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

Sunday October 30, 2011 - Slow Sales

Sunday October 23, 2011 - Pricy EV Charging

Sunday October 16, 2011 - National Plug-in Day 2011

Sunday October 9, 2011 - Paris Goes Autolib

Sunday October 2, 2011 - 2011 Santa Monica Alt Fuel Vehicle Expo

Sunday September 25, 2011 - Frankfurt Auto Show Part 2

Sunday September 17, 2011 - Frankfurt Auto Show Part 1

Sunday September 11, 2011 - Reflections on 9-11

Sunday September 4, 2011 - Residual Value

Sunday August 28, 2011 - Parking Controversy over AB 475

Sunday August 21, 2011 - Things to know before you buy

Sunday August 14, 2011 - Getting Charged UP

Sunday August 7, 2011 - Top Gear and Other Charging Issues

Sunday July 31. 2011 - Fisker Delivers

Sunday July 24, 2011 - Green Vehicles Gone

 

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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!


Sunday October 30, 2011 - Slow Sales - We should start to see October sales numbers for the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt towards the end of next week and I expect them to be better than the September sales numbers, although the numbers aren't going to satisfy the EV detractors because the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt aren't going to outsell the Nissan Versa or the Chevy Malibu, they are just not being produced in big enough numbers.

 

I try to keep track of EV sales when I can and I have been noticing a few things of late.  I am seeing lots of Chevy Volts being sold on eBay.  Not Volt owners selling their cars, but dealers offering new Volts for sale.  Early on some dealers were buying these cars and reselling them and making big profits because they were the ones that got to take the Federal tax credit.  This practice has stopped entirely since the Volt went on sale nationwide with the 2012 model.

 

Currently I have 23 Volts included on my eBay listings and recently I have seen at least one per day and some days I add 4 or 5 new Volts to the listings.  I have only recorded 1 sale in October although I have seen a few more that were removed with the reason that the car is no longer available, which usually means that the car has been sold locally.  Many more are being relisted some several times.  What I don’t see is Volts being listed by individuals, which means that most people who bought a Volt are happy with their purchase.

 

The story is a little different with the Nissan Leaf.  Typically I see a mix of cars being sold by dealers and cars being sold by people who bought the car to either make some money by taking the Federal tax credit then selling the car, and those that bought the car and then decided to sell because it didn't suit their needs.  One person gave a reason that his wife's work place was too far away and she couldn't be bothered plugging in.  I wonder if she has a problem plugging in her cell phone. 

 

During October I recorded 5 Nissan Leaf sales on eBay and currently there are just 2 Nissan Leaf listing for the US.  It seems interesting to me that the Nissan Leaf seems to be selling much better than the Volt even though the common thought is that buyers for the Leaf will experience range anxiety while buyers of the Volt will not.  I think that sales results are more likely because of the price difference between the Leaf, which is not too far above the cost for a five seat five door compact car after tax incentives, and the Chevy Volt which is bigger, only seats four, and is considerably more expensive.

 

General observations in the Los Angeles area seem to support the idea that the Leaf is selling better than the Volt.  Yesterday, for example, I saw five Leafs out in the wild, and I see at least one almost every.  I am likely to go two or three weeks between each Volt sighting.  I am willing to admit that the Leaf, which qualifies for carpool access, is easier to see than the Volt which is typically in the main lanes of the freeway.  However, I should see them running around LA and I hardly ever do.

 

The situation in the UK appears to be somewhat different.  Currently I have 7 Nissan Leafs from eBay UK listed on my eBay listings and most of these have been there for a month or more.  Again I think that this is more related to cost than anything else.  The Nissan Leaf costs almost twice as much in the UK as it does in the USA and that is going to lead to lower sales volumes.  Even being able to avoid London congestion charges doesn't seem to be helping much.  Another factor hindering UK sales is that many more people live in dwellings that have no access to an electrical outlet for charging a car.  Many people have to park on the street and for these people an electric car just isn't practical.  This is a problem that needs to be solved before full adoption of electric vehicles can occur.

 

Still, the march toward vehicle electrification continues even if the pace is slow.  The Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid is now on sale in the US.  BYD just started selling their E6 electric car in China, and on Friday Renault put their Kangoo ZE electric van on sale in France.  Renault have also announced that they have taken 15,000 orders for the Kangoo ZE, with 10,000 of those coming from the French postal service and the others from a group of 18 private companies.

 

From the plug-in hybrid standpoint, Toyota has delayed the start of their electronic ordering for the Plug-in Prius until November.  They currently have over 40,000 people signed up for priority ordering and while many of these will probably never order a car I still expect the Plug-in Prius to sell out for the first few months of production and be scarce to get during 2012.  This may be exacerbated by delays in production of the Prius caused by flooding in Thailand.

 

When electric cars first went on sale I said that I thought that sales would start slow and companies would need to have patience for the first few years until people began to understand electric cars better.  There are still many people who have no clue about electric cars beyond the little carts they drive around the golf course.  It is my belief that electric cars are the only viable form of personal transportation going forward and if we don't take the initiative to move our transportation model from oil based to electric based we will be in big trouble within the next thirty years so let’s not worry too much if sales don’t meet the expectations of some random journalist at Fox news, eventually electric cars will become the norm.

 

If you want to comment on this topic, email me, but please include your Name, City and State or Country


Rich from Wheaton, IL wrote:

 

Your article was interesting reading until you showed your true color and  brought in Fox news. I assume they expressed a different point of view.  Having  said that, it didn't fit anywhere in relation to the reading. I must admit  I personally don't feel the Volt will be successful, certainly not in it's  present form. It is impossible to justify it in any category. First off it's too  costly and cannot be justified economically, second, there are more than just a  few cars available that get 40+ mpg, third, most people cannot use them as they cannot be charged at home (live in apartments), fourth, in real life they only  get some 25~28 miles per charge, fifth, they are an inconvenience sixth, they  are too small and the list goes on. Someday maybe, but not now.


Sunday October 23, 2011 - Pricy EV Charging - Last week Governor Jerry Brown of California signed AB 631 into law.  AB 631 is a bill, introduced into the California legislature by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, which changed the way that companies could charge for delivering electricity for electric vehicle charging.

 

Up to that point, providing electricity to charge an EV was considered the domain of the Public Utilities and so anyone who sold electricity for this purpose would be regulated by the Public Utilities Commission.  This effectively meant that people could not sell electricity to people who wanted to charge their EV so those people who provided public charging did so for free.

 

But in the Sumer of 2010 the Public Utilities Commission ruled that providing electricity for EV Charging fell outside its area of control.  This left somewhat of a vacuum and AB 631 was introduced to fill the void. 

 

The amendment says, in part. "The ownership, control, operation, or management of a facility that supplies electricity to the public only for use to charge light duty plug-in electric vehicles does not make the corporation or person a public utility within the meaning of this section solely because of that ownership, control, operation, or management. For purposes of this subdivision, "light duty plug-in electric vehicles" includes light duty battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles."

 

What does this mean for electric vehicle drivers?

 

Well, the big plus for this is that it will encourage the spread of public charging since now some, if not all the cost of installing a charging station can be recovered by the business doing the installation.

 

On the other side of the coin, there is no regulation of what price will be charged for the use of a charging station, and we are already starting to see some very pricy charging locations.  Earlier this week I was looking around at the Recargo charging station map and found a charging station at the Pala Casino just outside Temecula, CA.  The charging station was part of the Blink network and while parking is free at Pala the cost to charge was listed at $4 per hour.

 

If we use the Plug-in Prius as an example, a good one since it will more than likely be my next car. then a 1 hour charge at a level 2 charging station will provide about 10 miles of electric only range.  The Plug-in Prius should get around 50mpg when running in standard hybrid mode so $4 for 10 miles of EV range works out at the equivalent of $20 per gallon.

 

A few months back I reported that Walgreen's were planning on putting chargers in at a bunch of their stores around the country.  The plan is to charge $3 for a 90 minute charge.  In 90 minutes of level 2 charging the Plug-in Prius will get approximately 15 miles of EV range.  That is quite a bit cheaper than the cost at the Pala Casino but it still works out at around $10 per gallon for a Plug-in Prius driver which is two and a half time as much as it would cost to do the same distance without charging.

 

AB 631 leaves the cost of EV charging up to what the market will endure.  If a person driving a Nissan Leaf is almost out of charge then $4 for an hour of charge, perhaps enough to get them to the next nearest charger, would be tolerated.  For the Plug-in Hybrid driver such a cost would be a lot more than running on gas and most would opt not to charge.

 

Looking at this from the standpoint of the business owner, the cost to install a public charger, including setting up the electric service which may mean laying cable in a trench to the location of the charging station, can be as high as $5,000 per charger.  If we assume 11 cents per KWhr the cost of on hour of charging to them would be around 33 cents.  At $4 an hour it could still require 1362 hours of charging just to cover the cost of installation.  That's equivalent to 56 days of continuous use.  This calculation also doesn't take into account the time value of money.

