2011 Blog Archive


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Sunday December 25, 2011 – Predictions for 2012

Sunday December 18, 2011 – Volt Fire Controversy

Sunday December 11, 2011 – Revising ZEV Regulations

Sunday December 4, 2011 - 2011 Tokyo Auto Show

Sunday November 27, 2011 - Plug-in Prius Tales

Sunday November 20, 2011 - 2011 LA Auto Show

Sunday November 12, 2011 - Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance

Sunday Nov 5, 2011 – EV News for October, 2011


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Sunday December 25, 2011 – Predictions for 2012 – This is my last blog of 2011 so I am going to take this week to try and make some predictions for the coming year.


The predictions I made last year were surprisingly close to the mark.  I said that I expected Aptera to fail and unfortunately I was correct on that count.  I predicted that Fisker would get into production and that Th!nk would have a hard time selling cars unless they could bring prices down.  I also predicted the end of the fully enclosed NEV market and while the golf cart type NEVs are still flourishing the full enclosed cars are mostly gone.  Even Wheego is only building to order now they have the LiFe in production.


I was wrong on a couple of counts, first I thought that the Ford would not begin selling the Transit Connect EV to the public until 2012 but it is now available.  I also thought that Coda might have a hard time getting into production but it appears that they are going to start shipping cars very soon now and may just thrive.


2012 will see more electric cars hitting the streets as manufactures like Mitsubishi, and Ford start shipping vehicles.  Plug-in hybrids will also hit the streets when Toyota starts shipping the Plug-in Prius around March and Honda introduces the Plug-in Accord in the fourth quarter.  I expect that we will see delays on the Tesla S with first deliveries not happening until late in the fourth quarter.  Once the S hit the streets it will sell well.


Other manufacturers will continue drag their feet, shipping a token number of electric cars in 2012, while they watch to see how the EV market develops.  I think that we are going to hear a lot more negative articles about how badly electric cars are selling, even though cars will remain in short supply over 2012.  Once the Volt and the Plug-in Prius become eligible for the Californian green carpool stickers dealers will have trouble keeping them on the lot, but supply will be limited so sales volume won’t be high when compared with big sellers like the Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry.

The economy should continue its slow recovery with the pace picking up in the third and fourth quarters.  Two things could stop this from happening, our current dysfunctional Congress which seems to want to do nothing but block the policies of the opposing party rather than to do what is best for the country, and the Euro debt crisis which could push the world economy back into recession if the powers that be allow large scale failures of European banks.


I also predicted last year that we would see the start of fee based public charging and while most of the chargers have remained free we have seen fee based chargers starting to appear in many locations.  Both Blink Network and Chargepoint Network have indicated that they will be converting many of their charging stations to fee based charging starting in the Spring but the economics are not right for many people so public infrastructure will continue to remain underutilized.


Right now the cost for charging here in the California ranges from free up to $4.00 an hour.  By the middle of the year the average price for charging will be up to about $2 an hour which for a Nissan Leaf will be the equivalent of $6 a gallon gas and the equivalent of $10 a gallon for Plug-in Prius drivers.  The hourly rates will favor those vehicles like the Ford Focus EV and Tesla that support faster charging rates.  For example the average price per hour for a Ford Focus EV will be the equivalent of $3 a gallon simply because it can charge at twice the speed of the Nissan Leaf.


I expect that prices will come down somewhat as people favor the lower cost chargers instead of using the more expensive ones.  By the end of the year the average cost for charging will be more like $1 an hour which will be economic for most EV drivers.


Gas will once again cross the $4 per gallon mark by late spring and may get as high as $5 a gallon during the summer peak driving season.  This will once again push people toward more fuel efficient vehicles which will benefit EV sales.


While I don’t expect EV sales to hit the tipping point in 2012 I do expect to see sales climbing steadily as more people see electric vehicles on the streets and get an opportunity to drive them.  If economic growth does continue then 2012 will be a good year for electric vehicles.

Sunday December 18, 2011 – Volt Fire Controversy – This week there has been a lot of Volt bashing in the press regarding the recent announcement that there had been a fire in the Volt’s batteries at a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) facility three weeks after the car had been used in a crash test.


As the firestorm grew GM first offered to provide loaner cars to any Volt owner who felt that their Volt might be unsafe, and eventually offered to buy back the cars.  So far they have had very few takers.


The Press, of course, is having a field day, and you would think that Volts were bursting into flames and frying their drivers on every street corner.  This has been especially true since the NHTSA have opened up a formal investigation into the safety of the EV battery packs.


Their press release says “This past May, NHTSA crashed a Chevy Volt in an NCAP test designed to measure the vehicle's ability to protect occupants from injury in a side collision. During that test, the vehicle's battery was damaged and the coolant line was ruptured. When a fire involving the test vehicle occurred more than three weeks after it was crashed, the agency concluded that the damage to the vehicle's lithium-ion battery during the crash test led to the fire. Since that fire incident, NHTSA has taken a number of steps to gather additional information about the potential for fire in electric vehicles involved in a crash, including working with the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense-in close coordination with experts from General Motors-to complete rigorous tests of the Volt's lithium-ion batteries.

