Archive for category full EV

Why all electric and hybrid cars now – part 3 – in business to sell cars or credits?

Today, Tesla is the shining example of an electric car company.  Their stock is doing great, they’re funded and managed well, and have a good public image.  Anyone who’s interested in cars has heard of the Tesla.  Unfortunately, they’re the exception to the rule.  Coda and Fisker are among the big car companies that went under recently.  Fisker still owes hundreds of millions to its creditors and Codas are still being sold, albeit in liquidation mode.  And Mitsubishi motors is trying to carve a niche in this area?  (check out the i-Miev)  Good luck to them.

But Tesla is not like any other car company.  They only sell one model, don’t have independent dealerships, and actually make some money selling CARB credits to other companies….$40 million worth!   Because they earn more credits than they could ever use (because they don’t sell gas cars), they sell them to other car manufacturers who bank them to avoid paying a penalty in the future.  While the other car manufactures don’t currently need them now, they’re banking them now, especially since they could resell them other.  It’s not like Porsche which at one point, was more of a finance company which happened to sell cars, but it helps their bottom line, about 10% of revenue.  Tesla does currently make a profit.

Tesla also partnered with Toyota and Mercedes for battery and drivetrain development.  The relevance of partnership is more crucial than ever because of economies of scale, costs to develop new platforms, and the fact that so much more technology is going into each model.  Independent manufacturers like BMW and Mazda may be squeezed out as the world shrinks, forcing them to partner to survive.

On a side note, Tesla operates different, not just because they were founded like a tech company instead of an old school manufacturer.  I was reading a Tesla forum and the service department actually reads and monitors the forum.  Some owners complained online about a braking issue and when they went to the dealership, they were advised they had logged an issue which would be checked, despite never having made a complaint.  This isn’t possible when you have millions of sales vs. a few ten thousand vehicles but it shows they care and are carefully monitoring social networking for online feedback.

What does this all mean for VW Auto Group (VAG) since this is a VW-Audi-Porsche hybrid forum and blog?  Although VW has smaller sales in the US, they have very large brand awareness since VAG owns Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini, and Bugatti.  In other countries they also own Seat, Skoda, and are partners with VW China.  China requires foreign car manufactures to partner with a local company.  Even if VAG loses money on each car, the credits could make it worth it, ignoring the research and manufacturing lessons learned.  VW Touareg/Porsche Cayenne hybrid sales have been few and their first mass market car, the VW Jetta hybrid hasn’t found sales success.  Do I think they care?  Not a bit- prepare for the Golf hybrid/A3 E-tron and a lot more EV and hybrid models from VAG.

Please  read part 1 – why now for more on why hybrid and EV are coming now and part 2 – the history of EV for some more background on EV/hybrid.

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Why all electric and hybrid cars now?

Simple question, complex answer.  This will be part 1 of a multi part series on why you’re seeing a bunch of electric vehicles now and not 10 years ago or 10 years from now.  To start, I think the electric and hybrid questions have separate but related answers.  Let’s start with the hybrid question first.

The Prius has the most to do with why hybrid cars now.  Simply put, it was a huge success and the only huge success.  No other hybrid has captured the sales success of the Toyota Prius.  It’s not to say that no other hybrid car is better or worse, but for whatever reason, only the Prius has been successful.  Everyone wants to make a profit and even the Prius was projected to be a money loser when they started work on it.  Nobody wants to put out flops like the Chevy Impala light hybrid and Lexus hs250h but they all want to catch the elusive success of the Prius.

The government mandate for average fuel economy will increase to 35 mpg and hybrids are the easiest way to increase corporate average fuel economy (CAFE).  For a company like Ford which sells lots and lots of low mpg vehicles like the F150, it really helps.  On a side note, the new F150 now uses an aluminum frame and lost a lot of weight!  Pound for pound, aluminum is much stronger than steel and it doesn’t rust :)

Future tech – it seems like an obscure and rather abstract reason but it’s actually pretty important.  It’s much cheaper in the long run to use in house technology vs. licensed technology.  The first generation Nissan Altima hybrid used a modified Toyota Prius powertrain.  You can bet Toyota wasn’t giving them out for free and if you own the technology and patents, you control your competition.  Just owning the patents and not a finished product is enough to derail your competitors.  For example, if you have a battery that works 50% better because of some exclusive technology, you have a major advantage in the marketplace.  If your competitors want to use it, they have to pay you to license that technology.  Additional profits for you, variable expense for them.

