standard hybrid is going to be that much more if you have to fill with premium, even if the car does get the reported 50mpg on the highway.

 

An op-ed piece in the New York times used the pricing to attack GM over the volt, going as far as calling the car a lemon.  The contention was that GM was selling the car at a profit, that is a price higher than the marginal cost of the car and comparing this with the Prius, coming back with the old chestnut about the first generation Prius being sold at thousands below cost, something that many journalists stuck to even after Toyota announced that they had achieved profitability with the Prius.  

 

It has to be understood that introducing a vehicle as radical as the Volt is a big risk for a company.  GM appears to be taking a very slow approach to the rollout making a limited number of cars available in a limited number of locations.  This gives GM a chance to train support staff and gradually expand their market area.  Of course this approach was also taken with the EV1 and we know how that turned out.

 

Do I think the Volt will sell?

 

I think that the Volt will easily sell out the 10,000 GM plan to build for the 2011 model year.  GM dealers think so too, I have already heard of one dealer in the San Francisco Bay area who plans on asking a whopping $10,000 above sticker on the handful of Volts they are being allocated for 2011.

 

Unlike Nissan with the Leaf, GM have not set up an online ordering system.  If you live in one of the seven initial rollout areas of California, New York, Michigan, Connecticut, Texas, New Jersey, or Washington DC then you can go to http://www.getmyvolt.com and find a local dealer.  You place an order for a Volt with your chosen dealer after which you will be contacted by a Volt Specialist.  This reminds me of the procedure to lease an EV1.  When I tried to lease one I filled out the lease paperwork at the local dealership then I was called by a specialist who told me I couldn't lease a car.  The Volt of course comes with a 110V cable as standard although GM says it will pay for installation of a 220V charging station for the first 2,500 buyers, and there is no reason that you have to charge the car except to avoid the cost of premium gas, so charger availability isn't the big deal it was for the EV1.  I still wonder if GM are going to make it difficult for people to get a volt.  At least they are going to be sold as well as leased so even if you can't buy one initially from GM, people will always be able to buy on the used market.

 

Will I buy a Volt?

 

I was actually getting ready to purchase a Volt but as I said above, the price and lack of a California state incentive is pretty much a deal breaker for me.  It is just too expensive for my pocketbook.  I am going to keep an eye out for the Plug-in Prius or Plug-in Escape Hybrid, both of which should be in dealerships over the next three years, and who knows, I might find a used Volt at a more reasonable price in a year or two.

 

In breaking news GM said, in a press release sent out on 7/30/2010, that they are going to increase the number of Volts built for the 2012 model year from 30,000 to 45,000.


Sunday 7/25/2010 - Leaf Charger Survey Upsets EV Drivers - It shouldn't come as a surprise that some of the first customers lining up for a Nissan Leaf are existing EV drivers that want to either replace an aging EV or add a second EV to the family fleet.  The first step in getting the Leaf they ordered is a site survey for the charger install and this has gotten some existing EV drivers riled up.

 

The survey itself, which costs around $100 involves an electrician coming to the home and looking at the existing electrical layout to see what needs to be done, then a few days later a quote for the work is sent from charger supplier AeroVironment.  

 

The basic install for the Leaf's charger is to have a 240V 40amp circuit installed in the main panel that will supply power to a hard wired charger in the garage.  The NEC standard for electric vehicle installation requires that the charger be hard wired, it cannot be connected by a plug.  So far I haven't seen any real reason for this but to get the work inspected and approved, the charger must be hard wired.

 

Now, if you own a RAV4EV say, then you already have a dedicated 240V 40amp circuit in your garage so all that is required is to swap the old RAV4 EV charger for the new J1722 Compliant Leaf Charger, which would be the cost of the charger plus about an hours work for any competent electrician.  

 

The EV owner goes over this carefully with the electrician who comes out to do the survey who dutifully notes all this down on his quote sheet.  The problem is that when the quote comes in it is a cutter cookie quote to install the whole circuit, conduit and wiring, not just to replace the charger.  

 

Both the charger manufacturer AeroVironment, and Nissan have been approached by multiple people including representatives from Plug-in America, but so far the cutter cookie quotes just keep right on rolling out.  This has caused at least one RAV4 EV driver to cancel their Leaf reservation.

 

It has to be understood that AeorVironment is going into uncharted territory trying to install over 13,000 chargers in the next twelve months, and dealing with the prospect of over 30,000 installs in the following year, so the small number of existing EV drivers are probably a pretty tiny blip on their radar.  Still, it doesn't say much for their quote system if they can only print out a one size fits all quote, it kind of makes the site survey a waste of $100.

 

While the existing EV drivers are only a very small portion of the people who will be taking delivery of a Leaf starting late this year, they are the people who have been supporting electric vehicles over the years.  They are the ones who are passionate about EVs and are willing to tell their friends, and anyone else who is willing to listen, the benefits of driving and EV.  They are not the group to alienate.

 

Nissan does give these people an out however.  They do not insist on the installation of a charging station.  Anyone driving a Leaf can sign a waver stating that they don't want to install a charging station.  They can then opt to charge at home on 110V or to install one of the competing brands of charger from companies like Coulomb, Clipper Creek, or GE.  

 

It doesn't surprise me that there are glitches in the AeroVironment quote what I find most troubling is if they quote a standard rate and then find that the work that needs to be done is much more expensive, such as having to dig a trench to lay conduit under ground from the electrical panel to the garage.  I would certainly be upset if I got a quote for charger installation for say $2500 and then found that the actual cost is double that.

 

I hope AeroVironment works out the kinks in its system quickly so that they can get accurate quotes out to those people willing to be early adopters for the Nissan Leaf.


Sunday July 18, 2010 - Rollout of J1722 Chargers - I have been having some discussions this week about the way that the new J1722 compliant charging stations will be rolled out to the existing EV charging stations here in California.  Much of the existing infrastructure, which used to number over 400 sites but has gradually being whittled down, will not support the new generations of electric vehicles about to hit our roads.

 

The rollout of the new J1722 chargers is being heavily influenced by both Plug-in America and the Electric Automobile Association (EAA).  There plan, which I pretty much support, is to replace existing Large Paddle Inductive (LPI) chargers with J1722.  Large paddle inductive chargers are used by Chevy S10E drivers and a handful of people who own US electricar Geo Prizm conversions from circa 1994.  Since any LPI user can also use the Small Paddle Inductive (SPI) charger but SPI users can't use the LPI chargers this is somewhat of a no-brainer.

 

Their plan is to leave the SPI chargers in place at the high usage sites and since these chargers are relatively heavily used, I can support this position totally.

 

The area where I am a little bit less comfortable is the disposition of the existing AVCON chargers.  The plan is to replace these as well, especially at sites where there are one SPI and one AVCON and this is the area where I am less comfortable.  Now, the AVCON charging stations are used by Ford Ranger EVs plus a number of conversions that have had this interface fitted.  I estimate that there are about 400 vehicles total that can use AVCON charging stations but Tom Dowling, who managers evchargernews.com,  thinks the number is much smaller.  I'm not sure who is correct but I do know that there are also people who use the EAA converter box to charge conversions, and even Tesla Roadsters, using the AVCON chargers.

 

The EAA, who did the original AVCON Converter box, are working on two different solutions.  The first of these is a J1722 receptacle that is attached to an AVCON Claw by a short length of cable.  The claw attaches to the AVCON charging port then the J1722 connector is plugged in to the receptacle.  The second would be a box that you can convert the J1722 connector to a 220V outlet in a way similar to the existing AVCON converter box.  This will work for those people who currently have 220V chargers or who have made their inductive charger portable.

 

In talking to others in the EV community the EAA solution appears to be workable and it seems to be a good all around compromise.  As Tom Dowling said, "We don't want to have a person arriving at a charging station and being unable to charge because all they find is an unused AVCON charger".

 

So my message to EV owners, especially those is California, is that when you use public charging stations please go to evchargernews.com and fill out an "I was there" report.  It's the best way to make sure that everyone understands public charger usage and that the correct charger mix gets installed over the next few months. 


Sunday July 11, 2010 - Scientific American EV Bashing - The upcoming availability of Electric and Plug-in Hybrid vehicles is causing somewhat of a stir in some quarters, and this is leading to a spate of articles that try and cast big doubts about the benefits of electric vehicles.  The latest publication to do this is Scientific American with an EV Bashing article entitled "The Dirty Truth About Plug-in Hybrids". 

 

You have to pay to read Scientific American's articles online but there is a "made interactive" version that is free and that's the version that I read.  The main thrust of this version is that battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are not zero emission when you take into account the way that the electricity from them is generated.  This is of course correct, if you don't use a zero emission source for generating the electricity then you have some downstream emissions. 

 

The big problem is the way that these attributes are considered when you take into account how these emissions are allocated to the vehicle and what emissions are allocated where.  One of the biggest differences in any of this analysis is that downstream emissions are taken into account for electric vehicles but  are usually ignored for gasoline vehicle but they too have downstream emissions.  The gas doesn't magically appear in your tank, crude oil has to be found and pumped out of the ground, often shipped half way around the world, then refined into gasoline.  Refining of crude oil into gasoline, which is done in part by the use of steam, is quite energy intensive requiring lots of both electricity and natural gas.  Fossil fuels used for electric generation also has to be mined and shipped to the power station but this is usually coming from a closer source.

 

I'm not going to try and argue that grid chargeable vehicles don't have emissions, they clearly do until we can build a grid that is 100% renewable.  What I do take issue with is the way that the downstream omissions are assigned to an electric vehicle.  

 

First the article states that by switching to plug-in cars we save on oil consumption in all regions of the country.  Given that we get a good deal of our oil from abroad and often from countries that don't like us, this is a win right up front.  They do contend that in some areas of the country that going to plug-in vehicles will increase carbon emissions.

 

My biggest problem was with the segment from Andy Burnham from Argonne National Laboratories who made so many blunders his segment was hard to believe.  The biggest issue I have is his contention that electric vehicles charged using electricity from coal create more CO2 that a car running on gasoline which is contrary to the findings from Argonne which did a study a few years ago.  

 

He also listed Nuclear as a renewable power source which it clearly isn't.  He said that in some parts of the mid-west there were states that used oil to generate electricity and said that for those charging overnight they would use oil.  Now that seems really odd because an oil fired plant is pretty quick to start up so they are usually reserved as peaker plants, plants that are used to smooth out supply during peak demand.  Overnight charging is usually done from power plants that use coal and nuclear.   The reason is that plants that use these two fuels take a long time, hours for coal and weeks for nuclear, to restart when they shut down and so they are usually kept running 24 hours a day.

 

The fact that coal power plants are kept running all day long is one of the reasons why detractors always talk about electric vehicles being charged by dirty coal.  Since many electric vehicles are charged overnight there is some truth to this but the fact remains that the boilers at the power plant are kept running and the CO2 generated is pretty much the same whether the steam being generated is being used to charge an electric vehicle or being bled off to a cooling tower so the grid won't overheat.  

 

In the end we can greatly reduce our carbon output by moving to electric vehicles and at the same time begin moving to power generation based on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels,  A recent report from Duke University said that the cost of building solar power plants in now about the same as what it would cost to build a nuclear plant and while the cost of solar continues to fall, the cost to built new nuclear power plants is skyrocketing.

 

Another contributor, Bran Terzic, said one interesting thing, we could reduce CO2 emissions simply by replacing some of the older coal fired power plants with newer technology plants.

 

The excuses are going away, it is now possible to get more of our power from renewable sources and to make the power generated from fossil fuel more efficient.  We need to move toward electric vehicles as quickly as we can to take advantage of this.


Sunday July 4, 2010 - Volt Sales Area Expanded - The news broke earlier this week that GM has increased the number of areas where they will initially start selling the Chevy Volt.  The new areas are mostly around New York City but one area came as quite a surprise; Texas.

 

The initial area, California,  where the Volt would be sold was first announced at last year's LA Auto show.  Two additional areas were quickly added, Michigan where the Volt is being made, and Washington DC.  The most recent announcement includes the three states around New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York State itself.  These three should come as no surprise to anyone.  New York and New Jersey have both adopted California's strict GHG emissions laws and the South East corner of Connecticut has several affluent communities from where people regularly commute into New York City.

 

The one area that was a surprise was Texas.  When we think of Texas we tend to think of conservative gun toting folks in pickup trucks and Texas, of course, is the home of the oil industry.  It seems like an odd place to start selling a range extended electric vehicle.  Well, the state capital, Austin, doesn't really fit the usual idea of Texas.  It is a much more liberal area and it is here that Chevrolet will start to sell the Volt, spreading out to the rest of Texas as sales volume grows.  

 

There is more news from Texas and this time it's from that home of oil, Houston.  Apparently the city of Houston, in conjunction with electric retailer Reliant Energy, has started to install a group of around 10 charging stations, seven of which will be available to the public.  Nissan has announced that Houston will be one of the first areas where the Leaf will be available.  Both the leaf and the Volt use the latest J1722 standard for charging so these seven charging stations will work for the volt too.

 

Now we have seven areas where the volt will be initially available and here lies the problem.  GM plan to make only 10,000 volts in the 2011 model year and if there are seven areas that will get these vehicles then we are looking at an average of only 1400 vehicles per region.  Now this might not be so bad in the Washington DC or Austin area since these are actually pretty small vehicle markets in the general run of things. It is in the large markets, like California and New York, where demand is likely to run way ahead of supply.