In an effort to recreate the May test, NHTSA conducted three tests last week on the Volt's lithium-ion battery packs that intentionally damaged the battery compartment and ruptured the vehicle's coolant line. Following a test on November 16 that did not result in a fire, a temporary increase in temperature was recorded in a test on November 17. During the test conducted on November 18 using similar protocols, the battery pack was rotated within hours after it was impacted and began to smoke and emit sparks shortly after rotation to 180 degrees. NHTSA's forensic analysis of the November 18 fire incident is continuing this week. Yesterday, the battery pack that was tested on November 17 and that had been continually monitored since the test caught fire at the testing facility. The agency is currently working with DOE, DOD, and GM to assess the cause and implications of yesterday's fire. In each of the battery tests conducted in the past two weeks, the Volt's battery was impacted and rotated to simulate a real-world, side-impact collision into a narrow object such as a tree or a pole followed by a rollover.”


The press release then goes on to say “NHTSA is not aware of any roadway crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries. However, the agency is concerned that damage to the Volt's batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire. NHTSA is therefore opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts, which could experience a battery-related fire following a crash. Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern.”


They go on to recommend the following for those situations where the Volt has been involved in a serious accident.


“• Consumers are advised to take the same actions they would in a crash involving a gasoline-powered vehicle-exit the vehicle safely or await the assistance of an emergency responder if they are unable to get out on their own, move a safe distance away from the vehicle, and notify the authorities of the crash.
• Emergency responders should check a vehicle for markings or other indications that it is electric-powered. If it is, they should exercise caution, per published guidelines, to avoid any possible electrical shock and should disconnect the battery from the vehicle circuits if possible.
• Emergency responders should also use copious amounts of water if fire is present or suspected and keeping in mind that fire can occur for a considerable period after a crash should proceed accordingly.
• Operators of tow trucks and vehicle storage facilities should ensure the damaged vehicle is kept in an open area instead of inside a garage or other enclosed building.
• Rather than attempt to discharge a propulsion battery, an emergency responder, tow truck operator, or storage facility manager should contact experts at the vehicle's manufacturer on that subject.
• Vehicle owners should not store a severely damaged vehicle in a garage or near other vehicles.
• Consumers with questions about their electric vehicles should contact their local dealers.”


Fires that occur after a collision are nothing new.  In 1995 the NHTSA studied 214 fatal collisions of gasoline powered vehicles that resulted in fires.  These collisions resulted in 251 fatalities 65 of which were attributed to fire, not the trauma caused by the collision itself. 


Those that are old enough may also remember the Ford Pinto, which was prone to burst into flames when rear ended.  Fire after an accident is an ever present danger when you are dealing with a volatile fuel like gasoline and one of the first things to be done when the gas tank is ruptured is to make sure that the fuel is drained from the tank.  The same should apply when a battery is ruptured in an accident; the pack needs to be disconnected and drained.


So far there is no evidence that the batteries in an electric car are anywhere near as dangerous as the gas in an ICE car so I see no reason for anyone to be concerned with the safety of the volt.  If a fire does occur it is likely to be long after the crash and this will give responders plenty of time to render the pack safe.

Sunday December 11, 2011 – Revising ZEV Regulations – On December 7, 2011 CARB released the latest draft of a series of documents designed to revise the current Zero Emission Vehicle regulations.  The document, filled with a confusing array of vehicle classes and multipliers, reminded me of the ones they produced in around 2002.


The documents try to take into account every possible scenario and this makes it so confusing I doubt even CARB can tell how many vehicles each carmaker must build to be in compliance with the law.  The regulations are not yet in effect but will be reviewed on January 26, 2012 by the State legislature.


CARB’s summary document does provide some insight into the intent of the legislation.


For the 2009 through 2017 model year the legislation would remove the expiration of unused credits earned from as far back as 1996.  Reduce the requirements for intermediate volume manufacturers, those selling less than 60 vehicles produced each year.  Extend the travel provision that allows manufacturers to count ZEV credits for cars placed in other states that have adopted the California regulations, toward their total for California.


The legislation would also increase the number of credits allowed for placement of fuel cell vehicles, and introduces yet another category, PZEV H, to account for plug-in hybrid cars designed to run mostly on batteries.


These changes are said to allow the manufactures to prepare for the 2018 model year.  In the 2018 model year and beyond CARB starts to really increase the number of zero emission cars on the road.


First they will remove the allowances for PZEV and AT-PZEV vehicles since by the 2018 model year this technology should be fully commercialized. 


Requirements for ZEV and TZEV (transitional zero emission vehicles aka plug-in hybrids) will be increased so they will make up about 15.4% of sales by 2025.


The definition of Large and intermediate manufacturer will be changes so that most car manufacturers will be covered by the legislation.  The biggest impact will be to BMW, Daimler, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, and Volkswagen who will all move from being defined as intermediate sized manufacturers to being placed in the large manufacture category.


The travel provision will be amended so that credits for cars placed in other states will only be accrued by Fuel Cell vehicles not by BEVs after model year 2017.


Manufacturers who over-comply with the proposed green-house gas fleet standards will be allowed to offset a portion of their ZEV requirements for the 2018 to 2021 model years.


CARB expects the new regulation to mean that 500,000 ZEVs and 900,000 Plug-in Hybrids will have been sold in California between model years 1996 and 2025.


There will also be some changes in the regulations regarding the clean fuel program that will reduce the number for fuel cell vehicles on the streets before hydrogen fueling stations have to be installed, remove clean fuels like CNG and ethanol from the requirements, and require a review in 2 years to see if anything needs to be done in terms of electric vehicle infrastructure.


