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
Sunday July 17, 2011 - Surviving Carmageddon
Sunday July 10, 2011 - I News
Sunday July 3, 2011 - Toyota's Electric 2012
Sunday June 26, 2011 - Th!nk Bankrupt, Karma Delayed
Sunday June 19, 2011 - Top 100 People who influenced EVs
Sunday June 12, 2011 - EV News From GM and Ford
Sunday Jun 5, 2011 - Volt Sales
Sunday May 28, 2011 - Zero Emissions Debate
Sunday May 22, 2011 - Small EV Makers Struggle
Sunday May 5, 2011 - Me and LA Public Transport
Sunday May 8, 2011 - Enabling Technology
Sunday May 1, 2011 - Garage Fire
Sunday April 24, 2011 - 2011 New York Auto Show
Sunday April 17, 2011 - Electrification and Ford
Sunday April 10, 2011 - Highest Miles
Sunday April 3, 2011 - Witch Hunt
Sunday March 27, 2011 - EV Updates for March 2011
Sunday March 20, 2011 - EV v Four Dollar Gas
Sunday March 13, 2011 - Three Million and Counting
Sunday March 6, 2011 - 2011 Geneva Auto Show
Sunday February 27, 2011 - Infrastructure Roll-Out Goes Slow
Sunday February 19, 2011 - Get Smart
Sunday February 14, 2011 - Wheego LiFe in Production
Sunday February 6, 2011 – Urban Renewal
Sunday January 30, 2011 - La Poste and Better Place
Sunday January 23, 2011 - Off to a slow start
Sunday January 16, 2011 - 2011 Detroit Auto Show
Sunday January 9, 2011 - PHEV Selection
Sunday January 2, 2011 - What to expect when you buy an EV
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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
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.
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!
Sunday July 17, 2011 - Surviving Carmageddon - This weekend Los Angeles was challenged by the closure of our favorite freeway, Interstate 405, known affectionately as "the 405" by Angelinos. The closure of the 405 has been dubbed Carmageddon by the local media.
The 405 is the major north-south artery for those who reside on the West Side of Los Angeles, it is running at peak capacity even on weekends so work is in progress to widen the road. The stretch between Interstate 10 in West LA, and highway 101 in the San Fernando Valley has been problematical and one of the outstanding issues was a bridge that carries Mulholland highway over the freeway. This bridge has to be rebuilt to allow for the wider road and it needs to be done in such a way that traffic can continue to flow along Mulholland.
To accomplish this Caltrans, the agency that is responsible for highway work in California, planned to cut the bridge in two along the middle of the road, demolish the south side of the bridge, build a new half bridge, then demolish the north side and complete the new bridge. This weekend they are demolishing the first half of the bridge and to do this they have decided to close a ten mile stretch of the 405.
On average there are half a million cars that use the closed stretch of the 405 freeway on weekend days. The doom and gloom crowed were predicting major gridlock of the type we saw after the Northridge Earthquake caused a section of overpass on Interstate 10 to collapse. Predictions included such horrendous events as 32 mile backups on the freeway. and total gridlock in the roads on West LA. Everyone from the Mayor on down were telling people to leave there cars at home and walk, bicycle, or take public transport. It looks like the residents of Los Angeles listened.
Yesterday we decided to take a short drive to Century City Shopping Center to buy a few things and have lunch. I was amazed how quite the streets were. Normally on a Saturday you have to hunt around for parking spaces but yesterday there were plenty to be had. There was also plenty of tables available in the food court and foot traffic in the mall was very light. I even checked in the cinema and none of the shows in the four screens showing Harry Potter were sold out.
In the afternoon we drove to West Hollywood and once again traffic was very light for a Saturday afternoon. One couple we saw had found a way to beat Carmageddon; they rolled up to the grocery store on a Vespa, went in and did their shopping, the set of back home clutching their purchases.
The big test came this morning. My printer was totally out of ink and I had to do a run to the local office supply store to get some more. The store is on La Cienega Blvd which is one of the main alternative routes to the 405. I needn't have worried though, traffic was very light. On the way home the radio announced that the 405 would be opening shortly and by 11:30 workers began to remove barricades and by 4:30 the freeway was totally open again, more that 12 hours ahead of schedule
It seemed like Carmageddon was just lots of hype but in reality a long and persistent campaign in the media caused Angelinos to stayed close to home or take alternative forms of transport leaving Carmageddon as the non-event of the year. The good news is that all this lack of driving conservatively meant a savings of over half a million gallons of gas and over ten million pounds of CO2 that didn't get dumped into the atmosphere. And guess what, we get to do this all over again in another year when they take down the rest of the bridge.
Sunday July 10, 2011 - I News - This week Mitsubishi issued two press releases giving a strong indication that their I electric car may be heading to the USA soon.
Mitsubishi was the first major automobile maker to mass market an electric car when it placed the i-MiEV on sale in Japan in July, 2009. Since then Mitsubishi has expanded its market for the i-MiEV into the UK and several other European countries. Peugeot-Citroen is also selling the i-MiEV under their own brand names. Since it went on sale Mitsubishi has sold a combined total of over 10,000 vehicles under the three brands.
While several organizations in the US, including Southern California Edison and Best Buy's Geek Squad have been evaluating the i-MiEV the car has not yet been put on sale in the US. Then, at last year's LA Auto Show, Mitsubishi took the wrappers of the I, a version of the i-MiEV specifically designed for the US market. The I, will be one foot longer, and 4 inches wider than the i-MiEV and will go on sale in the US as a 2012 model.
It seems that Mitsubishi is getting close to the point where the car is going to hit the market. This past week they released the EPA numbers for the car which usually only happens shortly before the car's launch.
According to the EPA, the four seat Mitsubishi I, which offers a top speed of 80mph, will get 126 mpge (miles per gallon equivalent) City, 96 mpge Highway giving a combined number of 112 mpge. What this translates to is a real world range of around 62 miles per charge. This real world number is obtained using a combined drive cycle evaluation which includes long stretches of fast driving in high ambient conditions with the AC on. It does a pretty good job of determining real world range in all but very cold climates.
Using the LA4 driving cycle, that simulates driving the car along a 7.5 mile course which includes lots of starts and stops to model in town driving, the I turned in 98 miles of range which is about what auto makers are currently targeting for the electric cars. These numbers are just slightly lower that we are seeing with real world driving in the Nissan Leaf.
MSRP for the base model ES Model will be $27,990 which makes it slightly cheaper than the Nissan Leaf or the Wheego Whip. We still don't have pricing for the Ford Focus EV yet so we don't know how that car will compare but I expect it to be more expensive than the I. The announcement of pricing also usually happens just before the car is launched so I expect to see the I available in select markets quite soon.
Another announcement from Mitsubishi also came out this week, this time related to charging.
Mitsubishi have just installed a solar powered charging port at their North American headquarters in Cypress California. The charging port has 96 175W solar panels for a total output of around 16.8KW. It is capable of charging four EVs at a time. The station includes three different charging options, 110V which takes about 22 hours to fully charge an I, 220V charging stations which can charge the I in around 6 hours, and a level 3 CHAdeMO DC fast charger of the type used by both the I and the Nissan Leaf which can bring an I up to 80% charge in about 25 minutes.
While there are other CHAdeMO chargers installed in California it is my understanding that this is the only one that is actually certified for US Sales and is currently working.
I hope that Mitsubishi get the I into dealerships soon, it will be nice to have another battery electric vehicle option.
Sunday July 3, 2011 - Toyota's Electric 2012 - In the 1990s Toyota built one of the best EVs from that era, the Toyota RAV4 EV. Even now, nine years later, most of the small group of electric SUVs that they actually sold to customers are still running, and they still command a price that is way beyond what you would expect from a car of that age.
Toyota also has domination in the world of hybrids with the Toyota Prius accounting for more than half of all hybrid sales world wide. Given all this expertise you would think that it would be them, not Nissan, that leads the way with vehicle electrification but like cross town rival Honda, Toyota has dragged its feet on battery electric vehicles.
This is about to change. On June 29, speaking at the Toyota Dealer Conference in Las Vegas, NV, Toyota Motors Corporation President Akio Toyoda told 1,233 representatives from across the nation that Toyota would be offering not just new hybrids, but a plug-in hybrid and two full electric cars in 2012. He also promised that they would be marketing a fuel cell vehicle by 2015.
Starting in the fall of this year the first of a family of Prius vehicles will begin to arrive in showrooms. The Prius V will be quite a bit larger than the current Prius offering 60% more cargo capacity while still turning in an EPA estimated mileage of 42mpg combined city and highway. Following on in the Spring, the Prius c, a subcompact hybrid, should start to arrive in dealerships. So far we haven't seen EPA numbers for this car but Mr. Toyota said he expects it to be the most fuel efficient hybrid available.
He also told the audience to expect three new plug-in vehicles in 2012. This will no doubt be led off by the arrival of the Plug-in Prius. Toyota has a small fleet of Plug-in Prius already being tested by fleet owners but they are still tweaking the car and the final specs are not yet available, including both the price and the EPA's estimated mpg when not running in battery mode. Toyota is planning to introduce the production version of the Plug-in Prius in September and after that they will be accepting on-line orders. There is already a web site available where you can register to be one of the first to pre-order.
The Plug-in Prius will offer an electric only range of about 13 miles and will run the gas engine at speed over 62mph. One of the biggest complaints about the Plug-in Prius coming from the testers is that it is difficult to keep the car in electric only mode unless you are very very gentle on the gas pedal. One of the Tweaks that you can expect from Toyota is an option that makes it easier to run electric only.
There are now two battery electric cars they are going to scheduled for launch in 2012, one from scion, and one from Toyota.
The scion IQ was first shown at the Geneva Auto Show but was put on hold due to the problems caused by the earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan. Mr. Toyoda confirmed that the Scion I Q EV will be heading into dealer showrooms in 2012. This tiny little Scion is a city car with a specially designed flat lithium ion battery pack that sits low in the center of the car which should give it outstanding handling. Range is only going to be 65 miles so it is definitely going to be targeted at commuters and perhaps fleet owners. Rumor has it that his will be offered as lease only too.
Toyota has also been testing a version of the RAV4 EV using Tesla technology. Around 50 RAV4 EVs are currently running around California while Toyota gathers data about them. When the RAV4 EV was announced at last year's LA Auto show Toyota specifically said the version they were using for testing would not be the final production version which would be redesigned specifically as an EV.
The RAV4 EV will go along with the heard and target a range of 100 miles. Personally I found that quite disappointing given that the EPA estimate for the previous generation of RAV4 EV was 120 miles and many drivers were able to achieve close to this without too much effort. I would have expected Toyota to try and best its old technology but then again they only planned to build a very limited number of the older RAV4 EVs and with the newer version they may very well want to build lots of them so keeping cost down is a primary motivator in their design.
I expect to see more information come out about these new offerings as time goes on. It would be nice to hear ship dates and price by the LA Auto show in November but given Toyota's track record I don't really expect to see information before the Detroit Auto show in January, 2012. Still, the competition will start to heat up in 2012 when both Ford and Toyota will have entered the Plug-in vehicle market and by then GM and Nissan should be selling nation wide. The move to electric is picking up speed.
Sunday June 26, 2011 - Th!nk Bankrupt, Karma Delayed - News that Norwegian EV maker Th!nk had filed for bankruptcy broke this week. There was also news of yet another delay in shipping at Fisker. the First item wasn't really unexpected but the second item gave me quite a surprise.
First let's talk Karma. A couple of weeks ago Alexandra Paul asked me if I thought Fisker was a scam. I defended Fisker by saying that they had already started the production line at Valmet and had lots of funding and it would really surprise me if they don't start deliveries this month. Well, latest word from Fisker is that they will start shipping from the factory in Finland in Late June for July deliveries. It's nearly the end of June and so far there is no word that Fisker has even begun to ship cars.
I have difficulty comprehending why there is a delay. The first car rolled off the production line in Finland last October and was unveiled at the Paris Auto show. Here we are 8 months later and not a single customer has received a car. Something doesn't quite smell right and I have to wonder if they have discovered a problem with the car that needs to be fixed before they can really start cranking them out, or if Valmet is having problems and can't get the cars rolling out of the plant. It really shouldn't take 8 months from starting your production line to delivering cars unless something isn't quite right.
Now, if they have found an problem with the car and are taking the time to fix it, that bodes well for the company. It's better to get the car right before you start handing over the keys to paying customers. If the problem is with the production process itself it would be better for the company to come clean and let their customers, who must be frustrated at the delays, know what is going on.
Personally I think that Fisker is going to have to start shipping the Karma soon. They are already starting to loose credibility with the people who are the biggest supporters of plug-in vehicles, and there is always the possibility that customers, and dealers, will just get fed-up of waiting and take their business elsewhere.
ThInk on the other hand as always been on the edge. They have struggled since 1991 when they started building the City Bee under the name Pivco. They have been in and out of bankruptcy ever since but through it all they have managed to keep coming back and making electric cars.
It is unfortunate that Th!nk, a company that has been building electric cars for so many years, is failing just when electric cars are finally taking off, but this failure illustrates quite well how difficult it is to start a car company. Th!nk has a good product that has stood the test of time, but they never really had the cash to go into high volume production, even at the relatively low rate of 10,000 a year that GM are building the Volt.
What this means is that to be profitable you have to sell the car at a relatively high price. The Th!nk City sold in the US for close to $40,000 which is just a little less than the Chevy Volt and a whopping $10,000 more than the Nissan Leaf. The price alone wouldn't kill the car but Th!nk's timing was off. While they had the lead in electric car design, producing the best electric car in the world at one time, they let other companies like Nissan catch up. Even in Norway, where Th!nk is based, they are being outsold by the Nissan Leaf and the two variants of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV being sold under the Citroen and Peugeot brand names.
