2008 Archive

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MITSUBISHI i-MiEV – Electric Car Keiko 47kW Auto

Sunday 12/28/2008 — Looking Forward to 2009 — This is the last weekend of 2008 so I thought it would be fun to make some predictions for the coming year. 2008 has been a year of turmoil with severe recession, oil prices that went through the roof, and the election of a new leader for the USA. So what do I expect from 2009.

Well the first on January 20, 2009 Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. He is going to be in the enviable position of having a democratic majority in both the house and the senate and he has plans to move the country out of recession by doing work on infrastructure and he also is a big supporter of plug-in vehicles. We will be off to a good start.

The economy is going to look pretty bad for a few more months but I am starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I am seeing money finally coming out of the bank volts to be loaned to customers. I think that companies will continue to be cautious about loans and they won’t be lending money in a stupid way like they did in the past to get us into this mess in the first place, but once the money begins to flow again the economy will begin to take off. I was at the mall on Friday afternoon and the place was packed, not with people returning unwanted presents, but with people shopping for the many bargains as retailers try to salvage the holiday season. I think that the year end results are going to come in better than expected.

If nothing drastic happens between now and the end of March, such as one of the big Automakers going into bankruptcy, then we will see the economy begin to gradually climb out of recession.

Once the growth returns I expect to see oil prices begin to spike again, though not as much as they did last year. Look for Unleaded gas to go up to around the $3.00 mark by mid summer. The next few years are going to be governed by a lot of volatility in the price of oil and we are going to see a forced move to more fuel efficient cars and eventually to plug-in vehicles.

Even before the inauguration there will be something to cheer about. January 17 sees the start of the 2009 Detroit Auto show and I expect this to be one of the most exciting shows in a long time. Honda will show the production version of the new Insight hybrid which will go on sale later in 2009 and will be a big seller. I expect this car to be like the 2004 Prius, you will need to wait a long time to get one. Not to be outdone, Toyota will finally show off its next generation Prius with even better mileage than the current model at a similar price point.

Once again Toyota will not be able to keep up with demand for this car. They will also show an all electric prototype but I don’t expect them to announce any production plans for this vehicles. What will be missing is the plug-in version of the Prius which Toyota will hold off announcing until later in the year.

I expect to see a plug-in hybrid concept vehicle from Ford at this show also but I don’t expect any production date to be announced. Mitsubishi will probably announce that they plan to market the i-MiEV in the US starting in 2011. The biggest news will come from Nissan who will finally show the production car they plan on selling in the US as part of project better place in 2011.

They still won’t release many details of the battery lease program however.

Going forward we will begin to see some interesting growth in the number and type of electric cars on the market.

Tesla, who has been shipping cars for a while now will continue to ship vehicles at an increasing pace through 2009 but plans for the Whitestar follow-on vehicle will continue to get pushed back.

Phoenix Motor Cars will finally start to ship a small number of SUTs to fleet customers. They will begin to ramp up slowly during the year.

Green Vehicles will begin to ship the Triac and the Buckshot some time in February. They will continue to ship vehicles in small amounts as they deal with issues that usually plaque early vehicles that are sold as new but are really beta test machines. Think what happened with the Corbin Sparrow, the City-El, and, to a lesser extent, the ZAP Xebra.

Hopefully these teething problems will be minor and they will be able to ramp up production in 2010.

ZAP itself will continue with the Xebra as its main vehicle for the next year. Many of the teething problems in the Xebra have been dealt with but I do expect to see a continued improvement in the car over 2009. I also expect ZAP to surprise its critics by doing two things toward the end of the year.

First it will make a Li battery pack option available on the Xebra. Second it will announce the availability of the Alias with shipments starting possibly toward the end of 2009 but more likely around the March of 2010.

Commuter Cars has quietly been building and shipping a small number of Tango cars to customers and it will continue to do this over 2009. I don’t expect the cars to be build in any great numbers but I think the cars are priced such that they can continue to build them as long as there are willing customers.

Miles is moving along at a good pace with their efforts to crash test their freeway capable EV but their big problem is at marketing end. I expect that they will complete crash testing of the car in 2009 but they don’t have the marketing organization to support big volume production so sales won’t occur in any numbers until they get a dealer network in place.

ZENN are supposed to have the City-ZENN freeway capable car ready for market by the end of 2009 but I don’t see that happening. Given that eStore haven’t built a working battery yet there is no way that ZENN can get a prototype up and running then get through crash testing before the end of the year unless they do the prototyping with another battery chemistry then switch to eStore when, or rather if, they become ready. Given that eStore have finally received a patent on their design we may begin to hear more about their batteries and if they live up to the hype they stand to be a major driver of change. However, it will take time to build prototypes, test them, then get the manufacturing process in place.

I don’t see them being capable of producing batteries in volume before 2011 or even 2012.

Aptera were originally going to start delivery at the end of 2008 but that date has obviously slipped. They have been doing a lot to hire people to get production going but at the same time they appear to be still tweaking the design of the vehicle which doesn’t bode well. I hope they do start deliveries in 2009 but I will be surprised if they do.

BMW will begin shipping the Mini-E to customers in late January. They are planning on putting 250 cars in the LA area and 250 cars in the New York/New Jersey area. My information is that they had over 1800 applications from people willing to spend $800 per month to lease one of these cars for one year.

Now let’s see them say there is no demand.

GM and Chrysler both have on-going plug-in vehicle development programs but both are also struggling to stay out of bankruptcy. I think that the government isn’t going to let them go under until the economy is firmly on the way to recovery and GM at least will survive. I have my doubts about Chrysler where I think things will be touch and go.

There has been a lot of talk about a merger between GM an Chrysler but I don’t see this happening. I think GM needs to shed some divisions, most likely Saab which will be taken over by a Swedish group of investors with backing from the Swedish government, and Saturn which will be sold off to a foreign manufacturer, possibly by one of the Chinese or Indian automobile companies seeking a foothold in the US market. Chrysler too will be an attractive target for these same companies and will also probably end up being taken over by a foreign company.

GM will delay the introduction of the volt until mid to late 2011. Chrysler will introduce a plug-in Minivan but not until the 2012 model year.

In the UK there has been disturbing news about Going Green. Top Gear did a crash test of the G-Wiz and the car failed miserably. The G-Wiz is not classified as a car but as a quadracycle, basically a four wheel motorcycle, and so doesn’t need to pass the same tests as a standard car. After the tests were shown on BBC Television, sales of the car plummeted by over 50% down from over 350 cars in 2007 to around 160 cars so far this year. This reminds me of what happened to the Citicar after consumer reports did a piece saying that they weren’t safe and the loss in sales … the company.

In this case though, the economics of the G-Wiz, saving London drivers around Ј2000 per year in congestion chargers, will probably mean that sales will go back up in 2009.

Mitsubishi will also be selling some i-MiEV in the UK towards the end of 2009 along with sales starting up in Japan. I haven’t heard of pricing on these cars yet but if the price is anything like reasonable they are going to sell the limited number of cars they plan to produce in 2009 with no problems.

In Norway I expect that the Norwegian government will eventually relent and give a helping hand to Th!nk Nordic. They have a decent electric car in production and it seems like a big waste to let the company go under at this point, especially when Norway doesn’t have a real car industry of its own. I don’t expect that we will see the Th!nk City over in the US any time soon because I expect that there will be a big market for the car in Europe, especially in the UK.

I expect 2009 to build on the momentum for electric vehicles that we saw in 2008 and I expect to see more and more announcements that the major automobile manufacturers are moving toward electric vehicles. I don’t expect to see then start to deliver on Plug-in vehicles in any numbers though until late 2010. I do expect the price of Lithium batteries to continue on a downward trend as manufacturers begin to gear up for volume production.

Sunday December 21, 2008 — More Economic Woes — This past week has been an up and down one for electric vehicles and does not bode well for 2009 which had been shaping up to be a banner year for electric vehicles.

We started the week with our representatives in the Senate deciding that they were not going to dole out any help for the struggling US automobile companies. This in part was due to the Auto Workers Union who indicated to the Senate that they would be unwilling to make concessions in wages and benefits.

On Thursday, President Bush issued an executive order offering loans totaling $17 billion to GM and Chrysler on the condition that they come up with a plan for restructuring, including dropping the wages and benefits of union workers to match that of the non-union workers employed by foreign car manufacturers in the US. Plans for restructuring must be ready by the end of March or the two companies must immediately repay the loans.

The president said that bankruptcy at the moment would almost certainly lead to the liquidation of these two companies and that would be disastrous for the economy. For once I agree with President Bush, bankruptcy of these two companies at the moment would push the economy from deep recession into depression and nobody wants to see that.

The bad news didn’t stop there. GM announced that they were halting construction on the new factory that were they intended to produce the 1.4 liter engine for the Volt and their new compact car the Chevy Cruze. This puts into doubt their ability to put the Volt into showrooms in 2010.

GM says they can still make that schedule but this announcement has got to put that in date in question.

Another blow came when Tesla announced that it was temporarily halting development of its follow-on sedan because of shortage of funds. They too have applied to the US government for loans but in this case it is a few million rather than the billions sought by Chrysler and GM. It is unlikely that they will see any money from the US government but at least they appear to be keeping production of the Tesla roadster on track and may have delivered all of their signature 100 vehicles by now.

This is a good thing for their cash flow because the signature 100 cars were pre-paid while the other orders for cars only includes a deposit so that will mean cash coming in to the company.

It isn’t just in the US that news has been bad. In Norway Th!nk Nordic announced that it was halting production on the Th!nk City just as the production was ramping up. Th!nk had been producing 10 cars per week and has orders for over 500 cars. They said that the temporary shutdown coupled with a layoff of between 50 and 70 percent of its workforce were necessary to allow the company to survive.

Citing sever financial distress the company was requesting $15 to $30 million dollars in loan guarantees from the Norwegian government. It seems like the Norwegian Government is unlikely to provide these loan guarantees but it is possible that some of Th!nks big investors may decide to plow more money into the company.

Other bad news this week came from French automaker Renault, who had recently announced that they would be making a battery electric vehicle based on the Megane as part of Project Better Place. They now say that production of this EV will be delayed until 2011. This could have a drastic impact on the momentum of project better place.

A lot will still hinge on how soon Nissan can deliver its electric vehicle to those areas of the US who have also committed to Project Better Place.

Even tire manufacture Michelin is feeling the effects of the bad economy, they have just announced that the 2009 Michelin Challenge Bibendum that had been scheduled for in Rio during April, 2009 has not been postponed until 2010.

The big problem with the economy is that our financial institutions, after receiving billions of dollars in government loans, appear to be sitting on the cash rather than lending the money out to stimulate the economy. This means that even if people want to buy new cars they have difficulty obtaining loans and the car companies suffer the consequences. Some economists have suggested that the best thing we can do for the economy, if you are in the enviable position that your job appears to be secure, is to not economize this holiday season, but to spend as normal.

That will increase consumer confidence and point us out of this current recession. Now, I’m not a big fan of conspicuous consumption but I am also think that running scared and economizing like crazy in not the thing to do in these hard economic times unless you really go fear that your job may be gone in the near future.

The credit crunch may be starting to ease however. Over the last week I have heard a couple of mortgage companies advertising the availability of loans for house purchases, and also offering to restructure loans by, for example, offering a low interest 50 year loan to replace the adjustable loan that might be causing problems. Last night I was passing Honda of Carson and they had a big electronic sign next to the 405 freeway that read Bad credit or no credit no problem so at least one car dealer looks like they have found a way to get people financed.

The news hasn’t all been bad either. Earlier this week I got an email from Bryon Bliss at Phoenix Motors who told me that they have now opened up their systems to take reservation for the general public for expected delivery in 2010 (see the link on the full sized EV page). Now, I still haven’t heard that they are delivering to their fleet customers but they do appear to have an EV that has passed all the Crash testing requirements so hopefully we will be seeing these trucks on the road soon.

In other good news, Chinese battery manufacturer BYD has started sales of a plug-in hybrid car in China. There is still no word on the likely-hood of these cars coming to the US but with Warren Buffet as a major investor I fully expect to see these on the roads around the world by 2011.

Finally here in California the latest news from Green Vehicles is that the first batch of Triacs is scheduled to ship on December 28. This means that the first customers should start seeing vehicles some time in late February. I understand that this fist batch of vehicles is currently presold.

It appears that we are in for a shaky time and many believe that the recession will last for most of 2009. I am a bit more optimistic. With the new administration starting work in mid January I think we are going to start seeing signs of a turn around towards the end of the second quarter.

I hope this bodes well for the many electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles that are currently being developed by large and small manufacturers alike.

Sunday December 14, 2008 — EV Clubs — I was thinking about a topic for this weeks blog and it suddenly came to me that I had been remiss in mentioning the wonderful work on behalf of electric vehicles done by the people who run the many clubs and associations for Electric Vehicles.

Since the decline of the Electric Vehicle in favor of the internal combustion engine in the 1920s the EV has been pretty much driven by the enthusiast. While many individuals and companies worked to build electric vehicles it was the enthusiast who kept the cars alive. These pioneers formed clubs that were sometimes dedicated to a single vehicle like the EV1 club in California and the Twike club in Europe, while others, like the Electric Automobile Association (EAA), were dedicated to all electric cars.

The EAA was formed in San Jose, CA by Walter Laski in 1967 and has since spawned chapters all over the USA. It is a not-for-profit organization who’s mission is to promote the use of electric vehicles. The EAA has been very active in the maintenance of charging infrastructure over the last few years.

Through the various chapters, the EAA also organizes events that allow the public to see and learn about electric vehicles. For example the Florida Chapter is organizing Battery Beach Burnout which will happen on February 21 and 22, 2009 and will feature many electric vehicles owned by Florida residents (see events page).

Most chapters of the EAA meet once a month and usually present a topic that is of general interest to EV enthusiasts. There are usually lots of electric vehicles on display at these meetings and they are usually open to the public. Check out the web site of your local EAA chapter for meeting times and locations.

In Britain the Battery Vehicle Society has about 300 members around the country while AVERE is the primary electric vehicle society in the continental EEC. Japan and Australia also have thriving electric vehicle clubs.

If you are thinking about electric vehicles, or own an EV and want to get help with servicing the car, keeping it running, or just getting the maximum life from your batteries, then your local electric vehicle club is a good place to start. You will almost always find a few members that are extremely well informed on electric vehicles and they are usually happy to help out with advice and is many cases are ready to wield a spanner, or more likely a volt meter, to keep your EV in top shape.

There is a list of electric vehicle clubs on my links page, This list is by no means exhaustive so if you don’t find a club near you on the list then try a google search to see what turns up. Electric vehicle ownership can be great fun and membership of an EV club can do much to enhance that experience.

Sunday December 7, 2008 — Leasing Batteries — Last week there was a lot of discussion on various email lists about the proposal by both Th!nk Nordic and Nissan to sell EVs but to lease the batteries. This isn’t a fresh idea, the French automakers have been doing this for years now, but I though it would be interesting to review some of the pros and cons.

Well, as Carlos Goshn said at the LA Auto Show, one pro is that the person leasing the batteries has the ability to upgrade when improved batteries come along. Since battery technology is forging ahead in leaps and bounds this prevents people from worrying about buying a car today and the batteries being obsolete in a year or two. If you have the batteries leased then you can trade them in for the newer technology without a significant outlay of cash.

Another pro for battery leasing is that you never have to worry if that the batteries will … on you leaving you with a big bill. When the capacity on the batteries starts to drop below what you consider acceptable then you can go in and get the pack swapped out at no cost. One thing that I have seen with EVs over the years is that people get them and love them, but eventually the pack capacity becomes so low that the EV becomes unusable.

Faced with a big bill for a new pack the owner parks the car and it sits for years until the owner finally decides to sell it.

The other reason to lease batteries rather than own is for things like Project Better Place where the concept includes battery swapping rather then in vehicle charging. It will be much less of a problem to swap out batteries if the pack is owned by the service company rather than the vehicle owner. Imagine trying to keep ownership straight on a trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas that might include 4 or 5 battery swaps.

If you lease the batteries from a company then you don’t have any worries about going to one of their service stations and swapping out the pack for a fully charged one.

There are a few cons involved with battery leasing. The first is that you are now tied in to the company that owns the batteries and you are subject to whatever happens to them. If the company were to become insolvent or decide to drop support for your battery pack you might end up with an expensive bill to keep your car running or even worse, not being able to get batteries at all.

This is the issue being faced by both the drivers of the lead acid version of the Ford Ranger EV, where the 8V East Penn batteries are no longer produced, and the RAV4 EV driver who can no longer obtain Panasonic NiMH batteries.

For Ford ranger drivers someone has figured out how to install 12V batteries and make the Ford Ranger’s BMS think they are 8V batteries. Now the RAV4 EV seems to be getting about 120,000 miles on their battery pack so there are only a few drivers that are anything close to needing a new pack, and there is now a company that makes a drop-in, albeit expensive replacement, and there are people working on a Li battery solution.

This does bring up one point though, if the battery chemistry changes significantly, such as moving from NiMH to Li, then there are fundamental changes to the car that need to happen. The cell voltage is different, as is the charging profile, so both the BMS and the charger will need to be upgraded along with the batteries. It is not clear if this will be part of the lease agreement or not, so battery improvements might negate one of our pros.

This may be less of a problem if volume becomes great enough that third parties enter the market. Instead of just having to lease from the car maker, there will eventually be other companies that can lease batteries to you.

A battery lease can mean a not insignificant monthly cost to deal with. This can be of the order of several hundred dollars which is the equivalent to the lease on some sub-compact cars. The lease cost will include the equivalent of a lifetime warranty which will give you peace of mind in case your battery pack goes south, and will also include any maintenance needed on the pack.

The question then becomes what happens if you do something that damages the pack. At lease one Prius pack has been damaged by a guy installing a stereo system who drilled into the pack. If the battery is leased will the lessee be responsible for such damage or will the company carry insurance to cover such problems.

The effect of battery leasing on the value of a car may also be a negative. As the car starts to age the value of the vehicle itself will probably fall much quicker than if it had batteries. On the other hand, the buyer doesn’t need to worry about the possiblility of a large bill for a new pack, but does need to take on the monthly lease amount, assuming of course that the battery lease is transferable along with the car.

The biggest con for most people is the fact that you don’t own one of the critical components that drives your car. The film Who Killed the Electric Car showed what could happen when a company decided it didn’t want their electric vehicles on the road anymore. People are wary of a leased battery pack being taken away from them leaving their expensive EV … in the water.

In the end, leasing a battery pack will work for some and not for others. For those who don’t want the worry that they will have a pack that goes bad leaving then with a huge replacement bill, or who want to make sure they can easily upgrade to the latest and greatest in battery technology, or those who live in apartments and need to use battery swapping facilities on a regular basis, leasing will work well. For those that want to own their EV, batteries and all, leasing is not a way to go.

I hope we don’t end up with just leasing of batteries which I think will be a huge mistake on the part of the auto makers. Renault Citroen sold their cars with packs or offered an option to but the car sans batteries then lease the pack. That worked very well and I hope that we see both these options available as electric vehicles roll back into showrooms.

Sunday November 30, 2008 — Just a Dream — I just finished reading a rather vitriolic article by Lawrence Ulrich at MSN Autos that was introduced on the MSN home page as Electric Cars Just a Dream and asked the question Electric Vehicles; Fantasy or Reality? Mr. Ulrich comes down very clearly in the Fantasy column.

The article starts with a scathing review of Tesla and implies that they are getting ready to pull the plug. It is highly critical of the fact that Tesla it’s only offering is a two-seat, $110,000 sports car that makes as much sense for the fuel-crunched, cash-poor American family as a Lunar Lander, and to date, has only delivered about 60 vehicles. Now, I wonder why he isn’t ranting the same way about other sports car companies, or could it be the fact that Ferrari’s have internal combustion engines some how make it alright to sell a small number at extremely high prices, in the case of Ferrari almost twice what a Tesla costs.

The article also bad-mouths ZAP about showing the Alias prototype and says that This one doesn’t even have a motor, yet the automaker still promises to have cars on the road as early as next year. Well, ZAP may not have the car ready for next year, but they do already sell three different street legal electric vehicles, the Zapino Scooter, a NEV truck, and the Xebra in both sedan and pickup options. They have sold over 800 since 2006, a tiny number when compared with the big guys like GM and Ford but still a tidy number for a small undercapitalized outfit like ZAP.

The article goes on to say I’ve long argued that 100 percent battery-powered cars face a psychological barrier, far beyond what hybrids face saying General Motors has come up with a name for it: range anxiety. What really scares consumers, beyond the unfamiliar technology, is the idea of being stranded miles from home and the nearest electrical outlet Now this has a ring of truth to it. In some cases the fear might be justified. The ZAP Xebra for example only has a usable range of about 15 miles for most people so if you have a 40 mile round trip commute it isn’t going to work for you. However, manufactures can make cars like the Mitsubishi I-MiEV that has a range of 70 miles and will handle most peoples daily driving needs.

Still, people worry that they might run out of juice.

Instead of pure electric vehicles Mr. Ulrich kind of comes down on the side of plug-in hybrids. Once again he quotes GM when he writes that ““most buyers simply will not accept” a car that can’t drive hundreds of miles at a pop, or that inconveniences them for even a few minutes.

He goes on to say But with history as a guide, I’m keeping my expectations modest on the Volt. If GM can keep the price under $40,000, and sell maybe 10,000 in the first year, I would consider that a monumental success. Remember that hybrids have been on sale for over a decade, and still hold less than 3 percent of the market.

And that’s for cars that you don’t plug in.

Now, given the limited amount of vehicles that have been put up for sale over the past 10 years, and considering that we now have over a million Prius on the roads world wide, and Toyota still can’t build enough of them to satisfy demand, I consider this an overwhelming success. It would not surprise me that GM will sell the Volt for under $40,000 and since they only plan on building 10,000 in the first year I will be very surprised if they don’t sell them all, that’s assuming they sell them not lease them.

He uses the example of the volt to show how plug-in hybrids will prevent range anxiety. The problem, as I have said for many years now, is that the electric vehicle represents a whole new paradigm. People are used to driving their car until the gas gage shows that fuel is low then they drive to the gas station and fill up. With Electric Vehicles they just plug in when they get home and have a full tank in the morning.

Once people learn the new paradigm they usually like it better than the older one. The volt will allow people to follow both the old and the new paradigm, plugging in each evening and then if they need to go more than 40 miles they can use the old model and go pump some gas.

The idea is that Once people get used to plugging in their hybrid and realize that they don’t really need 300 miles of range for most of their driving they will be more inclined to move toward a battery electric vehicle.

Mr. Ulrich is also concerned about the costs of electric cars. I share this concern. We are currently in a classic chicken and egg situation, EVs are expensive because they are built in very low volumes. They are sold in very low volumes because they are so expensive.

Only by getting vehicles into the showrooms will we get people into electric cars, and believe me, once next summer rolls around and gas prices start to spark up to the $4 per gallon mark again, then electric car demand once again hit the stratosphere.

My biggest problem with this article wasn’t the vitriolic … on those trying to build electric vehicles, but that he was offering no alternative solution except drive until we can no longer afford to fill the tank then try and hitch a ride to work. So what if GM only sells 500 Volts in the 2010 model year, as long as the cars are being sold then the are moving forward and GM will sell more cars in 2011 and more in 2012 until the tipping point is reached and everyone wants a plug-in car.

The best way that government can promote these cars is not by giving out generous tax credits, but by actually purchasing cars. The Federal, state, county and municipal governments between them could easily purchase the first year 10,000 run of the Chevy Volt. Hey, we could grab the whole lot here in California without even offering them to the public.

I do think that offering them to the public is key though since we need to modify behavior and the best way to do that is to get the cars working.

Carlos Ghosn, at the LA Auto Show, forecast that by 2020 there would be 7 million plug-in cars on the road world wide. That’s a good start and something I think is doable. What needs to happen is that we need to get cars into dealerships so that the pent-up demand can be met.

