The Truth About Cars » electric cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 21 Apr 2015 16:00:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 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 » electric cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Chart Of The Day: The Chevrolet Volt’s Long And Harsh Decline http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/chart-day-chevrolet-volts-long-harsh-decline/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/chart-day-chevrolet-volts-long-harsh-decline/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 13:07:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1046514 The first three months of 2015 marked the lowest-volume quarter of U.S. Chevrolet Volt sales since the summer of 2011, when Volt production was just ramping up. Volt volume in January of this year, more specifically, fell to the lowest level since August 2011. With only 542 sales in the first month of 2015, Volt […]

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2012 Chevrolet Volt

The first three months of 2015 marked the lowest-volume quarter of U.S. Chevrolet Volt sales since the summer of 2011, when Volt production was just ramping up.

Volt volume in January of this year, more specifically, fell to the lowest level since August 2011. With only 542 sales in the first month of 2015, Volt sales were down 41%.

February sales then tumbled 43%. Most recently, March 2015 volume slid below 1000 units for the third time in three months, tumbling 57% to just 639 units, just the fourth time in 38 months that GM has sold fewer than 1000 Volts in the span of a month. 

Are fuel prices to blame, or the fact that the next, improved Volt has already been revealed? Both may be contributing factors in the most recent months, but a straightforward drop in demand, from low to lower, is the more appropriate response. Volt volume was in decline long before the latest fuel price decline.

Chevrolet Volt sales chart quarterlyVolt sales peaked during the car’s second full year on the market, 2012, before beginning a steady decline that saw monthly volume decrease on a year-over-year basis in 18 of 25 months, including each of the last eight months. Initial expectations called for approximately 40,000 annual Volt sales in the United States. GM hasn’t yet come within 16,000 units of matching that goal.

One thing is certain: there are Volts to be had. The drop to only 1874 first-quarter sales in 2015 occurred despite the fact that GM had, according to Automotive News, a 56-day supply at the beginning of January, a 192-day supply at the start of February, and a 159-day supply when March began.

The Volt was America’s 67th-best-selling car in 2012 but fell to the 70th position in 2013, before falling to 78th in calendar year 2014. Through the first-quarter of 2015, the Volt is now America’s 99th-best-selling car.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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Capsule Review: Chevrolet Spark EV http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-chevrolet-spark-ev/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/capsule-review-chevrolet-spark-ev/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 14:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1034073 There comes a moment when it’s time to try something new. Like switching to an iPhone after using a Nexus and promptly learning that the iPhone can bend. Or wearing a mechanical watch rather than a quartz watch, only for it to stop ticking after it was on a nightstand for the weekend. Moving to […]

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There comes a moment when it’s time to try something new. Like switching to an iPhone after using a Nexus and promptly learning that the iPhone can bend. Or wearing a mechanical watch rather than a quartz watch, only for it to stop ticking after it was on a nightstand for the weekend. Moving to a house from an apartment and dealing with the perils of home ownership, such as property taxes, having to clean gutters, and the inability to have the building manager fix the broken kitchen faucet. My trying something new involved testing an electric vehicle for a week.

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After all, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to Tesla Motors and ZAP (the hard-core TTAC B&B should know them; there’s even a road test on here of their cars from way back when), and home to dinner parties with prolonged debates about whether electric car ownership is worthwhile. “What if you’re coming home from work and you forgot your phone? You’ll run out of charge retrieving the phone and then there’s no way of getting home.” an attendee might say, while his counterpart might reply, “Well, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars on gas and I haven’t had to visit a gas station. And are these chips and dip vegan?” Since I get asked the electric car question a lot as the “car guy” among my friends, I decided once and for all to test an electric car.

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To live out my electric car experience, Chevrolet had a Spark EV available in the Northern California press fleet, which was delivered to me with 301 miles on the odometer. 55 of those miles involved delivering the car to my driveway from the press car place. So I was effectively testing a brand-new car. Additionally, it should be noted at this point of the review that most of the country cannot buy the Spark EV. It’s only sold in California and Oregon, where the metropolitan areas tend to have a more developed electric vehicle infrastructure. As a result, this review applies to less than fifteen percent of the population, so those of you not within a 10-hour drive of San Francisco don’t have to care as much.

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The first thing I did when I got the Spark was test the performance of the car using the 22 miles of range it arrived with. Its performance was surprisingly good thanks to the torque from the electric motor. It could go from 0-60 miles per hour in around seven seconds, which is on par with most six-cylinder midsize sedans. Chevrolet also got the suspension tuning very right, making the Spark quite fun to drive at low speeds. There’s even a “Sport” button which sharpens up throttle response. With this car, it’s actually possible to create an autocross course around your housing development, and have actual fun doing it, without waking up the neighbors. Just make sure there isn’t too much tire squeal.

Secondly, since spirited driving tends to use up much of the battery, I needed to ensure I could charge it at home. Now, to make electric car ownership worthwhile, it helps to have a 240V outlet in your home to ensure your electric vehicle charges faster. Usually, an electric car can go from empty to fully-charged in one night (usually within 8 hours) with the 240V setup. Thankfully I had the means to “improvise” a home charging facility for the Spark with the 120V outlet that came with the Spark. However, most homes have 120V outlets, which is what my house had. With a 120V setup, it usually takes about 12 to 18 hours to go from empty to a full charge.

Regarding styling, the Spark EV more or less looks like any other Chevy Spark on the road. For me, that’s not necessarily a good thing, as many people will believe your car is a lot cheaper than it actually is. Most people will also believe that you’ll be driving a rental car. I had the fortune to have a Jaguar XF Sport in the driveway before I got the Spark EV, and most of my neighbors did a double take when passing by and noticing the red Spark in place of the XF. Personally, I don’t think homeowners’ associations will tolerate a Spark EV in the driveway.

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Inside, the Spark is airy and has plenty of visibility. It is a narrow car though, with the potential to rub shoulders with your front passenger and the rear seat only accommodating two people, but there is plenty of headroom. The trunk only has enough space for two airplane carry-ons. My test car had the “leatherette” (I consider it vinyl) seats that I didn’t like, largely because of how the material felt and I didn’t like sitting in them after the car had been out in the sun. Personally, I’d try to get cloth seats, but that involves “downgrading” to the 1LT trim level for around $400 less, though the steering wheel won’t be leather-wrapped.

On the highway, the Spark had no trouble keeping up with other cars or getting up to speed quickly. However, you will definitely hear the road noise at speeds above 45 mph. If you’re driving on the highway in periods of low traffic with speeds of 65 to 70 miles per hour, you will hate being in the car. I tried to turn up the stereo to compensate for all that road noise, but it didn’t help things and added to the noise pollution. As a result, the Spark EV is a car you’ll prefer in traffic jams and off-highway environments.

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I have to admit I didn’t use OnStar with the car (the OnStar Turn-by-Turn navigation is free for 3 years), so I don’t know if it’s a viable alternative to an actual navigation system. To get navigation maps projected onto the dashboard screen, Chevrolet MyLink can connect to your smartphone and garner the necessary information using the BringGo app. Downloading and installing the app on my smartphone would have been $50 so I didn’t try it out.

As for the money saved on fuel costs by buying the Spark, the car’s Monroney sticker states that it’s possible to save $8,500 in fuel costs over 5 years compared to the average new vehicle which gets 24 mpg and costs $11,000 to fuel over five years. The $8,500 figure comes from driving 15,000 miles per year at 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. On the other hand, when researching potential cost savings on FuelEconomy.gov, the website gives me an estimate of $5,250 saved over five years, but that’s based on “45% highway, 55% city driving, 15,000 annual miles and current fuel prices.” I’m assuming the Monroney value estimates the price of gas becoming higher with time while the FuelEconomy.gov number tends to fluctuate. But only you can estimate how much money you can save based on your driving habits and knowledge of local charging stations.

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When I had to ensure the Spark had a full battery, I fully charged the Spark EV at my house twice during the week I had it, and the electric bill only went up $10 compared to the same period last year. I’m not quite sure if the Spark contributed the extra money to the electric bill, but I did charge it during peak usage hours once, which may have contributed to the total. Also, many of my local hangouts had charging stations where I could park and charge the car for free for a limit of 2 or 3 hours. As a result, I largely didn’t have to pay for the car’s electricity when running errands. (On a side note, the Plugshare app came in handy when finding charging stations.)

Also, my test car had the “fast provisions” charging capability option, it enables the Spark EV to recharge 80 percent of the battery within 20 minutes utilizing the SAE Combo DC fast charging stations. Unfortunately, there were no SAE Combo DC fast chargers near me to sample. Nevertheless, having one of these nearby will help tremendously with range anxiety, especially if your daily commute is more than 60 miles round-trip.