Their failure to build market share, especially in European markets, when the were one of the few games in town, cost them dearly, but building market share like that requires a lot of capital and they were just too underfunded.
They also had other problems, the biggest being their decision to sell their cars via the internet instead of using a traditional dealer network. Now, I know that a lot of early adopters are willing to put down money on new technology, but the majority of car buyers want to "kick the tires". They want to pick out the car from the dealer lot and take it for a test drive. What comes next is the only part of the process that most people hate, that long drawn-out negotiation with the sales people to come to an agreement on price, financing, and trade-in for their old vehicle.
In the end the buyer also wants to know that there is somewhere local where they can take the car to get it repaired. There are always those that are willing to accept that they may need to do their own maintenance but most people want a dealer nearby where they can drop off the car to get it serviced or fixed. The idea of selling a car like the Th!nk City without a dealer network meant low volume sales.
The other big issue I saw is that Th!nk never made it clear that they had cars for sale here in the US. I know of at least one person who had been talking with a sales person at Th!nk and even when they announced they were having a sale of inventory the sales person was telling a willing buyer that they didn't have vehicles for sale, they were just gauging demand. If you are going to sell the car via the internet then you have to get the car out in front of the public. That means going to car shows, attending alternative fuel vehicle events, and generally presenting the car an any opportunity. This all costs money and again if you are underfunded these are the corners you cut and they cost you in sales.
I am still hoping that some car company will see that there is a good electric car out there that is ready to start shipping now, and will buy out Th!nk and get the City rolling into dealerships. Right now, most car companies already have their own EVs in the works so I don't see that happening. This time I fear that the bankruptcy will be the end of the line as there is already talk of handing the company over to a receiver to liquidate assets.
June 19, 2011 - Top 100 People who influenced EVs - This week Automotive
News released its Electrifying 100, the 100 people most influential in the
current move toward vehicle electrification. All 100 deserved a
place in the list but these things are very subjective so here is my choices for
additional honorees. They are listed in no specific order.
Chelsea Sexton was included on the list, and thoroughly deserved the Honor, but her director in Who Killed the Electric Car was overlooked. I consider his movie a huge influence on peoples perceptions about electric cars making Chris Payne one of my choices.
Elon Musk was also listed and again I can't argue. As one of the founders of Tesla he has certainly been a big part of the electric car market. Mike McQuary wasn't on the list but the CEO of Wheego cars has taken a small under funded NEV maker and started selling a full speed EV nation wide ahead of much better funded companies like Ford, Fisker, or even Nissan, so he goes on my list.
There are also unsung heroes who deserve a mention. One such person would be Tom Dowling. Tom, a former EV1 driver who migrated to a RAV4 EV and now owns a Volt, spent a lot of time and money developing evchargernews.com which has supported the EV infrastructure in California for many years.
Back in the late 1990s the web sites that allowed EV drivers to locate a charging station were just about useless. Most charging locations weren't included and even if they were included the listings were never updated if a charger was down.
Tom took matters into his own hands and created a web site that was maintained by the EV drivers themselves. When drivers used a charging station for the first time they would send in a new site report and it would be added to the list of available chargers. When others used the charger they sent in reports too so drivers could look at the latest reports and get a pretty good idea if the charger was working. Tom would also interface with the manufacturers to get chargers replaced.
Tom now coordinates infrastructure issues for the AEAA and is in the forefront in the effort to get obsolete chargers replaced with the latest J1772 models.
My last choice is probably going to be my most controversial, Gary Star. Garry has been around for a long time. He started out with US Electric back in the late 1970s and early 1980s doing conversions of GM cars and trucks. He moved on from there and became one of the principal owners of Zebra Motors who made a valiant attempt to get the old Tropica electric sports car on the road as the Xebra Z3.
When Zebra Motors folded due to lack of funding Gary went on to form ZAP. Zap was largely responsible for building the PEV market with the ZAPPI, which became the generic name for the small scooters based on the old kick scooter. They also had a pretty good electric bike too. They moved on to building neighborhood electric vehicles and the three wheel Xebra sedan and pickup.
While most companies are turning out expensive electric vehicles ZAP has attempted to make vehicles that come with a cheaper sticker price. This sometimes means that they compromise on quality and so the have come to have a bad reputation in come circles. There is not doubt however that Gary Star has had a huge influence on keeping electric vehicles alive from the time that the California ZEV mandate folded until this new round of vehicles started arriving in showrooms. With the merger of ZAP and Chinese scooter maker Jonway I expect we will hear more of Gary in the future.
There are a lot of other people who have paved the way forward over the years so that we now have a good chance of seeing electric cars go mainstream. People like Doug Korthoff who, often single handedly, staged demonstrations outside Toyota dealerships to get Toyota to stop crushing RAV4 EVs on lease return, and Kris Trexler, Greg Hanson, and C.E. Raum who showed that Electric cars could be driven long distances by driving them across country. I'm sure you have your own list of people too.
I think that there are some who have negatively impacted electric cars too, having more influence on them (in a negative way) than the positive influence of good e-boosters. Examples would be, any Chairman of GM from about 1975 forward, also the California (or was it fed?) judicial main name who ruled in late 90s that calif did not need to observe the epa law so that gm and Toyota and ford etc stopped the ev1 etc, and you could cite others.
Sunday June 12, 2011 - EV News From GM and Ford - There were a couple of huge announcements this week from both GM and Ford that seen to indicate that both these manufacturers are still pushing electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
The first announcement came on June 9th from Ford announced that they were scrapping plans to produce the 7 passenger C-MAX minivan in the US. Instead, they are going to concentrate on production of the C-MAX hybrid and C-MAX Energi for the US market. The C-MAX, while not the first hybrid from Ford, but it will be their first Hybrid only model in the USA.
The C-MAX has been on sale in Europe since last year and it is the five seat version has proved to be very popular. Here in the US the car will really be considered a small crossover. The two hybrids will use the Ford's third generation hybrid system based on lithium batteries. Details of the drive system are kind of scarce at the moment but Ford did say that the system has been modified to allow electric only propulsion at speeds higher than the 47mph that is the limit in the current Fusion hybrid. Range is targeted at 500 miles with a fuel economy that beats the Fusion's 41mpg highway.
The C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid should be in Ford dealerships toward the end of next year.
Also included in the announcement was that Ford is stepping up production of hybrids from the current volume of about 35,000 per year up to 100,000 by 2013. It wasn't clear to me if the 100,000 units included the two all electric vehicles, the Transit Connect EV which is currently in limited production for fleets only, and the Focus EV which is expected to go on sale late this year.
The following Day, GM announced that prospective buyers for the 2012 Chevy Volt can now place orders at their local Chevrolet dealership. They also announced that they were making additional option packages available including a lower trim level version that would be priced at $39,995 which is about $1,000 less than the lowest priced 2011 model. To accomplish this, features that were standard on the 2011 volt like premium paint and premium wheels will be optional in 2012. Other features, like keyless entry, will become standard.
The Volt assembly plant in Hamtramck, MI is about to shut down for four weeks to retool. After the plant reopens it will be producing not just the Volt but also the Opel Ampera for the European market. I have to assume that when they restart they will be producing the 2012 model too not the 2011 model. Production volume is also supposed to increase after the shutdown.
In related news, Volvo CEO Stephan Jacobi let slip in a speech given in Washington DC that Volvo is looking at bringing their V60 Plug-in Hybrid to the US in 2013 or 2014. The V60 PHEV is being readied for the European market next year but the Euro version comes with a diesel engine. For the US Volvo want to configure the car with a gas engine which is a large part of the delay between shipping in Europe and its introduction in the USA.
I have said for quite some time now that the typical American 2 car family will probably own a Plug-in Hybrid Minivan and an electric commuter car for those shorter trips. I am still waiting to see who will be first out of the gate with a plug-in Minivan. Ford seems to be stepping away from the Minivan market and GM has never been a contender, so who is going to be first to market with a plug-in minivan is anyone's guess.
Sunday Jun 5, 2011 - Volt Sales - I have been listening to dueling versions of the story on Volt sales that gave me a flashback to the EV1. One one hand there was a raging debate on the ethics of car dealers scamming the system by taking the Volt's tax credit for themselves, while on the other hand the media was atwitter with news of soft Volt sales.
GM had said that Volt sales would be up for the month of may but the number came in at 481, down 12 units from the 493 cars sold in April. So far GM has sold 2184 Volts and at current sales volumes that would put GM on track for sales of about 5,500 cars which is quite a bit less than the 10,000 cars they planned to build in the 2011 model year.
To make matters even worse, the plant in Hamtramck, MI where the volt is built will soon shut down for four weeks to get ready for production of the Opel Ampera. According to GM, production of the Volt should increase once the plant re-opens.
A Daily Caller interview with Greg Martin, Director of Policy and Washington Communications for GM, has been widely quoted in the press although I have been unable to locate the article myself. In this Article, Mr. Martin is quoted as calling Volt Sales "Underwhelming".
In response Autoblog Green interviewed GM Spokesperson Rob Peterson who said that there were, at the time of the interview, 200 Volts on dealer lots. To put this in context, there are currently 600 dealerships authorized to sell the volt so that means on average one dealership in three is going to have one on their lot. This still doesn't explain the lower sales numbers in May.
On the other hand there has been a lot said this week about dealerships that have been buying Chevy Volts and selling them as used so they could take the $7,500 Federal tax credit.
Rob Peterson is quoted in a June 2 article by May Chapman in the New York Times as saying That GM is aware of only 10 dealer to dealer sales but it appears that the practice may be far more widespread than that. In her article Ms, Chapman writes about a dealership in Atlanta who sent employees to a dealership in New Jersey to purchase two Volts under their own names. In this case they are using the two Volts as demo cars and have been taking orders ready for when the Volt goes on sale in Georgia
Other dealerships are not being quite so ethical. They are buying up cars and selling them as used to profit from the tax credit. This isn't illegal unless they tell the buyer they can apply for the tax credit, which would constitute fraud. It isn't really ethical though and there was a lot of argument going on in the RAV4 EV mail list about this.
For Example, Roger's Auto Group in Chicago, IL currently has a Chevy Volt listed on eBay. Since Chicago is outside the area where Volts are currently being sold it's a safe bet that this is one of those cars that has been bought by the dealership and is now being offered for sale as used. My issue with this listing is it doesn't make clear that the car is being sold used. Most buyers would expect that they will get the tax credit on this car but I seriously doubt then can. If you run the Carfax is tells you it can't find any information on the car and one of the reasons given is that the car may be new. Only if you look at the very bottom for the warranty does it tell you that the car is being offered with the remainder of the manufacturer's warranty which tells me the car is being sold used, not new.
The question is does the sale of cars between dealers artificially inflate the demand since GM counts this transaction as a volt sale. I would say mostly no because the dealers wouldn't be buying the cars if they are just going to sit on their lot so the cars are going to be sold and the tax credit ensures a good profit for the dealership while the buyer is essentially paying a $7,500 markup on the car. I said mostly, because sales like the one at Roger's Auto Group are counted in the region where they bought the car, not in the region where it was actually sold to a retail customer. Since the sale will be counted toward another region of the country, it makes sales in that region look better then they rally were.
I have been seeing sales of this kind going on almost since the first volts rolled into dealerships. I would estimate that about 60% of these sales are happening in Texas where the Volt is only available in the Houston and Austin areas but I have been seeing sales from dealerships spread across the state.
I expect to see very low sales for June and July so it won't be until August that we see if demand picks up or if the Volt is just too expensive for most people.
Sunday May 28, 2011 - Zero Emissions Debate - This week an article from the Washington Post was doing the rounds on Twitter. The headline screamed EcoMotors Chief Don Runkle: "Electric Vehicles are not Zero Emissions". The article really highlights the short term thinking that plagues America.
First let me say that Don Runkle is CEO of a startup company that is designing a Horizontally opposed diesel engine targeted to produce low emissions. This is a worthy goal, but means his opinions need to be regarded as highly biased.
What Mr, Runkle comes up with is the old argument about coal. He says that the worlds electricity generation is 50% coal so that has to be taken into account when calculating the emissions of all electric vehicles. So what is is saying is that because some schmuck in Peoria is running his dishwasher on electricity produced from coal, a guy in Topanga should count those emissions when he charges his car from his solar panels.
This old argument really shows the problem with calculating emissions from electric cars. EcoMotors diesel engine will produce 22.2 lbs of CO2 for every gallon of diesel that is burned. You just can't get away from this number. Oh, you can make the engine more efficient so you burn less diesel for a given amount of work, or you can make the vehicle lighter so you need less energy to move it along, but in the end, for each gallon of diesel you burn you get 22.2 lbs of CO2. CO2 is not the only thing that comes out of the tailpipe either, there is lots of other nasty things like CO, unburned hydrocarbons, and worst of all in diesel engines is particulate emissions.
Now, if I have an electric car here in Southern California Edison territory where the electric mix is about 17% coal, about the same amount of renewable energy, and rest mostly from natural gas and nuclear, the amount of CO2 used to charge the car is very different from an owner in Minnesota who's power comes mostly from coal, or one in Oregon who's power comes mostly from hydro.
But here's the kicker, over time the grid is getting cleaner. We are moving away from coal fired plants, or finding ways to capture and store the CO2 (called sequestering) instead of releasing the gas into the atmosphere. The guy in Minnesota can put solar panels on his roof so that he can cut the amount of coal fired power he is using, and this will effect the actual emissions of his car. It is almost impossible to sequester the CO2 coming out of the tailpipes of millions of gas guzzlers.