 

We haven't seen pricing on the Volt yet but unless the cost is way higher than the $40K that GM has been talking about all along, I can see a big shortage of vehicles like we saw with the Prius.  To make this point, the Prius was launched in 1999 as a 2000 model here in the US, in the first year Toyota sold approximately 24,000 units, and the hype around this car was minimal.  When it launched the second generation Prius in 2004 production was much higher, selling over 100,000 units per year and these vehicles stayed on the lot for an average of 16 hours.  Some people who ordered 2004 models had to wait so long they actually got a 2005 model.  Toyota stepped up to the plate on this one and actually sent them a check for the difference in sticker price between the 2004 and 2005 models.

 

So my advice is that if you really want a Volt then you should get your order in as soon as you can because if you wait you might be waiting for a very long time.  I know of people who have already put down a deposit with their local Chevrolet dealership and GM will not officially start taking orders until August.


Sunday June 27, 2010 - Pollution Proposition - I was reading an article in the LA Times this week about a proposition that is being included on the November ballot here in California with the objective of delaying implementation of AB 32, California's landmark greenhouse gas emissions legislation.

 

The proposition, which is being framed as a job saving measure, would halt implementation of AB 32 until such time as the unemployment rate in California falls to 5.5% for at least a year.  Economics 101 tells us that 5% unemployment is basically full employment since the 5% value represents normal turnover in jobs.  In other words the normal flow of business means that people get fired or leave one job voluntarily and take time to find another job.  About 5% of the working population can be expected to be in this situation at any given time.  The 5.5% figure, what is essentially full employment, has only occurred 3 times in California over the past 35 years.

 

If AB 32 was going to cost jobs, then this might be a good thing, but all indications are that AB 32 is going to create jobs in the long term, and these jobs will be high paying jobs in the fast growing sustainable energy sector.

 

Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman hasn't come out and supported the proposition but has said that she will suspend AB 32 for one year.  She has been running on a platform of bringing jobs back to California so why would she delay implementation of a bill that is likely to create good jobs for the state?

 

What is most disturbing about the proposition is the people who are driving it.  The biggest contributor to the $3 million that was needed to get the proposition on the November ballot was a Texas oil company, Valero Oil.  Other oil companies throwing money into the pot includes Tesoro, Tower Energy Group, World Oil Corp, Southern Counties Oil Group, and JACO Oil.  The proposition is also backed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association who have reportedly contributed $100,000 to the effort.

 

It seems to me that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association is now dedicated to keeping the rich rich. They oppose anything that they see as causing taxes and it doesn't matter to them how many people die from the effects of air pollution as long as they keep as much money as possible.  That is until they succumb to one of the many diseases that are caused by air pollution.  These people do at least live in the state and have a valid view of lesser government that they are quite at liberty to express.

 

Valero and the other oil companies are a different matter.  For the most part they are not based in California although Valero does have refineries in the state and make a lot of money out of California citizens who spend copious amounts of money at the gas pump.  This proposition is a last ditch attempt to block implementation of AB 32 assuming that if they block it in California they will have blocked it everywhere else in the nation.

 

In my opinion, their interference in the politics of California is driven by nothing more than greed.  Valero comes in number 28 in the list of the top toxic polluters in the nation.  With the nightmare spill going on in the Gulf of Mexico you would think that Valero would want to spend their money cleaning up their act.  If they were really interested in solving California's unemployment problem they would move more jobs into the state, not try to stop legislation that most experts believe is going to create the kind of jobs that California really needs.

 

Between  now and the November election you can expect to see a lot more money spent on miss-information campaigns about AB 32 and the job situation in California.  Remember who is behind these ads, greedy oil, and don't be fooled.

 

The support of this proposition from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association removes any creditability that I had for this organization.  Members should contact the organization immediately and tell them to drop support and join organizations like the AARP in strongly opposing the proposition.  If they refuse then it's time to leave the association which has morphed over the last few years to be a group that constantly fights environmental reform.

 

The proposition is one that needs to be defeated and I urge all California voters to vote it down at the November election. 


Sunday June 19, 2010 - UK Trial First Test Results - While most of us here in the US have been focused on the EV trial being conducted by BMW with the Mini-E there are lots of other trials of electric vehicles going on, especially in Europe.  One such trial is being conducted by a group called CABLED in the UK and this week they published their initial results.

 

The Coventry and Birmingham Low Emission Demonstrators (CABLED) is a consortium of 13 organizations and is based in the Uk's West Midland region.  They are in the process of running trials involving 110 electric vehicles from six manufacturers, Jaguar/ Land Rover, Mitsubishi, Smart, Tata Motors, LTI, and Microcab Industries.

 

Participants in the study sign up on the CABLED web site and then go through a selection process run by the University of Coventry.  Those selected can then lease an electric car for a one year period.  The vehicles come equipped with a GPS tracking device and a data logger.  This setup monitors the driving habits of the participants, logging information on distance duration, frequency. and date/time of each journey.  Also logged is the ambient temperature the location (home, work or other location) of charging, and average speed.

 

The program started on December 12, 2009 when 22 Mitsubishi i-MiEV were handed over to a selected group of individuals who live and work around Birmingham and Coventry.  The data gathered to date was handed over to researchers at Aston University for analysis.  The first set of test results has just been released and they are eye opening.

 

The participants drove an average of 23 miles per day with most trips being five miles or less.  This is a typical driving pattern for UK Drivers and is well within the 80 mile range provided by the i-MiEV.  During the winter period temperatures dropped as low as -10C (14F) and the researchers did notice a drop-off in usage when temperatures were low but again that is typical as people drive less when the roads are icy.

 

The drivers also used the full range of speed on the car, taking it on the freeway and driving freeway speeds when necessary.  The cars were, on average, parked 97% of the time leaving adequate time for charging.  The vehicles were kept plugged in for about 20% of the time and in some instances they were left plugged in for up to two days.  Participants found that plugging the cars in was easy and it quickly became habit so most drivers started the day with a full charge.

 

It is clear that the drivers in this test plugged in the car when they got home so the bulk of charging was done in the early evening.  This will be a problem once electric cars become the majority of vehicles on the road because this would coincide with peak electricity demand.  One of the often unmentioned benefits of electric vehicles is their ability to level the load on the electric grid allowing the grid to be run much more efficiently.  It is clear that there will need to be tools to make it easier for cars to charge at off-peak times and incentives for drivers to use those tools.

 

Something to remember about this trial is that there was no real public charging infrastructure in the Birmingham and Coventry area.  CABLED plans to install 36 public charging units to support their trial, but have only just recently installed the first four of these.  Of course, with 240V service being pretty standard in the UK most drivers are able to plug in to any standard outlet and can probably get permission to charge at work.

 

Studies like this are coming late in the game as companies such as GM and Nissan begin to roll out electric and plug-in hybrids to the general public.  Mitsubishi, of course, are already selling the i-MiEV in Japan and have been for almost a year now.  The results of this study will undoubtedly help people get over any range anxiety they might be feeling and be more ready to buy an electric car when they start to ship later this year, but once we have 13,000 Nissan Leaf drivers on the road this sort of study becomes moot.

 

It is clear from this study that many UK drivers could make use of an electric vehicles for most of their driving needs, especially if they had easy access to an ICE vehicle in a program like the one that Citroen is proposing where purchases of one of their electric cars gets access to low cost rentals on an ICE vehicle when they need one.  We just need to get EVs and PHEVs out of the evaluation programs and into the showrooms.


Sunday June 13, 2010 - Life Beyond Petroleum - I just read a recent New York Times article "Life Beyond Petroleum" that offered a rather bleak view of life in the coming years.  While I agree that we are going to have to face a future where fossil fuels are becoming more and more scarce I am still optimistic that we can avert disaster.

 

In the article John Leland talked about those people who are doing things like stockpiling food and changing all their money to gold in case there are shortages when the oil runs out.  The views of people in the article reminded me a lot of the sort of comments that came around during the run up to the year 2000.  I attended seminars on Y2K that had planes dropping from the sky and elevators crashing to the ground as the clock slipped over past midnight on December 31, 1999.  Of course while there were problems the whole Y2K issue became a none event.

 

The truth is that even if we are already beyond peak oil, and I personally believe that the peak is still a few years off though not many, oil production isn't going to suddenly plunge.  In fact we won't know we have crossed the peak until several years after the fact because production will fall very slowly for the first few years.  

 

In essence we still have time to move away from Petroleum and towards a more sustainable energy future, and we still  have time to make our lives more energy efficient.  Many people have already done this simply by doing things like switching from incandescent light bulbs to CFLs.  Taking other simple steps like turning off lights, TVs, CD players and other stuff when you leave a room for an extended time, or powering off your computer when not in use, can save tons of electricity.

 

Unless you live in Hawaii, by the way, your electricity isn't being generated from Petroleum anyway, its mostly coal, natural gas, large hydro, or Nuclear at the moment and moving towards more renewable sources.  

 

So, how do we deal with peak oil.

 

First we have to get out of the state of denial we are currently in.  Peak oil might not be here just yet but it is coming and we can't prepare for it if a sizable portion of the population don't think it is happening or just don't give a damn.

 

Next we have to move our sources of energy away from fossil fuels in general and petroleum products in particular.  We can do this by moving a greater proportion of our energy production to renewable sources like solar, wind, small hydro, geothermal and wave energy.  At the same time we can move our transport systems to using electrical power.  This includes powering a larger and larger proportion of our rail networks with electricity.  

 

We need to develop bio-fuels for those areas that are difficult to operate using electricity such as airplanes and ships.  

 

While this is all going on we need to improve overall energy efficiency.  For example, CFLs are more energy efficient that incandescent bulbs, but LEDs are more efficient that CFLs.  If we develop LED based lighting that is overall cheaper than using CFLs then we win out and use less energy in the process.  We have already developed more efficient refrigerators, and the current generation of flat screen TVs use less energy than the previous generation.  We need to continue developing system that use less and less energy,

 

I personally think that we can build world for future generations that will be much more sustainable than the world we know today.  We have to do this or descend back into the dark ages.  I'm going to power my computer off now to save a little energy for the future.


Sunday June 5, 2010 - Swiss Post Electric Scooters - I came across an interesting article this week about the Swiss Postal Service, La Poste, which has just entered into a contract with Italian scooter maker Oxygen to add 250 Oxygen Cargo scooters  to its already large fleet.

 

The latest addition will bring La Poste's electric scooter fleet up to 1000 vehicles making it the largest electric scooter fleet in the world.  The benefits of using electric scooters are several.  

 

In a country that values quiet an electric scooter makes almost no noise so they  won't wake people up as the postman makes his early morning deliveries.  The near silence of electric vehicles is one of their best features.  They remove lots of the noise pollution that we associate with the ICE vehicle.  This was well known in the UK where a hundred thousand milk floats quietly delivered milk each day so there was a bottle of fresh milk on the doorstep when you woke up for breakfast.

 

Electric scooters don't have any tailpipe emissions so they are very clean around town, much better than say a smelly old two stroke scooter.  Switzerland generates about 40% of its electricity from five nuclear power plants and a further 10% comes from small hydro.  Most of the remainder is generated from natural gas, and other renewable sources with coal making up a relatively small portion of full capacity.  This makes the electric scooter very clean not only in terms of localized air pollution but also in terms of CO2 and other air pollutants generated at the power plant.

 

The lack of tailpipe emissions has another big benefit for postal workers.  The scooters can be driven into the postal facility.  Instead of having to lug mail bags out to a van the postman can ride his scooter right into the sorting office, load it up, and be on his way.  These scooters are powered by lithium batteries that offer a range of up to 120 kilometers which is more than adequate for the average delivery route.

 

Costs are another area where these vehicles can reap benefits for La Poste.  The scooters lease for around $260 per month and, since they are electric there is very little maintenance on top of that.  They just need to be plugged in every night for a charge and they are ready to go in the morning and the cost of running these scooters is considerably less than the cost of running a gas powered scooter..  The lithium batteries are designed to last for about 5 years without any serious degradation in range even when charged daily.  Total Cost of ownership over a five year period does, according to Oxygen, "guarantee a considerable savings in comparison to the same models supplied with petrol".

 

Home delivery for such things as postal services, food, and groceries, typically require a relatively short daily range and this is an area where electric vehicles really excel.  Europe has always been ahead of the US in using electric delivery vehicles and in recent years companies and postal services around Europe have lead the way in introducing EVs.  There are certainly some areas in the US that use electric vehicles.  UPS has just started a pilot program in the Los Angeles area using electric vans from Modec, and of course Southern California Edison has a large fleet of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.  

 

In the past many cities in California had electric vehicles in their fleet.  Beverly Hills for example had ten RAV4 EVs.  Most of these cities let the vehicles go once the lease expired but I hope that now we are seeing a new crop of electric vehicles coming to market that they will add EVs to their fleets once again.  While it is nice for electric vehicles to be available for us consumers, fleet purchases can really help push development along and prices down in the early days by providing high volume sales of electric cars, vans, and trucks.