The MSRP of my test car was $28,785 (before the $7,500 tax credit), with the sole option being the $750 “fast provisions” charging capability and an $825 destination charge. It also includes two years of maintenance. At that price point, Nissan has the Leaf which starts at $29,860 including destination, Ford has the Focus EV at $29,995 with destination, and FIAT’s 500e at $31,800. With the $7,500 federal tax credit and a California tax credit of $2,500, the Spark EV can easily come in below $20,000. (Unfortunately, Oregon doesn’t offer an electric vehicle tax credit.) Furthermore, the Spark EV’s lease rates are reasonable and close to the lease rates of the aforementioned electric vehicles, though their advertised leases are for 36,000 miles. On Chevrolet’s website, the current offer is $176 a month (plus taxes and fees) with $0 due at signing for a 3 year, 30,000 mile lease.

All in all, if you’re among the fifteen percent of the American population considering the Spark EV, I would advise buying it as strictly a commuting and errands car. It would make the perfect second or third vehicle if fuel costs are getting out of hand, you drive around 50 miles every day, and you would like to minimize trips to the gas station. With its $176 per month lease deal with $0 due at signing, the Spark EV is worth thinking about if considering a Leaf, the lease rate of which doesn’t come close. Even if you plan to buy an electric car, the Spark is a good candidate as the net price can go below $20,000 with the federal and California tax rebates.

And if you don’t live in California and Oregon and you’re still considering the Spark, come to nice and sunny California and make a vacation out of test driving the Spark EV. Though be wary of any dinner party invites you come across if you tell people your reason for visiting California. The menu has a good chance of being completely vegan.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. He also learned that it’s surprisingly easy to sneak up behind people in an electric car, especially cyclists. 

 

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Before The i3, There Was The E1 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/i3-e1/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/03/i3-e1/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:27:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1025089 Tomorrow, we’ll have a review of the BMW i3, BMW’s first mass market electric car. Developed in just 10 months, the E1 used an aluminum spaceframe with plastic body panels – remarkably similar to the i3s use of advanced materials and construction given that the E1 was developed in 1991. BMW claimed that the rear-drive […]

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Tomorrow, we’ll have a review of the BMW i3, BMW’s first mass market electric car.

Developed in just 10 months, the E1 used an aluminum spaceframe with plastic body panels – remarkably similar to the i3s use of advanced materials and construction given that the E1 was developed in 1991.

BMW claimed that the rear-drive E1 was good for 150 miles from its relatively puny (but today’s standards) 32 kW electric motor and 19  kWh sodium-sulphur battery – which weighed 400 lbs.

The lone E1 ended up catching fire while charging, taking part of a building with it. But like the Geo Storm that ended up previewing the Chevrolet Volt, the E1 ended up leading the way for the Mini E, BMW ActiveE and the latest i3 and i8.

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A Leaf Falls In January: After 23 Consecutive Increases, Nissan USA Reports Leaf Decline http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/leaf-falls-january-23-consecutive-increases-nissan-usa-reports-leaf-decline/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/02/leaf-falls-january-23-consecutive-increases-nissan-usa-reports-leaf-decline/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:54:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1006802 In the same way that consecutive games without a point draw attention to the fact that Sidney Crosby previously achieved a 25-game point streak, the Nissan’s Leaf slight decline in the lowest-volume month on the calendar shines a light on what was a 23-month streak of year-over-year improvements. Leaf volume slid 15% in January 2015, […]

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2015 Nissan Leaf whiteIn the same way that consecutive games without a point draw attention to the fact that Sidney Crosby previously achieved a 25-game point streak, the Nissan’s Leaf slight decline in the lowest-volume month on the calendar shines a light on what was a 23-month streak of year-over-year improvements.

Leaf volume slid 15% in January 2015, a 182-unit drop. On a monthly basis, Leaf volume increased every month between February 2013 and December 2014, year-over-year.

It’s not a high-volume car, the Leaf, but it’s not so exclusive as to be called rare. Leaf volume has risen beyond 1000 units in each of the last 23 months. Average monthly U.S. volume measured 2911 units in the second half of 2014, up from an average of 2129 monthly sales in the second half of 2013. Leaf volume shot above 3000 units in May, July, August, and December of 2014. (The Chevrolet Volt has only topped the 3K mark once, in August 2013. Toyota has only sold more than 2000 Prius Plug-Ins in a single month twice.)

In fact, that high December output – U.S. sales jumped 23% to 3102 in the final month of 2014 – was partly to blame for the Leaf’s first decline in two years. “Increased demand in December from customers looking to take advantage of federal and state incentives at the end of the tax year pulled some sales ahead,” Brian Brockman, senior manager of corporate communications for Nissan, told TTAC yesterday. And while Nissan doesn’t see low fuel prices having long-term impact on the EV market, Brockman said, “We are also seeing some short-term effects of historically low fuel prices on EV demand among buyers who are solely focused on the economic benefits.”

Some? In the case of the Leaf, very little at all. Even in January, the lowest-volume month for the Leaf since February 2013, the all-electric Nissan still outsold a long list of conventional cars, SUVs, crossovers, and vans, including a large number of Nissan products: NV, Q40, Armada, Xterra, Titan, Quest, Q70, and many more. The Leaf sold more than twice as often as the approaching-replacement Volt (not that the Leaf is a spring chicken), 43% more often than the Scion FR-S, more than three times more often than the Volvo V60.

January 2015 Nissan USA Leaf sales chartThe Volt, FR-S, and V60 aren’t exactly mainstream machines. But that’s not really the point. In a slow month for the Leaf, it was wildly more popular than truly rare cars. In a slow month for the Leaf, it outsold approximately 47% of all passenger car nameplates in January. In a slow month for the Leaf, it outsold all-electrics like the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, Volkswagen e-Golf, Smart Fortwo EV, Fiat 500E, Chevrolet Spark EV, Ford Focus EV, Kia Soul EV, Toyota RAV4 EV, and Mitsubishi i MiEV combined.

It’s worth noting that while HybridCars.com estimates that Tesla sold 1300 copies of the Model S, the Tesla is mostly alone in its electrified nature at the Model S’s price point. The same can not be said for the degree of direct competition faced by the Leaf. Indirectly? Toyota, for instance, sold more than 12,000 total Prius family cars in January.

Regardless of what the competition manages, Nissan would prefer to see Leaf sales continue to improve. Crosby fans also want to see Sidney do more than record points in back-to-back games after being held scoreless in five of six. That’s The Truth About Hockey.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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Detroit Electric Reveals Production Exterior, Interior & Signs Asia Distributor http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/detroit-electric-reveals-production-exterior-interior-signs-asia-distributor/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/01/detroit-electric-reveals-production-exterior-interior-signs-asia-distributor/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 20:26:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=972394 Detroit Electric, the startup company that hopes to revive the early motoring age’s most successful brand of electric cars, has revealed the final design details and specifications of its Lotus based SP:01 battery powered sports car, which it says will start production in the UK early this year. Preproduction prototypes are being tested at the […]

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Detroit Electric SP01 exterior

Detroit Electric, the startup company that hopes to revive the early motoring age’s most successful brand of electric cars, has revealed the final design details and specifications of its Lotus based SP:01 battery powered sports car, which it says will start production in the UK early this year. Preproduction prototypes are being tested at the Leamington Spa assembly facility. Detroit Electric also announced the appointment of its first distributor in Asia.

The company claims that the carbon fiber bodied 210 KW (285 HP) SP:01 will be “the world’s fastest pure-electric production two-seater sports car”. Since the Tesla Roadster is no longer in production I’m not sure that Detroit Electric even has a competitor for that fictional title belt. Either way, the company is claiming performance stats of 0-60 MPH in 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 155 MPH.

Three transmission choices will be offered, a manual gearbox and two automatics, one with two ratios and one with just a single speed. I’m interested to see why they describe that single ratio transmission as an “automatic”, since an electric motor theoretically doesn’t need a clutch or a torque converter as it doesn’t spin at idle.

Detroit Electric SP01 on the road

Exterior changes made since the second prototype was shown at the Shanghai Motor Show in 2013 are said to be for aerodynamic reasons and include a new rear profile with a fastback roof line and rear window that replace the flying buttresses of the first two prototypes. A new rear wing on top as well as a functional diffuser underneath the rear end that are intended to reduce lift at speed. Paint options and carbon fiber accessory parts were also announced as was a custom paint program for folks who insist on lime green cars. Customers will also have the choice of three different wheel designs, original to Detroit Electric.