Personally I think this legislation is probably superfluous.  The car manufactures now understand that the ride they have been having on the back of gasoline for the last 100 years cannot continue forever and those that see the writing on the wall are already starting to make inroads into the building of electric vehicles.  It will have the benefit of keeping the focus for ZEVs on California.


Over the next few years electric cars will start to come down in price and will become more main-stream.  Right now we are dealing mostly with early adopters.  Take-up on electric and plug-in hybrids has been slow.  People are interested in them as can be seen by the 40,000 plus hand raisers that registered for early ordering of the Prius Plug-in, but once pricing was out this translated to less than 5,000 orders so far. 


To put this in context, orders are still much higher than the rate of orders for ZEVs back in 1997 or even 2002 when the RAV4 EV went on sale, but they are still relatively slow.  The major hurdle to getting BEVs on the road is the price and although there are tax deductions that help bring down the cost most people look at the sales price they are going to pay the dealer.


If CARB really wants to sell BEVs in the US then give the subsidies to the manufacturer who can then price the car lower.  Give them say $2500 for every BEV they sell in California if they reduce the MSRP by a corresponding amount.  I guarantee that if the base model Plug-in Prius had been priced at $29,500 instead of $32,000 there would have been lots more sales even though the $2500 federal tax credit will make the price to the buyer $29,500 anyway.

Sunday December 4, 2011 - 2011 Tokyo Auto Show - This year there were several notable absences from the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show. Ford and most European Auto Makers skipped the show, and GM had only one small display, but for those of us interested in electric cars there was lots to see so below are a few of electric cars on display.


Let’s start with the world's leader in electric cars, Nissan.  They had a Nismo tweaked version of the Nissan Leaf on display.  This version, unlike the race car version they displayed earlier this year, looks like it is pretty much ready for the streets.  The car has been decked out with a body kit that lowers its ground clearance and makes it more aerodynamic while also shedding a little weight.  The drivetrain has also been tweaked to increase power output to about 121 horsepower.


Another concept car, this time the third generation Pivo concept, looks close to being production ready.  This tiny three seat electric car is designed for use in an urban environment.  The Pivo 3 comes with such things as Automatic Valet Parking which gives the car the ability to go off on its own and find a parking space, recharge itself, and return to pick up its owner when summoned by cell phone. A production version may see the light of day around 2016.


The Nissan Townpod looks like it just escaped from a Cars movie.  From the front the car looks like a face with a nose and a smiling mouth.  The car is designed to work both as a family sedan and an electric delivery vehicle.  It has rear suicide-doors allow easy access into the car and the rear doors swing wide open to make access into the rear cargo area easy.  There is no indication if this will ever be made into a production vehicle but if it does I am sure the first customer will be Disney World in Tokyo


Mitsubishi; who already sell versions of its i_MiEV electric car in Japan and Europe; and are about to start deliveries here in the USA, showed off a plug-in hybrid concept car that looks to be production ready.


The PX-MiEV II SUV offers two 80hp electric motors, one driving the front wheels and the other driving the rear to provide all wheel drive.  The lithium battery pack provides up to 31 miles of all electric range before the 94hp 2 liter engine kicks in.   The car offers two additional modes, EV mode that appears to allow the driver to go beyond the 31 miles and stay in electric mode, and Charge Mode which forces the ICE on to recharge the batteries while in motion and may be used while driving on the freeway so you have enough battery to drive in EV mode when you get off the freeway.


For some bizarre reason Honda chose to announce the 2012 Accord Plug-in Hybrid at the Tokyo Motor show rather than at the LA Auto show even though the car is intended for sale in the US starting late next year.  The Accord PHEV is powered by a 161hp electric motor which drives the front wheels together with a 6KWHr Lithium battery pack that provides 15-20 miles of range.  Like the Chevy Volt the transmission is built around planetary gears and a number of clutches.  Like the Prius PHEV the engine will go on if the car is accelerated hard and drives the car full time at freeway speeds.


The Honda EV-STER Concept is an all-electric two-seat sports car.  The car is powered by a 10KWHr Lithium battery pack that will push the car from 0 – 37mph in 5 seconds.  The interesting thing about this concept is that, like the Gizmo once made by the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Company, it uses twin levers instead of a conventional steering wheel.


Suzuki had a couple of interesting offerings at this year’s show.  First there was the Swift EV Hybrid, an extended range hybrid that looks like it is production ready.   The Swift EV Hybrid will offer an EV only range of around 18 miles and can be charged from a 220V outlet in about 90 minutes.  The 18 mile range works well in Japan but is short for the European market so the technology may be developed further before the car is released there.  There is no hint that the car may be released in the US where Suzuki has a limited presence.


Also on display from Suzuki was the Q-Concept, a two-seat NEV-like car, with the passenger sitting behind the driver, which looks like a CD player on wheels.  The car is designed for inner city use with a length of just 8.2ft.  Range on the Q-Concept was given as just 6.2 miles which would work in a campus like setting but would be no good for most American drivers.


Toyota Showed off its third generation FT-EV III Concept and this one looks like the Toyota IQ and appears to be close to being production ready.  The FT-EV III, which will probably go on sale late next year in the US as the Scion IQ EV will seat four people while the Lithium battery pack is quoted as a having a 65 mile range.  Toyota also claim that the pack can be fast charged in about 3 hours.  Unlike the RAV4EV that Tesla is developing for Toyota, the Scion IQ EV will be fully developed in-house by Toyota.