Mr. Ulrich sites the EV1 as an indicator of a car that wasn’t ready for market. I say that we need to learn from the mistakes made with the EV1, cars for lease only, not enough cars in enough dealerships, too many restrictions on who could lease, too long a wait for a car once the ordering ordeal was over, too much spent on hand holding early adopters, You can’t expect to sell 10,000 cars if you only put them in 50 dealerships in California, and tell most customers they can’t have one and not sell to those who don’t want to lease.

Make cars available in dealerships across the country, and the customers will come. Not many at first but in a growing tide as oil supply issues really start to take hold.

Sunday November 23, 2008 — LA Auto Show 2008 — This week was the opening of the 2008 LA Auto Show and since I get media passes to this event I took a couple of days and spent then down at the convention center reviewing the latest offerings from the automobile manufactures.

The first media day started with a keynote address from Carlos Ghosn who is president and CEO of Nissan. The first part of his talk was about the problems facing the auto industry because of the economy, repeating often how car companies were struggling to develop new technologies because of their inability to find low cost loans. In the second part of his talk he addressed the need for zero emission vehicles and noted how Nissan were working with several governments and at least two states in the US to put electric vehicles on sale. He said that Nissan was going to make electric vehicles available first in Oregon around 2010.

Strangely he didn’t mention Project Better Place.

After the Keynote address it was off to the Nissan stand to see the launch of their latest vehicles. After listening to Mr. Ghosn’s talk I was very disappointed to see that they didn’t have any electric vehicles on display, not even a concept vehicle.

Instead they launched the Nissan Cube, a boxy four seat car that is similar to the Scion Xb. This was followed by the launch of the latest Z car, the 370 ZX. The 370ZX will be faster with more power and better handling than the 350 ZX but should also achieve better fuel economy.

From there I wondered through the Mitsubishi stand and they had an i-MiEV on display. The i-MiEV is a subcompact electric car based on the Japanese i micro-car. I will have more to say about this later.

The next presentation was from BMW and they showed several new concept vehicles including so called clean diesel and a hybrid. Then they unveiled the new Mini E. The Mini E is a standard Mini fitted out with an all electric drive train and lithium battery pack from AC Propulsion. The car boasts a 95mph top speed and over 160 miles range. BMW are putting 500 of these cars on the streets of LA, New York and New Jersey on a one year least costing $850.

This is a research project to see how the cars behave in real world situations.

Toyota were supposed to be announcing a CNG vehicle at the auto show but they didn’t have any announcements scheduled. I went for a walk around their stand and they did have a Camry CNG hybrid concept vehicle on display. CNG is very clean so if you marry this to Toyota’s hybrid synergy drive you should get an extremely clean car.

Because of their current precarious situation GM officials were one their way to Washington to try and get loans from the Federal Government and had decided not to present at the LA Auto Show. They did have some interesting vehicles there. They had the production version of the Volt on display along with a bunch of hybrids including the Malibu two mode hybrid and the Saturn Aura hybrid.

Saturn also had an interesting plug-in concept vehicle called the Flextreme that featured two Segways tucked under the rear that are charged at the same time as the car.

I went to the VW announcement but they were really pushing their new so called clean diesel and since, while accepting that diesel is fuel efficient I don’t consider it clean.

After a quick break I moved on to see what Hyundai had to show. They started out by telling the gathered crowed of journalists that they planned on being the top of the list, currently held by Toyota, when it came to fleet mileage. Their plan is to meet the 2020 CAFE standard of 35mpg by 2015. To start on this road they introduced Blue Drive.

Blue Drive will feature a whole slew of new things including high mileage versions of the Accent and Elantra in 2009, A hybrid version of the Sonata featuring LG Lithium Polymer batteries in 2010, a new crossover using a turbo-charged direct injection gasoline engine, and for the future a plug-in hybrid and then on to hydrogen fuel cells which it plans to begin selling in Korea in 2012.

Hyundai also announced the Genesis Forest Project. This is an initiative that Hyundai will fund to restore a portion of the Brazilian rain forest back to its natural state. The project will provide an equivalent amount of CO2 offsets to cover the amount of CO2 emitted by the the first year sales of Hyundai’s new luxury Genesis sedan.

Chrysler had recently announced three new concept vehicles, a plug-in hybrid minivan, a plug in hybrid jeep, and an all electric sports car. All thee of these vehicles were on display along with an all electric beach buggy type concept vehicle that may be aimed at the Brazilian market. They also had the Dodge ZEO concept battery electric vehicle which looks more like a sports car than a sedan and has a 2+2 configuration.

The car is supposed to have a range of 250 miles and a top speed of 130mph.

Chrysler also had two 2009 GEMs on display but what was conspicuous by its absence was the recently announced Peapod. I was really hoping to get a look at this next generation NEV but it appears that this project may end up being still born.

Honda’s presentation showed off the concept version of their Insight hybrid. The Insight, which is is somewhat similar in lines to the Prius, will provide the same or better fuel economy as the Civic Hybrid at a lower cost. Personally I expect the Insight to sell like hotcakes when it goes on sale next year. Expect to see the production version at the Detroit Auto Show.

Honda, who is one of the few manufacturers that is still pushing fuel cell vehicles, also showed the FC Sport concept fuel cell vehicle. This car has a sports car look at the front while the rear is tapered to a hexagonal form that looks a little odd to me.

Ford was the only one of the big three that did a presentation. They had introduced the new Mustang the night before the show started to a select group of journalists of which I wasn’t included. At the show itself they introduced their new Ford Fusion, including the hybrid version of the car.

The new hybrid Ford Fusion is a mid-sized sedan that is directly in competition with the Camry and Accord. Ford appear to have done an excellent job with the fusion which, they claim, can best the Camry hybrid by 6mpg. They did claim that this was the most fuel efficient mid sized sedan sold in the US, completely ignoring the fact that the Prius is also now classified as mid-sized.

They will also have a Mercury Milan version of this car.

The second media day opened with the announcement of the Green Car of the Year award presented by Green Car Journal. I have never failed to be disappointed by Green Car Journal’s idea of a green car and this year was no exception when they gave the award to VW for their Jetta TDI. It seems somewhat unfortunate that this award was presented just a week or so after a report, released by researchers at Cal State Fullerton that tied particulate emissions to increased … rates in Southern California. One of the biggest culprits they identified was, of course, Diesel vehicles.

I fail to understand why they would make an award to the Diesel, that while getting good mileage, and therefore low CO2 emissions, can still barely meet California’s emissions standards, when the Tesla roadster went on sale for the first time this year.

After the presentation I went to sign up for the ride and drives that were also being run by Green Car Journal. After standing in a fairly short line for what seemed like an eternity I finally got to register then went to book some test drives. The i-MiEV had several slots open so I was able to book a test drive. However, there was only one Mini E and this was already full up, as was the Honda Clarity fuel cell vehicle.

Most of the other cars I had already driven or were cars I wasn’t really interested in like the diesel cars so I ended up with a test drive of just the i-MiEV. This is a really great EV and you can read about my test drive here .

After the test drive, which was being run from one of the parking lots, had finished I passed Kentia Hall and noticed that it was open. Kentia Hall is where the after market and small manufacturers show their wares and this is the first time I have seen it open during media days.

Most of the vendors were still setting up when I toured the hall but I did run into Louis Weiss or Electric Automobiles LLC based in Van Nuys, CA. They were showing the Intimate, a vehicle designed for doing those short trips around the neighborhood. The car is a two seat wedge shaped hatchback that has plenty of room for groceries. The car is still in the prototype development state so actual specs are not really available yet.

I did note however that the target speed for this vehicle was 40mph which would mean crash testing so we can’t expect the car to be out any time soon.

The only other electric related vehicles in Kentia Hall at the time of my visit was Eco-Tech who were showing their Eco Easy Rider line of electric bikes.

I went back up to the main hall and was wandering around taking some pictures when my cell phone rang. It was the lady who makes the reservations for the ride and drive telling me that they had a second Mini E and I could go down to the parking lot and get a test drive. I rushed down there and found a Mini E waiting. I went up to the lady who was giving the test rides but she told me that they only had one car and the next group were already waiting to take the car out.

She said I could wait around to see if there were any no-shows or I could try the BMW stand where they were conducting their own test drives. I went up to the BMW stand and talked to Sean who did have a slot available but unfortunately too late in the day to meet my schedule so I had to pass. I went back down to the parking lot to see if there was a chance there would be no-shows but when I got down there there were already the next two appointments waiting.

I did notice another mini down there though. This turned out to be from the Eco Driving USA who were giving short lessons in eco driving techniques. They had a slot available right away so I was able to take the mini, a six speed manual transmission Mini Cooper, out for a drive.

They had me drive up onto the 110 freeway and exit out by Dodger Stadium where we stopped to measure my fuel economy, just under 30mpg. Then they had me drive back and gave me instructions on when to shift, when to back off the accelerator and how to keep more distance so that you don’t have to slow down and speed up as much because of other drivers. The whole concept is to maintain momentum when driving.

This is not the extreme driving techniques like drafting and taking corners at high speed used by hyper-milers but a way of improving fuel economy that can also contribute to safer driving.

When we got back to the Convention Center I had managed to get back with fuel economy of 38mpg, a considerable improvement over the first leg of the trip. This wasn’t has good as you might imagine since the drive out was mostly up hill while the drive back was mostly down hill which contributed greatly to the better fuel economy. Having said that, I have been adding the practices I learned to my driving since the auto show and I do appear to be getting better fuel economy.

If this year’s LA Auto show is an indication I think that we are going to see an explosion of more fuel efficient cars and trucks coming from all the major auto makers. The run up of oil prices earlier this year means they finally appear to have caught on to the fact that they can’t keep going with Business as usual and need to move towards zero emission cars. I expect 2009 to be a very exciting year for the electric vehicle community.

Sunday November 16, 2008 — Particulates Study — Researchers at Cal State Fullerton have just released a new study on air pollution and the results are staggering. Here in Southern California 3800 deaths each year, twice the number of people who … in fatal car accidents, can be attributed to air pollution and the cost of this amounts to $28 billion per year. The biggest culprit in all this is fine particulates.

Fine particulates are the tiny pieces of soot and debris that are emitted from the millions of exhaust pipes that travel the highways and byways. These fine particulates get deep into the lungs as we breath and trigger a number of medical problems such as Cancer, heart attacks, … and other lung diseases. While all vehicles emit fine particulates, the biggest culprit is diesel vehicles.

That’s why I don’t get excited when I hear about a 43mph VW Jetta TDI.

Right now the biggest concern for many people is global warming and people are beginning to do more to reduce their carbon footprint. While reducing carbon footprint is a good idea we do need to keep in mind that this is not the sum of everything that is wrong with our current way of life, especially when we are looking at our transportation options.

Getting rid of most of the air pollution would produce major benefits for the people who live in and around the Southern California which has some of the worst air quality in the USA. The study showed that getting rid of this pollution would result in 3,800 fewer premature deaths each year in those 30 and above, 2,700 fewer hospital admissions, 1.2 million less school absences, 2 million fewer days of respiratory problems in children, and 467,000 fewer lost days of work. This adds up to a stunning annual cost of $1,250 per person.

Don’t think that because you live in a cleaner environment you are immune from such problems. Particulate studies in both the UK and Germany have also shown increased deaths attributed to particulate emissions even though these areas are much less polluted than the Los Angeles basin.

The study itself does not present any suggestions for addressing this problem and in my opinion there is going to be no magic bullet that fixes it overnight. Instead, there will need to be a series of things that will gradually, over time, improve air quality here and around the world.

Short term we need to get legislation on the books that introduces particulate filters on diesel vehicles, especially heavy good vehicles, to greatly reduce particulate emissions. We also need to work on public transportation, moving away from busses and toward electric based rail, light rail, and subway systems. For personal transportation we need to move toward electric vehicles as quickly as possible.

Now, the word has been good for electric vehicles recently. Even with all the problems in the automobile industry, with car sales down over 30% for most of the major manufacturers, ZAP has announced that sales of their Xebra grew over 100% for the third quarter 2008 over the same quarter in 2007. However, since third quarter sales where only 280 vehicles this represents hardly a blip on overall vehicle sales.

Vectrix also sold their 1000 electric scooter that same quarter.

We will start to see new electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles coming to market soon and we really need to embrace them if we are to make a dent in vehicle related air pollution.

One interesting statistic from the study is that the number of deaths from air pollution is twice the number of deaths from vehicle accidents. This leads me to the conclusion that we should be making it easier for small companies to be bringing electric vehicles to market. I have been a proponent of a quadra-cycle type vehicle classification with cars allowed to do at least 45mph, for a long time now. I really think that allowing this type of vehicle would open up the flood gates for electric cars.

We already have several electric cars on the road, like the Miles, ZENN and Columbia Par Car Mega that are already designed in Europe as quadra-cycles and are quite capable of providing people valid transportation around town and would work effectively as a second car if they could travel at 45mph instead of the 25mph limit currently in place.

People have often cited safety concerns in suppressing any move toward Medium Speed Vehicle or quadra-cycle type laws. The latest study shows that this is a false concern; failure to put these kinds of vehicles on the roads is costing more in lives than the increased deaths from vehicles that are considered less safe because they haven’t been through the stringent crash testing that is new required for four wheel cars that travel faster than 25mph.

It isn’t enough to just get electric vehicles on the road though. We also need to back this up with new renewable sources of electricity. We need to expand Solar, Wind, Geothermal and Wave generation to meet the increased demand that all the new electric cars and trains will place on the grid.

In the end we will all benefit.

Sunday November 9, 2008 — Working together — Earlier this week I listened to a podcast on evcast.com that featured an interview with Gary Starr who is Chairman Emeritus of EV maker ZAP. Gary made some interesting comments that are very much in line with some of my views so I thought I would share them here.

The topic of the podcast was The crap about ZAP and was intended to give a balanced view of ZAP in contrast to the totally negative articles that have recently surfaced in the media, especially a recent article in Wired magazine. The podcast was overly long at 71 minutes but did manage to meet its objective.

There were lots that Mr. Starr couldn’t say about future plans for the company because they are publicly traded and needed to work within SEC rules. A few things did materialize. First, he mentioned that the ZAP Alias was on target for sale in 2009 but wouldn’t go into details of the planned role out schedule. He also mentioned that ZAP have sold more than 800 Xebras.

I am surprised about this, I thought they had sold more. He also mentioned that major investor the Al Yousuf group were setting plans in motion to begin selling ZAP EVs in the middle east.

The thing that he said that really got my attention was when he began talking about the difficulty of having to work with each state individually to get licensed and how costly this was in terms of both time and license fees. He mentioned that it was easier working in Europe where there was just one entity for the whole of the EEC.

There was also talk about government funds that are being pumped into the big three automakers. Things like the advanced battery consortium and the partnership for the next generation of vehicles pumped money into the big car companies but small EV makers like ZAP were left out in the cold. There is currently $25 billion for the development of advanced vehicles that is waiting to be passed out.

My guess is that neither Miles, nor Commuter Cars, nor ZAP nor any of the other small vehicle manufactures will see a dime of that money.

Gary proposed that the small vehicle manufacturers needed to work together to get government money for EV development. He also said that the best thing that the government could do was to actually buy electric vehicles. You may remember that a few years ago the EPA was in trouble for not enforcing the rule that said that the federal fleet had to have a certain percentage of alternative fuel vehicles.

Even when they did have alternative fuel vehicles they were often flex fuel vehicles that were being run on gasoline rather than E85 because E85 was almost impossible to find in places like California.

This reflects many of my views. Back in 2003 when the California Air Resource Board were gutting the ZEV mandate I wrote to them that instead of trying to make the big automakers make electric vehicles when they don’t want to, they should be supporting companies, especially California based companies, that are trying to get electric vehicles to market. I also suggested that the best way to accomplish this would be to actually buy EVs from these companies for state, county, and municipal fleets.

Now has never been a better time for the small guys to band together and begin lobbying the government. President Bush recently signed into law the economic rescue package, and tacked onto that was a tax credit for the purchase of electric vehicles. There are still lots of questions about this though. Does the package include electric vehicles other than full sized freeway capable vehicles.

Clearly anyone who purchases a Tesla Roadster is going to get a tax credit of $7500, What is not clear is whether cars like the ZAP Xebra, ZENN, Miles, Myers Motors Nmg, Aptera, Triac, GEM, and a whole list of other NEVs are going to be included. Then what about electric scooters. All these vehicles are capable of offsetting tons of CO2 and reducing air pollution, but are not what is considered a motor car.

Another area that is in great need of attention by the Federal Government is medium speed vehicles (MSV). In Europe the quadracycle laws have allowed for the growth of an industry that produces small city class vehicles that are low polluting and economical for many commuters and make a good second vehicle for many families. The DOT already rejected a call from the Medium Speed Vehicle coalition to add this category to Federal regulations.

Now that we have a new president about to take office there is a good chance for a change in attitude in both the EPA and DOT and three areas could easily be addressed quiet quickly.

First, the tax regulations for the alternative fuel vehicle credits need to be modified so that two wheel, three wheel and NEV vehicles can get appropriate tax credits based on the capacity of their batteries. This makes for a fair playing field and doesn’t favor vehicles like the Chevy Volt.

Second, we need to get MSV legislation on the books so that the NEV manufacturers can begin to build and sell faster vehicles that are more useful in many situations. I personally favor a quadracycle type law that allows vehicle that can go up to say 55 mph and operate on highways with posted speed limits up to 55mph. The cars would need to have more safety features than a NEV but would not need the expensive crash testing required for freeway capable vehicles.

Perhaps allowing the crash testing to be done by computer simulation.

Third, government agencies at all levels from federal to municipal need to put plans in place for the purchase of plug-in vehicles. There needs to be a body at the federal level that makes sure that these plans are followed and government entities at all levels actually begin to include plug-in vehicles in their fleets before the end of 2009. There are plenty of vehicles around at the moment to allow these agencies add plug-in vehicles to their fleets.

You just have to look at what Santa Monica’s fleet looks like to know this to be true.

The time may be ripe for the various companies to come together and form the Electric Vehicle Makers Association that pulls together all the small firms working on electric vehicles to give them more lobbying power at both the state and federal levels. Plug-in America have called for a million plug-in vehicles on the road by 2012. This can only be done if the government really comes to support the small guys who are actually making plug-in vehicles now.


John from Dayton, Ohio wrote:

I just read your blog of Nov. 9. Speaking as a mere observer, I can say I think you make some great points. And speaking as a journalism professor and freelance writer, I envy your work focus. I live in Dayton, Ohio, and I have found that our area is an absolute backwater for EV technology.

This is, after all, a GM town. I heard from a local person a point not mentioned anywhere: Governments will not emphasize EVs because so much tax money comes from gasoline sales. When (not if) gasoline goes back to $4/gallon this will take care of itself, but only slowly and only if there is some kind of EV sellers’ organization, as you suggest.

Sunday November 2, 2008 — SUV Demise — It seems that the days of the full sized SUV are numbered. Full Sized SUVs have always been hated by environmentalists because of their poor fuel economy and excessive amounts of pollution they cause, but it looks like they will soon be a footnote in the history books.

Over the last decade or so the US carmakers in particular have made big profits selling huge vehicles like the Hummer H2 and the Ford Excursion to middle class suburbanites who always seem to be driving around with a cell phone glued to their right ear, a danger to everyone else on the road.

It would be nice to believe that the demise of the full sized SUV was being spurred by a growing number of environmentally aware groups who were looking to cut their carbon footprint. The truth is that gasoline spiking to over $4.00 per gallon and a decline in consumer confidence because of a world wide recession have been the main driving force in slowing sales of full sized SUVs.

Ford really lead the charge when it announced back in 2002 that it would not be building a second generation of its Ford Excursion. Production of this vehicle stopped after the 2004 model year. This was actually ahead of the fuel price run-up but sales of the Excursion were sagging and Ford’s biggest SUV had to go.

After that the fuel crisis hit the nation and suddenly going to the gas station was more painful than a trip to the dentists. SUV owners were complaining that when filling up their tanks the pumps would shut off long before the tank was full when they reached the $75 limit on credit card sales set by many gas stations.

All of a sudden fuel efficient cars started to look good to many buyers and while models like the Toyota Prius and Honda Fit were flying off showroom floors the back lots were getting filled with used SUVs that nobody wanted.

As sales of full sized SUVs plummeted we started to see Hummer dealerships, who rely totally on full sized SUVs, closing shop. Back in March this year GM announced that it would not build a second generation Hummer H2 and the current model is expected to be phased out some time between 2011 and 2014.

In the last couple of weeks we have had announcements from GM and Chrysler about more full sized SUVs that are going to get the axe. GM has announced that it will be basing the next generation of its Chevy Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon SUVs on the smaller, more carlike lambda platform which will basically take GM out of the full sized SUV market. The stunner from Chrysler is that it is killing both the Durango and Aspen full sized SUVs, including the just launched hybrid versions.

They are also going to be closing the factory in Delaware where these SUVs are made. There was no word from Chrysler about the fate of the 3000 or so orders it already has for the hybrids.

Just a note, Chrysler have also gone quiet about their recently announced peapod NEV. I’m hoping that this is just a clamp down on news leading up to the LA Auto Show, which starts in a couple of weeks, but with Chrysler in financial difficulties and merger talks with GM stalled things don’t look good for the peapod.

From the point of view of the environment the demise of the full sized SUV has got to be a good thing. Since Ford, GM and Chrysler between them sold these vehicles by the million, a move from say 15 mpg vehicle to 20mph vehicle can have a major impact on oil use in the USA.

Having said that, gas prices have fallen dramatically in recent days. Last week I drove past the local gas station and they were selling unleaded at $3.00 per gallon. On the way back home an hour later the same gas station had dropped its price to $2.94 per gallon. A brief unscientific survey by me noted that the drop in fuel prices has been accompanied by an increase in traffic volume.

Traffic has definitely gotten heavier over the last two to three weeks. I have also noticed seeing more new SUVs on the road, though no new full sized SUVs. I hope that the temporary drop in fuel prices hasn’t lead people to go back to past behavior where they buy gas guzzlers with no thought about the cost to society.

Sunday October 26, 2008 — Propositions 2008 — The General Election of 2008 is almost upon us and the nation is set to decide on a new President, but here in California the state proposition process is bringing some environmental bills before the public.

First let me apologize for the California centric nature of this weeks blog but hey, I live in California and since California often leads in things environmental, what happens here will often have an impact around the world.

I personally don’t like the California proposition process. While it has all the appearance of democracy in action it is often a way for special interests to foster complex legislation on an uniformed public. This year is no exception as three propositions appeal to those concerned with the environment but at least two of them may have hidden agendas.

First lets talk about the best of the three propositions; Prop 1A. This proposition would allow the state of California to issue $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds to partially fund a 220mph high speed electric train system that would eventually cover about 800 miles and would link San Diego in the south with Los Angeles, the North to San Francisco and eventually Sacramento. The proposed system would allow passengers to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a little over 3 hours.

This bill is supported by many of the environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Plug-in America, The Natural Resources Defense Council and the California League of Conservation Voters. Major opposition comes from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

The opposition claims that the project is just a big waste of tax dollars and shouldn’t be done at a time like this when the country is in recession and tax revenues are low. If the depression taught us anything, it is that this is just the time to embark on such projects; projects that will bring much needed employment to our state. The idea of high speed rail links have been talked about for a long time and if ever there was a time to put rail to use it is now. evfinder.com recommends a yes vote on proposition 1A.

Proposition 7 is a proposition that seeks regulations that would have utilities that operate in California move to increase the amount of renewable energy in their mix to 20% by 2010, 40% by 2020, and 50% by 2025. It also directs that applications for new renewable power plants should be fast tracked.

On the whole Prop 7 sounds pretty good so why is it being opposed by groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club, and Plug-in America?

The reason is that the bill is very poorly written and if the proposition passes it will take a 2/3 majority in the California legislature to get its provisions changed. One of the biggest cause of problems is the provision that power plants of less than 30 megawatts can’t be counted toward the renewable energy percentage. Since most of the renewable energy being used in California at the moment comes from power plants that produce less than 30 megawatts this provision means that a lot of the companies will have only one year to find renewable energy sites for almost 20% of their customers needs.