Detroit Electric SP01 interior - Left hand drive

The centerpiece of the new interior design is an 8.4 inch touch screen in the console that the company says replaces all analog dials and switches on the instrument panel (though the photos seem to indicate conventional speedometer and tachometer dials in the binnacle in front of the driver). Infotainment, HVAC controls, battery status indicators, and V2X (Vehicle-to-Grid and Vehicle-to-Home) communication will be handled by Detroit Electric’s Android based SAMI (Smartphone Application Managed Infotainment) app. By using an open source platform, the company hopes that third party application developers will create new features for the SP:01. Interior color options were also announced, including the choice of leather or Alcantara upholstery. Based on the publicity photos, the SP:01’s cabin will be much less spartan than that of the Lotus cars on which it is based.

Detroit Electric SP01 interior - Right hand drive

On the business side of things, Integrated Energy, a Korean firm, has been announced as Detroit Electric’s first importer/distributor in Asia. Detroit Electric’s first Asian showroom will open in Seoul, South Korea, also in early 2015. Integrated Energy will also be be working on developing Detroit Electric’s V2X technology at a test site on Korea’s Jeju Island, using a fleet supplied by the startup automaker.

Detroit Electric is still run from their offices in Detroit’s Fisher Building and they say they still hope to one day assemble Detroit Electrics in the cars’ namesake region, but in the meantime they say they are completing the new, dedicated assembly facility in the UK as well as a new European headquarters in Houten, Netherlands that will hand sales, marketing and customer service in the EMEA region.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Chart Of The Day: ExxonMobil Predicts Long Reign For The Internal Combustion Engine http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/chart-day-exxonmobil-predicts-long-reign-internal-combustion-engine/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/12/chart-day-exxonmobil-predicts-long-reign-internal-combustion-engine/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:38:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=962202 The next 25 years of automotive powertrain technology belongs to the internal combustion engine, according to oil & gas giant ExxonMobil. While many will dismiss this as the wishful thinking of an industrial dinosaur, it’s worth remembering that 25 years isn’t that long of a timeframe in the automotive world. As we speak, automakers are already […]

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The next 25 years of automotive powertrain technology belongs to the internal combustion engine, according to oil & gas giant ExxonMobil. While many will dismiss this as the wishful thinking of an industrial dinosaur, it’s worth remembering that 25 years isn’t that long of a timeframe in the automotive world.

As we speak, automakers are already planning for what products will be on the market within the next decade. As it stands now, they must meet increasingly stringent emissions targets in the United States and the European union by 2025, in the form of both CAFE and the next round of Euro regulations that call for a fleet average of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer (for comparison, a Toyota Prius emits about 100 grams per km).

One way of meeting this target is through the use of hybrid technology – a sector that ExxonMobil sees as making rapid, substantial gains over the years. At this point, every single OEM has some kind of hybrid technology that can be adapted to their volume models in a way that is efficient in terms of both packaging and cost. This is sure to be the case for plug-in hybrid technology as well.

The zero-emissions front is substantially more fraught. The battle between battery electric vehicles (BEV) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles has barely begun, but supporters of the two camps are already locked into a Betamax vs. VHS style conflict. As it stands, there is minimal infrastructure for both systems, and a combination of low oil prices and consumer skepticism is likely to stall its growth for the foreseeable future. And while BEVs technically have a head start on hydrogen, their market share is, in real terms, negligible.

In 2013, BEVs had a market share of just 0.28 percent, or about 260,000 units. Even the relatively scarce plug-in hybrid segment managed to best pure electrics, with 0.31 percent of the new car market. Only in Norway, where BEVs receive heavy subsidies in the form of tax breaks, have electric cars made any real headway, and even then, they have barely cracked 6 percent.

While tales of daring and disruption and averting cataclysmic climate change make for great headlines, the reality is that technological progress, especially in the automotive sector, moves at a much more gradual pace – otherwise, we’d likely have seen a major breakthrough in EV battery technology by now, one that would allow for significant range and negligible refueling times. Utopian visions of a fleet of silent, zero-emissions vehicles are just that. Instead, we are likely to see a proliferation of hybrid technology throughout new model lineups – and much of this will likely be driven by regulatory inputs, as a means of helping vehicles meet government mandated fuel economy targets, even if consumers don’t necessarily care.

Advances in the internal combustion engine are also on the horizon. Homogenous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI) engines, which allow for diesel-like combustion while running on gasoline, are expected to debut on Mazda cars by 2020. Mazda claims that they will provide a 30 percent fuel economy boost, while significantly lowering emissions. Between HCCI, increasingly cleaner diesel engines and incremental improvements to traditional engines, the ICE powertrains are likely to be ubiquitous due to their familiarity and what is sure to be a cost advantage. Barring any major, prolonged spike in energy prices or a wholesale shift in attitudes towards climate change and the environment, dollars and cents (not to mention sheer convenience) will remain the primary motivating factor in new car purchases. And that means that the internal combustion engine is well placed to continue its dominance through the next quarter century.

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Junkyard Find: Electric-Powered 1988 Ford Ranger Custom http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/junkyard-find-electric-powered-1988-ford-ranger-custom/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/junkyard-find-electric-powered-1988-ford-ranger-custom/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 13:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=926825 I’ve just driven a couple of modern electric cars, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the Tesla Model S, and they’re real cars. Actually, the i-MiEV is a perfectly serviceable short-distance commuter and the Model S is the best street car I’ve ever driven, but I was ready to hate both of them a lot, because all […]

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15 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee MartinI’ve just driven a couple of modern electric cars, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and the Tesla Model S, and they’re real cars. Actually, the i-MiEV is a perfectly serviceable short-distance commuter and the Model S is the best street car I’ve ever driven, but I was ready to hate both of them a lot, because all my previous experience with EVs had involved growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s and hearing a lot of eat-yer-vegetables talk from earnest green types about how electric cars are good for you, when in fact those cars sucked stringwart-covered pangolin nodules. Then, of course, there are all the flake-O electric conversions from the 1980-2000 era that I’ve seen, a fair number of which appear in self-service wrecking yards as long-abandoned EV conversions are towed out of back yards and driveways. In this series, we’ve seen this EVolve Electrics 1995 Geo Metro and this 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Electric Sport, and there have been others too stripped to be worth photographing. Today we’re going to look at a California-based Ford Ranger that still has just about all its electric running gear.
14 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee MartinSome EVs like this were put together for driving around in warehouses, others were built by government agencies trying to showcase green technologies, and still more were built by backyard electric-car fanatics. Ford even built their own electric Rangers later on.
04 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee MartinSince the battery box (or what I am assuming is the battery box) is so small, my guess is that this truck was made for short-distance indoor use. Running parts inside hangars at nearby Oakland Airport?
Note: Crab Spirits did some research and found this truck on the North Bay Electric Automobile Association website for us. It turns out to be a veteran of the 2004 North Bay Eco-Fest, i.e., it was admired by a lot of earnest Marin County green types, all of whom probably abandoned their 20-mile-range EVs the moment they could buy a Leaf.
17 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee MartinI thought about buying these gauges for eBay reselling later, but it didn’t seem worth the hassle.
09 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee MartinThe motor was still there when I visited this yard about a month ago, but the value of the copper inside it means that this is one part that will not go to The Crusher.
06 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee MartinGreat big Bycan battery charger under the hood.
16 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee MartinI doubt that the sight of this truck had Chevron execs trembling.
19 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee MartinI didn’t check underneath to see if the original automatic transmission was still installed. The shifter might have been just used to control forward and reverse.

01 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 02 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 03 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 04 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 05 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 06 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 07 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 08 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 09 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 10 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 11 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 12 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 13 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 14 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 15 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 16 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 17 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 18 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 19 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 20 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin 21 - Electric 1988 Ford Ranger Down On the Junkyard - Picture By Murilee Martin

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France To Provide $22,000 Subsidy For Diesel Drivers Who Switch To EVs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/france-provide-22000-subsidy-diesel-drivers-switch-evs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/france-provide-22000-subsidy-diesel-drivers-switch-evs/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 14:27:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=897386 While France already offers a subsidy of $8,400 for consumers who purchase a new electric vehicle, a proposed piece of legislation would see that figure expand for drivers of diesel cars, bringing the total subsidy to a staggering $22,000. The bill, proposed by Segolene Royal (France’s minister for ecology, sustainable development and energy, and a one-time […]

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While France already offers a subsidy of $8,400 for consumers who purchase a new electric vehicle, a proposed piece of legislation would see that figure expand for drivers of diesel cars, bringing the total subsidy to a staggering $22,000.

