The Truth About Cars » Battery http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 20 Oct 2014 20:00:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Battery http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Piston Slap: The Straw that broke the Hybrid’s Back? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-the-straw-that-broke-the-hybrids-back/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/piston-slap-the-straw-that-broke-the-hybrids-back/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:48:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=805330 Marc writes: Hi, I haven’t seen this addressed anywhere. I have 2006 Lexus RX400H with 106,000 miles. The vehicle is bulletproof never having a repair, it even has it’s original brakes. I traded in a 2000 RX 300 for it. The 300 also never had a repair. My question pertains to the hybrid batteries. Multiple […]

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Marc writes:

Hi, I haven’t seen this addressed anywhere.

I have 2006 Lexus RX400H with 106,000 miles. The vehicle is bulletproof never having a repair, it even has it’s original brakes. I traded in a 2000 RX 300 for it. The 300 also never had a repair.

My question pertains to the hybrid batteries. Multiple Toyota and Lexus dealers have stated to me, that they have seen few hybrids if any needing replacement batteries yet some Prius’ have been on the road for over 10 years but there doesn’t seem to be much said about the expected life of the battery packs. My battery warranty just expired. Is it time to trade it in to avoid the eventual high battery replacement cost or am I worrying about a problem that could be many years down the road.

Sajeev asks:

Hi there. Where do you live and how many electronic items on the cat do you regularly run? (A/C, stereo, heated seat, etc.)

Marc replies:

I live in Southern California. The AC is almost always on, music always on, NAV always on.

Sajeev concludes:

The series has indeed covered hybrid battery fail, Toyotas in particular.  Your location’s warm climate shall be easy on hybrid batteries, not taxing them with a ton of power robbing heater load. Or, to a lesser extent, the A/C load of hotter parts of the country.  But your battery will fail, and there are companies willing to help.

If you want the help.

Considering the lack of needed repairs (original brakes? Impressive!) on this RX, selling it while the going is good is quite logical. If you want a new vehicle! If not, find a hybrid battery vendor, get a brake job, fluid changes, etc. that will eventually be needed.

All this work could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, yet none of it scares me like a TDI+DSG Volkswagen product that’s out of warranty.  This stuff just needs to happen.  I’d wager it’s worth it, if you like the RX and wouldn’t want to pay for a new vehicle. Which is always gonna be your call, son.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 14:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=705962 Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the […]

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2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior

Outside North America, this little blue pill of an A-segment car is known as the Daewoo Matiz Creative. It may look an obsolete computer peripheral (or a pregnant roller skate), but GM claims that the Chevrolet Spark has more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia. As a self-described technology lover, and card-carrying resident of the Left Coast, I had to check it out.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Spark EV starts its life in Changwon, South Korea where gasoline and electric sparks are built by GM Korea, which was once known as Daewoo. But the heart of the Spark comes from America. GM is building the permanent magnet motors in Maryland, and instead of LG batteries made in Korea (like the Volt) GM is using American-made batteries courtesy of B456 (formerly A123. I’m not making this up). For reasons we don’t understand, GM isn’t “doing a CODA” and shipping cars sans-drivetran to America for assembly. The plant in Maryland ships the batteries and drivetrain to Korea, GM Korea inserts it in the car and ships the completed unit back to the USA.

The Spark EV exists because of my home state of California. The California Air Resources Board has mandated that Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, GM and Chrysler make a total of 7,500 zero emissions vehicles available for sale by 2014 and 25,000 by 2017. By 2025, this number is expected to rise tenfold.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006

Exterior

Overall length slots the Chevy between the two-door Fiat 500e and the four-door Honda Fit EV but the small Chevy is narrower than both by a decent amount. Like the Fiat and other small cars, there’s something “cartoonish” about the Spark that is endearing. It’s all about proportions. The headlamps, tail lamps and grille are all fairly standard in size, but they are large in relation to the overall vehicle. The Spark isn’t alone in this, the same thing can be said of the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500 and Fiat 500L.

Because small cars tend to value practicality in design, the Spark has a tall roofline and the wheels have been pushed as close to the four corners as possible. This mechanical necessity pays dividends in handling and interior space but causes the Spark to look unusually tall when viewed head-on.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005

Interior

As with the gasoline version, the front seats are flat, firmly padded and offer little lumbar support. The hard plastics on the doors make for an uncomfortable place to rest your elbow, but there is a padded armrest in the center for the driver only. This isn’t unusual for compact cars, but electrification makes for strange bedfellows and the Leaf, Focus EV and Fiat 500e are direct competition that all offer more driver and passenger comfort.

Because of the Spark’s narrow width, the Chevy is a strict four-seater putting it on par with the 500e but one passenger behind the Fit, Leaf and Focus. It was surprisingly easy to put four tall adults in the Spark, a task that is more difficult in the considerably larger Focus because of its sloping roof-line. Still, passengers will be more comfortable in the Honda Fit which offers a bit more room for four, seating for five and more headroom all the way around. Despite the Leaf’s rear seat numbers being average, because of the way the seating position in the Leaf most people will find the Nissan roomier.

As with most gas to EV conversions, the Spark loses a bit of cargo volume in the process dropping 2 cubes to 9.6 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s slightly larger than the 500e, but a long way from the Leaf’s spacious 24 cubic foot booty. Unlike the Fiat 500e however, GM chose not sacrifice passenger footwell space for battery storage.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001

Infotainment

All Spark EVs get the same touchscreen head unit that is optional in the gasoline car. The system’s layout is simple, attractive and intuitive. Along the bottom of the screen sits a row of touch buttons for power, volume and a home button. After a week with Chevy’s entry-level system I was left wondering why every GM car can’t have this software. The system isn’t the height of modernity compared to uConnect or SYNC. It does not offer integrated voice commands, integrated navigation software or snazzy animations. This system’s claim to fame is in its simplicity and its integration with your smartphone.

Once you have an Android or iPhone paired with MyLink you can voice command your phone, your tunes, and anything on your device with the voice command button on the steering wheel. This means the mobile services provided my MyLink are limited to the app selection on your device. GM has taken another step that other manufacturers would do well to copy: integrated smartphone navigation. For $5 you can download the BringGo navigation app to your smartphone and the MyLink system will use the app as the processing engine and the car’s display as the user interface. This gives you a large, bright map with controls that look like a standard integrated navigation system coupled with the ability to pre-program addresses using the app before you get into the car.

In the Spark EV the MyLink system also handles vehicle charging control. You can choose to charge immediately, at a specific time, or you can program your electrical rates into the system and have the car charge when it is most economical. We of course get the typical power flow meter which is getting a little silly in the 21st century and a display that shows what percentage of your battery was used for driving, cabin heating/cooling and battery conditioning. Driving your Spark, or any EV, in a “polar vortex” will reduce battery life due to both cabin heating and battery heating.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain

Drivetrain

As with most EVs on the road power is delivered by a 3-phase AC motor connected to a fixed-speed reduction gear. EV’s don’t have a transmission in the traditional sense in order to reduce weight. If you want to go in reverse you spin the motor backwards and if you need neutral you simply disconnect the motor from the electrical path. Power output is rated at 140 horsepower and torque comes in at a whopping 400 lb-ft. (Most EV makers choose to electronically limit torque to reduce torque steer and improve battery life.)

Power is supplied by a 560lb, 21.3 kWh lithium battery pack located where the gas tank is in the gasoline Spark. As with the Chevy Volt, GM is taking the cautious path to battery preservation equipping the pack with an active heating and cooling system. That’s a stark contrast to the Nissan Leaf which uses a passive cooling system. Thanks to the lightest curb weight in the group (2,989lbs), the Spark scores 82 miles of EPA range and the highest efficiency rating of any EV to date. Depending on the weight of my right foot, my real world range varied from 70-100 miles.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port

For any battery, heat is the enemy. Especially when charging or discharging rapidly or when charging in hot desert climates. As a result I would anticipate that all things being equal, the Spark, 500e and Focus should suffer less capacity loss and battery degradation over time than the passively cooled Nissan Leaf.

The big news for 2014 is the world’s first implementation of the new SAE DC fast charging connector. I’m a bit torn on this twist in EV development. While I agree that the DC “combo connector” is more logical and compact than the competing CHAdeMO connector found on the Nissan Leaf and most EVs in Japan, there are already several hundred CHAdeMO stations in the USA and right now there is one SAE station. I’m told there is unlikely to be an adapter so this makes three charging standards on offer in the USA. One for Nissan and Mitsubishi, one for Tesla and one for GM and BMW (the i3 will use it as well.)

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

Drive

The biggest thing people forget about an EV isn’t charging related, it’s heat related. When you want to heat the cabin in a gasoline car you are using “waste” energy to do it. If you didn’t have the heater on, that heat would just end up dissipating via the engine’s radiator. Electric cars produce little heat when running and rely on resistive heating elements to heat the cabin and an electric air conditioning to cool the cabin. Heat pumps would be more efficient because they “move” heat rather than “creating” heat but so far the Nissan Leaf (SV and higher) are the only production cars to adopt this tech. In 50 degree weather on a 60 mile journey nearly 15% of the energy consumed went into heating the Spark’s cabin, while on my way home when it was 80 degrees only 8% of the energy was used to cool the cabin.

Thanks to a better weight balance vs the gasoline model and staggered tires, 185/55 front 195/55 rear, the Spark handles surprisingly well. Many have posited that this is simply a band-aid measure due to the weight shift in the car but all sources point to the Spark EV still being heavier in the front. This means the tire selection was likely done for handling reasons, which makes sense because the Spark beats the 500e in fun-to-corner metrics. The extra weight has also improved the ride in the small hatchback which, although still choppy on the freeway like many small hatches, it much smoother in EV trim. Steering is numb but accurate, a common complaint with EVs.

With 140 horsepower and 400lb0ft of twist routed through the front wheels, the Spark is probably the 2014 torque steer king. Is that bad? Not in my book. I found the effect amusing and perhaps even a challenge to control on winding mountain roads. The competition limits their torque output to reduce torque steer but in doing so they reduce the fun-factor as well as performance, something that really shows in the Spark’s 7.08 second run to 60, notably faster than the competition.

When it is time to stop the Spark comes up short. Stopping distances and fade aren’t the issue, it’s feel. The brake pedal is softer than average and the transition between regenerative and friction braking is probably the poorest, excluding the current generation Honda Civic Hybrid. When the system is entirely in friction braking mode (if the battery is full and you are going down hill) the brakes get even more vague, requiring more travel than when the system is regenerating to get the same effect.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010

Pricing

At $26,685, the least expensive EV on the market excluding the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. For $27,010 the 2LT trim swaps cloth seats for “leatherette” and adds a leather wrapped steering wheel. That’s about the fastest and cheapest model walk in the industry. GM tells us that the DC quick charge port is an independent $750 option and it cannot be retrofitted to a Spark shipped without it. The Spark undercuts Nissan’s Leaf by nearly $2,000 and the Fiat by more than $5,000. While I might argue that the Nissan Leaf is more practical than the Spark, GM’s aggressive pricing screams value at every turn, especially if you lease. At the time of our loan GM was offering a $199 lease deal on the Spark with $1,000 down plus the usual miscellaneous fees.

The Spark’s main sales proposition for many is as a commuter car. When you factor in everything the Spark is the cheapest way to drive in California’s carpool lanes (you know, other than actually carpooling.) Despite not being less attractive than a Fiat 500e, less practical than a Nissan Leaf and less luxurious than a Focus EV, I’d probably pick the Spark.

 

GM provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.72 Seconds

0-60: 7.08 Seconds

 1/4 Mile: 15.78 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average observed economy: 4.3 miles/kWh

Sound level at 50 MPH: 70dB

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-009 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV LCD Gauge Cluster 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

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Piston Slap: The Panther that Cried…Wolf? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/piston-slap-the-panther-that-cried-wolf/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/piston-slap-the-panther-that-cried-wolf/#comments Mon, 10 Jun 2013 11:00:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=491386 TTAC commentator confused1096 writes: Sajeev, Writing to you again after a hiatus of a three years. You and various commentators helped with my not so dearly departed Windstar  (died of a blown transmission a couple of months after article). Now hoping I can get some input on a decent car. Fast forward three years later. […]

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TTAC commentator confused1096 writes:

Sajeev,

Writing to you again after a hiatus of a three years. You and various commentators helped with my not so dearly departed Windstar  (died of a blown transmission a couple of months after article). Now hoping I can get some input on a decent car.