In California we have been lucky in having electric car sales more than ten years earlier than the rest of the country. People have been driving Ford Ranger EVs and Chevy S10 EVs since 1997 and the RAV4 EV since 2002. We also have abundant sunshine year round making solar cells much more cost effective. What we find is that a large proportion of people who buy electric cars also put solar panels on their roof. Now, some of this can be explained because early adopters of electric vehicles have a bias toward environmental causes so solar panels are just another facet of this leaning.
I think there is another factor working here though. Once you start charging your car at home each night you see your electricity bill begin to climb. It won't be by that much, perhaps 30 or 40 dollars a month for the average driver but this can push your monthly electric bill to the point where solar panels make economic sense. According to Verengo Solar, one of the leading solar installers in Southern California, the break even point for installing solar panels is where an electricity bill is around $150 per month. EV and PV go together nicely and the result is that electric car drivers tend to move toward solar electricity and solar, of course is zero emission.
So the next time someone tries to tell you that electric vehicles are dirtier than gas cars tell that that you can cut the amount of CO2 you produce by using cleaner electricity from wind or solar, that your actual emissions will go down and the grid gets cleaner. Then ask them how they can get around producing 22.2 lbs of CO2 (19.4 Lbs for regular gas) for every gallon of gas they burn.
Sunday May 22, 2011 - Small EV Makers Struggle - Some of the small electric vehicle manufacturers have been in the news lately and it hasn't been good. Building cars, whether electric or gas, is a costly business and it takes a lot of capital to go into volume production; capital that is often very hard to come by.
Lets start with Wheego. They have a pretty good offering, the Wheego LiFe. When the car was introduced at last year's LA Auto Show by CEO Mike McQuary, he admitted that he only had enough capital to build about 2,000 cars per year. Since then, in an interview with Lindsay Chappell from Automotive News Mr McQuary told her, “We’ll be living hand-to mouth as we try to get the first cars built. The next 200 will creep out as we raise money.”
Since then Wheego have gone along and started to push out electric cars to the public. As Mr. McQuary predicted the roll-out has been going very slowly but cars are starting to hit the streets. The big problem is that without lots of funding you can't build in volume. If you can't build in volume you can't get enough economies of scale to get costs down and it is difficult to be competitive. The Wheego costs as much as a Nissan Leaf but only seats two and doesn't go as fast making it a city car rather than a car you would want to use on the freeway.
Another company that has struggled for more than thirty years is Th!nk. In 1991 a small Norwegian company called PIVCO started making a two seat city car called the City Bee. Eventually they ran out of money and went into bankruptcy. As part of the recovery the company was reborn as Th!nk Norway and went on to produce another City Car called the Th!nk City. The company got into financial trouble again and this time, Ford, who was looking for an electric car to help it meet the California ZEV mandate, bought Th!nk. Ford sank quite a bit of money into developing the next generation Th!nk City even getting it to pass US Crash testing, but when the ZEV mandate was gutted Ford immediately sold off Th!nk. After a couple more dips into bankruptcy the current Th!nk Nordic is back making cars but cash is still a big problem.
In April this year Th!nk asked Valmet Automotive, the Finnish company that builds the cars, to halt production. Production went ahead at the Th!nk plant here in the US but that may only be temporary. On May 9, battery maker Ener1, who held a 31% stake in Th!nk, wrote off all its shares in the company, effectively ending their relationship. They have also said that they will not put any more investment into the company. This is a serious blow for Th!nk and could put the final nail in their coffin. In a short term effort to raise some cash Th!nk is currently selling some of the inventory of cars they have here in the US but I fear unless a white knight comes along soon the company is doomed.
Another company that could use a nice injection of cash is Commuter Cars. Their car, the Tango, is one of the best ideas out there. This tiny car, that seats two people in tandem, is slim enough that it can lane split. You can actually drive them side by side in a single 12 foot lane on the freeway and they can also travel between lines of cars in heavy traffic. They are pretty much the ultimate commuter vehicle with one small issue, the price tag.
Commuter cars has only enough cash to hand build these cars to order, and because they didn't have the money to get the cars crash tested they are sold as a kit car. The result is a commuter car with a top speed of over 100mph and a range of over 100 miles at a cost of over $100,000. With enough money they say a $20,000 version of the car could be built and imagine what thousands of these on the road might do for busy rush hour traffic. But this means millions of dollars and so far the good folks at Commuter Cars haven't found any venture capitalists willing to take the risk.
There are other companies poised to launch electric cars that are being held back by lack of cash. A few days ago I was driving through Santa Monica and found myself following a Coda. Coda Automotive have had a car that was production ready for at least a year now, although they have been adding some minor refinements. They have orders for vehicles and they have a service and repair organization in place; Enterprise Rent-a-Car will be filling that function. Still, they have yet to deliver cars and I can only conclude that they just don't have enough capital to get things rolling.
Aptera is another company that looks like it is short of cash. They keep going back and retooling, they are now moving from using two low volume factories, one in California and one outside California to one factory outside California as a cost saving measure. I think Aptera will have a real problem getting the production lines rolling unless they can find someone willing to risk the cash on a three wheel vehicle that will, at best, have a niche market.
For the record, I think that Aptera has an interesting looking vehicle so they could build enough of a niche to create a sustainable, profitable company. There are people out there who want something different from the norm; something that will get them noticed. The Aptera is a vehicle that will turn heads and have people reaching for their cell phones to snap a photo. The problem is, can they convince investors that there is enough potential to create a profitable business.
has sold more than 1600 Roadsters world wide and have just finished converting
30 RAV4s to EV for Toyota but have yet to show a profit, and things will likely
get worse before the Model S hits the road.
One problem they face is that the roadster is built by Lotus in the UK and is based on the Elise platform. Lotus is now retooling for the next generation Elise so their are going to be no more Tesla Roadsters once the current supply of Gliders is used up. This is going to leave a production gap where their stores have no vehicles to sell and this will also dry up their revenue stream.
This is a problem often faced by manufacturers who base their products on an existing platform from another manufacturer. It happened with Solectria when GM stopped making the Metro model used as the basis for the Force. Toyota even did this to themselves when they based the RAV4 EV on the 1997 RAV4 design. In 2002 when they started selling to the public they had about 750 gliders left and no ability to build more. They estimated that these gliders would last 2 years but sold them all before the end of 2002. That still didn't stop them for saying that they stopped building them because of lack of demand.
Tesla is in a good position since it is taking orders for the model S at a rate of about 200 a month which means they will have a sizable backlog of orders when the car is ready to ship. The loss of Roadster production is going to put extra pressure on the company to deliver the Model S on time and so far it looks like they are pretty much on schedule, but any big delay could put the company in jeopardy.
One company that looks immune to lack of cash is Fisker. They just received another $100 million in venture capital which will be quite useful for them to develop the next product, a lower cost sedan, to follow on from the Karma. The Karma itself is already rolling off the production line in Finland and first deliveries are expected in early June.
Fisker has not been immune to one thing that plagues most small sized vehicle manufacturers, price creep. Originally the Karma was projected to cost somewhere in the $70,000 - $80,000 range but prices have been steadily creeping up and it looks like the cars will cost around $100,000 when they go on sale.
Almost every company I have come across has announced expected pricing that is way lower than the final price of the car. Sticking to the lower price can be quite disastrous. Corbin, for example, sold the Sparrow for around $16,900 but it is estimated that each car cost them over $35,000 to make. The result was that Corbin slipped into bankruptcy after delivering a little over 300 cars.
The moral of this story is that building a successful car company takes a lot of money, and the bulk of that money is going to be spent not in designing and testing the car but readying it for production, building the cars, and establishing distribution channels. It is very very difficult to build a successful car company unless you are prepared to be a very small niche manufacturer like Morgan or Venturi.
Sunday May 5, 2011 - Me and LA Public Transport - On Friday I had to take my Prius into the dealership for its 90,000 mile service. My usual practice is to drop the car off at Santa Monica Toyota then get the bus back home. In the afternoon I take the bus back to the dealership and pick up the car. I usually do this on a Saturday and all is well, but Friday became the trip from hell.
Back in the 1920s LA used to have one of the best public transportation systems in the country. The famous Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway carried passengers all over Los Angeles as well as to outlaying areas of Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, and Riverside Countries. The Railway was intentionally run down to be replaced by busses and the last Red Car ran in 1961 and things have been going down hill ever since.
When I first started taking my car to Toyota of Santa Monica it was an easy trip. I would walk to the top of the street and catch the number 4. They ran about every 10 minutes during the day and would drop me right outside the dealership. Getting back was just the reverse, I would get the bus outside the dealership and it would drop me at the top of my street. LA Metro also had a 304 which was a limited stop bus but that didn't stop at the top of our street. Sometimes, if the 304 came along first, I would take that on the return trip from Santa Monica and it would drop me about a fifteen minute walk from home.
Then came what can only be described as a major brain fart, they changed the route so that the 4 no longer goes to Santa Monica but stops in West LA during the daytime. Now, I have to walk 15 minutes back from the bus in the morning and 15 minutes to catch the bus in the afternoon.
So on Friday I drove my car down to the Toyota Dealership but I was driving down fairly early so I didn't hit the bulk of rush hour traffic and it was a pretty easy drive. When I dropped the car off the service advisor told me that I could take their shuttle, my experience has been that the driver will not take me all the way since my home is about a mile beyond their maximum drop-off area. In consequence I walked over to the bus stop where I waited a little over 15 minutes for the 304. It took me a total of 40 minutes, including the wait at the bus stop, to go the seven miles from the dealership to my home.
Around 3:30 the service advisor called me to say I could pick up the car so I set of to catch the bus. As I walked to the bus stop the 704 passed me and, because I was held up at a light one block away, I just missed it. I sat at the bus stop to wait for the next bus and one soon came along but it was a number 4 with the destination "West LA" proudly showing on the front. Next came a 704 and I was quite happy until I read the destination "Not in Service". Now, I am not sure what the logic is of taking the bus along its designated route and not stopping to pick up paying customers. It's not like it was returning to its depot since the depot is in the opposite direction. I waited a total of 22 minutes and watch two other number 4s go past, one of which drove straight by almost empty without picking up some passengers waiting for that line.
Finally I was on a bus and the driver actually made good time considering we were now in rush hour traffic. For those not familiar with West LA rush hour traffic starts around 3pm with people picking up their kids from school and goes on until about 7pm. I finally made it to the dealership just about 5pm, that's one and a half hours to go seven miles.
Picking up the car was pretty quick and by 5:15 I was on my way back home. I did find that my Bluetooth connection wasn't working correctly but apart from that everything seems OK. I stopped at the Ralphs store at Olympic and Cloverfield and noticed that one of the EV charging stations was ICED.
On leaving Ralphs I took Olympic blvd and as I approached Bundy traffic came to a halt. The ten or so blocks between Bundy and Sawtell was completely gridlocked. It took me about 20 minutes to go less than a mile and that was with taking side streets. Once passed the 405 freeway Olympic began to flow again and I finally made it home a little after 6pm.
Allowing for two 15 minute stops It took me over two and a half hours to travel the 14 miles round trip from home to the dealership. Even after contesting some of the worst congestion I have seen in LA for quite some time, and taking the longer route home, it still took me less than half the time to drive the trip than it did to go by bus.
LA public transport has to be a model of how not to run a system for a long time now. We have terrible congestion here on the West Side yet the new Exposition Line, when it cuts through West LA, will pass across surface streets meaning that cars will have yet another set of blocks to impede traffic. I hope that they do full barriers rather than half barriers because if they don't people will die as the try to beat the train. I can even see times when the gridlocked streets back up across the rail track. Aggressive LA drivers are not the type to worry about things like not blocking intersections.
LA has also done other strange things. Take for example the Green Line. The Green Line is an extension of LA subway system. It links up with the Blue line in East LA and terminates in Hawthorne about a couple of miles from LAX. Why they chose to terminate the line in a remote location opposite a Grumman plant instead of taking it all the way in to LAX is a mystery but there it is, the subway to nowhere. There are a least plans now to extend the Green Line into LAX but who knows when this will happen.
The above might sound like I am anti public transport but I am not. I think that public transport is an essential part of modern living. What it does need to be is affordable and usable; not disruptive and difficult to use. LA has done some things right. It converted most of its busses to CNG which cuts pollution considerably, the dedicated busways built to improve the Bus Rapid Transit system in the San Fernando Valley are functioning very well, and the growing subway system is a good beginning. We now have the blue line that allows people to commute from Long Beach to downtown LA without driving which has got to be a major plus, the Gold Line opens up Pasadena, and the Red Line links down town LA and Hollywood. People are even finding a use for the Green Line and recently they had to increase the trains from one car to two to accommodate the increased traffic.
Subways are expensive and time consuming to build and one of the issues with the LA area is that there are still lots of pools of oil and pockets of methane to contend with, and we are also in a major earthquake zone, so the construction of an underground subway system is difficult and expensive. LA does need to persist in expanding the subway system if it is going to solve problems like total gridlock in its streets.
More than anything LA needs a cultural change. we need to think about leaving the car at home and taking public transport when it is feasible even if it does take longer. The one saving grace of riding on the bus is that I was able to use my smart phone to check emails and twitter, something you just shouldn't be doing while driving.
Sunday May 8, 2011 - Enabling Technology - I was watching Bill Moore's interview with BYD America Vice President Michael Austin on EV World television and Mr. Austin said a very interesting thing about electric vehicles, he called them an enabling Technology.
What does "enabling technology" mean?
Enabling technology is a technology that will allow you to exploit other technologies, in this case renewable energy generation.
One of the things that you always hear from the anti-EV crowed, in fact it has almost become a mantra, is that EVs are dirty because they are charged with electricity that is generated from coal. Now, I am not going to go over the arguments about electric vehicles and coal v ICE vehicles and gasoline in this weeks blog, we need to start looking at things from a different prospective and enabling technology is that prospective.