The bill, proposed by Segolene Royal (France’s minister for ecology, sustainable development and energy, and a one-time Presidential candidate) would provide enhanced subsidies for drivers of diesel-powered cars, according to the International Business Times

With diesel cars being extremely popular in France, the bill would likely give drivers an incentive to scrap their oil-burner in favor of a new electric vehicle – and how convenient it is that French automaker Renault currently offers a range of EVs to suit every purse and purpose.

Although the Twizy is a niche city car, Renault’s Zoe and Kangoo EVs neatly cover the compact hatchback and commercial van markets, both of which are important segments and commonly powered by diesel engines. If a diesel driver took full advantage of the available subsidies – which, under the plan, would amount to an extra 10,000 euros on top of the 6,300 euros already available -, then a 20,700 euro Renault Zoe would cost just 4,400 euros.

While the program is undoubtedly cloaked in environmental benefits, the real gain here is for Renault, and France’s new car market. It’s hard to imagine that legions of diesel car owners wouldn’t be compelled to make the switch to a 4,400 euro new car, even with the limitations that come with owning an EV. Year to date, EV sales are down 12 percent in France, with Renault sales down 6 percent. This move should reverse things tout de suite.

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Detroit Electric Gets To Work In Detroit http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/detroit-electric-gets-to-work-in-detroit/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/detroit-electric-gets-to-work-in-detroit/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 13:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=853545 When Detroit Electric launched their brand last spring at a gala affair in Detroit’s magnificent Fisher Building they, and the building’s landlord, said that the revived electric car brand would be making its headquarters in a suite on the 18th floor of the historic Detroit skyscraper. They also laid out their plans for assembling cars […]

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Detroit Electric Vice President Doug Moore. Note the used whiteboard in the conference room behind him.

Detroit Electric Vice President Doug Moore in the company’s Fisher Bldg headquarters in Detroit. Note the used whiteboard in the conference room behind him.

When Detroit Electric launched their brand last spring at a gala affair in Detroit’s magnificent Fisher Building they, and the building’s landlord, said that the revived electric car brand would be making its headquarters in a suite on the 18th floor of the historic Detroit skyscraper. They also laid out their plans for assembling cars in southeastern Michigan.

 

When the company announced in November that they were delaying their plans to start electrifying Lotus supplied gliders at a Detroit area production facility, while going ahead with plans to build cars for the European market somewhere in Europe, Detroit Electric North American president Don Graunstadt insisted that the company was still dedicated to having operations in the Detroit area. To see what kind of progress they were having with their headquarters I stopped in at the Fisher Building back then and discovered that their Fisher Building suite was empty, with apparently no sign of any work having been done to set up a business office. We published photos of the empty offices here at TTAC, which got some attention.

Detroit Electric has now announced that they’ll be assembling cars for the European market at a facility in Leamington Spa in the United Kingdom, with sales and marketing for Europe, Africa and the Middle East handled out of the Netherlands. However, company CEO Albert Lam’s statement reiterated their commitment to the Detroit area, saying, “We’re growing our team at the company’s headquarters in Detroit and we are committed to bringing investment and jobs to the Detroit economic area in the very near future.”

Since he mentioned the Detroit headquarters I returned to the Fisher Building today and I’m happy to report that there is now visible activity at Detroit Electric’s Detroit headquarters, with most of their North American staff located there. I also found out, according to company VP for administration Doug Moore, that my November photographs may have given the wrong impression.

Moore said that it was true that at the time I photographed their suite in November they had made no progress on moving into their permanent offices, but that it was due to the landlord’s delays in getting the suite ready and that they actually had staff working then in temporary offices on the Fisher Bldg’s 12th floor. The company vice president came out to speak with me today after their personnel director found me setting up my cameras in their 18th floor lobby. While it wasn’t exactly a beehive of activity – there wasn’t even a receptionist, this time the office did look occupied and behind the entry doors I could see a conference room whose whiteboard looked recently used, covered with automotive jargon.

Moore gave me an update on the company’s current plans. Their plans to sell their SP:01 sports car in the U.S. were contingent on getting waivers, as a small scale manufacturer, on some Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. With those waivers seemingly stalled, they decided to go ahead with European assembly, since a facility on the continent was always part of their long term plans and starting assembly there made more sense than building the cars in the U.S. and incurring the additional customs and transportation costs of shipping them overseas.

Moore said that the company’s second generation sports car, to be based on the Lotus Evora so it will be a larger, 2+2 grand tourer, will be assembled in the U.S., assuming they can get government approval. Moore reiterated that the company’s proposed more mass market four passenger car will be designed and engineered in the United States with final assembly being most likely done somewhere in or near Detroit.

He said, regarding that four passenger Detroit Electric, that the company is pursuing two possible strategies. They are going forward with a blank sheet design at the same time that they are negotiating with a couple of large automakers who might provide gliders for them to electrify.

Concerning their existing Detroit operations, Moore said that they currently have eight employees working in the Fisher Building and that will increase to about a dozen people soon, as he already has been interviewing engineers to augment their design team. By the end of the year Moore expects there to be about 20 Detroit Electric employees to be active in their headquarters. When I asked which corporate personnel are working out of the Fisher Bldg suite, he rattled off the positions for most of their current North American staff, including himself and Graunstadt.

As for when we’ll see actual Detroit Electric cars, Moore said that styling on the SP:01 is currently being finalized, with changes to the front and rear looks of the car from the concept shown in Detroit last year. Job One for assembling the SP:01 in the UK will take place in early September of this year, with ride & drive demonstrations for potential customers and retail sales soon after. I didn’t ask about distribution and dealer networks and Moore didn’t offer any information on those topics. As for the four passenger Detroit Electric, Moore said that they were aiming to launch it in the first quarter of 2016.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Junkyard Find: 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Electric Sport http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1988-chevrolet-sprint-electric-sport/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1988-chevrolet-sprint-electric-sport/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 13:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788522 Now that it’s possible to buy electric cars that actually do what cars are supposed to do, we mustn’t forget the very lengthy era— say 1970 to just a few years ago— during which all manner of optimistic-yet-doomed companies converted various econoboxes into lead-acid-battery-based EVs. Every once in a while, I’ll spot the remains of […]

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12 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNow that it’s possible to buy electric cars that actually do what cars are supposed to do, we mustn’t forget the very lengthy era— say 1970 to just a few years ago— during which all manner of optimistic-yet-doomed companies converted various econoboxes into lead-acid-battery-based EVs. Every once in a while, I’ll spot the remains of such an EV at a junkyard; we saw a junked EVolve Electrics 1995 Geo Metro EV conversion last year, and now a different Denver yard has given us this ’88 Sprint “Electric Sport.”
06 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sprint aka Cultus wasn’t a bad choice for an electric vehicle, being lightweight and cheap.
01 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinElectric motors are worth money, either as working motors or as sources of valuable scrap copper, so the one in this car is long gone.
18 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe remnants of the battery tray may be seen in the rear cargo area.
17 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSomeone grabbed the no-doubt-modified instrument cluster, too.
07 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBonus points to anyone who can track down the company that built the Electric Sport Sprint!

01 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin

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QOTD: Toyota, Not Tesla, As A Force Of Disruption http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/qotd-toyota-not-tesla-as-a-force-of-disruption/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/qotd-toyota-not-tesla-as-a-force-of-disruption/#comments Fri, 28 Feb 2014 20:11:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=757641 Writing in Bloomberg View, former EIC Ed Niedermeyer has published a crtical essay of Tesla, albeit one with a fresh angle: Toyota, one of Tesla’s main automotive partners, is in fact the true force of disruption in the automotive world. Although Niedermeyer touches mainly on Toyota’s efforts in manufacturing and quality (namely, kaizen),  which disrupted Detroit’s […]

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Writing in Bloomberg View, former EIC Ed Niedermeyer has published a crtical essay of Tesla, albeit one with a fresh angle: Toyota, one of Tesla’s main automotive partners, is in fact the true force of disruption in the automotive world.

Although Niedermeyer touches mainly on Toyota’s efforts in manufacturing and quality (namely, kaizen),  which disrupted Detroit’s stranglehold on the automotive market, other improvements come to mind. Lexus disrupted German dominance of the luxury segment, while the Prius is the world’s most successful hybrid car. Even if the company is anathema to enthusiasts, Toyota’s contributions to the broader automotive world are immense.

On the other hand, Niedermeyer takes a much more grounded (or dim) view of Tesla – you won’t find any appeals to a utopian society of autonomous EVs, as one analyst touted this past week. According to Ed

“Auto industry success is a marathon, not a sprint … and at current volumes, Tesla is barely walking.”

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Is The Nissan LEAF Worth The Green? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/is-the-nissan-leaf-worth-the-green/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/is-the-nissan-leaf-worth-the-green/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 12:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=754225 What happens when the subsidy is over? This is a question that I tried to study in depth about a month ago when one of my friends had a 10 year old Toyota Prius that had seemingly lost it’s battery. It turned out that he didn’t need a new car, or a new battery. A […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

What happens when the subsidy is over?