Fast forward three years later. I sold a nice Nissan 300zx and bought a human sized car in March. I’m the proud owner of a nearly showroom looking ’98 Grand Marquis LS. The car was purchased with 198k on the clock and 10 years of maintenance records. It now has 211,000 miles. I’ve updated all routine maintenance, replaced brakes & rotors, rear shocks, etc. Really the only thing the car needs at the moment are front shocks (soon) and I plan to have the seats recovered early next year. Also plan on adding dual exhaust and a few other minor tweaks next year. This is my second Panther platform car, so I’m reasonably familiar with the common issues.

Now to the problem: Ever since I purchased it I’ve had a charge light that will illuminate on the dash intermittently. The alternator tests good, as does the battery. The car has no codes in memory and I’ve checked all the connections for battery, starter, and alternator. All are clean and secure. My regular mechanic thinks the diode in the alternator is going out. I hate to replace a pricey alternator on a maybe. Besides, shouldn’t the various part store tests have picked it up if that were the issue? I don’t want to have a boy who cried wolf attitude over an important warning system either.

Sajeev answers:

Don’t worry bro-ham! Rarely is it crying wolf when we’re talkin’ about an older vehicle’s charging system at this mileage.

Especially with 1980s-1990s Ford alternators of the poorly rebuilt variety.  And from a corroded wire you will never see upon casual inspection to a failing lead plate in the battery, there are too many fail points to easily neglect, and wind up stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Your mechanic is probably right. Or it might be the regulator on the alternator, which is pretty cheap and easy to replace. Your best bet is to get a volt meter that plugs into your cigarette lighter to see the actual numbers. It’s cheap insurance, I’ve used one for almost a decade and I love it. Mine isn’t as pretty as the one below, but its paid for itself many, many times over.  (which is an indirect slam against the quality of remanufactured alternators)

By the way, any parts store can test the charging system for free, with a fancy machine that is quite accurate.

Honestly, it sounds like you need a new (high quality rebuilt) alternator.  One that is 100% all new, but still has a lifetime warranty.  The new platinum alternators available at some parts stores will suffice.  I’ve had good luck with local alternator rebuild shops and the nice folks at PA Performance. So you have options.

And now, in a poorly transitioned segue, here’s more fan mail on the same subject: Panther Love. 

Stefan writes:

Oh Sajeev (note correct spelling) (WOOT, SM), I have no tricky questions for you at all today. I just wanted to thank you for your excellent and entertaining Fat Panther wisdom in many recent articles at TTAC. I took it all to heart and recently purchased this mint condition triple black ’97 Town Car (see picture attached) for $3,900.00 from a Chicago dealership. Most of the other vehicles on the lot were used police cars; regular Panthers. The Town Car already had the correct Replacement Aluminum Intake Manifold installed. New rotors & pads plus a set of Cooper Sigma Shadow Whitewalls and I am set to go for another 50,000-miles in great comfort and economy at 27 mpg.

The car had 84,000 miles on the odometer when I bought it. I’ll write you again when I get to 300,000 or so…..again, many thanks!

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day Seven (EV death and resurrection) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-seven/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-seven/#comments Wed, 05 Jun 2013 22:05:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490939 It was the end of the line for the orange creamsicle Fiat 500e dubbed Zippy Zappy. She and I covered some 675 miles together during our seven-say odyssey (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click over to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 before coming back to […]

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2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-004

It was the end of the line for the orange creamsicle Fiat 500e dubbed Zippy Zappy. She and I covered some 675 miles together during our seven-say odyssey (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click over to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 before coming back to the saga, I promise we’ll wait for you.) As I ended my afternoon commute by rolling silently through my forest, I looked down at the power gauge. 33% left. It had been a hot day so I had the A/C on, cruise control set to 74 MPH and Toby Keith was blaring on the radio. My range anxiety was gone. But had some EV mystique been lost in the process?

When the LEAF floated down to the forest floor for the first time in early 2011 it truly was the start of something new. Where this 21st century EV adventure will take us is anyone’s guess, but the LEAF represented the first viable electric car in nearly 100 years and single-handedly boosted EV sales in America to the highest numbers since 1914. Yes, I am discounting the EV1, the original RAV4 EV, Honda EV Plus and the S-10 EV. Why? Well, being horrible cars doesn’t help their case, and aside from that, put together they totaled around 3,000 over eight model years. Talk about dismal sales. Oh wait, most of them weren’t sold, they were leased as “experimental research vehicles.” Before we end our EV week, we need to talk about the 1990s EV blip.

Who killed the EV in 1999? Nobody. Sorry Chris Paine and the other conspiracy theorists, the EV was stillborn at the end of the 20th century and all the zapping from MagneCharge paddles couldn’t get that dog to hunt. (Oh how I love mixing metaphors.) What was the real issue? Let’s start at the beginning.

ev12.jpg

The EV1 was dreadfully ugly. Ugly cars don’t sell well. The EV1 was also a two-seat coupé. Two-seaters don’t fly off showroom floors. Toss in shopping cart like handling when the market clamored for go-kart manners, limited range, ginormous/expensive home charging stations, and lead-acid batteries that have a limited lifetime and you had a car no sane shopper would want to own. So GM leased them for $399-$549 a month ($576-$793 in 2013 dollars). The Gen II EV1 (why didn’t they call it an EV2?) landed in 1999 with NiMH batteries. GM traded the lead battery weaknesses for higher energy density (30% more capacity for the same weight) and a different set of problems. NiMH batteries were all the rage in the 90s—our Motorola cell phones and “luggable” laptops used them—but they “self-discharge” far more rapidly than other battery types and are more fickle about charging temperatures. Because of the nature of NiMH packs a beefier cooling system was needed to keep them happy while charging. Charge times doubled from 4 hours to 8 hours at 240V and the 120V “opportunity” charger had to be abandoned since the car’s new battery cooling system consumed nearly 1,000 watts meaning you could run the cooling, or charge. Not both. Toss in huge losses on every car sold, no desire to extend losses by making out of warranty parts and GM killed the endeavor 1,117 cars later. Thank God. Who killed the EV1? Who cares? It was a mercy killing and I believe in euthanasia.

How about the RAV4 EV? 0-60 in 18 seconds, a top speed of 78MPH, limited range and a steep $42,000 price tag ($60,680 in 2013 dollars = ouch). Following the death of the EV1 program, GM sold their battery division which held key NiMH patents used by automotive battery makers. Regardless of the conspiracy theories surrounding the Chevron ownership of patents and the closing of the large battery division, so few EVs were being made we can never be sure about the motivation for stopping production. Does it matter? Probably not since the market for a slow, heavy compact 2WD trucklet that cost more than twice the base price of a gasoline version was limited to say the least. In addition, the home charger for the EV1 and RAV4 cost $2,500 in 1996 ($3,611 adjusted for inflation), lease payments were steeper than a Cadillac, and gasoline cost $0.99 a gallon. Which would you have picked? The fact that any of these cars got off the ground in the first place is a testament to two things: 1. California’s legislative powers can move mountains. 2. There’s an ass for every seat.

2013 Fiat 500e Charging from ChargePoint J1772 Charging Station, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

What does that have to do with my week in Zippy Zappy? I’m amazed how far we’ve come in just 16 years. Battery technology has improved by leaps and bounds thanks to the boom of portable widgets in the last 10 years. Batteries aren’t just more energy dense, they are more durable, safer and have faster charge/discharge rates. These improvements allow EVs  to be made that don’t weigh substantially more than a regular car, can handle like a regular car, look like a regular car and drive like a regular car. Thanks to other improvements we have lower charging times and smaller connectors. We also have 240V home charging stations that cost $450, one eighth the cost of the EV1’s funky paddle system and use up 1/20th the physical space.

Much of what was learned in the EV programs at the end of last century has been applied, not just to modern EVs from Zippy Zappy to the Model S, but to hybrid cars and normal cars alike. Hybrid cars accounted for 3.4% of new vehicle sales last month and 6.5% of new car sales. (Pure EVs? 0.54% of new car sales in May.) Those hybrids have built on EV lessons, from battery-powered climate control systems to aerodynamic improvements and power management systems. The next big thing (if you listen to some people) will be fuel cell vehicles which will build further on the EV lessons learned. Fuel cells are exciting in many ways but they need batteries because fuel cells work best when delivering a constant flow of power. The cells depend on the “ballast” ability of a battery to supply peak loads like going up hill or accelerating rapidly.

The Leaf battery pack

The more I drive EVs, the more the veil has descended. EVs are wrapped up in green clothing, range anxiety, conspiracy theories and more, but at their heart, they are just a regular car with a cord and a small fuel tank. If (and when) people begin to see EVs for what they are (and what they aren’t) I think we’ll see more of them on the roads. They won’t keep minke whales from being hunted down on Whale Wars. With our current power generation make up they are unlikely to have much of an impact on greenhouse gas emissions. But as long as they fulfill the promise of reduced overall emissions and low operating costs, they will have a home with commuters looking for silent running. Next time I need a new car, an EV will certainly be on my list. Where on the list? Good question.

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

 Day 6

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day Six (Don’t honk at me, I’m saving the planet) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-six-dont-honk-at-me-im-saving-the-planet/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-six-dont-honk-at-me-im-saving-the-planet/#comments Tue, 04 Jun 2013 22:07:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490709 Day six brought a typical Northern California morning: it was 41 degrees, foggy and raining in my forest. But because I was driving an electric vehicle, a squirrel greeted me at the doorstep to thank me for saving his home and a group of hummingbirds dried my charging cable with their tiny wings so I […]

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Rainy forest, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Day six brought a typical Northern California morning: it was 41 degrees, foggy and raining in my forest. But because I was driving an electric vehicle, a squirrel greeted me at the doorstep to thank me for saving his home and a group of hummingbirds dried my charging cable with their tiny wings so I wouldn’t electrocute myself as I unplugged. Then I woke up. But it was still 41. And foggy. And raining.

If you’re just checking in, catch up by going to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5 before coming back to the saga, I promise we’ll wait for you.

Because I got up on time and I didn’t drive the orange Fiat 500e (Zippy Zappy) much on Sunday, I was greeted by a full charge. Via the smartphone app I commanded cabin heat since I had become soft and given into the temptation that is a warm cabin earlier in the week. Doing causes the cabin heater to turn on at a low-level to heat the cabin. It puts out as much heat as a regular-old space heater: not much. Given enough time it will get the cabin to a normal temperature. If your battery is already fully charged, using this feature will preserve range because you won’t use battery power to bring the interior bits up to temperature. This is not only in the name of battery life, but efficiency as well. It is more efficient to suck off the 120V/240V charging teat than to charge the battery and discharge it. Everything about the modern crop of EVs is designed around efficiency, even the sporty Model S. Increase efficiency and you reduce emissions.

Say what? How can you reduce emissions on a “zero emissions” vehicle? You thought EV equals zero emissions? Au contraire! Where do you think the power comes from? We’re all adults. We know by now the ATM doesn’t “make” money, and what powers our appliances has to be made somewhere. If that somewhere is in the United States, then on average half of it (49.6%) comes from coal. Average is an important thing to keep in mind, power sources vary wildly from zip code to zip code. If you’re in New York, rejoice because you have the cleanest power in the country as long as you’re in the camp that thinks nuclear power is clean. While not quite as squeaky clean as NY, California, the “Pacific Northwest” and New England are the cleanest places to power up your ride. If you live in Colorado or one of the other square states, your EV is a novelty coal-powered car. (Some portions of Colorado are nearly 75% coal.) Brings a new meaning to “clean coal” doesn’t it? In those coal heavy states, depending on which study you believe, driving a Nissan Leaf (one of the most efficient EVs) will produce similar greenhouse gas emissions to a 30MPG car. Ouch. If you live in Denver and drive an EV, you are making the forest sprites weep. Indeed, even the ginormous Toyota Avalon Hybrid (below) is 20% cleaner than your electric anything in The Centennial State. (And cheaper as well.)