 

Some businesses will look on this as a way to bring in customers.  The presence of a public charger will allow people to drive to there location in their electric car from a lot further away than they would otherwise be able to.  I would have expected the people who run the Pala Casino to see it this way.  They make their money from the gaming tables and slot machines so they should want to encourage people to come to their casino.  In places like Walgreen's where people typically stay for too short a time to get real benefit from the charger, I would expect the chargers to be installed as a place primarily for charging and in this case making a profit on the charger is a likely objective.

 

In the end, AB 631 is going to mean much less free charging for EV drivers.  I don't think that free chargers will totally go away but they will become scarcer as vendors move to more fee based networks like Chargepoint and Blink.  I predicted the end to free charging a long time ago and this is the first salvo in the move to fee based charging here in California.


Sunday October 16, 2011 - National Plug-in Day 2011 - Today is National Plug-in day and I have decided not to participate.  This celebration of electric vehicles has been organized by Plug-in America along with the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Association is designed to showcase electric vehicles and educate the public on their abilities and benefits.

 

Evfinder.com has been working to educate the public on electric cars for well over a decade so you would think that I would jump at a chance to promote them.  The problem is that the local event, being held in Santa Monica, has specifically excluded all types of electric vehicles that are not freeway capable.  That means no City Cars, no NEVs, no Electric Scooters,, and no electric bicycles.

 

This all started when I publicized the event to some Yahoo groups that I belong to, including the Xebra EV group.  One of the Xebra Owners wanted to participate in his local meeting but was stunned to find that the web site specifically said they only wanted freeway capable vehicles to participate.  The organizers of this event relented and opened it up to all kinds of vehicles but some, including my local one here in Santa Monica, still require that the vehicles be freeway capable.

 

I understand their reasoning, they want to combat the general impression that electric vehicles are just like golf cars.  This was a long time impression when NEVs ruled the electric vehicle market and freeway capable vehicles meant a three wheel NmG, the hugely expensive Tango, or an EV conversion.  Now, you would need to be living under a rock not to understand that vehicles like the Volt and the Leaf are fully capable cars and I fail to see how driving these vehicles through the streets of Santa Monica at low speed is going to change anyone’s mind about the capability of electric cars.  

 

I am all for educating the public, and events like this help to build awareness and promote electric vehicles but you have to be careful about how you promote them.  The modern perception about electric cars is not that they are glorified golf cars, but that they are expensive and have a limited range.  There is lots of truth in this and there isn’t much we can do about the price issues other than noting that prices should fall as manufacturing volume increases and explain that current subsidies do bring down the cost of electric cars to reasonable levels.  What we can do is make the public aware that they don’t really need a 300 mile range on all of their cars, that 70 miles is more than adequate for most people.  What better way to do this that to show people who are managing quite well with a vehicle capable of only 30 miles of range per charge.

 

I did notice that many of the events around the nation are allowing all kinds of electric vehicles and this is because many people in the EV movement agree with me that we should be promoting anything that doesn’t include gas to move us along, and that includes any kind of electric miles including local use vehicles like NEVs.  Over the years I have had many arguments with guys from Plug-in America and the Electric Auto Association here in California that they need to include all forms of electric vehicles but it constantly falls on deaf ears.

 

Still, over 200 freeway capable electric cars in the Santa Monica parade is quite impressive.


Noel Added

It turns out they had only 160 cars at the Santa Monica Event but still pretty impressive.  I noted that some events did allow none freeway capable vehicles and Portland, OR was one of those.  Nice write up at http://readmyopinion.blogspot.com/2011/10/getting-charged-up-at-national-plug-in.html


Sunday October 9, 2011 - Paris Goes Autolib - In 2007 Paris introduced a bike sharing program called Vélib’ that put twenty thousand of bikes at stations around Paris.  Since then members of Vélib’, who can use a bike for up to 45 minutes free of charge for a small annual membership fee, have used the bikes to taken millions of trips.  Now Paris, along with Vincent Bolloré, are planning on doing the same thing with electric cars.

 

This week Paris began two month trial of its Autolib program when it rolled out 66 Bolloré Blue Cars to begin familiarizing the public on the system and to work out the bugs.  

 

The idea behind Autolib is to allow people in Paris who need to use a car occasionally to be able to pick one up at a local charging station and make use of it before dropping it off, perhaps at a different charging station. People will pay an annual membership fee of €144 then each rental will be charge at €5 for the first half hour, €4 for the next half hour, then €6 for each half hour after that.  Pricing is designed to encourage short term rental.

 

Autolib will allow many people living in Paris to live without a car.  Most people in European cities live in apartment buildings or town houses and the only parking option is to park on the street.  The high density living means that people often have to park a block or two from their home and this makes charging an electric car very difficult.  The cost of owning a car is also very high while most cities have cheap and reliable public transportation, so the ability to live without a car can greatly reduce the cost of living..

 

The Blue Cars themselves were developed as a joint venture between French company Bolloré and Italian design studio Pininfarina and are powered by Bolloré's Lithium-metal-polymer batteries.  They are a small three door that will seat four people.  While they are very much intended for use in the city they are capable of top speed of 80 mph and can travel up to 150 miles on a charge so they can also be taken on the freeway.

 

The Autolib program will be run by Mr. Bolloré and to get it up and running he has hired 1500 people to teach the public how the car sharing system works, and will have a call center operating twenty four hours a day seven days a week to field people's questions.  After the two month trial period the system will be expanded to eventually have 3,000 cars and 1,000 charging stations by the end of 2012.  Mr Bolloré does not expect the system to make any money for him for at least 7 years but he does eventually expect it to become profitable. 

 

The big question is will such a system work here in America.  There is already a number of car share programs operating around the USA including the original Zipcar system that started in Cambridge, MA in 2000 and now has 9,000 vehicles being used by over 600,000 people and has operations in the US, Canada, and Britain.  Programs similar to Autolib have also been tried here, usually in the form of Station Car programs to address the issue of getting too and from the train station to supplement public transport.  

 

There are a few of the older cities on the east coast such as Boston and New York that are build more on the lines of European cities but for the most part American towns and cities are defined by urban sprawl.  For a program like Autolib to work there would need to be a fundamental change in how we live, moving away from the suburbs back into the cities.  

 

For the most part I see a different model for car sharing here, one that involves the use of local use vehicles (LUV) for the bulk of travel with the ability to pick up a loaner when you need something more substantial such as a truck to go haul stuff from the hardware store.  The truth is that most people drive less than 50 miles each day so they don't need a car that has a 300 mile range.  Every so often they could really use a different vehicle.  Say they want to go pick up a large screen TV from the local big box store or get some lumber from home depot.  It doesn't make sense to drive a truck every day getting 17 or 18 mpg just so you can make a run to the hardware store once or twice a year.  That's where the car share comes in, when you need that truck to transport heavy objects, or a van that seats 12 to take you daughter and a bunch of her friends to the Zoo on her birthday, then you go to the car sharing program, otherwise you drive your LUV.


Sunday October 2, 2011 - 2011 Santa Monica Alt Fuel Vehicle Expo - Yesterday I made an all too brief visit to the Santa Monica Alt Fuel Vehicle Expo being held at the Civic Center in Santa Monica, CA.  This is one of the premier events for companies to show off their electric vehicles.

 

In previous years the expo has been loaded with start-up companies and small manufacturers trying to get Sales, publicity, and additional funding.  Over the years there has been a growing participation from the big manufacturers and the trend continued this year with vehicles on display from Ford, GM, Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Honda. 

 

The Expo is divided up into two sections, inside the Civic Center itself there was a number of booths with static displays, then out in the parking lot was the ride and drive area where people got to test drive the various cars.  

 

I arrived early and headed for the ride and drive area first to try and beat the crowds.  The first place I went was the Toyota area where they were giving test drives of both the Prius V, a Station wagon version of the Prius which is due to go on sale later this month, and the Plug-in Prius which is due to go on sale in March 2012.

 

I registered to drive the Plug-in Prius (PIP) since I am planning to make this my next car, as my old boss Barbara used to say "if the rain don't come and the Crick don't rise".  They had two there that were being taken out on test drives and another two that were being charged by a small generator.

 

The Guy from Toyota came over and took me to one of the PIPs that was being charged and unplugged it.  After checking the charge and finding that it showed a range of 13.5 miles I was allowed to drop into the drivers seat.  This PIP wasn't actually the 2012 model that will go on sale next year this was one of the test fleet that Toyota has been evaluating over the past couple of years here in Southern California.  I could tell this easily because the charge point had been moved from the front to the rear on the 2012 model.  Before I could start driving I had to wait for a procession of Nissan Leafs from the Nissan Tour that all seemed to set off at the same time.  The test drive was all too short but it did give me a better feel for the Car.

 

The other car I had wanted to test drive was the Wheego LiFe.  I drove the Wheego Whip a few years ago and was impressed with it so I wanted to see how the LiFe compared.  Unfortunately there were already quite a few people on the sign-up sheet and I didn't have the time to wait.  I noticed that Ford were giving test rides in the Transit Connect EV so I went over there to give them a try.