This is a question that I tried to study in depth about a month ago when one of my friends had a 10 year old Toyota Prius that had seemingly lost it’s battery.

It turned out that he didn’t need a new car, or a new battery. A stray rodent had inflicted minimal harm to the wiring and his temporary search for a new ride quickly came and went.

However, I did some deep drilling for him one evening since his question was one with more unknowns than the typical car purchase. He wanted a LEAF, new our used, as his next car.

What shocked the hell out of me is that the numbers may indeed work… new or used.

The word may is a key operative term here…

Before I delve into the deep ocean blue of numbers crunching, let me offer each of you three (four!) simple questions.

1. Do you live in one of those wonderful states that offers a $5000 state subsidy for buying a LEAF?

2. Does your income enable you to make use of all the federal and state tax credits? And do you have excellent credit?

3. Are you willing to deal with an electric car that will be losing about 20% to 25% of it’s range by the time it reaches 100,000 miles.

Click here to view the embedded video.

If you answered no to any one of these (four!) three questions,  then do not buy the LEAF under any circumstances unless you are willing to “invest” in the electric technology that powers it.

So as for those 10% of you who are left (no it’s 5% you cheating used car selling bastard!), let’s go a bit deeper.

If you are only looking for a short-term deal and pure numbers are guiding your decision, then lease. The numbers between a two year lease and a three year lease change based on whatever special packages and bogus fees are ordained by the local dealership. These will likely include a $595 acquisition fee, a $395 disposition fee, a $250 documentation fee (this is an estimate based on TrueCar data for all 50 states), and about $2000 worth in states taxes, title transaction costs, registration costs, and the two lukewarm sodas you get to drink while the general manager of the dealership gets to plan for a weekend run to Vegas thanks to all the fake expenses he gets to collect.

Not to worry though, because the deal also enables you to screw take advantage of every subsidy known to these electric car programs. Federal Tax Credits. State Tax Credits. Possible Charging System Subsidies. Lower Rates For Your Electric Usage. HOV Lane Stickers. Truth be told, buying a Nissan LEAF is the closest most individuals will ever get to enjoying the benefits of becoming their very own large corporation. All these credits amount to over $13,000 in real world cost and to top it all off, you get to thumb your nose at the oil companies.

Once you throw auto insurance to the mix,  your real world costs on an annual basis will likely run around $360 a month, or just $12.00 a day, and that includes everything. Fuel, Insurance, Maintenance Costs, Tax Credit Reductions… it’s a steal of a deal in every sense of the term if you can pass through all the hoops and ignore the monetary flesh wounds of your fellow Americans who now pay $25 a day according to the American Automobile Association.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Typical car owner losing vital limbs thanks to the lobbying efforts of the Nissan Motor Company

The spreadsheet doesn’t publish well at a site like TTAC. But long story short, I was a financial analyst my first two years out of college and I’m happy to share it with anyone who has a remote interest in all the numbers. Feel free to email at steve.lang@thetruthaboutcars.com.

Now as for the buying side, there were four (three!) unusual findings.

1. The running costs of a LEAF, if you opt for the $100 a month battery guarantee, is roughly equivalent to a 10 year old Nissan Sentra.

2. Insurance costs between a LEAF and that Sentra worked out to only about a 13% difference. $1132 for the LEAF vs $1010 for the Sentra according to my insurer, USAA.

3. If you avoid the dealership’s service department like the plague and buy a $5 turkey baster for your brake fluid servicing, the LEAF will likely be cheaper to operate than a 10 year old beater Sentra.

Click here to view the embedded video.

There is one area of variance that came into play in my calculations. Battery life and the climate’s impact on it.

If you live in an area with searing heat and unusually cold winters, say, like Atlanta these last few months, your battery pack will likely wear out a bit faster than the owner who enjoys a constant mild temperature year round.  Once you or Nissan decide to discontinue the battery program, you may be living on borrowed time. So you have to figure out at what point you are willing to make that trade.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Then again, you may find in the near future that replacement parts are cheap enough elsewhere, and that this battery lease program will not be needed going forward. As a long-time owner of a 1st gen Insight and the first two generations of the Prius, I can attest to that outcome coming true more often than not.

So if it were my money, or the money subsidized to me by my fellow Americans, I would recommend the following.

1. If you buy the LEAF new, opt for the battery replacement program right before the vehicle hits the 5 year / 60,000 mark.

2. Replace the pack after the first go round, which will likely offer increased range and longevity, and then stop paying for the battery lease program.

3. Start prospecting for replacement parts if you absolutely do plan on keeping the LEAF past the 12 to 15 year mark.

A one to two year old Nissan LEAF is right now running the gamut of between $16,000 for a non-CPO LEAF with about 35,000 miles, to $22,000 for one that has less than 10,000 miles and is eligible for Nissan’s Certified Pre-Owned program.

That’s quite a range. However, it comes down to this.

A LEAF costs about as much to operate as a 10 year old Sentra that has 120,000 miles. I spent an insane amount of time trying to figure this out, and now that I finally have done so, I’m going to let my fellow enthusiasts buy a 1st gen Miata and forget they ever read this tome to automotive androgyny.

Click here to view the embedded video.

THE END…

 

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Plus ça Charge: 1916 Woods Dual Power, An Early Gas/Electric Hybrid of Surprising Sophistication http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/plus-ca-charge-1916-woods-dual-power-an-early-gaselectric-hybrid-of-surprising-sophistication/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/plus-ca-charge-1916-woods-dual-power-an-early-gaselectric-hybrid-of-surprising-sophistication/#comments Sat, 22 Feb 2014 17:10:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=743553 Reading Alex Dykes’ review of the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, I was reminded of something by Alex’s description of the Accord’s drivetrain layout. Unlike the Toyota and Ford parallel hybrid systems (similar in function but arrived at independently), or the Chevy Volt’s Voltec drivetrain (a different spin, no pun intended, on the same basic idea […]

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Full photo gallery here.

Reading Alex Dykes’ review of the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, I was reminded of something by Alex’s description of the Accord’s drivetrain layout. Unlike the Toyota and Ford parallel hybrid systems (similar in function but arrived at independently), or the Chevy Volt’s Voltec drivetrain (a different spin, no pun intended, on the same basic idea that allows the Volt to operate mostly in pure electric or serial hybrid modes), which all connect electric motors and a gasoline engine to a planetary gearset, the Accord now uses an inline serial/parallel hybrid system, a concept that actually goes back a century to the Woods Dual Power automobile.

Directly connected to the engine’s output shaft of the 2014 Accord Hybrid is a motor/generator whose own output shaft is in turn connected to an electronically controlled clutch. Behind the clutch is another electric motor that drives the wheels without the use of a transmission. At low to moderate speeds, when it’s not operating on battery power alone, the Accord operates as a straight serial hybrid, like a diesel-electric locomotive. The engine drives the generator, which powers the second electric motor and there is no physical connection between the engine and the driven wheels. At higher speeds, the clutch engages and the combustion engine and motor/generator start contributing mechanical power to the system via the armature shaft of the primary drive motor. The new Accord Hybrid’s drivetrain layout reminded me of a car built almost a century ago, the 1916 Woods Dual Power. I sent Alex a link to a post I’d written about the Woods car last year for Hemmings, and when he agreed that the systems were similar I thought I’d share a description of the Woods hybrid with our readers here at TTAC. In the year or so since that was published I’ve learned more about the Woods company’s history, so this is a good opportunity to update that information.

planview

Clinton Edgar Woods, it could be said, wrote the book on electric cars, literally. Okay, so he published it in 1900 and there wasn’t as much to write about then as there is more than a 110 years later, but Woods was indeed an electric vehicle pioneer. The MIT graduate started his first electric car company, American Electric, in 1896, which two years later merged with the Indiana Bicycle company to become Waverly, a company that produced electric automobiles until 1916. In 1897, Woods started a new company under his own name in Chicago, producing five models of electric cars but the company was not profitable. A group of financiers including Chicago’s Samuel Insull, who founded Commonwealth Edison, and New Yorker August Belmont, along with a syndicate of Canadian Standard Oil investors, staged a takeover of Woods’ company to use as a vehicle to challenge the taxicab monopoly of the Electric Vehicle Company. They bought Woods’ patents and recapitalized the company at a value of $10 million, calling it the Woods Motor Vehicle Company, keeping Clinton Woods on as a consulting engineer.