2013 Toyota Avalon Limited, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

 

What about the rest of us? Well, it is comforting to know that 32% of EVs are being sold in California with Florida at 6.6%, Washington 5.7%, Texas 4.3%, New York 3.5% (so much for those liberal Yankees being into left-wing propulsion and Texans loving oil.) Ohio, Illinois and North Caroline all come in at 3.1% with the other states trailing. That’s not surprising when you consider CA accounts for 11.1% of US car sales with others falling roughly in line: TX 9.6, FL 7.1, NY 5, IL 3.6. The stand out is the environmentally conscious Washington, third in EV sales but eighth in overall vehicle sales. If you want to check out where your power comes from, just click on over to the DOE’s nifty website. Or, for the reader’s digest MPG conversion, there is a very nifty map created by The Union of Concerned Scientists. The map below shows you the equivalent MPGs you would have to get in a gasoline car to be as clean as an EV that averages 0.34 kWh/mile. Zippy Zappy has been averaging only 0.25 kWh/mile, so adjust your figures accordingly. That model S? 0.38 kWh/mile.

Power MPG map, Picture Courtesy of www.ucsusa.org

The trouble with these numbers (aside from the fact that they are confusing) is: there is more going on than just greenhouse emissions. We have nitrous oxide (known as NOx because it refers to both NO and NO2) to think of. Upon closer inspection that seems to be a non issue because the average vehicle emits .001438 lbs of NOx per mile and a LEAF in Colorado (consuming 74% coal electricity, the worst in the USA) only puts out 0.0000096 lbs. Cross that one off your list. What about particulates? The claim is most forms of power generation produce less than the same energy in a gasoline vehicle. But what about the intangibles? How do you feel about hydro power and the effects on fish populations? Wind power and birds? Nuclear power and the insane people who think it’s going to make them grow 5 eyeballs? Think Solar power is your answer? If you charge at home off-peak (after 6pm for most of us) you’re in the dwindling return part of the day for solar in the summer, and in the dark in the winter. That means you may have put clean solar power into the grid, but at night you’re sucking down nuclear power and the other forms of generation that provide constant forms of output. (That’s as opposed to gas and others that can ramp up production quickly to meet spikes in demand.)

One must also consider the extraneous factors involved in the EV game. Recycling of the lithium-ion battery packs on the scale required is a current unknown. How about that EV charging station at home? How long will it last? How much of an environmental impact is buying an EV and not investing that money into home improvements to cut your utility expenses? How about buying local products and produce, etc.? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I think they need to be resolved in my mind before I can say without a doubt that driving an EV is saving the planet.

2014 Fiat 500 Electric, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

But on the other hand, does saving the planet have to be your EV goal? Is driving an EV because it reduces certain expenses and is exciting  technology enough? How about if your employer subsidises your EV charging in an attempt to be green? (Plenty do.) How about that HOV lane access? How about those crazy-cheap lease deals? I’m seriously considering an EV as my family’s next car purchase, but it has more to do with the financial and “time away from home” incentives than purely altruistic environmental concerns. Looking at that map above, if you feel truly inspired to protect the environment, then some of you will have to skip the EV holy grail and drive a 50+ MPG Prius C. Slowly.

My time with Zippy Zappy is drawing to an end. Tomorrow she will go back from whence she came to be primped and charged for the next journalist. With one final drive ahead of me in the morning, I oscillated between driving ZZ like I stole her and like the future of every forest creature depended on my frugality. I suspect I’m not alone with my personal struggles on the EV front. On the one hand an EV is an enormous gadget, perhaps the ultimate gadget. On the other, EVs don’t make a sound financial argument in terms of “saving” anything. The steep purchase price washes out much of the supposed savings vs a Prius. Being no closer to a conclusion, I plugged ZZ in one last time and noted my state of charge was 33% with an estimated time of completion 16 hours hence.

 

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 7

The post Living With an EV for a Week – Day Six (Don’t honk at me, I’m saving the planet) appeared first on The Truth About Cars.

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day Five http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-five/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-five/#comments Mon, 03 Jun 2013 22:55:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490683 Day five in our week-long look at living with an EV started once again with a full battery. If you’re just checking in, catch up by going to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 before coming back to the saga, I promise we’ll wait for you. Since I’m still afflicted with religion, and […]

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2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Charging Plug, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Day five in our week-long look at living with an EV started once again with a full battery. If you’re just checking in, catch up by going to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 before coming back to the saga, I promise we’ll wait for you. Since I’m still afflicted with religion, and because the Episcopal denomination despises change, my Sundays have taken me to the same church, the same building and the same pew for over 33 years. It also means driving 22 miles each way because finding something closer would involve change.

This aversion to change isn’t unique to my religious sect, it’s practically an American virtue. The real impediment to EV proliferation isn’t the range, economy, economics, or availability, it’s change. The average American commutes less than 6 miles in each direction a day. Even with a lunch break where you head home and back to work again we’re talking 24 miles. If you consider the adage of 12,000 miles a year (according to the US census) that expands to a still-manageable 33 miles a day. If we look at the ownership demographics by household, 9.1% of us don’t have any cars, 33.8% of us own one car per household leaving the 57.1% majority owning 2 or more cars. Indeed the “average” household owns 2.8 cars. While I’m of the firm opinion that EV’s can’t fit everyone’s needs, they can satisfy 90-95% of our needs and could easily be that second or third car in the garage. But that would require a change in how we look at transportation.

Right now the car is a freedom device. We know that if we wanted to, we could hop our car/truck/SUV and drive from California to New York. It doesn’t matter to us that we never do, we know we could if we wanted to. The car is more than just transportation, it’s liberty and adventure on wheels. Part of what allows this freedom is the near instant fuelling ability and the range of around 300+ miles. Whenever there is a car that strays from this norm, we point it out. We praise a car if it gets 500 miles of range and damn it to failure if it manages “only” 200. This is part of the reason cited for the slow development of natural gas infrastructure, Americans can’t stomach a 5 minute fill-up every day let alone a multi-hour charge.

It's a plug. (courtesy bornandbreded.files.wordpress.com)

That fallacy is further fuelled in some respects by the EV makers by not including a home charging station in the car’s price tag. (Advertising them like a “normal” car doesn’t help either.) Speaking with EV owners, many of them started out thinking they could live with the 120V plug that came with the car only to end up spending around $2,000 to get a home charging station later. That penalty has dropped rapidly and 240V EVSEs are down to around $450 but they are still overlooked by many. By having one of these stations, your EV would always leave home charged. Even if you had a late night of partying and rolled in a 3AM, the average EV would be completely full by 7AM for you to head into work with a hangover. That helps range anxiety, but doesn’t address the fact you have 100 miles of “freedom” per charge.

I am not one of the bunch that thinks Tesla’s Supercharger network is the answer to this problem. Yes it will allow you to get your Tesla from San Francisco to New York, but based on 30-35 minute charges every 200 miles the trip would take you an additional 8 hours. 8 hours isn’t a huge deal when you’re going across the country, but many still see it as a limitation. I think the answer is that other car you have in your garage. I think it’s lovely that there is a group of environmentalists out there that have a purely EV garage, but I don’t think that’s palatable to most of us. I also don’t agree with the legislation that allows EVs in HOV lanes, but since the law exists I tell people looking for a second car or a commuter car that they can’t overlook the value of that sticker. When I had the Honda Civic Natural Gas for a week, I saved 35 minutes of commute time a day and didn’t have to take as many “shortcuts” to avoid traffic. The savings to my sanity and the increased time at home have to be factored into your decision as well.

2014 Fiat 500 Electric, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

As the briefest drive yet in Zippy Zappy came to an end I started to realize that if I was willing to give up the sense of freedom that comes with a gasoline powered car, it would be possible to integrate an EV into my life. Maybe that thought would have occurred to me earlier if EVs were advertised with a commuter car or second car angle. I’d be interested to hear from our readers about their daily commutes, average numbers of miles and exactly how often you deviate from the norm.

 

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 6

Day 7

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-two/#comments Fri, 31 May 2013 22:52:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490093 Because of my RA (Range Anxiety), I drove Zippy Zappy gently on day 1, plugged the EV in immediately upon arriving at home and nixed my impromptu drive to the beach. (I haven’t named a car since I was 12 but the garish orange hue and pill-box proportions have made the name stick.) Thanks to […]

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2014 Fiat 500e, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Because of my RA (Range Anxiety), I drove Zippy Zappy gently on day 1, plugged the EV in immediately upon arriving at home and nixed my impromptu drive to the beach. (I haven’t named a car since I was 12 but the garish orange hue and pill-box proportions have made the name stick.) Thanks to my prudence (or was it fear?) I awoke to a 90% charge. According to Fiat’s computer, that was good for an 87 mile journey, plenty for my 52 mile one-way commute. Of course, it was after I started climbing up the mountain pass that separates my home from civilization that I asked “how am I going to charge today?”

You see, [for me] planning is something you do after you meet a problem, then you back-date the plan so you can claim you were prepared all along. As a result, I decided to turn off the heater in the car to save mileage, after all it was “only” 43 outside. The heater is thing most people don’t think about when it comes to EVs. In your gasoline car, you use the heater all you want and don’t run the A/C to save gas because heat is a “waste” product of combustion engines. EVs turn this logic on its head. Since there’s very little heat happening under the hood they have to use resistive heating elements to heat the cabin. According to Toyota, heat pumps would be more efficient but they cost way more and add a great deal of complexity and weight. Running the A/C in the little Fiat consumed about 1.5kW of power while the heater on medium sucked down nearly 8kW. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I decided the heated seat wasn’t cutting it and I needed to be more realistic so I set the climate control to 68. Let the future be damned!

Once on the freeway I realized my RA had returned. I decided to set the cruise control to a decidedly pokey 59 MPH, a speed that even tractor trailers don’t stoop to in California (even though their speed-limit is 55). At this speed I was able to commune with other EV drivers on the highway  (the ones I normally fly by in the left lane.) When I drove a BMW Active E, I got waves and thumbs up from the LEAF drivers. I decided to try the same in Zippy Zappy but the lack of decals announcing the Fiat’s electrification caused confusion in the LEAF drivers and just made them swerve wildly thinking I was some crazy person out to get them. My bad.

2014 Fiat 500e Charging Illegally, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

55 miles later (I decided to take the flattest and shortest route) I arrived at work where I discovered my RA was unjustified. I had 45% of my battery left. Charge time at 120V was 12 hours and 45 minutes. Electrical codes in the USA limit the 120V EVSE plugs to about 12A which isn’t very fast. Logically 8 hours at 120V would be more than enough to get me back home, but since I work in an area that has only street parking, things had to get creative. Extension cord plugged into the outlet in the hall (the breaker that wouldn’t trip), down the hall, through my office, out the window, across the lawn, over the sidewalk and into the street. I don’t recommend trying this in San Francisco, I’m sure an ADA compliance mob would stone you to death. (If you are meter maid in the Bay Area, I deny all knowledge of the picture above. It was someone else.)

After a few hours, I bothered to look into charging stations. After all, I did sign up for a ChargePoint account a while back. Low and behold there was a charging station just around the corner charging $0.49/kWh. Looking at the map it’s obvious what a year has done to the EV landscape, there are easily three times the number of public EV charging stations in the Bay Area than there were a year ago. Because I’m selfish, what mattered was there were now EV stations near ME.

2014 Fiat 500e, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I’ll digress for a moment. People call the thing on the curb with the cord and plug a “charging station” but that is something of a naming error. All modern EVs have on-board chargers. That thing that you connect to your car is an over glorified “smart” extension cord. The purpose of the “charging station” is to tell the car what kind of power is available (120/240 V) how much current the car is allowed to draw and to provide some safety mechanisms to protect the person plugging in. All the magic is happening *in* the car. As parts are getting cheaper and more widely available, faster chargers are being integrated into EVs. The first LEAF’s 3.3kW charger took 9 hours to fill the battery at 240V, barely 2.5x faster than at 120V. A year later most EVs use a 6.6kW charger that completes the task in 1/6th the time. Good news for me. Since I’m supposed to be getting more exercise I drove a few blocks, plugged in and walked back. Two hours later I had for the first time in my life, a full EV battery and I have a picture to prove it.