Sunday May 30, 2010 - Sold Out - A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog called Gohn's big gamble which discussed the gamble taken by Nissan that the Leaf would sell enough volume to make the car profitable given the low price of that they were projecting for the battery pack.  It seems like my question has been answered, at least in part.

 

Nissan has recently announced that pre-orders for the Leaf have reached 13,000 in the USA, that is the projected amount that was set for first year sales of the car.  The car is also being sold in Japan and pre-orders there have reached 6,000 which is also the target first year for sales.  It appears that the car has sold out in just 35 days and that's before any European sales; the car doesn't go on sale there until March of next year.

 

So, it appears that there has been a large pent-up demand for an electric vehicle that is reasonably affordable, offers good range and ICE car performance in a decent sized 5 seat sedan.  It looks to me like Nissan has hit a home run with this car.  

 

I also want to point out that these orders are not occurring at a time when gas prices are spiking but have been stable and even falling a little over the last five weeks.  One thing that I do think has influenced people is the gulf oil spill,  This environmental disaster has brought home to people more than gas shortages and price spikes ever could the effects of our oil addiction.

 

To put this in prospective though, 13,000 vehicles is about the monthly sales for the Toyota Prius.  In its first year the classic Prius sold about 24,000 units in the US and when the second generation vehicle was introduced people had to wait months to get a new car.  There were a significant number of people, me included, who ordered a 2004 and did not get a car until the 2005 model year.  Toyota stood by its customers and gave them the 2005 vehicle at the 2004 price.

 

Nissan has already rolled out one celebrity to endorse the Leaf, Lance Armstrong will be the first person to take delivery of a car, probably well before the car is available to the general public, possibly as early as August or September.  You can see Lance Armstrong talking about the Leaf courtesy of youtube.

 

The success of Nissan has also had consequences, the most immediate being a reduction in the price of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV already being sold in Japan.  The price still isn't as low as the Leaf but with the prospect of long waits for a Leaf some buyers may be tempted to go for the i-MiEV instead.  There has been no announcement from Mitsubishi about them commencing sales of the i-MiEV in the US but I have seen two developments.  

 

First, Mitsubishi issued a press release that they will loan two vehicles to the State of California for evaluation.  Second, I was driving south on the 405 in Long Beach earlier this week and I saw a car transporter with some odd looking cars on the back.  When I got closer I found that the truck was loaded with six white i-MiEV.  There are several companies testing i-MiEV at the moment including Southern California Edison and Best Buy's Geek Squad so the cars could be meant for them but it does appear that evaluation continues to expand and I expect it can't be long before we get notification that the i-MiEV is going to be sold here.

 

We still haven't heard anything from GM about the price of the Chevy Volt, and Toyota have been pretty cagy about the introduction of a plug-in Prius.  I think that both these companies are going to have to react to the price and popularity of the Leaf in order when they set both price and production volume.

 

GM, for example, planned on a first year production run of 10,000 vehicles.  Now they have a dilemma; price the car at a rate that is competitive with the volt and they will probably get many more orders than they can build vehicles; price the car at a higher price point and they might not get orders as people look to the cheaper Nissan.  I expect that they will be looking at the pricing to try set it at a rate that will produce around 10,000 sales in 2011 to match their projected build.

 

Toyota is another manufacturer that has already shown a PHEV at several auto shows and is expected to make a limited number of cars available for sale in the 2011 model year.  Toyota, especially Toyota USA, has been downright hostile to plug-in vehicles even though they have an approach which will meet the needs of many drivers.  On the Prius boards I have heard over and over again the mantra "I want to be able to plug it in but I don't want to have to plug it in".  The Plug-in Prius is set to fit right into this market.  The 12 miles range and the ability to operate in electric only mode only at speed below 62 mph make this the sort of car that will work for those who don't want to "have to plug it in" and those for whom charging opportunities are limited.  Pricing on this vehicle shouldn't be too much more than the regular Prius given the need for a smaller battery pack but I expect Toyota to price the car high because they don't want to sell them - a bad mistake if they do that.

 

The American public appear to be finally getting the message that evfinder.com has been putting out for the last ten years, that electric cars are good for the environment, are fun to drive, and are the only feasible way to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.  I am looking forward to the time when I can go to my local car dealer and drive off in a plug-in vehicles, that time is only a few years away. 


Sunday May 23, 2010 - NEVs Under Attack - The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is calling for banning NEVs on public roads because of poor the protection they offer in a collision.  

 

Although most people consider the risk of being rear ended because of 25mph top speed limit for a NEV to be the major problem with driving them on city streets where other drivers may be driving at 35 - 45mph.  In truth it is very unlikely that someone will come up behind you and ram you because you are only driving 25mph.  They may honk at you, they may give you the finger, they may even do unsafe maneuvers to get around you, but they are highly unlikely to purposely drive into you, they aren't going to want to get their nice shiny car scratched.

 

The problem that the IIHS found was in direct collisions.  They did a side impact test using a Smart travelling at 35mph on a GEM and found that the driver in the GEM would "most likely have been killed".  This kind of accident is a more likely sort of accident than the example sited above, a driver running a red light and t-boning a car going through on the green.

 

We have always known that NEVs, by their very nature, have been less safe than normal cars.  On the other hand, the top speed of 25mph and only being able to drive on roads with a top speed of 35mph, combined with typical low usage caused by range limitations of about 30 miles per charge, has tended to make NEV accidents pretty rare.

 

I have heard it said that there has been no fatalities associated with the crash of a NEV and, although I have not been able to confirm this statement, I have also been unable to find any information about fatalities associated with driving or riding in a NEV either.

 

I don't think that the NEV should be banned from the roads.  There are a lot more vehicles on the streets that are much less safe than a NEV.  Consider what happens to a motorcyclist when he gets side swiped on the freeway travelling at 75mph, of the bicyclist who gets hit by a car travelling 31mph as the rider crosses an intersection, yet we don't start to ban bikes and motorcycles from public roads do we.

 

Sometimes we have to accept that people are willing to risk life and limb to drive the vehicle of their choice.  In fact, every day we get into our cars and turn on the ignition we risk life and limb and we don't even think about it.  We also have to accept compromises for the greater good.  We don't ban ICE vehicles from public streets yet the number of people who die from illness related to vehicle emissions each year makes the number of NEV drivers who die in accidents look like a drop in the bucket.

 

Don't get me wrong. I am not against legislation that makes NEVs safer.  I just don't want it pushed to the point where NEV manufacturers have to go out of business because they can't afford to do government crash testing.  In any event they would probably just go to building three wheel cars which would register as motorcycles and we would be no better off.

 

One of the reasons I have been against current MSV laws is that the way most of these have been implemented is to just allow a NEV to go faster.  I have always considered that what we need is a good quadracycle law that allows cars that can travel at speeds that are useful in town and, say 45-55 mph, but not on freeways.  They should have safety features like seat belts, air bags, front and rear crumple zones, and side impact protection.  However, the manufacturer should be able to get certification by using computer simulation rather than having to go through expensive crash tests.

 

I expect that the IIHS report will present some pressure for states and cities to think about banning NEVs from their streets,  We should aggressively oppose any move by our legislature to take such action.


Sunday May 16,2010 - Kerry Lieberman American Power Act - On May 12 Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman introduced the American Power Act to the US senate.  The goal of this act is to "secure the energy future of the United States".  While this bill has some saving features is full of warts.

 

The bill promotes a cap and trade system for carbon reduction.  Under a cap and trade system the amount of CO2 that can be emitted is capped.  Those companies that can reduce CO2 emissions below the cap are given credits that they can sell to those companies who can't.  The idea is to let companies that can't reduce their emissions fund emissions activities at companies that can.  It is a system that does work although we, the consumers, end up paying the bill, but that is going to be the case anyway.

 

One of the biggest provisions of the bill is to promote the development of new nuclear power generation facilities.  We all know that there are serious problems with nuclear energy in its current form, including the issues of disposal of nuclear waste, and the problems that can be caused by accidents at the nuclear facility, but this bill offers tax incentives for companies to start building more nuclear sites.

 

The bill also promotes more offshore oil and gas exploration.  Given the problems that we have right now in the Gulf of Mexico I would expect that there would be a note of caution but this bill seems to echo the "drill baby drill" attitude.

 

Coal is another area where the bill is weak.  The main thrust appears to be the building of carbon sequestration systems.  Now, Carbon sequestration, where emissions from coal fired power plants are captured and stored away in underground facilities like old mines is, to my mind, like sweeping dirt under a rug.  It gets rid of the immediate problem but leaves us with millions of tons of carbon dioxide just sitting waiting to get loose into the atmosphere.  I can see a time in the future where a quake on some unknown fault opens up a fissure and all that captured CO2 pours into the atmosphere.

 

The bill acknowledges that there is a need for massive increases in renewable energy but most of this section appears to provide loans to rural areas to increase efficiency.  Getting the same done using less energy is of course one of the best ways to reduce emissions but the bill just doesn't give me a sense that it will drive the widespread expansion of alternative forms of energy generation such as geothermal, solar, wind and wave energy.  It does however create a clean energy technology fund to help develop and deploy clean energy technologies

 

The bill also calls for the generation of a plan that projects the short and long term needs for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.  Part of this provision calls for the "standardization of public charging access ports with wireless or smart card billing capability".

 

There are some provisions for the development of electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell vehicles but the main thrust of the bill seems to be promoting natural gas powered vehicles.  The USA is more self sufficient in natural gas than it is in oil but natural gas is still a fossil fuel and with the current lack of infrastructure we would be better served using it to generate electricity for plug-in vehicles until we can get sufficient renewable energy online rather than burning it in an internal combustion engine.

 

In my opinion this bill is a bad bill with some good provisions.  It seems to be more into protecting coal and oil interests than doing something to really attack global warming and dependence on foreign oil.  We need a bill that will firmly set priorities on renewable energy, public transportation, and plug-in vehicles. 


Sunday May 9, 2010 - Ghosn's Big Gamble - Recently the Times of London reported that the Nissan Leaf battery pack "costs £6,000 to produce" which places the cost of the pack at about $9,000 for 24 KWH battery, or about $375 per KWH, much less than anyone else has been able to produce a lithium battery for.

 

To produce batteries at that price there has to be volume.  Carlos Ghosn, head of the Renault Nissan alliance, has placed a big bet on the ability to sell large numbers of Nissan Leaf.  In fact he is betting that they will be able to sell many many more Nissan Leafs than any other EV has ever sold before.

 

This is a bold move by Ghosn and if it pays off it will make the Renault Nissan alliance the global leader in electric vehicles, and most people now consider that personal transportation will move from a system that is mechanical to a system that is electrical over the next 40 years.  

 

To look at how bold the move is, GM has set up a production volume for the 2011 Volt of 10,000 units.  Nissan on the other hand are looking to produce 30,000 units for the US, 6,000 units for Japan, and an unknown number of units (at least I haven't been able to come up with a number) for Europe.   Alliance partner Renault is also going to launch a line of electric cars and I assume that there will be some components such as the batteries that will be shared between the two marks.  Renault will be marketing primarily in Europe and already has an agreement with Israel to sell electric cars there in conjunction with Project Better Place.

 

Nissan is also setting up factories to produce both the Nissan Leaf and its battery pack in the US and UK.  The US plant should go online in 2012 while the UK plant will follow in 2013.

 

The big question is can Nissan really sell vehicles in the sort of volume needed to produce battery packs at $375 per KWH.

 

So far things are looking good for Nissan.  In Japan the early reservation system has taken orders for more than half of the 6000 units planned for the 2011 model year.  In the US the reservation system hasn't done quite so well but they have already taken orders for over 8,000 vehicles at last count.  The question still remains, how many of these orders will turn into actual sales.  When people place orders for a car months in advance, in this case mid April for deliveries starting in December, situations can change.  People can loose jobs, or move to a job that makes the electric car unviable.  Other expenses can also crop up, like needing a new roof, that make buying a new car no longer possible.

 

With the price of the battery pack being so low Nissan has said that they can make a small profit of each Leaf that they sell.  The reality of this profit will hinge on how well the packs hold up during the period when they are under warranty.  Here in the US, as I understand it, the standard warranty will be something like 10 years 100,000 miles on the battery pack with 10 years, 150,000 miles in those states that follow the California emission laws.  To get this sort of reliability GM has basically produced a battery pack for the Volt that has twice the standard capacity and they still say they can barely make the 150,000 miles with the pack.  Nissan don't seem to have this sort of tolerance built into their packs so we will have to see if warranty claims kill any sort of profit on this vehicle.

 

I am hopeful though that the time is now right for the rise of the electric car and Nissan are certainly leading the charge.  If they are successful it will push the other manufacturers to be more aggressive in EV development.  Nissan's pricing has already caused Mitsubishi into lowering the price of their iMiEV but it will only be lots of customers driving off the dealers lots that will push manufacturers into volume production.

 

Carlos Ghosn has taken a big gamble that the time is right for electric cars.  I happen to agree with him and hope that the Leaf exceeds his expectations.


Sunday April 25,2010 - Venus - I just finished reading a science fiction novel, Venus, by Ben Bova.  You might think that a science fiction book is a strange thing to be writing about in my blog, but this book, first published in 2000, is set against a backdrop of an Earth struggling against the ravages caused by global warming.