1906 WOODS Elec b4

Later advertising would claim that they were the first company to sell an electric automobile. Perhaps the oil interests were hedging their energy bets but in any case they were hoping to be able to use Woods’ expertise. However, after a 1901 reorganization Woods left the firm, apparently to become a car dealer.

1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 23

Over the course of about two decades, the company would go on to sell about 13,500 passenger and commercial vehicles, including electric cars, gasoline powered cars and gasoline/electric hybrids. Long before the federal government encouraged the development of EVs, Woods was selling electric trucks to the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 24

That production figure would probably make Woods Motor one of the most successful electric car companies before the modern era. The last car they sold, the Woods Dual Power, may not have been a commercial success but it was a remarkably sophisticated machine whose features are echoed in many modern hybrids besides the obvious similarities in layout with the latest Accord Hybrid.

1910 WOODS Elec 7 p 18

By 1915, two developments sounded the death knell for the early EV industry. First, in 1912 Cadillac introduced Charles Kettering’s electric self starter, making it possible for large numbers of women (who didn’t have the upper body strength to hand crankstart a car) to drive. Women drivers were an important, perhaps primary, market for the early electric car industry. Secondly, Henry Ford moved production of the Model T to his new Highland Park plant and in 1913 started using a moving assembly line, producing over 300,000 cars that year, significantly driving down the manufacturing cost and retail price of gasoline powered automobiles. Compared to Ford, the growing General Motors, and Studebaker, makers of electric cars and trucks were boutique manufacturers, they simply couldn’t compete with volume manufacturing.

Woods had made electric cars and they had made gasoline cars. To stay in business the company decided to make a car that used both power sources. While a technically clever idea with some marketing potential, a small volume car company making a novel car that involved the cost of both an electric drivetrain and a gasoline engine just as Mssrs. Ford and Durant were making conventional automobiles even cheaper may not have been the best strategic business move, but had they not gone with the hybrid you wouldn’t be reading this, then, would you?

The drivetrain of the 1916 Woods Dual Power was the brainchild of another inventor named Roland S. Fend. Though there are differences, the Woods production cars were based on a patent of Fend’s that was assigned to the company. Fend was an acknowledged expert on EVs in his day, also consulting for early EV maker Baker, Rauch & Lang

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Advertised as “a self-charging, non-stalling, two-power car with unlimited mileage [range], adequate speed, and greatest economy,” the Dual Power was said to have the advantages of both gas and electric power, with the disadvantages of neither. It was faster than most other electric cars, it was easier to operate than gasoline cars, it had no clutch or gear selectors, and it didn’t necessarily need a charging station. The Dual Power even had a great logo, though in an age when some still called automobiles horseless carriages, it surprisingly used a team of two identical horses to represent the two different power sources. It’s a fantastic period logo, but it’s still a little odd.

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The concept behind the Dual Power hybrid was that gasoline powered cars, in order to have reserve power for passing or hill climbing, had to be equipped with engines that are bigger and more powerful than needed in regular driving. Electric cars needed to carry around heavy extra batteries for reserve power. Fend’s idea was that the combination of a less powerful gasoline engine and an electric drive with a smaller motor and fewer batteries would be a greater whole than the sum of its parts. Each power source could propel the car at low to moderate speeds, while they could be combined when more power was needed.

The Dual Power has a 14 horsepower, 68.7 cubic inch L-head four cylinder engine supplied by Continental. It was connected to a compound-wound electric motor. Woods Motor called it a dynamotor, what we would call a motor/generator. DC compound motors have both series and parallel (also known as shunt) windings, providing adequate starting torque while still allowing accurate speed control. It was made by General Electric and rated at 48 volts at 60 amps (~6 horsepower). The electric motor was connected to the output shaft of the engine with an electromagnetic clutch manufactured by Cutler-Hammer. A battery pack made of purpose built lead acid cells supplied by Exide was rated at 115 amp-hours at a five hour discharge rate. It was about half of the size and weight of the battery packs used by conventional EVs then. The output shaft of the electric motor was connected to a driveshaft running to the back axle. While Fend’s patent shows gearboxes in the power chain before and after the electric motor, the Woods Dual Power had no transmission. The layout in Fend’s patent with gearing before and after the electric motor is similar to GM’s recently aborted 2-Mode hybrid. It also didn’t have an Entz magnetic transmission, as used in the Owens Magnetic car from the same era, even though Wikipedia says it did. That error may be attributable to the fact that the Owens Magnetic is better known than the Woods Dual Power because well known car collector Jay Leno owns an Owens Magnetic.

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There are three and a half Woods Dual Powers known to exist. The half car, coincidentally is a Woods body mounted to the chassis of another early alternative energy vehicle, a Stanley Steamer (though in the early days, electricity and gasoline were actually alternatives to steam engines). One complete Woods car, the subject of a preservation project, is owned by a Los Angeles county museum and is on loan, displayed at the Petersen Museum. Another, said to be restored and in operating condition, is owned by the  Louwman Museum in the Netherlands. The Woods Dual Power photographed here is in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum, in original, unrestored condition, with just 11,085 miles on the odometer, though the car is not currently operational.

When it was operational, how did the Woods Dual Power work? With the clutch engaged, the combustion engine would drive the car, with torque passing directly through he electric motor’s armature shaft. With the clutch disengaged and the engine not running, the electric motor powers the car.  That much was clear.

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Finding out exactly how the Woods Dual Power worked, though, was a bit of a task. To begin with, with only three existing Woods powertrains, it’s not like you can find an expert on the marque at any big car show. It’s not a 1969 Camaro, or even an Isetta. Fortunately, I was able to find a sales brochure (PDF), a period guide to automotive electrical equipment for car enthusiasts, and some old trade journals that explained how the Dual Power worked and how it was operated.

Matt Anderson, the transportation curator of the Ford Museum, graciously gave me access to their car, a 1916 Woods Dual Power Model 44, for these photos. It has simple controls: a steering wheel mounted with long and short control levers, one for each of the powerplants, a brake pedal on the floorboard, and a backup pedal below where the driver sits. The dashboard contains a Stewart Warner “magnetic type” speedometer/odometer/trip meter along with a combination ammeter and charge indicator.

To operate the Dual Power, first an ignition switch on the steering column is turned on. The sources say that it’s a locking switch though the example at the Henry Ford Museum doesn’t use a key. That switch closes electrical connections in both the combustion engine’s ignition circuit and part of the circuit for the main solenoid that’s between the traction batteries and the electric motor. For safety, all high-voltage switching was done with solenoids. The longer of the two levers on the steering wheel is moved forward. That completes the main solenoid circuit, allowing electricity to power the motor, getting the car moving. Moving the lever farther forward changes the position on a shunt field control rheostat near the motor under the floorboard and as the field resistance on the motor changes, the speed increases. Moving the lever back towards its idle position decreases speed.

Once the Woods Dual Power was moving, the gasoline engine could be engaged at any time. Electric drive was generally used up to about 15 MPH. If more power was needed, just moving the shorter lever on the steering wheel to a forward position would start up the gasoline engine. That lever controlled the throttle on the carburetor. Also, moving it off the stop activated a circuit that engaged the magnetic clutch between the engine and the motor. Electricity to activate the clutch was provided either by the battery or by the motor/generator when the car was running on gasoline power.

Since the ignition circuit on the Dual Power is activated when the car is first switched on, with the relatively powerful electric traction motor already rapidly spinning, the engine on the Woods Dual Power was claimed to fire up immediately as soon as the clutch was engaged, faster than with the much weaker electric starters on conventional cars of the day. I suppose this feature would be comparable in some ways to a modern stop-start system, starting the engine when needed and shutting it off when the car was standing still. The company also claimed that the Dual Power could not be stalled. Whenever the combustion engine was driving the car, the electric motor was already spinning at engine speed even if it wasn’t energized. If the engine started to stall, power could be sent to the electric motor to assist the engine by just moving the control lever forward.

The best selling electric cars then were made by Detroit Electric and had a top speed of 20 miles per hour. With both control levers all the way forward, the Woods Dual Power had a top speed of 35 MPH, a significant improvement.

Once the car was moving forward, the gasoline engine had enough power and torque to keep it going at moderate speeds and the control lever for the electric part of the hybrid could be adjusted so that the electric motor was no longer driving the car. In those conditions, the “dynamotor” was generating more current than it was drawing, so the Woods Dual Power could theoretically recharge its own batteries while it traveled. In that aspect, the Woods Dual Power is like the extended range Chevy Volt.

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Once the gasoline engine was running, the electrical system could be charged or discharged “at will” at any speed between 10 MPH and about 30 MPH, or at least that’s what the company claimed. Keeping the batteries moderately charged by the gasoline engine also extended battery life by preventing the gassing and sulphating caused by overcharging or fully depleting the charge. One could say that this was an early version of battery conditioning, an important feature of most modern electric vehicles.