It also means that electricity bought from customers who install solar on their roofs can’t be counted in the renewable mix. Some solar installers such as Bill Korthoff don’t think this will impact their business but many others are concerned that it will.

Given that the bill will also increase utility costs, and the fact that its major backer is a billionaire that lives in Arizona, and the likelihood that it will hurt rather than help the move to renewable energy, evfinder.com recommends a no vote on propositions 7.

The final proposition on the ballot that impacts the environment is proposition 10 which allows the state to issue $5 billion in bonds the proceeds of which will be used to provide incentives for alternative fuel vehicles.

Now you would think that evfinder.com would be a big supporter of this bill but the truth is that the bill, which is being supported in great part by Texas oil man T Boone Pickens, is highly weighted toward natural gas powered vehicles and in the end will probably end up doing more damage than good as it simply trades one fossil fuel for another.

This proposition is being opposed by many environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Plug-in America and the Union of Concerned Scientists. evfinder.com recommends a no vote on Prop 10.


The results are in — California Voters approved Proposition 1A, the high speed rail. Propositions 7 and 10 were both rejected.

Sunday October 19, 2008 — Tesla v the Economy — The news around the world has been full of talk on the financial crisis and the economic downturn it has spawned. The downturn, now being called a recession and with the prospect of depression looming, has had a huge impact on the automobile industry.

In an article in the New York Times this week it was revealed that the economic downturn has had an impact on electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla. It appears that Tesla is going to lay off an undisclosed number of employees and CEO Ze’ev Drori has been replaced by Elon Musk. Unlike co-founder Martin Eberhard, who was forced out of the company, Mr.

Drori will stay on as Vice Chairman.

Worse than the loss of jobs is the news that the launch of their next vehicle, the Model S, has been delayed until mid 2011. That means the model will not reach market until after the Chevy Volt, and perhaps other pure electric vehicles being planned by Nissan, Mitsubishi and Subaru. This could spell the … knell for Tesla as their $60,000 sedan will need to compete with much cheaper electric vehicles from more established manufacturers.

Of course they still have lots of orders for the Roadster and Elon Musk has said that they are close to being in positive cash flow, but he was not certain when that would occur.

The recent financial bail-out package signed into law by President Bush may help too. Included in the package is a tax credit based on the size of the battery pack on a plug-in vehicle. The Tesla, with its 221 mile range, should be able to qualify for maximum credit which will reduce the cost by as much as $7,000.

California also has a proposition on the November ballot that would add additional incentives for the roadster, but this proposition is being opposed by most environmental groups since it will push most of the money towards natural gas powered vehicles.

The sudden increase in interest for electric vehicles has also helped Tesla has they have built a profitable business selling or licensing their drive train technology.

I think that the news on the Model S is bad news for Tesla but the company does have some good things going for it and is currently the only company actually marketing a freeway capable purpose built four wheel EV in the US. Unless the big auto makers come out with and electric sports car that can compete with the Tesla Roadster in performance at a lower price I expect that Tesla should be able to continue to thrive in that niche market. If the big car makers do start to deliver plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles ahead of the Model S then that model is going to find the market a very difficult one and could end up dragging Tesla down.

Sunday October 12, 2008 — 2008 Paris Auto Show — Over in France the Paris Auto Show is currently underway and the automobile manufacturers have take the opportunity to announce a whole new set of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Perhaps the announcement that will have the biggest immediate impact was from Honda who showed their concept hybrid Insight. This four door car uses Honda’s tried and tested Integrated motor assist system which means no battery only operation. The car looks a lot like the Prius and we have to assume that we will see more cars like this as manufacturers work to reduce the coefficient of drag.

We will have to wait until the Detroit Auto Show to see the final production model but it will probably be close to the concept. Sales are expected to begin in the spring of 2009 at a price starting around $18,000, significantly lower than the Civic Hybrid or the Prius. I expect this to be a big seller for Honda assuming they can build enough of them to meet demand.

Daimler got in on the act showing the Lithium powered Smart ED which is going to be included in the e-mobility Berlin project that will put about 100 electric cars on the streets of Berlin. The Smart ED (for electric drive) is supposed to go on sale in late 2009. Hopefully they will wise up and change the name before they start selling the car in the USA.

Nisan also had a concept EV on show for the first time. Continuing in their tradition of showing unique EV concepts the Nuvu (pronounced Nu-Voo on New View depending on who you talk to) is a tiny three seat electric car driven by a lithium battery under the rear seat. It is said to have a range of 75 miles and a top speed of 70mph. The car would certainly turn heads on the streets of LA.

The Nuvu isn’t likely to be placed in production but Nisan have committed to having and electric car in showrooms by late 2010.

Before there was Tesla a tiny sports car manufacturer from the Principality of Monaco wowed the world with a carbon fiber electric sports car called the Fetish. The company, Venturi, showed their latest concept at the Paris Auto Show, a wicked looking sports care called the Venturi Volage. The Volage once again uses a carbon fiber body to reduce weight but this time, instead of using the ACP drive system the car is propelled by the Michelin active wheel system that places motors in each of the four wheels on the car. Additional motors can be used to adjust the suspension on demand via commands from a touch screen.

Venturi plans to produce the car in limited numbers starting in 2012. They gave no indication on what to expect for range and top speed but the car is said to go from 0-60 in under 5 seconds.

What happens when you team up Italian design studio Pininfarina with French industrial giant Bollore? The result, on display at the Paris Auto Show for the first time, was the Pininfarina Bo. The joint venture brings together the outstanding automobile design talents of Pininfarina with the battery making skills of Bollore subsidiary Batscap, produces a company with both the talent and capital to build a world class car. The pre-production vehicle on display in Paris was a four seat five door compact powered by a Lithium metal polymer battery.

Production of this car is planned to start some time in 2009.

PSA, parent company of both Citroen and Peugeot, exhibited their new Hymotion4 Through the road hybrid system. This system uses an internal combustion motor to drive one set of wheels and an electric motor to drive the other set of wheels. There is no mechanical connection between the two systems which can be operated independently to drive the car either via the ICE or Via the Electric motor, or can be used together to drive the car as a four wheel drive vehicle. PSA showed four different models using this system. The Peugeot RC with 4 door coupe with a gas engine in the rear and an electric motor driving the front wheels.

The Peugeot Prolog crossover uses a diesel to drive the front wheels and an electric motor for the rear. The Citroen Hypnos is an SUV with a diesel in the front and electric driving the rear. The fourth example was the Citroen C4 WRC rally car.

Expect to see the production ready version of the Prolog, the Peugeot 3008 at the Geneva Auto show with sales slated to begin in 2009.

There were lots of hybrid concept cars being shown at this years Paris Auto Show. Korean automaker Kia has a concept version of the Soul, a crossover vehicle, The Hybrid concept is driven by a 1.6 liter engine and a 15KW electric motor that are connected through a constant variable transmission. The car is quoted as having fuel economy around 48mpg.

No word yet if Kia plans to actually make this car.

Korean neighbor Hyundai also had a hybrid concept on show, this time the Santa Fe blue hybrid. This is a hybrid version of Hyundai’s Santa Fe SUV and features a 2.3 liter gasoline engine with mated to an electric motor and a six speed automatic transmission. They claim fuel economy around 38mpg.

The Santa Fe blue hybrid is widely considered to be close to being production ready and is expected to go on sale in 2010.

Just a few years ago most of the major auto makers were telling us that hybrids were too expensive and didn’t make sense. They oil headed above $100 a barrel and all of a sudden auto makers are rushing to get hybrids to market. The next big step will be an influx of plug-in hybrids followed inevitably by pure electric vehicles.

The Paris auto show showed that Automakers all over the world are pushing to build hybrid and electric cars.

The Paris Auto show continues through October 19.

Sunday October 5, 2008 — Will NEVs Survive — It seems like every week we see a new batch of announcements about one of the OEMs planning to bring out an electric car. This week it was Daimler who announced plans to begin marketing an EV, and Toyota who implied they were working on an all electric vehicle. That has prompted several people to ask me if I thought that the NEV was doomed.

The question comes something like this; once the big auto manufacturers start producing electric vehicles that have freeway speeds and a range of over 100 miles would anyone still buy a NEV. My answer boils down to one word, yes, but then there are always complications when we are talking about a whole industry.

The real answer is that NEVs are likely to be around for a long time to come. While we still have closed communities that drape themselves around a golf course there are always going to be people who want a vehicle they can drive to the store then drive to the golf course and use their car as a golf cart. This bodes well for companies like Chrysler who’s GEM division is really designed for just that purpose.

There are quite a few other companies, like Columbia Par Car, Tomberlin, and American Custom Golf Cars, that build vehicles with a similar purpose. The question becomes more cloudy when we get to the current flock of NEVs that are designed to look more like a standard car. The main builders of these are ZENN, MIles, and ITs Electric who all manufacture vehicles that are built with fully enclosed cabs that are not designed for use on the fairway.

There are also a number of other companies that are upcoming, including Dymac, and Vantage Vehicles who both of whom have a six passenger NEV minivan and a NEV Truck.

The biggest issue with these vehicles is their cost. A Dynasty IT sedan for example will set you back a surprising $19,000 Buying a new Miles ZX40s can cost $21,500 and new ZENN prices start around $16,000. Now, there are a couple of big inducements to drive such a vehicle, the first being not having to by $3.50 a gallon gas, and the second being a desire to reduce ones carbon footprint or cut emissions to be kind to the environment. Now, if Daimler comes out with an electric version of the Smart with a top speed of 60mph and a range of 70 miles at a base price of say $21,000, a $10,000 premium over the base ICE model, who would pay close to that price for a car that tops out at 25mph, cannot be driven on roads where the speed limit is more than 35mph, and has a range of less than half the Smart’s.

The answer is very few.

I see the NEV market thinning out as sales of the high end NEVs dry up and the market goes toward those vehicle that are basically golf carts. Medium Speed Vehicle (MSV) legislation may help this but in my opinion the 35mph top speed proposed in the current legislation is too slow. The need is for a classification similar to the Quadracycle classification that is used in Europe.

We need to have a way to move into the market by developing city class EVs that can go 55mph that can be placed on the roads without the multi-million dollar crash testing that is currently required. That’s not so say that we shouldn’t insist on standard safety features like air bags and front and rear crumple zones, but that shouldn’t mean that the company has to sell hundreds of thousands of cars to cover cost of crash testing.

Both Miles and ZENN are in the process of developing a freeway capable car but they are going to be up against some stiff competition as cars like the Chevy Volt, Plug-in Prius, Subaru R1e and Mitsubishi i-MEV start to come to market around 2010. ITs electric already appears to be in trouble and will probably disappear in the not too distant future.

Sunday September 28, 2008 — Santa Monica Alt Fuel Vehicle Expo 2008 — Yesterday I drove down to Santa Monica to attend their 2008 Alternative Fuel Vehicle Expo. This year the Expo was held at the Civic Center Auditorium and was jam packed with people.

I found a parking spot close to the Solar Car Port where a large number of electric vehicles, many from the City of Santa Monica’s fleet, but others that were in private hands. There were a couple of custom painted RAV4 EVs there, a black one and a light blue one with the Edison Logo on the side. There were also lots of GEMs around the area and a couple of ZENNs.

My first impression on entering the Civic Center Auditorium was that of total chaos. The event had only been open for thirty minutes and the hall was already jam packed with people. I made my way to the Plug-in America booth to have a word with Paul Scott. He was raving about the Zero X Electric Motorcycle.

The bike is as fast off the line as a Tesla and apparently on Friday there were three riders who lost control and crashed the bike because of the ultra-fast acceleration. The Zero X is not street legal though which is why it doesn’t appear on the evfinder.com web site

I did a quick walk around the hall to see if I could find Free Drive, as they are getting close to bringing their Solar Bug to market and I wanted to get an update. I never did find then though. In general, the Civic Center Auditorium was so crowded it was difficult to get to talk with people or to take decent pictures.

I have to say that I preferred the old site at the Barker Hanger by Santa Monica Airport.

I did stumble across the new ZAP Xebre Sedan. ZAP have updated the sedan to give it a metal body and have changed the design to be a hatchback. They have still preserved the essential look of the car but have improved both the quality and utility of the vehicle.

Next I came upon Vantage Vehicles who were showing off their NEV minivan, the VanGo Passenger. This vehicle is driven by a 72V lead acid battery pack and has a maximum speed of 25mph. It is capable of carrying up to 6 passengers in comfort.

This would make an excellent vehicle for those carpool tasks like running little Johnie and his fiends to soccer practice or taking Caitlin and her posse to the Mall.

Another up-and coming company that I came across was Green Vehicles. They had their Triac on display in the main entrance hall and the Buckshot on display out at the ride and drive. I had a chance to talk with the guy from Green Vehicles who told me that they are going to start shipping to customers from their order list in December and the plan is to ship 50 cars per month.

He told me that if you order a Triac today you could expect to receive it by mid January which implies that they have a current order list of about 70 vehicles. The Buckshot begins delivery in December.

I went over to the cafe for a cup of coffee and wasn’t impressed at all. At the barker hanger the cafe had a much larger seating area and it was situated in a place where you could see what was going on. This one had a small area hidden in the back away from the crowds. The coffee was pretty poor too and they had no dairy products so the soy milk added to the bad taste.

I wouldn’t have minded if the price had been OK but at $2.00 for a regular coffee they were topping Starbuck’s prices. In general this years expo was much more commercial than in previous years. Cliff bar was there and so was Edison but neither of them was giving things away like they were at the Pasadena Expo a few months ago.

Cliff bar was asking for a $2.00 donation to charity and Edison didn’t have their usual stock of CFLs to give away. Not that I’m complaining, companies were also selling vehicles at this years expo which is a good thing.

The other biggie at the show was the first appearance of the Chevy Volt. I know, GM had the concept car running around the US for a year already but this car was the production version that was shown for the first time at the GM 100 year celebration earlier this year. It’s appearance at the Santa Monica Alt Fuel Vehicle conference was quite a coup.

The Volt was sitting in the Petersen Automotive Museum display next to their EV1. I must say that I really like this car. The production car is a bit smaller than the original prototype with a nice aerodynamic shape which is little bit similar to the Prius but apparently has a lower coefficient of drag.

The only downside to this car is that it will only seat 4 as the battery tunnel runs down between the passenger seats preventing a third person from sitting in the back. If GM can produce this car with reasonable quality they will have a home run on their hands, hope they can handle that.

I moved on to the ride and drive and this was the biggest disappointment of all. First, there were hardly anybody running ride and drives. ACP were there with two eBoxes but I drove the eBox at last year’s event so I didn’t want to drive it again. Miles also had a couple of their NEVs being driven but again I drove one of those at EVS earlier this year.

I really wanted to drive their truck but that was away being charged. Hybrid Technologies had their electric Mini out for test drives but I have no respect for them as a company so passed on driving the car. I have to say though that they were one of the few EVs that were actually being test driven so they do have a working EV.

Electric Vehicles of Long Beach were also out at the ride and drive track with a few of the NEVs they sell. They had a Hi-Line there that I really wanted to drive but they were not giving test drives in that vehicle when I was there. Parked at the ride and drive was a Buckshot which I managed to get a close-up look at.

The Buckshot looks like it belongs on the streets of Calcutta rather than on the streets of Santa Monica. Still, it will work well as a local delivery vehicle and will attract a lot of attention.

I went to check out the test track for scooters but they wanted a motorcycle license to drive the Zero X and the only other vehicles there were a couple of tilting Zappy style three wheel scooters.

In the end I finished up not driving anything. I did miss out on one car though, it appears that Electric Blue, a car conversion company from Flagstaff, AZ, had a converted Toyota Yaris out on the test track. I did see the car but never put two and two together and figured out that this was an EV conversion.

I didn’t enjoy this years event anywhere near as much as I did the last two years. I hope that they return to the Barker Hanger next year, or at least spread the event out to three days to reduce the crush of people around the displays.

Sunday September 21, 2008 — More EVs on the way — These are exciting times for the EV enthusiast as week after week we see more announcements about electric vehicles.

It was 100 years ago this week that William Crapo Durant first filed the papers to incorporate a little company called General Motors. To celebrate this landmark in their history, GM chose to officially show the production version of their Chevy Volt. The car, which looks like a chevy Malibu at the front and a bit Prius like at the rear is claimed to have a better coefficient of drag than the Prius.

It incorporates a T shaped battery tunnel like the one in the EV1 and has lots of electronic displays. According to Bob Lutz it will also come with the option of solar panels on the roof although he says that the car will need to sit in a sunny parking lot of two weeks to get a full charge. There are excellent pictures and video of the Volt at Autoblog Green .

Toyota also got in the picture this week telling everyone that the next generation Prius will be officially launched at the Detroit Auto show next January. Since Southern California is the place where they sell the most Prius it is a mystery to me why they don’t announce at the Los Angeles auto show, but they seem to prefer to launch their biggest, ugliest gas guzzlers here in Tinsel town — go figure. Toyota is also going to move up fleet testing of the Plug-in Prius.

Testing was supposed to begin in 2010 but will now quite likely start in late 2009.

Not to be outdone, Chrysler announced that next week it would be holding a video conference for its dealers to introduce it to the Electric Vehicles that are being developed by their ENVI Division. ENVI was set up specifically to develop electric vehicles. They are expected to show several vehicles including a Plug-in hybrid with specification similar to the Chevy Volt.

Chrysler, you may recall, owns GEM so they are currently the only major manufacturer that currently sells an electric vehicle.

Ford, on the other hand, seem to be dragging their heals. They are deliberately taking a slow approach to the introduction of hybrid and electric vehicle. Even though they have a Plug-in version of the Escape hybrid undergoing fleet testing with Edison. they don’t plan on selling a Plug-in Hybrid until 2013 and say it could be as late as 2020.

Their plans for electric vehicles appear to be fuel cell vehicles some time after 2020. If gas prices continue their upward trend, and there is every reason to believe they will, then Ford could very easily get caught short unless they can get some really fuel efficient cars on the road without going hybrid. I fear they will miss the bus and the blue oval will fade into obscurity.

Honda is another car company that appear to be bucking the Plug-in trend. They have put their investments in Fuel Cell vehicles and currently are placing about 200 Honda Clarity fuel cell vehicles into service, mostly in Southern California. They are hedging their bets a little however.

They recently announced the new Honda Insight which is a four door hybrid using the Honda IMA drive system, which is expected to be cheaper than the Honda Civic hybrid, while getting better mpg then the current generation Prius. While Honda was telling the world that they didn’t think battery driven cars were viable they quietly announced a delivery timeframe for a new electric motorcycle. They plan to begin deliveries of a Li battery powered Motorbike in 2011 targeting mostly fleets.

Yamaha also announced that they would be selling an Electric bike. Their Motorbike, with a projected range of 60 miles, is expected in dealerships in 2010. Neither Honda nor Yamaha had any additional specifics on price or performance.

Over in Europe, BMW confirmed this week that they were working on an all electric city car. The car will be offered with a fuel efficient gasoline engine or all electric drive. BMW expect the electric version to meet California’s highest classification of a car with more than 200 miles of range.

They have not said if the car will be marketed under the BMW brand name or under the Isetta brand name but rumor has it that BMW will launch such cars under the Isetta name as a line of Green cars.

Also in the news, Peugeot showed its Prologue concept plug-in hybrid which looks like a ultra aggressive crossover. Monoco based Venturi, who is currently working with Citroen on an electric version of the Berlingo van for the French postal service, announced that it was developing an electric vehicle in conjunction with Michelin. The vehicle will be displayed at next year’s Paris auto show.

This is good news for Venturi who will now have the considerable resources of Michelin to help move the vehicle into volume production.

In a final note, I have just heard from ZAP dealers around the country that they are starting to get shipments of the 2009 Xebras. The big news here is the redesigned sedan that now comes as a five door with an all metal body that greatly improves fit and finish. The Xebra still isn’t perfect by a long way but dealers are telling me that they have been getting steadily better and the latest batch of cars are ready to charge up and drive off the lot, unlike earlier cars where the vehicles needed a lot of work from the dealer before they were ready to send to customers.

The electric revolution is picking up speed. I hope to see plenty of new and interesting things happening at next weeks Santa Monica Alternative Fuel Vehicle conference.

Sunday September 14, 2008 — Rolling Resistance v Drag — I recently received an email via the RAV4 EV list from Ian Wright who is an excellent automotive engineer and the person who brought us the Wrightspeed X1. It is the most understandable description of how rolling resistance and drag effect the power consumption on an EV that I have ever read, so I thought I would share it here.

There are two major components: rolling resistance (tires and bearings) and aerodynamic drag. They are quite different.

Look at rolling resistance first. With your car on a flat, level, hard surface (with brakes etc off) try pushing it. Let’s say it takes a 50 lb push to keep it moving. That 50 lbs is pretty much the same at all speeds. It’s mostly tire drag, and most of that is in sidewall flex.

So increasing the tire pressures will reduce it. So will reducing the vehicle weight. A more subtle effect is wheel alignment. Any toe-in or camber will (either of them will) cause tire scrub and therefore drag. Front or rear.

I run zero toe-in and zero camber front and rear for that reason.

The important thing to note is that the power required to overcome this drag rises linearly with speed. It’s 50lbs thrust at any speed, but the power is thrust times speed.

Now to aero drag. We talk about drag coefficient (Cd), that’s a measure of how slippery the shape is. But to get drag, we have to multiply drag coefficient by the frontal area — the cross-sectional area seen by the wind. Some buses have quite low Cd, but the frontal area is huge, so the drag is still large.

At the other end of the scale, my car has a terrible Cd (0.7), but there’s not much frontal area.

How do we get to the equivalent of the 50 lbs drag caused by tires and such? Well, it’s a function of speed. It should be intuitive that at very low speeds — pushing the car by hand — the aero drag doesn’t matter.

And likewise, at Vmax, it will be MUCH larger. How much?

Well, the drag — the force required to push the car — rises with the speed squared. Speed times 4 equals drag times 16.

And the power required is drag times speed. So the power required to overcome aero drag is some factor (Cd times area) times speed cubed! Speed times 4 equals drag times 64.

So every car has some speed below which rolling resistance dominates, and above which aero drag dominates. Guess 50mph if you don’t have any actual numbers. Heavy cars with good Cd will have it at a higher speed, lighter cars with bad aero (like mine) will crossover at a lower speed. But the really interesting thing is that aero drag rises so much faster

than rolling resistance, that at freeway speeds, for practical cars, its pretty much all that matters. Hence the 55mph speed limit in the last oil crisis.

Ian Wright

CEO, Wrightspeed, Inc.

Sunday September 7, 2008 — England 2008 — Regular readers of my blog will know that I am originally from England and every three years or so I return to my native country to visit friends and relatives. I just returned from my latest trip.

This year England was wet and windy which really cuts back on the amount of travel you can do for those who have become acclimatized to the warm dry conditions of Southern California. We arrived at Heathrow airport on August 14 and spent three nights in London before traveling north to visit family. I was quite disappointed that I didn’t see a single electric car while I was in London.

I must say that some of the areas I was in weren’t the best places to see electric cars, especially the time my wife and I spent in Oxford Street which is restricted to buses and taxis only. I also didn’t have time to seek out the many charging stations that now dot London.

London has a congestion charge of around Ј8 per day (about $16 at current exchange rates) just for driving in peak periods. Since London has an excellent public transport system we opted to use busses and trains while in London rather than try and deal with all the parking issues and congestion charges.

I did use a car for the rest of my stay, renting a car from Hertz who offer a line of Green cars. It turns out that these are mostly small diesel cars and since I haven’t had much experience with Diesel I selected a small automatic diesel. The car they gave me was a Mercedes A-Class turbo diesel that was rated at about 60 mpg (about 48mile per US gallon).

I found the car no different to drive than a normal gas car, there was no black smoke coming out of the exhaust, and none of the bad smell usually associated with diesels. I did notice that the car seemed to loose speed even on the most modest hill and I had to push the pedal to the floor to maintain speed.