 

At the Ford area the Transit Connect had just arrived back from a test drive but the driver and handler were sitting in the car talking.  It turned out they were setting up a demo for one of the Southern California Universities who are interested in acquiring some.  After a short wait Chris, who turned out to be from Azure Dynamics, asked if I wanted to take a test drive and when I answered in the affirmative he handed me the keys.  once again the test drive was way too short but I did get the basics of the van.

 

There were lots of other cars on the ride and drive but not all of them were giving test drives.  Mitsubishi was there but the car they had looked to be an i_MiEV not the I and since I have already driven the i-MiEV a couple of times I decided to pass, and there didn't seem to be anyone there from Mitsubishi.  Nissan were there with the Leaf, GM with the Volt and Coda with their sedan but l have already driven all of these.  Honda had the FIT EV on display but were not offering test drives.  They were offering the Clarity FCEV for test drives but time was getting short so I decided to go into the main hall and see what was on display.

 

Inside the main hall the first thing I encountered was the Island Green Motors stand.  Green Island motors is based in Nevis in the Caribbean and aims at bringing electric vehicles to that region.  They offer a line of four vehicles, a five door SUV which was on display in Santa Monica, a three door SUV and two electric scooters.  They don't offer sales in the US but their products are available throughout the Caribbean and are specifically targeted at island nations.

 

Next to Island Green Motors was Fisker of Santa Monica, Fisker's local dealership, which had a nice white Karma on display.  Fisker has just begun shipping their Karma plug-in hybrid and recently got excellent exposure by having Aston Kutcher drive one on the hit TV show Two and a Half Men.  They didn't have a Karma in the ride and drive but that doesn't surprise me since most small companies are not willing to risk damage to a $100,000 car. 

 

Across from the Fisker was a 2012 Plug-in Hybrid Prius which was one of the production models not one of the test vehicles.  This car was also attached to a 110v socket using the supplied charging cable attached at the rear right hand side.  There wasn't a lot of interest in this car because to tell the truth the car really doesn't look any different from the third generation prius apart from the charge port in the rear.

 

Mitsubishi also had a car on display on the floor but this time it was the US spec I not the i_MiEV.  This car is due to go on sale in the US soon although so far I haven't heard a launch date yet.  Mitsubishi is very poor at supporting this car and I couldn't find anyone at either the Ride and Drive or the display inside to ask about this car. 

 

Coda also had a car on display inside and this one seemed to be getting a lot of interest.  Having recently completed a pretty good test drive I didn't bother to stop but they did have one of the GE home charging stations there so I was able to snap a quick photo.

 

BMW was there with a plug-in hybrid.  The stand was always very busy so I went away with the intention to return later but never got back to it so I don't know the details of this car.

 

Another interesting car on display was at the AAA stand.  They have been testing out the Smart EV and they had one there with the AAA logo on it.  AAA always seemed to be biased against EVs but recently they have started to come around and have just implemented a program here in California where they can send a truck to a stranded EV driver and provide a short charge that should be enough to get then to the nearest public charging station.

 

Electric Vehicles of Long Beach were at the Expo again this year and this time they had the three wheel Firefly on display.  The Firefly is a utility vehicles that has a pickup type bed.  The truck offers a range of 60-100 miles and a top speed of 35mph.  This car is targeted for local municipalities and campus settings and was developed by Good Earth Energy Conservation in conjunction with the City of Santa Monica.

 

This year's Expo is probably the best we have seen since the show moved to from Barker Hanger to the Civic Center a few years ago.  Since then we have seen a move away from independent small companies trying doing conversions or trying to build electric vehicles to an alternative vehicle scene dominated by the large equipment manufacturers.


Sunday September 25, 2011 - Frankfurt Auto Show Part 2 - The Frankfurt Motor Show is held every other year and has become the worlds largest auto show.  This year the focus of the show was electric vehicles and there were so many electric vehicles on display that I decided to do this years review in two parts.

 

In last weeks article we saw that several German manufacturers showed concepts targeted as a second car aimed at urban motorists.  Renault also showed off it's Twizy,   The Renault Twizy is not new to the European Auto show circuit, it was first shown as a concept in Frankfurt two years ago.  What is new was Renault announcing price and availability for the tandem 2 seat car that looks a bit like a GEM with gull wing doors.

 

The Twizy offers a top speed of 47mph which places it squarely in the City Car class.  Range is said to be around 60 miles.  It will go on sale in Europe at the end of this year and in the UK around the end of the first quarter of 2012.  Price for the Twizy is starts at €6,990 with a monthly battery lease charge of €45.

 

In all Renault had four electric vehicles on display at and all four of them are going to go into production under the Renault ZE banner.  The Renault Kangoo ZE cargo van will go on sale in the UK starting in November 2011.  The Fluence ZE will go on sale around the same time as the Twizy, and that will be followed toward the end of 2012 with the Zoe ZE crossover vehicle.

 

The Renault vehicles can now be pre-ordered by going to the Renault ZE web site.

 

Cross town rival Peugeot unveiled a brand new Plug-in Hybrid concept called the HX1.  This car, if it made it to production, would put Peugeot back in the large car segment.  Peugeot says that this vehicle was designed to maximize its aerodynamics, making the car long and low.  The car seat 6 people and sports a coefficient of drag of 0.28.  A rear spoiler pops up when the car hits 62mph.  The Center console comes complete with a minibar and a coffee maker.

 

The HX1 is powered by a 2.2 liter diesel engine that can develop 204bhp coupled with a 90hp electric motor powered by a lithium Ion battery.  The car is said to have an all electric range of 18.6 miles and a combined fuel consumption of 73.4 mpge (US gallon). 

 

Spanish Automaker SEAT also unveiled a plug-in hybrid concept car at the show.  The SEAT IBL is a four door sedan with a hybrid power train that offers an all electric range of about 30 miles at a top speed limited to 60mph.  SEAT currently has no plans to put the IBL into production.

 

Korean Automaker Kia also got in on the act by announcing that it would start selling an all electric compact SUV by 2014.  This will be Kia's first foray into electric vehicles.  While Kia did not have a concept car to show it has been widely speculated that the EV will be based on the next generation Soul.

 

Smart also had a surprise up their sleeve.  They announced that when the Smart ED goes on sale in Europe next year it will be priced starting at under €16,000.  At this price the car won't come with batteries which will be leased at a price of €60 per month.  Still, this pricing will make the Smart ED one of the most inexpensive electric cars in the European market.

 

One surprise at Frankfurt was that there was no sign of the Nissan Leaf.  Nissan is currently selling cars as fast as they can build them so probably felt that there didn't need to display the cars in Frankfurt, leaving center stage to sister company Renault. There were still lots of electric cars on display and it is clear that EV choices are going to be getting pretty wide in the not too distant future.


Sunday September 17, 2011 - Frankfurt Auto Show Part 1 - The Frankfurt Motor Show is held every other year and has become the worlds largest auto show.  This year the focus of the show was electric vehicles and if anyone thought that the worlds carmakers haven't embraced electric cars this car show should change their mind. 

 

Toyota chose the Frankfurt show to unveil the production version of the Prius Plug-in hybrid.  For 2012 the Prius has undergone a minor face lift and some new models are being introduced including the Plug-in.  Toyota has been testing the Plug-in Prius in Japan and here in California for several years now but the car they were using was a standard Prius that was converted to Plug-in by adding a second NiMH battery to give it an  all electric range of around 13 miles.  For the production model the battery pack has been replaced by a Lithium battery pack that ups the all electric range to 14.3 miles.  The Plug-in Prius should be available in Japan, Europe and the US starting around march of 2012.

 

Fisker, the California based carmaker who has so far shipped a handful of cars to customers showed off a Station wagon version of its Karma plug-in Hybrid called the Surf.  The Surf is basically the same as the Karma with the rear extended and fitted with a hatch.  The Surf will be built on the same production line as the Karma in Valmet Finland and is currently scheduled for delivery to customers in July 2012.  Given Fisker's track record I will be really surprised if they meet this schedule.

 

BMWi showed off the latest iteration of the i8.  This car is basically the same as the Vision Efficient Dynamics that was shown 2 years ago but has some modifications to the doors.  Under the covers of this plug-in hybrid the Diesel power plant has been replaced by a three cylinder 1.5 liter turbo charged gas engine that can develop 220hp.  Like the volt, the battery pack sits along what would normally be the transmission tunnel but only provides 20 miles of all electric range.  The i8 is electronically limited a top speed of 155 mph and can go 0-60 in less than 5 seconds.

 

The latest iteration of the i3 was also on display.  The i3 is intended as a city car but with a top speed of 93mph and a projected range of 80-100 miles this car would be quite at home on the freeway.  One distinctive feature of the i3 is that it has bench seats both front and rear so that a driver can park close to a wall then scoot over and exit on the passenger side.  The power train on the i3 is very like the one on the Mini-e with a lithium ion battery pack and aggressive regenerative braking.  It is expected in showrooms toward the end of 2013 as a 2014 model.

 

Volkswagen recently launched its UP compact car and at the Frankfurt show they had six concept cars based on this platform,  One of these was the e-UP, a battery electric version.  The car is powered by a 18Kw battery pack that can push the 80KW engine to a top speed of 81 mph and the car is reported to provide a range of 81 miles on a single charge.  The e-UP is expected to go on sale in 2013.