If manufacturers don’t want to be caught flat footed in 20 years when the competition has significantly more fuel efficient cars and in about 10 years (2025) when the CAFE standards will make it much more expensive for manufacturers to not build fuel efficient cars.

Stay tuned for part 2 which will discuss the recent history of fuel economy standards since 1990, when California introduced their EV mandate.

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Tesla building confidence in an Audi R8 etron

Uk’s Autocar magazine cites Audi’s Urlich Hackenburg that the Audi R8 e-tron all electric sportscar appears to be greenlit.  This has been an on again, off again project with lots of concepts for the last few years.  Here’s the estimated specs:

250 mile range.  This is going to be a relatively heavy car due to the battery pack.

Rear wheel drive only.  They were considering all wheel drive like the rest of the R8 model lineup but RWD cut weight and increased battery range from about 150 miles.

Price: Exclusive.

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Thinking about buying the VW all electric e-Golf

My driving style has changed in the last year and I no longer drive my VW Jetta TDI as much.  I usually put around 10,000 miles/year on it around town and in regular long trips.  Now I mostly drive it around town with only a few occasional longer trips.

I test drove the Chevy Volt and loved the fact that it was on battery most of the time – this meant no gas use at all except when I exceeded the 35 miles of battery range.  The new all electric e-Golf will be a similar setup, only using the battery until you run out of battery range (it never fully drains or recharges the battery to preserve battery lifespan).  I’d consider a used Chevy Volt but they’re holding their resale pretty well and I don’t like the idea that the previous owner keeps the huge tax credits – this hasn’t pressed down resale right now.  I have no idea how the e-Golf will handle but I’m sure it’ll be significantly heavier than the regular Golf which will hurt it as well.

The big factor will be price – how much will it cost after tax credits, if the tax credits are still available?  An average Golf TDI costs around $26-27,000 new which is expensive compared to cars in its class (although I believe it’s at the top of the class), and all the battery and motor equipment plus a generator motor could make its price well over $40,000.

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Volkswagen ditches blue emotion name for the electric Golf, names it e-Golf

I thought VW had a pretty nice name for the all electric version of the Golf, the Golf blue-e-motion or bluemotion. This was the name for the prototype all electric Golfs that were running around Wolfsburg, Germany. If you visited the Autostadt in Wolfsburg, they would even let you take a ride in one. However, a few weeks before the official release of the electric Golf, VW’s press release says e-Golf.

Seriously, why did they ditch blue-e-motion or bluemotion for a generic name like e-Golf? It’s as generic and bland as Golf-i or Golf v2. Why not just call it the electric Golf. I wonder what was said in the corporate or marketing meeting which killed any e-motion behind the name.

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Back to the past and not in a good way

One of the cars they had at the 2012 New York Auto Show was the electric Delorean.  Yes, the Back to the Future car.  While the Delorean was a revolutionary car and a much loved movie hero, this car should have stayed in 1985.

The presenter was well informed about the car and the electric Delorean had some nice specs: 0-60 in about 5 seconds, about 100 mile range, and 125 mph top speed.  Unfortunately, one major problem is that…it’s a Delorean.

Both electric and gas powered Deloreans are sold as new, untitled cars from the 1980s because the cars are built from new, unsold frames with VINs from the 80s. When the original Delorean went under, they had years worth of parts to build new cars which were eventually bought by the new Delorean. The new Delorean can completely rebuild old cars or build you a new one from spare parts. The problem is that they’re still building cars from the 1980s. 30 years of advancements in car design are generations beyond the old safety, suspension, and convenience features of the Delorean. Since the car was designed in 1976, it was designed before computers did most of the design and engineering testing. One of the reasons kit cars can be built to such high performance levels at minimal cost is because they don’t meet any modern safety, emissions, or fit-finish standards. And even then, since you’re building it yourself, you save lots of money. The new electric Delorean has an estimated price of $95,000. For that kind of money, why wouldn’t you buy a Tesla? Because they’re too common?

If I had the car and parts, I would happily assemble this car as a toy or boulevard cruiser but when there’s a much better modern car, I don’t know how many buyers will choose this.  Even a mass produced Tesla or Leaf have limited capability. So what is this car? A fun project and good promotional tool for a good car from 1985. The license plate says “Gas? Where we’re going we don’t need gas”. I’ll wait for the hover conversion.