Let's look at two scenarios. First we move electricity generation toward renewable energy. For our personal transportation needs we will continue to use ICE vehicles, making them cleaner as we go along. In the second scenario we will also move electric generation toward renewable energy but we will also roll out electric cars at the same time.
In the first scenario we will eventually get to the point where most of our energy is being generated from renewable resources like wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, tide and wave energy with perhaps a few bio-fuels thrown. When we reach that point our electricity generation will be much cleaner but we will still have all these ICE vehicles on the road continuing to pollute our cities.
In the second scenario, by the time we have moved to a mostly renewable portfolio for our electric generation needs we will have a significant number of electric vehicles on the roads. Not only that, the growth of electric vehicles will mean that we have been able to advance the technology much further than we would have done if we had followed scenario one. By the time we have a majority of power generation from renewable energy vehicle to grid will more than likely be feasible which will give us a good place to store all the renewable energy particularly wind energy which is most plentiful at night and can be returned to the grid at peak times during the day. If your EV has a range of 300 miles and your daily travel is 40 miles you can afford to sell back some juice at peak times.
We know we need to go from using fossil fuels to using renewable energy because we know that fossil fuels are going to run out some day. We know that burning fossil fuels has a damaging effect on our environment that could cause future generations major problems. To enable this move toward renewable energy, electric vehicles become an enabling factor making the transition much easier.
Another factor we have found is that people who drive electric cars eventually tend to move toward installing solar panels on their roof. EV and PV are a marriage made in heaven and the more electric cars on the road the more people are likely to install solar panels. As the price for solar drops solar charging stations become a no-brainer and I can see a situation developing where people are encouraged to charge their cars in the daytime from solar energy and sell it back to the power company in the early evening via Vehicle to Grid to meet peak demand after sundown when the people get home from work, turn on the AC, and start cooking dinner. The cars can then be topped off overnight from wind energy.
The good news is that the move toward electrification of our personal transportation is going forward at an ever increasing rate. Chevy Volt users are driving an average of 1,000 miles before getting gas. Nissan has started to speed up the roll-out of it all electric Leaf. Wheego, Th!nk, Smart, and Ford are all shipping out electric cars in small numbers. Tesla, who has already sold more than 1500 Roadster, is now taking order for the S sedan at a rate of 300 per month. Before the end of this year Ford is expected to start shipping the Focus EV and Mitsubishi, who already sells the i-MiEV in Japan and Europe, is poised to start shipping the I around November. Fisker is also poised to begin shipments soon and BMW is set to Launch another trial of an electric car based on the Series 1 sedan before the end of this year.
We getting into a position to support renewable energy in a big way. Now we have to increase the percentage of renewable energy in our power mix until it represents the vast majority of our energy sources. It's the only way to leave a world where viable for future generations.
Sunday May 1, 2011 - Garage Fire - About 4am on the morning of April 14 Storm and Dee Connors were awakened by the sound of a fire alarm. Storm rushed outside to find flames shooting from their garage door. Destroyed in the fire was their newly acquired Chevy volt and the media instantly began to scream "Chevy Volt causes garage fire".
Also in the garage was a Suzuki Samurai that Storm had converted to electric several years ago. Both were probably charging at the time and both were a total loss. The Connors home was saved by a well constructed firewall between the attached garage and the main home.
Of course the anti EV movement took this opportunity to bash electric cars and even to rag on GM for poor quality. When the Volt began to smolder a few days later this caused even more fingers to be pointed at it.
The Sweetness and light web site screamed "Obama-Motors Volt catches fire - again", and in the article they say things like "So the Chevy Volt runs out of juice after 50 miles and it burns down your house? — No wonder it isn’t selling like hot cakes". This proves that they don't understand the Volt or the fact that while it is only selling in small numbers it is still selling 100% of the available cars; it is indeed selling like hot cakes there just aren't enough hot cakes to go around.
Fox News, well known for not letting the facts get in the way of slanting a story hard to the right, blazed the headline "Two Chevy Volt's catch fire in one week!". Of course, it was only one Chevy Volt that was involved in two incidents and the second was more than likely a result of the batteries getting toasted in the earlier fire rather than an inherent flaw in the car's electrical system.
Even the UK's Daily mail got into the act saying "But the environmentally-friendly credentials of his Chevy Volt - and the green driver's carbon footprint - took another hit today when its battery caught fire again, even though the car was unplugged". Now you have to wonder why a British tabloid is reporting on a simple garage fire in a Connecticut suburb?
Although those who bash the EVs took this fire as a golden opportunity to dump on the Chevy Volt most publications were actually pretty balanced about things and said that the cause of the fire has not been determined. They have also been pretty good at spreading the word that the Volt was a victim of the fire not the cause after investigators from GM examined the car and said that the damage to the car wasn't consistent with it being the cause of the fire.
Garage fires happen all the time and they don't usually warrant international coverage. Take the one that occurred Friday afternoon in Brawley in the Imperial Valley region of California. A man was actually injured in this fire when he went into the garage to try and save his motorcycle. There was no electric car anywhere near the garage and so the fire only commanded coverage from the local newpaper.
It's true that electric cars can catch fire, a garage fire was caused when an undersized capacitor on the Gen 1 EV1 melted during overnight charging, but ICE vehicles catch fire as well. On April 25th a Van caught fire in St Cloud, MN touching off a fire that destroyed a garage and did about ten thousand dollars worth of damage. The van was being worked on at the time but the presence of large quantities of gasoline makes a car fire quite spectacular.
My guess is that the cause of the Connecticut fire will be traced to faulty wiring not to the two electric vehicles being charged in the garage. It may be that charging the two vehicles at once was just too much for the circuits in the garage but that is really a fault of the wiring too. We won't know the real cause of the fire for another few weeks and I doubt many media outlets will bother to report the true cause.
My Ford F150 (along with a bunch of others) was recalled because of catching fire and burning up. Non fused switch in the master cylinder would fail because of a seal problem causing a dead short in the electrical system. I don't remember seeing any news about f150 burring houses down even thou they did more than once
Sunday April 24, 2011 - 2011 New York Auto Show - The very first Auto Show in the USA happened in New York in 1900. The show has been running ever since. The 2011 show is currently being held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center and will feature lots of electric cars including an electric car ride along.
New York is one of the states that follows the California emission rules and it is also the second most populous state in the union so it is one of the states that most car companies are targeting for the initial launch of their electric cars. It shouldn't be a surprise to see lots of electric cars at this show.
Electric cars were front and center to collect the two big awards given at this show. The Nissan Leaf beat out the Audi A8 and BMW 5 series to win the World Car of the Year award, the first time this award has been given to an electric car. The Leaf, along with the BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics lost the 2011 World Green Car of the Year to the Chevy Volt.
Talking of Nissan, what happens when you turn over your Leaf to Nissan's performance division? Nissan showed the results when it unveiled the Nissan Leaf Nismo RC. The steel body is replaced by a two door carbon fiber body that helps reduce the weight by about 40% to 2068 lbs. The wheelbase is shortened by 4 inches while the width is increased by 6.7 inches. The car has been lowered so that ground clearance is a miniscule 2.4 inches. Nissan says that at its top speed of 93mph the car can run for 20 minutes before needing a charge. With the fast charger it can be back up to 80% of charge in 20 minutes. This car is meant to encourage electric car racing and is not likely to be offered for sale to the public.
Mitsubishi has had the i-MiEV on sale in Japan for quite some time and is now offering the car in Europe where is is sold under the Mitsubishi, Peugeot, and Citroen brand names. At the 2010 LA Auto show they introduced the "i", a version of the i-MiEV that was designed for sale in the US. At the New York Auto show they announce that the base price for the i, when it goes on sale later this year, will be $27,990, a whopping $4,790 less than a Nissan Leaf. Along with the announcement they began to accept orders in the four states where the car will be initially sold, Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington. First deliveries are expected in November of this year.
Ford were showing off their line-up of electric cars starting with the Ford Focus EV which goes on sale later this year, along with the Ford Transit Connect EV which is currently being used in trials by ten of Ford's fleet customers. Adding to the line-up are the C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid and the C-MAX hybrid. Both of these are expected to go on sale here in the US in 2012. They were also making a big deal about having four car models that can give over 40mph highway.
BMW made the US debut of its ActiveE electric car. The ActiveE is a 2 door battery electric car based on their Series 1 chassis. The car sports a 32KWHr Lithium ion battery pack that is said to offer a 100 mile range. When they did the trial of the Mini-E they found one of the shortcomings was the loss of range during cold temperatures. To address this issue the pack is thermally managed and BMW claim that you should get 100 miles irrespective to temperature. They will be shipping 700 cars to the US this fall for a long term customer trial.
The VW Bulli concept, first revealed at the Geneva Auto Show earlier this year made its North American Debut at the New York Show. Styled on the old Microbus, the six passenger Bulli is driven by an 85KW electric motor that can take the minivan up to a top speed of 85mph. VW claims that the 40KWHr lithium battery pack can deliver 186.4 miles per charge. There was no indication that the Bulli will be put into production.
Toyota had the plug-in Prius on display and opened up the registration on their pre-reservation system on Friday to coincide with Earth Day. They also had the latest RAV4 EV, presumably the version with the Tesla developed drive train, sitting in their display although reports are that they had nobody there to pass out information on the SUV.
Neither Tesla nor Fisker had cars on display but given the cost of attending an auto show this is not surprising. More surprising was that although Fiat had a large number of cars on display, and unveiled the Fiat 500 Convertible, they did not display the Fiat 500 EV. Now, Fiat have already said they will loose as much as $10,000 on each Fiat 500 EV they sell, but need to sell some to be able to comply with the latest CAFE standards. I will now be looking for the EV to have its North American debut either at the Los Angeles show later this year or Detroit in 2012.
Now that most car makers are actively developing plug-in hybrid or electric cars I expect to see more and more of them showing up at auto shows around the country. I'm still waiting for a Plug-in hybrid mini van.
Sunday April 17, 2011 - Electrification and Ford - I was reading through some press releases from Ford and came across one about Chuck Gray, Ford Chief Engineer of Global Core Engineering Hybrid and Electric Vehicles, giving a talk about vehicle electrification to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
It wasn't long ago that the SAE was leading the fight against the California ZEV mandate so it seems that times really have changed giving me much more hope for the future of vehicle electrification.
Mr. Gray's talk went through the things that Ford are doing to electrify their vehicles and it is a pretty good primer for what is likely to happen over the next five years in the automobile industry. Ford is moving forward on four out of the five different levels of electrification, all of which will result in burning less fossil fuel.
The first level of electrification is the automatic stop start feature. This is a system that will shut down the car's engine at stop lights and immediately start it back up again, usually when the brake pedal is released. This feature has been around for a while, and vehicles that use this system are sometimes referred to as mild hybrids. Automatic Stop/Start is a feature on all the current hybrid models and Ford's only use of this feature currently is on their regular hybrids like the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Escape Hybrid. Ford plans to introduce an auto stop start vehicle soon and claim it will provide a fuel savings of 10%. Personally I am very skeptical about such high fuel savings claims but the system does save some fuel and does reduce pollution when vehicles idle at stop lights.
The second level of electrification is the full hybrid system. Ford already have several full hybrids on the market including the previously mentioned Fusion and Escape hybrids along with the Lincoln MZK Hybrid. These hybrids are well executed and provide improved fuel economy over the none hybrid version of the vehicle.
In 2012 Ford will be introducing a new hybrid, the C-MAX hybrid. This vehicle is aimed at competing in the small minivan category and is similar in design to the Mazda 5. So far the Ford have given no mpg projections for the C-MAX hybrid but I would expect it to beat the 28mph highway for the Mazda 5 by quite a bit.
The third level of electrification is the plug-in hybrid. The plug-in hybrid is a vehicle that uses a traditional hybrid system but has a larger battery pack to allow the vehicle to run further on electric only. To enhance the use of this battery pack the ability to charge it from the grid is provided. Ford already has plug-in versions of the Escape in trials with Southern California Edison but these cars will only run on electric power at speed below 35mph. If you cross 35mph the car's gas engine kicks in.
In 2012 Ford will introduce the C-MAX Energi which will be a plug-in hybrid. So far there is not much indication of just how fast the C-MAX Energi will be able to go "electric only", we have only been told it will be faster than 47mph which is the top speed that the electric motor can drive the Ford Fusion. I would expect the car to drive at speed in the low sixties, similar to the 62mph of the Plug-in Prius.
The fourth level of electrification is the extended range electric car. I consider this to be a variation on the plug-in hybrid and the Chevy Volt is the primary example of this technology at the moment. In the extended range hybrid the car is always driven by the electric motor when the batteries have remaining charge irrespective of speed. So far Ford has not indicated that they are going to market an extended range vehicle but there is always a possibility that the C-MAX Energi will meet this criteria.
The fifth and final level of electrification is the pure electric vehicle. Ford already has 150 Transit Connect EV being delivered to ten fleet customers and an electric version of the Ford Focus should be available before the end of this year. Battery electric vehicles are what the California Air Resources Board called the "gold standard" since they use no oil and significantly reduce the amount of pollution being generated even when downstream sources of power generation are being taken into account.
The Ford Focus EV will join the growing crowd of electric cars such as the Tesla Roadster, Commuter Cars Tango, Nissan Leaf and Wheego LiFe that are currently available here in the USA. This is going to expose a huge number of people to electric cars, and many of then are going to like what they see.
April 10, 2011 - Highest Miles - This week I got a newsletter from Tesla Motors
that announced that the fleet of Tesla Roadsters, now numbering more than 1500
cars, had just passed ten million miles.
The next phrase was the one that got me thinking. It said "more miles than any other fleet". Now. I don't want to throw cold water on Tesla's accomplishments. because ten million miles is a very impressive number. But I am sure that there are other fleets that have done more.