 

VW also caused a stir at this year's show with the Nils, a single seat concept car designed for urban travel.  The Tiny Nils,  under ten feet in length and four feet six inches wide, sports gull wing doors and wheels that sit out from the body like an old time race car.  It offers a range of about 40 miles and a top speed of 80mph.  It is designed for the urban commuter that typically drives on their own and covers less than 30 miles a day.  I very much doubt that this car will make it into production though.

 

Another company in the VW family is Audi who also showed two concept cars similar to the VW Nils.  Like the Nils the Audi Urban Concept cars are narrow vehicles with wheels that stand out from the body like an early race car.  The Audi Urban concept however seats two people sitting in tandem with the passenger seat slightly offset from the drivers seat, presumably to give the passenger a clear view ahead.  Audi showed two versions, a couple and an open cockpit model.  

 

Opel, who had provided several Ampera, the European version of the Volt to shuttle journalists around the huge Frankfurt show area, also introduced a two seat electric car called the RAK e Concept.  The RAK looks like a three wheel vehicle since the two rear wheels are very close together.  It has a top speed of 75mph but so far I haven't seen any claims on range.  opel have hinted that the car may be placed into production.  

 

With so much going on in Frankfurt this year, and restricted time this weekend,  I am not able to the show in one article so I will save some of the more interesting concept cars and the trio of electric vehicles from Renault until next week's blog.


Sunday September 11, 2011 - Reflections on 9-11 - On the morning of September 11, 2001 four airplanes were hijacked by Muslim extremists who crashed one into the north tower and one into the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York; and third aircraft into the pentagon.  The fourth aircraft, thought to have been headed for the Capitol building, crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers fought with the hijackers.

 

Thousands of innocent people died from this horrendous act of pure hatred, and many of New York's police and fire fighters gave their lives trying to save the people who worked in the World Trade Center.

 

The terrible events that became known as 9-11 were a wake up call to many Americans.  They began to realize that much of this hatred was fueled by American foreign policy, and American foreign policy was fueled by our insatiable thirst for Oil.  It began to enter in may peoples psyche that we get a good deal of our oil, about 52%, from foreign sources and that the supply of oil is partly controlled by the very countries that spawned the 9-11 attackers.

 

The immediate result of these attacks was US support for the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan followed a few years latter by our invasion of Iraq to overthrow Sadam Husain.  These two wars were very expensive and have been the primary fuel for our current huge budget deficit.

 

People began to realize that relying on foreign sources for something that is essential to our current way of life was not smart.  Even though we import most of our oil from countries in the western hemisphere, primarily Canada and Mexico, we get a significant amount, about 1 million barrels a day, from Saudi Arabia, and about the same from Nigeria.

 

It's not just where we source our oil either, other big consumers such as Europe and China also source oil from unstable Middle Eastern countries like Iran and Libya.  If these sources should go offline it would have a major impact on the price of oil on the spot market.  When you import 10 million barrels a day an increase of just one dollar means you are going to send an additional 10 million dollars per day, or 3.65 billion dollars a year out of the country and that has a major impact on our foreign trade deficit.

 

Clearly we need to find a new way to produce energy for our transportation needs.  People have been looking at various strategies such as hydrogen fuel cells and bio-fuels like ethanol and bio-diesel, but while each of these has its benefits, mostly allowing us to follow the old model of pulling into a gas station and filling up, each also has its drawbacks.  While many in the automobile industry still think that hydrogen fuel cells are the ultimate solution, the only viable solution in the short term is battery electric vehicles.

 

Back in 1997 when California tried to force BEVs onto the automobile industry they were reluctant and, for that matter so was the general public.  9-11 changed that.  The general public can see that if we want to continue to enjoy the freedom that the automobile brings we must find a new way to power our cars.  

 

The public in general is still skeptical that the battery electric vehicle will work for them.  They see high cost and limited range and think that they just won't be able to make one fit into their lifestyle.  Others though are taking the plunge.  Nissan has sold over 5,000 Nissan Leafs in the US and I am starting to see them around the LA area on a daily basis.  To put this in context they have sold more Leafs in nine months than all the Electric vehicles sold during the CARB ZEV mandate period from 1997 until 2003.  One of the things I keep hearing over and over again from Nissan Leaf owners is "I never have to go the gas station".  Other major manufacturers are getting ready to begin rolling out electric cars later this year.

 

Some are taking baby steps.  More than 3,000 people have already bought the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt and, according to sources at Toyota, more than 40,000 people had signed up for priority ordering of the Plug-in Prius before they closed registration. 

 

The events of September 11, 2001 will be burned into our collective memory forever.  Let's not loose the lessons that terrible event taught us.  We have to find a way to use less oil and we have to do it quickly.  You don't need to drive an electric vehicle to start down that path, going from a 17mpg SUV to a 30mpg sedan for a person who drives the American average of 15,000 miles per year will save over 380 gallons of gas per annually and cut your driving costs by over $1300 per year at $3.50 per gallon (it's LA is closer to $4 per gallon at the moment).  Imagine if a million people did that.

 

Don't let the events of 9-11 just be about the mindless act of a bunch of terrorists.  Don't allow those people, and the brave police and firefighters who rushed to their aid, to have died in vain.  Use these events to drive your action.  Together we can cut our dependence on foreign oil and eliminate the consequences of our addiction.


Sunday September 4, 2011 - Residual Value - I just read an article by Dr. Michael Wynn-Williams entitled "Sudden death fears will haunt electric vehicle used value" which tries to show that the fear of a battery pack failure will kill the residual value of electric vehicles as they age.

 

First, for those that aren't familiar with the term, the residual value of an item is the amount the item is expected to be worth after a certain period of time.  The value is used to calculate lease rates and is a reason that you can get much better lease rates on cars that hold their value will.  Lets say a car costs $43,000 new and after 10 years it will sell for $18,000, then a ten year lease can be calculated to finance the difference, $25,000 (the residual value) instead of the whole amount.  Now, if the car is only expected to be worth $6,000 then the amount financed would need to be $37,000 so the lease rate would be higher.  Of course the actual calculation is a bit more complex because $18,000 today buys you a lot less than it would have 10 years ago so inflation has to be taken into account, but the above example illustrates the concept.

 

Dr. Michael Wynn-Williams, a lecturer in International Business at the University of Greenwich in the UK, suggests in his article that the risk of sudden failure of the battery pack will make the residual value of the car plummet as the car gets older.  The first thing he notes is how residual values drop very quickly in the first years of a cars life and then the value tends to remain the same for a while until the car gets close to the end of its life.  He thinks that fear that an EV battery will fail early will drive the price of electric cars down as they age and this drop in value is going to be much bigger than the amount of any fuel savings that will occur from the electric car.

 

The assumption is that the car will be sold for scrap once the batteries fail rather than replacing the batteries with a new pack.  Although not stated in the article he seems to be expecting that battery packs will still cost about the same as they do now.  While I expect battery packs to become cheaper over the next eight to ten years, I still think that a new pack will be quite expensive and people will make a choice to get rid of the car or buy a new pack at that time just as they would decide to scrap or fix an ICE car if they blew an engine. 

 

Another of Dr. Wynn-Williams assumptions, and the one I had most difficulty with, was the idea that an ICE engine would last the life of the car while the battery pack would fail catastrophically early in the life of the car.  He fails to understand that battery packs hardly ever fail catastrophically while ICE engines usually do.  Battery packs tend to fade slowly, loosing range over time until the range becomes too low to meet the owner's needs.  I was told by GM that they expect the batteries on the Volt to be down to about 28 miles of range at 150,000 miles, and that is the point where most people will think of changing out the battery.  A catastrophic failure usually means that a single module failed and replacement costs wouldn't be that high.

 

Over the years I have followed pricing for electric vehicles quite closely and what I have observed is that they follow a similar pattern on residual values to that of an ICE vehicle.  Their price tends to drop very quickly in the first two or three years of ownership after which it settles to a pretty level value over the next few years.  Prices drop for a car that needs new batteries but don't tend to be higher for cars with a new pack compared to cars with an established pack that is still working well.

 

Here is a little example.  If I had bought a Toyota RAV4 back in 2002 I would have paid about $25,000 for it.  According to Kelly Blue book if I bought that car used today I would expect it to have about 114,000 miles on it and to cost $8645.  The residual value of $8645 works out to be 35% of the original value.  If instead I had bought a RAV4 EV in 2002 I would have paid around $43,000 for it.  If I were to buy one today I would expect it to have around 100,000 miles and cost $18,000.  The residual value of $18,000 is about 42% of the original purchase price.  

 

Now, for the RAV4 EV you would expect the battery pack to have degraded performance at around 120,000 miles while you would expect problems with the RAV4 at about 150,000 miles so it really doesn't look like buyers of the RAV4 EV are too worried about the state of the battery pack.  Keep in mind that the $18,000 price tag is based on the most recent sales where the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt and Wheego LiFe have also been available as an option against the used RAV4 EV while supply of used RAV4 EVs has been increasing as long time owners trade them in for the new generation of EV.