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VW cross coupe concept battery lifespan and range deception

Volkswagen released the Cross coupe TDI hybrid concept today with some interesting facts.  MPG is 130 mpg, the car weighs 4100 lbs, and total power is 306 hp and 516 lb-ft.  While the numbers seem great for fuel economy and range and power, how is this possible?  My best guess is that they are deceptive.  First, since it’s a plug in hybrid, much of the increased fuel economy is from running off the battery charge when you first start moving.

The battery pack is Li-ion 9.8 kWh (how much energy it has or capacity), 85 kW (how much power it has) and works at 370V. It has plug in capability for 230V charging.  However, this doesn’t mesh with their claim that it can go 27 miles off the battery only.  I suspect that they are draining the battery fully for this concept which totally throws off the fuel economy number (even after ignoring that it’s the Euro cycle rating which is much higher than the US EPA cycle rating).

By comparison, the production Touareg hybrid has a NiMH 288V, 75aH, 1.7kWh, 38kW battery pack and it can only go 1.2 miles and up to 31 mph. So going from 1.2 miles to 27 miles I’m pretty sure they’re draining the battery, trading performance for short battery lifespan.

Looking at the Chevy Volt specifications confirms my suspicions.  The Volt uses a 16 kWh battery but only uses 10.4 of it going from fully charged to discharged and has a EPA rated range of 35 miles. Since the battery capacities used are about the same and the weight of the vehicles are about the same (the Cross coupe is 4100 lb vs. the Volt 3800 lbs), the numbers make more sense if you know that the Volt is only using about 10 kW and assume that the Cross coupe is also using about 10.

So while the whole point of a concept car is to get people excited and show them what could be, here’s what IS.  If Volkswagen built this car and sold it as a production vehicle, first it would incur the penalty of both the diesel and hybrid price premium.  So take the cost of a Chevy Volt and add $10,000 for the diesel engine, all wheel drive, and larger car.  Those numbers are just a guess but the final price would be in the $50,000 range.  Second, electric only range would not be 27 miles if my suspicions are correct.  Instead, it would be only around 17 miles.  While the Euro mpg rating is 130 mpg, I don’t know how much it would go down with a shorter electric only range.  In any case, the US mpg rating is significantly lower than the Euro rating and after taking away battery only range, as a total wild guess I’m going to say it would end up around 50-60 mpg.  While that sounds great, would you pay $50,000 for it?

Some more facts:
The front wheels are TDI and electric motor powered. The rear wheels are electric powered only. This means there’s no driveshaft and they could easily make one in FWD only.
Front motor is 40kW and rear motor is 85kW.
Total torque is 700Nm combined…that’s 516 lb-ft! The 2.0L TDI engine makes 188 (190 hp) and 400Nm (295lb-ft), front motor makes 180Nm (133 lb-ft) , rear makes 270Nm (199lb-ft) separately. Since the rear is not connected to the front, I’m guessing the front can only make a maximum of 430Nm combined (317 lb-ft).
Pure electric mode is limited to 120 km/h and max range of 45 km. That’s 74 mph and 27 miles.

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Audi R8 e-tron prototype

When Audi unveiled the original e-tron Concept at the last Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009, a production version seemed to be nothing more than a glimmer in the very distant future. Two years later, it appears that the automaker has made plenty of progress in bringing an electric-powered R8 into the world.

Yesterday in Frankfurt, Audi revealed a new R8 e-tron “technology demonstrator” that represents something fairly similar to the production model we’ll see in the near future. Some unique visual features separate the R8 e-tron from the petrol-powered version, including the carbon fiber vents on the hood and chrome slats in the front grilles and rear bumper. Like the concept, the production version of the car is expected to feature four electric motors sending power to each wheel, with performance targets including 0-60 mph in less than five seconds and a 150 mile range.  From Autoblog

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Dodd-Frank, conflict mineral provision, and electric cars

Dodd-Frank, electric cars, and hybrid batteries

The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is intended to protect consumers by increasing oversight of wall street.  Unfortunately, many of the provisions are still unfunded years after its passing – that’s how Washington politics works.  Another aspect of how Washington works is the addition of provisions.  Sam Brownback, the current Kansas governor, then a senator, included a provision that requires companies using potential conflict materials in or near the Congo to asses whether they are assisting armed groups in the area.  This could be an interesting aspect on electric car production and cars in general.