Another feature of modern EVs that the Dual Power had was regenerative braking, what the company called “dynamic braking”. To slow the car, the driver would return the electric control lever to its original position, allowing the motor/generator to generate electricity and slow the car as the motor was spun by the car’s forward motion. If engine braking was needed or desired, the driver throttled back the engine with its control lever but kept the clutch engaged, then returned the engine control to it’s stop, disengaging the clutch and shutting off the engine as the car came to a full stop.

Regenerative braking was advertised as working above 6 miles per hour. To come to a complete stop the car’s mechanical brakes were activated with a foot pedal. An interesting safety feature of the car was that if the driver didn’t want to use the hand controls to slow the car, or more importantly if they didn’t have time, the brake pedal could be used by itself instead. In addition to activating the mechanical brakes, the floor pedal also closed the gasoline throttle, disengaged the clutch, and returned the field control rheostat to its minimum position, initiating regenerative braking. According to one source, the foot pedal could also be used to control the speed of the motor when operating on electricity. As with other early electric cars, advertising for the Woods Dual Power emphasized how women would find it easy to operate.

Since there was no transmission, to go backwards, the polarity of the power to the direct current electric motor was flipped so the motor spun backwards. There was also an interlock device that would not allow the operation of the reverse pedal unless the brake pedal was fully depressed. Stepping on the reversing pedal also disengages the magnetic clutch, allowing the gasoline engine to continue to run while the Dual Power is reversing.

1916 WOODS Elec 8 31 p 364

In a recent post I asked, if General Motors’ 2-Mode hybrid system for pickups and SUVs worked so well at saving fuel, how did it fail at the market, discontinued in the next product cycle? Well, just like the 2-Mode vehicles, the Woods Dual Power was relatively expensive, $2,650 in 1916 dollars. While much cheaper than the $9,000 Owens Magnetic, in 1916 you could buy almost four Ford Model Ts for the price of one Woods Dual Power. The Woods hybrid returned gas mileage that would be remarkable today, a reported 48 MPG, but economy generally has never been a big selling point with people who can afford expensive cars.

Another reason why it didn’t succeed was that the Dual Power was not as smooth, nor as reliable as advertised. For the 1917 model year, there was some reengineering in response to customer dissatisfaction, including using a larger, 95 cubic inch engine from Continental. Though faster than other electrics, the Dual Power could easily be overtaken by the far less expensive Model T, which could cruise at 40 mph, 45 if the driver was brave or stupid.

Maybe an even bigger engine or a more powerful electric drive would have made the Woods Dual Power more competitive with conventional cars. Being superior to electric cars at a time when the first generation of EVs were already in decline as the technology of gasoline engines improved and the cost of gasoline powered cars declined was not good enough. Though they planned to make between 650 and 750 Dual Power cars a year, a fraction of that number was made and Woods Motor Vehicle Company went out of business two years after introducing the hybrid.

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Still, the Woods Dual Power had features associated with modern hybrids and extended range hybrids like regenerative braking, stop-start, charging on the fly, and battery conditioning. It was an elegant, well thought out design whose simple operating controls belied the complexity of the electrical components, solenoids and mechanical linkages that actually operated and coordinated the machinery, gas and electric. While it may not have been superior to the conventional automobiles of the era, the Woods Dual Power’s hybrid drive system in fact did work. That Woods Motor Vehicle Co. was able to get it to do so 100 years ago, using solenoids and mechanical linkages rather than digital computer controls, was an impressive technical achievement and worthy of inclusion in a world class car museum like The Henry Ford. In that recent post about another hybrid system, the 2-Mode transmission now abandoned by its inventor, General Motors, and GM’s partners in developing the technology, Daimler, Chrysler and BMW, I said that you never know, sometime in the next century the 2-Mode system might return on passenger vehicles (the Allison truck and bus transmission the 2-Mode is based upon has been a commercial success). Perhaps 100 years from now, someone will introduce some kind of transportation device and an older person will ask a similar question as I did, “Doesn’t that operate a lot like the Accord hybrid?” and someone even older will chime in, “Or the Woods Dual Power.”

In the 1980s, General Motors tried saving fuel through cylinder deactivation. It was a pretty high tech thing and and befitting as such, GM introduced it on a Cadillac engine called the V8-6-4. Today, cylinder deactivation is commonplace across the industry and it works pretty much seamlessly. Back then, control and actuation devices weren’t so good. Cadillac buyers ended up with rather rough running engines, something that badly damaged the brand for decades, though the V8-6-4 was available for just one model year. Old ideas are indeed sometimes a bit early for their times and worth a second look when materials science and technology improve.

I’d be intrigued what would happen if someone made a modern replica of the Dual Power drivetrain. The Accord Hybrid is similar, no doubt, but it also includes a second electric motor that normally operates as a generator. The Woods car has only one motor/generator. It would be interesting to see how something directly analogous to the Woods Dual Power would work. Maybe use one of the turbocharged 3 cylinder liter motors that are proliferating in the automotive world, connected via a clutch to something smaller than the traction motor in the Tesla Model S, with a correspondingly smaller and lighter lithium-ion battery pack. Control it with a computer just like modern hybrids are controlled so you just have to step on the gas and brake pedals, not fiddle with steering wheel mounted controls, and so the batteries are maintained in a healthy state of charge without the driver’s attention needed. It might not be as quick as a Model S, but I bet it could move a compact or midsize car around safely in traffic, maybe even smartly. It would be interesting to see how it would stack up in terms of fuel and electricity consumption and range with modern hybrid designs.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

1916 WOODS Elec 8 31 p 364 1916 WOODS Elec 8 31 p 365 1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 23 1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 24 1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 27 1906 WOODS Elec b4 1910 WOODS Elec 7 p 18 woodsdualpowerlogo 2579442558_5d24d52959_b diagram dualpowerdrivetrain electric_vehicle_advertising_1900s IMG_0002 IMG_0007 IMG_0010 IMG_0011 IMG_0015_l IMG_0017 IMG_0018-1-_r IMG_0019_l IMG_0026 IMG_0027 IMG_0028 IMG_0029 IMG_0030 IMG_0032 patents phantom planview woods1910

 

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Volvo Capacitive Carbon Fiber Panels Could Replace Batteries, Save Weight In EVs & Conventional Cars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/volvo-capacitive-carbon-fiber-panels-could-replace-batteries-save-weight-in-evs-conventional-cars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/volvo-capacitive-carbon-fiber-panels-could-replace-batteries-save-weight-in-evs-conventional-cars/#comments Thu, 24 Oct 2013 10:30:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=632762 BMW is using carbon fiber composite unibodies for the electric i3 and i8 models to reduce their weight, thereby increasing their range. Now, Volvo is using carbon fiber in a novel way for EVs. Using carbon fiber it has developed a composite material that acts as a capacitor, storing electrical energy, so theoretically body panels […]

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That CFRP cowl panel is really storing electricity.

BMW is using carbon fiber composite unibodies for the electric i3 and i8 models to reduce their weight, thereby increasing their range. Now, Volvo is using carbon fiber in a novel way for EVs. Using carbon fiber it has developed a composite material that acts as a capacitor, storing electrical energy, so theoretically body panels and structural components could act as battery equivalents. Unlike conventional batteries, which add weight to a vehicle, the carbon fiber capacitive body panels wouldn’t just power the vehicles but also reduce weight.

To demonstrate the technology, Volvo replaced the the trunk lid, door panels, cowl, and hood of an S80 with the new composite. The panels are made of multiple layers of carbon fiber, insulated from each other with layers of fiberglass. The fiberglass acts as a dielectric with the layers of carbon fiber performing the tasks of the anode and cathode in a conventional capacitor.

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Volvo estimates that replacing an EV’s entire battery pack with capacitive panels would reduce total vehicle weight by 15%.  It would also help in packaging. One criticism of the Chevy Volt is that its large centrally mounted battery pack turns a five passenger platform into a four passenger car. If the car’s structure is the power source, space formerly used for batteries can be put to better use.

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There are possibilities for conventional vehicles as well, with the potential to replace the heavy 12 volt starter battery with just a few capacitive carbon fiber panels.

There are possible drawbacks, including cost and safety. Carbon fiber is expensive to work with so panels would be costly to make and to replace. Also, in the event of a collision that damages the panels’ electrical safety could be a concern.

As usual, there was no world on when, or if, this technology will ever see its way to a production vehicle.