 

If I had bought a 2 seat GEM back in 2002 it would have set me back $7495.  If I bought the same car today I would expect to pay around $2,900 based on recent sales.  The $2,900 residual value represents about 38% of the original value.  The GEM, which uses lead acid batteries, is much more likely to need a new pack shortly after purchase than a modern EV with lithium batteries, although admittedly the cost of a pack is much lower.

 

Being a long time Prius driver I do know that people still worry about failure of the Prius battery even though over ten years of experience shows that they will last way beyond the 150,000 miles Californian warranty period.  There are lots of Prius that are over 200,000 miles and still have their original pack yet people still worry about battery failure.  It can be expected that many people will have the idea that a used EV will mean big costs to replace the batteries in the future but the penetration of electric cars is going to be low for a long time to come so this will give us a lot of data on how long batteries will last.

 

Historical evidence shows that after 10 years the residual value of an electric car is about the same percentage of the original value as an ICE car.  I see no reason why that would change.


Sunday August 28, 2011 - Parking Controversy over AB 475 - This week the internet has been buzzing about the latest attempt by California to deal with the issue of EV parking.  The whole mess began with a well intentioned effort to fix the bill that stop PHEVs from parking in EV charging spots, but when special interests got involved things took a turn for the worse.

 

Back in the time of the EV1, RAV4 EV and Honda EV+ public charger infrastructure was built out in California.  In General public chargers were placed in prime locations partly because it was cheaper to put the chargers close to the building where the electricity supply was.  For example at Santa Monica Place the chargers are on Level 1 of the Broadway parking structure right next to the Mall entrance.  This lead to drivers of ICE vehicles parking in those prime spots.

 

To counter this issue the California Legislature passed a bill that allowed only qualified electric vehicles to park in these spots, To park in the EV only spots electric car owners had to obtain a sticker from the California DMV so that parking authorities could tell if the car was parked legally.  To enforce the law there needed to be a sign posted with very specific wording warning any none EV driver that parking in the space could result in being towed.  Only a handful of the 400 or so EV charging stations had the sign deployed so the stickers were largely ignored.

 

The other problem with this law was it specifically said "Electric Vehicles" which excluded PHEV from parking in these spaces.  This includes the Chevy Volt since even though it is widely regarded as an electric vehicle it is actually a plug-in hybrid and as always been classified this way at evfinder.com.  Plug-in Hybrid drivers also want to be able to charge at public charging stations and I have long argued that they should be allowed to do so.  This is going to be even more important when the plug-in Prius comes out next year since the 13 mile range of this car makes frequent recharging desirable,  

 

To fix this problem California Assembly Member Betsy Butler introduced a bill to amend the current law to allow PHEV to use the electric vehicle charging stations.  This seemed pretty straight forward and was fully supported by the electric vehicle driving community.  Then GM got involved and things went drastically wrong.

 

I think GM was worried that drivers of electric vehicles would unplug Volts when they needed to charge.  The logic is that the Volt driver doesn't need the charge to get home safely while the electric vehicle driver does.  EV drivers have been sharing chargers since they were first installed.  They recognized quite early that cars didn't need to be fully charged to get home and so the Electric Automobile Association introduced charging protocol cards.  When a driver started charging he would place a card on the dash board that would say what time they started charging and how long they needed to charge to be able to safely return home.  Another driver arriving later could unplug the EV if it had exceeded the amount of time requested.  That way the second driver could also get enough charge to safely get home even if the first driver was parked for the night.

 

Now, if a Volt is parked at a space charging and an EV driver needs to charge they would feel quite justified in unplugging the PHEV so they could get the charge they needed.  The Volt driver may then come back to his car hours later to find they had only received a few miles of additional charge instead of the full battery they were expecting.  They would still be able to get home but would need to expend gasoline to do so.

 

Personally , if I had a PHEV and was charging I wouldn't want to block out a person who really needed the charge to get home safely.  I would hate to think that somebody's daughter got stranded in a dark and dangerous neighborhood because they couldn't get a charge as I was using the charger.

 

The revisions that Betsy Butler made to her AB 475, at the behest of GM, could lead to just this situation.  First the bill eliminates the sticker requirement.  I have no objection to that since the stickers were totally ignored anyway.  The bill now makes it illegal to park in an electric vehicle parking space unless you are actually connected to the charger.  On the face of it this seems fair but it precludes just the sort of charger sharing protocols that EV drivers have developed from years of experience driving electric vehicles.

 

Once again our wonderful politicians have pandered to the big corporation while ignoring the grass roots people who live with electric vehicles day in and day out.  Betsy Butler has reportedly admitted that she crafted the changes because that's the way GM wanted it, ignoring the combined experience that EV drivers have gathered over the last 15 years.  I this is true, I have absolutely no idea why someone who has so blatantly supported special interests isn't already facing a recall.

 

GM's hidden agenda is clearly to increase range anxiety for electric cars to push more people into buying PHEV instead of pure electric.  It will probably backfire on them once the plug-in Prius becomes available since this will more than likely be much cheaper than the volt and get much higher sales.

 

The bill also says that cars parked in EV parking spaces that are not connected to a charger will be towed.  This opens up a whole new frontier of urban terrorism.  Those who hate electric vehicles, and there are many out there who see the EV as a state  sponsored attack on their very way of life, can now wreak havoc merely by unplugging EVs and watching as they get towed away.  

 

Another consequence of this bill that hasn't been identified by anyone so far is the drag it may have on rolling out infrastructure.  If I was an owner of a shopping mall or other business the last thing I would want is to have my customers cars towed just because they forgot to connect the charger, or because someone maliciously unplugged a charger.  This is especially true in places were parking is in very short supply.  Personally, I could understand if the management at Westfields, who own Century City Shopping Center, where parking spaces are in very short supply, considered this bill as too limiting on the use of the two EV parking spaces the already have and seriously consider removing the charging stations.  They are already dragging their feet on upgrading the older type chargers to J1772.  

 

Since most of the old technology chargers have a limited number of vehicles that can make use of them it is inevitable that this bill will hasten the removal of chargers.  We have already seen chargers being removed by Costco, not I should add as a result of this bill, but I expect this bill will encourage other companies to remove the older style chargers.

 

Even worse it could prevent the roll-out of charging stations in large numbers because it seriously limits the utilization of parking spaces equipped with chargers.  If a company wanted to make every parking space in their lot EV charger capable AB 475 would render this impossible.  It would prevent regular cars from using the spaces and nobody is going to do that.

 

In the end the business owners are not going to post the tow away signs and ignore AB 475 as they did with the parking stickers from the older legislation.  The problem is that EV drivers can't ignore the legislation.  If they come to a charging station that is occupied by a Volt they will have to go in search of another EV charger location.  If they run out and get stranded they will need to call AAA to get a boost to get them to where they can charge.

 

The businesses at the charge location will miss out because the EV drive will go on to another location and they will loose the money they would have spent while waiting to get their top up charge.  The EV driver will miss out because now they have to rely less on public infrastructure.  The State of California will miss out on sales tax because the EV driver will stay home and watch TV rather than going out, or they will go our in their ICE car instead of the EV polluting more and adding to our trade deficit.  

 

AB 475 benefits nobody except PHEV makers and the oil companies.  It is a piece of legislation that is going to hinder, not assist the sale of electric vehicles and as such it is a bad bad law.  The California assembly has already passed this abomination and it is now on the governor's desk waiting his approval.  I hope that Governor Brown has the sense to listen to the EV community, which is telling him this legislation is anti EV, and veto's this bill.


Sunday August 21, 2011 - Things to know before you buy - There has been a lot written recently about electric cars, including the stuff written by detractors, and while a lot of it was good honest journalism people there are still a lot of misconceptions about about electric car range that need to be addressed.

 

I was cruising priuschat.com looking at the threads related to the plug-in Prius and while there is a lot of speculation because to be quite honest, even though there have been a fleet of 500 plug-in Prius being tested around the world, this car is basically a conversion of the existing car, not the final production model, so we can't be sure of the details until Toyota unveil the production version of at the Frankfurt Auto Show next month.  What hit me most was the comment that the Volt wouldn't give as good a mileage because you had to "charge it overnight".

 

I felt like doing my best El Woods impersonation and responding - Like there's no electricity during the day where you live? - but I refrained.  The truth is that the Volt, or the Leaf, or any other EV or PHEV should be charged overnight using cheap off peak electricity and this is something your local electric company will love because they have lots of surplus capacity at night.   

 

This leads me to my first point, you don't have to charge an EV only at night, you can charge these cars just as well during the day although electricity costs may be higher.

 

A couple of weeks ago I wrote in my blog about the shenanigans on the BBC TV show Top Gear who set up a situation where a Nissan leaf would totally run out of juice.  They then made a big deal out of the fact that it would take 13 hours to recharge the car.  In that blog I posed the question "why would they spend 13 hours full charging the car when they only needed to travel an additional 30.7 miles.  

 

This illustrates my second point, you don't need to fully charge the batteries every time.