It’s good that there is accountability of raw materials but ironic that Brownback’s provision doesn’t fit with the stereotypical pro-business low tax Republican as this requirement will add millions to compliance and business costs.  Some companies like Apple have simply stopped sourcing materials from the area since they don’t want to be seen assisting armed rebels.  While it’s certainly good to cut off funding to African warlords, it also hurt legitimate industry in Congo, the very people it intended to protect.

Are conflict materials used in electric vehicles and hybrid cars?

The question is: what companies are still sourcing conflict materials and minerals from the area and are they making their way into cars?  In my last article on rare earth elements and China, I discussed how 99% of rare earth elements come from China, sometimes under illegal conditions.  Are illegal conflict materials used in electric vehicles and hybrid cars or parts such as batteries, electronics, or other subcontracted materials?

Compliance with Dodd-Frank does not just mean buying directly from a warlord, there are indirect ways to support warlords as well.  Does a legitimate smelter have to pay tolls to a warlord to pass through their territory?   Are legitimate mines owned by a warlord through a shell?  Are the workers at a legitimate mine working under duress?  All interesting questions and I don’t know how far down the supply chain these things are investigated by car companies.  Car companies do not make many of the components that go into their cars-they are subcontracted out.  Does your radio support an African warlord?

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My Nissan Leaf test drive and review

Cliffs notes: not ready for the mainstream.

As noted in the forum, I don’t have pictures or specs to accompany this review because there are a million pics and technical specs you can find elsewhere if you don’t know what this car looks like or is about.  This review is just my opinion of the car.

The main reason is that to be mainstream, it requires a change in consumer behavior.  People aren’t used to plugging in the car overnight or planning their routes.  This is necessary because the car’s range is around 100 miles.  Unfortunately, the EPA estimates range at 73 miles/charge which is closer to many people will see.   Under conditions like a heat wave or very cold temperatures, range could be further reduced because you’re blasting the AC or heater.  While you can plug in the car to preheat or pre-cool the car, you will most likely not have this ability where you’re parked during the day.

The technical specialist did a good job comparing charging the Leaf to charging cell phones.  Most people plug them in overnight and don’t think about it at all.  When people are exposed to new things, they are most comfortable when it combines new concepts with familiar concepts.  This is a basic concept of learning.  Unfortunately, another basic concept of learning is that the first thing they are exposed to is what they will have the strongest affinity towards.  People are used to a pattern of behavior and it requires a reason to change.  Rising fuel prices are a good reason for change right?

There is talk about reaching peak oil and the price at which consumers will switch over to a more fuel efficient car.  $4.50/gal has been mentioned and although prices have gone over this, people are still driving inefficient cars.  Meanwhile, in Europe, fuel costs over $10/gal and they’re just driving smaller and more fuel efficient cars, not EV. The point is that although most people say they would buy an electric car when surveyed, I believe their relatively high purchase price, range concerns, and change in behavior required to use them effectively currently limit them to early adopters.

Is this more of a reflection on the qualities of the car or the people?  I think a little of both.  So what does this mean for the early VW electric cars and VW hybrid?  This is not a surprise, but I think it’ll be only early adopters who are driving these first cars.  This is why I said the Leaf is not for the mainstream.  It’ll probably be Leaf V3.0 before they aren’t thought of being special and just thought of as cars.   How long did it take for the smug to wear off the Prius?  At what point will people overcome their resistance to EV?  $10/gal alone might not do it.  Much change has to come from within.

As for the actual test drive: the Nissan Leaf drives like a car.  Despite the unique look of the car, it’s not a UFO.  If you press the accelerator pedal and it goes.  If you press the brakes it stops.  The regenerative brakes are a little on the sensitive side, resulting in applying the brakes more by travel than by feel.  Acceleration is slow but acceptable.  It isn’t sporting or fast, consistent with the purpose of the car.  If you can get past the unique look, there is really nothing that special about it other than the drivetrain.  It runs quietly because there’s no engine so you do notice wind and tire noise but other than that, you get what you expect: a car!

I would gladly own one but wouldn’t buy one because of my driving style -  I need a car with a longer range for my primary driving  and because it’s still quite expensive.  Nissan has an app which lets you plan your daily drive and see how the Leaf fits in your driving style: http://www.drivenissanleaf.com/Open/100Mile.aspx .  This is a nice “first car” for local driving or city driving or a second family car.  But until Leaf V3.0 comes around, I’ll be waiting with the mainstream.  Since I’m a VW -Audi fan, I look forward to reviewing the electric Golf :) and seeing how it compares.

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