 

It tells the story of Van Humphries, a sickly young man who is the type of person that is constantly being stepped on by everyone around him.  The book opens with him landing on the moon to attend a party thrown by his father.  We learn that his father, an extremely wealthy industrialist who now lives at one of our moon colonies, appears to hate him and has called Van to the moon to tell him he is going to be cut off without a penny.

 

Van had an older brother Alex who led an expedition to Venus to find proof that it was runaway global warming that changed Venus into the hell it is today.  Alex's expedition had been lost and the older Mr. Humphries offers a ten billion dollar reward for anyone who will go to Venus and bring back his son's remains.

 

With the prospect of loosing his income Van takes up the challenge.  He builds a spaceship based on the one his brother had used and sets off to Venus.  He is not alone however, a mysterious asteroid miner named Fuchs is also after the prize and he has a head start on Van.

 

As they descend into the clouds the discover life on Venus.  The problem is that these tiny creatures have a distinct liking for Van's ship and begin to eat it.  The ship eventually begins to break up but Fuchs comes to the rescue.  Only Van and one other member of his crew survive and they are taken on board Fuchs' spaceship and put to work as crewmen.

 

After a few more harrowing adventures Van finally manages to retrieve his brother's and get back to earth.  Along the way we learn some surprising information about the relationship between Van, the older Mr. Humphries, and Fuchs.  The information he has about the cause of warming on Venus is not what you would expect but what Van finds is enough to make him a spokes person for the Green movement.

 

The first few chapters of the book plod along and it doesn't get really interesting until Van leaves the earth and starts heading for Venus.  After that the book becomes a compelling read.  References to the effects of global warming on earth are scattered through the book so you have to keep an eye open for them.  In the end the book does provide a cautionary tale of what could happen if we don't take steps to curb global warming and also offers some hope that all is not lost.


Sunday 18 April, 2010 - Peak Oil 2014 - If you think that Global Warming is the driving force behind the move to electrification of personal transport a new report produced by researchers at the University of Kuwait and published in Energy and Fuels may cause you to thing again.

 

The researches, using an update of the Hubbert model, predicted that oil production would peak world wide in 2014, and that's just four years away.  Usually the Hubbert model, which says that oil production will peak when half the oil reserves have been extracted, us used against the entire known and predicted oil reserves world wide.  Scientists using this model have come up with a variety of projections that can show that oil production will peak at anything from 2004 to 2040 but most researches put the date at around 2020.

 

The researches in Kuwait used a modified version of the model applying Hubbert's formula to each of the 47 major oil producing nations.  The date they came up with for peak oil was 2014, just four years away.  They also applied the model to the OPEC nations only and their production appears to peak in 2026.

 

If this study is accurate then we have much to be concerned about.  According to this model, after 2014 oil production will no longer be able to keep up with rising demand.  The only way to curb demand is for prices to rise so we will start to see sustained increases in the cost per barrel of oil which will translate to increases in the cost of gas at the pump.

 

Just to be clear, peak oil doesn't mean that there will be no more oil, it just means that the oil that is there becomes increasingly more difficult and expensive to extract and this cost will need to be passed on to the consumer.  Another thing to note about the findings of the report is that the OPEC nations will peak long after world production peaks.  This means that we will become more and more dependent once again on OPEC.

 

So what steps are we taking to avert the coming crisis.  First of all we are moving toward making our fleet of vehicles more fuel efficient.  CAFE standards are pushing the automobile makers to make more and more fuel efficient vehicles so that we can level off our oil consumption and eventually start to reduce the amount of oil that we burn each year.

 

With vehicles like the the Tesla Roadster, ZAP Xebra, and a whole host of NEVs and Electric bikes and scooters, we have started on the road towards the use of electricity in place of oil to power our vehicle fleet.  One bright ray is that, with the exception of Hawaii, we generate very little of our energy from oil, although we still have to replace other fossil fuels with renewable energy.  

 

Towards the end of his year we are going to see the first electric and plug-in hybrids from the major car makers hit the streets.  Initial word is that sales of these vehicles is going to be much better than anyone predicted.  Nissan is claiming that they already have orders for 56,000 Leafs and that's before they open up their order process to individuals on April 20.  GM have said they have over 50,000 hand raisers for the Chevy Volt and while past experience has shown that raising a hand before prices have been set doesn't guarantee a sale, I am sure that they will have no problem selling the 10,000 Volts they plan to produce for the 2011 model year as long as they don't do the same thing they did with the EV1 and make it extremely difficult to purchase one.

 

The 2014 date for peak oil may not be true, but this number should act as a warning to us all, the end of cheap oil is on the horizon and we need to do our part to make sure that peak oil doesn't mean economic catastrophe.


Sunday April 11, 2010 - 2010 New York Auto Show - This year's auto show season has been all about small cars and electric cars and the New York Auto Show continued this trend.

 

The big announcement came from Nissan with the thing that everyone has been waiting for, the MSRP for the leaf.  There will be two trip levels starting with the base SV which comes very well equipped including a navigation system at a base MSRP of $32,780, or for just $940 more you can step up to the SL trim which includes additional features including a solar panel that is used to trickle charge the auxiliary battery.  On top of this low price there will be approximately $2,200 to install the Charger.  A Federal tax credit of $7,500 can be applied to the base MSRP and some states, like California, have additional tax credits that will further reduce the cost.  

 

Nissan will start deliveries to the public in December but it appears they will be selling initially in only ten cities around the nation.  So far I have only been able to track down one of these, Tucson, AZ but I would also expect to see Portland, OR, San Francisco, Nashville, and probably Los Angeles on that list also.  They will begin to take orders on line starting April 20.

 

Ford also had the Transit Connect on display.  The Connect is probably going to be the first EV to hit the streets when it goes on sale to fleets this fall.  The Van, which offers a range of around 80 miles while hauling a payload of 1000lbs will not be available initially to the public.  Ford has said that it will begin selling the vehicle to retail customers if there is a demand so if you are interested in owning an electric van you might want to write to Ford and let them know.

 

Chevy of course had the Volt on display and it too is expected to go on sale in December.  What is of interest with the volt however was not what was happening in New York but what was going on in Detroit where, on April 3 the first pre-production volt rolled off the line.  This is the stage where Chevy are testing the production process to make sure that the cars can be built correctly.  

 

Hyundai showed off the new Sonata hybrid.  This car is a full parallel hybrid that uses a system unlike the power split device used on the Toyota, Ford, and Nissan hybrids.  The car mates a 2.4L engine to a 6 speed transmission.  The system also includes a 30KW electric motor that can drive the car in electric only mode at speed up to 62mph.  When it goes on sale later this year the car will be the first to be powered by a Lithium Polymer battery pack.  Unfortunately the car is not grid chargeable.  In the immortal words of Maxwell Smart, "missed it by that much".  Still, the car will be a dream for the plug-in hybrid converters who, up to this time, have been constrained by the 38mph electric only speed of the Prius and the Ford Escape.  The Sonata hybrid comes in at a respectable 37mpg City/39mpg highway.

 

For those that like their cars small Toyota showed off a version of the Toyota IQ that will be marketed in the US under the Scion brand.  This tiny car is aimed at being a direct competitor of the Smart.  It has a 1.3 liter 4 cylinder engine driving the front wheels that develops 90hp.  The ten foot long IQ will seat 4 people which gives it an advantage over the two seat smart.  The car is expected to go on sale in the US some time next year.

 

This weeks blog has been cut short because of a family emergency.


Sunday April 4, 2010 - Hawaii and Electric Vehicles - This week the First Hawaii Car Show was being staged at the Honolulu convention center.  The event, which should have been a great location to showcase electric vehicles, was almost completely overshadowed by the New York Auto show which also started this weekend.  

 

At the New York Auto show Nissan chose to announce the Nissan Leaf pricing (see EV Watch page) which was the big EV news of the week.  I will have more to say on the New York Auto Show in next week's blog.

 

In Honolulu electric vehicles were front and center in the Convention Center with a display that included the Tesla Roadster along with a whole group of other EV advocates and support companies like Plug-in America and Project Better Place.  But actual electric vehicles were thin on the ground.

 

That's a pity because Hawaii, especially the island of Oahu, is one of the best places on earth to showcase electric vehicles.  Oahu is a relatively small island, only 44 miles long and 30 miles wide.  The island is home to around one million people most of whom live on the south east side of the island in or around the state capitol of Honolulu.  The climate is tropical with temperatures hovering at about 80o F year round so there is no issue with falling battery capacity in cold weather and the temperatures are rarely going to get up to the point where they may threaten battery life.

 

While Oahu has around 227 miles of coastline a good chunk of the island is used by the military and is off limits so the road that runs around the island is actually not much more than 100 miles round trip so most of the new EVs like the Nissan Leaf would be able to make it around the Island with perhaps a short charge half way along just so the driver has no worries about getting home, and lets face it most people are not going to just drive straight around the island, they are going to want to stop at the beach or at any number of recreational sites. 

 

Let's just take a few examples.  The Royal Hawaiian Hotel sits in the middle of Waikiki and is only 9 miles for the airport.  A popular tourist destination is the Polynesian Cultural Center which is locate up on the North West shore and is only 35 miles from the hotel.  Sunset Beach on the North shore is about as far away as you can get from the Royal Hawaiian without getting wet yet is it still only a 46 mile drive.  If you wanted to go surf the Banzai Pipeline the round trip would be right around 80 miles.  Any of these journeys would be quite do-able in a Nissan Leaf and since you would spend time there public charging would eliminate any possibility of not making it home.

 

All the other Hawaiian islands, with the exception of the Big Island, could tell a similar story.  They are all relatively small although the other islands have a much smaller population than Oahu.

 

Now the problems.

 

Most residents, at least in Honolulu, live in apartments or condos.  Most of these buildings have parking structures but to adequately roll out electric vehicles it would be necessary to have legislation in place that makes it easy for apartment dwellers and condo owners to install chargers in their parking spaces. 

 

Hawaii is the one state in the Union that uses oil to generate most of its electric power.  If we want to get the benefits from electric propulsion then using renewable energy is most desirable.  The good news is that Hawaii has boundless amounts of sunlight during the day so solar charging stations around the beach areas would be pretty much a no brainer.  The big island is still an active volcanic zone and as such gives the opportunity for large amounts of geothermal energy, and the long coastline also leaves the possibility of harnessing the power of waves.  There is also some possibility of wind energy but since the state relies heavily on tourism they aren't likely to do anything that might mar their spectacular views.

 

The Hawaiian islands are an ideal place to introduce electric vehicles and I hope the major manufacturers realize this and make it a prime location not only to sell electric vehicles but also to roll out enough infrastructure to make them totally usable in all situations.  Perhaps next time I travel to the islands I will be able to rent an electric car at the airport, charge it up at my hotel, and tour the island with no tailpipe emissions.


Sunday March 27, 2010 - Goodbye ZENN - When Ian Clifford bought a Henney Kilowatt he immediately saw the possibilities for electric cars.  He was so taken by the car that he formed a new company called Feelgood Motors with the idea of buying up existing Renault Dauphine cars and convert them to electric.

 

While this was a really good idea and the cars they built functioned well, they found that the US DOT would not let them market the cars in the USA unless they went through crash testing and it was unlikely that 40 year old cars would pass current crash tests.  

 

Mr. Clifford decided to take the company in a different direction and began working with a French micro-car manufacturer to produce a neighborhood electric vehicle.  The car turned out very well and it was entered into the Michelin Challenge Bibendum and placed first in its class.

 

ZENN did not sell this version of the car though, moving on to the next generation of the car and improving the drive train.  The car eventually went on sale but sales were not as good as expected and the cars were plagued with quality problems.

 

In 2001 Richard D Weir and Carl Nelson formed a company called EEStor with the objective of building a new form of energy storage.  EEstor has been very secretive but approached ZENN and, in 2003, set up an agreement with them to market their product once it came into being.  The agreement has been amended over the years and now ZENN has exclusive world wide rights to the EEstor ESU.

 

ZENN also invested heavily in EEstore and now own something like 5% of the shares of that company. 

 

The EEstor ESU (electric storage unit) is supposed to have a very high energy density, much better than even lithium batteries which means that for the same energy storage the ESU would be quite a bit lighter in weight.  The other big advantage is that the units can be charged and discharged thousands of times without any degradation of energy storage, a problem that plaques all other forms of battery.  

 

About once a year EEstore send out a press release that states they have managed to achieve a certain level of permittivity on the compound that forms the heart of the ESU.  The last press release stated that they had achieved better values than those projected for the production version so the next step is to actually build and test an ESU.

 

If they can really deliver on their promise, the ESU will be a game changer.  An electric battery capable of powering an electric car at a price that is a fraction of the cost of lithium batteries.  A power source that will last the life of the vehicle so that worries over the cost of replacement batteries won't factor into the buying decision.

 

To capitalize on the EEstor ESU ZENN motor company started development of a full sized electric vehicle called the City ZENN with a top speed of 78mph and a range of about 250 miles.  The car would also be capable of charging in about 5 minutes using a special fast charger.  

 

It appears that ZENN realize that while designing and building a prototype vehicle isn't that difficult, actually putting it into production requires a lot of time and money.  ZENN have decided not to try and become a car maker but are aiming to become a supplier of electric drive trains to the big auto companies.  This in my opinion is a good move as long as they can design a decent drive train and line up customers.