One thing that really struck me was that people in England seemed to be driving at or below the speed limit for the most part. There were the occasional speed demon but I often found traffic moving along at 65mph on a 70mph freeway. This is partly due to the high cost of fuel but mostly due to the large number of speed cameras that are popping up all over the country.

My first fill-up was an eye opener. First of all I had trouble getting the hatch over the gas cap open. I looked all over the car and couldn’t find a release. I went out and pushed on the front of the hatch but it didn’t budge.

I checked inside once more for the release and couldn’t find it. In desperation I went into the gas station and asked the attendant if he knew how to open the gas cap. He came out and looked all around, pushed on the gas cap, looked some more then shook his head.

While this was going on a driver came into the station towing a trailer with two cars on it. The attendant brought him over but he couldn’t find out how to open the hatch either. The another Mercedes driver pulled up at the pump opposite mine so we asked him if he knew.

After checking the inside for a release button he walked up to the hatch and pressed the back instead of the front and it popped open. I felt like a real duffus.

I hear many complaints about the high cost of gas here in the US but pain at the pump takes on a whole new meaning in England. The cheapest gas station I could find was offering diesel at Ј1.20 per liter which works out at around $10 per US gallon. That makes $4.00 per gallon gas sound like a bargain.

One thing I did see was several buildings that had installed wind turbines. England is a naturally windy place so wind turbines can make economic sense. Most of the turbines were quite small but I did see one office complex with quite a huge turbine.

It wasn’t until my final week in the UK that I saw any on-road electric vehicles. I was driving into the east coast resort town of Bridlington and found myself following a guy on an electric bike. The following day I was walking from our Hotel in Leeds down to the local Starbucks and I was passed by an old Milk Float.

There was a few milk crates on the back but this float looked like it was being used by someone as a commuter vehicles.

What I did see in England was a lot of small hatchback cars that get good fuel economy. The A-Class is a good example of this and I have heard rumors that Daimler-Benz might be considering bringing this car into the US. They really need a good entry level car for their line. They tried this with the C-Class but that didn’t work too well. I think the A-Class will be a much better entry level vehicle.

MBZ also have an electric version of the A-Class running around Southern California and this would also be a nice electric vehicles for them to sell.

Another nice car car I saw running around in England, that is about to debut in the US, is the five door Toyota Yaris. Personally I like this car better than either the 3 door or the sedan that is currently being marketed here. Ford has also talked about bringing in some of their smaller European cars and they can certainly use the better fuel economy to try and lift themselves from the bottom of the pack as far as their fleet average is concerned. One car I saw a lot of was the Fiesta which is almost certain to make it here. After my previous visit to the UK I suggested that Ford should bring in their two seat Ka.

They have now added a roadster version of the Ka which would make a good addition to Fords line-up and looks great.

Fiat have recently started selling the Fiat 500 in Europe and the Nice Motor Car Company is now offering the Micro-Vette e500 electric conversion of this car. Fiat has elected to stay out of the American market because of the high cost of crash testing. They have been long known as a poor quality car here in the US, Fiat often being said to stand for Fix it again Tony but they have been steadily increasing quality over the last twenty years and their cars can now stand alongside the best that Europe has to offer.

The e500 would be a welcome addition to the US fleet if anyone has the cash to push it through crash testing and get it DOT certified.

I had a good long vacation and got to see family and friends. It will take me a few days to get back into the swing of things and catch up with the ebay listings but with the Santa Monica Alternative Fuel Vehicle Expo just on the horizon September looks to be an interesting month.

Sunday December 10, 2008 — Who Really Pulled the Plug — Who really pulled the plug is the title of an article by Jeffery Steele that appeared in Friday’s San Jose Mercury. The article explains why the EV1 failed.

Now, the article doesn’t seem to have been researched at all, it is merely a re-hash of a blog done by Motor Trend’s editor in Chief Angus MacKenzie back in May. MacKenzie asserted that the reason that the EV1 failed is that it used lead acid batteries, and Jeffery Steel, though beginning his article by mentioning Who Killed the Electric Car parrots this view.

If either of them had seen the documentary they would have found that while the first generation EV1 was released with Lead Acid Batteries the second generation was released with advanced NiMH batteries so the whole argument falls apart right there.

In his documentary Chris Paine makes it clear that there were multiple reasons for the failure and the only thing that came out as not being responsible was the batteries. Yes, the origianal Lead Acid batteries didn’t give enough range but the NiMH batteries gave plenty of range for most applications.

If you refuse to sell a car, only lease it, you turn away the majority of customers who come in to buy the car, if you use adverts that don’t show off the car but just present it in strange views, and if you have the car in a very limited set of dealerships, you shouldn’t expect to sell many cars.

The truth is that GM crafted an exceptional vehicle in the EV1. It was fast, fun to drive and had adequate range for most commuters. People didn’t flock to the car because it was difficult to find and even more difficult to lease.

In the documentary it was interesting to hear how hard it was for a major personality, Mel Gibson, to lease one of these cars. Run of the mil unknowns like you or me had not chance.

Still, Who Killed the Electric Car laid at least part of the blame on us, the consumer. We didn’t try hard enough to lease the car. There were lots of people like me who were told no and accepted it without more than a little complaint to the EV specialist who gave us the bad news.

True, I did go out and start evfinder.com but I didn’t go back and back and back to GM until they got so fed up of me that they leased me a car to get rid of me. Still, I shouldn’t have to should I?

Last night I was watching the Olympic Games and in the breaks I saw adverts for the Chevy Volt, a car that won’t be available in dealerships until 2010. This put me in mind of the EV1 again. GM launched the EV1 with an award winning ad the followed up by not putting the car in dealerships for over a year.

When the car finally made it to those few showrooms in California and Arizona that were going to offer them for lease there was a pretty weak advertising campaign which showed an odd view looking down on the EV1 that didn’t do anything to say that this was something worth buying.

I hope that GM learn from their mistakes. If they ever get the Volt to market I hope that they sell the car through every Chevrolet dealership in the country. In the final analysis if GM can persist long enough to establish the market for the Volt they will have a sure fire winner.

Sunday August 3, 2008 — Tidal Power — I have often expressed the opinion that we need to move away from fossil fuels, towards renewable energy generation, if electric vehicles are going to make a real difference to our environment. I have also been an advocate of diversity in power generation sources.

The degree of this diversity just got larger after British company Marine Current Technologies recently pumped 150 KW of energy into Northern Ireland’s national grid during a test of its 1.2 Megawatt SeaGen tidal current generator situated in Strangford Lough.

Human’s have been harvesting power from water for thousands of years. The Roman’s in particular were superb hydro engineers. There is a ruin just outside Arles, France that was apparently a factory for grinding corn to make flour. An Aqueduct brought water to the site and it was routed through a series of water wheels that drove 16 mills.

The site dates from around 300 AD.

We are of course used to hydro-electric power, in some regions of the US such as the Pacific North West most of the electricity they consume is generated this way. Tidal energy has been much more difficult to utilize however. In the past harvesting tidal energy was done by building a barrage across a tidal estuary then letting the tide flow in trapping it behind the barrage.

As the tide receded the water was allowed to flow out through turbines to generate electricity.

The first commercial tidal barrage was built in St. Malo, France in 1965, It utilized twenty-four ten megawatt turbines and has been generating electricity with each tide ever since. There have been several other tidal barrage systems built since 1965 but they require an area where the tide is large. In St.

Malo for example there is a forty foot tide.

The installation of the barrage, like the installation of dams for large hydro projects, also has an impact on the local ecosystem in the tidal plain. There is some argument about if this is beneficial or harmful to the environment but most environmentalists view the changes as harmful.

The SeaGen system is different. It is more like a wind generator that anything else. The unit installed at Strangford Lough consists of two rotors, each of which is 16 meters in diameter, anchored to the sea floor.

The rotors, which look like giant airplane propellers, turn at a rate of 14 revolutions per minute and can generate 600 KW each.

The benefits of this technology over wind technology is that the tides are much more predictable than the wind so you can pretty much depend on it generating electricity in a predictable way. The rotors are limited to 14 revolutions per minute because that is considered slow enough so that marine life can stay out of their way, and the movement of the rotors won’t cause any changes in the tidal flow.

I have heard people say that there is enough power available from tidal sources in the English Channel to power the whole of the UK but that I think that has been sheer speculation but there is certainly plenty of potential wherever there are fast running tides where the water is deep enough for the turbines. Since this type of generation facility is new the cost is still too high to be competitive with fossil fuel generation but prices will come down as the technology matures. Still, the advent of workable tidal generation adds one more renewable energy source to our basket of generation options.

The Strangford Lough facility is due to go into regular production in November, 2008.

Sunday July 27, 2008 — Pouring Cold Water — VW Researcher pours water on electric car dream read a headline on DW World.de. I read on and found the same old arguments I have heard over and over again for many years.

The article reported on research from Juergen Leohold, chief research officer at Volkswagen Group who said the key problems were gaining adequate range, the huge cost and a lack of industrial capacity to make high-energy batteries. This sounds very familiar and of course like any of these statements there is a lot of truth to it.

The truth is that there is a lack of capacity to make high-energy batteries. We know that we have batteries of adequate capacity to drive and electric vehicle 300 miles on a charge. We also know that the cost of these batteries is prohibitive.

We have this chicken and egg situation where the cost of high capacity batteries is so high that sales are low. Because sales are low it isn’t worth the cost of setting up the kind of mass production that will bring prices down.

Mr. Leohold also went on to say that predictions that millions of people would be driving electric cars by the middle of the 2010s as very optimistic adding It will take 20 to 25 years before electric cars achieve a market share of more than 10 percent.

I think this statement was made so open ended that it would almost be impossible for it not to be determined to be true. In the end the truth is that at the moment people are becoming interested in electric cars but cars are being sold by the hundreds rather than the thousands. This isn’t unexpected. Take cell phones as an example. When cell phones first came out back in the 1960s they were large heavy and very expensive.

Only a few of them were sold to early adopters. Now almost everyone you meet has a cell phone that will fit easily into the palm of their hand.

The same is going to happen with electric cars. Right now the early adopters are putting down $100,000 to buy a Tesla or a Tango, or are spending $67,000 to get a $15,000 Scion Xb converted to electricity by AC Propulsion. On the low end of the market the G-Wiz is selling as fast as then can be imported into the UK and ZAP is having problems keeping the Xebra in stock.

There is also a new round of electric vehicles coming into the market. These cars, like the one currently being crash tested by Miles Motor Cars and the Aptera will drop the price of freeway capable electric cars into the $30-40,000 price range.

Mr. Leohold also announced that VW were working on a small EV that was due to be launched in 2010 and also said that We have an ambition to electrify more than just the really small cars, but also our main model series, the Golf.

It is now becoming evident that all the major car makers are working on electric cars and 2010 is the year we should start to see these cars coming into showrooms.

So, what about it taking 20-25 years for EVs to capture 10% of the car market. I am reminded of the talk that surrounded the Prius back in the early days. The first year that the Prius was introduced to the US market only 24,000 units were sold. Everyone said that Toyota was loosing thousands of dollars on each vehicle. Toyota continued to sell the Prius and eventually Toyota said that they were now making a small profit on each vehicle sold.

Lots of people were still saying that Toyota couldn’t possibly be making a profit on these cars. Well, Toyota have now sold over a million Prius and it has become obvious to all but the most blinkered that they are making a profit on this car.

Still, hybrids only represent less than 1% of the world car market.

Response to Toyota’s success with the Prius has had a big impact on carmakers, way out of proportion to its market share. Now most of the worlds big carmakers are putting out hybrid models and the second largest producer of hybrids, Honda, has stated that it is going to produce a new model that will be a hybrid only. They are copying Toyota’s strategy of having a vehicle that is identified easily as a hybrid.

The same will probably happen with electric cars and plug-in hybrids. One car will really capture the imagination and set a trend that the other car companies will follow. It may, as Mr. Leohold suggests, take 20 to 25 years before there is significant in-roads into the personal vehicle market, but as it becomes more obvious that oil is becoming scarce and that we can’t drill our way out of the problem, the EV market will take flight.

I think that one million EVs on the road world wide is quite do-able by 2015 if the big car makers choose to get product to market in the timeframes they have quoted.

Sunday July 20, 2008 — South Pasadena Alt Fuel Vehicle Show and Film Festival — I just got back from South Pasadena where I attended the second annual alterative fuel vehicle show and film festival. This year the event had grown a little over last year but still preserved that small town gathering in the big city.

The Pasadena Alternative Fuel Vehicle Show and Film Festival is held each year in July on El Centro Ave at Fair Oaks. Just half a block away is the Rialto Theater which hosts the Film Festival side of the event.

This year the Film Festival featured free showings of “The 11 th hour”, a documentary directed by Nadia Connors and Leila Connors Petersen narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio that documents the precarious position our earth’s environment is in and offers up solutions. and “Artic Tale”, directed by Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson and narrated by Queen Latifah, which blends the stories of a walrus and her calf and that of a polar bear and her cubs to illustrate how harsh life in the artic is.

Since I was there to see electric vehicles I opted not to go the the Film Festival portion but just to head for the display. First thing was to stop by the Environmental Motors booth pictured above for a quick word with Trayn Sokolow, pictured right, to see if the Smart EV she is expecting from azsmart had arrived. When I got to her booth she was already talking to a customer who was waiting for the demo vehicle to arrive so she could take a test drive and it appears that Environmental Motors has a waiting list of over 50 people.

I am a little skeptical about this company so I haven’t listed it on evfinder.com yet. My issue is that the car is a 2006 Smart that has been converted in the UK and, as the 2006 Smart has to be modified to conform to US Crash test requirements, and there is no indication that these vehicles have been modified, I am not sure they can be legally registered here in the US. They may slip passed the DMV and alternatively they may get stuck in Customs and never get into the country.

I was disappointed to hear that there had been yet another delay in getting the vehicle into the country and I could hear the frustration in Taryn’s voice. I really hope this pans out because I really think there is a market for an electric smart here in California.

Next to the Environmental Motors booth was a Dymac truck. Unfortunately there was nobody from Dymac present so I didn’t get more than a quick glance before moving on.

I took a walk up and looked at the Chevy Tahoe hybrid that was being displayed by the local Chevy dealer. The car looks like a standard Tahoe but has a two phase hybrid system that allows the truck to run for a limited distance on the electric motor and shuts of the gas motor at stop signs. If you must drive a full sized SUV then the Tahoe is a good choice since it gets quite a bit better fuel economy than your average full sized SUV.

Personally I prefer a smaller more fuel efficient car.

I stopped by the Miles Motors stand next and had a brief chat with Greg Kosmatka their Regional Sales Manager for southern California. Miles had their ZX40s NEV on display along with their ZX40ST work truck picture left.

What I wanted to talk to Greg about however was the Miles XS500 highway speed sedan. He confirmed that they are now testing the prototype at their Santa Monica facility and had begun the US crash testing process. I asked him how that was going and he replied very well.

He also confirmed that Miles are still targeting a price of somewhere in the mid thirty thousand dollar range for this car which will make it very affordable.

The local Chrysler dealer was also on hand with a four seat GEM that looked a little worn and had obviously done a lot of test drives. The GEM is the best selling Neighborhood Electric Vehicle and still controls something like 80% of the NEV market so I was happy to see a GEM dealer out showing off the car.

I stopped by the Southern California Edison stand where they were getting people to fill out a survey about what sort of AC, heater and refrigerator/freezer they were using. The reward for filling out this survey was a very nice canvas grocery bag and a choice of either a compact florescent bulb or a pack of four low power spotlights. Since I don’t have the spotlights at home I got myself a nice 23W CFL.

I already have a nearly all my bulbs converted to CFLs but I can always use a spare.

Honda was also represented by their local dealer and had a Civic GX natural gas vehicle on display. see picture to left. They also had a fuel cell vehicle there too which appeared to be on loan from the City of LA. It was a pity they didn’t have a Clarity fuel cell vehicle there but I don’t think they start distributing them yet so there are probably no display vehicles available.

There were a couple of other hydrogen powered vehicles being show, The GM Equinox fuel cell vehicle, and the BWM Hydrogen 7 which is a standard looking Series 7 BMW that is designed to run on either gasoline of hydrogen. The Hydrogen 7 is not a fuel cell vehicle but a traditional ICE vehicle that can be fueled with both gasoline and liquid hydrogen.

Cruise car were there again this year showing one of their Chinese built Think Neighbor Clones with a very attractive gold paint job, and a bright red golf cart. What sets their vehicles apart is that they install solar panels on the roof. The solar panels aren’t enough to give any significant range to the vehicles but the slow trickle charge whenever the vehicles are parked in the sun does keep the lead acid batteries active and helps prevent sulfation, a major cause of battery failure.

If EV conversions are your cup of tea than AC Propulsion were at the event again this year showing off their eBox Scion Xb conversion. I also found a nice Chrysler PT conversion done by Electric Vehicle Enterprises. see picture on the right. This car on display uses lead acid but you have a choice of battery chemistries that offer anything from 60 miles per charge up to 100 miles per charge.

I didn’t get much more info since the guy manning the booth was talking with potential customers. I grabbed one of their flyers and a card but neither the flyer nor their web site contains any real information about the conversion or what they charge to convert a car.

Energy CS were also their again with one of their plug-in Prius conversions. Their solution is to add a large lithium battery pack that provides about 60 miles of electric only range by fooling the Prius’ computer into thinking that its traction batteries are full so it runs the car on electric only, below about 37 mph, to try and get the batteries back down into their normal operating range of 40-80%. Grid chargeable hybrid vehicles are going to be the next wave and Energy CS, along with Calcars.org, led the way in building a workable plug-in Prius solution.

I had soon seen everything there was to see so it was time to hop in the old Prius and head back to LA. Like last year I had a good time at the South Pasadena Alternative Fuel Vehicle and Film Festival and definitely left wanting more. I hope that next year we are going to see a lot more plug in hybrids and more electric vehicles on display.

Sunday July 13, 2008 — EV as Billboard — I was driving home on Pico Blvd. on Friday night and up ahead I saw a tiny purple car. I thought to myself that looks like a Xebra . I caught up to the car a few minutes later and it was indeed a bright purple Xebra covered in El Pollo Loco logos.

After a little research I found that El Pollo Loco, the fast food chain famous for it’s grilled chicken, had opened a catering and delivery operation in Beverly Hills. They have purchased two ZAP Xebra sedans as delivery vehicles for a number of reasons. The first is that with gas prices at over $4.50 per gallon in the LA area the cost of fuel was killing them.

The other biggie was that the Xebra gets noticed.

If you have a vehicle that gets noticed then the obvious thing to do is to plaster your logo all over it and use it as a rolling billboard. People see those little cars gliding along the streets of Beverly Hills and surrounding communities and they are going to remember El Pollo Loco next time they are looking for take-out.

Using cars and trucks as rolling rolling billboards isn’t anything new, it has been going on for years. If you ever visit Las Vegas you will notice that taxis not only serve to take you where you want to go, but are also equipped with advertising signs that can tell you where the local strip joint is or point you to the hottest ….

El Pollo Loco isn’t even the first company to slap their logo on a Xebra, Domino’s Pizza did that in 2007 when they ran trials in Las Vegas (see video courtesy of youtube ). So far I haven’t heard how the trials came out but I’m sure the Xebras got noticed. Domino’s have used this concept before when they slapped their logo on a Corbin Sparrow. This was in the early days of the Sparrow when Corbin Motors were having trouble with the controller and that particular test didn’t go very well.

The Sparrow, of course was bought out by Myers Motors who fixed most of the issues and turned out the much more reliable NmG. NiceSale.com have been using one to advertise their company.

Me and My EV was another company that tried to capitalize on this. Their concept was quite simple, buy a bunch of NEVs, mostly Th!nk Neighbors, equip them with advertising billboards, then rent them out to local companies who would use them in the course of their business while advertising their wares. The idea was a good one and their location on the Peninsula at Newport Beach gave then access to many waterfront businesses in an area including Balboa Island and Lido Island.

Unfortunately Me and My EV appears to have gone out of business. In part I think that this was because they focused only on rentals to businesses and would not rent to visitors. Now, if they had a rental location on Balboa Island that rented to the hoards of tourists who descend on the island throughout the year, they could have sold a lot more advertising space and also made money from NEV rentals.

Skot Meyer runs an advertising business in Las Vegas. He also uses the Xebra, this time the Pick-up, as a moving billboard. He builds advertising for companies like Sands Casino (see Xebra in Commercial courtesy of youtube ) and so far the use of the Xebra is proving very popular among his clients.

People have also made lots of use of the Smart as rolling advertising. I see lots of them with logos proudly displayed. The problem is that the Smart is becoming so common that people soon won’t be paying much attention to them. By the time that Daimler gets the Smart EV to the US the smart will already be so commonplace that it won’t stand out in crowed that much.

This is already true in Europe where the Smart has been on sale for a number of years and is now seen in large numbers.

What is clear is that if your business can make use of a quirky electric vehicle like the Xebra, NmG, or the Big Man NEV, which are going to get a lot of attention, they will make a a very good advertising tool. Going electric also enhances your green image not to mention cutting your CO2 footprint. It will be interesting to see how the experiment at El Pollo Loco goes.

Let’s hope we soon get hoards of Purple Xebras delivering Chicken all over the country.

Sunday July 5, 2008 — Solar Moratorium Lifted — On May 29 the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it was putting a moratorium on approving request for the installation of solar power plants on land it controls while it did an environmental impact study that would take two years. The public outcry that this generated caused the BLM to reverse the decision this week.

It seems that the Bush administration is trying its hardest to block anything and everything that would get in the way of the oil industry. Those who subscribe to conspiracy theories are even starting to think that the current sky high cost of crude oil is a way to manipulate congress into allowing drilling in the artic wild life refuge and off the coasts of California and Texas. Blocking the expansion of renewable energy sites is just another way of propagating our addiction to fossil fuels.

The BLM currently has applications for about 130 solar sites to be sited on public lands that it controls. Some of these applications have been sitting at the BLM since 2005 and so far it hasn’t approved a single request to build a solar power station. These requests are mostly to build in the deserts of the western states of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and would provide enough renewable energy to power 20 million homes.

They worry about the environmental impact these sites would have on mostly barren desert but don’t seem to have a problem with the much more severe environmental impact of oil or gas extraction when they issue permits to drill on public land.

When the New York times broke the news about the Moratorium there was a public outcry. It wasn’t just environmental groups that responded either. There was an outpouring of disgust with the decision from the general public but also from politicians such as Representative Mark Udall of Colorado and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who noted that as we speak, tens of millions of acres are leased to oil companies for drilling.

The wonderful thing about a democracy like that in the USA is that when the people get behind something they can move even mountains, or in this case the BLM who reversed their decision under intense public pressure. Now, this doesn’t mean that there will be permits in the mail any time soon. It is easy to announce that you are reversing your decision on a moratorium but that doesn’t mean they are actually going to issue permits in the next two years, only that they have told the public that they don’t have an official policy to not issue permits for the next two years.

We still need to keep the heat on so that they will actually do the right thing and begin to get these solar power plants under construction. The US economy needs these power plants and while we want to make sure we don’t totally wreck the desert environment we also don’t need two years to decide on the impact these power plants will have. If the BLM has been looking at some of these sites since 2005 they should be in a position to make a decision now.

It always amazes me how people think we can get out of the current oil crisis by drilling our way out even though we know that it would take 10 years to be able to exploit the oil in the Artic Wild Life Refuge and the oil would barely last us 10 years after that. We really have to get ourselves out of the current hole before it is too late. We have to begin moving to a more sustainable way of living and that means three important things; we need to use less energy; we need to move to electric powered vehicles; and we need to get our electricity from renewable resources.

Sunday June 29, 2008 — Infrastructure Charges — I have always said that over the long term we need to have public charging infrastructure and we need to find a way to charge for it. Now an innovative company in the UK, Electromotive, has found a way to do just that.

The UK is the current hot bed for electric vehicles. The country has had a long standing tradition of on-road electric vehicles as milk was delivered to houses throughout the country each morning by electric powered milk floats. More recently congestion charges in London have driven the sales of electric vehicles like the G-Wiz and the Nice Mega City to the point where there are often long waits to obtain a car.