Ten million miles means an average of just under six thousand seven hundred miles per car. Both Toyota's RAV4 EV and the Ford Ranger EV built around 1500 vehicles and I am sure these cars averaged more than 6700 miles.
The most likely candidate for high mileage champion in the US, from the current crop of cars, is the RAV4 EV. According to Wikipedia there were 1485 RAV4 EVs leased or sold in California between 1997 and 2003 and there were also cars leased in Japan and a handful even went to the UK although I only know of one that is still in existence there. There are at least 18 of these RAV4 EVs that have done more than 100,000 miles, and one that recently passes 200,000 miles. I track RAV4 EV sales pretty closely and nowadays 60,000 miles is a low mileage car.
If we assume that the average for these cars was 30,000 miles then the fleet sold in California will have covered over 44.5 million miles so Tesla has a long way to go to catch up. I can tell you now that 30,000 miles is a very low estimate for the average number of miles driven be these cars, it's probably closer to 60,000 miles.
That pales in comparison to GEM, that tiny arm of Chrysler in Fargo, ND that builds a line of Neighborhood electric vehicles. According to their web site they have sold over 45,000 Gems since they started selling the NEVs back in 1998 and they have notched up over 450 Million miles. That is based on an average mileage of 10,000 miles per vehicle.
Now, I think this is quite over stating the number of miles that GEMs have driven. I often see cars being sold that have just a few hundred miles on them. Even if we assume that the average is 1000 instead of 10,000 we still get 45,000,000 miles driven by GEM drivers which is way more than the 10 million miles that Tesla has done.
Looking outside the US, Peugeot Citroen also built a lot of electric cars starting around 1997 and going all the way up to 2005. In that time they built four main models, the Citroen Berlingo and Peugeot Partner vans; and the Peugeot 106 and Citroen Saxo hatchback sedans. In total they built over 5,000 cars most of which were sold to the French government but cars were also sold to individuals throughout Europe. These cars had NiCAD batteries and while none have gone as far as the high mileage RAV4 EVs, most, if not all of these have done more than 10,000 miles which puts mileage at 50 million EV miles driven by the fleet.
There are other contenders for the title of highest mileage electric vehicle in Europe such as Smith's Electric Vehicles and its leading competitors, Morrison, and Wales and Edwards. These three companies each had thousands of milk floats plying the streets of the UK six days a week and while their routes tended to be pretty short, between ten and twenty miles, the number of miles for the fleet must have been huge.
Back in 1895 the Anderson Electric Car Company was founded. They continued to build The Detroit electric cars under a variety of company names up until some time between 1936 and 1939, nobody is really sure when the last car left the factory to go to a customer. There is also some widely differing opinions on how many cars they built going from a peak of 2,000 per year to a peak of 15,000 per year. I tend to follow the idea that production peaked around 1914 when they produced 4500 cars. Even with low numbers there must have been thousands of electric cars built over the 40 some years it was in existence and some of these cars are still running now. The fleet must of done much much more than 10 million miles.
As I said at the start I don't want to downplay what Tesla have achieved since they sold their first cars back in 2008. If we make the rather radical assumption that if the Tesla Roadster wasn't available the driver would have bought the Lotus Elise, the platform on which the Tesla is based, then instead of a car burning no gas they would have been driving a car that had an EPA combined mileage of 23mpg. In 10 million miles of motoring Tesla owners have not burned the 435,000 gallons of gasoline that they would have consumed if they had bought the Elise. True they did consume some fossil fuels to generate the electricity but that would have been fuel obtained in the USA, not imported oil.
I applaud Tesla for their accomplishments and hope that the next 10 million miles comes very soon.
Sunday April 3, 2011 - Witch Hunt - When I was first asked to review Witch Hunt by Peter M. De Lorenzo it was the subtitle "Essays on the U.S. Auto Industry and the Blithering Idiots Who Almost Killed It" that intrigued me. I expected a book about the men who ran the major U.S, Automobile companies and the missteps they took that led to the decline of the GM, Chrysler, and Ford, but it turned out to be something different.
Peter M. De Lorenzo worked for 22 years in automotive advertising and marketing before starting autoextremist.com in 1999. The autoextrimist.com web site posts news and commentary on the automobile industry. His years in the automobile industry and his contacts in Detroit means he knows the automobile industry better than almost any other journalist who covers the US car scene.
Witch Hunt is a made up of a series of articles written by Mr De Lorenzo that starts as the world economy went into a runaway recession and proceeds through the congressional witch hunt against the three big US car companies, the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler, and the recovery that is currently underway. It is relentlessly pessimistic even at the end where the fortunes of the U. S. car companies appears to be on the rise.
In the early articles the "Blithering Idiots" would appear to the the Obama Administration and the Senators who raked executives from Chrysler, GM and Ford over the coals for getting into a situation where the very survival of their very industry was at stake. The United Auto Workers Union also comes in for some well deserved criticism. It's only later in the book that we hear about the bean counters at GM who basically hand tied the design teams leaving then with designs that were out of date and out of touch with what the American consumer wanted.
Readers of evfinder.com will probably not like some of the articles in Witch Hunt. since Mr. De Lorenzo does not like battery electric cars and continually lambastes the environmental movement. In particular he has some very harsh things to say about the prospects for Tesla and Fisker. He does know the automobile industry though so while I hope that he is wrong about these two companies, it will be interesting to see if his predictions come true.
In general he appears to think that the future lies in cellulosic ethanol not battery electric cars. He does make a good case for getting off oil though, and in the Afterword at the very end of the book he does say of the Chevy Volt, "At the end of the day this dazzling new machine is a technological tour of force for this or any other century".
He also has harsh words to say about some of the existing car companies and the men that run them. He is particularly hard on Cerberus and their handling of Chrysler. He likens them to a dog that constantly chases cars but when it finally catches one has no idea what to do with it. He is also very harsh on the people who have run GM since the the bankruptcy and is very pessimistic about the future of the Chrysler Fiat alliance.
Two people do come in for some praise in these collected essays, Bob Lutz and Alan Mulally. In my opinion this praise is well deserved since Bob Lutz revamped the lineup of cars at GM creating excellent vehicles, and Alan Mulally has totally turned around Ford.
While Witch Hunt was not the book I expected it to be, and I certainly think that Mr. De Lorenzo is misguided in his opinions of the environmental movement, I am glad that I read it. The book gives an incite into the workings of the automobile industry that most outsiders will never see.
Mr. De Lorenzo's message is that to succeed in this highly competitive and heavily regulated business you have to build cars that people want to drive. To do this you have to hire exceptional people to design the cars, and management has to give then the funds to do this without undue interference.
He does an excellent job of showing why we need to keep the Automobile industry alive and thriving and the disastrous consequences that would result from letting GM, Ford and Chrysler die. He also warns about sending our manufacturing base abroad and the threat that poses as countries like China and India strive for a higher standards of living.
Sunday March 27, 2011 - EV Updates for March 2011 - This week Plugincars.com reported that the price of the Th!nk City has been set at $41,695 for the first 100 units when it goes on sale to the public here in the US later this year. The final retail price has not yet been set but they are targeting $34,000 which will price the car just above the Nissan Leaf and wheego LiFe, but somewhat cheaper than the Chevy Volt.
In a related story a report came out that Ener1 has laid off three percent of its work force because of low demand for the Th!nk City. Th!nk apparently asked them to halt shipment of batteries while they worked through an overstock of cars. I think this is more to do with a slow rollout of cars from Th!nk than it has to do with lack of demand. While they planned on producing about 2500 cars this year at their Elkhart, IN plant they have only shipped a few cars to State and local government agencies in that state. They haven't made the car available to the public yet, and haven't really done any aggressive marketing to fleets either. To succeed they are going to have to get a better marketing plan.
Wheego look like they are on track to start shipping their LiFe electric car at the end of this month. They are certainly doing a better marketing job than Th!nk. Over the last couple of months they have been building out a dealer network and, more importantly, they have been getting their dealer's name in local papers. There is hardly a day that goes by when I don't see an article pop up on the web or in a local paper about a dealership that is going to sell Wheego cars. The Wheego LiFe should be priced around $33,000 which puts it just a little bit more expensive than the Nissan Leaf but with the advantage that it is going to be on sale on all 50 states.
Another piece of good news came from Fisker who finally started production of the Karma at a factory in Finland First deliveries are expected to start some time in April, although I have heard that they will only be delivering to VIP customers at first and it will probably be May or June before they start deliveries in earnest to the 2000 or so people on their waiting list. According to Plugincars.com the price has also increased from the original projected price of around $80,000 to a base price of $95,900. Still, the car is placed squarely in the luxury car category and the five seat Karma is still priced quite a bit below the base price for a Tesla Roadster and about $17,000 less than you would pay for a Lexus LS 600h.
Like Tesla, Fisker are also working on a lower priced sedan but so far they haven't shown a prototype.
If you live or are visiting Southern California and you want to try out an electric car you may be able to. This month Enterprise Rent-A-Car started offering electric cars a two of its locations, one in Santa Monica, CA and one in Ontario, CA. The listing just says Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, or similar and if you try to reserve on online you just get a message saying call for price and availability, but my understanding is that the Ontario site has a Chevy Volt and the Santa Monica site has a Leaf. Enterprise has also announced that they will be renting out the Coda sedan at locations in Southern California if Coda ever gets their car into production.
The Japanese earthquake has also had an impact on car production world wide. Most of the Japanese manufacturers have had to shut down production not because of damage to their factories but because of disruption of parts supply. The problem has even reached as far as the US where at least two factories have had to suspend production due to lack of parts. The good news is that Nissan restarted production of the Nissan Leaf at its Oppama plant last Thursday.
Toyota didn't fare quite so well though. Although they didn't suffer any major damage to their factories they still had to shut down because of parts availability issues. It is estimated that the shutdown will cause Toyota to loose production of over 142,000 cars. Hard hit was the Prius at a time when high gas prices here in the US has greatly increased demand for the fuel sipping hybrid. Toyota also recently announced that the launch date for the new Prius Minivan in Japan will be delayed.
While electric cars are starting to appear in the market in ever growing numbers the rollout of charging infrastructure has been painfully slow. Israel has done better though as Project Betterplace just opened their first public battery swap station in Kiryat Ekron after a successful trial of four stations that were used by a taxi company in Tokyo. Betterplace has eight other swapping stations already complete, out of forty they plan to build in Israel and are also setting up public chargers in parking lots around that country. The cars they will provide to their customers will be the Renault Fluence and they have already placed orders for 100,000 cars from Renault.
In a related story Allcarselectric.com reported Andy Heiron, head of the electric vehicle program at Renault UK as saying that "while the idea was sound the battery swapping system couldn’t possibly make good business sense yet". Personally I agree with Mr. Heiron, I expect the ability to charge very quickly will be available long before there are enough cars on the road to make battery swapping profitable.
The movement toward electric cars is beginning to build and we are seeing cars begin to appear on the roads here in Southern California. Since the start of the month I have seen Chevy Volts, a Nissan Leaf, and a Smart ED on the roads being driven by members of the public. More cars are starting to appear on the market. Growth will be slow but steady. Some companies may shine, others will fall by the wayside. There is an opportunity for new start-up companies in the Auto industry that hasn't existed for almost a hundred years and some of the new startups just might become a household word in the next decade.
March 20, 2011 - EV v Four Dollar Gas - On Thursday night my carpool had to
stop for gas in Costa Mesa and the Chevron Station was charging four dollars a
gallon. Four dollars a gallon is the amount that is projected to be the
tipping point where consumers begin to think about owning an alternative fuel
I have already seen signs that electric car ownership is beginning to look good to some people. I keep my eye on the used EV market which had been pretty flat for quite some time. About a month ago, as gas prices started edging up, things began to change.
All of a sudden I was seeing eBay auctions ending early with the explanation that the vehicle "is no longer available for sale". A couple of years ago I used to see one or two of these each week but since the economy went south it has been a very rare occurrence. It can mean several things such as the vehicle developing a fault or getting into accident so its condition no longer matches the description in the listing; or the owner has decided they really didn't want to sell. Most often it means that the seller found a buyer outside of eBay.
I have also noticed an increase in the number of eBay auctions that end in sales. If the item is priced at a reasonable amount the EV usually sells, but if it is overpriced it still isn't going to move. This has been true not only in the USA but in the UK and Germany too. People are not paying really high amounts for electric vehicles yet, but there are certainly more people looking and bargains are being snapped up.
Of course if an electric vehicle is advertised for sale it also means there is someone selling an EV. This has had a lot to do with the state of the economy, when finances get tight it is the EV, rather than the ICE car, that gets Sold. It is also because a lot of people who already owned EVs were the first in line to buy one of the new cars just hitting the market.
To illustrate let's look at the Tesla Roadster. There are currently 7 Tesla Roadsters advertised on eBay. All of them are quite low mileage vehicles. When finances are tight it is clear that people choose to sell a vehicle that is not being used much and will return a lot of money over the car that is most used by the family.
Of the eight Tesla Roadsters I have seen sold on eBay the average price has been just under $80,000 and the highest mileage car was a 2008 Roadster with just 4151 miles on it. I have to wonder why someone pays around $140,000 for an electric sports car then only drives it 4151 miles, and remember that was the high mileage vehicle. The current 7 Roadsters are similarly low mileage vehicles so if anyone is looking for a Tesla it might be time to search the eBay listings at evfinder.com. Cars that are listed with starting bid, or "Buy it now" price in the upper $90,000 dollar range typically do not sell.