 

The problem is that EEStor, who was expected to deliver the first ESU to ZENN last october, still haven't delivered anything.  In a recent stock holder meeting Ian Clifford told gathered stock holders that they were totally dependent on EEstor.  Now that they have no product to sell, they are going to be burning cash fast.  In the stock holder meeting they claimed to have enough cash to last through the end of 2010 but if EEstor doesn't deliver soon I expect they will find it very difficult to raise more.

 

The French manufacture who supplied bodies for the ZENN NEV have recently released a new model and the old model is no longer being built.  Rather than build a NEV around the new model ZENN have shut down the production line and laid of all the workers (thus goodbye ZENN) who were involved with building the ZENN.  In these tough economic times the ZENN had to be a money drain so shutting down production has the added advantage of reducing their burn rate on capital,

 

Given that the typical design process for a car takes around 5 years from the initial concept to the final production model I have serious concerns about ZENN being able to stay the course.  If EEstor can deliver the prototype ESU and it performs anything like the expectations that EEstor have set then I don't think ZENN will have a problem raising cash and applications could be found, such as electric scooters and NEVS, that can be moved into production much quicker than with the OEM vehicles.

 

This still raises significant questions, can they build a reliable and durable electric drive system? since they have exclusive rights to the EEStor ESU do they have the strength to exploit this technology or will their size prevent them from making the ESU a true competitor for the lithium battery. 

 

Ian Clifford has rolled the dice and I hope he doesn't come up snake eyes.  He is one of the few people who has real insight into the developments within EEStor so I assume that his decision is based on firm intelligence on their progress.  I for one will be watching ZENN and EEstor carefully over the next few months.  

 

Some dealers may still have some ZENN NEVs for sale so check them out through the Archive Page


Sunday March 21, 2010 - Electric Commuter Vehicles - This week I received an email from Peter Dickinson at Florida International University who is working on setting up an evaluation program to look at the use of City Electric Vehicles for commuting.  He wanted some input on City Electric Vehicles that are currently available in the USA.

 

The idea is not a new one, there have been several successful and unsuccessful attempts at setting up such a system, sometimes referred to as a station car system although I think that Peter envisioned something more on the lines of using a City EV for the daily commute.

 

The idea behind a station car program is simple and designed to get people to utilize rail systems.  The problem with rail systems can be the difficulty of getting too and from the railway station.  In one of the more successful programs, run by the University of California in Irvine, the cars were used to get from the Irvine Metrolink station to the University.  Irvine has a rail link from Los Angeles but the big problem is that there isn't an easy way to get from the station to the many businesses in the area as they are pretty widely spread out.  

 

The cars, mostly Nissan Hyperminis,  were charged up overnight at the Metrolink station.  In the morning commuters would pick up the cars and drive them to the various University locations.  The cars would be available for their use during the day then would be returned to the Metrolink station each evening.

 

Peter's idea is much more like the one that was run by New York Power and Light using a number of Th!nk City cars that were brought to the US on a crash test waiver.  The cars were leased out to customers who mostly used them for getting from home to the local railway station and running errands around town.  The program was very popular and the available cars sold out quickly, but because they were brought here on a waiver the cars had to be returned to Norway at the end of 32 months and since there was no electric cars available at the time to continue the program it was abandoned.

 

Multiple car families are very common in the US and so having a car dedicated to commuting is quite feasible for many households.  A car like the Th!nk City, with a top speed of 55mph and a reliable year round range of about 50 miles would work well for many commuters.  The problem is that there just aren't any cars available in the US at the moment.  The problem is that such cars need to undergo extensive crash testing and the idea of spending $10-$20M on crash testing alone means that you have to have quite high volume just to cover costs, or charge prices that are so high nobody will want to buy one.  

 

ZAP for example spent $10M on crash testing the Smart and this pushed the price up to around $26,000 and even then they didn't make any money on the car because they just couldn't sell enough.  

 

The alternative is to go with a NEV but these are too specialized to work for most commuters unless a city is also willing to change traffic flow patterns to accommodate them by lowering speed limits or installing NEV lanes.  This has been done quite successfully in Lincoln, CA but most other towns are not interested in making such changes.

 

The best I could suggest to Peter was to look at three wheel vehicles like the Myers Motors NmG and Duo or Green Vehicles Triac with the alternative of having a small car converted to an electric city car for purposes of the trial.  On reflection though it seems to me that if Nissan actually delivers on its promise of an all electric car for under $30,000 dollars after rebates then working with them would make a whole lot of sense.  

 

Personally I think that there is plenty of room for a city electric car in a good number of family garages.  I envision a system similar to the one that Citroen is proposing in Europe where you lease a city EV which includes the option to rent a variety of cars at low cost.  In this way the driver gets the best of both worlds, low running costs for normal situations then access to the correct car for the job when the city EV won't work.  For example if you want to take a road trip then rent am efficient hybrid, if you need to haul stuff from Home Depot then rent a pick-up.  For a vacation with extended family rent a minivan.

 

I hope that Peter is successful in setting up the trial and that it proves that City EVs will work. 


MDCavalier wrote

 

YOUR EXPECTATIONS

I don't know exactly what you were looking for when you offered the ability to comment on this story, but here is my story and my opinions. I am only giving you my experience and am not looking for an argument and am not necessarily expecting you to finish reading my comments.

 

MY BACKGROUND

I do not claim to be an expert, but I am an engineer, have been following the automotive industry since about 1975 and have a particular interest in electric vehicles. I have learned a bit along the way. For one, I was way too optimistic when I thought that my new 1992 Nissan Sentra was going to be my last internal combustion car. Another thing that I feel that I have learned is that an increased fuel tax would be a better way to reduce fuel consumption than forcing higher MPG standards (I used to think that higher MPG standards were a better idea).

 

MY MASS TRANSIT STORY

I lived in the Los Angeles area from 1989 through 1997. I had several different long commutes and used mass transit for some of these routes.

 

MASS TRANSIT USING THE STATION CAR

In 1996, I used a “station car” at one time to reduce the pain of my 120 mile round trip commute. I had my 1992 Sentra. I bought a 7 year old Mercury Sable and a monthly pass so that I could park the Sable at Union Station in Los Angeles. I drove the Sentra from home to the local station. This took 10 minutes and planned to arrive 5 minutes before the departure (for a total of 15 minutes). The commute to Los Angeles took about 1 hour (and I just checked – it still takes an hour). I then got into my Sable and drove the 10 minutes it took (going in the opposite direction of the rush hour traffic) to work. Altogether this took about 1 hour and 25 minutes. I did get to read or work on my computer on the train, so there were some benefits. My original commute driving the whole way by myself was typically 55 minutes and aggravating.

 

MASS TRANSIT ONLY

The only way to get from Union Station to work was for me to catch a bus going east and then connecting to another bus going south. This would have added 1 hour to the time for a total of 2 hours and 15 minutes for a daily total of 4 hours and 30 minutes round trip versus my original 1 hour and 50 minutes. I did not consider this to be reasonable.

 

CONNECTIONS

It cost me extra money and time to use the “station car” concept. Many people will experience the extra cost in time largely because most trains don't go where they need them to go. Therefore, most will have connections to make, possibly multiple connections. At each connection, if the next mode of transportation does not arrive in a timely manner, the commuting time is extended further.

 

ELECTRIC STATION CAR

Using my example, I do not see how having an electric car to replace my 7 year old car would have helped at all, even assuming that I could plug it in at Union Station. Replacing my Sentra car with an electric would have made things worse, because then my primary vehicle would be significantly range limited. This does not even consider any cost difference between my 7 year old car and an electric car. I would find it hard to believe that my 7 year old car would cost more than an electric car without governmental subsidies.

 

DENSITY

I have lived in a place where mass transit makes sense for many people. New York, especially Manhattan, has enough density to support many routes with trains running at relatively close intervals. Many that live in New York City don't own a car. Without enough density, solutions must be custom tailored to the location.

 

CONSIDERATIONS IN LOWER DENSITY AREAS

This comment concerns areas with densities significantly lower than New York City. And yes, I consider Los Angeles to be one of those places. Many people have opinions about using mass transit and I think a number of them speak from ignorance. I was having a conversation with my dental hygienist about mass transit because we were coming up on a vote to tax ourselves to significantly “improve” mass transit. Please keep in mind that she has never used mass transit anywhere. She thought that it was a good idea, even though our city is significantly smaller than Los Angeles. I believe that most people would be willing to endure a greater monetary cost to use mass transit. I say greater mass transit cost because I do not believe that most people will be able/willing to give up their primary vehicle. Therefore, some of the largest costs of ownership (depreciation and insurance) will be relatively unchanged. The biggest disadvantage is the additional commuting time. Most people feel stressed for time and do not want further stresses.

 

SOLUTIONS IN LOWER DENSITY AREAS

A custom solution could work in a given area, especially if there were very few large employers. Mass transit could then use these employers as final destinations and the mass transit spokes could be added as needed. The only connection would then be going from one's private vehicle to the mass transit vehicle. When custom solutions are not appropriate, I believe that other options should be considered. In low density areas, it is my belief that adding car pool lanes and possibly improving bus transit systems will provide the lowest cost in time and money because of the flexibility.

 

HOW DOES ANY OF THIS SHOW MY INTEREST IN ELECTRIC CARS?

The quick answer is that it doesn't. My interest in electric cars is completely separate from my interest in mass transit. I agree with the idea that many people do not need a pickup truck, SUV or minivan for daily use. I think that an electric vehicle with sufficient range (>100 miles) will alleviate range anxiety if combined with the idea that people may need to rent a vehicle for long range trips or specialized needs such as moving household goods. However, I do not believe that most people will be willing to pay a large premium for an electric vehicle. The large premium would be offset by lower operating costs but increased by rental costs when their primary vehicle's range is insufficient.


Sunday March 13, 2010 - Range Anxiety - This weak we were having a conversation about electric vehicles as we rode home in our carpool one evening and Hany talked about how he wouldn't like to have to wait 8 hours to recharge the batteries.

 

This is a common reaction from people who are not used to electric vehicles and is the driving force in range anxiety.  People in general don't get the idea of charging at home, the concept of "a full tank every morning" just doesn't come to mind because people are used to the old model of waiting until your gas tank is getting empty then going to the gas station.  Hany is one of those people who goes to the gas station when the low gas light starts to blink.  

 

So I told Hany that he would charge up the car each night in his garage and have about 100 miles of range each day.  If the typical daily drive is 41 miles (that's the US average of 15,000 miles per year) then you would still have plenty of range left for those lunch time errands.  

 

Hany countered with "what happens if there is an emergency and I need to drive a long way?"  That's a fair question.  Hany lives with his wife and daughter and they have four vehicles, not atypical here in southern California, so I asked why he would take the electric if he new he was driving beyond its range, just take one of the other cars.  Hany's response was "what if that was my only car?", another good question.  The answer is that if you only had one car and knew you needed to drive beyond its range on a fairly regular basis then the electric car isn't the right car four you and you should get a plug-in hybrid with enough electric only range to cover your normal daily driving. 

 

The alternative is to rent a car for those occasions when you are going to go beyond the range of your electric car.  Peugeot have recognized this and will be offering discounted rental cars for people who buy the Ion electric car when it goes on sale later this year.

 

An interesting study by Dr. Thomas Turrentine, which looked at the experience of 150 drivers who leased the mini-e electric car, just came out from the University of California, Davis. The study showed that the 100 mile range of the Mini-e was enough for the vast majority of drivers.  The most interesting finding from the study was that home charging was sufficient for most drivers and they were not using public charging at all.

 

This is something that I have been saying for a while now, public charging isn't needed for the initial roll-out of electric cars.  There are still things that need to be dealt with, the most obvious being the situation with people who have to park on the street or live in apartments and don't have ready access to an electric outlet, but these will not be the initial target market for plug-in vehicles.  

 

My conversation with Hany illustrates that range anxiety exists in the general public, who are not typically educated about electric cars.  The U. C. Davis study shows that once people become used to driving an electric car and charging it at home, range anxiety becomes a non-issue.  

 

In order to sell electric cars the manufacturers have to educate the public on the advantages of home charging.  I have a few ideas for commercials that will get the point across if any manufacturer out there is interested.


Talk about range anxiety People seem to forget that it was not so long ago that cars carried 6 gallons of fuel good for only 35 to 40 miles. A horseman will say " My horse can go twice that far only stopping for a short drink in the river and an ocassional grass clipping, available anywere for free" " Why will I need that impractical 'automovile' thing? Back then the range anxiety would have been also an excuse not to buy cars. Take a look around now. How often do you see a horse? Cost? You could buy 5 horses for the price of a car. The electric alternatives are not even twice the price of a similar gasoline car. Why the people of the past embraced the change so fast and the so called modern advanced society is so reluctant to such a similar change is beyond my comprehension.

 

Jose Montes Puerto Rico


Sunday March 7, 2020 - 2010 Geneva Motor Show - This week saw the opening of the 2010 Geneva Auto show and electric vehicles are front and center as the technology prepares to move from the concept stage into production.  Here are some of the highlights.