There has also been a number of electric vehicle charging stations, about 100 around the country, that have been installed to help make these vehicle, which typically have a range of only about 30 miles, much more useable. The need for public charging becomes even more acute when you remember that in the UK many people live in houses that don’t have any parking necessitating the use of street parking. Obviously there is a need to provide on-street charging if electric vehicles are to become commonplace.

Electromotive created a simple charging station that is basically a tower that contains a standard 240V receptacle covered by a small door. The picture above, taken at EVS 23, shows a Smart EV connected to the charging station. Now, they don’t charge directly for the electricity that is used. Instead there is a Ј75 (about $150) annual charge to use these stations. The charge gets the EV owner a key to the door that covers the receptacle and will allow them to plug in at any of the 100 locations nation wide.

The charger itself is smart enough that it will shut down if the door is forced open.

Electromotive has started talks with various city councils and the number of charging locations is expected to increase to about a thousand in the near future as chargers are being installed in parking lots, shopping centers and on residential streets.

This type of charging station provides one of the key elements needed to make electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids effective. It will allow people to charge and get a lot more electric only driving. I still see the need for fast charging when highway ready electric vehicles become more available and more affordable but this is a very good start.

It remains to be seen if this idea can be brought to the US where laws against reselling electricity constrict the ability to build pay-as-you-go EV charging infrastructure.

Sunday June 22, 2008 — Dump the Pump — last Wednesday was Dump the Pump day in the US. The idea of dump the pump day is that everyone leave their car at home and commute to work using public transport, bikes or walking.

This was the third annual Dump the Pump day but the first time that I have heard of such a thing. If you are going to have a Dump the Pump day it needs to be publicized with politicians and celebrities pledging to take public transit and public service ads to get the word out.

Every so often I get this chain email forwarded on by someone that suggest that if everyone boycotts on of the oil companies, usually Exxon Mobile, for a day the price of gas will go down. Well, this just isn’t going to work and I have already addressed the reasons for this in a past blog. Dump the Pump is different.

If we dump the pump for a day then we will cut oil consumption by something like 18 million barrels and that is a significant drop in demand.

Electric vehicle drivers of course Dump the Pump every day they drive electric and I am looking forward to the day when very few people need to fill up their gas cars but until then, if you really want to cut gas prices then use less gas.

For Dump the pump day some transit authorities will even let people ride for free. This gives people a chance to find out if public transit works for them. Hopefully many people will find that it is much better to sit in a bus and read or listen to their I-Pod than it is to negotiate rush hour traffic.

I have often said on this blog that one of the keys to cutting oil consumption and reducing our carbon footprint is to have strong viable public transit. I have lived in London where nobody in their right mind commutes to work in a car unless you are one of those few who actually need a car during the day, for example to make sales calls. London transit carries over 13 million people per day and gets them to their destination safely and on time for the most part.

I currently live in LA where taking public transport can be quite a challenge. The good news is that LA is getting better and if they continue to expand the light rail and subway systems they might eventually have a system that will allow people to Dump the Pump most of the time.

I have also looked at station car and car share projects and think that this is an idea who’s time has come. If you have a city class electric car, such as a Smart EV, to get you back and forwards to the train station or the grocery store, and have access to a variety of other vehicles for those times when you need to pick up lumber from the hardware store or take the family on vacation, the amount of gas used would be greatly reduced.

So go ahead and Dump the Pump and don’t wait until next year’s Dump the Pump day. If you don’t like the price of gasoline then do something about it. That something is to use less.

Sunday June 14, 2008 — Battery Talk — Earlier this week I had an interesting conversation with a guy who is planning to jump start the production of fuel cells. He was asking if I would provide input on the process. I told him that I would but that he should be aware that I am of the opinion that fuel cells aren’t the correct way to go.

The resultant email exchange got me thinking a lot about battery technology.

Batteries are one of the critical components of a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), possibly the most critical component. Batteries are the storage medium that is used to provide an on-board source of energy for the vehicle. There are lots of ways to store energy.

The gas tank in my Prius is nothing more than an energy storage medium where in this case the energy is stored in the form of gasoline.

Gasoline is a very dense way to store energy, one of the best that has been found to date if you ignore all the nasty side effects like air pollution and global warming. In a fuel cell vehicle energy is stored in the form of hydrogen, which when oxidized on a fuel cell produces heat, water and energy in the form of electricity.

A couple of other interesting ways to store energy is in a spinning flywheel and in a capacitor. The issue with both these is that the energy tends to dissipate rather quickly if you let them sit without energy input.

In a BEV the energy is stored in the form of a chemical reaction in the battery. There are lots of different battery chemistries to choose from with the most common being Lead Acid. The Lead Acid batteries (PbA) have been around since the middle of the 19th century and are widely used in automotive applications for starter batteries.

In electric vehicle applications they function quite well. They are very good at delivering a lot of power in a short span of time. Modern PbA batteries are quite capable of delivering as much as 1000 amps from a 144V pack which is enough to provide neck snapping acceleration for an electric vehicle. The problem with PbA is that it weights a lot for the amount of energy that it can store.

Another issue is cycle life, the number of times the battery can be charged and discharged. For most PbA this ranges from 200 to 500 cycles which means that in a traditional EV application the batteries need to be changed out on a regular basis.

Since PbA has a relatively low energy density it also gives limited range. Typically 20 to 30 miles for many electric vehicles before they need to be charged. Deep discharges can also damage PbA batteries so it is best if they aren’t discharged more than 80% of capacity further limiting range.

There are many other battery chemistries out there that provide better energy density. European electric vehicles often used nickel cadmium batteries but the European EV makers have mostly switched to the Swiss make NaNiCl Zeba batteries. In the search for more energy density, often expressed as watt hours per kilogram, companies are more and more turning to lithium based batteries. AC Propulsion was one of the first to do this when they built a battery pack from about 6800 of the small Li Ion cells often used in lap top computer batteries.

It was the only way we could get to our requirement of 150 WHrs/kg Tom Gage of AC Propulsion once told me. The biggest issue with this type of battery is cost, in excess of $20,000 per pack.

So, what do we really need for energy storage for an electric vehicle?

In an ideal world most people would like a range of about 300 miles per charge which requires an energy density of at least 150 WHrs/kg. The storage media needs to be able to deliver this in the height of summer in Phoenix or the depths of Winter in Minneapolis. It needs to last for the lifetime of the vehicle, which is currently at least 10 years and 150,000 miles.

We need to be able to charge it up quickly which I will define as 10 minutes or less. Finally we need to be relatively cheap. I would say adding no more than $2,500 to the marginal cost of the car.

Is this realistic?

I did say that this is in an ideal world. In the real world we can build quite functional electric vehicles with batteries that don’t come even close to these specs. There are plenty of people here in the US, more than 50,000 in fact, that are able to function quite well with existing Lead Acid batteries. The RAV4 EV is another good example. Toyota specifies a range of 70 miles per charge, although many drivers report being able to get more than 100 miles per charge.

There are now quite a few vehicles that have traveled over 100,000 miles since they were first purchased in 2002 and are still on their original NiMH batteries. I have started to hear of vehicles that are loosing capacity at around 120,000 miles but all of them still appear to be able to get 70 miles per charge still.

Battery manufacturers have concentrated on increasing energy density. In my opinion we are already at the stage where the next generation of vehicles can give quite adequate range for a good many people so what they need to do is to concentrate on cycle life. We need to have batteries that will last the life of the car so the cost of battery replacement doesn’t need to be factored in.

If test data is to be believed, Altairnano have already achieved this and can produce a battery that will take a large truck or SUV 100 miles per charge and last for 15,000 cycles, more than the projected life of the truck. The problem with the Altairnano batteries is that they are very expensive but will work for the early adopter.

The next thing to do is to get the price down to affordable levels. This is somewhat harder to accomplish because it requires mass production and also needs materials that are cheap enough to meet the price targets. Once again we find our selves in the chicken and egg situation, to achieve mass production the manufacturer needs to be able to sell at least 10,000 packs per year for 3 years, otherwise it will be impossible to amortize the cost of building the production line at a reasonable cost per battery. To sell that many packs will need someone with the distribution and sales channels to sell that volume of vehicles. This can be quite difficult.

Take the case of Tesla for example. Their Roadster is selling remarkably well for a $100,000 sports car but this still represents only around 600 cars per year which is too little to reach the magic 10,000 packs number.

The answer here is to get the big manufacturers to start building cars. Nissan for example have the sales and distribution channels to sell 10,000 electric cars per year for the next three years if they are prepared to sell the cars world wide. Any of the other big OEMs are also able to do this.

Using the same packs in different models, such as Nissan’s follow-up to the Altima Hybrid would also help build volume for the batteries.

Once costs have been brought under control and vehicle sales begin to climb the final pieces of the puzzle can be put into place. The energy density of the batteries can be increased to the point where a 300 mile car can be built. Fast charging infrastructure can be installed so that the new generation of cars can be refueled in minutes rather than hours, and the EV can replace the ICE in most people’s garages.

We know that oil production is either beginning to decline or will start to do so quite soon. We know that burning oil in our vehicles is bad for both the health of both us and our planet. We know that dependence on foreign oil is the biggest threat to national security that we face.

We need to move towards electric vehicles as fast as we can and we can’t wait until we have the perfect battery.

Sunday June 8, 2008 — Project Driveway — Regular readers of my blog will know that I tried to sign up for GM’s Project Driveway and was rejected. After all I have whined about it enough in these blogs. This week I actually got to take a short drive in one of the project driveway fuel cell vehicles.

While I have a big stamp on my forehead saying rejected by GM, my friend and RAV4 EV driver David Shelton was accepted into the program and became one of the drivers in the first group who got to experience the Chevy Equinox fuel cell vehicle for three months under Project Driveway. His three months was up last Wednesday but since GM was encouraging their drivers to give test drives he set up a lunch last Monday so I could get to experience the car first hand.

David and I met in Aliso Viejo down in Orange County around noon and I hoped in for a quick spin down to a local Mexican restaurant. When we got to the parking lot David shut of the car and told me to listen. The car whirred for a few seconds then let out what to me sounded like a sneeze.

Apparently this is the car blowing water out to clear the fuel cell stacks and prevent damage.

Over lunch David talked a little about his experience with the car. The first round of drivers was spread between Southern California and New York and his had been the most trouble free car of the bunch. He had experienced only two incidents, one where the car seemed to surge on the transition between regen braking and regular braking and the other was a situation where the fuel cell stack would not start.

Apparently the second problem had been experienced by all the drivers. GM fixed both problems and since then the car has behaved flawlessly.

When it comes to alternative fuel vehicles there are a couple of questions that need to be asked, the first is the range question and the second is the experience with refueling.

David told me that he had been getting around 150 to 170 miles of range on a tank of hydrogen and thought that he could get 200 if he really tried. He also said that he didn’t think the car had been tuned for range but rather for power and thought that range could be increased in the future.

Fueling had been pretty easy for David also. Keeping in mind that one of the criteria for being selected for Project Driveway is that you live near a refueling station, in David’s case the one at UC Irvine. There are currently two flavors of refueling that are available, one is a 700 bar (approximately 10,000 psi) and the other is 350 bar (approximately 5,000 psi). Filling up on the 700 bar fueling station takes about 10 minutes, not much longer than it takes to fuel a standard Chevy Equinox.

David had one instance when the 700 bar system wasn’t working and he had to use the 350 bar system. On this occasion the car had taken about 40 minutes to fill. This illustrates as much as anything why nasty smelly old gasoline is difficult to displace from our transportation paradigm.

After lunch David handed me the keys and let me drive the car back up to my office. Starting the car is simple, you insert the keys into the switch on the steering column and turn them — just like starting a regular car. The difference then becomes apparent, no sound of the engine springing into life.

There are a few whirring sounds and you wait the green light on the dash to show the car is ready. This takes a while, but not much longer than it takes for my Prius to boot.

The car drives very nicely with smooth acceleration and handles quite well for its size. The Chevy Equinox is one of the new generation of vehicles known as crossover vehicles. It is built on a car platform rather than on a truck platform and thus drives more like a car.

The power steering was precise not overly light like you find on some GM cars.

The route back up to my office is up a long steep hill and the car was able to accelerate briskly even on the steepest stretches. I was being followed by a Mustang and I was actually pulling away from it. The thing that struck me most was how quite the car was.

There was a slight whine as I started to accelerate up the hill but after that the car was totally silent. I have driven quite a few electric cars over the years including both generations of the EV1, and they all had a high pitched whine at speed. The GM Equinox is the quietest electric car I have driven to date, even quieter than the RAV4 EV.

Back at my office David popped the hood and showed me what’s underneath. The whole engine compartment is taken up by the fuel cell stack. There really isn’t much to see just a big silver box with lots of large orange cables connected to it.

The Orange cables are the ones that carry high current from the 400V stack. under the covers on the right was what looked to be a DC-DC converter. Otherwise, not much to see.

I was really quite impressed with this car. I know that there is a long way to go before affordable fuel cell cars are ready to be sold to the general public, and I am of the opinion that fuel cells will never be used in large quantities for personal transportation because batteries just make more sense. However, GM has demonstrated once again that they are quite capable of engineering excellent electric vehicles.

If they transport this technology to the Chevy Volt, Saturn Vue PHEV and eventually to full BEVs, there is hope for them yet.

Sunday June 1, 2008 — EV Conversion — Lets face it, there isn’t a lot of choice when it comes to freeway capable electric vehicles. Those that are available like the e-box, tesler roadster, or Tango are very expensive, and the Myers Motors NmG only seats one person. Even the array of vehicles available in Europe like the G-Wiz and the Mega City are not built for the highway — so what are we to do while we wait for companies like Nissan to start selling electric cars.

One solution that has been around for a long time is to take a car that has been designed as a gas car and then convert it to electric. This solution can often bring a car that has a good body but a blown engine back to life. Range and top speed, always a tradeoff with electric vehicles, can be tailored to your needs, and the car can often be upgraded to new technology as it becomes available, especially when we are talking batteries.

The choice now is between doing it yourself and having one of the professional converters, of which there are quite a few around the country, do the work.

Doing the conversion yourself has the advantage of letting you learn all about the various EV components and makes you into an instant EV expert. Well, I say instant but there is a lot of work involved and conversions often take months.

On the other hand, having a professional do the work will get the car on the road much faster with the trade off being increased costs. Reverend Gadget at Left Coast Electric for example can take an Ford Focus, Mazda Miata, or PT Cruiser to his shop and get it converted in 3-7 business days. A custom conversion will take a little longer but can usually be completed in 7-10 business days.

That is assuming he can fit you in and doesn’t have a line of people waiting to get their cars made into EVs. After all, if we assume 250 business days per year and a 5 day average for conversion that’s just 50 cars per year.

To do the conversion yourself, as a first time EV converter, you are going to need a lot of help. The first thing I usually recommend it to wander down to the local library and see if they have a copy of Convert it by Michael Brown, or Build your own electric car by Bob Brandt. Both of these are excellent books that walk you through the various steps in the conversion process, including how to determine the speed v range trade off that is right for you.

There are also a number of people who sell conversion How To books or CDs on eBay.

Once you have the basics of the conversion process you need to select a suitable donor vehicle. Trucks are often easier to convert than cars, mostly because it is much easier to build a battery box in the truck bed, and Bob Brandt’s book actually walks you through the conversion of a Ford Ranger. However, almost any car can be converted although the lighter the better in terms of range and top speed.

It is usually best to select a model with manual transmission since cars with automatic transmissions don’t make good donor vehicles.

The next item is to select the EV components that you will need. There are plenty of people out there that will sell you individual components or a complete kit. For example Metric Mind, based in Happy Valley, OR. offers kits to convert your car to an AC drive while Grass Roots Electric Vehicle, who have branches in Fort Pierce, FL and Las Vegas, NV offers DC conversion kits.

Electro Automotive in Felton, CA sells both AC and DC conversion kits.

One of the key components of the conversion in the interface plate that is used to connect the electric motor to the vehicles transmission. Selection of the donor vehicle often relies on the interface plates that are offered in the vendors package although most sellers of EV components can get an interface plat custom made for any vehicle.

If you decide to build your own then you can select the various components separately depending on your need. In this case you can go to one of the component suppliers of buy the parts directly from the manufacturer.

Then it is just a matter of a lot of elbow grease. First you have to remove the old components form the donor vehicle. That is all the pieces that are related to the internal combustion engine including the motor, exhaust system, and fuel tank. You will usually leave the transmission in place.

Next you have to connect the electric motor to the transmission using the interface plate. Next you add the electronic components such as the speed controller, charger, DC-DC converter and various switches and contactors. Finally you need to fabricate a battery box or boxes to hold the batteries then install a set of batteries to drive the car.

For the first time converter there are other resources that can help you along. One place to get advice, and sometimes even a set or two of helping hands, is your local chapter of EAA. Most chapters have several people who have converted a car or two and will be willing to chip in with advice and assistance when you run into problems.

Another good source of help is often the people who sold you the components. Many of the companies that sell EV components have extensive experience in EV conversion and will be only too happy to give you a guiding hand. Finally, there are numerous email lists and forums on the internet that can answer questions as you go along.

One last option, and one I think is good for those who want an EV but don’t have a donor vehicle already in hand is to buy a used EV. These used EVs often require some work to get them running and this can often be much easier than converting one from scratch. At any given time there are dozens of EVs up for sale in various states from full working order to a car that needs to be totally restored. To find a used EV just click on the classifieds button at the top of this page and look down at the vehicles on sale.

At the bottom of the page is a list of cars on sale at ebay and below that there are lots of links to other sites that advertise EVs for sale.

For information on where to find the things you need to convert an EV go the EV Converters, Parts, and Accessories section on my links page at http://evfinder.com/evsites.htm#EV%20parts

Sunday May 25, 2008 — Peak Oil 2006 — A new report released in London by the German based Energy Watch Group suggests that world oil production peaked in 2006 and will decline to half current volume by 2030.

Overall the report predicts that oil production will fall from the current level of around 81 million barrels a day to something like 39 million barrels a day in 2030. This would, of course, have dramatic impact on the world economy, especially here in the US who consumes about 25% of the daily production total.

In 1956, M. King Hubbert first predicted that peak production in an oil field would occur when half its reserve had been extracted. He used this theory to successfully predict that US oil production would peak some time between 1965 and 1970. Since then his theory, now called Hubbert Peak Theory has been used to predict when an oil field’s production would peak. The theory can also be used to predict when world oil production will peak, know as peak oil, but this is based on having accurate reserves which isn’t always possible.

For example it was recently discovered that Kuwait had overstated reserves to enable then to boost their OPEC production quota.

The Energy Watch Group based their findings on current oil production levels not on the level of reserve as is usual when looking at long term oil prospects. Based on a projected reserve of 1.255 Giga barrels the International Energy Agency see no impact on oil production in the near term. The Energy Watch Group believe that reserves are only about two thirds of the current value which would have a significant impact on life as we know it.

I am not sure that production has peaked but the evidence does seem to point to peak oil happening sooner rather than later so it we are to avoid world wide catastrophe we need to start cutting consumption now. I am of the opinion that, to quote from the 1980’s TV series Knight Rider, One man can make a difference. Reduce your energy footprint and you might just start a trend that get everyone reducing their energy footprint.

While our governments can wield large amounts of money to push things like renewable energy, electric and hybrid cars, and energy efficient appliances, we as individuals can effect change if we move on a mass scale. I just read somewhere that the Toyota Prius is once again in short supply as high gasoline costs push people toward cars that offer higher mpg. Other cars that have booming sales are the Honda Fit, the Smart fortwo and the Ford Focus.

I still haven’t seen people do the main thing that will help cut down on gas consumption though; slow down. This week I was driving in my Prius on the 405 at a steady 65 mph and was still one of the slowest cars on the road. The norm seemed to be 75mph with a few cars weaving in and out of traffic at 80 or more.

In my Prius, increasing speed from 65 to 75 costs me almost 6 mpg so who knows how much more that Ford Explorer driver was using as he raced passed me at 85.

One thing of interest that I read is that for the first time a speed limit of about 75mph has been set on the stretch of autobahn controlled by the city of Brehman. The city controls a scant 37 miles of autobahn but the speed limit is causing contention among Germans as they have long been used to driving as fast as they wished on these roads. I expect to see more speed limits on these roads if we start to see gas shortage in the future.

Without drastic reductions in gas usage here in the US I can envisage a time when we return to the 55mph speed limits driven by the OPEC embargo of the 1970s.

Our direction is clear, we need to cut down on our use of fossil fuels and we need to start doing it today. There are many ways that we can do this starting from the simple expedient of making sure your tires are properly inflated to replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact florescent to starting a carpool to driving and electric car. To quote the Nike commercial Just do it.

Sunday May 18, 2008 — Project Better Place — This week San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that San Francisco would be the first US city to participate in Project Better Place.

Project Better Place is the brain child of Shai Agassi, former President, Products and Technology Group for software giant SAP AG. The idea behind the project better place is nothing new, utilize electric cars by a combination of available charging stations and battery swap facilities.

Both of these have been tried before. Back in 1894 Morris and Salem designed an electric car that was put into service as a taxi cab in Philadelphia and other cities. The cab company had a battery swap facility that could swap out a discharged battery pack for a fully charged one in a reported 75 seconds.

During the MOA period of the California Zero Emission Vehicle mandate about 400 electric vehicle charging stations were installed around the state and many of these are still in service today. They see little use but that is more a function of the lack of EVs than anything else. Still, even with several charging stations within a block or two of their home the manufacturers would not lease a car to someone who couldn’t install a charger in their home.

Shai Agassi has already raised over $200,000, 0000 for Project Better Place and has signed on both Israel and Denmark for his pilot project. Nissan, and Renault, also seem to be on-board. Carl Ghosn, CEO of the Renault Nissan partnership, has announced that they plan to mass market an electric car.

Renault have already exhibited a mock-up of an electric vehicle with the Project Better Place swappable battery so things are moving right along.

The idea is simple, you buy an electric car without batteries. The batteries are leased to you for a separate monthly payment. Now, most of the time the car will have more than enough range for your needs and you will charge at home overnight just like most EV drivers do now.

There will also be parking spaces around town which will automatically charge the car when you park there. This will allow apartment dwellers, who don’t have access to charge an EV right now, the ability to charge their cars.

Now, if you need to take a long trip you will be able to drive close to the full range of your car and then pull into a battery swap facility. The batteries in your car will be swapped out with a fully recharged pack and you will be on your way in a few minutes. With a range of say 150 miles on the car you would probably need two battery pack swaps on a drive from LA to Las Vegas but that wouldn’t delay you that long.

Now, this is a very sound plan on paper but I do have few issues with it. First, to make the plan work effectively we would really need to standardize on battery packs. This is going to be an almost impossible task since a two seat car like the Smart EV would require a whole lot different pack from say a Dodge Epic electric minivan. So now you have to deal with setting the correct type of pack into the car, or having different swap stations depending on the model of car you drive.

I, being the worrying kind, would also be concerned that the new pack might not be as good as the old one and would perhaps not get me to my next scheduled stop. This can be mitigated to some extent by having plenty of swap stations along the way.

The other issue with the swap stations is the infrastructure costs. Imagine millions of EVs on the road and lots of people heading along I15 to Las Vegas for the memorial day weekend. The swap station would need to have hundreds of battery packs on hand just to keep up with demand, even with the ability to fast charge the packs.

It is the ability to fast charge the packs that make the battery swap obsolete. Phoenix Motor Cars have already demonstrated that their Altair Nano pack can be charged up in as little as 10 minutes. Now, a ten minute break every 150 miles or so isn’t a bad thing and fast charging infrastructure could be provided at a much lower cost than the swap stations.

Swap stations look good on paper but I think they will be an expensive option when compared to fast charging.

In the end, Project Better Place needs millions of EVs on the roads for it to really succeed. The big issue right now is to get these EVs into the showrooms. We are presented with a chicken and egg situation, to roll out the infrastructure requires vehicles, to get vehicles on the road we need infrastructure.