I have also seen a lot of RAV4 EVs on the market recently and for the most part this is because drivers are beginning to trade in their eight to nine year old cars for a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt. This has caused downward pressure on the pricing that has pushed the average sale of a Toyota RAV4 EV down from the low thirty thousand dollar range to the low twenty thousand dollar range. I still find it remarkable that a nine year old RAV4 EV is still fetching almost as much as a new Leaf after State and Federal incentives to new EV buyers has been factored in, but this reflects just how good this car was. Since a lot of these RAV4 EVs still have quite a bit of life left in them these may make a good option for people living in states where the Leaf and Volt are not currently available.
Even with the Chevy Volt, I don't see a lot of people paying huge markups. While I am sure there were a lot of dealers out there who are getting a premium over sticker price, I have only seen one Volt out of the six I tracked on eBay that sold at an amount that was way above sticker. The rest sold at an average price of around $44,600 which is about sticker for the Volt when it comes loaded with options.
we have a strange situation here. While people are buying more electric
cars than ever before we are still getting downward pressure in the used EV
I think that people are seeing the current turmoil in the middle east and the corresponding rise in gas prices and they get it. They get the fact that we can't keep on being totally reliant on oil for our wellbeing when it comes from nations that are unstable and often look on the US as the enemy. They know we have to find a better way and electric vehicles are the best solution we have found so far.
Still, economic times are tough and electric cars are relatively expensive and not easy to find. People want to get into electric cars but they still need to be careful with their money. I think it is a good time to launch electric cars and if the economy continues to recover, and gas prices stay high, companies that sell electric cars should do well.
Sunday March 13, 2011 - Three Million and Counting - This week I came across a press release from Toyota that has been mostly overshadowed by the terrible events in Japan caused by the huge earthquake and resulting Tsunami. Fortunately Toyota has suffered no major loss of life or damage to its facilities in Japan although four factories belonging to subsidiary companies that have been shut down while the amount of damage is assessed.
The press release told me that Toyota has passed the three million mark for world wide sales of hybrids. It has been almost 14 years since they delivered the first 300 vehicles in Japan at the latter part of 1997. Sales started in the US in 2000 where they sold only 6,500 vehicles that year with a further 12,500 being sold in Japan. By the end of 2000 Toyota had sold a total of 52,300 hybrids.
Then there were the naysayers. They said that the car wouldn't sell, it was too expensive, it was too complicated. They said it would need batteries every few years. Sound familiar?
On July 1, 2007 my blog concerned a report published by CNW Research that "proved" that the Hummer was a more environmentally friendly vehicle that the Prius. There were lots and lots of things wrong with that report but I just wanted to focus on a couple of their assumptions.
The report didn't publish a build number for these two vehicles but it is certain that they assumed no more than 250,000 units for the Prius and probably a lot more for the Hummer. When I wrote this blog Toyota had just sold its one millionth hybrid, Right now Toyota has sold 2,185,500 Prius and it is now the best selling car in Japan.
The report also assumed that the Prius would have a life of only 100,000 miles. This appeared to be based on the assumption that the battery pack would only last that long and that people would junk the cars once the battery pack failed. This was done even thought California Prii had a 10 year 150,000 mile warranty on the battery pack. Well, there are now plenty of cars that have more than 100.000 miles on them and very few battery pack replacements. The mileage champ belongs to a taxi company in Vancouver, BC that has a Prius that just passed 1,000,000 kilometers (621, 000 miles). It had the battery pack changed at 400,000 miles and is still going strong.
The naysayers are now saying similar things about the latest crop of electric cars that are just starting to hit the streets; people won't buy them because they are too expensive; they don't go far enough on a charge; there are not enough public charging stations.
We can learn from Toyota's experience with hybrids. They didn't sell millions of hybrids the first year of launch. If you look at the 300 cars they sold the first year it looks pretty small compared with the number of Volts, or Leafs that will be sold in the 2011 model year. It took Toyota 11 years to sell their first million hybrids. The second million took just two years, and the third million took Just over a year. They now sell as many hybrids in a month than they sold in the first 3 years of hybrid production.
The secret here is to forget about the naysayers. Just stick to building electric cars and plug-in hybrids. Expect to grow slowly and keep making incremental improvements. Over time volume will build, prices will fall, and before you know it everyone will have a plug-in car in their garage.
Sunday March 6, 2011 - 2011 Geneva Auto Show - The Geneva Auto Show is one of the worlds premiere auto shows and is often the place where car makers roll out their most radical concepts. This year has been somewhat tame but car makers are showing off lots of electric cars that look like they could make it into production.
One of the most important vehicles in the show is the 2012 Opel Ampera. On show for the first time in Geneva is the production version that will go on sale later this year in Europe. The Ampera appears somewhat different from the Chevy Volt with a more rounded look, but underneath the hood the power trains are virtually identical. The Ampera will initially be built on the same production line as the Volt in Hamtramck, MI. In the UK it will be sold under the Vauxhall brand.
BMW also used the 2011 Geneva Auto Show to announce its BMWi sub brand. The BMWi sub brand will initially launch two vehicles. The fist, called the i3, will be a pure electric car and will begin selling in Europe in 2013. Following shortly after this, probably toward the end of 2013, they will launch the i8 plug-in hybrid.
Nissan had their Leaf; which is due to go on sale in the UK, Ireland, and Portugal later this year; on display. It was also announced that the Leaf is one of the top three contenders for the World Car of the Year Award. Nissan is investing big time in electric vehicles and at Geneva they unveiled their Esflow electric sports car. The Esflow looks a little bit like a Crossfire with a long hood and stubby rounded rear. The two seat sports car is driven by an electric motor in each wheel and uses the same battery pack as the Nissan Leaf. The car can go from 0-60 in under five seconds and has an impressive 150 miles of range.
One of the more radical concept cars at this year's show is the Smart ForspeED. The final ED in he name, of course, designates it as Electric Drive. The car is similar in looks to the Fortwo but has no roof, and a very low windshield; like the one on the California Roadster, which is absolutely useless at protecting the driver from flying debris. The ForspeED has a range of around 85 miles and a top speed of 75mph. Smart also claims that the car can be charged from 0 to 85% in 45 minutes. No indication was given that this was anything but a concept but some have speculated that it might see limited production as Smart did with the similarly styled Crossblade in 2002.
Another concept car that is way out there is the Rinspeed Bamboo. If you saw this car driving down the streets of Los Angeles you would think that it was a NEV but the car comes equipped with a 54KW electric motor that can push it up to 75mph and the lithium battery pack gives it a range of around 65 miles. The car comes equipped with inflatable beach blankets and there is a display screen on the front that can be used to display things like your Facebook status, or send a message to the slowpoke in front of you to pull over and let you pass. This car would be perfect for trips to the beach in sunny climates like Southern California, but it is unlikely that this car will ever be more than a concept.
VW also came out with an interesting concept car that might make it into production. The Bulli is a 6 passenger vehicle that takes its looks from the old Microbus. The van will come with either a gas engine or an 85KW electric motor. It has a top speed electronically limited to 87mph, and the lithium battery pack offers a range of up to 186 miles. This car would compete in the small minivan category and would be quite popular in Europe. Over here the retro styling and limited competition in this segment would be sure to make it a hit.
Toyota showed its IQ EV concept, a microcar that will compete head to head with the Smart ED. The two seat car is driven by an 11KWh lithium battery pack that drives a 47KW electric motor pushing it to a top speed of 75mph. Range is projected at 65 miles. Toyota will be conducting trials of the IQ with the idea of eventually bringing it into showrooms.
Other cars of note at the show were a plug-in Diesel version of the Range Rover, and an a pure electric concept car from Rolls Royce. Volvo showed off its plug-in hybrid V60. BYD was there with three plug-in models, two pure electric and one plug-in hybrid. It is clear that all the major car companies now have a plug-in vehicle in the works and many of them are close to production.
Sunday February 27, 2011 - Infrastructure Roll-Out Goes Slow - Recently Paul Scott from Plug-in America posted to the RAV4 EV email asking for help locating J1772 charging stations located here in the southland. This got me thinking about the roll-out of infrastructure which appears to be going even slower than the roll-out of the Nissan Leaf.
Paul already knew about the ones at the Santa Monica Civic Center but wanted to know about any others there may be I told him about the ones that I knew but hey were very few of them. I told him about the Coulomb chargers in Santa Monica Place, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, and Fashion Island in Newport Beach but that was all I could remember. Someone else mentioned the one at the Convention Center in down town LA which I had totally forgotten about, and someone else pointed out that there are now some at the Airport. Still, this list is very sparse compared to the number of sites that still have Inductive and AVCON chargers.
The hubbub about charger locations led me to expect large numbers of J1772 public chargers being available when the first wave of electric cars started rolling onto the streets at the end of 2010. I've already noted in an earlier blog how this roll-out of electric cars has been going much slower than expected, especially for the Nissan Leaf. However, after hearing LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proclaim "We will be ready" at the LA Auto show in November I was expecting a lot more action to update the existing charger base and add new locations.
I thought there must be more so I checked evchargernews.com which is usually the best site available to tell me where chargers are located, the types of chargers, and their status. When I opened the display for Los Angeles the map was covered with pins indicating existing locations. When I filtered for J1772 though the map didn't show a single site. I checked some of the "I was there" reports and there were notes from people about the new J1772 chargers at both Santa Monica Pier and the Convention Center, but not Santa Monica Place which is listed as "down". This isn't too surprising since the site is updated by EV drivers sending in reports and since very few people are using the J1772 infrastructure right now it makes sense that nobody has reported that a charger has been upgraded.
It is still the most accurate of the sites for California if you want to know if there is a charger nearby and if it is working. Personally I would like to see more states included in this list so if you are an EV driver and use a charging station please remember to go to the site and fill out one of their "I was there" reports.
I went onto the ChargePoint Network site, which shows the location and status of the Coulomb chargers, and found that they had 11 sites listed within 100 miles of Los Angeles and one of them, located in Fullerton, showed as in use. There were two sites that showed up in Santa Monica, the one at Santa Monica Place and one on the Pier. The ones at the Civic Center didn't appear on the ChargePoint map which may just indicate that the chargers there are not made by Coulomb.
It seems like there are constant news articles about charging stations being installed but the rate at which they are being rolled out still seems to be really slow. This really doesn't worry me that much since the bulk of charging will be done at home. Most people don't do long trips in their EV so they don't really need to use the public infrastructure If it is late being rolled out it is no big deal.
To get to President Obama's goal of one million electric cars on the road by 2015 however, we are going to have to deal with the issue of apartment buildings, condos and town houses where the tenant has to park on the street or doesn't have access to an electrical outlet in their parking structure. To allow these people the option to drive a plug-in car we really need to have a plentiful supply of places where they can charge. Until this is a reality it will be hard to have electric cars penetrate the market deeply enough to make a real difference. That means that the rate of roll-out of charger infrastructure needs to pick up and it needs to do so soon.
Sunday February 19, 2011 - Get Smart - While all the fanfare has been for the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, Daimler have quietly introduced the Smart ED into the US market. There won't be a lot of them available, just 250 this year, but they are available at all 72 Smart dealerships.
With no fanfare whatsoever, Daimler started delivering the Smart ED in January when US Army Major Mindy Kimball took delivery of a white and green coupe in her Washington DC driveway.
At $599 a month for a four year lease with $2500 due at lease signing, the Smart ED doesn't come cheap, but if you live outside the areas that Nissan and GM are targeting with their plug-in offerings it may be your only choice if you want to drive electric. The lease price also includes access to a dedicated Smart representative and 24/7 roadside assistance.
You had better hurry up though. Smart are only offering 250 of their second generation cars this year and when I talked to Smart at the LA auto show in November they had already take orders for 150 of them. The good news is that Sales of the third generation Smart will start in 2012 and the car will be available for both lease and purchase. People who lease the current version will be allowed to swap their car for the newer version in 2012 with no change in lease terms.
The Smart ED comes with a 16.5 KWh lithium ion battery pack developed by Tesla Motors, although the 2012 version will probably come with a pack developed by Daimler. Range can be as much as 98 miles on a charge but in normal mixed city and highway driving the EPA projects a range of 63 miles. The batteries power a 30 KW motor that gives an electronically limited top speed of 100 Km/h (60 mph) so the car is definitely intended for use as a commuter vehicle in and around the City.
The batteries can be charged from 20% to 80% in around 3 hours from a 220V charging station. A full charge from 0-100% will take around 8 hours. The car is also capable of being charged from a 110V receptacle but will take much longer to fully charge.
The Smart ED is available in both the coupe and cabriolet versions.
There is a sign-up sheet and map of dealer locations at the Smart USA web site but the site itself doesn't appear to be fully up-to-date. For example in the FAQ it says that deliveries will begin in late 2010. The map also shows lots of dealerships not scheduled to receive cars although that has changed so any of the 72 dealerships can get a car for you. My recommendation is to go to your local Smart Dealership to place an order. If the sales person tells you he can't order one find a different sales person.
If you live anywhere from Hawaii to Florida here is a chance to drive an electric car right away. Given the price and the fact that Smart are being very low key in publicizing the availability of the ED, they may not fly off the showroom floor but with less than 100 still available I can't seen them lasting long.
Sunday February 14, 2011 - Wheego LiFe in Production. They were supposed to have them rolling out the door last December but delays in receiving certification from the Department of Transportation (DOT) held things up but it seems that the Wheego LiFe is finally making its way down the production line at their Ontario, CA production facility.
I have been keeping a close eye on Wheego for a while now as it did look like production was imminent. When I first heard that production might have started I emailed Wheego and in a very brief reply Susan Nicholson, VP of PR & Corporate Communications told me "Yes! We have clearance to begin shipping cars the end of March."
It appears that Wheego have indeed started limited production of the LiFe and will be producing about 200 a month for the first 90 days of production. This will allow then to ship cars to the 500 people who already have a LiFe on order. After that they will increase production volume if demand increases. The Ontario factory has the capacity to produce 60,000 vehicles per year but building cars is very cash intensive and at the moment they only have financing to build about 2000 cars per year.