 

The Guys from top gear purposely ran the batteries down on the Leaf so that they would have footage of people pushing it around Lincoln trying to find a plug.  In general it isn't a good idea to drive the car until the batteries are so discharged the car won't move.  Most modern production cars have safeguards built in to protect the batteries by limiting the current when the batteries are heavily discharged, then shutting down altogether before the batteries are damaged, but most conversions and cars from small manufacturers don't have this feature and running the batteries all the way down can seriously damage them.  It's best to know what the limits are on the batteries and work within those limits.

 

This leads me to my third point, don't discharge the batteries to the point where the car won't move.

 

The model for using an electric car is different from that of using an ICE car.  With an ICE car the model for most people is that you fill it up with gas then drive it until the fuel gage indicates that the tank is low.  This low point often varies from individual to individual.  I tend to refill when I get down to a quarter of a tank while I have known some who would refill when the gage dropped below three quarters full and others who will wait until the low fuel warning light comes on to fill up.  With an EV, you basically fill at home overnight so you can top off the batteries overnight and always have a full tank in the morning.  

 

Since range is limited the full tank every morning may not be enough for the whole day.  The experienced EV driver will use opportunity charging to add some charge to the batteries during times when the car is sitting doing nothing.  For example the if you plug in a Nissan Leaf to a 220V charger for an hour while you eat lunch this will give you something close to 3KWhrs in the batteries adding around 10 miles of driving to your daily range.

 

My fourth point is, you don't need to wait for the batteries to get empty to fill them up, you can top them off at any time.

 

So, you like the idea of an electric car and you are thinking about taking the leap and buying one.  Electric cars cost more up front than gas cars but typically have lower running costs.  One of the big savings for an EV is that you no longer need to go maintenance on the ICE.  This is not the case with Plug-in Hybrids since there is maintenance on the ICE that will still need to be done.  The first thing to do is to make sure that an EV will fit your budget.  I can't tell you the number of times I hear people say that they would buy an EV today if there was one that did 300 miles on a charge and cost $15,000 but if you look at their real needs they often drive less than 30 miles per day on average, they just want a 300 mile range for the occasional trip.  Today's EVs are costly mostly because volumes are low so costs need to be amortized across fewer units driving up price. 

 

If your budget is $15,000 then you need to look at used EVs, if you really need 300 miles of range then the current crop of EVs is not right for you but a Plug-In Hybrid would work.  First though you need to determine if you really need what you think you need.

 

Another recent discussion on Priuschat was started by the proposition that most people greatly overestimate how far they drive each day.  The average car in the US is drive 15,000 miles per year which works out to an average of 41 miles per day.  The car is also driven an average of two hours a day which means it is sitting parked for the other 22 hours.  Now, lets say that the person drives 20 miles to work in the morning, 20 miles back home in the afternoon, and once a week he does an extra 5 miles running errands.  With a car like the Nissan leaf the driver could just do the daily run each day and charge overnight and they would they would have plenty of range to do the 25 miles on the day they run errands. With a Volt, assuming they don't drive the car efficiently so only get 30 miles on a charge, after the overnight charge the drive to work will leave a range of 10 miles, a charge at work for 3 hours at 110V will add another 15 miles to the range bringing it close to to full.  5 miles of errands at lunch time drops the range back to 20 miles, still enough for the 18 mile trip home.  If the Volt driver wasn't able to charge at work, he could just decide to drive home and give a drive the last 10 miles home on the gas engine, or he could have decided to run his errands to a place where there was a 220V charger where an hours charge would provide enough charge for the errand and most of the trip home.

 

Which leads me to my Fifth point, know how far you really drive and size your electric car to meet that criteria.   Use your trip meter and log each journey for a month, you will probably be surprised by the results.

 

When you see the EPA numbers for a car they will often quote range values.  For example the Nissan leaf is rated at 73 miles per charge and the Chevy Volt is rated at 35 miles of electric only range.  Now, if you had a one way commute of 70 miles you might think that the Nissan leaf would work for you assuming you could charge at work.  It should be noted that under some conditions, such as driving at 70mph on the freeway with the AC blasting, the Leaf might only get 62 miles of range and that would be a problem for a person who needs 70 miles.  

 

Now, I know EV drivers who I am sure could get better than 100 miles on a charge in a Leaf but not everyone if willing, or even capable, of driving that economically.  Even for a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, many of us will not get the rated 35 miles on a charge.  This is less important on the Volt since the gas engine will help propel the car once the batteries get low, but it is better to drive as much as possible on battery both from a cost standpoint and for the environment.

 

So my sixth point is to take range estimates with a grain of salt and select an EV based on your likelihood of getting more or less than the EPA range estimate given your personal driving style.

 

Most of the people who want a car with 300 mile range are people from single car homes so they need a car that will do everything even if they only use the car to do more than running around town two or three times per year.  The car gives us the freedom to just take off and having a car with limited range can be a big roadblock to this type of behavior.  Now the both parents work there are a large number of families that have more than one car and I even know of families that have more cars than people.   There are still lots of single people out there though that have the need for only one car and for them one of the current crop of EVs may not be the correct choice, they may be better off with a plug-in hybrid.  

 

Most of us think of the car as a personal possession so we take about "my car" or "my wife's car" A family probably needs one car that will be used when the whole family travels together.  This might be a full or mid sized sedan or a minivan.  Usually this car is used to shuttle the kids to baseball practice or the mall and is usually driven by the mother so it also doubles as her commuter vehicle.  In my opinion the best car for this would be a plug-in hybrid minivan with a range of around 40 miles.

 

The second car is used by dad to go too and from work and run the occasional errand.  This car only needs to be a subcompact and is usually a good target to be replaced by an electric vehicle.  In reality the car is frequently seen as a status symbol so it is often a Pickup Truck or SUV.  The justification is that they need to be able to haul stuff from the hardware store.  The reality is that that it will be used for this purpose just a handful of times over its life so people drive a truck that gets 17 or 18mpg  when they really need a small compact that gets close to 40mpg. Those few trips to the hardware store can be handled by the family minivan anyway.

 

So my Seventh point is to stop thinking of the vehicle as a personal possession and start thinking in terms of a family fleet.

 

The other thing I hear is "I can't charge my car every night because I live in an apartment building and don't have access to a plug where I park".  This is one of the biggest hurdles to owning an EV and it is a problem that really needs to be solved.  Some cities have already passed legislation that stops apartment owners and homeowner associations from arbitrarily refusing to let people install chargers, but there are still lots of people who park on the street and just can't get to a charger.  Until public charging is everywhere a plug-in vehicle is just not going to work for these people.

 

If someone desperately wanted to own a plug-in vehicle but lived in a location where they couldn't plug in there is one course of action you could take.  See if there are places where you could plug-in, such as at work or near local businesses.  A low range plug-in hybrid like the plug-in Prius, when it becomes available next year, might work if you are prepared to run it on the gas engine most of the time and plug it in only when the opportunity arises.  You should be aware that you would probably get better gas mileage with the regular Prius over the life of the car, but it would give you an opportunity to get your feet wet in the world of plug-in vehicles.

 

Public charging is being rolled out although at a snails pace right now.  Eventually it will become common everywhere and the problem with the lack of charging for those who park on the street will be gone.

 

So here is my eighth and final point, if you live in a place where you can't install a charger, even a 110V receptacle, then be patient, eventually there will be enough places to charge that you will be able to get an EV. 

 

Right now EVs are not for everyone, they have a larger up-front cost than an equivalent ICE car and there is insufficient public charging infrastructure to support those that can't install charge at their place of residence or workplace.  Range and rate of charge also make it difficult, though not impossible,  to have an EV as an only vehicle.  Things are changing though, cars are being designed with longer range battery packs and fast charging is available on some models even though fast charge stations are still almost non-existent here in the US.  In ten years, EVs will be much easier and less expensive to own while the cost of gas is only going to keep on rising.


Sunday August 14, 2011 - Getting Charged UP - This week there has been a lot of discussion in the California EV community about charger infrastructure related to two topics, electric cars blocking chargers at LAX, and chargers being removed altogether.

 

The first discussion was triggered by a RAV4 EV driver who went to LAX knowing that they would need a charge to get back home.  When he got to parking lot 1, where they have a large number of chargers, he found that most of the Small Paddle Inductive (SPI) chargers had Nissan Leafs parking in front of them.  Since the Nissan Leaf needs a J1772 compatible charger it cannot charge using the SPI.  

 

Fortunately there was one SPI charger still available so the driver was able to get a charge for his RAV4 EV.

 

The report of this incident triggered a whole new debate about blocking chargers.  Back in 1997 when the original charger network was built out the EV drivers worked out a charging protocol.  Drivers would not park in front of a charger they couldn't use unless they needed to park there to get to an adjacent charger they could use.  When charging they would leave a protocol card on their dash that showed the time when they would have sufficient charge and another driver could unplug their car to use the charger.  If access to the charger was limited they may also leave a cell phone number so that anyone needing to get to the charger could give them a call and they could come and move their already charged car.

 

With lots of new EV drivers on the road now, most of them are not familiar with charger protocols and probably never think about another driver needing the charger.  Charging resources, particularly for those that need SPI and AVCON chargers, are getting very scarce and even J1772 chargers are in short supply so blocking a charger could mean that someone else doesn't make it home safely.