Drive Route With Topo

Feeling like an ePrisoner eLiberated from their eBondage, I renewed my pledge to test drive Zippy Zappy like any other car. That meant taking Highway 35 home. If you aren’t familiar with the Bay Area, the coastal mountain range separates the population from the sea. At some point a brilliant highway engineer decided to put one of the most scenic highways in the state along the ridge of the range. The trip (shown above with an elevation profile) takes me from sea level to 3,157 ft, then down to about 400 ft with plenty of ups, downs, sweeping curves and corkscrews. If you haven’t driven it and live nearby, shame on you.

About the time I reached that first 2,000+ foot blip on the left of the graph, I had a mild panic attack. ZZ said I wouldn’t reach my destination. Had I bitten off more than she could chew? No, because the software in the car is only using your past record for future range. By climbing rapidly, it assumed the next 40 miles would be on a similar incline. Don’t blame the software. Blame me. The driver is in control so I had to take my (limited) experience into account. I decided not to bail (and charge in Palo Alto). I pressed onwards. (But I set the cruise control to 50.) In the process I snapped some cool photos.

2014 Fiat 500 Electric, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

 

My faith was rewarded as I neared CA Highway 17 with a battery still 40% charged. I decided to throw caution to the wind and visit downtown Los Gatos. The EV gods smiled upon my diversion and without looking for one, I stumbled upon a brace of EV chargers. One was occupied by a decidedly non-EV BMW 760iL, which I briefly considered putting a door ding in “accidentally” as I got out.  One expensive carrot cake and a 1.8kWh charge later I headed home.

Since I didn’t make it to the beach yesterday, I decided today would be the day. Thanks to my nifty iPhone app from ChargePoint I found that there was an EV station operated by the City of Capitola By The Sea just two blocks from my favorite beach dive restaurant. A quick numbers game in my head told me that 2 hours would not only power me back up the hill to home, but also put me in a better charge situation. There was just one problem. OK, two. The EV station had one broken charge cord and some douche in a LEAF had occupied the other for 2 hours over the parking limit and counting. What would you have done?

Columb ChargePoint Station, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I sat in the car and contemplated my options. 1 unplug him and plug myself in (not on his dime, the sessions stop when you unplug). 2 leave him a nasty note and hunt for another station. 3 wait him out. I waited for 20 minutes at which point he had been over his 4 hour parking limit (clearly signed) by almost 3 hours (according to the charging station). I thought: lave a note explaining why I had unplugged his ride so that he (or maybe she) wouldn’t retaliate by unplugging me when they returned. No pen. I took the high road and moved on to an EV station 7 blocks away.

After a stroll along the beach and dinner, we walked by the LEAF (still plugged in) and left him a more tactfully-worded note than I had planned. I reminded the driver that the spot clearly said “4 hour limit” and that there are other EV drivers out on the road that need to charge. I may or may not have indicated that I would unplug his shiny red LEAF with “NOGAAS” license plate should I see it there for 4 hours again. Or maybe not. Is this the start of “plug rage” perhaps??

Upon returning to ZZ, something else crossed my mind. This EV station is new, and like others is no longer in a prime parking area. Instead they jammed it at the back of the parking lot. Preferential EV treatment may be starting to end as early as it started.

EVs in the mist, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Day two and 155 miles ended with a 68% charge.

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

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Piston Slap: Me Thinks It’s Undiluted BS! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/piston-slap-me-thinks-its-undiluted-bs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/piston-slap-me-thinks-its-undiluted-bs/#comments Tue, 28 May 2013 11:34:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=489725 Fernando writes: I own a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid. At exactly 7 years and 7 months, and 68k miles, the battery quit. Being well within Honda’s 8 year, 80k miles warranty, the dealership replaced it fully free of charge. The vehicle is working like a charm again. Other than this mishap, it has been completely trouble-free, and […]

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Fernando writes:

I own a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid. At exactly 7 years and 7 months, and 68k miles, the battery quit. Being well within Honda’s 8 year, 80k miles warranty, the dealership replaced it fully free of charge. The vehicle is working like a charm again. Other than this mishap, it has been completely trouble-free, and does its job as a good commuter car perfectly.

So……where is the rub, you ask?

Well, when I queried the service manager about the warranty for the new battery pack, he told me until the vehicle reaches 8 years, which is only 5 months away. Is this BS? Or is it reasonable?

Me thinks it’s undiluted BS.

Sajeev answers:

Usually, usually, replacement OEM parts have a modest warranty that’s significantly shorter than the original coverage for a new vehicle.  It is usually 1 year.  This aftermarket vendor provides the usual 1 year warranty of replacement battery packs, too.

But if the service manager said there is no warranty after 8 year/80k miles, he probably knows better than all of us. I Googled to find the warranty duration of the OEM, Genuine Honda replacement battery packs and found…nothing. Not on the Hybrid forums, not on Honda forums.  Then again, I won’t be depressed if someone hyperlinks their way to beating me at my game.

So what’s the final analysis? The warranty period is moot, OEM replacement parts are rarely warranted for longer than a year. And that battery pack will last longer than a year: making the warranty pointless. Probably.

So who cares?

Bonus!  A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

Now forget about fancy-pants Hybrid parts we rarely encounter.  Many aftermarket (not OEM) auto parts are available with a lifetime warranty. This is good and bad.  The quality of lifetime replacement parts has improved in the past decade, if you shop wisely. My first and secondhand experiences with “Platinum” branded alternators from O’Reillys rings true.   You can still buy the “junk” alternator with the lifetime warranty, but for a mere $20-ish more…why would you?

If you like to work on your car and know that some replacement parts are better with the lifetime warranty because you will need a replacement 10+ years from now, avoid the OEM manufacturer part and go lifetime. I’ve cashed in several times (alternators, suspension wear items, ignition parts) thanks to my lifetime warranty paperwork, arriving at the store with 10-12 year old receipts.  The staff gladly accepts them, sometimes even complimenting me for being such a tightwad!

Well, at least it felt like a compliment…hmm!

 

 Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

 

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Tesla Reports Q1 Profit, Cancels 40 kWh Model http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/tesla-reports-q1-profit-cancels-40-kwh-model/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/tesla-reports-q1-profit-cancels-40-kwh-model/#comments Mon, 01 Apr 2013 17:05:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=483094 Just ahead of their Q1 2013 earnings called, Tesla announced that they were profitable in the first quarter of the year, with deliveries exceeding their own targets. In addition, Tesla has also decided to discontinue the base trim of the Model S due to a lack of demand. Tesla reported 4,750 deliveries of the Model […]

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Just ahead of their Q1 2013 earnings called, Tesla announced that they were profitable in the first quarter of the year, with deliveries exceeding their own targets. In addition, Tesla has also decided to discontinue the base trim of the Model S due to a lack of demand.

Tesla reported 4,750 deliveries of the Model S, up from their own estimate of 4,500 units, which, according to the company, helped them turn a profit this quarter. Crucially, Tesla claims that profitability is achieved even using GAAP principles, since non-GAAP accounting is more easily manipulated to reflect positive results.

The 40 kWh car, which started at just under $60,000, apparently had a take rate of just 4 percent, leading to Tesla’s decision to axe it. Instead, customers who ordered the base model will get a 60kWh model electronically limited to only use 40kWh of energy. Buyers can have this reversed by Tesla if they wish, and future owners will be able to perform the procedure as well. 60 kWh cars will also be Supercharger ready across the board.

Given that Tesla’s customer base is made up of extremely wealthy EV enthusiasts who are looking to the Model S as either a) a status symbol b) a third car or c) an outright toy, the death of the 40 kWh model makes sense. Few would realistically want a base Model S whether because of status signalling or the reduced performance (in terms of both acceleration and range). Customers interested in the Model S are much more likely to gravitate to the 60 kWh model or the full-bore 85 kWh version, in the same way that the S63 AMG is the best way to use the Mercedes S-Class as an expression of one’s wealthy.

The higher profit margins on the more expensive models are also beneficial to Elon Musk’s vision of a profitable auto maker. Despite his grandiose vision of himself as a 21st century version of Henry Ford, there is little margin in producing mainstream cars. Better to let Tesla continue to market to the very wealthy while slowly allowing their product to become more accessible, rather than an ill-timed push into the mainstream.

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Lost In Translation: About That Miracle 600 Mile Battery… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/lost-in-translation-about-that-miracle-600-mile-battery/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/lost-in-translation-about-that-miracle-600-mile-battery/#comments Thu, 15 Nov 2012 06:34:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=466985   Yesterday, we told you about that miracle battery, Toyota allegedly has developed. The Nikkei [sub] said it will double the range of an EV. The Tokyo wire quoted  researchers as saying that they “may also be able to achieve a driving range of between 500km and 1,000km” (310 to 620 miles), You possibly noticed […]

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Yesterday, we told you about that miracle battery, Toyota allegedly has developed. The Nikkei [sub] said it will double the range of an EV. The Tokyo wire quoted  researchers as saying that they “may also be able to achieve a driving range of between 500km and 1,000km” (310 to 620 miles), You possibly noticed the skeptical tone when we reported on the report . As it turns out, the Nikkei was a bit – exuberant.

Checking in with Toyota this morning, we learn that Toyota’s researchers indeed have a new Sodium-Ion  battery technology. However, research into this technology is in its very, very early stages.

A group of Toyota researchers (M. Nose, H. Nakayama, K. Nobuhara, S. Nakanishi, and H. Iba) presented a paper titled “Novel Cathode Materials of Sodium-Containing Metal Phosphates as Highly Voltage Sodium-Ion Batteries” at a symposium in Honolulu. After two of the researchers,  Nakanishi-san, and Iba-san were interviewed by the Nikkei, some finer, but crucial points were either misunderstood or lost in translation.

Instead of targeting 2020 as the date of  commercial release of the battery, the researchers think that commercialization can take anywhere between 10 to 20 years – if commercialization indeed turns out to be viable.

The researchers confirm  that the new battery has the potential to extend driving range. However, they did not say, “We may also be able to achieve a driving range of between 500km and 1,000km.” What they said was that to be commercially viable, a next-generation battery should give an EV that range or one exceeding it. With that in mind, they are pushing forward with their research.

Bottom line: Take that sodium story with a big grain of salt.

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Toyota Invents 600 Mile Battery For Less – ETA 2020 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/466886/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/466886/#comments Wed, 14 Nov 2012 15:02:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=466886 The Nikkei [sub] claims that Toyota has done the groundwork for a new battery that could “potentially more than double the driving range of electric vehicles,” possibly up to 1,000 km (620 miles). And it’s even cheaper. Toyota’s new battery uses a sodium-based chemical compound as the positive electrode in a sodium ion battery. The battery […]

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The Nikkei [sub] claims that Toyota has done the groundwork for a new battery that could “potentially more than double the driving range of electric vehicles,” possibly up to 1,000 km (620 miles). And it’s even cheaper.

Toyota’s new battery uses a sodium-based chemical compound as the positive electrode in a sodium ion battery. The battery produces a voltage that is 30 percent higher than that of lithium-ion batteries. Once commercialized, prices of the battery will likely be lower than those of conventional lithium-ion batteries, says the report.

Further testing is needed before the new technology is ready for prime time. “We may be able to extend EV mileage considerably,” the Nikkei cites a Toyota official. “We may also be able to achieve a driving range of between 500km and 1,000km.”

Sodium is the sixth most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, Wikipedia says. Half of the world’s salt consists of sodium. Toyota thinks that the new sodium battery could be commercially available by 2020, if all goes well.

Just a few months ago, Toyota’s vice chairman and R&D chief Takeshi Uchiyamada was outspokenly skeptic about the viability of EVs:

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge.”