It is the same problem we see with hydrogen fuel cells but in this case things are much simpler.

First of all we already have lots of infrastructure in place in the form of the electric grid. Today. many people can go out and buy and EV, charge it at home, and use it as a daily driver. Just take a look at the RAV4 EV owners.

Many of these cars are now showing 60,000 or more miles and several are now over 100,000 miles. That has been achieved without battery swap or fast charge facilities and with only a limited number of public charging stations.

While it will be a good thing to have a start on infrastructure, it is not essential. Once cars start to show up in dealerships then money can be invested to place charging stations at strategic locations. One thing missing from the existing infrastructure is hotels. Very few public chargers were included at hotel sites but in my opinion this is an essential part of making the EV usable as a replacement for gasoline powered vehicles.

If you take that drive to Las Vegas, or from London to the south coast, it would be nice to plug your car in at the hotel when you get there.

What I would like to see is a standard developed for the charging interface. We need an interface that can determine the type of supply be it 13 amp, 15 amp, 20 amp, 40amp. 400amp or whatever and adjust charging to utilize whatever it is plugged into.

Once we have that, we can start building fast chargers and getting the cost down on them to the point where we can start rolling them out on major highways.

Here’s a simple case study. Pacific Life, a large insurance company based in Southern California, has just opened a new office tower in Aliso Viejo. Included at the site are 6 EV parking spaces and each space is equipped with a 110V 15 amph socket. Now their Main office is located in Newport Beach and doesn’t have any EV parking spaces but across the street is fashion island where there are two parking spaces one equipped with a small paddle inductive (SPI) charger and the other with an AVCON conductive charger. Also in the area are a set of three SPI chargers at the Irvine Company offices.

All 5 chargers are available to the public. Now, David Shelton, who works at the Newport Beach facility is able to charge his RAV4 EV at the Fashion Island location but if he drives down to the Aliso building he can’t charge there because the RAV4 EV does not accept 110V input to its charger.

We need to have EVs that can charge pretty much anywhere they can find a socket. AC Propulsion’s charging system, also used by Tesla, is like that so it can be done.

I have always been an advocate of charging for electricity use so we also need to develop a smart card system that would allow the utilities to charge for the electricity used at the charging station, or finally allow businesses or individuals to resell electricity to people charging EVs.

In the end, Project Better Place has a good chance of success as long as we can get EVs available in the sort of numbers needed at a price that will attract customers. It is a plan whose time has perhaps come, and I applaud Shai Agassi for having the nerve and commitment to the environment to make this happen.

Sunday May 11, 2008 — Electric Momentum — With Gas prices in the US creeping over the $4.00 mark and people in the oil industry now begging to talk about the oil peak occurring sooner rather than later it seems like there is a growing explosion of EV research going on.

This weak I saw news articles about BMW and Audi both working on electric cars and Smart, who is already running a trial of an electric version in the UK has just announced it is going to expand the trial by using Lithium batteries starting next year. The BMW offering will be a city car and will probably be sold under the name Isetta. So far there is no real information about the car but those who remember the bubble cars of the 1950s can get an idea of what the Isetta may look like.

As for Audi, Rupert Stadler, CEO of Audi, in a recent interview in Frankfurt said that Audi would have an electric car in the next five to ten years.

It seems like just about every major automobile manufacturer is going electric and they are lining up in two camps, Plug-in Hybrids and Battery Electric Vehicles. There is one notable exception to this; Honda. Honda is still pushing fuel cell vehicles expecting to begin a limited lease program to the public of its Clarity FCV later this year.

In his recent news letter Bill Moore from EV World speculated that Honda probably has an RD program for battery electric vehicles in progress but is not saying anything about it. I tend to agree with Bill Moore, a company like Honda can’t afford to put all its eggs in one basket and the cost of a BEV RD program would be cheap insurance against backing the wrong alternative fuel.

Renault has also been in the news again with speculation that they have done a deal with Israel and Project Better World to become the exclusive supplier of thousands of electric cars. Renault is denying that but they do seem to be the major contender for supplying most of the vehicles for both the Israel and Demark projects.

Venturi has also been in the News recently and the news wasn’t good. They have once again slipped the production of their Fetish electric sports car as they continue to tweak the car to reduce weight and improve performance. I have no doubt that Venturi will be able to sell all the cars it wants to produce but they really need to stop messing and get the car to their customers.

This week Tesla opened its first service center and showroom in on Santa Monica Blvd. in West LA. Continuing a long tradition they invited many Los Angeles residents who are prominent in the EV movement but ignored evfinder.com even though their dealership is less than 5 miles from where I sit writing this blog. I drove by there yesterday morning and the showroom appeared empty except for a single roadster sitting in the window.

Since they are already backlogged by 15 months this didn’t surprise me and the fact that they now have a place where owners can get their car attended to is a good thing.

Tesla also seem to be experiencing a few delays of their own as they iron out the bugs in their production line. However, they do appear to have started delivery of to customers. In Daryl Siry’s blog from the 5th of May he indicated that car number 003 has been delivered to an unnamed customer while car number 002 is undergoing some fixes after the QA process before it is shipped to the US for delivered to Martin Eberhard.

I learned this morning that car number 002 is now in San Carlos so Mrting Eberhard should be driving it soon.

Building cars is a very capital intensive business and once the large OEMs begin to roll out real electric vehicles the small time manufacturers are likely to be pushed aside. I have said this many times, they need to get into production and build a niche before the big boys come along and eat their lunch. Tesla is making the right moves and I am looking forward to seeing other companies following in their footsteps.

Sunday May 4, 2008 — California Green House Gas Rules under Attack — California has always been a leader when it comes to the automobile. They are the biggest market for Automobiles in the US and this has long caused air quality problems. To offset this California has also been a leader in clean air legislation.

This is now under … by the Bush Administration.

California has always had the worst air quality of any any state in the US and to combat this severe action was needed. Because of this situation California has been able to establish its own laws for air quality. Other states can choose between the Federal rules or the California Rules.

Currently about 17 states, including some of the most populous like New York, follow the California Regulations.

In the end, most automobile manufacturers have been forced to follow California guidelines since it is more cost effective to build all your vehicles one way rather than to have separate California and non-California versions.

The Bush Administration have been working hard to prevent California from pushing the automobile industry to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. This all started when they joined the automobile manufacturers in a lawsuit that ended up gutting the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate.

California pushed on and passed legislation to curb Green House Gas emissions. The Bush Administration tried to block this and in the end the case came before the courts. It was ruled that Carbon Dioxide was an air pollutant and as such California had the right to make laws to regulate its emission.

California then requested a waiver from the EPA, but the EPA, heavily influenced by the Bush Administration, refused to allow California this waiver. California has now taken this before the courts so in a pre-emptive strike the Bush Administration, this time under the guise of the Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are tying to sneak legislation into law that would explicitly prevent California from regulating green house gases.

The intent is shown when they write when state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress Further down we see the proposed rules which in part says As a state regulation related to fuel economy standards, any state regulation regulating tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles is expressly preempted under 49 U.S.C. 32919.

This is a blatant attempt to block execution of California’s landmark green house gas regulations. This is going to be bad news for everyone since the ultimate goal is most likely to prevent California for setting their own air quality regulations leaving them with the watered down pro big business regulations that are coming out of the EPA. Legislation that has already proved to be totally inadequate to deal with California’s smog problems.

If you want clean air and are concerned with global warming then now is the time to write to your Congress person and let them know in no uncertain terms that the people will not tolerate this attempt to prevent meaningful green house gas limits.

Sunday April 27, 2008 — Th!nk America — Last Monday Norwegian company Th!nk issued a press release saying that they have opened an office in the USA and plan to start selling cars here starting in 2009. This is good news for those who think the future is in battery electric vehicles.

MITSUBISHI i-MiEV – Electric Car Keiko 47kW Auto

Those of you who read my blog from December 2, 2007 will recall that Th!nk was owned by Ford from 1999 until 2003 and during that time they spent something like one hundred and fifty million dollars to develop the latest version of the Th!nk City. This car was thoroughly crash tested and made ready for sale before Ford pulled out of the EV market after CARB gutted the ZEV mandate.

Since they Th!nk have continued to enhance the vehicle, mostly by upgrading the batteries from NiCAD to Zebra and are now offering a couple of varieties of Lithium batteries. The Th!nk City is an excellent vehicle for commutes around town but is a little slow for more than very short trips on the freeway.

I am happy to hear that Th!nk are coming to the US and sincerely hope that they can come through and start deliveries to establish a market niche ahead of the large OEMs like Subaru, Nissan and the plug-in hybrids that are being developed by GM, Toyota and Ford.

I do have some doubts on the viability of this project though. The first is that I have not so far heard if the DOT will accept the crash testing done by Ford or if they will require a whole new set of crash tests before the Th!nk can be sold here. I suspect this to be the case and if so I have doubts that they can get the crash testing done in time to begin selling in 2009.

It is, of course, too early to give real pricing for a 2010 model year vehicle but the prices I have seen banded around seem to be on the low side. Numbers posted in the press speculate a cost in the range of $15,000 to $17,000 with an additional $100 to $200 per month to lease the batteries. The price I have seen quoted for the UK version of this car is almost twice that so I would expect a somewhat higher price, at least until they can get into real volume production.

Still, the pricing would be much lower than say a Tesla or a Tango although the City doesn’t have the speed and acceleration of the other vehicles.

You may also recall that Th!nk announced back in November of last year that they had started up the production line in Aurskog, Norway and have been durability testing a group of vehicles since they rolled off the production line. I am beginning to get concerned that they haven’t started to ship to customers yet since this might indicate that they have problems in durability that need to be addressed. Still, while March was the timeframe we expected to see customer shipments, their press release did say that first shipments would occur by mid 2008.

I will be a lot happier about Th!nk’s chances when I see cars rolling into Customer’s driveways.

Not that I am faulting Th!nk here, it is better to do thorough durability testing and release a sound product that it is to rush the product to market then get … with warranty claims or just get bad press over poor reliability. I think that the Th!nk City has a lot of potential. If the car can deliver the 100 mile plus range as claimed it will make an excellent vehicle for the US urban market.

The Zebra batteries give a somewhat lower range but would still be an excellent choice for station car type programs and those will shorter commutes.

Battery costs continue to be an issue with battery electric vehicles. If you assume $200 per month lease costs for the batteries and an average mileage of 12,000 miles per year then you get a cost of 20ў per mile for the cost of batteries which would be considerably more than the 13ў per mile that would be typical of a 30mpg ICE at $4.00 per gallon. At $100 per month costs come down to 10ў per gallon and if you add electricity costs this brings down the price in line with an ICE vehicle.

If you take into account the high cost of maintenance for the ICE and the convenience of home charging, then at $100 per month the leased batteries begin to look like a good deal.

I really hope that Th!nk can make a success of its business in Europe and bring their cars to the US starting in 2009. I think there is a latent demand for electric vehicles both here and around the world, that is beginning to grow rapidly as the idea that oil resources are beginning to dwindle and burning oil to get from a to b is having unpleasant consequences on our atmosphere. Th!nk could become a global leader in this emerging market but it will need to get into the US market ahead of the competition if it is going to do well over the long haul — I wish them luck.

On 4/28/2008 Eddie Columbus Wrote

I scoured the Th!nk web site for a press release, but the only thing I found a week or so ago about deliveries was spring. Several news reports said the Norwegian deliveries would begin in April, but there can be some wacky info in these news reports. The Green Wombat BLOG said the first deliveries would begin in March, but he also said they would deliver the first 500 cars (too high — see below). I am with you though.

I would rather see the first cars for retail delivery to be defect/kink free. There will be a wave of excitement when retail delivery begins. I only hope that some of our friends capture some video footage to share with us!

The Th!nk web site states their capacity is 5,000 cars per year per shift and they plan to ONLY make 1,200 cars this year. My initial reaction to reading that was disappointment, but it is quite the departure from other OEMs who promise the world and fail to deliver a continent. I am also not sure if this refers to calendar year or model year. my gut tells me this is probably model year that that additional production will come online the 4th quarter.

On 4/28/2008 Noel replied

I got the information about delivery dates from my previous blog on Th!nk. I wrote that at the time of the press release so I know it was accurate at that time. I actually think they are talking about production numbers for the Calendar year not the model year but they weren’t specific so I guess whichever fits reality.

I too hope they will get some video of early deliveries I think it would be great advertising for them.

Sunday April 20, 2008 — Sainsbury Goes Electric — British grocery chain Sainsbury has found a new old way to fight global warming. They have started conversion of their delivery fleet to electric. I say new old way because electric vehicles have been used for almost a century to deliver milk in Britain.

J Sainsbury PLC was founded in 1869 when John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury opened a small dairy shop in Drury Lane, London. The company has grown over the years from that first tiny shop to become one of the largest food retailers in the UK. The company has also become a leader in environmental issues by introducing things like compostable packing materials and recycling programs for carrier bags.

In 1985 they started field testing their Little Green Van electric delivery trucks. These trucks, built by Smith Electric Vehicles. have proved so effective that they have ordered more and will have 20% of their fleet electric by the end of September. They plan to convert the entire fleet by 2010.

The electric vans, which are currently charged off the grid, are responsible for about 0.20Kg of CO 2 per kilometer, considerably less than the 0.36Kg of CO 2 produced by the diesel trucks they replaced. Each van placed in service will save about 5 metric tons of CO 2 per year. In addition, each of these vans will replace about 780.000 drives to the store, although this will not have much impact as the trips would be displaced anyway even if the delivery was by diesel truck.

The Vans are equipped with a GPS navigation system that allows the driver to plot the most efficient route for his deliveries saving time and energy. To save even more green house gas emissions Sainsbury plans to eventually charge the vehicles from renewable sources such as wind or solar bringing the amount of emissions down to near zero.

Delivery operations are a good application for electric vehicles since many of these vehicles don’t drive more than about 30 miles per day although some routes can take the vehicle up to about 100 miles per day which is possible with newer battery technology. Smith for example offer a variety of electric delivery vans with ranges up to 150 miles and payloads in excess of 15000 lbs. These vehicles are ideally suited to local deliveries in large urban areas.

I would like to see more electric vehicles being used for such delivery missions. For example the post office uses thousands of delivery vans to get the mail to your mailbox. Their average route in large cities is something like 22 miles and payloads are well within the capabilities of an electric van.

The US postal service did attempt a pilot project a few years ago but a poor design. mating the standard Grumman body to a Ford Ranger EV chassis powered by lead acid batteries didn’t give the vehicle enough range, so the project was dropped like a hot potato. The French government on the other hand did a successful trial with a van based on the Citroen Berlingo using a lithium battery pack, and are now looking to find a supplier who can supply several thousand EVs.

Using Electric vehicles doesn’t always make sense but in many cases it does. We need to cut our carbon footprint and the use of electric delivery vehicles is one way to help. I hope that companies with delivery operations see the success that Sainsbury is having and start to emulate them.

The good news is that Smith Electric Vehicles is beginning to expand into the US with a range of electric vehicles that should be well suited to many delivery fleets.

Sunday April 13, 2008 — EV Pollution — It seem like every time we get some good news on the EV front we get someone, threatened by the idea of being shifted from there comfortable version of reality by electric cars, who trots out the stale old the electricity comes from coal so EVs are dirtier argument.

The big trouble with this type of argument is that it has just enough of an element of truth to sound totally credible. It is true that unless you charge your EV from renewable sources 100% of the time then you do create a certain amount of pollution. It is not true however that EVs are charged from coal fired plants so they pollute more.

The truth is that our electric grid is fired by a whole bunch of different and ever changing technologies. In some areas coal makes up a big portion of the electrical grid mix but in other places coal makes up hardly any of the mix. In the area I live, serviced by Southern California Edison, the mix is down to around 11% coal and about 17% renewable energy while the vast majority of the electricity, close to 50%, is generated from natural gas.

Now, the dirty coal crowd make it appear like you plug in your EV and Charlie over at the power plant starts shoveling coal to get it charged. Well, the situation is a little different. The power company is going to try and match supply with demand within the constraints of the generation system. One of the issues they face is that it is sometimes difficult to shut down power generation on demand. It is pretty easy to shut of hydro.

You simply close the openings to the turbine shafts and open the bypass shafts, the turbines stop running and generation stops. To start up the turbines again you just reverse the process. and within ten minutes you can have 400MW on line and at your disposal. At the other end of the spectrum is nuclear.

Once you shut down the nuclear reactor it can take weeks to get it restarted again.

Coal isn’t as bad as Nuclear but it does take about four hours to restart a coal fired turbine once the boiler has been shut down. Because of this time lag power generation companies don’t shut down coal fired plants very often. That’s one of the reasons why the power companies like EVs and PHEVs.

Charging them overnight provides a nice load on the grid that allows them to keep the turbines turning.

Another thing to remember is that most of the EVs use coal crowd do a well to wheels analysis for the EV but only a tailpipe analysis for the ICE. They forget about all the coal produced electricity used to refine a gallon of gas. They also forget the other pollutants put out at the refinery. Take the refinery in Carson, CA for example.

When I drive passed this refinery just before dawn I see them burning off waste gasses from several tall chimneys. When the wind is in the wrong direction this often results in a heavy layer of soot on cars in the Manhattan Beach area a few miles away.

Now, another thing that the old Coal argument assumes is that things will stay the same. This is not really likely to be true. Since modern coal plants are getting much cleaner than the old plants, as old plants move out of service and newer plants take their place the grid becomes cleaner.

New techniques are also being developed that can be used to sequester green house gas emissions. It is a big job to go out and fit sequestration equipment on the thousands of coal and gas fired power plants around the country but imagine trying to do that on the over one hundred million tail-pipes spewing out green house gases. It will also be a lot harder, and therefore more costly, to try and capture GHGs from moving tailpipes than from stationary smokestacks.

Over the last few days the BEV v FCV debate has sprung up again on the RAV4 EV board. I am of the opinion that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are still a long way off and that if we spent the money on development of BEVs instead of trying to push for hydrogen we would be better off in the long term. I still don’t like it when I hear people argue that FCVs pollute more because currently hydrogen is produced by steam reformatting of natural gas.

That might be true at the moment but doesn’t mean it has to be true in the future. There are lots of ways to produce hydrogen including electrolysis of water and using biological entities such as bacteria to break down water into oxygen and hydrogen. In the long term it is these technologies that will win out if we ever move to a hydrogen economy.

On the other side of the coin I also get fed up of the hydrogen crowed trying to paint hydrogen as being produced from clean renewable energy and BEVs being charged from dirty coal. The truth is that both of these get their energy from the same grid and the same power mix. Improve the grid and we can clean up whichever way we find is optimum in the future.

So here is the big plan, clean up the grid, spend our transportation dollars on getting high speed electrified rail and low speed commuter systems such as subways and electric trolley busses up and running to get people out of their cars, invest big time in battery electric technology to get rid of tail pipes. I have no problem in continuing research on hydrogen technology but I think that we need to acknowledge that this is a long term solution at best and fund accordingly.

Sunday April 5, 2008 — No-Plug Boycott — It’s been a while now since Dontcrush.com organized the protests that saved the Ford Ranger and Th!nk City cars from the crusher but failed in the attempt to save the EV1. Well, some people are now beginning to say that a boycott would be more effective than protests outside dealer lots.

Boycotts have been most effective in the recent past. Lets consider the Civil Rights movement. While millions of people marching in Washington to listen to the stirring speeches of Dr.

Martin Luther King highlighted the need for reform, in the end it was people of color boycotting businesses that pushed things over the edge and led to a more just environment for everyone.

In South Africa, it was the total boycott by the rest of the world that finally led to the overthrow of Apartheid. In the end the isolation from the world economy was what brought majority rule to the southern tip of Africa.

So, if we want to see cars that plug in the idea is that we let the major automobile manufacturers know that the next car we buy is going to have a plug or we will stick with what we have.

This is not going to be easy, especially for those that like to change their cars every two or three years, but in the long run the large automobile manufacturers are going to produce the type of car that people buy. If nobody is buying large SUVs then they will stop producing them.

So what’s the problem?

Well, the large manufacturers have to jump through legal hoops to get a car on the road. They have to meet DOT requirements including extensive crash testing. They have to meet CARB and EPA emissions requirements, and they have to produce a car that is going to be reliable and that requires testing testing testing. It also needs to be affordable and that means working with the supply chain to develop and produce a whole set of parts and on top of that you have to try and predict the volume of sales you are going to experience.

So it takes a long time to get a new car on the road, typically five years. Now, if nobody buys one of your cars for five years until you can produce one with a plug then you are going to be out of business.

Unless a car manufacturer already has a plug-in vehicle in the works it is unlikely that they will be able to produce one in the near term. The good news is that we already know that Ford, Toyota and GM are working on plug-in hybrids while Subaru, Nissan and Chrysler all have battery electric vehicles in some stage of development from concept car to fleet testing. Ford has plug-in versions of the Escape hybrid in testing with Southern California and I have actually seen one on the roads here in LA.

Toyota have a couple of plug-in hybrid Prius being tested at UC Irvine and UC Berkley, while GM has been working hard on the Volt and really look like they intend to sell it, although given GM’s track record I will believe it when I see them in dealerships for sale not lease only.

In the interim there are a number of options that can be used to keep the mileage down on the old gas hog. Neighborhood electric vehicles are available from a number of manufacturers, including Chrysler with the GEM, and these can be used for short errands and commutes of 10 miles or less on surface streets. There are also a few small independent companies that are trying to get into manufacturing, and companies like EVT and Vectrix offer reliable two wheel electric transportation.

I certainly think that if enough people go to their dealers and ask them for a car that plugs in and when they say they don’t have one then respond that you will wait to buy a car until they have a plug-in then that is going to influence the vehicle manufacturers decisions. I don’t know if Plug-in America will champion a boycott of none plug-in transportation but I do know that some senior executives at Plug-in America are looking closely at this issue. If Plug-in America doesn’t do it then someone will; and soon.

I think that it is more important that we follow through and, assuming that the plug-in vehicle is affordable, we actually go out and buy one when it becomes available. I for one an expecting my next car purchase to be a plug-in hybrid and I know I can continue to drive my Prius until one becomes available. The automobile manufacturers have a habit of making it difficult to buy plug-in vehicles then claiming their is no demand.

That’s difficult to do if the cars are flying off the lot as fast as they arrive like the Prius did in 2004 where inventory times at dealers were counted in hours rather than days or weeks.

Sunday March 30, 2008 — ZEV Mandate the results are in — Last Thursday the California Air Resource Board (CARB) met to review the California Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate and the published staff report appeared to show that the mandate would be totally gutted. Well, the results are in and, while things could be better, they are not as bad as they were in the staff proposal.

The day started with public testimony, first from the automobile manufacturers and then from the general public. Unlike the last CARB review where then chairman Alan Lloyd gave the automobile manufacturers as much time as they wanted then cut the public testimony and even stopped some members of the public having their say, Mary Nichols gave each person three minutes to present their views so everyone who wanted got their turn,

The Board were not overly impressed with Staff recommendations feeling that they had cut the program too deeply. The result was better than expected but not as good as those in the BEV community would have liked.

Staff had proposed that the number of true ZEVs that must be produced in the 2012-2014 time period would be 2500 vehicles. The Board increased this number to 7500 vehicles; not as good as the original 25,000 vehicles but better than the staff recommendations.

Now, CARB has this really complicated set of credits that were intended to jump start the ZEV mandate by giving more points to vehicles placed in service early and since the number of credits that each manufacturer has accumulated has always been kept secret the impact of past credits on the numbers above is impossible for the layman to gauge. One of the staff recommendations that the Board accepted was that the number of credits banked by the OEMs will be made public record by 2010 which will then let us figure out just how many vehicles have been placed in service and how many credits the Automobile Manufactures have banked.

They also introduced a new classification of vehicle, the long range Fuel Cell Vehicle (FCV) which is defined as a fuel cell vehicle that has a range of over 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen.

The CARB summary lists the following number of vehicles that would need to be produced by the large volume manufactures. The minimum number of vehicle then can get away with is 5357 long range FCVs. If they want to fulfill their requirement with regular fuel cell vehicles then they will need to place 7500 vehicles in service, and if they want to fulfill their obligation using BEVs then they would need to place 12,500 vehicles in service.