 

Opel, and its British counterpart Vauxhall, did something different this year at the Geneva Motor Show, they drove one of their exhibits, the Opel Ampera, 350 miles from the Open plant in Russlesheim, Germany to the Show to demonstrate that the car is a full working version.  The Ampera, which is basically a European specked version of the Chevy Volt, will go on sale in Europe as the Opel Ampera, and in the UK as the Vauxhall Ampera, toward the end of 2011.

 

Talking of plug-in hybrids, Porsche showed off its 918 Spyder concept plug-in Hybrid.  The car is powered by a mid-engine V8 with an electric motor on each axel that adds an additional 160KW of power.  This gives the car the ability to travel from 0-60kph in 3.2 seconds and a top speed of 320kph.  While no details were given, Porsche did indicate that they would be placing this car into production.

 

Another plug-in hybrid on display for the first time in Europe was the production version of the Plug-in Prius.  The Plug-in Prius, which uses Lithium batteries, will have an all electric range of just 12 miles and will not run in EV mode at speeds above 62mph, but the smaller battery pack required for this sort of range will help keep prices low while the battery only range will be enough to meet the needs of people who make very short trips, a situation that currently kills Prius mpg.  Toyota is planning on making about 600 of these cars available to fleets in Japan, the USA, and the UK over the next few months to further test out this technology.

 

Toyota is also showing their Auris HSD compact hybrid.  This 5 door sedan is a conventional hybrid built on the Corolla platform.  This 5 door, which is similar in size to a ford Focus or VW Golf, is destined for the European market only and will be the first hybrid from Toyota to be built in Europe.  During testing on the European drive cycle the Auris HSD managed a very impressive 61.9 Miles per US gallon.  The Auris HSD goes on sale in Europe this summer.

 

German automaker Audi showed off yet another concept car in their e-Tron range, this time a three door 4 seat plug-in hybrid.  The A1 e-Tron will have an all electric range of about 35 miles (50 Km) after which the gas engine, in this case a single rotor Wankel that can provide up to 15 KW of power, will fire up extending vehicle range by 124 Miles (200 Km).  Fuel consumption is projected at 123.8 mpg (US).  So far no production date has been set for any of the e-Tron range of vehicles but Audi has made it clear that they will be producing a range of electric cars under the e-Tron name.

 

Lotus, who you may remember build the bodies for the Tesla Roadster, are showing a plug-in hybrid of their own, the Evora 414E.  The Evora uses a lithium ion battery pack that will offer an electric only range of 35 miles after which, the 1.2 liter three cylinder range extender will fire up to add a further 300 miles of range before needing to refuel.  The two seat sports car offers a 0-60 time of less than 4 seconds.  One interesting feature for the gear heads is a pseudo sports mode that gives the driver to simulate a 6 speed paddle shifter.  

 

Citroen, who has made more electric cars than any other major automaker, showed off its latest concept, the Survolt.  The Survolt is a low slung aggressive looking sports car but Citroen had very little to say about its drive train except that it is all electric.  Citroen seem to show a new concept at every major European auto show and like the rest, I doubt that this car will ever go into production.  Production of electric vehicles will start off in 2010, but it will be a rebranded version of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, called the C-Zero that they will be selling through their dealer network throughout Europe.

 

Peugeot, Citroen's sister company, announced that it would start selling a plug-in hybrid version of the 3008 crossover in 2012.  The Peugeot 3800 Hybrid4 will employ a diesel engine to drive the front wheels and an electric motor to drive the rear wheels.  So far Peugeot hasn't given any details of the battery pack just saying it will be larger than the one employed in the more conventional hybrid version of this car.  It is likely that the 3008 Hybrid4 will be the first diesel hybrid to arrive in showrooms.  Like Citroen, Peugeot will also be selling a rebranded version of the i-MiEV, the Ion, starting late this year.

 

Tata Motors, the Indian company that makes the worlds cheapest car, the Nano, will begin selling a European version of the car in 2011.  The Nano Europa is actually a little larger than its low cost cousin sold in India and has been given some improvements to make it more acceptable to the European market, but it will still be the cheapest car you can buy.  Tata plans to launch an electric version of the Nano Europa in 2012 and they have a concept on show in Geneva this week.

 

The Nano EV has a range of 160 Km (100 miles) and will go 0-60kph in under 10 seconds. Also on display was their Indicta Vista EV which boast a range of 200 Km (about 120 miles).  They plan on introducing the Indicta Vista EV in select markets in Europe later this year.

 

Rinspeed showed off an interesting concept car, the UC (for Urban Commuter).  The UC is an electric car that is capable of a top speed of 75mph and offers a range of 65 miles.  The big idea behind the UC is that it is designed to be loaded on to specially designed rail cars so that the car can be used for long distance travel such as a quick trip from London to Paris via the Channel Tunnel.  One particular feature of the UC is that it uses a joystick to steer instead of a steering wheel.  The steering system is designed to provide feedback to the joystick that mimics the feel of the tires on the road you get from a conventional steering wheel.

 

If you lust after electric super cars then the NLV Quant concept is sure to go high on your list of must have vehicles.  The car is a 4 door sports sedan which has both a carbon fiber body and a carbon fiber chassis which makes the car extremely light even with its lithium battery pack.  It is driven by four 147 KW electric motors that give the car a 0-100 Km (0-62mph) time of just 2.8 seconds and a top speed of 377kph (234mph).  Of course at that kind of speed you are not going to travel very far on a charge but remember that the Bugatti Veyron can only run at top speed for 10 minutes before running out of gas.  The other interesting thing about this car is that the body is covered with a film that basically turns it into a large solar pannel.  Quant say the car can be ready for production in about 12 months.

 

It is obvious that this year is going to be exciting as manufacturers finally begin to roll out their electric and plug-in hybrid cars.  The Geneva Auto show, more than any other so far this year, has highlighted the paradigm shift that is under way in personal transportation.  


Sunday February 28, 2010 - Survey - This week I I tried something different, a simple survey to help me define the direction for evfinder.com.   The results of the Survey are below.  I have also included a bit on new information I just received on the Nissan Leaf.

 

I must say I was very disappointed with the survey results, only three people responded to the survey.  All three of them said that they enjoyed reading evfinder.com and that I should include information on plug-in hybrids.

 

I assume this means that very few people are reading my blog, but from the responses I will be adding plug-in hybrids to the evfinder pages over the next few months.  Look out for them initially on the EV Watch page.

 

Now for some EV news, in a speech in New York marking the end of the Nissan Leaf tour of the USA, Carlos Taveres, head of operations for Nissan, announced that when the Nissan goes on sale at the end of this year they will be sold with batteries included to both fleet and retail customers.  This is different from what most people thought, expecting Nissan to have a separate lease for the batteries. 

 

He didn't announce any pricing for the car but did say that the price would be very competitive.  You can see video of his speech by clicking here

 

In my opinion Nissan would do better to offer both options, a lower price for the car with a separate lease for the batteries, or a higher price for the car and batteries.  Peugeot-Citroen did that very successfully with the line of electric cars they sold back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  That lets those who have been burned with lease only deals buy the car while those that are nervous about battery life can have the lease option.


Sunday February 21, 2010 - Peak Oil Report - The UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security has just released a report on Peak Oil and it makes depressing reading.

 

While presenting the report Philip Dilley warned “Within five years we think peak oil is going to affect every aspect of our daily lives,”.  It's not that we don't have plenty of oil in the ground, it's just that we have already removed the stuff that is easy to get to and much of  the rest occurs in tar sands and is often in inaccessible places making it very expensive to extract.

 

The report sees global demand rising from the current level of around 80 million barrels a day up to 120 million barrels a day by 2030.  On the supply side, the report doesn't see us being able to extract more than about 92 million barrels a day.  This shortfall of as much as 28 million barrels a day will see prices for crude oil driven up past $150 a barrel.

 

The effect is going to be greatest for those in rural areas who tend to heat their home with oil but it will also have a big effect on transportation as well as the price of gas pushes up into the $6-7 per gallon range.

 

The report also sees the same issues happening with natural gas although the predict that problems will occur a few years later. 

 

It is clear that if we are to avoid the large economic impact that peak oil would place on our economy we will need to move quickly away from the use of oil and natural gas as our primary energy source.  We need to begin moving toward an economy based on renewable energy.  There is plenty of energy to be harvested from sun, wind, wave, hydro and geothermal sources to provide all the energy we need including the energy needed for transportation.

 

The report estimated that the UK was about 18 months behind in implementing changes needed to deal with peak oil and I believe that the US is even further behind.  However, demand for oil has fallen in the US during the recession as people have begun to move away from large SUVs and back to driving sedans.  It remains to be seen if this trend will continue once the economy strengthens.  US consumers have been notorious for falling back on their old ways once a problem has been resolved.  

 

It will also remain to be seen if consumers will embrace the electric and plug-in hybrid cars, the only way we can really move away from an oil based economy.  The 2011 model year, starting late this year, should see the availability of about 10,000 Chevy Volts and 20,000 Nissan Leaf vehicles being offered to the public along with a unknown number of Ford Transit connect EVs, Plug-in Prius, and Fisker Karma vehicles.  I expect to see these vehicles, with the possible exception of the more expensive Fisker Karma, being snapped up as fast as they can be built.

 

The bottom line is that we know that we won't be running out of oil any time soon, but we know that the end of cheap oil is very close and if we are to continue to support our existing quality of life we have to move away from dependence on oil as quickly as possible and that means electric cars driven from renewable energy.


Sunday December 14, 2010 - Chicago Auto Show - This week saw the start of the 2010 Chicago Auto Show and once again the automobile manufacturers have been trying to boost their green credentials.  This show is indicates a pull back from the SUV and Truck days of the last decade to the family sedan, but the biggest news for those of us who love Electric Vehicles came in the form of a van from Ford.

 

Ford showed an electric version of the Transit Connect van last year and were working with Smith's Electric Vehicles to produce a version for sale in the USA.  Suddenly they switched suppliers to Azure Dynamics and I for one thought this would push back the schedule for Launch, especially when they only showed the Gasoline version at the LA Auto show.  In Chicago they trotted out the all electric version and announced that it would go on sale before the end of the year.

 

The 2011 Transit Connect EV is targeted at fleets although Ford have said they haven't ruled out selling it to the public.  The van will come equipped with an Azure Dynamics power train driven by a 28Kw Lithium battery pack supplied by Johnson Controls.  The car will have a range of around 80 miles and will be capable of a top speed of 75mph and can be charged using either 220V or 110V.  With 135 cubic feet of cargo volume the van should be ideal for many fleet uses such as electric meter readers and city applications like parking enforcement.  It should fill the niche that was once occupied by the RAV4 EV quite nicely.

 

Ford is also going to release a Taxi version of the Transit Connect.  The Taxi version will be similar to the van but with rear windows and a passenger seat installed.  This version will be offered with the standard gasoline engine but Ford will also offer CNG and LPG versions to replace the aging CNG Crown Victoria used by most taxi companies today.

 

An exciting concept vehicle came from an unlikely source, Kia Motors.  Kia Motors is usually known for cheap but boring cars but their Kia Ray concept is a plug in parallel hybrid based on the Forte platform.  The Ray is a sleek aerodynamic 4 seat Coupe with wide doors to allow easy access into the rear seats.  The car mates a 1.4 liter direct injection engine and a 78KW motor that can drive the front wheels independently or together.  Kia claim an electric only range of 50 miles on a charge.  It is unclear if Kia will actually produce a car based on this concept.

 

Once again the Chevy Volt was on show at the Chicago Auto Show and GM trickled out more information.  In this case they have announced that November 1 is the day they start regular production.  Dealers will not be able to place orders before November 15 however, although they will be able to give GM and idea of how many cars they would like starting in September and I would expect pricing to be announced around that time.  The schedule means that first deliveries to customers will likely take place some time in the first half of December.

 

Honda showed off a concept Odyssey minivan that looks like it is close to being production ready and they have said that there will be a new look for the 2011 Odyssey due in showrooms in the second half of this year.  They claim that they can get 17mpg city and 25mpg highway from the V6 powered minivan.  It is disappointing to see that they did not have a hybrid version.  I keep hearing people crying out for a hybrid minivan but so far no manufacturer have stepped up to the plate and offered one in their lineup although Toyota do sell one in Japan and Europe.

 

There were lots of other hybrids and electric vehicles on display including several concept vehicles and the production ready Fisker Karma but these have been going the rounds of auto shows like LA and Detroit and are nothing new.  What they do show  is that the move toward electric cars is gathering pace and we will soon be seeing them back in the showrooms for the fist time since 2003.


Sunday February 7, 2009 - NiMH Controversy - This week I joined a couple of email groups that talked about the Chevy Volt.  The Volt isn't due in showrooms until November which means there isn't a lot to talk about at the moment so there was a lot of bandwidth being given the the whole Chevron suppressing NiMH debate.

 

I have often said that the fanatical way that some EV advocates view the agreement between Cobasys and Panasonic is not good for the promotion of electric vehicles.  The tone of most of the comments implies that if Chevron hadn't stopped Panasonic from making the EV-95 NiMH batteries used in the RAV4 EV then everyone would now be driving EVs.