If the new battery lives up to its promise, two out of three would not be bad.

It is midnight in Tokyo. We’ll try tomorrow to get more.

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Fisker Asks For More Time With A123 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/fisker-asks-for-more-time-with-a123/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/fisker-asks-for-more-time-with-a123/#comments Mon, 29 Oct 2012 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=465223 Fisker is asking a bankruptcy judge to delay an asset sale related to beleaguered battery maker A123 Systems. Bloomberg reports that Fisker filed an “emergency motion” to challenge the proceedings. A proposed asset sale would see Johnson Controls Inc. purchase the automotive assets of A123, including plants in Michigan and China, with JCI also looking to acquire further […]

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Fisker is asking a bankruptcy judge to delay an asset sale related to beleaguered battery maker A123 Systems.

Bloomberg reports that Fisker filed an “emergency motion” to challenge the proceedings. A proposed asset sale would see Johnson Controls Inc. purchase the automotive assets of A123, including plants in Michigan and China, with JCI also looking to acquire further assets. According to court papers filed in Delaware , Gregg Galardi, an attorney for Fisker claimed that

“A hurried sale process will be damaging to the estates and deprive creditors of value that may be realized through higher and better offers…The best interests of the estates, however, are not well served through a hasty and unfair sale process designed to ensure that JCI is the ultimate purchaser.”

Other parties, including the University of Montreal and Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center (which was created under 2008’s Green Jobs Act and loaned money to Fisker) filed separate objections to the asset sale.

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A123 Files For Bankruptcy, Johnson Controls To Take Over http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/a123-files-for-bankruptcy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/a123-files-for-bankruptcy/#comments Tue, 16 Oct 2012 20:22:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=463775 Reuters reports that battery maker A123 Systems is filing to bankruptcy protection in Delaware. The company has received cash infusions from China earlier this summer, and its financial situation has been precarious, to say the least. Political controversies were also part and parcel of the story, as with any green energy project today, and A123 received a […]

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Reuters reports that battery maker A123 Systems is filing to bankruptcy protection in Delaware.

The company has received cash infusions from China earlier this summer, and its financial situation has been precarious, to say the least. Political controversies were also part and parcel of the story, as with any green energy project today, and A123 received a $249 million dollar grant from the Obama administration in 2009. A123 supplied battery technology to Fisker and General Motors.

UPDATE:

Johnson Controls will be purchasing the remnants of A123, while providing $72.5 million in funding to help A123 continue operations as it goes through bankruptcy proceedings.

Crain’s Detroit Business is reporting that

Under the deal, the Waltham, Mass-based A123 will pay to license technology its own grid, commercial and government technologies from JCI.

Presumably, A123’s brand will carry on under the JCI empire. That won’t do much for the beleaguered battery company, which apparently posted 14 consecutive losing quarters, and has $376 million in debt versus $459.8 million in assets. In the filing, A123 noted

“The company may not have sufficient cash to fund operations and may need to seek the protections provided under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code…No assurance can be given that the company will be able to avoid restructuring, reorganization, or a bankruptcy filing.”

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The Truth About Tesla’s Charging Stations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/the-truth-about-teslas-charging-stations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/the-truth-about-teslas-charging-stations/#comments Tue, 25 Sep 2012 16:52:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451848 Tesla has officially launched their long-awaited “Supercharging” network last night to a star-studded crowd in Southern California. (We assume it was star-studded since our invitation got lost in the mail.) The EV network promises to enable Model S and Model X owners to charge 150 miles of range in 30 minutes. What about your Roadster? […]

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Tesla has officially launched their long-awaited “Supercharging” network last night to a star-studded crowd in Southern California. (We assume it was star-studded since our invitation got lost in the mail.) The EV network promises to enable Model S and Model X owners to charge 150 miles of range in 30 minutes. What about your Roadster? Sorry, you aren’t invited to this charging party. Have a Tesla and a LEAF? You’ll have to be satisfied with separate but equal charging facilities as the Tesla proprietary charging connector restricts access to Tesla shoppers only. Is this class warfare or do we parallel the computer industry where connectors come and go with the seasons?

What’s the big deal with charging? Let’s go over the Model S’s charging time chart and you’ll understand. From a regular 120V wall outlet the Model S will gain 4-5 miles per hour of charging and consumes about the same amount of power as a space heater. Charging at 41 amps, the car gains 31 miles per hour and consumes as much power as TWO average electric clothes dryers. Charging at 81 amps (a service that many homes with older wiring or smaller services cannot support) the Model S gains 62 miles an hour and consumes more power than an average home’s A/C, dryer, washer, stove, oven, lights and small appliances put together. With a range of 300 miles and a 10 hour charge time at the 41A rate, it’s easy to see why fast charging stations are appealing. Tesla’s Supercharger’s specs are yet to be revealed, but by the numbers it is apparent the system is delivering a massive 90kWh charge which is likely 440V DC at around 200A. An hour of charging at that rate is 70% of the power that my home uses in an entire month.

Is this a Tesla issue? No, it’s an EV issue. If you expect your EV to drive like a regular car, modern EVs are a delight. If you expect your EV to refuel like a regular car, we’ve hit a snag. But it’s more complex than that, you see, only three of the four Model S trims support DC fast charging and the only other EVs on the market with a DC charge port are the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Except they don’t use the same connector or the same standard. Oops. Adding more complications to the mix are the EVs with no DC charge connector like the RAV4 EV, Volt, Prius Plug-In, Accord Plug-In, Focus, Active E and Coda while the new Chevy Spark is rumored to début a third standard: the SAE combo plug.

Of course, if you think of your car like you think of your cell phone, this makes sense as the phone you bought last year wont use the same charger as the phone you buy today. If you think of this in car terms however it’s like buying a new car and finding out that most of the gas stations have a nozzle that won’t fit your car.

Back to those Tesla charging stations. Tesla opened the first four in Southern California and announced two more stations will go online in October with stations in Las Vegas, Northern California and Oregon by summer 2013 with the 100 station network being complete by 2015. If that network sounds familiar then it should, because the recent settlement in the California vs NRG lawsuit means there will be 200 new CHAdeMO stations in California over the same time frame in addition to the 8 already installed and the 75 commercial stations planned or under construction. It isn’t just California on the CHAdeMO bandwagon however, the Department of Energy claims there are over 113 CHAdeMO stations in the USA and a 1,200+ unit installed base in Japan.

What does this mean to Tesla owners? Until Tesla creates a CHAdeMO to Tesla charging adapter cable (much like they have a J1772 to Tesla cable for use at public AC charging stations), Tesla owners will be restricted to regular AC charging or the smaller Tesla only charging network. On the flip side, Tesla is promising the Tesla charging stations will be free to Tesla owners, positioned next to trendy restaurants and you won’t have to mix with the Leaf owning rabble. You can also feel superior because Tesla’s newer standard charges 80% faster than the 50kWh CHAdeMO connector.

What does this mean to LEAF and i-MiEV owners? It means this is just the beginning of a standards battle. If you bought an EV before this raft of new J1772-connector-toting models, you know what I’m talking about. While CHAdeMO has the lead now, depending on what standard the rest of the industry supports this could change rapidly.

What about the rest of us? If we continue to build more battery electric vehicles and continue to develop batteries that are more and more power dense, you can expect even the snazzy Tesla charging connector to be outdated on a few years. If you expect an EV SUV to deliver 300 miles of electric range, AWD, decent performance, mild off-road ability and Range Rover quality luxury trappings, then expect it to have a battery that is 50-100% larger than the Model S’ massive 85kWh pack. This means you have to either take all the charging rates and nearly double them, or you have to develop a charging method that charges 50-100% faster to keep the same performance.

Of course, just like LEAF owners experience battery degradation caused by repeated use of DC quick charge stations, Tesla owners should be mindful that batteries don’t last forever and the faster you charge them the shorter their life will be.

 

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EV Batteries Set For 70 percent Price Drop By 2025: McKinsey Study http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ev-batteries-set-for-70-percent-price-drop-by-2025-mckinsey-study/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ev-batteries-set-for-70-percent-price-drop-by-2025-mckinsey-study/#comments Thu, 12 Jul 2012 13:21:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452299 A study by consulting firm McKinsey says that the cost of the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles could tumble by as much as 70 percent by 2025, thanks to a combination of factors. Widespread production of li-on batteries could be one of the main factors. Reuters explains that McKinsey predicts the price of a […]

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A study by consulting firm McKinsey says that the cost of the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles could tumble by as much as 70 percent by 2025, thanks to a combination of factors.

Widespread production of li-on batteries could be one of the main factors. Reuters explains that

McKinsey predicts the price of a complete lithium-ion battery pack could fall from between $500 and $600 per kilowatt hour now to about $200 in 2020 and to $160 by 2025. If gasoline prices hover around $3.50 per gallon or higher, automakers that purchase batteries at $250 per kilowatt hour could offer electrified vehicles that can compete with cars and trucks powered by advanced internal-combustion engines, which are now significantly cheaper.

Consumer electronics manufacturers are also expected to help make battery technology more viable, as their R&D could lead to faster charging times and longer battery life. While Apple is cited as one of the pioneers of improving li-on batteries, a more apt analogy might be that of laptop computers; 15 years ago, laptops were bulky, cumbersome and heavy with utterly dismal battery life. Today, a MacBook Air with 7 hours of battery time can be had – maybe not cheaply, but available to a broad segment of the market. It’s inevitable that EV batteries are destined for the same progression, but widespread adoption isn’t necessarily guaranteed.

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Pre-Production Review: 2013 Honda Fit EV http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/pre-production-review-2013-honda-fit-ev/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/pre-production-review-2013-honda-fit-ev/#comments Tue, 03 Jul 2012 13:19:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=450721 Despite accounting for an incredibly small percentage of new car sales in America, the EV is all the rage in California. Rather than starting from scratch and designing an all-new car from the ground up (like Nissan), Honda chose the more economical route and electrified the second-generation Honda Fit. On the surface, the recipe sounds like […]

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Despite accounting for an incredibly small percentage of new car sales in America, the EV is all the rage in California. Rather than starting from scratch and designing an all-new car from the ground up (like Nissan), Honda chose the more economical route and electrified the second-generation Honda Fit. On the surface, the recipe sounds like a slam dunk, since the Fit is one of Honda’s most attractive and most fun to drive models now on sale. To prove to the masses that Honda has what it takes to go green, they flew me out to Pasadena to sample the all-new, all-blue Fit EV.

Before we begin, we should talk about the elephant in the room: California Air Resources Board (CARB) compliance. Some years ago California decided that by 2025 15.4% of all new cars sold in California would have to meet the “Zero Emissions Vehicle” (ZEV) standard. Like any government program, the loopholes, credits and credit trading allowed in the convoluted legislation allow OEMs to sell only a small number of the “required” EVs over the next decade. Strangely the legislation doesn’t require that the vehicle be actually “sold” to the consumer either. Enter the lease-only 2013 Honda Fit EV.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Because the Fit EV was designed to be an incredibly low volume vehicle (only 1,100 will be made for the 2013 and 2014 model years combined), you can get your electric Fit in any color you want, as long as you want blue. Aside from the single shade of “EV blue”, a tweaked front grille and some EV stickers, nothing about the Fit screams “electric vehicle” the way the Leaf’s unique sheetmetal does. Some may want the world to know they are saving the planet, but I prefer Honda’s discreet approach. While the Fit EV may look just its gasoline cousin, the Fit EV has different bumpers, side sills, an increased ride height and a totally different floorpan to accommodate the batteries and improve aerodynamics.

Say what you will about the logic and politics involved with making a “compliance” EV, the 2013 Fit EV has one of Honda’s best economy car interiors. The EV’s interior is dominated by various shades of light beige plastic, a soft leather steering wheel and comfortable fabrics. Compared to the 2012 Civic, the interior is luxurious. Pitted against the gasoline Fit, the interior has been tweaked enough that Honda isn’t kidding when they say the Fit EV is the “perfect Fit.” To help conserve power, a single-zine climate control system and heated seats have been adapted to the Fit in addition to the usual bevy of EV-specific gauges. While this may seem counter-intuitive, climate control allows more efficient control over fan speed and A/C compressor usage while heated seats make the cabin feel warmer than it really is on cold days. All Fit EVs come with Honda’s usual touch-screen navigation system with EV-specific software to find charging stations and graphically display your battery range. We were not able to test the feature during our time with the Fit EV, but all models will be equipped with their new voice command system á la Ford’s SYNC.