Currently Wheego have 22 dealers scattered around the US and hope to expand that to 90 dealerships by the end of the year. Wheego is not requiring up-front fees from their dealerships, they just have to commit to ordering a specific number of vehicles based on the sales potential in their location, and to provide mobile vehicle service.
In fact according to Mike McQuary CEO of Wheego, who introduced the car at the LA Auto Show, Wheego plan to distinguish themselves from the other manufacturers by using mobile service. "For those not near a dealership Wheego will send an engineer with the car when it is delivered, who will spend the day explaining how everything works." he told the media attending the Wheego press conference. They also plan to send engineers to fix problems for those owners too far from a dealership to take the car in for repair.
The LiFe is based on the Chinese built Nobel. Gliders are shipped to the US where the major electrical components are added. According to Mr. McQuary the cars have about 75% US made content. The car retails for a base price of $32,995 which puts the car in the same price range as the Nissan Leaf.
It is hard to imagine that people will pay out the same money for a tiny two seat car with a 65 mph top speed and a range of 100 miles, especially when it is based on a Chinese built car. I haven't had the opportunity to drive the LiFe yet, they didn't have one at the Santa Monica Alt Fuel Vehicle Expo, and at the LA Auto show they only gave rides to selected members of the Media and I wasn't included in that group. I have driven the Wheego Whip however and based on that I don't think the usual issues with Chinese build quality will apply here. I expect the LiFe to be fairly well built.
The big thing that Wheego has going for it at the moment is that they are going to be available everywhere, not just in a few select markets. Nissan has been dragging their feed shipping the Leaf and the prospects of getting one this year, even if you live in their select markets, are pretty slim unless you already have one reserved. Chevy have just announced that they will be going nation wide by the end of this year with the Volt, but even if they increase this year's production to 25,000 vehicles, a number that they mentioned at the Washington DC Auto Show, they will still be hard to find given current demand. At a base price of around $43,000, and many dealers charging a $4,000-$5,000 markup over list, the Volt is way more expensive than the LiFe. Ford and Th!nk are currently concentrating on the fleet market, and Mitsubishi won't be selling here until toward the end of this year. That leaves Wheego.
If you live in one of those areas where that the big car makers are ignoring for the moment, like Minnesota, Oklahoma or Ohio it may be a long time before you can buy an EV from the big automakers, but they are just some of the 16 states currently covered by Wheego dealerships. If you live in Fargo North Dakota it may be 2013 before you can buy a Nissan Leaf but you should be able to get a Wheego LiFe within three months.
Wheego also has bold plans to launch a pickup and a crossover vehicle by the end of this year although I think that timeframe is way too aggressive for a company with limited financing so I expect these vehicles to be delayed unless someone with deep pockets steps in.
It will be interesting to see how Wheego manages as the big carmakers begin to make electric cars available. The Automobile business is changing and there is now, for the first time in sixty years, an opportunity for small startup companies to grow beyond niche carmaker status and Wheego has a shot. They appear to have a uniquely different strategy for service and it will be interesting to see if this captures the imagination of the US populace.
Sunday February 6, 2011 – Urban Renewal – The current trend is toward urban renewal as local governments all over the country try to revitalize city centers and bring families back into the city. This is a noble idea and in truth several city centers have been improved significantly.
Los Angeles for example has built lots of loft type apartments and condominiums but these attract trendy singles in their late twenties and early thirties. It also attracts new restaurants and stores that cater to these people who tend to be affluent with plenty of disposable income. Alongside this enclave there is areas like skid row where the poor and the homeless attempt to survive.
Environmentalists tend to like urban renewal too. In large cities businesses are usually located in the city center. If people move into the city center they are close to their jobs. They can walk, bike, or take public transport to work and the family car gets regulated to trips and weekend runs to the grocery store.
The big problem with urban renewal projects is that they forget why people moved to the suburbs in the first place. They moved there for a variety of reasons the most common being to buy a bigger house, have a yard where their kids can play, and have good schools to send their kids to.
There are other reasons too. One person, let’s call him Derwood, used to live out in Irvine near the 405. He suffers from asthma as does his children. Now, Irvine is close to his job in Newport Beach but the air quality was so poor that it was acerbating the asthma, especially for his oldest daughter. Their solution was to move to Temecula. The asthma didn’t go away but they are all much better in the cleaner air of the Temecula Valley. The downside is a long daily commute to Newport Beach.
Here in Southern California it is not uncommon for people to live fifty or sixty miles from where they work. Some cope with this by joining a carpool or vanpool, most make the slog driving alone every day.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The latest computer technology means that you no longer need to have everyone in the same place. My wife recently had back surgery and I have been working from home a lot while she recovers. I found that I can do everything I can do at the office except sit down and look people in the eye. Even that would be possible with video conferencing technology. I’ve already used Skype to talk with friends and relatives in both the UK and Germany, and people like Bill Moore at EV World are starting to use this technology to conduct interviews instead of flying across the country or around the world to speak with someone face to face.
Back in the nineteenth century most people lived their entire life without travelling more than thirty miles from where they were born, but during that century the rise of steam ships and railways, followed by automobiles, gave people the unprecedented ability to travel at will. The twentieth century introduced the airplane and now we can travel almost anywhere in the world in less than twenty four hours.
Even if we do migrate back into the cities in large numbers I don’t see us going back to never travelling more than 30 miles from home. I do see a situation though where people will live, work and play in close proximity.
Let’s look at Derwood’s situation. Temecula is a nice medium sized city. There is plenty to do in the immediate area, it has good schools, and relatively good air quality by the standards of Southern California. Imagine now if the company he works for built a small satellite office in Temecula. Instead of travelling into Newport Beach every day he would travel just a few miles to the satellite office. His work station would be equipped with a video conferencing system so he could chat face to face with co-workers in other cities, and even attend virtual meetings over the conference link.
Since most of his work can be done over the computer using a variety of tools including email and document imaging, there is no real need to go to the main office. Derwood would save thousands of gallons of gas each year and because his daily commute is so slow, he could easily handle it with a local use vehicle.
We have the technology to allow people to live and work in what was once considered the suburbs without the disadvantages that the need to work in the city center brings with it. In my view, this makes more sense than trying to cram everyone back into the city center. I am not saying we don't need to revitalize our Cities but we should be targeting the young singles to move back to our cities, and let families live, work and play in the suburbs. The technology is there, the mindset just needs to follow the technology.
Sunday January 30, 2011 - La Poste and Better Place - With the roll-out of electric cars in full swing here in the US happenings in France have been mostly ignored by the main line press, but things have been happening there that are just as exciting for the EV community.
France has a need for EVs like no other country. The reason is that a good portion of its electricity is generated from Nuclear reactors. While nuclear reactors produce no air pollution, only lots of nasty radioactive waste, they do have a big problem when it comes to delivering varying loads. While the electric utility can get a gas fired generator online in a few minutes, once the nuclear reaction is shut down it takes weeks to restart power generation. That means that the majority of French power generation can't be shut down overnight which means lots and lots of excess energy to charge EVs.
I have said in the past that one of the best applications for electric vehicles is the post office. Typically a postal route consists of about 22 miles of stop and go driving each day with the vehicle sitting overnight in the fleet garage. It doesn't take an EV with a 300 mile range to deal with this requirement since they can be charged overnight with little effort.
The French postal service, La Poste, started a competition to purchase up to 3,000 electric postal vans and the winner was a Citroen Berlingo Van, which is very similar in size to the Ford Transit Connect, with electric components designed by Monaco based Venturi.
This is the same basic van that Géraldine Gabin and Xavier Chevrin drove from Shanghai to Paris last year. The van is driven by a 42KW AC motor powered by a Li Ion battery pack that gives it a top speed of around 110 km/hr and a range of about 100 km. The van can be charged from a standard 220V outlet in about 5 hours.
La Post has started taking delivery of the first 250 vehicles, way more than the 150 Transit Connects Ford plans to deliver to their fleet customers this year, and will be expanding that to around 3,000 vehicles if the original 250 vehicles prove themselves in the day to day grind of real world fleet operation.
Renault is part of an alliance with Nissan and they too have big plans for the production of electric cars. They have shown several cars that are slated for production over the next few years but it was the Renault Fluence ZE with swappable batteries that garnered the biggest ever order for electric vehicles when Project Better Place ordered 100,000 of the 5 seat sedans. This is four times the number of cars that GE plans to add to their fleet over the next few years. Renault is currently taking orders for the Fluence ZE and is expected to start shipping later this year.
The initial areas for Project Better Place are Israel and Denmark with Hawaii being a likely third location although since the Fluence isn't approved for the US market they may need a different car for the islands.
Project better place is all about battery swapping and the Fluence ZE is designed so that the batteries can be swapped out at a robotic battery center in under 2 minutes. Project better place will sell the Fluence ZE for less than $20,000 but will lease the batteries and charge a monthly fee based on miles driven.
They have successfully demonstrated their battery swap concept in a Taxi application in Tokyo and are planning to set up a taxi service with 4 battery swap stations in the San Francisco Bay area.
I'm not sure that battery swapping will work for most consumers but it was demonstrated to work with Taxi service over 100 years ago when Salem and Morris built the first electric taxi service in the New York area. Battery swapping may also work well for car rental companies who need to turn cars around quickly especially at airport locations where cars are often returned around 3pm and rented again by 5:30pm. I'm not sure how well it will work on a busy 15 freeway when folks are trying to make it to Vegas before nightfall.
Electric cars will soon be rolling out to customers in France and they can serve to improve the efficiency of the national grid like they can in no other country. I expect electric car sales to do well there.
January 23, 2011 - Off
to a slow start - EV sales got off to a slow start for car makers with electric vehicles ready
for their showrooms. This wasn't altogether the carmakers
GM had to hold sales until the EPA had released the new sticker designed for
This meant that Nissan was first out of the gate with their Leaf but by the end of the year they had only delivered 19 cars. Nissan is deliberately taking it slow to make sure that their build processes enable them to build a quality product. From what I hear from the people in the queue waiting to get the Leaf they ordered last year, the rate of deliveries should start picking up in March.
The clear winner was Chevy who, although starting a few days after Nissan, delivered 326 Volts by years end.
There were two other companies that managed some token deliveries in 2010.
Ford has worked out a deal with ten fleet owners to sell them the first 150 Transit Connect electric vans. They chose to deliver one van to each fleet in 2010.
Of the many small start-ups that are trying to get electric cars on the road only Norwegian company Th!nk started up their US production line in Late 2010 and, like Ford, they are also concentrating on fleets. In 2010 Th!nk delivered 15 vehicles split between the state of Indiana and Duke Energy.
Tesla, who have been delivering electric cars since towards the end of 2006, delivered their 1500th vehicle in 2010. They have averaged about 500 Roadsters per year which is a pretty good pace for a car that costs over one hundred thousand dollars.
To put this in prospective. Toyota sold 15,253 Prius in December making total US sales for 2010 a respectable140,928 units. The Prius began selling in the US in July 2000 and during that year Toyota delivered only 5562 units and Nissan looks like they will sell more Leafs during the first six months of sales.
Honda trailed Toyota selling just Civic 906 Civic hybrids in Dec. In 2010 they managed to sell 20,962 Insights. Since going on sale in August the CR-Z has sold 5249 cars, an average of 1000 per month, and again I am expecting that Nissan will best that number with the Leaf.
Ford were also been selling conventional hybrids at a faster pace in 2010 delivering 20,816 Fusion Hybrids and 11,182 Escape Hybrids. Even though Ford are behind Nissan and GM in rolling out their electric cars they seem to have the more aggressive electrification program with plans to launch the fully electric Focus EV later this year and to add a Plug-in hybrid in 2012.
It is also interesting to see who didn't deliver cars. Fisker, Coda, BYD, and Wheego were all supposed to have cars on the road in 2010.
from Wheego is that they are waiting for DOT certification. They have EPA
and CARB approval and were expecting to have final approval by January 21, 2011.
The January 21 date has now gone and so far I haven't heard that the required
certification has been granted. Wheego current have 500 orders for the
LiFe and are supposed to have cars being assembled for delivery at their
Ontario, CA factory. So far Wheego is the only company that is offering
their car to the public in all states so the sooner they can get cars on the
road the sooner they can start building market share.
Fisker has pushed back delivery from August 2010 until March and when I talked to their engineers at the LA Auto Show I was told that the final design for the vehicle still had to complete crash testing so even that date is in question.
Coda pushed back the date for the release of their car from December 2010 until June of this year. I'm not sure why there was a delay but when I talked to them at the Santa Monica Alt Fuels Expo it appeared that they were still tweaking the car so it may not be ready for prime time yet.
It is unclear when BYD will have cars ready for the US market. At the Detroit Auto Show they said that they would begin selling cars this year but they have been saying "next year" for the last four years. Reports from the show indicate that the cars still show poor build quality so even if they do come to market they may have a hard sell. I also thought it was strange that they didn't show at the LA Auto show even though they are based just a few blocks away from the LA Convention Center. I am not holding my breath expecting to see them sell cars here any time soon.
Now that we have electric cars on sale from many of the big car makers it will be interesting to see how sales perform for 2011. I don't expect sales to go nuts, electric cars are still too expensive to become huge sellers. I want to see the market for these cars grow steadily. The spike in gas prices we have been seeing lately is likely to help sales of EVs. I've seen premium gas selling for over $4.00 a gallon at a gas station in Beverly Hills and prices still seem to be climbing.