 

The Electric Automobile Association is going to make up fliers that can be put on EVs blocking spaces to gently remind them that if they don't need to charge they should not block others from charging.

 

This led to a spirited discussion about allowing plug-in hybrids to charge at public chargers.  The diehard EVers on the one hand reason that the plug-in hybrid owner doesn't need to charge to get home so they shouldn't risk blocking the charging station for an EV driver who does need to charge.  Those who are more focused on clean air and foreign oil issues point out that it is better for the PHEV to be travelling on electric only so charging for those is desirable too.

 

The issue becomes especially emotive when talking about the Prius PHEV which has a EV range of just 13 miles and can get a full charge in 90 minutes.  For someone flying out of LAX in the morning and coming back in the evening, the Plug-in Prius driver will keep the charger tied up for all but the first 90 minutes of the day, verses say the first 6 hours for a Leaf driver.


The PHEV and public charging debate in not something new, I have said all along that if I bought a PHEV then I would want to charge it at public charging stations so I could drive it electric only as much as possible.  Excluding PHEV owners from public charging would also mean that apartment dwellers and those that have to park on the street wouldn't be able to buy a PHEV although for them the PHEV would be far more likely to be workable than a pure EV.

 

In the end people have to use common sense.  For example the Plug-in Prius drive may be able to park in a space adjacent to the charger and still be able to connect the charge cable.  They could then leave a note saying that if someone else needs the charger they can disconnect it.  Another good idea I heard proposed was to roll out more 110V charging locations at places like LAX where people charge for a long time because if your car is going to be there for a couple of days then there is no need for fast charging.

 

The second issue was triggered from the discussion about the removal of chargers from Costco that I reported last week.  It appears that other companies are also removing chargers from their locations.  Now they have been removing chargers slowly since they stopped selling EVs back in 2003 usually saying that it was because they weren't being used.  It has been quite a few years since the chargers at Fisherman's Village in Marina Del Rey were removed. 

 

The latest charger report came from Manhattan beach where the SPI charger in front of Chase Bank has been removed.  When asked about this the property management company said the owners wanted to make money on the charger.  Charging at this SPI was free so the property owner wasn't making any money on it.  Reports are that this charger was used several times each week so it is a piece of infrastructure that is going to be missed.

 

This leaves me to ponder the economics of public charging.  The big problem is that one of the draws for electric vehicles is that running costs are so low but charger installation can cost a hefty sum.  To recoup the cost of installation the cost to charge has to be higher than the cost of electricity for the charger, including the electric costs to run the charger when nobody is charging.  

 

There are a couple of charging models being considered, one is a flat rate charge that gets the EV owner a card that is swiped on the charger to get it to work.  The second method is to use a credit card to charge by the hour.  

 

The latest charger network being installed in Austin, TX uses both these models.  Austin Energy makes the chargers available to any EV driver,  They can elect to pay $25 for a card that allows them to use the charger for a six month period, or they can use a credit card which will charge them at a rate of $2 an hour.

 

Now if you charge enough at public charging the $25 can be a good deal but $2 an hour makes charging expensive especially for owners of a slow charging car like the Nissan Leaf.  A 1 hour charge on the Nissan Leaf offers a range of about 10 miles.  So, at $4 per gallon that's equivalent to fueling up a gas car that gets 20mpg.  Since the equivalent vehicles to the Leaf, a Nissan Versa, is going to get way better mileage than 20mpg most people would only use the public infrastructure when they were desperate.

 

Pharmacy chain Walgreen's have also announced that they are going to begin installing chargers at many locations but they are going to charge even more that Austin Energy.  While Walgreen's haven't set pricing yet it they are talking about a monthly subscription for unlimited use at between $70 and $80 per month. Now, if you are an apartment dweller who is going to charge every day at a local Walgreen's then this isn't a bad price, but it is going to be way too expensive for casual use.  They have also been banding about a price of $3.50 for a 90 minute charge which for a Plug-in Prius driver would actually place the cost close to that of filling up a full sized SUV and it would actually be cheaper to drive gas only than to top off the batteries at this price.

 

I have said for a long time that we don't need charging infrastructure in place to start rolling out electric cars.  I have also said that we need to have public charging available for those that can't charge at home before we can have complete acceptance of electric cars.  The economics of public charging has to be there too.  In some cases a location such as a Hotel or Shopping Center may provide free charging to bring in electric vehicle owners.  This is not that far off, in really cold climates such places often provide 110V connections to allow drivers to plug in block heaters so their engines don't freeze up.  

 

In other cases people are going to try and make a profit from electric vehicle charging.  This is Ok too and in the end, market forces will drive the cost down to a level that makes sense.  In the meantime, I will take the availability of public charging at $2 per hour over not being able to charge at all. 


Sunday August 7, 2011 - Top Gear and Other Charging Issues - Last week the popular British TV show about cars, Top Gear, aired an episode where two of the presenters, Jeremy Clarkson and James May, attempted to drive 60 miles to Cleethorpes on the Lincolnshire Coast in electric cars.

 

Jeremy Clarkson was driving a Nissan Leaf and James May a Peugeot Ion.  The segment showed them running low on charge as they approached Lincoln and had them searching Lincoln for a charging point until Clarkson's Leaf ran out of electrons and wound up being pushed.  There are currently no public charging stations in Lincoln so the two ended up finding a socket at the University of Lincoln, dangling a cord through a window to get to the receptacle.

 

Top Gear, and Jeremy Clarkson in particular, have been blatantly anti-environment in the past so it should come as no surprise that this episode, like many others, was faked.  This time they were caught in the act because the Carwings application on the Nissan Leaf records all sorts of data about the car and the trips it makes.

 

According to Nissan the Leaf was delivered with 100% charge, more than adequate to do the sixty mile run, but when it left for the trip to Cleethorpes the car had only 30 miles of range left.  It also appears that once the guys arrived in Lincoln they drove around for a long time, 10 miles according to carwings, to make sure the batteries were depleted.

 

They also made a point to say that the car would take 13 hours to fully charge.  Now, as UK Journalist and EV advocate Nicky Gordon-Bloomfield pointed out on Twitter, confirmed by Google maps, it is 30.7 Miles for Lincoln to Cleethorpes so there is no real reason to wait until the battery is full, a 50% charge would have been quite adequate to complete the trip.

 

I also have to ask what sort of idiot would set out on a 60 mile journey when the car was telling you it only had 30 miles of range without first checking that there was charging along the route.  The range estimate is displayed quite clearly on the Leaf's instrument panel and that would tell then they needed to charge before they left.

 

I also wonder why they didn't search for a local Nissan dealership when they started looking for a charger.  Crystal of Lincoln shows up on the Nissan Dealer list and that would appear to be a good place to get a charge.  I am sure the Leaf's NAV system would have been able to locate them.  Of course they may not have been too happy charging the Ion but the Leaf could have been topped up there.  The other question this raises is why a Nissan Dealership doesn't have a charging station.

 

When confronted with the facts the BBC were unapologetic and pointed out that the whole point of the show was to highlight the lack of charging infrastructure and added that Lincoln had been chosen specifically because there were no public charging stations there.  Nissan's answer to this will be to install two charging stations in Lincoln, one dedicated to Jeremy Clarkson and the other to Jonathan May.

 

I must say that I like Top Gear even though I can only follow it on web sites like Youtube.  Their relentless bashing of more eco friendly vehicles is the one black spot.  It is especially annoying when they purposely fake things such as when they ran a G-Wiz into a table that had obviously been bolted to the ground and reinforced just to make the car look bad in an accident.  This little stunt cost the UK's distributor Going Green a lot of sales.

 

Items like alleging that they Prius gets less than 18mpg and the Tesla only had a true range of about 75 miles largely passed without comment.  Things are changing though, the UK media have come out and called foul.  For example George Monbiot who blogs for the Guardian wrote "Yes, this is an entertainment program, yes it's larking about, and sometimes it's very funny. But none of this exempts it from the BBC's guidelines and the duty not to fake the facts".  People are now beginning to see that the electric car is the future and outright lies about its capabilities are no longer tolerated. 

 

The other big issue that has been zinging around among the RAV4 EV community this week is the statement made by one of Costco's store managers that they are going to remove all of the EV charging stations from their stores.  Costco was one of the big supporters of EV charging back in the late 1990s installing chargers to support the likes of the EV1, Ford Ranger EV, and RAV4 EV.  

 

Costco are now claiming that the chargers are not used.  While it is true that the usage of the chargers has dropped as the number of cars that utilize the older charger types has declined, anyone who follows the "I was there" reports at evchargermaps.com would realize that these chargers are still used quite often and make up a valuable resource for those that are still driving the older type electric vehicles and EV conversions.

 

One RAV4 EV driver tells me he visits a Costco store a couple of times a week and charges there each time he visits.  He always fills out their comment card thanking them for the charger and every so often he goes in and actually thanks the store manager.  He told me that the store manager is mostly a different person each time he goes into the store.  They always seems surprised and insists that the chargers are never used.