In addition to being 14mm higher than the gasoline Fit, the addition of the battery pack required changes to the shape of the Fit’s body. This in turn means the rear seats are unique to the Fit EV riding 1.4 inches higher, 3.3 inches further back and reclined just over 4 degrees more than the regular gasoline Fit. While the extra legroom is welcome and the headroom is still sufficient for all but the tallest passengers, I found the seat back angle to be uncomfortably reclined. Fortunately the front seats remain excellent, providing decent bolstering and above average lumbar support. If you are a shorter driver, be sure to check out the seating position before you lease, as the driver’s seat is not adjustable for height.

Since Honda’s press event was boiled down to a 4 hour event, our time behind the wheel was limited to a collective 3 hours and some 80 miles. While the added weight of the battery pack and the low rolling resistance tires limit grip compared to the gasoline Fit, the battery positioning means the center of gravity is very low. The low-mounted mass and a unique independent rear suspension make the Fit EV more fun on the twisties than I expected. Honda had a collection of 2012 Nissan Leafs on hand for comparison and the back-to-back is less than shocking: the Fit handles well and the Leaf handles like a large, heavy hatchback on skinny low-rolling resistance tires. Much like the Leaf, the Fit EV’s top speed  is limited by the combination of the redline on the motor and the single-speed transaxle.

The Fit EV shares its 92kW (123HP) electric motor with the Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell car, but the single-speed transaxle is unique to the Fit. The unique gearbox seems to indicate that although the Fit EV is destined to be rarer than a Rolls Royce, Honda is willing to invest in new EV technology. In order to extend the range, the Fit provides three driving modes: Sport, Normal and Eco. Sport provides accelerator pedal mapping and motor output similar to a regular gasoline hatchback. Normal reduces engine power to around 75kW (101HP) under all but full-throttle situations and Eco reduced power further to 47kW (64HP). While some described the Eco mode as “aggravating,” the goal of an efficient city-car style EV isn’t to jet around at top speed. According to Honda, the combination of the most efficient EV drivetrain on the market, a 6.6kWh on-board charger and an 82-mile range makes the Fit EV the best electric vehicle in its class. In reality, it’s the way the Fit EV drives that makes it the best. While the steering is as numb as anything on the market with electro-mechanical power steering, the handling is light-years ahead of the Leaf in terms of both road feel and grip. It was faster too, hitting 60 MPH a full second before the Nissan Leaf (7.91 seconds).

The eternal problem with an EV is charging time. While a car with an 82 mile range would be livable for every driving occasion as long as fill-ups took only a few minutes, charging times for EVs is rated in hours. For reasons that were never officially explained, Honda decided not to equip the Fit EV with the “CHΛdeMO” DC quick-charge connector Nissan has put their weight behind. This means that while your neighbor’s Leaf may take twice as long (7 hours) to charge on your 220V home charger, they can get an 80% charge in half an hour by visiting a quick charge station.

While I’m unsure that California’s ZEV mandate is good politics, it’s obvious we can thank CARB for the existence of the Fit EV. Yet it’s the very nature of the way the Fit EV came into being that makes it both the perfect Fit and the most frustrating. For many Americans looking for a commuter car, $389 a month for the most economical car on the market including collision insurance is a fantastic deal. The flip side of course is that only 1,100 people will get to experience the low operating costs of what may be the best EV in America.

 

Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad, if you liked us on FaceBook you’d have been able to ask the Honda engineers and minders your burning questions about the Fit EV.

Honda paid for a Southwest flight, one night’s stay in a hotel, a buffet lunch and all the electrons the Fit could consume.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.24 Seconds

0-60: 7.91 Seconds

 

2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior with Nissan Leaf, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior with Nissan Leaf, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior with Nissan Leaf, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior with Nissan Leaf, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior with Nissan Leaf, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Exterior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Motor, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Motor, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2011 Honda Fit EV, Motor, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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This Battery Runs On Thin Air http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/this-battery-runs-on-thin-air/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/this-battery-runs-on-thin-air/#comments Fri, 20 Apr 2012 14:42:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=440940 If you want to see the future of the electric car, you have to go back a hundred years. In 1900, over a quarter of all new automobiles ran on battery. City cars? Around a third of the buggies of Chicago, Boston, and New York City were electric. They were decimated by cars running on […]

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If you want to see the future of the electric car, you have to go back a hundred years. In 1900, over a quarter of all new automobiles ran on battery. City cars? Around a third of the buggies of Chicago, Boston, and New York City were electric. They were decimated by cars running on smelly and flammable gasoline, because people wanted to drive fast and long distances. Hundred years later, little has changed. Ten to 20 years from now, something might change.

“Electric cars today typically can travel only about 100 miles on current battery technology, called lithium-ion (LIB). LIB technology stands little chance of being light enough to travel 500 miles on a single charge and cheap enough to be practical for a typical family car. This problem is creating a significant barrier to electric vehicle adoption.”

This is a quote from a group of researchers at IBM, and it is putting the problem mildly. In an electric car, the devils called cost, range, and weight are fighting each other, and nobody is winning. The IBM researchers think they know the way out. They are working on a battery that has the same energy density as gasoline.

In other words: A battery the size of a current gas tank will get us as far as a current tank of gas.

IBM’s lithium-air battery literally pulls energy out of thin air. It borrows oxygen from the air. Combined with lithium, electrical energy is created. When the battery is recharged, the borrowed oxygen is being paid back to the atmosphere. The battery can be much lighter, because it uses air as its most important component.

IBM’s research group is called “Battery 500”. The goal is a battery that can power a car for 500 miles. The researchers hope their battery will be ready “some time between 2020 and 2030.”

(Hat tip to Rick.)

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Two Injured In Explosion At GM Battery http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/two-injured-in-explosion-at-gm-battery/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/two-injured-in-explosion-at-gm-battery/#comments Wed, 11 Apr 2012 16:20:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=439353 Two GM employees suffered injuries at the company’s Warren, Michigan battery research facility following an explosion and a small fire. Emergency crews were called to the scene at 8:45 A.M Wednesday, and found a small fire as well as two injured employees. One was treated at the scene for injuries, while another was taken to hospital […]

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Two GM employees suffered injuries at the company’s Warren, Michigan battery research facility following an explosion and a small fire. Emergency crews were called to the scene at 8:45 A.M Wednesday, and found a small fire as well as two injured employees.

One was treated at the scene for injuries, while another was taken to hospital with injuries that were not life threatening. According to authorities, a battery exploded after undergoing “extreme testing”. The lithium-ion batteries were said to be unrelated to those used in the Chevrolet Volt (seen above, undergoing testing).

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A123 Systems Recalling Battery Packs Used In Fisker Karma, Other Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/a123-systems-recalling-battery-packs-used-in-fisker-karma-other-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/a123-systems-recalling-battery-packs-used-in-fisker-karma-other-cars/#comments Mon, 26 Mar 2012 16:35:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=436508 A123 Systems will be replacing battery packs built at their Livonia, Michigan plant that contain prismatic cells – the same type used in the Fisker Karma. The recall is estimated to cost A123 about $55 million. The defective batteries are linked to the recent problems experienced by Fisker Karma owners, according to A123 CEO David […]

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A123 Systems will be replacing battery packs built at their Livonia, Michigan plant that contain prismatic cells – the same type used in the Fisker Karma. The recall is estimated to cost A123 about $55 million. The defective batteries are linked to the recent problems experienced by Fisker Karma owners, according to A123 CEO David Vieau.

The Karma is the single largest customer of prismatic cells from the Livonia plant. Green Car Reports claims that other cells built in China for different applications are not affected. John Voelcker of Green Car Reports describes the problem as

“…defect [that] was traced to a miscalibration in an automatic welding machine at the plant, which resulted in a misaligned component was not detected visually.

When the cells were compressed, interference could be created although the cells functioned properly at first. A123 says the defect does not cause a safety issue, and has had no reports of any safety concerns in any of the products.”

Vieau said that A123 will have to adjust their fundraising strategy to pay for the recall, but was forthcoming about accepting responsibility for the matter. “We make no excuses and we accept full responsibility for this action,” he said.

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Review: A Week In A 2012 Nissan Leaf http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/review-a-week-in-a-2012-nissan-leaf/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/review-a-week-in-a-2012-nissan-leaf/#comments Wed, 29 Feb 2012 14:30:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=432115 Last May, the Nissan Leaf was the hottest thing on the green radar. Limited production and a long waiting list for the press meant that Nissan was lending out Leafs (Nissan tells us that is the correct way to pluralize a Leaf) 62-hours at a time. With my long commute and lengthy 120V charging times, […]

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Last May, the Nissan Leaf was the hottest thing on the green radar. Limited production and a long waiting list for the press meant that Nissan was lending out Leafs (Nissan tells us that is the correct way to pluralize a Leaf) 62-hours at a time. With my long commute and lengthy 120V charging times, this meant a review with only 217 miles under our belt (read our three-part review here: 1 2 3). Now that a few thousand Leafs have found homes in Northern California and I had practiced my “range anxiety” breathing techniques, I was eager to see if the ultimate green ride was also a decent car beyond the batteries.

2012 hasn’t brought any changes to the outside of the Leaf, – it’s still offered only as a hatchback.  While the style can easily be called polarizing, and one friend thought it looked like a miniature hearse, passengers seemed to be split 50/50 on the look. Nissan tells us there is a reason for the chihuahua-lamps; aerodynamics and noise. When you create a car with a nearly silent drivetrain, wind noise becomes more obvious.  The shape of the lamp modules is designed to cut down on this element while in motion. The big-tire crowd will complain about the stock 205-width tires and 16-inch rims, but I didn’t mind the look. The rear lights? They just look cool.

Up to this point, essentially all cars heat the cabin with “waste heat” from the engine. Since the Leaf doesn’t have an engine, and the electric motor generates very little heat, the Leaf uses a 5kW electric heater to heat the cabin (roughly equal to 5 conventional space heaters). 2012 has brought a few welcome changes to combat this power draw:  heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel are now standard. The “luxury” touch of a heated tiller may seem out-of-place, but it takes considerably less power to heat the surfaces you interact with than the air in the cabin. The solution worked well for me, and I didn’t mind turning the cabin heating down to 61 degrees with my seat and steering wheel heating my touch-points on a 35 degree morning. Last time I was in the Leaf, I sacrificed everything in the name of range, but this time I drove it like a normal car.  Should you decide to use the cabin heater, rear passengers will notice some ducting improvements to make it more comfortable in the rear. At 31 inches, rear seat legroom is behind the Camry or Prius (36/38 respectively), but generous headroom all the way around made it possible to comfortably fit six-foot tall humans all the way around. We were also able to squeeze in two rearward facing child seats with two average sized adults up front.


Under the Leaf’s small hood lies an 80kW synchronous AC motor. Throw out most of what you know about engines when it comes to electric cars because they behave quite differently. Because the Leaf has a single-speed transmission and the motor redlines at 10,390RPM, the top speed is 96MPH. This linear relationship is important when thinking about the Leaf’s performance. 107 horsepowers are delivered between 2,730 and 9,800 RPM (25-90 MPH) while peak torque of 207 lb-ft is available right off the line from 0-2730 RPM (0-25 MPH) where it tapers off slightly.

Thanks to the low-end grunt, the Leaf posts a very respectable 2.92 second 0-30MPH time while the 0-60 time stretches out to 8.96 seconds (a considerable improvement over the 10.2 seconds the pre-production Leaf achieved in May). As you would expect with a 1 speed transmission, acceleration is very linear right up to its top speed. Due to some earlier complaints about the battery not charging properly in cold temperatures, Nissan added some basic thermal management in 2012 for the battery pack to keep it from loosing a charge when it is not plugged in and sitting in extremely cold weather.