Also on display was the Toyota FCV-R Fuel Cell vehicle.  The FCV-R is a midsized sedan just a little bit smaller than the current Camry model.  Toyota claims that it has a range of around 400 miles and hinted that they intend to put this car on sale starting in 2015.


It is clear that the Japanese automakers are still looking to produce electric vehicles and I expect at least some of these to make it to the US and Europe.  We should see more news from the Detroit Auto Show in January.

Sunday November 27, 2011 - Plug-in Prius Tales - For many years now I have been an ardent supporter of electric vehicles but because of my living situation I have always been unable to actually drive an electric car, the closest I have come is a Pruis Hybrid.  Since Toyota announced the Plug-in Prius I have been writing in my blog that this car might work for those who, like me, live in an apartment building but have limited access to charging.  I decided to test my theory and see if how the Plug-in Prius will work for me long term.


Last July Toyota opened up their web site to allow people to register for a shot at getting one of the early slots for a plug-in Prius.  I signed up the very first day and also contacted my dealer, Dianne Whitmire from Carson Toyota.  In total there were over 40,000 people who registered at the site and I was told there would be only about 5,000 cars available to the early sign-up program so I was expecting the cars to go quickly. 


I had some initial problems with my sign-up.  I constantly had problems getting logged into the system and while Toyota sent out emails on status I wasn't getting them.  Toyota also posted a video explaining the order process but I was unable to view it.  I was getting very frustrated and kept bugging Dianne about my problems.  She was very patient with me and told me she could get me a car out of dealer allocation even if things got messed up with the priority ordering.  I was about to give up altogether when Dianne gave me a number at Toyota.   When I called they took my information and noted I was having problems so I would at least have a chance of ordering by phone.


Then one day I was browsing the internet when I was prompted to upgrade to the latest version of flash player.  Once the upgrade was complete everything on the Toyota site started working OK.


I got my first email from Toyota about two months ago in the form of a survey asking what color and trim level I intended to order.  I responded right away by selecting the base model in White.  The Plug-in Prius comes in two trim levels, the base model and the advanced model.  The advanced model adds a lot of features like an HD navigation system and different seats but it costs around $40,000 which is way too much for me and I didn't think the extra features justified spending over $8,000 more.


Then I waited for the order system to open up.  Someone on Prius Chat posted that his dealer had told him October 5, but that came and went.  People began speculating on when the order system would start up and Dianne even started a pool.  October progressed into November and still the order system remained stubbornly closed.  Finally the word came down, November the 17 at 9am PST.  I checked my calendar; at 9am I would be at the LA Auto show attending the Green Car Journal Green Car of the Year awards.  The word on Prius Chat was to get signed up as soon as the site opened because there were only 5,000 cars allocated to the early order program and they would probably be gone quickly. 


I decided to take my laptop to the LA Convention Center and use their WiFi network.  To do this I skipped the Green Car of the Year award, which I was pretty sure wouldn't go to one of the two electric cars under consideration, went up to the media room, and got logged onto the Toyota order site.  When I went to enter my order I found that the system already had the base model and color white selected so all I had to do was add some options, in my case all weather mats and a cargo net.  I submitted my order at exactly 9am and the system came back and gave me a confirmation number of 122 which is a pretty low number.  Delivery priority doesn't depend on this number though, my dealer has to complete the order process by providing me with a price for the car then I had to go back in and confirm.


Dianne was primed and ready to go when orders started coming in, and she probably has more orders than any other sales person.  It took her only 15 minutes to get the pricing details of my order onto the system and by 9:15am I had the email from Toyota giving me 96hrs to confirm the order.  I was still logged on to the Toyota web site but I didn't have the confirm button for my order so I had to log off and back on again.  When I logged back on I got a pop-up message saying that the Prius was sold out.  The message did say that if you have an order if flight you could go ahead and confirm.  After a few seconds the pop-up disappeared and I was able to complete the confirmation process. 


That evening after I got back from the Convention Center I logged in to Prius Chat and found out that the sold out message had been a bug in the system.  Even now, more than a week after the order window opened up, there are still Plug-in Prius available in all of the launch states.  So far the highest confirmation number I have seen is a little over 2800.


Now it's a matter of waiting again.  According to someone on Prius Chat who asked about delivery dates we should start getting emails from Toyota some time in December telling us when our cars are likely to be scheduled for build.  Of course Toyota can't really make any commitments until the cars are ready to roll down the production line.  We have seen in the past how natural events such as earthquakes and the flooding in Thailand can seriously impact a company’s ability to build cars.


I currently don't have access to a 110V plug here in the apartment building but I do have access to EV charging at work where they have six parking spaces, each fitted with a 110V outlet.  In addition I will occasionally have the opportunity to charge at one or more of the public charging stations currently available here in the LA area.  While some of these are free I expect that they won't stay that way for very long so it remains to be seen if these are going to be affordable.  In a Plug-in Prius paying $3 - 4 per hour of charging isn't going to be cost effective.  Working under PHEV conditions the Plug-in Prius should return about 50mpg and at $3.80 per gallon the break-even point for electricity cost is about 38¢ per hour of charge. 


I will continue to write blog articles about my progress toward getting my Plug-in Prius when I have something to report.  Once my car arrives I will continue to write about my experiences so that people can get a better idea if a plug-in vehicle will work for them.