 

Well, Panasonic were making the NiMH batteries in violation of the Energy Conversion Devices patent.  In the final agreement Panasonic were licensed to make the D cells that are used in the Toyota and Honda hybrids but were not licensed to make batteries for EV applications.  Since at the time of the agreement they had no customers for their large format batteries they probably didn't even try to contest that clause in the settlement.

 

There are many people who believe that this blocked manufacture of batteries suitable for EVs but Panasonic was only one of several companies that could make large format NiMH batteries but the agreement pertains only to Panasonic.  Other companies that had licenses to make large format NiMH batteries included Hong Kong based Gold Peak, and French based Saft (now owned by Johnson Controls).

 

Another thing that I hear regularly is "Chevron controls the patent to NiMH".  Now, Chevron owned about 80% of Cobasys who had the rights to NiMH.  The actual patent belongs to Energy Conversion Devices but they turned over control to Cobasys.  Now, Cobasys got in financial trouble and there was a whole lot of nastiness over claims by Daimler that they hadn't delivered batteries which the Germany Automaker had paid for.  The result was a three way law suite which ended up in the sale of Cobasys to a joint venture between Korean company Samsung SDI and Germany company Bosch.  

 

Now things become really murky.  The agreement for the sale of Cobasys grants proceeds from the license fees received from Panasonic to the former owners.  80% of these fees goes to Chevron and 20% to Energy Conversion Devices. 

 

In a subsequent email thread that I had one of the people pointed out that Ovonic Battery, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices, has just entered into a couple of new license agreements where the license that is granted excludes manufacturing batteries for transportation use.  

 

If Chevron are now out of the picture why is Ovonic blocking the manufacture of large format NiMH batteries?  Further investigation shows that while Ovonic has the exclusive rights to build batteries for non transportation use it is Cobasys that holds exclusive rights to the NiMH batteries for transportation use.

 

So for NiMH batteries the oil companies, at least Chevron, don't appear to have a strangle hold on the technology anymore.  Cobasys has the right to manufacture NiMH EV batteries and the joint venture company, SB Li Motive has its primary business of building EV power trains.  The company appears to be focused on lithium batteries, their web site has no mention of NiMH that I could find.  They do have an agreement to supply lithium batteries to BMW as part of their "Megacity Vehicle" project.

 

This opens up a whole new set of questions.  Why did SB Li Motive purchase Cobasys?  I would speculate because of that companies battery test facilities and experience with battery testing.  Will SB Li Motive be willing to license other battery makers to make NiMH EV batteries?  If someone wanted to use NiMH batteries in an EV and could guarantee a large enough volume would SB Li Motive start manufacturing NiMH batteries?

 

The biggest question of all is who would use NiMH batteries in an EV application since most manufacturers have already moved on to use lithium chemistries.  I for one think that there won't be enough demand for NiMH batteries for any company to make the huge investment needed to build a production line that can make them economically so it looks like Lithium batteries are the way forward in the near term.


Sunday January 31, 2010 - e-Drive - Back in 2006 I interviewed Gary Star of ZAP who had just begun selling the Xebra electric three wheel car.  One of the things Gary told me is that the best way the government could stimulate electric vehicle production in the USA was to start replacing their vast fleet of vehicles with electric cars and trucks.  A new bill, known as e-Drive ,making its way through Congress attempts to jump start this process.

 

HR 4399, the American Electric Vehicle Manufacturing Act or e-Drive, seeks to provide two billion dollars of funding to replace 20,000 postal vehicles with battery electric vehicles.

 

The US Postal Service (USPS) has one of the largest fleets of vehicles in the country which includes 142,000 local delivery vehicles that average only only 9mpg.  Most of these vehicles have been in service for a very long time, the average age being 17 years, so many of them are in need of replacement.

 

The USPS fleet of delivery vehicles are an ideal candidate for conversion to electric.  The average postal route is about 18 miles and less than 5% of routes are longer than 40 miles.  The majority of routes are driven at a low speed with lots of stops.  The vans are typically parked at postal service facilities between the hours of 5pm to 8am which leaves plenty of time for charging.  In summary almost every one of the post office routes are well within the capability of the current generation of electric vehicles.

 

e-Drive would be implemented in two phases.  In the first phase about 10,200 of the current vehicles would be replaced by electric delivery trucks, and 12,000 charging locations would be installed.  There would be a variety of different vehicles installed in this phase.  In Phase 2 a further 10,000 vehicles would be installed, along with a further 12,000 charging points,  using the best solution found in phase 1.

 

Phase 1 could include the purchase of 2,000 all electric trucks from those that are currently available.  This "off the shelf" approach will serve to stimulate current manufacturers.  4,000 new electric USPS "Long Life Vehicles" that will be developed especially for the USPS along with 200 other derivative vehicles.  1,000 plug-in hybrid vehicles will also be purchased and 3,000 existing vehicles will be converted to electric drive.  

 

Phase 1 also includes seven regional deployments of smart grid technology, and a demonstration of Li battery repurposing which basically means finding a use for battery packs that can no longer be used for electric vehicles but have enough capacity to act as a UPS or with other low current draw applications.   The bill also has a provision that requires the vehicles to be produced in the USA which should mean jobs, something that is badly needed in the current economy.

 

The bill still has a long way to go.  It has lots of support in the house but will also need to pass the Senate and be signed into law by the president.  The bill is a bi-partisan effort with support from both sides of the aisle in the house but there is no indication yet that the bill will garner support from Senate republicans who now have the ability to filibuster any bill and prevent it from moving forward.

 

If, like me, you think that this a good thing for the country and the environment, then you can support this bill by going to the e-Drive site and registering, or by letting your local Congressperson and Senator know that they should be getting behind this bill.  These older postal vehicles need to be replaced anyway so we should be replacing them with zero emission vehicles.


Sunday January 24, 2010 - J1772 - On January 14, 2010, in all the excitement about electric vehicles generated by the Detroit Auto Show, the Society of Automotive Engineers finally, after years of wrangling, adopted the J1772 standard for electric vehicle charging.  This is very good news.

 

The interface is designed to run on 120V or 220V electric systems such as those used in the USA and Japan.  It consists of a 43mm connector that has 5 pins of three different sizes and is designed to operate on both 120V and 220V supplies pulling a maximum of 16a on 120 and 80A at 240.  At 80amps a car like the Chevy Volt would be charged in under an hour.  

 

The five pins offer AC Line1, AC Line2/Neutral, Ground, Proximity Protection to prevent the car from being driven while plugged in, and Control Pilot that is used to co-ordinate charging between the car and the charging station, such as limiting the amount of current a car can draw if the charger is connected to say a 30amp circuit.  The charger standard is designed to provide several levels of protection against electric shock even when it is used in wet weather.  The connector is also designed for 10,000 connect disconnect cycles so it should last for about 27 years in the once per day usage associated with normal overnight charging.

 

GM, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, and Tesla are all likely to sign on to this standard and I would expect Mitsubishi and BMW to follow since using a proprietary standard would shut their vehicles out of the mass of public charging that is being installed around the country.  BYD has already announced that it will use the J1772 standard interface when it begins to sell its electric and plug-in hybrids in the USA.

 

The adoption of J1772 has been a long time in coming but the benefits of having a single charging standard are clear.  In the past there have been several different kinds of interface.  NEVs, three wheel EVs and electric scooters for the most part have used 110V charging with a few vehicles, like the Corbin Sparrow, offering an optional 220V charger that basically plugged in to a 220V drier style outlet.  The major manufacturers used several standards with Ford and Honda going with the AVCON conductive charger, Toyota, Nissan, and GM using two different flavors of inductive chargers, and Chrysler using their own three phase charger.  Both the Tesla Roadster and the Mini-E also have their own interfaces, the Tesla can be charged using 110V but the Mini-E cannot.  AC Propulsions eBox uses the same charging system as the Tesla but uses a regular 220V connector rather than the Tesla charging station.

 

A look at three local charging locations will illustrate the issues this presents.  

 

Just a few blocks from where I live is the Bristol Farms store in West Hollywood.  This location has three chargers, two large paddle inductive  (LPI) chargers and one AVCON.  There is also a 15amp 110v receptacle in this location.  Now, the LPI charger was used by the EV1, the Nissan Altra and Hypermini, both of which are no longer around, and by the Chevy S10E.  Some RAV4 EVs also used this interface but the ones sold to consumers used the Small Paddle Inductive (SPI) chargers so they can't charge at this site.  The AVCON interface was used by the Honda EV+ and Th!nk City, both of which are no longer on the roads in the US, and by the Ford Ranger.  The 110V connection would allow most NEVs etc to charge at this location.

 

A mile or so to the west is Century City Shopping Center which is equipped one LPI, one SPI, and one AVCON.  Ford Ranger Owners, Chevy S10 Owners and RAV4 EV owners can charge here OK but anyone else is out of luck.

 

A few miles further west is the Ralphs store on the corner of Olympic and Cloverfield in Santa Monica.  This site has one LPI, one SPI, and a 110V connection.  This will allow the Chevy S10 and RAV4 EV drivers to charge along with Tesla and eBox drivers and most NEV etc owners.  Ford Ranger and Mini-E drivers are out of luck at this location too.

 

Drivers of electric cars who are planning on taking a drive where the round trip is beyond their available range need to worry about many things.  Is there charging near their destination or on route.  Does the charging location have a charger that matches my vehicle.  Is the charger that matches my vehicle in working order.  Will the charging space be available or will some selfish driver ICE the spot (park and ice vehicle in the EV charging spot).

 

Once we have everyone using a single standard interface the driver will still need to worry about the existence of a charging station and will also need to worry about if the chargers are working or available, but won't have to worry if the chargers are compatible.  The role out of chargers will also be easier.  Each manufacturer won't have to role out chargers to every location, instead they can spread the cost which will, in the long run, mean more charging locations.  Since all chargers use the same interface economies of scale will apply to help keep costs down.

 

The Adoption of a single charging standard has been a long time in coming and now companies can start to role out electric vehicles with a common charger.  This is one more positive step to the wider availability of electric cars.


Sunday January 16, 2010 - 2010 Detroit Auto Show - The 2010 Detroit Auto Show is currently going full blast and this year it is all about electric cars.  They even have an Electric Avenue that features some of the small manufacturers along with a couple of vehicles from Nissan and Mitsubishi.

 

Nissan, as they did with the LA Auto Show, chose to bypass the Detroit Auto show this year.  They did have one car on display though, the Nissan Leaf, set to go on sale world wide later this year.  The Nissan Leaf is one of the major cars that you can see if you stroll along Electric Avenue.

 

The other big player who had a car on display was Mitsubishi who showed off the i-MiEV.  The i-MiEV is already on sale in Japan and it will go on sale in Europe later this year.  Mitsubishi has also said it intends to put the car on sale in the US but hasn't yet announced a date.

 

Another car on Electric Avenue was the Tango T600.  The Tango, from Seattle based Commuter Cars is also on Sale in the US at the moment although sales have been slow with only around 12 units being placed in consumers hands.  The Tango is a narrow EV designed to be able to fit two cars side by side in a standard 12 lane.  Performance wise it can smoke a Tesla but the it doesn't have the Tesla's sexy looks and at a price starting around $108,000 they will not sell many cars.

 

Another small west coast manufacturer on display on Electric Avenue is Green Car Motors who showed of the 2010 Triac three wheel electric car.  Green Motors have delivered a very small number of cars to paying customers and did this on an evaluation basis even having the buyers sign a non-disclosure form.  They have taken feedback from these early adopters and have incorporated their experiences into the 2010 model.  The car, or technically motor cycle, will have a range of about 100 miles and will be capable of travelling at freeway speed.  The car is not likely to be available before October, 2010 so anyone placing an order is in for a long wait.

 

The biggest display of vehicles came from the Korean company CT&T who showed of a line of NEVs that included one decked out as a police car, and an amphibious open topped version that you could drive to the lake then take a cruise.  I haven't yet seen CT&T vehicles on sale in the USA but I expect to see them trying to attract dealers.

 

Out on the main floor Chevy had the Volt on display.  The Volt, which is expected in dealerships around November, is a plug-in Hybrid with a 40 mile all electric range after which the car can be driven on the gas engine, which is E85 compatible, for another couple of hundred miles before in needs to be refilled or charged.  GM also announced that they would be making an electric only version of the Volt but didn't say when that version would be available.  Bob Lutz did say that making an electric version was "Trivial" after they had done the plug-in hybrid.

 

GM also showed off their Cadillac XTS plug-in hybrid concept vehicle.  The car uses a 3.6 liter V6 mated to a hybrid system powered by lithium batteries.  GM didn't give any information on electric only range but this system appears to be the same as the one developed for the the now defunct Saturn Vue hybrid which had a 10 mile electric only range.  There was no indication from GM that this concept vehicle would actually make it into showrooms.

 

Ford must be very pleased with this year's Detroit Auto Show since they swept just about every award there was.  There seems to be something magical happening at Ford where they seem to be bringing out one great vehicle after another.  The new Ford Focus is a good looking entry into the very competitive compact car segment.  The car is designed for marketing around the world and there will be about 80% of parts will be common across all cars sold world wide.  The car will also be E85 compatible.  Ford announced that an electric version of this car is the one that will go on sale in 2011.