Unlike your cell phone, the Leaf’s charging circuitry is built-in, and the “charger” is just a smart plug that communicates with the car and supplies the power to the car’s charger. 2011 and 2012 Leafs support three charge modes called Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 (Level 3 is optional on 2011 and 2012 SV models) via it’s internal 3.3kW charger. For those not in the know, Level 1 is 120V AC, Level 2 is 240V AC and Level 3 is 480V DC. Charging the 24kWh battery will take a little over 26 hours at Level 1 via the included “emergency charging cable,” just over 7 hours with a Level 2 charger (available in some public parking lots or installed in your garage at home), or just over 30 minutes if and when 480V quick charge stations become available on our side of the Pacific. Shoppers should note that Nissan confirmed the 2013 leaf will have a 6.6kW charger which would cut Level 2 charging times in half to just over 3.5 hours. The DC quick charge connector was a standalone option in 2011, but with Nissan pushing for DC quick charging infrastructure, they have made it standard on the Leaf’s SL trim for 2012 (still optional on SV). According to EPA tests, the Leaf’s range varies from 138 miles under perfect conditions to 47 miles in heavy stop-and-go traffic. The traffic test cycle was 8 hours long and the A/C was in use for the entire test. I had no problems getting 75 miles out of the Leaf driving it like I would any other vehicle we have tested, with the automatic climate control set to 68 during a mild Northern California winter and mixed driving. Like all battery-powered appliances, your run time will vary.

During our week with the Leaf we noticed considerably wider availability of charging stations than during our first all-electric fling back in May. Among the stations we visited was a “PlugShare” station at the home of Howard Page, who agreed to an interview with us. Expect a more detailed charging story later, but in essence Howard listed his home charging station on PlugShare (there’s a web site and an app) as available for use. To “fill-up”, you SMS message or call the PlugShare host and ask if you can charge. If the host is feeling altruistic, they say yes, give you their address and any instructions about charging at their home. Our Leaf spent 7 hours in Howard’s driveway one day saving me the $2 per hour at my local public parking garage with the Level 2 charger, as well as allowing me to make i home. The concept is novel to say the least; handing out free electrons to similarly minded early adopters hoping it all evens out in the end. At $5 a complete charge, I wonder how long this system will last without some mini-payment system? Sound off in the comment section below if you would share your charging station to those in need, and similarly, how is this different from a gasoline sharing program where you keep a gallon on your doorstep for passers-by?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Last time we had the Leaf, our range anxiety prevented us from really thrashing the Leaf on windy mountain roads, romping the go pedal from a stop and mashing the brake pedal as we would with a normal car. A full week in the electron powered hatch (and careful pre-planned Level 2 charging arrangements) allowed us to do just that. The handling limits of the Leaf are, as one would assume, defined mostly by the 3,400lb curb weight and low rolling resistance tires. With the “40 MPG car” being all the rage lately, more and more cars are being sold with low rolling resistance rubber, so while the Leaf’s handling is unspectacular, so is the competition. The Leaf’s electric power steering takes some getting used to, but since the target market is unlikely to carve corners, it’s probably a non-issue. Whizzing along above 75 MPH is surprisingly easy and eerily quiet thanks to a nearly silent motor. Our last flirtation with the Leaf was fleeting enough that our Leaf was never fully charged, but this time, things were different.

To help extend battery life, hybrid vehicles never fully charge nor discharge their batteries – a luxury an all-electric vehicle cannot afford. This deep-cycling, or even the micro-cycling caused by regenerative braking when the battery is nearly full can shorten the battery’s life. As a result, the Leaf does something interesting, if you’re fully charged; the car won’t employ regenerative braking until the battery is sufficiently discharged. Why is this important? Because the Leaf’s braking is nicely weighted and balanced when regenerative braking, but for those first few miles in the morning when the battery is 100% charged, the mushy brake pedal feel was surprising and disconcerting until I checked in with a Nissan dealer’s mechanic. Again this probably isn’t a problem for the Leaf’s target demographic, but it does perhaps indicate some of the challenges of going all-electric. The suspension is tuned for a moderate ride, neither floaty, nor stiff and the chassis remains composed over a variety of road surfaces from gravel to pot-holed-asphalt.


The Leaf uses a modified version of the infotainment system available in other Nissan and Infiniti vehicles and includes a standard navigation system. iPod and iPhone integration is standard Nissan issue with on-screen access to playlists, songs, etc but no voice command ability ala Ford’s SYNC product. Speaking of voice commands, the Leaf’s navigation system curiously omits the ability to enter a street address via voice command, the only voice “command-able” destinations are saved destinations and the Leaf’s pre-programmed home address. As you would expect, you won’t find a power-sucking high wattage amp in the Leaf. The standard 6-speaker sound system does however have a neutral balance and is fairly competitive with the standard sound systems in the average mid-sized sedan. For those of you who still remember CDs, there’s a single slot located behind the sliding touchscreen which can also be used to update your nav’s map database.

I’d like to talk competition, but let’s be honest, there isn’t any yet. The Volt vs Leaf war is misguided at best because the Volt is not a pure electric car, as much as GM would like to claim otherwise. Ditto the plug-in Prius. Tesla cars will cost a king’s ransom and the i-MiEV sports one less seat, a considerably smaller interior and shorter range. The only real competition will be the 2013 Ford Focus Electric, which (on paper) appears to have the Leaf squarely in its sights. According to Ford, the Focus Electric will trump the Leaf with more gadgetry, a snazzier sound system, a more powerful 130 HP motor and some undeniably gorgeous looks. Ford is touting shorter recharge times versus the Leaf, but don’t be so quick to believe it. Both have similarly sized batteries (the Ford’s is actually 1kWh smaller) and Nissan has confirmed the 2013 Leaf will have a 6.6kW charger just like the Focus, so 2013 charging times will be equal. On the downside, the Focus is heavier, so despite claiming to be more efficient than the Leaf, if hill climbing is in your repertoire, use caution. The Focus is also $3,500 more expensive than the base Leaf and lacks the DC quick-charge port our SL tester was equipped with. Speaking of pricing, the Leaf starts at $35,200 and the SL model rings in at $37,250 (due to the addition of the quick charger, backup camera, auto healamps, fog lights and a cargo cover). If this price blows your mind, you’re not the target shopper. You’ll also need to factor in $1,500 (installed) for a home charging station (Best Buy tells us they cost $500 less than last year.)

Never before has buying an alternative fuel car meant as much of a lifestyle change. Diesel, natural gas, liquid propane and hydrogen vehicles all fill at a rate that is more-or-less the same as the average gasoline vehicle and deliver similar driving ranges. An electric car on the other hand delivers only 1/3 of the fairly standard 300 mile range you’ll find in most vehicles and takes 42 times longer to “fill”. If these drawback don’t bother you, the Leaf is a solid (if expensive) choice in the green car segment, but I’d wait for the 2013 model with the faster charger and perhaps for our review on the Focus Electric whenever we get our hands on one.

 

Nissan provided the vehicle, insurance and one full charge for our review.

Specifications as tested

0-30 MPH: 2.92 Seconds

0-60 MPH: 8.96 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.96 Seconds at 78.2 MPH

Average economy: 3.7 Miles/kWh over 689 miles

2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging connector, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging port, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, logo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, headlamp, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, headlight, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, heated rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, shifter, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, infotainment, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, center console, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, steering wheel controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, trunk, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Interior, trunk, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging connector, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

 

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The Tesla Roadster “Bricking” Story Deconstructed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/the-tesla-roadster-bricking-story-details-deconstructed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/the-tesla-roadster-bricking-story-details-deconstructed/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2012 17:47:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=432441 I was originally hesitant to jump on the Tesla Roadster “bricked batteries” bandwagon, and my initial story was written with a sort of cautious neutrality. Further context will be provided by the details that have surfaced in the 24 hours since the story broke. Hope you’re ready to dive in to it all. Original story […]

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I was originally hesitant to jump on the Tesla Roadster “bricked batteries” bandwagon, and my initial story was written with a sort of cautious neutrality. Further context will be provided by the details that have surfaced in the 24 hours since the story broke. Hope you’re ready to dive in to it all.

Original story here. A quick recap: Tesla Roadster owner Max Drucker contacted Tesla CEO Elon Musk regarding a dead battery in his car. Drucker’s car died after he left his Roadster parked, without leaving it plugged in for two months. The vehicle subsequently died. The car was towed to a Tesla service center and a technician determined that his battery would have to be replaced at a cost of $40,000. Drucker sent an angry letter to CEO Elon Musk admonishing him for poor customer service.

– The Tesla “bricking” story broke on the blog of Michael Degusta. Degusta and Drucker have a long history as business partners. This was not disclosed. I contacted Degusta, who said he would put me in touch with an owner who has had their car “bricked” (he did not say if it was Drucker or one of the other four affected owners) and refused to put me in touch with the Tesla service manager who claimed that, among other things, Tesla was tracking vehicles by GPS without the owner’s consent. I was reluctant to take those claims at face value – now they can’t be independently verified. On Degusta’s blog, he discusses an owner of Roadster #340, who parked his car in a temporary garage, sans charger, while his home is being renovated. This is consistent with Drucker’s emails to Tesla – but also consistent with Drucker at best not following the protocol outlined in various documents (obtained via Green Car Reports) and the Tesla Roadster’s manual, or at worst, being negligent. Drucker’s Roadster wouldn’t have the Tesla GSM connection that can alert Tesla to low battery charge conditions. Those were only installed after the first 500 Roadsters were produced. Degusta makes a big stink about the GPS tracking of the Roadsters, but is on record claiming that, and Degusta is unwilling to back that claim up beyond anecdotal evidence.

– A copy of the Tesla Roadster owner’s manual (covering the Tesla Roadster S and Roadster 2.5. Link is at the bottom of the page for you to peruse yourself), states in numerous places that owners are not to leave their vehicles uncharged for long periods of time, or to drain the battery down to zero. Doing so, the owners are told, will cause permanent damage to the battery, and such damage will not be covered under the Tesla Roadster’s warranty agreement. This is spelled out in numerous places in greater detail throughout the manual. Scans of these pages are available in the gallery below. In addition, there is an agreement which owners must sign at the time of purchase that has the owner acknowledge the responsibility of maintaining a proper battery charge, and that any damage that results from negligence in this area is not covered under warranty. Degusta’s complaints that the “Battery Reminder Card” handed out to owners during servicing don’t contain adequate warnings of the consequences are also misleading, as the consequences are spelled out in the aforementioned documents.

– The Tesla Roadster’s battery, unlike those in the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, is made up of 6831 “consumer commodity cells”, basically laptop or cellphone type cells that combine to make up the battery pack. These batteries use Cobalt Dioxide chemistry, which is the most energy dense, and prone to decaying with time as well as use. This is not the case in the Volt or Leaf, which use different chemistry. In addition, the “state of charge” used by the Tesla pack is different; when a Tesla range indicator displays “zero miles”, it could have 5 percent of the battery life left. If the car is then parked without charging, it may drain to zero, leaving the car “bricked”. A Volt, on the other hand, may actually have one half to one third of the battery pack’s life left upon displaying “zero miles”; it only uses 10.4 kW out of its 16kW battery. Exact figures for a Tesla battery weren’t available, but are said to be much higher.

-It’s theoretically possible to revive a “bricked” consumer cell via slow trickle charging, in the same way that a dead iPod or laptop can be brought back to life if left to charge for a very long time after months of not being used.

So, we know for sure that it’s possible for a Tesla to “brick”. Tesla has admitted it in a statement, but also seems to have provided ample warnings that it could happen and that it can easily be prevented. These measures, along with the structure of the warranty agreement, leads us to believe that a product liability lawsuit is highly unlikely (a former auto industry lawyer we spoke to agreed, though cautioned that California’s Lemon Laws were the most liberal of any of the 50 states).