It should be noted that we are talking freeway capable electric vehicles here not NEVs or City EVs.

These numbers can, of course, be offset by accumulated credits so the actual number of vehicles placed into service is unknown but will certainly be less than the numbers quoted above. It should also be noted that these numbers are spread over the five large volume manufacturers, Ford, GM, Chrysler, Nissan and Toyota. A large manufacture is one that sells more than 60,000 vehicles per year in California.

There are several manufactures poised to move from medium to large volume over the next few years and the Board once again rejected the staff proposal to give them twelve years to transition, leaving the transition period at its current six years before they have to meet the ZEV requirements.

The new requirement also requires the large volume manufacturers to produce 58,000 plug-in hybrids in the 2012-2014 time period. Since at least three of the manufacturers, GM, Ford and Toyota all have plug-in hybrid projects in the works, this will spur them toward getting these cars on the road.

Finally the Board directed Staff to totally overhaul the ZEV program for 2015 and beyond.

Overall I think that these revisions still put too much emphasis on fuel cell vehicles and not enough on battery electric vehicles but the results are certainly much better than the staff recommendations. Unfortunately we won’t know just how this will translate to actual vehicles in the hands of consumers but I think it is enough to keep vehicle manufactures programs active.

The biggest losers here may be the small start-up companies like Phoenix Motor Cars, Commuter Cars, ZAP and Tesla. With the prospect of both BEVs and plug-in hybrids being sold by the big OEMs it becomes much less likely that people will be willing to spend lots of money on a BEV from a small company. Tesla of course stands the best chance here since their roadster is very different from anything that the big five are likely to produce.

Phoenix must be very disappointed with the outcome of this meeting. Their business plan called for selling credits to the big five to keep the cost of their SUT down to affordable levels. Since the OEMs probably won’t need to buy a lot of credits for a while this may mean that Phoenix may need to re-price their vehicles upwards.

I could also see them as being a target for one of the big companies like Ford or Chrysler who could get a pretty decent BEV for much less than the cost to develop one and get it to market.

Sunday March 23, 2008 — New York 2008 — The New York Auto Show is in full swing and once again we are seeing the automakers trying to project a greener image.

For starters GM’s Vice Chairman of Global Product Development, Bob Lutz, was there showing pictures of the first Continental Lithium Ion Battery pack featuring A123 technology that will be tested in the Chevy Volt. The pictures showed a metal case in still in the crate with no indication of the internals of the battery pack.

Mr. Lutz also announced that GM would be launching 16 hybrids over the next four years and this will include some with their two mode hybrid system. He also hinted that there would be a lot more flex fuel cars coming from GM. He is quoted as saying that GM intended to be the world wide fuel solutions leader and undisputed environmental and technological leader in the industry.

Mitsubishi were also showing their i-MiEV electric car. This car has a 330 volt lithium battery pack driving a 47KW permanent magnet motor giving a top speed governed to 80mph and a range of about 80 miles. Unlike the Chevy Volt show car, which only has a golf cart motor and can barely move, Mitsubishi had a car on hand to allow journalists to take a test drive.

The car is currently undergoing fleet tests in Japan and should go on sale to the public there in 2009. Mitsubishi used the New York Auto show to announce that it would also be doing fleet tests with select US power companies starting in the fall of this year. No companies were mentioned by name but Southern California Edison is strongly tipped to be among those getting cars.

Subaru was also showing its R1e electric car at the show. The R1e is powered by a lithium battery pack that is supposed to have a 10 year 100,000 mile life and can be recharged to 80% of capacity in about 15 minutes using a special charger or fully charged in 8 hours from a standard 110V receptacle. The car, which has a top speed of 65 mph and a range of about 50 miles, has been tested in Japan for the last two years.

Subaru announced a formal partnership with the New York Power Authority to test the R1e in the USA.

Nissan also had an EV concept at the New York Auto Show, the Denki Cube Concept, an electric version of Nissan Cube micro-car currently being sold in Japan. Apparently Denki is the Japanese word for electricity. The Denki Cube is, as its name implies, a boxy looking car that is very similar in appearance to the Scion Xb.

The car is powered by a lithium battery pack. Nissan have been using lithium packs since the late 1990s when they leased a small number of Nissan Altras and Nissan Hyperminis in California. There was no indication of any plans to put the Denki Cube into production although Nissan has said that they see the future in battery powered EVs.

The New York Auto Show was also the venue used to formally announce the X-Prize $10 million competition to the public. Progressive Insurance was also announced as the X-Prize sponsor. $7.5 million will go to the first company to produce a vehicle that can achieve a fuel economy rating equivalent to 100mph. Now, several people have built cars that can do this but the kicker here is that the car also has to carry four people, do a top speed of 100mph and have a range of 200 miles on a tank of gas.

There is also a secondary prize of $2.5 million to the first company to build a car that will seat at least two people, have a top speed of 80 mph, have a range of at least 100 miles before refueling, and get the equivalent of 100 mpg. The kicker here is that the car must also pass federal safety requirements and must sell at least 10,000 vehicles.

To date there has been approximately 18 entries into the competition including electric car companies Commutacars and Aptera. It will be interesting to see who finally comes up with a winning entry.

2008 is rapidly shaping up to be the year of the EV. While many companies are talking about 2010 as the year that they will launch their electric vehicles it is this year that the vehicles are starting to come to light. I expect to see more announcements from the big auto companies as they realize that they can’t deliver on fuel cell vehicles in a timely manner and finally get the notion that battery electric vehicles are the wave of the future.

Look for announcements on plug-in hybrids at the LA and Detroit auto shows.

Sunday March 16, 2008 — Sustainable Development — Over the last couple of weeks I have been spending some time down in south Orange County and I have seen the kind of development that is built around the use of an automobile. This kind of development is a big reason that America is addicted to oil.

The area of Aliso Viejo, close by the 73 toll road, has lots of development going on. The development is the old fashioned sort of development where one vast tract is being developed into housing, another has office buildings springing up like weeds, and a third area is a mini-mall grown to gigantic proportions. Vast amounts of acreage is dedicated to parking lots and the whole thing is fed by miles of wide multi-carriage surface streets that cars zip along at 45-50 mph.

Now, that might sound pretty good, and it does mean that people can live, work, and shop all within the area, but the big problem is that the different zones aren’t close enough together to make it possible to walk anywhere. If you want to go to the store then you have to get into the car, want to go to work and again you need to get into your car. Since the different areas are only a few miles apart, the car is constantly being run at low temperature which is when the internal combustion engine is just at its most polluting.

Of course electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are perfect for this type of driving, but not driving at all would be even better.

If they want to take their kids to school then you have to drive. If they opt to carpool with the other moms then they need a bigger vehicle which in South Orange County means a full sized SUV. Imagine how much better it would be to walk the kids to school instead of Chauffeuring them to school in a barely warmed up 14mpg SUV.

The exercise would do everyone a world of good.

Even a trip to the bank requires that you get in your car and drive a few miles. Banks are few and far between in that area but accommodations are being made. I found a Wells Fargo bank branch located in a Vons grocery story and my carpool partner Jerry found he could make a deposit at an ATM inside a Burger King without incurring ATM fees.

I did observe one piece of development that was trying to address this. There is a row of town houses that is being built in a complex that is walking distance from the office complex, the public library, and a smaller shopping complex that hosts a grocery store. This row of town houses is being built as a mixed use building. The ground floor level is set up to be shops while the upper two levels is living space.

The idea is that people can run a business from the ground floor while living above the shop.

The only issue I had with this is that the ground floor business areas where too small for any serious business. Half the space appears to be taken up by garage leaving only a small space for business. Once again accommodating the automobile is getting in the way. Three of the shops appear to be taken by hairdressers.

The problem here is that they each only has room for one chair. Still, the idea of mixed use development is beginning to spread.

For those that have to work further away there is no real public transportation system that is close enough to work well so everyone must get into their cars and drive. The main access into the area is via the 73 toll road which means an extra eight dollars a day. Toll roads of course are just another form of disguised taxation since the money to build the roads is provided by a private party then paid back by the people who drive the road instead of the money coming from a bond issue then being paid back from the tax that people pay on their cars.

The ideal situation is that people live in a community where everything they need is close by. Where people can live, work and play within their community. It has to be understood that not everyone will be able to work close to home so the community will have to be near to public transport, preferably an electrified rail system. The other alternative is for people to be able to telecommute.

I work with people who live in places like Phoenix and Oklahoma City who are just as able to complete their work as they would be if they went into the office every day. I understand that telecommuting isn’t always possible but companies need to start making it happen instead of blocking it at every turn.

Before the dawn of the automobile age most people never traveled more than thirty miles from their place of birth. I’m not saying that we should go back to that but going back to a state where everything you need is close at hand and you only have to travel when you want to not because you have to.

I have to admit that I have one of the longest commutes of anyone that works for my company and only mitigate that by carpooling and the occasional telecommute. The company I work for openly discourages telecommuting and that is something that I have to work on. I live in an area where I can walk to the local grocery store, drug store, library and several excellent restaurants.

It would be nice if I could leave my car at home most of the time like I did when I lived in London.

Sunday March 9, 2008 — Geneva 2008 — The Geneva Auto Show just got into high gear and we have seen a host of encouraging announcements that show the auto industry is moving in a more sustainable direction.

The biggest announcement of the week came from electric car maker Th!nk Nordic. They announced that they are going to begin delivery of the Th!nk City to customers in Norway starting this spring. They also showed a concept car called the Th!nk Ox.

This car is basically a five passenger crossover but styled to be very aerodynamic.

The car will come with a 60KW electric motor and a choice of NiNaCl or Li batteries. With a top speed of 130 km/hr and a target range of 200 Km this is just the kind of car that people have been looking for. It appears that Th!nk intends to produce this car.

Other good news for Th!nk is that GE have invested four million dollars in the company. It is good to see that a company with deep pockets like GE is getting behind this tiny electric car manufacturer. GE also announced that it is going to invest twenty million dollars in lithium battery maker A123 who will be supplying one of the battery pack options being offered by Th!nk.

The biggest bombshell that came out of the Geneva Auto show wasn’t one of the cars however but statements made by both GM and Toyota about fuel cell vehicles.

First it was GM vice president of product development Bob Lutz who said recent advances in lithium batteries indicate that future electric cars might be able to travel 300 miles on a charge. He went on to say, If we get lithium-ion to 300 miles, then you need to ask yourself, Why do you need fuel cells?. He also stated that fuel cells are still too expensive, saying We are nowhere near where we need to be on the costs curve.

Somewhat less of a bombshell but significant never-the-less was Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe who noted, not for the first time, that the high cost of fuel cells and lack of infrastructure was a barrier to sales of fuel cell vehicles to the public. He stated it will be difficult to see the spread of fuel cells in 10 years time.

Hybrids, on the other hand, were on display in abundance. Volkswagen for example showed their concept Golf TDI hybrid, which features a 27 hp electric motor and a 1.2 liter 3 cylinder common rail turbo-diesel, giving fuel consumption of 69mpg. VW say this car is almost production ready.

Another diesel hybrid on display was the Mercedes BlueTEC Hybrid from Daimler. This SUV has lithium ion batteries and a 224hp 2.2 liter blue tech diesel engine which Daimler claim has the lowest CO 2 emissions of any SUV on the planet. There was no indication if Daimler planned to produce this car.

Saab took the concept one step further with its 9X BioHybrid concept car. The BioHybrid, which looks like yet another crossover SUV, is powered by a 1.4 liter flex fuel engine coupled with GM’s next generation hybrid drive based on lithium batteries to give an overall fuel economy of 48mpg when using gasoline and a little less when running on E85. GM did not have plans to produce this vehicle but said that they plan to sell 100,000 hybrids per year when the second generation hybrid power train come on line.

Fisker has its plug-in hybrid on display in Geneva. The Fisker concept sports car has a large battery pack, big enough to let the car run 50 miles electric only before needing a recharge. Once the batteries are depleted an ICE comes on to provide the electricity needed for an additional 450 miles of range.

We are getting up to 100 orders each week a company spokes person told the Associated Press. The car will cost around $80,000 and will go into production in late 2009.

Toyota, which doesn’t have diesel technology to rival the European manufacturers is planning to expand sales of its hybrid vehicles in Europe. They plan to have 18 different hybrid models available by the end of 2009.

It looks like we are reaching a tipping point for electric vehicles. Car companies are now starting to look at hydrogen as a long term issue and see plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles as the way forward in the near term. Still, it is companies like Fisker and Th!nk that are actually out there moving towards production.

It’s time for the big boys to step up to the plate and get vehicles with significant electric range and recharge capability into the hands of the public.

Sunday March 2, 2008 — Mangling the Mandate — The California Air Resource Board (CARB) is due to meet on March 27 to consider the ZEV mandate. The Staff report has just been released for public consideration and it is clear that CARB want to further Mangle this legislation.

The ZEV mandate was first adopted in 1990 after GM showed the Impact at the LA Auto Show and stated it’s intention to manufacture this car. Since then CARB has been steadily watering down the Mandate, modifying it in 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2003. Each time the number of ZEVs that the large automobile manufacturers must produce has been reduced.

The latest Staff report is no exception. Under these revisions the number of ZEVs that must be placed in service in California is exactly 0. The traveling provision that was introduced in 2003 has been extended to cover not only fuel cell vehicles but also battery electric vehicles.

The manufacturers do still need to put some ZEVs on the road, just not in California. The cars can be placed in service in any of the 10 other states that now follow California’s emission laws and still count towards the California total. The total has, in fact, become a total for all states that follow the California rules.

In reality most of the ZEV vehicles will be placed on the roads in California and New York state and it is the smaller states like New Mexico that are not going to see any ZEVs on the road for a long time.

The CARB staff proposal has also reduced the number of vehicles that are to be delivered in the 2009-2011 model year period from 25,000 down to 2,500. This clearly shows how the automobile manufacturers hoodwinked CARB when CARB did the 2003 modifications. These manufacturers did a good job of persuading CARB that they could begin commercialization of fuel cell vehicles by 2008 when groups like Plug-in America were telling them it wasn’t possible. It turns out that Plug-in America was correct.

I will further predict that the 25,000 fuel cell vehicles that CARB is expecting to be produced in the 2012-2014 model year period won’t be built either.

Then again, CARB isn’t expecting the manufacturers to actually build that many vehicles. On page 29 of the report is table 4.4 which sets out a scenario where the large manufacturers use their banked credits. In this scenario they would, as a group, only need to produce 250 fuel cell vehicle with a 200 mile range and 10 minute fill times, and 200 fuel cell vehicle with a range less than 200 miles to full the 2009-2001 requirement.

In years 2012-2014 they would need to build just 2,500 of the 200 mile range Fuel cells, 3125 fuel cells with less than 200 mile range, 4,167 Freeway capable EVs, and about 11,250 City EVs.

The big question here is where did the six biggest automobile manufacturers get their banked credits. There hasn’t been a single EV sold by one of these manufacturers since very early in 2003 and they have only put a handful of fuel cell cars on the road since then, including only 3 that are in the hands of individuals rather than fleets. One good recommendation of the staff report is the provision to make information on the ZEV credits available to the general public.

Another good provision is the merging of the two tracks that were introduced in the 2003 modification back into a single track. The Automobile manufacturers would not have to select to take the fuel cell route or the battery electric route, they can now meet their obligations with a mixture of battery electric and fuel cell vehicles. This makes a lot more sense than having manufacturers elect one route or the other and gives them much more flexibility to exploit evolving technologies.

Another provision is the increase in credits that are awarded to NEVs. NEVs, although ZEV, can only be used to offset AT-PZEV requirements. That means that they are treated like a Prius of Honda Civic Hybrid rather than a true ZEV.

Many of the battery electric vehicle advocates pushed of this in 2003 since they want to see freeway capable EVs on the roads. However, a ZEV is a ZEV and if you can offset miles driven, especially for very short trips where and ICE is at its most polluting, then the air quality issues are being addressed.

There were also a couple of interesting factoids buried in the report. It appears that sales of NEVs in California is falling. I am not sure if this is a comparison using 2001 and 2002 as a yardstick where Chrysler and Ford, and to a lesser extend GM, dumped large numbers on NEVs onto the market in California at prices that were little more than cost. I have heard that NEV sales are going down in general but this appears to be part of the general economic downturn rather than people moving away from NEVs. The second factoid concerned the Type VI ZEV which is basically a fuel cell vehicle with a range of greater than 200 miles and fast refill capability.

The manufacturers are going to 10,000 psi tanks and it appears that the current fueling stations are not able to fill these in under 10 minutes so the cars don’t qualify as type VI ZEVs even though they have a range of over 200 miles.

In the end, CARB are still trying to push fuel cells and appears to be doing its best to ignore the strides that have been made in battery technology over the last few years. We now have the ability to make and sell a decent ZEV at an affordable price. Perhaps we can’t build one that will go 80mph on the freeway for 200 miles with a battery pack that will last for 20 years or 150,000 miles, but we can build a car that will function quite adequately and cost effectively as a second or third car for the family.

If CARB want to really promote ZEVs then let the 25,000 vehicle requirement stand. Allow the manufacturers to fill this limit with fuel cell vehicles, freeway capable EVs, city EVs, NEVs, or credits bought from smaller manufacturers including makers of battery electric three wheelers like ZAP, Twike and Aptera.

Comments on the Staff report can be made here and I urge anyone that lives in one of the states that supports the California rules to let CARB know that they need to stop weakening the mamdate. States that have adopted the ZEV mandate are

Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The six large volume manufacturers effected by the mandate are Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. Large volume manufacturers are defined as those that sell more than 60,000 cars per year in California.

Sunday February 24, 2008 — Death and Taxes — In a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy written Nov 13, 1789, Benjamin Franklin said, In this world nothing is certain but … and taxes.

Benjamin Franklin, while being the best known, wasn’t the first to express this sentiment. That honor goes to Daniel Defoe who, in The Political History of the devil written in 1726 wrote Things more certain as … and taxes, can be more firmly believed.

This week the husband of a friend passed away and it’s time to get my tax information ready for my accountant so … and taxes are firmly on my mind.

Nobody likes paying taxes. I look on them as a necessary evil.

The basic purpose of taxes is a way to fund government. In reality, taxes are used for many other purposes, to build and maintain infrastructure, to educate our children, to fight wars, to take care of those unable to care for themselves, and to promote changes in behavior.

It is the last item that has a large impact on alternative fuel vehicles.

Taxes have often been used as a carrot and stick. For example high taxes on gas in Europe have lead to people driving smaller, more fuel efficient cars while in the US, low gas taxes and subsidies to oil companies (from taxes) have kept gas prices low and vehicles large.

I have said over and over on these blogs that we need to have a huge push to move the world towards a more sustainable future. That means cutting subsidies to oil and gas companies and move that money toward solar, wind, wave an geothermal energy generation; toward better more usable public transportation; and towards zero emission vehicles.

That brings us back to ‘…'; thousands of people … each year as a result of health problems brought on by vehicle and other emissions. This should not be acceptable in a modern society. We, at the very beginning of the twenty-first century, need to solve this problem for future generations so our great grandchildren, as they move into the twenty-second century, will live in a world with clean air to breath and a sustainable lifestyle to preserve the world for future generations.

If that happens then I will consider my taxes as money well spent.

Sunday February 17, 2008 — A Vision of the Future — I have been reading a lot of different things about the past, present and future of personal transport over the last few months so I thought it would be fun to speculate a little on a possible future weekend trip.

It’s Friday afternoon and time for me to finish work. The company I work for is based in Aliso Viejo about sixty miles south of LA in Northern Orange County. The drive home might seem daunting but not for me; I shut down the computer and walk over to the living room where my wife is watching a sitcom on the large screen TV.

Telecommuting is much easier than having to slog through all that traffic every day.

This weekend in Presidents day weekend and we are going to take a trip to Las Vegas. We already have a room booked for two nights at the Flamingo and just need to get there. When the next advert comes on I grab the remote keyboard and log on to the Amtrak web site.

I find that there is a train leaving for Las Vegas at 10am tomorrow and I book two seats.

On Saturday morning we get up and have a leisurely breakfast then flip on the TV and go to the LA MTA web site to pull up the Red Line information. I see that there is a train that will get me to Union Station in plenty of time to make my connection.

Picking up our luggage Aggie and I head down to the garage and get into our Smart. The Smart, which was provided as part of our rideshare membership, is an excellent car for getting around town. The Zebra batteries give the car a range of 70 miles and a top speed of 60mph which is perfect for a city car.

It’s a short hop to the transfer station at Wilshire and La Cienega where I pull the Smart into the large underground parking lot and navigate over to the car share area and plug in to one of the charging towers powered from a large solar array up on the roof of the transfer station.

When we get down onto the platform the display tells us that the east bound red line train will be arriving in two minutes. When the train arrives it isn’t too crowded so we get some seats for the twenty minute trip into Union Station.

Union Station is bustling with people getting out of town for the long weekend. Aggie and I go to the ticket machine, I swipe my smart card, and the machine delivers two boarding passes for the 10am train. Next we have to pass through security. Since we are registered travelers this isn’t too much of a problem.

We go to the registered travel lane, swipe our smart cards then look into an eyepiece to get a retina scan. Once the computer has identified us the barrier opens and we are through onto the platform.

The indicator shows that the train will be arriving in five minutes so we find a seat until the train pulls into the platform and disgorges a horde of travelers coming to see the sites of LA. We already have our seat reservations so it is just a matter of finding the correct car and getting to our seats.

At 10am sharp the train doors slide shut automatically and it begins to accelerate out of the station. At about 30mph we feel the maglev lift off the track and we are pushed back into our seats as the train quickly gets up to over 100 mph. Los Angeles begins to recede into the distance as the train gets up to its top speed of a little over 300 mph.

The first stop on the trip is at Ontario Airport. We start to slowing down as we come into the Ontario area and as we approach the airport we see the large storage tanks of bio-fuel that has now replaced most oil based aviation fuels. The train accelerates out of the station once more and we move on to a stop in Victorville and Barstow. As we leave Barstow we pass by the large new solar generating station that has been built there. This power station uses a liquid salt process to produce electricity twenty-four hours a day.

We will pass several of these as we cross the Mohave desert.

The train makes another stop in Baker then starts the long run from baker to Prim on the Nevada side of the California-Nevada border. Finally the train speeds its way into the rail station in down town Las Vegas. It only took us a little over two and a half hours to travel from our home to Las Vegas which is much better than the usual five hour drive.

They have only just started building the subway in Las Vegas so we opt to use a car. There is a rideshare pick-up point at the station so I go over there and swipe my card at the kiosk. There computer screen at the kiosk shows me a list of available cars there but they don’t have a Smart so in the end I opt for a Miles NEV.

The Miles NEV is a nice four seat fully enclosed car with a top speed of 35mph and its lead acid batteries give it a range of around 30 miles. It is quite adequate for getting us to our hotel.

Las Vegas blvd. is busy as it always is but traffic still moves along at a steady 35mph and the Miles easily keeps up in the dash between traffic lights. We pull into the Flamingo self parking and go up to the 3rd floor where there is a bunch of charging stations for electric cars at the rideshare lot. We plug in the car and I swipe my smart card again.

The card is automatically charged for the twenty minutes and twelve miles I had driven the car.

During our stay in Las Vegas we travel around using the monorail that runs the length of the strip, or occasionally use the trams that run between casinos, like the one that runs from Bellagio to the Monte Carlo.

On Monday we take in an early lunch at the Flamingo Buffet before picking up another car at the rideshare stand in the Flamingo. This time, since the Miles is no longer available, we select a ZAP Xebra to get us back to the station. We catch the 2pm Maglev, getting us back home a little before 5.

I log on to check on my emails and find that the couch we are having re-upholstered is ready. I give a quick call to our nephew who says he can help us with the couch if we can get it home before 7pm. The Smart isn’t going to carry a couch. I log on to the rideshare service and see that the lot at the Beverly Connection has a Dymac Truck available.