Sunday November 20, 2011 - 2011 LA Auto Show - This week the LA Auto Show came to the LA Convention Center and I was fortunate enough to attend the Media days on Wednesday and Thursday to cover this event for EV World.  This year has been billed as the year of the EV, and the theme for the LA Auto show was efficiency so I was filled with anticipation when I drove down there on the first day expecting to see manufacturers rolling out new electric and hybrid vehicles.


The keynote address this year was given by Takashi Yamanouchi, President and CEO of Mazda Motors, who’s basic message was that Mazda considered it more beneficial to try and make existing internal combustion technology work more efficiently instead of moving to toward electrification.  He did say that once the current limitations of electric vehicles have been overcome Mazda would be ready with an EV.  To emphasize this message Mazda unveiled the 2013 CX-5 small SUV which will get about 4mpg better than the Mazda Tribute it replaces.


More interesting was the pronouncement by Don Butler, VP of Cadillac Marketing, who told the assembled reporters that Cadillac intended to produce the Converj concept car to be named the ELR.  The ELR will be a plug-in hybrid using technology similar to that used by the Chevy Volt.  There was no indication when we should expect the ELR in showrooms but the introduction of a plug-in hybrid for a luxury brand like Cadillac makes sense since the premium paid for the PHEV system will be a much smaller percentage of MSRP than it is for a brand like Cadillac.


Both VW and Hyundai were also big disappointments neither of them announcing an EV or a plug-in hybrid even though both these companies have vehicles in development and close to production. 


After the Hyundai press conference I had a chance to talk with Jim Federico from GM who works on the Volt and other electric power train systems.  When I got to the Chevrolet stand I found that Jim was running late so I took the opportunity to go over to the Audi stand and take a few pictures of the A3 e-Tron and the e-Tron Spyder which they had on display there.


I talked over several topics with Jim including the current issue with fires involving the Volt.  Jim confirmed that primary results for the investigation indicate that the neither the Volt nor its charger caused the fire.  He did confirm that the Volt suffered some damage to the battery pack when the gas tank ignited.  The other fire at the NHTSB test site had caused a change in the protocols when Volts are involved in serious accidents to include disconnecting the traction pack.  He also noted that the NHTSB had stated that they didn’t consider the Volt to be any more of a fire risk than regular ICE vehicles.


He also told me that the Volt was being updated to meet CARB standards meaning that the Volt will be eligible for the Green carpool stickers here in California.  Chevrolet is expecting this change, which can be ordered now but will not be delivered until February, to further increase sales of the Volt in California.  He also said that GM had started shipping the Ampera to Europe and these should be showing up in dealerships any day now.


At his point he couldn’t say much about the Chevy Spark EV which won’t make an appearance until the Detroit Auto Show.  All he would say was that the range on the car would be very competitive.


After grabbing a quick lunch I went over to talk with the folks at Coda who had a nice large stand in the South Hall but didn’t have any press conference scheduled.  There was good news, Coda have started up their production line and should have cars going out to buyers before the end of the year.  There will only be a few cars delivered this year but deliveries will pick early next year.


Ford started out by showing the new Shelby Mustang which offers 600bhp and a top speed of over 200mph which is not going to be very fuel efficient.  They followed this up with a group of eight new models including new versions of the Flex, Escape, Focus and Fiesta.  All of these new models feature Ford’s EcoBoost technology which improves fuel efficiency.   What was disappointing is that Ford did not mention the Focus EV at all even though deliveries are expected to start before the end of the year.  At least Ford had a Focus EV and a Transit Connect EV on display but for some reason the C-Max and C-Max Energi were nowhere to be found.  I assume that the big announcements for these cars will be done at the Detroit show.


Honda won the Green Car of the Year award this year for the 2012 CNG Honda Civic and was the only major automaker that had a production ready EV to announce.  The 2013 Honda Fit will go on sale in California and Oregon starting next summer and will roll out to some east coast states in 2013.


The Fit, which uses the same electric motor as the FCX Clarity, will offer an electric only range of up to 123 miles (derived using the EPA city cycle test methodology) although in real world driving you are more likely to see the combined EPA number which is expected to be 76 miles per charge.  The 6.6KW 32amp charger is capable or recharging the car in as little as 3 hour when a 240V circuit is available although charging will be slower at 220V. MSRP for the base model will be $36,625 and lease rates are expected to be around $399 per year. 

After the Honda presentation I hurried over to the South Hall in time to get a seat for the Chevrolet press conference.  Chris Perry, VP of Chevrolet Marketing, started out by introducing the Chevy Spark.  The Spark is Chevy's latest sub-compact and is designed as an entry level vehicle to appeal to younger buyers.  The car is powered by a 1.2 liter engine coupled to a 5 speed manual transmission. The car will come with a 5 year 100,000 mile power train warranty and should be appearing in showrooms in the Summer of 2012.  While they didn't have one on display the EV version is expected to go on sale in select markets, including California, in 2013.


Next they rolled out a 1965 Chevy Impala SS.  The car was originally owned by Herb Younger who sold the car in the 1980s to pay for his children's education.  His two sons spent 5 years tracking down the car and finally were able to purchase it back for their Father.  The car was in amazingly good condition for a 46 year old car.


Chevy then went on to roll out their gas guzzler, the Camaro ZL1 Convertible with a 580hp engine that will drive the car 0-60 in just 3.9 seconds and offers a top speed of 184mph.  The car will cost around $54,000 and will be available late next year if you can afford the fuel bill.