With supplies of cars from Nissan and Chevy being restricted it is unlikely that they will not have excess inventory to expand into states outside their current sales area for quite a while yet. This gives companies like Wheego a good chance to grab market share and establish their brand name in states where they currently have no competition from the big car companies. Th!nk also need to start selling to the public pretty soon if they don't want to get pushed aside buy the big guys. With Ford and Mitsubishi starting to offer electric cars in 2011 competition is going to get fierce and getting a head start on sales will be a huge benefit.
The EV era did get off to a slow start and I have yet to see a Leaf or a Volt on the roads here in Southern California. I am not disappointed by this though. Deliveries have started, orders are on the books, and 2011 shows great promise for a huge rise in the number of vehicles powered from the grid hitting our roads.
Sunday January 16, 2011 - 2011 Detroit Auto Show - If anything illustrated the concept that the future of personal transportation is electric it was Ford unveiling the 2012 Focus EV at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The Detroit Auto show continued this trend as more and more manufacturers put electric motors in their drive trains.
Even though the announcement that the new Focus EV would be going on sale toward the end of 2011 had already been given Ford still had a surprise or two up its sleeve for those attending the Detroit Auto Show. The biggest one was the announcement of the C-Max line of compact minivans that included the C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid. I have contended for some time now that the future family fleet would be a plug-in Minivan and an electric commuter car so for me this announcement was the highlight of the show.
Ford didn't release too much information on the C-Max Energi except to say that it would be targeted at 40mpg fuel economy when running on the gas motor, and would have a combined range, gas and EV only, of 500 miles. No information was given about the battery capacity or EV only range so perhaps we will have to wait until the next CES to hear about that. The C-Max Energi is targeted to go on sale in 2012 and will be joined by the C-Max Hybrid, a conventional hybrid which Ford says will have better fuel economy than the Fusion Hybrid.
There was also big news from Toyota which finally announced the first group of cars that will be made under the Prius brand, all of which will be hybrids. This includes the existing Prius and the plug-in version which will replace the NiMH battery pack with a Li battery pack that will allow the Plug-in Prius to travel up to 13 miles on a charger. EV only mode will only be available at speeds up to 62mph. The car will charge to full in just 1.7 hours using a 220V charger and in about 3 hours on 110V. Toyota announced that the car will go on sale in the US starting in mid 2012.
Along with the Plug-in Prius Toyota also showed the 2012 Prius V. The Prius V looks very similar to the current model Prius but the roofline has been raised to make the rear more like a conventional wagon. The Prius V is a conventional hybrid that should give fuel economy of 42mpg City, 38mpg Highway 40mpg combined. Pricing hasn't been announced yet for the Prius V which is expected to go on sale in late summer 2011.
A fourth member of the Prius family was the Prius C concept vehicle. This car is a three door subcompact that Toyota says will offer the best mpg of any conventional hybrid when it goes on sale in 2012.
GM, who's Chevy Volt was named North American car of the year, announced their new Subcompact, Sonic. The 2012 Sonic, which will replace the Aveo when it goes on sale later this year, is targeted at the subcompact market that is currently ruled by the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta. The sonic, which Chevy says will offer more interior room than either of its major competitors, is expected to hit the magic 40mpg highway fuel economy mark when the EPA releases numbers later this year.
GM also had the tiny EN-V electric car on display. The EV-V is a bubble shaped car about half the length of a Smart. It uses the same technology as the Segway although underneath it does have four wheels. Like the Segway the car can be turned 360 degrees on the spot. It is designed for urban use where its diminutive size means that 5 can fit in the same parking space as a single SUV. It is doubtful if GM will ever produce this car but it does show how an electric drive train can radically alter what what has become the standard layout for an car.
Tesla also had a display in Detroit where it showed off both the roadster and the body design for the much anticipated Model S. The body of their new sedan will be made of Aluminum to provide reduced weight, 150-200lbs compared to steel. Key structural elements will still be made of steel to provide the necessary body strength. Even with the lighter body Tesla are expecting the Model S to receive a five start crash test rating. The model S is expected to go into production toward the end of 2012 as a 2013 model. Tesla will initially have the capacity to build 20,000 per year.
There were several other exotic electric sports cars on display in Detroit. Before there was the Tesla Roadster there was the T-Zero which spawned another exotic sports car, the Venturi Fetish. Venturi were back in the US again with another exotic sports car that looks a somewhat similar to the Fetish, the Venturi America. The America is powered by a 300hp electric motor driven from a 54KWhr lithium battery pack that gives the car a real world range of around 186 miles. Venturi announced plans to open an office in the US. Venturi North America will be located in Columbus, OH.
Another exotic sports car on display is the Inizio from automotive X-Prize winner Li-Ion Motors. The Inizio is powered by an 80KWhr Li battery pack and features a four speed cluchless transmission that offers a 0-6 time of just 3.4 seconds and a top speed of 170mph. Range will be up to 200 miles on an 8 hour charge using 220V, though obviously not if you drive it at high speed. Li-Ion motors is currently accepting orders for the car starting at around $139,000, and also hinted that they may make a 200mph version.
There were lots of other electric and hybrid models on display in Detroit. Toyota showed off the RAV4 EV and Honda the Fit EV, both of which were unveiled at the 2010 LA Auto show. Volkswagen showed off their Golf Blue-e-motion electric car concept, and Volvo had an interesting twist showing one of their C30 EVs that had been used in crash testing to show that the batteries hadn't been affected by the crash. There were also lots of conventional hybrids at the show. Lexus showed six different models of hybrid, all of which are currently on sale in the US.
Absent from the Detroit Auto show was two of the companies that currently have electric cars on sale, Nissan and Mitsubishi. Nissan has already started delivery of the Leaf in the US and Mitsubishi, who is already selling the i-MiEV in Japan, is expected to begin deliveries of their I toward the end of this year.
January 9, 2011 - PHEV Selection - Over the next two years several manufacturers
will be introducing PHEVs so I thought it might be helpful to go over the
factors you may influence a purchase decision.
A Plug-in Electric Vehicle or PHEV combines a battery electric drive train with a generator to keep the vehicle running when the batteries become discharged. The current crop of PHEVs usually have a gas engine to drive the generator although many companies are working on vehicles that use a fuel cell.
The thing that differentiates these types of vehicles is all electric range and there is a tradeoff between electric only range and cost. The more electric only range, the bigger the battery pack needed, and consequently the more costly the vehicle.
For example the Fisker Karma has an EV range of about 60 miles and price wise it ranks among the luxury brands. The Chevy Volt has a 40 mile EV range and is priced around $40,000. The plug-in Prius will have about 13 miles of EV range and, while prices haven't been announced yet, it is expected to be priced in the low thirty thousand range.
Now price shouldn't be the only consideration. You need to select a PHEV that has enough EV range so that it will be driven electric only most of the time. The reason for this is that the battery pack weighs a considerable amount so hauling it around uncharged most of the time causes lower fuel economy.
Consider the plug-in Prius. The battery pack weights about 330lbs which adds about 300 lbs to the weight of the conventional Prius, and this is equivalent to driving around with two large sized adults, a 180lb male and a120lb female. Experience from my carpool shows that this costs 4-6 mpg.
The Volt's battery pack weighs about 385lbs so this is like driving around with same two adults plus an 85lb child.
This is ok when driving on electric only but once the battery is depleted the weight of the PHEV battery gives you a hit on fuel economy.
Another consideration is when the ICE runs. In the Plug-in Prius the ICE will always run when the car goes faster than 62mph. While details have not been released yet I suspect that the same will be true of the upcoming PHEVs from Ford and Honda. If the plug-in Prius is driven mostly at freeway speeds it will actually get poorer fuel economy than the conventional Prius.
The plug-in Prius is meant to be used primarily for short commutes on surface streets. The idea is to drive it a short distance, recharge, then drive on again. To support this the car can be recharged in about three hours. You could drive the car 10 miles to work then plug it in. By lunch time the car would be fully charged ready to run errands. After lunch the car can be plugged in again and the battery would be full for the drive home. This would let you drive between 30 and 40 miles electric only each day and you could even add another 10 to 12 miles by plugging in in when you got home then driving in to dinner or a movie in the evening.
If your daily drive is mostly at freeway speeds you would probably be better off with a volt which only runs the ICE when the battery is depleted or when you force the ICE on by switching to mountain mode. When I drive alone my Prius gives me around 48mpg on the freeway but I would only expect 43mpg in the Plug-in Prius so obviously a person who drives the freeway most of the time would be better off with a conventional Prius rather then the plug-in.
If your daily drive
is less than 40 miles the a Chevy Volt would allow you to drive electric only
all the time even if the drive is mostly on the freeways. Having access to
a 220V charger during the day would double that capability. If you drive
more than 40 miles per day and you don't have an
opportunity to do a recharge then even the volt may not work for you, a lot
would depend on how much further than 40 miles you drove. The more you
drive with the gas motor running the more penalty you pay for the weight of the
Of course, you might be willing to accept the mpg penalty for the opportunity to drive the latest technology. If the car is a second or third car in the family fleet then a battery EV might even be a better solution than a hybrid. The key here is to know how you plan to use the car then make a purchase decision based on what gives you the best overall fuel economy.
Steve Powers from Atlanta
Love your site. I've been watching it for years. Owned at least 6 EVs in the last 12 years. You helped me sell one recently (93 Festiva). I still have an EV, but financially, it is a loser. Basically what I see is that the 2 car situation is what killed the EV and will continue to do so. The PHEV is where it is at. With 2 cars, you have double the maintenance, registration, insurance. People say you are splitting the miles. But, tires age, other parts age. I've done this for many years. 2 cars with one as an EV costs you a lot more. So, while my EV friends are waiting on Leafs, I am not, One guy got a Volt already - only one in GA. Nice car, but $45k - no way. I am waiting on the Plug in Prius. But, it needs to have at least 20 miles plug in range at 45 MPH. They should really target around 25 miles. It doesn't need to 40 if you have the "backup of a gas engine." Price has to be sub $30k. The only other cost effective solution is a cheap gas car (like a civic) and an electric bike that costs a lot less on a yearly and per mile basis. That's my 2 cents. When the weather gets better I'll be on an electric bike rather than my 1980 Jet Industries 007. 8 miles a day is good for a bike.
January 2, 2011 - What to expect when you buy an EV - The move toward electric
transportation has begun but owning an EV is somewhat different from owning an
ICE. There are two major differences, how far you can drive on a charge and how long
it takes to refuel.
In the ICE car you usually have a range of about 300 miles but an electric car will have a much lower range that is very dependent on the battery pack.
Gas stations are pretty common so you typically don't need to drive more than about ten minutes out of your way, more like 5 minutes in most cases, to refuel your ICE. Once at the gas station it takes about ten minutes to fill up, so we will say 15 minutes total.
Charging the batteries on an electric car varies with both the battery pack and the type of charger but 6 - 8 hours is typical. This means a change in behavior. With an ICE people usually wait until their tank is pretty low, say less than a quarter full, before filling up. An electric car takes a long time to fill so if that strategy is followed the car can be out of commission for a long period of time at an inconvenient moment. The good news here is that we don't need to wait until the battery is drained. Typically an electric car is charged at night in your garage so you always have a "full tank", and thus full range, each morning.
I can remember during my college days that we would often put a couple of pounds worth of gas in the car because we didn't have enough money to fill the tank. Well, you don't need to fully charge the batteries either so if you need more range you can do a partial charge during the day. A 1 hour charge will typically give you from 4 to 20 miles of range depending on the voltage at the charger.
For the commuter the car typically sits for at least 8 hours while they work. This will charge most cars fully with a 220V charger doubling range. Even at 110V you can typically add 25 to 30 miles of range during the day.
The mistake most people make when buying an EV is to not buy one that suites their need, or they don't buy one because they don't understand what their true needs are. Start out by figuring out what you will use the car for. Will it be your only vehicle or will you have other vehicles you can use for those long trips?. Start by determining how much you drive on a typical day, it is probably a lot less than you think. The average California driver covers 15, 000 miles per year which averages out at 41 miles per day.
I also recommend that you take range claims with a grain of salt. I have no doubt that some people will get better than 100 miles on a charge driving the Nissan Leaf. I am equally sure that I would not get 100 miles if I were driving.
All sorts of things effect range including driving style, number of passengers, air temperature, and terrain. These factors also effect ICE cars too but the longer range tends to mask these effects. I usually assume 70 to 80 percent of quoted range so for the Leaf I assume 70 to 80 miles of range. You may want to use 60% if you live in an area with cold winters. If you do get 100 miles that's great but getting only 60 miles on a cold day could be a disaster if you need 80 miles.
A typical American Family of four probably has two cars in their garage. One car will mostly be used by the Husband and may be anything from a compact to a full sized SUV. The second car will most likely be a large SUV or a Mini Van and will be primarily used by the wife to shuttle the kids around town. The husband will probably have a round trip commute of around 30 to 40 miles while the wife, who probably also works, will have a shorter commute of around 22 miles but will put a lot of miles on the car running little Taylor to soccer practice and little Madison to ballet.
In this household an electric car like the Nissan Leaf would be pretty good for the husband's daily commute and would leave plenty of additional range for running errands even if he only managed to squeeze 60 miles from the pack on a cold January day. Longer trips would probably be taken in the Wife's car anyway so the electric car would work really well for this fairly typical family.
A person who is single probably only has one car although they also are more likely to have a short commute. They may find it hard to live with an electric car full time, especially if they take a lot of road trips. For them a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt may work out better. They could drive the car electric only during their short daily commute and they could use the range extending ability when they want to take that road trip.
Now that electric cars are starting to roll into showrooms we are going to see a huge growth in people who are driving electric. The cars are a lot quieter than gas powered cars but otherwise look and drive pretty much the same as the ICE vehicle that people have been driving for the last hundred years, but the owner experience is a little different. It pays to get educated before you commit to an electric car. Once you find an EV that is right for you you will never want to go back to the old ICE.