I reserve the truck then drive on down to pick it up.

Arriving at the Beverly Connection I find the Dymac Truck and swipe my smart card to unlock it. I take the truck down to Western and the upholstery company employees load the the couch up for me. I give Reuben a call and he says he will meet me at the apartment in 20 minutes.

By the time I get home the truck state of charge is getting quite low but Reuben is already there so we lug the couch up to my place. There is still enough charge on the truck to get it back to the Beverly Connection again but as I turn into the parking lot the low battery light starts to flicker. I pull it into a free space, place it on charge, then swipe my smart car one last time and get charged for use of the truck.

The above may seem like it is fanciful but just about all the elements that I listed here, with the exception of bio fuels for airplanes, are already available. Everything here from maglev trains to solar power stations that use hot salt to store heat so they can continue producing electricity after sunset, to rideshare systems that can use smart cards to control reservations and billing, are all here now. Even the cars I listed are available now.

It’s just a matter of building out all the infrastructure and you can have a world that needs a tiny fraction of the oil that is currently consumed to run our transportation systems.

There are even a couple of states that have updated their low speed vehicle laws to allow them to travel 35mph not 25mph. These laws aren’t in place yet for California or Nevada but there is already an active movement here in California to get the laws changed and once California updates their laws other states will follow.

We know that oil will one day be in short supply. We need to move towards the sort of future I have described otherwise we will be caught with our shorts down once again.

Sunday February 10.2008 — Internal Combustion — This week I just finished reading Internal Combustion by Edwin Black. This is a fascinating book, based on thousands of hours of research by Mr. Black and his team, about how the Internal combustion engine became the method of choice to power our personal transportation.

The book begins with a very good overview of the early development of the horseless carriage. It covers the rise of steam and the railroads, early developments in electric batteries and electric vehicles, and the growth of internal combustion powered vehicles.

The book goes on to discus the various ways that energy sources have been manipulated to keep costs up and the population dependent. It starts with a history of how those in power have controlled sources of energy. Things like the royal wood monopolies in England to the rise of the Hostmen of Newcastle, a cartel that controlled Coal throughout most of Europe.

There is a very good chapter on how bad pollution from horses really was. By 1900 there were more than twenty one million horses working in the US. The book tells us that Each horse dropped between 15 and 35lbs of manure daily which must have left the cities smelling pretty bad.

The book goes on to talk about fraud and stock manipulation that occurred with early battery manufacturers. The book then focuses on Albert Pope who founded the Columbia Manufacturing Company and built the company up to where it had a virtual monopoly of bicycle manufacturing. Eventually Columbia would begin manufacturing electric vehicles.

The next phase that Mr. Black documents was the rise of the Seldon patent. George Baldwin Seldon was a patent attorney who began by submitting a near worthless patent for an internal combustion engine vehicle.

It took sixteen years for Seldon to get his patent approved and over that time he carefully incorporated the developments of other inventors into his patent.

In 1899 Pope bought the Seldon patent and began taking legal action to ensure that the growing number of car manufacturers paid license fees to build internal combustion engine cars. Mr Black’s contention is that the profits from royalties from the Seldon patent were much better than the profits from making electric cars so Pope actually stopped electric car production and, to further profits, actually bought out some other electric vehicle companies, such as Riker, and shut them down too. Henry Ford fought against the patent and eventually got it overturned but by then the damage had been done and internal combustion had become the power train of choice.

The book also focuses on the plans put together by Henry Ford and Thomas Edison to build an electric car. They made big announcements and even turned out a couple of prototype cars. The plan was to make an affordable electric car, just as Ford had done with his Model T. The project came to an end when Edison’s laboratory in Orange, NJ was burned to the ground in 1914.

The book implies that the fire occurred under suspicious circumstances but presents no evidence other than the fact that the fire spread through supposedly fireproof buildings.

The book goes on to document the conspiracy by GM, Firestone, Mack Truck, Phillips Petroleum, and Standard Oil of California to buy up electric trolley lines, shut them down, and convert them to bus service. Mr. Black suggests that GM’s intent was to eventually shut down public transportation totally so that people would be forced to rely on their automobile.

In the end, GM was found not guilty of Conspiracy to secure control of transit systems but guilty of Conspiracy to monopolize the transit business for their own oil, tires, and busses. The book does a fine job of documenting many of the street car lines that were shut down but for some reason skips over the best known of these, the Los Angeles system.

Mr. Black goes on to call for a Manhattan style project to move the US away from fossil fuels towards sustainable energy. Then he blows it. After telling us about how wonderful electric transportation and electric vehicles were, he buys into the hydrogen hype.

Instead of calling for electrification of railways and expansion of electric based mass transit with electric vehicles as the way to get around cities, he calls for a drive to move us towards hydrogen.

If the ending of the book is disappointing for electric vehicle fans it does present an excellent overview of the rise of the internal combustion engine and how greed got us into the mess we are currently in with the environment and our dependence on foreign oil. This book is well worth reading.

Sunday February 3, 2008 — The Berkley Climate Action Plan — Lots of people talk about climate change and the impact that it will have on peoples lives but the people of Berkley decided it was time to do something about it. In November 2006 the citizens of Berkley passed ballot measure G by a staggering 81% of the vote.

Measure G set a goal of reducing the cities overall Green House Gas (GHG) emissions 80% by the year 2050. The measure went on to task the city to develop an action plan, to be adopted by the city council in 2007, which sets a goal for GHG reductions in ten years and a plan to reach the 80% goal by 2050.

The city has missed its deadline but a draft report recently came out for public comment which sets a goal of reducing GHG emissions by 33% from 2000 levels and maps out a strategy to accomplish this. It also recommends additional revisions to take into account new technologies that will eventually allow the city to reach the 80% reduction target by 2050.

The plan calls for the following

New and existing buildings to reach achieve net zero energy consumption

Public transportation, walking and bicycling as the primary means of transportation

Personal vehicles run on alternative fuels or electricity

Zero waste sent to land fills

The majority of food consumed in the city is grown locally

The plan appears to be well thought out and has specific methods for moving the city towards each of these goals. For example the city is providing curbside recycling bins and requiring recycling at all public events to help reduce the amount of waste sent to land fills.

They are also recommending that new buildings and those that are being remodeled will have to go through an energy review and be built to reduce energy consumption. The idea is to have green building methods become Business as Usual.

The report starts out with a GHG inventory that shows that 26% of the cities GHG emissions comes from residential dwellings, 27% comes form commercial enterprises, and 47% comes from transportation. It is this last category, transportation, and their plans to cut emissions in this sector, that I want to focus on.

One interesting piece of information was the statistics on where GHG emissions originate. 1Kw of electricity generation produces 0.5 lbs of CO 2 . 1 therm of natural gas consumed produces 12 lbs of CO 2 . and 1 gallon of gasoline produces 20 lbs of CO 2 . These numbers are based on the specific mix of electricity generation from PGE so your numbers will vary. Based on these numbers, a Prius, which gets about 48 mpg would produce about .42 lbs of CO 2 per mile while the typical electric vehicle, which gets around 3 miles per KWhr would produce approximately .17 lbs of CO 2 per mile.

The plan is heavily weighted towards getting people out of their cars and onto public transportation, walking, or bicycling each day. If we are really going to address global warming by reducing our carbon footprint, this is something that we will all need to do.

Berkley, which is on the extensive Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, already has pretty good public transport options, the best in the State of California. Part of their plan calls for new residential buildings to be erected along existing public transportation corridors. The idea is that if you live just a few blocks from the nearest BART station for example, then you can walk to the station and take public transport where if you live three miles from the nearest subway station you are more likely to hop into your car and drive to work.

They are also looking at bringing in businesses, like a menswear store, that will allow residents to shop locally rather than driving out to the Mall.

They are also plan to provide safe bike storage areas so that people who do live further from public transport can bike into the local subway station. The idea is that they are more likely to use their bike if they can be sure that the bike isn’t going to be stolen while they are at work of shopping.

One additional proposal was the introduction of Rapid Transit buses on a dedicated bus lane. RTD busses have proved very popular here in Los Angeles but they act rather like subways in that they have limited stops. In some cases this means that people must travel much further to the bus stop than they would for regular bus service which discourages older people who are less able to make the trek. Yesterday I rode on one of the new Los Angeles Articulated busses on the 704 line from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills.

The ride was really bumpy and the buss rattled like it was going to fall apart; all in all not a pleasant experience. If they introduce RTD they need to make sure that the busses are safe, quiet and pleasant to ride on. I think that electric busses using overhead wires would be ideal for this type of application.

There are a couple of ideas in here that seem exceptional. The first is to implement real time signage that will tell you what time to expect the next bus. If you have ever sat at a bus stop waiting for a bus, with no idea when it will arrive because in congested cities bus schedules quickly become meaningless, then you could very quickly appreciate a sign that tells you that you have to wait 5 minutes for the next 704 bus. The other idea is to implement regional bus passes. This is a bus pass that can be used across all the various transport agencies.

In the case of Berkley this might include BART, AC Transit, and the local Municipal lines in the area. This could be done pretty easily using smart card technology, allocating the cost of the pass to the various entities based on which transit systems the rider actually used.

The plan also calls for an increase is car sharing programs. Again, the idea is to have residents rely on public transit for most of their needs but be able to use the car share system on the occasions when they need a car. One thing I didn’t see in the proposal was the concept of station cars.

It seems to me that if you are going to have people make much more use of public transit, a station car program, using cars like the Miles ZX40s NEV, would greatly increase the distance people would be willing to travel to the local subway station.

Another part of the proposal is to increase fees at parking meters and expand meters to areas where parking is currently free. This will dissuade people from taking cars into the city but it also appears to me that is will encourage people to drive out to the Mall instead of shopping locally.

They also mentioned public charging infrastructure. Currently the city has one public charging station at the Central Garage. This station contains one Small Paddle inductive charge suitable for charging the RAV4 EV and the Chevy S10E, and one AVCON suitable for charging the Ford Ranger EV and a few conversions.

There is no 110V charger at this site that would be useful for charging NEVs, Electric Scooters, Plug in Hybrids, ZAP Xebras, or most conversions, even though these probably make up the bulk of electric vehicles in Berkley. I also hear that this site is commonly ICED making it very unreliable. If the city is going to provide charging infrastructure it needs to provide usable infrastructure and needs to put out legislation with teeth to make sure that the chargers are available and working when an EV driver needs them.

There are also chargers at the Ashby Bart station but they have been out of service for months, and the one at UC Berkley also gets regularly ICED but this location also needs a permit so it is unavailable to the general public. I recently came across a RAV4 EV driver who had to visit Berkley but couldn’t be sure that there was charging so had to drive his ICE as he couldn’t rely on getting a charge in Berkley while he was at his meeting.

The City of Berkley has also moved their fleet from regular Diesel to B20. This has already reduced their carbon footprint but the report calls for moving all the city’s diesel vehicles over to B100. The plan also calls for making bio-diesel more available in the city.

The plan didn’t seem to mention Ethanol at all, which indicates that the city understands that given the current state of Ethanol production they can’t achieve a 33% reduction of GHG emissions by 2020 by a switch to E85.

Overall, the Berkley plan is very good and it is hoped that other cities see what Berkley is doing and begin to adopt similar measures. I think this is a case of Berkley leading by example and while their solutions may not fit every city, it is a good start on getting GHG emissions under control.

Sunday January 27. 2008 — Smart Arrives — On Friday evening I was walking down Beverly Blvd passed Mercedes Benz of Beverly Hills and sitting at the Curb were two Smarts. They were part of the new Smart Center at the dealership.

The Smart has finally arrived in the US.

The new Smart for two is a tiny two seat car that has been selling in Europe for many years. The original car was a design collaboration between Daimler and Swiss watch manufacturer Swatch. Daimler Chrysler had talked about bringing the Smart over to the US at least three times but each time they would reverse their decision before they really spent any money preparing the car or the distribution channel.

The 2008 was different though, it was designed from the get-go to comply with US crash safety standards. The result is the smallest car that can legally run on the US freeways. The redesign produced a slightly larger vehicle, 7.7 inches longer than the older model but still shorter than a Mini Cooper by 3 feet.

Daimler have still managed to retain the distinctive looks that have made the Smart so popular.

Gone too is the old turbo charged power plant which was replaced by a 1 liter 3 cylinder engine built by Mitsubishi that is capable of delivering around 70hp. The old 6 speed transmission was also replaced with a 5 speed automated manual transmission, one that shifts itself. The car delivers an EPA estimated mileage of 34mpg in the city and 40mpg on the highway.

For comparison, the Mini gets 26mph in the city and 34mpg on the highway with automatic transmission. While gas mileage isn’t stellar, only the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic hybrid does better when you look at the new 2008 EPA mileage estimates, which are done to produce more realistic values than the old EPA procedure.

For several months now Daimler have had their reservation system open, and $99 would reserve you a Smart which sells for as little as $12,000 for the base model. They claim to have taken over 30,000 orders, which exceeds the current annual production of the Smart factory in France. I am not sure if the 30,000 number is correct but Mercedes Benz of Beverly Hills had taken 22 orders prior to starting their Smart Center.

The Smart offers a nice option for commuting into the city where parking space is at a premium. It can be parked in a space about half the size of a compact car and can even be parked with the rear wheels to the curb and still fit in a standard parking space. This isn’t always a good idea though since many cities have ordinances which require the wheels to be parallel to the pavement.

There is always someone who suffers though and in this case it is the ZAP dealers that still have Americanized ZAP Smarts on their lot. These cars, that used to sell for over $26,000 dollars are now going to be very hard to move. Still, people may be willing to pay the premium to get the original Smart.

The Smart Fortwo has always been popular with EV converters. Its small size, light weight, and low cost make it ideal for conversion to an electric city car, and make and excellent Station car. Several EV converters, including AVT in the UK, have had Smart as an option. The problem in the US has always been that the Smart wasn’t legal here so getting models has been difficult and fitting them out so they can pass US crash worthiness standards is expensive. Now that there is a street legal version on the roads it won’t be long before we see a Smart EV on the roads.

Who knows, Daimler might decide to bring their own Smart EV over to this side of the Atlantic.

Sunday January 20, 2008 — Trouble at Tesla — I have been picking up a lot of buzz over the internet that would seem to indicate that all isn’t well with Tesla.

It appears that there is currently a bloodbath going on in San Jose where Martin Eberhard hasn’t been the only one to whom they have said farewell. It seems that Tesla is laying off, or firing lots of employees and one or two people have speculated that this is an indication that Tesla may be setting up to shut down operations.

I think this may be more of a case that the new management is cleaning house and bringing in their own people. This isn’t totally unprecedented but the way Tesla is going about it in a very ham fisted way, if a blog since taken down from the internet at Tesla’s bidding is to be believed.

What is most disturbing in the blog is that Tesla appears to have eliminated their entire Human Resources department. This would make it very difficult to recruit new people to replace the ones being terminated. I took a quick look at their web site and they do have a list of 43 job openings which does seem to support my contention that this is a sweep for the new management to get rid of the old guard.

They also appear to have eliminated some key individuals such as their VP of manufacturing, the lead engineer on Tesla’s motor team, and the VP of Whitestar. In all they seem to have eliminated about 26 people which, given the size of Tesla Motors, must have turned their San Jose facility into a ghost town. All the jobs that they have eliminated appear in their Job openings page.

It should be noted however that Tesla always planned on having the Roadster built by Lotus in the UK so the staff cuts may not impact production. What appears to be at issue is the ruthless way that Tesla did the cuts.

Still, in a blog from December 27, 2007 the new President and CEO Ze’ev Drori states Our goal is to start full production of Tesla Roadsters in spring 2008. He also updated the situation with the transmission. Tesla will be shipping the car with a temporary transmission which should provide the reliability needed for a production car. This transmission won’t allow full performance though with 0-60 times of around 5.7 seconds instead of the promised 4.0 seconds.

They will continue to develop the transmission until they have one that can deliver the 4.0 second 0-60 while being robust enough to meet reliability expectations. When the new transmission is ready and tested it will be fitted into the early cars at no cost to the owner.

Mr. Drori also addressed the range issue. The original EPA range test was done on an incorrectly calibrated system which gave a wrong range value. The test has been re-done and the EPA range set at 221 miles. In testing Tesla have reported ranges as good as 267 miles in slow city driving and as low as 167 miles when being driven hard on the highway.

I think that the range is going to meet owner’s expectations.

Interestingly, Chairman of the Board Elon Musk wrote Prior to beginning series production, our intent is to build production cars in limited quantity throughout the first half of 2008. This will allow us to exercise our manufacturing, supply chain and customer service capabilities before we enter full production. My car, production VIN 1, is already off the production line in the UK and final preparations are being made for importation. in his blog dated December 21, 2007.

It seems that some of the original signature 100 customers may start receiving cars early in 2008.

A quick review of the Tesla home page also revealed that they are now accepting reservations for their 2009 production cars.

Those who have followed evfinder.com will know that I have never been a big fan of Tesla ever since they totally ignored me when setting up their launch party while inviting other less well known EV advocates. The current blood bath at Tesla only strengths my dislike of this company. They appear to be delivering a fine product and have approached the design and manufacturing work in a very well thought out and effective way.

It will be good to see a freeway capable EV on US roads. There is, however, a human side to business and ruthless treatment of your staff doesn’t cut it in my book. With such staff firings going on, moral must be very low at Tesla, and I wonder how long it will be before they are hit with lawsuits for improper termination.

Sunday January 13, 2007 — Hydrogen Highway hits Speed Bump — When the California Air Resource Board … the ZEV Mandate they replaced it with a grand plan to move to a hydrogen economy. A key part of the plan was to build a hydrogen highway but that part of the plan is hitting significant speed bumps.

Over the last few months three of the state’s existing hydrogen fueling stations have closed their doors and three others have been DOA. This shows the chicken and egg nature of the hydrogen economy; you can’t run fueling stations without customers to sell to and you can’t get customers without places to refuel.

The State’s plan was to create a network of 100 hydrogen fueling stations by running the length of the state by 2010. This would allow fuel cell vehicle owners to drive wherever they wanted in California with just a little planning. Back in late 2002, when I was a member of the Committee developing the Environmental Sustainability section of the future plan for the City of Beverly Hills, I met with one of then Governor Gray Davis’s advisors.

He was totally convinced that Daimler Chrysler would have an affordable fuel cell car in the showrooms by 2005 so the hydrogen highway made a lot of sense.

The Automobile companies must of done a really good job of selling the fuel cell vehicle because, though many of us were very skeptical that the companies could have a car on general sale before 2020, a majority of the states lawmakers bought into fuel cells. Having been sold on the fuel cell hype, it is understandable that CARB backed off the ZEV mandate although most of the board’s members should have known better.

The State had pushed money into developing the hydrogen highway and it had been built up to around 25 fueling stations. It has been hard for these fueling stations to remain viable however since there is only about 130 hydrogen fueled vehicles in California and some of these are the BMW Series 7 cars that use liquid hydrogen and can’t use the gaseous hydrogen fueling stations that make up the hydrogen highway.

More of a concern than the current station closures are the three stations that never got off the ground. State grants in the order of $1.1M to $1.5M were awarded to Cal State LA, San Diego Unified School District, and PGE to open new hydrogen fueling stations. None of these grants have been taken and the three fueling stations are DOA.

The LA times Quoted Jennifer Zerwer, spokesperson for PGE, as saying We took a look at where the technology was, and hydrogen seemed like a much longer-term solution.

It now looks unlikely that California will reach it’s goal of 100 hydrogen fueling stations by 2010, even at a time when Honda, GM and Daimler are planning to roll out a limited number of fuel cell vehicles for testing by select members of the general public. These companies are now targeting select areas that are adjacent to existing fueling stations.

Meanwhile, Governor Schwarzenegger just introduced a new budget for the cash strapped state which included $6M for the hydrogen highway at a time when the he is proposing that they close a number of state parks to save money. It’s time that the state comes to the realization that the hydrogen economy is a lot further off than they expected. The $6M could be much better spend on electric vehicle infrastructure to encourage the new range of electric vehicles, many being built in California, that will be appearing on the roads during 2008.

Sunday January 6, 2008 — Solar Grand Plan — This week Bill Mason from the RAV4 EV group passed along an article entitled A Solar Grand Plan by Ken Zweibel, James Mason, and Vasilis Fthenakis from Scientific American. In this article the authors lay out a master plan for providing 69% of US electricity from Solar by 2050.

The plan requires that the 30,000 square miles of desert in the South West be covered with solar panels. While this space does sound vast, the authors suggest that when you take into account the land required for mining operations the amount of land is not more than would be needed for conventional coal fired plants.

The plan would produce something like 3,000 gigawatts (GW) of electricity but to achieve that the authors postulate that the efficiency of solar panels would need to be raised from about 10% we see with the latest technologies to about 14% and be installed at a cost of less than $1.20 per Kilowatt. Since efficiencies of 16.5% have already been produced in laboratories this shouldn’t be beyond our capabilities.

Solar energy is only available during the day when the sun shines but electrical energy is required twenty-four hours a day. The authors suggest two ways of storing excess power for use at night. The first method is to use compressed air. Excess energy would be used to pump air into underground caverns during the day. These underground caverns would be constructed where the geology of the region was favorable not necessarily in the South West.

At night this compressed air, along with a small amount of natural gas, would be used to drive turbines to generate electricity. The second method would be to use concentrator power plants that store heat using molten salt. There is already a power plant like this in use in Spain but that only has 6 hours of storage before the salt solidifies, the plan calls for 16 hours of storage.

Energy would be distributed over a new DC backbone and converted to AC close to the areas where the power is consumed. It was my understanding that Westinghouse’s system of AC power generation won out over Edison’s system because it was much easier to transmit AC power because of the difficulty of stepping up DC to very large voltages. However, According to studies done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory there is a lot less energy loss using High Voltage Direct Current.

This requires the construction of a whole new HVDC grid to accommodate this.

To make this project work the government would need to provide around $420 billion in subsidies in the early stages until the system got off the ground. A large portion of this would be to build the HVDC backbone with the rest going to making the solar energy affordable in the early years. To pay for this the authors recommend implementing a carbon tax, something that has been proposed as a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

One interesting item is the projection that the move to solar energy would create three million new jobs here in the USA.

By 2050 they propose that 43,000 square miles of the South West USA would be taken up with solar power generation giving enough energy to power not only our homes and businesses but also 344 million plug-in hybrid cars and trucks.

The proposal appears to be quite well thought out and should be workable. My only quibble with this paper is my usual one, it attempts a one size fits all solution. They do talk about small quantities of wind, geothermal and bio-mass generation filling out the power generation model and they do project about 10% of power generation as being done locally using rooftop arrays. They skate over the approximately 80 GW of large hydroelectric generation that we currently have in the USA.

They also don’t consider new forms of power generation such as wave and tidal energy which could play a significant role in future power generation. Tidal energy is particularly attractive since it is very predictable and can be harvested with little impact to the environment.

There basic assumption also concentrates power generation in the south west while there are plenty of locations in the south east that are just a good for solar power generation. All over the country we have large shopping centers with acres of parking lots where cars sit in the sunshine and bake until the driver gets in and cranks up the AC. There is significant power generation capacity in covering these parking lots with solar panels so cars sit in the shade while the shopping center is powered by clean solar electricity.

I also see solar charging stations where electric vehicles can park and charge on clean solar energy while the driver shops, has a meal, or takes in a movie.

It appears that we are facing a triple whammy, global warming, oil shortages and dependence on foreign oil. This proposal is one of the best that I have seen so far when it comes to dealing with these three problems. It is in the best interest of the USA to move ahead with a program such as this.

MITSUBISHI i-MiEV – Electric Car Keiko 47kW Auto
MITSUBISHI i-MiEV – Electric Car Keiko 47kW Auto
MITSUBISHI i-MiEV – Electric Car Keiko 47kW Auto
MITSUBISHI i-MiEV – Electric Car Keiko 47kW Auto
MITSUBISHI i-MiEV – Electric Car Keiko 47kW Auto
MITSUBISHI i-MiEV – Electric Car Keiko 47kW Auto

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