 

There are issues with the Costco chargers.  Primarily it has become common practice for the tire shop to park cars in front of the chargers.  Any EV driver that doesn't know to ask the tire shop to move the cars is going to think the space is iced and go look for another location to charge.  I do know of at least one driver who skips Costco frequently because the chargers are ICED and he doesn't want to spend the time looking for someone to move the cars.  Sometimes the chargers at Costco are in bad repair and they don't appear to have a mechanism to get then fixed, so unless the the issue is reported by an EV driver through evchargermaps.com the chargers will sit unused because they just don't work.

 

Now the good news, it appears that while Costco has given permission for individual stores to remove older chargers the instructions are to cap the power feeds not to remove them.  Costco is reviewing the option to install J1772 chargers in place of the older chargers.  The loss of the older charger base here in California is going to have an impact on long time EV drivers though.

 

Talking of replacing EV chargers a project is now under way to replace many of the older chargers, starting with the AVCON and Large Paddle inductive chargers.  Work is going on quite quickly in Northern California but here in Southern California the switchover to J1772 appears to be stalled.  To make matters worse, it appears that new charger installations are not happening either.  With a few exceptions, such as Santa Monica, LAX, and the Convention Center, J1772 charging stations are really difficult to find here in the south land.

 

It would be nice to see these new chargers being rolled out since the Los Angeles area is one of the biggest markets for plug-in vehicles and its huge urban sprawl makes public charging more desirable than may other places.  Still, its good to see infrastructure being rolled out, but I expect to see more of the Top Gear type "lack of public charging" arguments against plug-in cars as they become more popular.  I remember back in the late 1990s the statement "there are only 400 charging stations in the whole of California" became a mantra that was written into almost every article on electric vehicles.

 

I've said long ago that the cars should come first not the charging stations.  Well, the cars are here now, The Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Wheego Whip, Fisker Karma, and Smart ED are already being delivered to customers.  By this time next year we will probably have added the Ford Focus EV, Mitsubishi I, RAV4 EV, and the Plug-in Prius to this list.  Now is the time that we need to start pushing out more infrastructure.


Noel from Los Angeles, CA added

Plug-In America has already started a campaign to get Costco to save the charging stations and begin upgrading them to J1772.  If you want to help you can send them an email by going here or you can drop by your local Costco store and fill out one of their feedback forms.  For those Costco members not living in California it might help to ask that they expand their charger network to include your store.


Sunday July 31. 2011 - Fisker Delivers - This week Fisker finally began delivering the first Karma Plug-in Hybrids to the 3,000 or so customers who placed orders for the $100,000 luxury Plug-in Hybrid sedan.

Early reports were that the first car would be delivered to Leonardo DeCaprio on July 21st and it is probable that he was the first to receive his car but he has always steered away from such publicity so officially at least the first car went to Ray Lane.  Mr. Lane is a managing partner for Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, & Buyers, a venture capital firm that first invested in Fisker in January 2008.  He also server as Chairman of the Board for Fisker Automotive.

 

Two other people associated with Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Buyers are expected to get their cars over the next few days, former Vice President Al Gore, and Former Secretary of State Colin Powel.  Rumor has it that the first batch of cars arriving in the US from the Valmet factory in Finland contained only six cars so there are two additional people who are scheduled to get cars on the road.  Rumored to be in line for one of these is another KP Partner, Brook Byers.

 

Mr. Lane plans to use the Karma as his daily driver from his home in Atherton to his office in Menlo Park.  "My goal is to try not to use any gasoline" he told assembled reporters after he had received the keys to his new silver plug-in hybrid.  That shouldn't be two difficult since the Karma's 50 mile electric only range should easily handle his 10 mile round trip commute.

 

"It's not a hybrid like a Prius," Mr. Lane added, "It's a hybrid like a Volt."  While this is true, the Karma is less like the Prius than the Volt is.  While the Volt can in very rare circumstances connect the internal combustion engine (ICE) to the wheels to drive the car, the Karma's ICE only servers to drive the generator and is never connected directly to the wheels.  This makes the drive train less complex but also means that the car cannot get a performance boost from the ICE when necessary.  For the most part the electric motor should be able to handle everything if it is sized to do that so this shouldn't be an issue.

 

The rear wheel drive Karma is powered by a pair of electric motors rated at 150KW giving a power output of 403HP.  They are powered by a 20KW lithium ion battery pack located longitudinally low and in the center of the car.  When the battery pack is depleted a 2 liter turbocharged direct injection engine kicks in to power the car for up to 250 miles more before the driver has to stop for gas.

 

The car offers two modes of driving.  In standard mode using battery only the car can reach a top speed of 95mph and will do 0-60 in 7.9 seconds.  A Sport mode forces the ICE engine on allowing the car to draw higher currents from the battery pack.  In Sport mode 0-6 time decreases to just 5.9 seconds while top speed is enhanced to 125mph. 

 

While it is great that Fisker has finally started shipping cars I was very disappointed that the didn't have more cars arriving as part of the first shipment.  They have  supposedly building cars for several months now but even at one per week they should have more than six cars to ship by now.  Having said that, if my contention that they found a problem and fixed it before shipping is correct then this is actually a good thing that they held production until the cars were ready rather than shipping and fixing later as some manufacturers would have done.

 

The Fisker Karma is a great addition to the range of plug-in vehicles now available for sale.  This is the first luxury four door sedan that is available as a plug-in.  It isn't even that expensive relative to the competition.  The Karma's $100,000 price tag falls somewhere in the middle of range for it's major competitor the four door Porsche Panamera (MSRP $74, 400 for the base model and $135,300 for the top of the line Turbo model). 


Sunday July 24, 2011 - Green Vehicles Gone - While sales of electric cars are going at a fast clip, with both the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt selling as fast as they can be built, the same isn't true for the smaller independent car companies which still struggle to gain traction.

 

Back on June 26th I noted in this blog that Norwegian carmaker Th!nk had entered bankruptcy for the fourth time.  It looked like a miracle would be needed to save them.  Th!nk must be a cat because, while details are still sketchy, it looks like another white knight is going to ride in and give them one more life.  The same cannot be said for Green Motors.

 

Green Motors was the start-up company from Central California that planned on manufacturing a line of three wheel electric cars starting with a two seat lithium powered vehicle called the Triac, and a three wheel truck called the Buckshot.  They even delivered at least one Triac to a paying customer.  

 

After developing their electric cars they entered into a deal with the city of Salinas to build a factory in their location.  This factory would provide jobs for about 70 employees including some low income Salinas residents subsidized by the city.  This is really the ultimate, manufacturing of green products providing good paying jobs to an area with lots of low income families.

 

Now the Monterey County Herald is reporting that Green Vehicles has gone out of business and it is all about financing.

 

While Green Motors has received over half a million dollars in various subsidies from the city of Salinas, and a two million dollar grant from the California Energy Commission under the state's Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology program.  The problem was that the grant is a matching funds program.  The company has to raise funds from private sources after which the grant matches those funds up to the grant amount.

 

Green Motors had good products in the Triac and Buckshot, but it is hard to get people to put money into high risk ventures, especially in today's economy.  Electric cars are still regarded as high risk, and three wheel vehicles are a niche product that aren't going to sell millions of vehicles.  Green Motors plan would have them producing about 2,000 cars per year but unless they could produce them at a relatively low cost, even that few would be hard to sell when people can go to their Nissan or Chevy dealer and pick up an electric car or plug-in hybrid.

 

There are lots of other start-up companies that are planning to offer three wheel electric vehicles but at the moment the only one easily available in the USA is the single passenger Myers Motors NmG which is truly a niche vehicle.  Such vehicles get a lot of notice and there will always be individuals who like the attention unusual vehicles bring.  

 

The ZAP Xebra was a good example.  While most owners of the Xebra have a love hate relationship with the car the majority of owners hate the cheap quality of the Chinese made car but love to drive it and, in may cases, to tinker with it.  To put things in prospective, ZAP sold a little over a thousand Xebras between 2006 when they first went on sale, and earlier this year when they pulled the plug on this quirky three wheeler.  

 

There are still some companies that are planning on selling electric three wheel vehicles.  Myers Motors have had the Duo under development for several years and both Aptera, and Acimoto have vehicles close to production.  None of these companies, although all three companies appear to have well developed working prototypes, have been able to  put their offerings on sale and my bet is that lack of financing to set up production is the major stumbling block.  

 

Perhaps we should start a fund to get these companies rolling.  If enough people put together $20 we could probably raise enough to get the production lines rolling.  If 100,000 people had sent Green Motors $20 each then maybe we would have Triacs running around the nation by now.   


Scott Bushnell from Seattle WA Wrote

That's a good thought, I don't know how many have done so; but I put down a deposit on an Aptera over three years ago. They eventually returned my money due to the fact that they expected it to take more than a year (at that time, late 2008?) to begin shipping cars to Washington state. Since then, I have also given a deposit (#94) for a Duo from Meyers Motors; and requested a prototype drive in an Acimoto. Still waiting, but still hopeful. Currently nerving myself to buy a early model Vectrix, which may or may not have warranty support. Scary to be on the bleeding edge when all I want to do is get back and forth to work! By the way, daily driver is a gen 2 Prius. Sincerely, and keep blogging!