My final stop of the day was at the BMW stand and this was the best press conference of the day.  The conference opened up with a trailer for the upcoming Tom Cruise film Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol.  This film apparently gives extensive air time to the BMW I8 which is driven by Tom Cruise in the Movie.  Then, Tom's costar from the Movie, Paula Patton emerged from the I8 and talked about being driven at speed in the car during filming.


The I8 is constructed using a carbon fiber body on an aluminum chassis.  An 180hp electric motor sits over the front wheels and an ICE engine sits over the rear wheels giving a 50-50 weight distribution.  Together they can generate over 400hp while giving a fuel economy rating 80 mpge.  No details of the battery pack were given.  BMW confirmed that they are going to produce the I8 which should be an exciting car to drive and should get lots of exposure from the latest MI movie.


The other car they introduced was the I3 concept.  This is a sub-compact electric car for city use.  The I3 also has a light carbon fiber body on an aluminum frame and is powered by a Lithium Ion battery pack that will drive the 170hp electric motor, mounted over the rear wheels, providing 100 miles of range.  The battery pack can be charged from a dedicated 240V circuit in about 4 hours.


A production version of the I3 Concept can be expected toward the end of 2013.


On the second day there was only one press conference that I really wanted to attend so after breakfast I went up to the media room and logged on ready to connect to the Plug-in Prius order web site.  At 9am I placed my order for a White base model Plug-in Prius then sat around for about fifteen minutes until I got the pricing email from my Dealer, Dianne Whitmire at Carson Toyota.  I logged back in to confirm my order and was surprised when I got a message saying that the Plug-in Prius was sold out.  After a few seconds the message went away and I was able to confirm my order.  It turns out that the "sold out" message was a bug on the Toyota site so there are still Plug-in Prius available.  My order was number 122 but the actual order that you get cars is dependent on the time you confirm not the time you ordered but there is still a good chance that I have an early order number so I should be able to get a car sometime in March.


After that I went to sign up for the ride and drives.  The sign-up process, which is normally a total fiasco, was even worse this year.  Sign-up was supposed to start at 9:30am but they were twenty minutes late getting the line moving.  In that time some people were allowed to jump the queue which I find very annoying.  When I did get to the sign-up I found that of the three vehicles I had planned to drive only one was available.  Audi had pulled the A3 e-Tron from the ride and drive altogether, and the Benz fuel cell vehicle's schedule was already full.  In the end I signed up for test drives for the Mitsubishi I and the Hyundai Tucson fuel cell vehicle.


After signing up for the ride and drive I had a little time so I walked over to the West Hall to take some photos.  Right by the entrance to the Hall I came upon Honda who, along with the Fit EV, had a Clarity FX, the GNG Civic and the EV-neo electric scooter on display.  The EV-neo is powered by a 2KW motor and Lithium Ion battery pack and offers a top speed of 35mph.  Range is quoted at 21 miles with the note that this is at an average speed of 19mph.  The plaque for this vehicle said "Currently not for sale in the US."


This year Nissan did not have a press conference scheduled but they did have a number of vehicles on display including the Nissan Leaf.  This car is now one of the regular line-up of cars in the roll-out state although there is still no indication of when they want to roll the car out nationwide.  The slogan that Nissan had on the wall behind the car was interesting, "Zero is worth everything."


From the West Hall I walked down to the Concourse where Doking (pronounce docking) was about to start their press conference.  Doking is a privately owned company based in Croatia and their primary business is the manufacture of robot vehicles used in industry and the military. 


The Doking XD is a subcompact about the size of a Fiat 500.  The car seats 3 with the driver sitting in the center, because that has been determined to be the safest place, and two passengers behind him to his left and right.  To solve the problem of getting into a center seat in such a small car the driver's seat pivots and slides out to the side so the driver can sit in the seat then be moved into place.  The car also has memory to set the seat in the correct position for up to three drivers.


The car comes with a 32KWH battery that offers a range of up to 160 miles in the city.  The car can accelerate from 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and has a top speed of 87mph.  The XD uses hub motors and can be configured with a choice of front wheel, rear wheel, or all-wheel drive.  The body is made of Kevlar which makes it virtually bullet proof and the design includes gull wing doors that open nice and wide but looked impractical for the tight parking spaces here on LA’s west side.


Doking plan on making just 1000 of these vehicles for sale in Europe starting next year and are currently looking for opportunities to mass produce them here for the US market.  Projected price for this car is around $40,000.


After the press conference I went for a walk around the South Hall to take a look at the Toyota Stand.  They had a 2012 Plug-in Prius on display but it was tucked away in the back behind the Prius V (by the way that's Prius Vee not Prius 5) and they had a video wall with touch screen that you can use to get pictures and video of Prius family including the just announced Prius C.  They did not have a Prius C on display as they are holding that for the Tokyo Motor Show.  Also missing was one of the RAV4 EVs and they didn't even have one of their fuel cell vehicles on display.  Toyota continues to make a very poor showing at the LA Auto show which is disappointing considering the California is probably their largest market outside Japan.


My test drive of the Mitsubishi I was fun and I got to experience driving the car in all three modes, Economy, Normal, and high regen.  I will be writing that experience up in the next week or so.


The test drive in the Tucson FCEV was pretty standard.  I'm not a big fan of driving SUVs but the Tucson drives quite well for such a big car.  Fuel Cells have continued to evolve and the latest vehicles offer longer range.  The Tucson FCEV that I drove was pretty quite, and although it had been driven several times by a bunch of lead foots it still showed over 400Km on the range gage.  The car drives pretty much like the Tucson SUV except it is much quieter although I could still hear the occasional whir of a pump coming from under the hood.