 

BMW also had a electric car to show off, the ActiveE.  BMW already have an electric car test project going with about 500 drivers world wide, most of them here in Los Angeles, testing the Mini-E in real world driving situations.  BMW plan to repeat this test with their latest offering, the ActiveE, which is really a converted BMW 1 Series.  This car will seat 4 people and provide adequate trunk space to carry luggage.  It will still offer a range or around 100 miles and top speed is limited to 90mph.

 

Another German carmaker with an electric offering is Audi.  They showed off an Audi eTron, but not the same car that showed at the LA auto show.  This one is somewhat smaller than the one shown in LA, more the size of the Audi TT.  The fact that both concept cars have the same name is because e-Tron is the name that Audi plans to give to its range of electric cars.  This one is driven by two motors powered by a 880lb lithium ion battery that gives the car a range of 155 miles.  Top speed is electronically limited to 120mph.  Unlike the car shown in LA, which Audi has said will be produced in a limited run, there has been no decision yet on this car being placed into production.

 

Chrysler, who is now owned by Fiat, showed off the Fiat 500 including a BEV concept car.  They have already confirmed that the Fiat 500 will be coming to dealerships in the US and the first of these, he Mexican built 500 Abarth, should be here later this year, or more likely in early 2011.  The BEV version however is built using the same modular electric drive system that was developed by the now defunct ENVI Group.  Chrysler said that this car was done to investigate packaging of the EV components and should have performance similar to the Mini-E but no details were given.  There does not appear to be any plans to make this car.

 

Chinese auto maker BYD showed off their E6 EV, a large crossover vehicle that is driven by their proprietary Ferrous Lithium Ion battery that is said to give the car a range of 205 miles.  They have announced that they will begin sales of the car in the US towards the end of 2010.  Now I am somewhat skeptical about this since they don't appear to have started crash testing yet and that can take a significant amount of time.  They also don't have a dealer network established yet.  Still, they have climbed up to become the number four carmaker in China in just three years and they have the huge financial strength of Warren Buffet behind them so they can't be written off just yet.  BYD is also the first company to announce that it will begin using the standard J1772 connector. Price has not been announced yet but is expected to start at around $40,000

 

Toyota also had their Plug-in Prius on display and although Toyota appear to be less than enthusiastic about plug-in Vehicles they are going to put this Prius version into production in 2011 as a 2012 model.  The Plug-in Prius will have an all electric range of about 12 miles and the gas engine will kick in when the car's speed gets above 62mph on the highway.  This version is going to be a niche product that will work well for those people who have very short commutes on surface streets.  It actually works well for those who get really bad mpg from their current Prius because the car's engine runs constantly for the first five minutes or so of driving because it needs to warm up the catalytic converter.  I also think this is going to be the car for people who tell me they don't want to have to charge the car but want the option to charge the car.  People who live in apartments for example who can only charge their car once in a while will be able to drive a plug-in hybrid if they choose even though they probably won't get any better mileage than they would from the none plug-in version.

 

The big buzz at the Toyota stand is the FT-CH concept car.  The FT-CH is a dedicated hybrid vehicle that is built on the Yaris platform but is not a Yaris with a hybrid drive train added on.  The car looks a little like the Nissan Leaf and is 22 inches shorter and 1 inch less in width than the current Prius.  CH stands for Compact Hybrid and this car definitely fits into the compact category.  Toyota has released any specs on this car but it should get mileage better than the Prius.  They did confirm that they are planning on releasing a family of cars under the Prius brand name and the FT-CH concept is just one of the cars they are considering for the Prius brand.  They are planning on releasing 8 new hybrid models over the next few years and stated that the synergy hybrid drive would become the core drive technology at Toyota.

 

Hyundai also showed off a plug-in hybrid concept, the Blue-Will.  This car is a compact sized five door that is driven by a 1.6 liter direct injection gasoline engine and a 100Kw electric motor.  The electric motor is driven from a lithium polymer battery pack under the rear seat that can propel the car for up to 40 miles in electric only mode before needing a recharge from a standard electric outlet.  The concept also features solar panels on the roof that allow the car to be cooled while sitting in the sun and can also provide a trickle charge to the batteries.  There is no indication that Hyundai will make this vehicle.

 

There were lots of other conventional hybrids on display at this show, and it is clear that the march towards the electrification of the automobile is getting under way.  It will be interesting to see if the market for these cars takes off in a way that the auto makers expect.  Personally I think that growth in the early years will be quite slow with plug-in hybrids making a good showing and BEVs moving much slower.  The speed at which these cars are bought will depend a lot on how the price of gasoline does.  Prices are on the rise here in LA at the moment and if prices continue to spike then so will sales of electric cars.  I am watching developments with great anticipation.


Sunday January 10, 2010 - Dual Mode Transportation Systems - I just read David Petrie's excellent article "How to make a small Electric Car-based Mobility System" in EV World, and while I find the idea intriguing, I think that the system is unworkable in its current form.

 

Not that I think that David's ideas don't have a lot of merit but the system has problems that would need to be worked out and there are other ways to accomplish the same thing with less issues.

 

The basic idea is that you start with a standard EV that you drive to a local station where the car is loaded onto a transporter called a Car Bus that runs along the freeway until you reach a station near the persons final destination where the car is offloaded and the driver then takes surface streets to his destination.  This kind of thing is already done in some locations, most notably with the channel tunnel between the UK and Europe.  You can drive the car down to the station in London and have it loaded onto a train.  The train then runs through the channel tunnel and in about three hours you are driving off the train in either Paris or Brussels.  

 

The issue with this type of usage is that it is difficult to get the vehicles off and on the Car Bus when lots of people are going to different places at different times.  In Los Angeles, where we are the poster child for urban sprawl and log distance commutes, really needs to improve public transit but this kind of system would have limited applicability. 

 

It does seem to me that the idea would work better by using the Channel Tunnel model rather than trying to replace the commuter model.  If we used a railway link from one of the commuter towns around the area then we could have the option picking up a bunch of people in say Westlake Village and depositing them in down town LA from where they could drive to their office.  I think the whole thing would work better though if they left their car in Westlake, boarded a train and then had a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system that would take them from Union station to their place of business.

 

The problem with many of the ideas like battery swapping and Dual Mode Transportation is that while they work well on a small scale, when you try to push them up to much larger scale, like the 5 million or so people who live and work in the Los Angeles urban sprawl, or the 13 million people who live and work in London, the system doesn't work that well.

 

Los Angles is probably an extreme example but here not only are people dispersed over a wide area but so are the offices and factories where they work.  Now, imagine over a quarter of a million cars that need to get on and off a Car Bus travelling along the 405 freeway.  The Car Bus would need to exit at several points, and because of the sheer volume of people there would need to be thousands of these Car Busses going up and down the freeway.  apply queuing theory to that mess and you will see significant delays in trying to get the cars on or off the Car Bus.

 

Personally I believe that this form of transportation would work far better on a rail system for long distance travelers.  Being able to put your EV on a high speed train in Los Angeles then drive it off the Train in Chicago makes a lot more sense than trying to commute between Temecula and Newport Beach using a Car Bus.  For local urban commutes having a smart system on the car that will allow the car to join a vehicle chain and travel at high speed on a freeway, while being driven from electricity that is pulled from the roadway, makes a lot more sense to me.

 

In the end, a good interlinked system of public transportation using a mix of bus, subway, surface rail and PRT is a much easier way of moving people too and from work.  A light rail train can move over 100 people at a time while a Car Bus is probably capable of moving 5 people with their EVs.  You would need to have 20 Car Buses for every light rail train in a public transportation system.

 

What we really need to do is to find ways to allow people to live closer to where they work.  Let's take a look at Beverly Hills.  The town brings to mind large mansions and movie starts but the five square mile city also has top of the line police, fire department, and schools, yet the people who work in these institutions can't typically afford to live in the city so have to commute long distances and can't take advantage of the organizations they help to make so good.

 

In the end we need to make the area in the center of towns a place where people can raise families and find good schools, or moving the work out to commuter towns.  I'm not sure either of these can be accomplished easily but our local governments have to move that way. 


Sunday January 1, 2010 - Spectrum Magazine Bashes EVs - A recent series of articles in Spectrum, the Institute or Electrical and Electronic Engineers' magazine, has been bashing EVs.  This from a group of individuals who I would expect to be all for electric vehicles given the opportunities it would open up for their membership.

 

One such article is entitled "Looser: Why the Chevy Volt will fizzle".  In this article the writer, Philip E Ross, quotes a few luminaries such as the Johan de Nysschen, the president of Audi of America who is reported as saying ”There are not enough idiots who will buy it”.   This tells you much about the true attitude of Audi for our environment.  Audi, who are pushing the so called "clean" diesel, which is neither clean nor an answer to the growing issue of reliance on foreign oil.   I think that there are many smart people who will buy a volt at $40,000, and a lot more idiots who are going to shell out $50K - $60K for an Audi Q7 SUV that will manage about 15mpg on super unleaded fuel.

 

The article, like many such articles, contains a half truth, this time a quote from Nick Tredennick who said ”Lithium-ion batteries degrade substantially in just a few years. Owners will face decreasing range and, ultimately, the need to replace and recycle the car’s giant, expensive battery."  This is true, Li Ion batteries do degrade over time, but does mister Tredennick think that the engineers at Chevrolet don't know this.  They have specifically sized the batteries and designed the battery management system to take this into account.  They have designed the pack to last for 10 years of 150,000 miles and will need to warranty the system for that period to meet the requirements of the California Air Resource Board.

 

The overall premise of the article is that people won't buy the because "The car can't save enough on fuel to justify the $40,000 price".  Well, lets take a look shall we.  Lets say I buy a Volt for $40,000 and get a tax credit of $7,500 - overall cost $32,500.  My neighbor buys an Audi A7 at $50,000.  Now, I drive 130 miles five days per month so I will need to drive 90 X 5 or 450 miles per month using the ICE engine.  If the car gets 30mpg running on the ICE then I need to buy 15 gallons of gas per month.  which, at $3 per gallon works out at $45 per month is fuel cost plus about another 250Kwhr of electricity which, at 10 cents per KWHr words out at $25 in electric costs for a total fuel cost of $70 per month.  Now, since my Neighbor paid $10K more than I did he will have to leave the car sitting in the garage for $10,000/70 = 142.86 months or just a hair shy of 11 years.  

 

Of course Mr. Ross will no doubt do the calculation based on my neighbor buying a Toyota Yaris but a more accurate comparison would be against a Prius which changes the picture completely.  A similarly equipped Prius would cost about the same as the Volt after tax incentives, and because it gets around 50mpg the numbers come in much closer.  For my driving I would use about 25 gallons of gas in the Prius which would translate to around $75 per month so the difference would be about $5 less in fuel cost for the Volt.  The difference in value would boil down to things like being able to get California carpool stickers for the Volt and not for the Prius, a perk that has been valued at $4,000 on the used car market.  The other item for consideration would be the residual value on the two cars and that is anybody's guess at the moment.

 

The bottom line is that most people don't buy a car based cost, they buy the best car they can afford.  If people bought cars based on cost we would all be driving Kia Spectra or Hyundai Accents.  For a growing number of people the best they can afford involves a car that helps wean America off foreign oil and cuts down their carbon footprint.  GM isn't trying to sell hundreds of thousands of volts, and certainly isn't expecting the volt to be the savior of the company.  They are looking at the volt as the logical first step in a move that will take the automobile industry from mechanical propulsion to one that is electric based.  I don't expect the Volt to set sales records but I do expect that first year production of the Volt, about 10,000 units, to sell out. 

 

In another article, "Speed bumps ahead for electric vehicle charging"  Peter Fairley trots out the latest chestnut about local capacity being an issue.  Well, again there is some truth in this, in some areas, where there is older equipment, if a large number of people suddenly bought electric cars local equipment may begin to fail due to the increased load.  More likely though is that this equipment begins to fail because it is just too old.  In my neighborhood we have had two transformers explode this year and there isn't an electric vehicle anywhere near here.  The 70 year old equipment is way passed its expected life and is starting to fail.  Electric vehicles could speed this up but then again they are also a reason to change out this old infrastructure before it fails catastrophically.   

 

To support his article he says "Such "AC Level 2" chargers, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers' emerging J1772 standard, draw up to 6.6 kilowatts. Turning one on is like adding up to three homes to a neighborhood, and that's with the air conditioning, lights, and laundry running."  Now I'm not an electrical engineer but 6.6 Kilowatts on a 220 volt circuit pulls about 30 amps.  Now, most older houses have 100amp circuits while newer properties often come with 200amp supply so unless they house is actually running the stove, AC lights, TV Computer etc, the amount drawn by even 2 EVs isn't going to trip a breaker.  In fact, if I turn on our electric range with all 4 elements going, plus the oven, I will be drawing well over 30 amps.  

 

In the end electric vehicles aren't going to be rolled out in vast numbers any time soon.  Like any other technology it will start small and will grow slowly over the first few years.  The pace will accelerate as we reach the tipping point where volume begins to bring down costs.  The electric power providers have ample time to take care of older undersized equipment well before we have the situation where every house has an EV.  The move to electric vehicles is one that will provide many opportunities for electric and electronic engineers so shame on Spectrum magazine for mounting a negative campaign against this radical change in  technology.