Of course, Tesla could have replaced the battery pack in good faith (and maybe had Drucker and the others sign an NDA agreement that also absolves Tesla of any responsibility for the pack’s failure), but for some reason, they didn’t. In the gallery below, we have scans of the manual. You can read the manual for yourself here.

Tesla Owners Document. Photo courtesy GreenCarReports.com Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail OwnersAgreementBatteryDocument Page6DataRecording Page7FailureToFollowVoidsWarranty Page8Glossary Page33BatteryTOC Page34ChargeInstructions Page35 Page36 Page37 Page78zerowarnings Page88Towing Page89Towing

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Pre-Production Review: 2012 Toyota Prius c http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/pre-production-review-2012-toyota-prius-c/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/pre-production-review-2012-toyota-prius-c/#comments Sat, 11 Feb 2012 21:45:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=430367 A few years ago I was let in on a secret: Toyota’s dreams of world domination hinged on capturing hip young buyers interested in green tech and high fuel economy. Of course, Toyota’s hybrid plans have been the worst kept secret since In-N-Out’s “secret menu” and as a result, the green Gen Y boys and […]

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A few years ago I was let in on a secret: Toyota’s dreams of world domination hinged on capturing hip young buyers interested in green tech and high fuel economy. Of course, Toyota’s hybrid plans have been the worst kept secret since In-N-Out’s “secret menu” and as a result, the green Gen Y boys and girls I know in Berkeley have been excited for years about a “baby Prius”. Well kids, the blue spaceship landed in La Jolla and Toyota invited us down to take a drive. Does a hybrid Yaris with more MPGs than you can shake a stick at have what it takes help Prius become Toyota’s best-selling nameplate? Let’s find out.

When I suggested that the Prius c was a Yaris hybrid, my Toyota hosts tried to steer me back on the path of “small Prius.”  The Prius c uses a highly modified 5-door Yaris platform, modified enough that almost no Yaris content remains. The Prius c shares no sheetmetal, drivetrain, or interior components that we could find, and I’m told almost nothing of the Yaris suspension remains. Strangely, other than the steering wheel, very little of the liftback Prius was imported either. What was the point of using the Yaris as a start? It was cheaper than shrinking the Prius unibody. The “c” is more than 19 inches shorter, 2 inches narrower and 500 pounds lighter than the full-size Prius slotting it firmly in the subcompact class. Due to the true hatchback design, the “c” loses only 1.2 inches of legroom up front and 1 inch in the rear when compared to the Prius. Compared to its Yaris donor car, the “c” has a stretched wheelbase which improves legroom over the entry level Toyota by two inches (though it’s 200 lbs heavier overall).

Under the hood sits a revised 1.5L Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine, essentially the same 73HP mill used in the first generation Prius with some key modifications. To improve efficiency, Toyota removed all belt driven accessories. Even the water-pump is electric on the diminutive four banger. Because the Prius liftback is wider than a Yaris, Toyota created a new Hybrid Synergy Drive CVT transmission that is smaller and lighter. In addition to the new transmission, the c also uses a new 144V battery pack and inverter that are smaller and lighter than the regular Prius. Total system output is 99HP (about 35 less than the 1.8L in the Prius), but quite similar to the Yaris 5-door’s 106HP. The light weight and revised drivetrain conspire to make the Prius c the most efficient non-plug-in vehicle sold in North America at 53/43 MPG (City/Highway) with a lofty 50MPG on the combined scale. Much like the liftback, acceleration is accompanied by the engine revving to stratospheric RPMs and hanging out there until you release the go-pedal. While many rags bash the “drone” of the drivetrain, I consider it a fair trade for high fuel economy. Your mileage may vary.

The Prius c’s interior shares essentially nothing with the Yaris save a preference for low rent headliners. The Prius c pulls its flat-bottomed steering wheel from the regular Prius, but little else is shared with the dashboard, sporting hard but nicely textured plastics and a standard high-resolution 3.5 inch full-color LCD. A wide variety of fairly dubious in-car apps relating to “Eco” driving are also present. The front seats felt fairly supportive during our hour long drive, but buyers should beware that the base trim level has a driver’s seat that isn’t as adjustable as the other models.

Like the Prius, the c comes in numbered packages. “One” is obviously the price leader at $18,950, achieved by “decontetning” niceties like cruise control, cargo area lights, adjustable front headrests, the center armrest and tonneau cover. Toyota did take a note from their Korean competitors and included Bluetooth and iPod integration standard on the base model. The $19,900 “Two” adds a 6-speaker audio system, variable intermittent wipers, 60/40 folding rear seat, cruise control, center armrest and an engine immobilizer-style key. “Three” lists for $21,635 and adds Toyota’s Entune Navigation radio with 6.1-inch touchscreen , XM and HD radio, and “Entune App” capability (Pandora, Bing, etc). Also included on “Three” is Toyota’s keyless entry and keyless go, a telescoping steering wheel and the option to add $390 alloy wheels and a $850 sunroof. The top-of-the-line “Four” brings 15 inch 8-spoke alloys to the party, “Softex” seats, heated front seats, fog lamps and turn signals in the side mirrors for $23,230. The “Four” can also be equipped with the $850 moonroof and an optional 16-inch alloy wheel and sport steering package for $300 (or $1150 when combined with the sunroof) topping the Prius c out at $24,380, just a few hundred over a base Prius liftback. The bigger wheels bring with them wider rubber (195 vs 175 width),  and a different steering ratio that drops the lock-to-lock turns from 3.02 to 2.28. Unfortunately, the turning circle grows ridiculously from a tight 31.4 to a Buick-like 37.4 feet while causing a reduction in ride quality.

The new Entune system is a step in the right direction for Toyota’s infotainment systems. Entune integrated well with my iPhone 4 and my iPod Nano as well as the Android 2.3 phone that Toyota had in the car. In order to use the Entune data services like Bing, OpenTable, Pandora and iHeartRadio, you will need a smart phone with a data plan (tethering plans are not required) and after the first three years, you’ll also have to pay Toyota a yearly subscription fee. Sadly, Entune still does not provide for voice command of your iPod or MP3 data device ala Ford’s SYNC.

Click here to view the embedded video.

We had a fairly limited time with the baby Prius so I’ll save the majority of drive opinions for a longer affair with the small hybrid. Interested parties should just avoid the “One” unless that’s all you can afford. The content level is not as bad as most economy cars but the lack of cruise control and the center armrest are worth the upgrade price. Similarly steer clear of the “Four”, the faux-leather upholstery looks good in photos and is likely easier to clean, but the price of admission is steep and the non-breathable leather seats made our backsides sticky after only an hour. If you really must go for the “Four”, upgrade your wheels aftermarket. The lower profile rubber and ginormous turning circle that come with the upgraded package by Toyota make this a non-starter for me.

During our 140 miles with the Prius c (split between all four models of the Prius c) on city streets, windy mountain roads and 70MPH highway runs, we were unable to get the Prius c to drop below 50MPG and averaged a very respectable 53MPG overall with the A/C in constant use. That puts the c easily ahead of the regular Prius’ real-world MPG and more than 20MPG ahead of the 2012 Toyota Yaris 5-door’s combined score. Here we come full-circle to the Yaris hybrid concept. If you’re shopping the Yaris as an economical vehicle, the “Prius c Two” makes a compelling argument. While the Prius is $3,640 more expensive than the similarly equipped Yaris LE, it delivers 60% better fuel economy, an improved interior with more room, and no real sacrifices aside from a steeper price. If you drive 15,000 miles a year it would take only 5 years (or 75,000 miles) to break even when compared with the Yaris (or most other compact hatchbacks) based on California’s high gas prices. While I’m unconvinced that the Prius c will provide much excitement for the urban Gen Y buyer, I have little doubt it will prove an extremely economical vehicle to own in the long run and is worth serious consideration by anyone shopping for a subcompact hatch and in the process Toyota might just dominate the world.

Toyota flew us to San Diego, put us up for the night and provided a gaggle of pre-production Prius c models for our amusement.

 

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The Fix Is In As GM Makes Changes To Volt After NHTSA Investigation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/the-fix-is-in-as-gm-makes-changes-to-volt-after-nhtsa-investigation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/the-fix-is-in-as-gm-makes-changes-to-volt-after-nhtsa-investigation/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2012 22:25:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=424566 General Motors announced changes to the Chevrolet Volt’s design after a NHTSA investigation into why a Volt caught fire following crash testing. The changes will go into effect once production restarts at the Hamtramck, Michigan facility, but customer cars already sold will follow a different protocol. Starting in February, GM will initiate a “voluntary customer satisfaction […]

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General Motors announced changes to the Chevrolet Volt’s design after a NHTSA investigation into why a Volt caught fire following crash testing.

The changes will go into effect once production restarts at the Hamtramck, Michigan facility, but customer cars already sold will follow a different protocol.

Starting in February, GM will initiate a “voluntary customer satisfaction program” to make the necessary changes to the Volt. According to GM’s Rob Peterson said that  formal recalsl must be initiated by NHTSA, and their lack of movement prompted GM to enact a voluntary one instead.

The fix involves changes to the Volt’s battery pack housing, as well as a coolant temperature sensor and a special bracket to prevent overfilling. The previous system allowed the battery housing to be punctured, which then resulted in coolant overflowing onto a circuit board causing an electrical short. The short was determined to be the cause of the fire.

 

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Ethics Group Says Government Suppressed Chevrolet Volt Evidence http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/ethics-group-says-government-suppressed-chevrolet-volt-evidence/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/ethics-group-says-government-suppressed-chevrolet-volt-evidence/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2011 15:41:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=421778   The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seeking: “All records, documents, internal and external documentations between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and General Motors between June 1, 2009 and December 1, 2011. These requested records shall include communication […]

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The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seeking:

“All records, documents, internal and external documentations between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and General Motors between June 1, 2009 and December 1, 2011. These requested records shall include communication regarding the Chevrolet Volt, also known as the Chevy Volt.”

That’s a lot of paper if the request will be granted.

The NHTSA is investigating three fires in the battery packs of GM’s Chevy Volt following collision tests. The NLPC alleges that the NHTSA “may have withheld information of this potential safety problem from the public for several months.”

Says a NLPC statement:

“The United States government still owns a significant stake in GM. There’s an obvious conflict of interest in a government agency investigating a government-owned company. Moreover, the NHTSA cannot be impartial because it has become a cheerleader for electric vehicles.”

According to its website, the “NLPC promotes ethics in public life through research, investigation, education and legal action.”

 

 

 

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Volt’s Burning Desire: The Fix Is In. Is It Really? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/volt%e2%80%99s-burning-desire-the-fix-is-in-is-it-really/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/volt%e2%80%99s-burning-desire-the-fix-is-in-is-it-really/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2011 18:49:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=421742 GM is close to having a fix for the Volt battery that had a tendency to go up in flames after a crash. Meanwhile in Washington, senators are getting the grill ready. Reuter’s Detroit bureau reports that repairs under consideration involve laminating circuitry in the battery pack, a reinforced case for the battery, and leakproofing […]

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GM is close to having a fix for the Volt battery that had a tendency to go up in flames after a crash. Meanwhile in Washington, senators are getting the grill ready.

Reuter’s Detroit bureau reports that repairs under consideration involve laminating circuitry in the battery pack, a reinforced case for the battery, and leakproofing the coolant system.

The good part is that the fix could be performed at GM dealerships, which, says Reuters, “could spare the automaker the cost and reputation damage from a more involved safety recall.” In other words, GM would not have to take the car back. Currently, Volt customers drive around with loaners while their Volts remain parked.

Reuters heard the solution before GM senior management did. Management will be shown the fix by the end of the week. The cost is said to be less than $9 million for GM, or about $1,000 per Volt. If NHTSA regulators want a more involved solution, it will be more expensive.

GM spokesman Rob Peterson had not heard of the fix: “To the best of my knowledge, we’re not discussing exact solutions at this point,” he told Reuters.

While GM is dousing the flames, DC is preparing a grilling.

The regulatory subcommittee of the House Oversight panel wants to hold a hearing next month. It wants to know why it took nearly six months for the matter to become public and whether the committee should have been advised. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a probe of the Volt’s battery pack last month.

 

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