What was more interesting was the discussion I had with the man from Hyundai at the end of the drive.  I asked to take a look under the refueling door and found that there were two connectors under there.  He said that the first was for the hydrogen line and the second was for communications required by a 700 bar connection.  He told me that these were being replaced by an infrared communication system which is similar to what they have on the inductive paddle EV chargers.  I asked about the fueling station in Santa Monica and he said that wouldn't require communications as it was a 350 bar system.  I asked if that meant you would only get half a tank full and he said yes, basically your range would drop down to around 180 miles if you filled up from there.


After the Tucson test drive it was time to leave.  On my way home I reflected on the auto show and at first I was disappointed that the major car makers had mostly announced big gas guzzling cars and they appear to be reverting to their old habit of increasing power on a car that already has more power than anyone reasonably needs instead of increasing fuel economy.  At the same time, we have seen companies like Ford introducing more models that use their EcoBoost technology and Chevrolet bringing out smaller more fuel efficient cars.  At the same time, Electric Vehicles are just another model in the line-up and get placed on the Showroom floor for all to view rather than being just concept cars.  Electric cars are on their way to becoming main-stream, let's see what Detroit Brings next January.

Sunday November 12, 2011 - Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance - Earlier this month saw the kickoff of the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance with the goal of bringing together a group of partners to promote the use of electric vehicles on the Island and to link this with their primary industry, tourism.


It all started with a grant of around $300,000 awarded by the Department of the Environment to University of Hawaii's Maui College as part of the Clean Cities initiative.  The Grant, in partnership with the State of Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism is intended to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.


So what make Maui a great place for electric vehicle?


At 729 square miles Maui is the second largest island in the Hawaiian Islands.  It is 48 miles long and 26 miles across at its widest point and has 120 miles of coastline.  Its primary industry is tourism attracting over 2 million tourists per year, 85 percent of which rent cars for all or part of their stay.


The Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance is focused on building infrastructure to support electric vehicles.  The first order of business was to put together a group of partners who will spend time and money building out the infrastructure.  So far they have gathered over 60 partners into the alliance including rental car companies like Hertz and Enterprise Rent-a-Car; Hotels like Grand Wailea Resort and Spar; and Honua Kai Resort and Spa; and car retailers like the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association; and Jim Falk Auto Group.


Both the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt are currently on sale on Maui and they have already sold 35 cars so far this year with demand increasing.  Hertz and Enterprise already offer electric cars for rent here on the mainland and so extending what they have learned to Maui is quite simple.  In large volume the use of a level 3 charger at the rental site will eliminate one of the primary problems with renting EVs which is turnaround time when the cars return.  When a car comes in empty in the early afternoon and takes eight hours to charge you can’t push it out to another renter in the early evening, so the company will lose a full day of rental.  With a 3 hour fast charge the cars can be turned around in less than an hour, increasing rental revenue.


The nature of an island like Maui makes driving distances short, and most trips will be well within the range of a typical EV.  Once there is an easily available and reliable charging network up and running then visitors to Maui will have an opportunity to rent an electric car.  Since there will be electric vehicle charging stations at many of the major hotels they will get to experience the benefits of overnight charging with a "full tank every morning" and will be able to top up on their trips around the island if needed. 


But the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance doesn't stop there.  They have also included energy companies like Maui Electric Company, HNU Energy, and Rising Sun Solar who are working to make sure the grid is going to be capable of supporting a large number of electric vehicles while also moving the electric grid toward using more and more renewable energy.  As part of this effort, though not funded by the DOE grant, the Maui College will be installing solar car ports over a portion of their parking lot and some of these car ports will be equipped with electric vehicle charging stations.


For many years now I have said that EV infrastructure isn't required before electric vehicle sales begin since most early adopters will charge at home.   However, for electric vehicles to become mainstream public charging is going to be needed for people to be able to make extended use of their electric vehicles.  One of the most important places to add this infrastructure is at hotels since that's where most people want a charger if they use their EV or PHEV for trips.  In my opinion The Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance has got things right.  Look forward to driving an EV on your next trip to Maui.

Sunday Nov 5, 2011 – EV News for October, 2011 – October has been a busy month for the EV industry with sales gains for the Chevy Volt, pricing announcements for the Ford Focus, Renault’s Kangoo ZE arrived in dealerships, and the passing away of an EV legend.


I’ll start with the bad news, EV legend Bob Beaumont died of emphysema at the age of 79.   In the late 1960s Bob Beaumont sold his Chrysler/Plymouth dealership and moved to Sebring Florida where, in 1974 he launched the Citicar.  Over the next three years he sold just over 2,000 of these tiny wedge-shaped cars and his company became the sixth largest automobile maker in the nation.   After the end of the Arab oil embargo, sales plummeted along with the price of gas, and after the cars were reported as being unsafe to drive by Consumer Reports his company went bankrupt and Mr. Beaumont sold the design to another company who made some modifications and re-launched in as the Comuta-car in 1979.  It is interesting to note that there have been no reported fatalities related to accidents in the Citicar and there are still a surprising number of them on the road.  Mr. Beaumont went on to found Renaissance Cars where he built the Tropica electric sports car.  Less than 20 of these were sold before the company folded.  Bob Beaumont was a passionate advocate for electric cars he was just too far ahead of his time.


GM showed an increase in sales of 385 Volts over the 723 they sold in September for an October total of 1,108 cars.  So far this year Chevy has sold just over 5,000 Volts.   For the first time in several months Nissan trailed behind GM in electric car sale moving 849 Leafs during the month of October, down from 1,031 sales in September, but at 8,048 cars year to date they still hold a sizable lead and should get close to their goal of 10,000 cars for calendar year 2011.   Azure Dynamics, who build the powertrain for the Ford Transit Connect announced 21 Sales for the month of October, a tiny number but not surprising given the van’s $58,000 price tag.  Sales numbers for the Fisker Karma, Th!nk City, and Wheego LiFe were not available but I am sure that the numbers would not be very high since these cars are all made in really low volume.  To put these sales in some prospective, in 2002 when Toyota had the RAV4 EV for sale they were, on averaging, selling 5 per week.


GM also announced that it would begin selling a fully electric version of the Chevy Spark  in limited markets around the US and in some other countries starting in 2013.  The gas version of the Spark, a subcompact which is slightly smaller than a Mini Cooper, will go on sale in the US starting next year.  The Spark EV will be introduced at this year's LA Auto Show in a couple of weeks and hopefully they will reveal details of the projected range and top speed then.


This month Ford finally announced pricing for the new Focus EV but at just a little under $40,000 will be considerably more expensive than the Nissan Leaf.  Starting on November 2, 2011 they also opened up their online ordering system so those who want a Ford Focus can now place an order.  Initially cars will only be available in California, New York and New Jersey although additional states will be added during 2012 until the car is available in 19 cities, Atlanta, GA; Austin and Houston, TX; Boston,  MA; Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; Detroit, MI; Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, CA;  New York, NY; Orlando, FL, Phoenix and Tucson, AZ; Portland, OR; Raleigh Durham, NC; Richmond, VA, Seattle, WA; and Washington, DC.  The cars will be sold through select dealerships in these locations.


Enterprise Rent a car has expanded the locations where electric cars are available for rent in California by adding Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Encino, Newport Beach, and Riverside to the six cities that already have cars available.  Currently Enterprise offers the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt although they have ordered a number of Coda sedans and should start getting those as soon as Coda begins deliveries.  If you are unsure about living with an electric car, renting is a good way to get the feel for how they drive and what is involved to charge them.  As part of this effort both Santa Barbara and Palm Springs are working to push out more electric vehicle charging stations in their respective cities,


There were a couple of negatives this month.  The EPA finally certified the Fisker Karma but the numbers came in quite a bit lower than Fisker had originally projected and this lead to some heavy criticism both in the media and among some electric car advocates.  Fisker had suggested that the car would get 50 miles on a charge giving it a combined fuel economy of 67.2 MPGe but the official EPA numbers gave the Karma only 32 miles of electric only range pulling down the fuel efficiency rating to only 52MPGe based on fuel economy of only 20mpg once the battery is depleted.  Since the 32 miles battery only range will take care of most people’s daily driving needs this is probably not an issue and if you can afford the Karma’s $100,000 price tag the 20mpg is probably not going to seem too bad.  People waiting to order the Plug-in Prius were also disappointed to find that the order web site, which was supposed to be up and running in October, now probably won’t be available until mid-November at the earliest.  Toyota did a test by sending out a survey asking what model and color people planned to order and I suspect the response was much greater than they expected and they have taken the extra time to try and make sure the order site doesn’t crash during the first few hours after it opens.  Toyota have over 40,000 people signed up for priority ordering and word is that they will be competing for about 3,500 cars so once the order line is open there will probably be a stampede to get orders in.


In Europe Renault finally launched the first of their ZE Line of electric vehicles when the Kangoo ZE went on sale at dealerships across France.  The Kangoo is a small sized van that is similar in size to the Ford Transit Connect and is ideal for deliveries in the tight, twisty streets of European cities.  Renault already has fleet orders for more than 15,000 vans including an order of 10,000 from the French postal company La Poste.    Audi has  been playing around with Electric Vehicles for a few years now and at the end of October they started a trial with 20 of their A1 electric car with range Extender as part of the Electric Vehicles in Munich project sponsored by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transportation, Building, and Urban Development.  Meanwhile in Estonia, Mitsubishi delivered the first 50 i-MiEV to the Estonian government as part of an order for 507 cars, the largest single order for i-MiEV taken so far.


In China BYD started selling their E6 electric car in Shenzhen where the company is based.  The car retails for the equivalent of $58,200 which is a staggering sum considering that this is a Chinese made car.  Buyers may qualify for subsidies that will reduce the price to about a third of that amount.  BYD also officially opened their North American Headquarters in Los Angeles on October 24 and simultaneously announced that is will sell and all electric eBUS to Hertz for use as a shuttle bus at LAX.  At the opening ceremony they also said that they are going to concentrate on fleet and rental sales not on sales to the public of the near future.  They cited low sales of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf coupled with a lack of public infrastructure as the reason for this decision.


October has been a good month for electric car sales and it appears that while sales continue to be slow, they are keeping pace with expectations.  I have said many times that it will take some time to build up confidence in electric cars and there is still a lot of education needed to about the differences between owning an electric car and owning an ICE vehicle.  What we see with any emerging technology, whether it is for large flat screen TVs, iPods, or electric cars, is a rush from early adopters, followed by slow growth until we reach a tipping point, then the new technology takes over and the old technology fades away.  Right now we are at the turning point between the early adopter phase and the slow growth phase; just wait until we hit the tipping point!