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Hybrids and EVs Experience Strong Regional Growth, 35% of EVs Are Sold in California http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/hybrids-and-evs-experience-strong-regional-growth-35-of-evs-are-sold-in-california/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/hybrids-and-evs-experience-strong-regional-growth-35-of-evs-are-sold-in-california/#comments Thu, 05 Sep 2013 11:30:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=508449 Analyzing data from Polk, Melissa Burden of the Detroit News reports that more than 35% of all new electric vehicle sales in the United States through June of this year have been in registered in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan regions and that a majority of EVs are being sold in just five […]

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Analyzing data from Polk, Melissa Burden of the Detroit News reports that more than 35% of all new electric vehicle sales in the United States through June of this year have been in registered in the Los Angeles and San Francisco metropolitan regions and that a majority of EVs are being sold in just five cities. Joining LA and San Francisco on the list where EVs are popular are the Seattle, Atlanta and New York City areas.

EV market share in California climbed from 0.4% to 1.1% year to date, with over 9,700 deliveries. “A lot of the manufacturers have targeted California for the launch of their electric vehicle product,” said Brian Maas, president of the California auto dealers’ association, said. “Our consumers are cutting-edge and early adopters in this area.”

Polk attributed EV’s success in the Golden State to its residents’ reputation for being environmentally friendly. Also, EVs are permitted to use carpool lanes in the state and they are eligible for state incentives on top of the federal tax credit for hybrid and electric cars. California also has more of an infrastructure for charging electric cars. About 1,400 of the 6,440 U.S. charging stations are in California, according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy.

Nissan reports that San Francisco and Los Angeles are also their top two markets, but that it is seeing growth in other regions, mentioning Honolulu, Nashville (the Leaf is assembled in Tennessee), St. Louis, Chicago, Denver and Dallas as among the top 15 markets for the Leaf.

Another factor for EV’s apparent popularity in California is that some automakers only sell their EVs there, like the Fiat 500e. The 2014 Spark EV from Chevolet is only sold in California and Oregon. GM gives charging infrastructure, a reputation for being early adopters, financial and carpool incentives and the mandate of selling a certain number of zero-emission vehicles as reasons for focusing on those states.

California’s zero-emission vehicle regulations mandate penalties for car makers unless 15.4% of the cars they sell in the state by 2025 are powered by electric, hybrid or fuel cells. Oregon laws in this regard follow California’s lead. Honda’s Fit EV is available for lease only in California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland and Rhode Island, states with mandates, favorable incentives, or a charging infrastructure. The Ford Focus EV is sold nationwide, but almost half of its sales in 2013 are in California, with Washington also doing well.

Sales of EVs in general are up this year. Tesla reports over 10,000 Model S cars sold through July, and Nissan Leaf sales are up 230% year to year over the same period, with 11,703 Leafs sold.

Hybrids and EVs are expected jointly take about a 4% market share this year, up form 3.4% in 2012. Price cuts and cheap leases on vehicles like the Leaf and Chevy Volt have spurred interest in battery powered and hybrid cars. Like the battery powered vehicles, demand for hybrids is localized with a third of new hybrids being registered in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, according to Polk. The Toyota Prius is California’s best selling vehicle so far in 2013, and hybrids have a 7% market share in the state.

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GM Will Market Spark EV’s Performance More Than Environmental Cred http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/gm-will-market-spark-evs-performance-more-than-environmental-cred/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/gm-will-market-spark-evs-performance-more-than-environmental-cred/#comments Mon, 22 Jul 2013 20:13:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=496678 As GM starts rolling out the Chevolet Spark EV, starting in eco-friendly California and Oregon, Automotive News has a look at the marketing challenges the newest electrified car from America’s largest car company. AN raises the issue of GM’s electrification strategy, which is focused on battery electrics, not conventional hybrids, and the sui generis Chevy […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

As GM starts rolling out the Chevolet Spark EV, starting in eco-friendly California and Oregon, Automotive News has a look at the marketing challenges the newest electrified car from America’s largest car company. AN raises the issue of GM’s electrification strategy, which is focused on battery electrics, not conventional hybrids, and the sui generis Chevy Volt. While hybrid sales this year are up, EV sales continue to be lukewarm which has resulted in significant price cuts on cars that run on batteries: $4,000 off the price of the Ford Focus Electric, $6,400 off the price of a Nissan Leaf, and GM itself started offering a cash rebate of $4,000 last month on 2013 Chevy Volts.

Analysts consider the Spark EV to be a “compliance car”, built and sold solely to meet California’s environmental laws, which require automakers to make zero emissions vehicles. GM denies that, but the company also said that initial production numbers of the Spark EV, built in Korea, would be modest and the automaker would not cite specific projections, and as mentioned, the Spark EV is currently only available in California and Oregon.

Interestingly, it looks like GM will not be marketing the Spark EV on its environmental credentials, but rather as fun to drive. The electrified Spark can get to 60 in 7.6 seconds and Chevy is even running ads touting the fact that the Spark EV’s 400 lbs/ft of torque is not just the most in its class, it’s more than the Ferrari 458 Italia puts ou.

 

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Germany Wants To Water Down EU CO2 Targets With EVs Nobody Wants http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/germany-wants-to-water-down-eu-co2-targets-with-evs-nobody-wants/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/germany-wants-to-water-down-eu-co2-targets-with-evs-nobody-wants/#comments Fri, 07 Jun 2013 15:01:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=491291 An attempt of Germany to water down CO2 targets, about to be imposed by the EU, explains why automakers are eager to build EVs despite a lack of an eager market. Germany proposes that so-called supercredits can be used to off-set the limits. “Unlimited supercredits could allow the manufacture of electric cars for which there […]

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EU Parliament - Picture courtesy mscomalumni.usi.ch

An attempt of Germany to water down CO2 targets, about to be imposed by the EU, explains why automakers are eager to build EVs despite a lack of an eager market. Germany proposes that so-called supercredits can be used to off-set the limits. “Unlimited supercredits could allow the manufacture of electric cars for which there is little or no demand, while allowing just as many polluting vehicles as before on to the roads,” campaigners against supercredits told Reuters.

According to the wire, “Germany has been pushing for months for greater flexibility in implementing an emissions goal of 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre (g/km) as an average across new EU vehicles from 2020. But votes in the European Parliament so far have backed a fairly robust version of the European Commission’s original proposal.”

Supercredits would allow high emission cars – provided that their makers also make very low-emission vehicles, such as electric cars.

In the U.S., EVs are often only sold in states that demand them by law. So called “quota cars” are available only in the numbers necessary to make the quota.  Tesla’s profit for instance was made not by selling cars, but by selling carbon credits.

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Fiat Pushing $199 Lease For 500e http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/fiat-pushing-199-lease-for-500e/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/fiat-pushing-199-lease-for-500e/#comments Wed, 17 Apr 2013 12:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=485168 California consumers interested in a Fiat 500e will be getting a sweetheart deal from Fiat; a $199 lease for 36 months with a $999 down payment. At retail, the car will cost $32,500 plus a $7,500 tax credit. But as the Los Angeles Times reports, customers who lease won’t be able to collect the tax […]

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California consumers interested in a Fiat 500e will be getting a sweetheart deal from Fiat; a $199 lease for 36 months with a $999 down payment.

At retail, the car will cost $32,500 plus a $7,500 tax credit. But as the Los Angeles Times reports, customers who lease won’t be able to collect the tax credit.

Those leasing the car can also get a special $2,500 rebate that California offers for electric cars, which will cover the down payment and about six lease payments.

Fiat’s move is an agressive one. Nissan recently cut the base price of the Leaf  to$28,800, or $6,400 less than it was in 2012. Nissan also offers 36-month lease deal of $199 a month and a $1,999 down payment. But the Leaf is sold nationwide, unlike the 500e, which is limited to California only. The reason for this is economic. Fiat stands to lose money on every single 500e, and is only selling the car to comply with California emissions standards. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has gone on record with his displeasure over the 500e’s money-losing nature, telling Automotive News

“I will try to sell the required numbers for me to optimize compliance with the emission standards and not one more.”

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Revived Detroit Electric Brand to Open HQ in Detroit and Sell Electrified Exiges http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/revived-detroit-electric-brand-to-open-hq-in-detroit-and-sell-electrified-exiges/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/03/revived-detroit-electric-brand-to-open-hq-in-detroit-and-sell-electrified-exiges/#comments Tue, 19 Mar 2013 21:57:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=481737 Until the modern day revival of electric vehicles like the Teslas, Nissan’s Leaf or the Chevy Volt, the best selling electric car ever was the Detroit Electric, produced by the Anderson Carriage company from 1907 to 1939. They sold thousands of them (1914 was the high water mark with ~4,500 produced). Among the people who […]

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Until the modern day revival of electric vehicles like the Teslas, Nissan’s Leaf or the Chevy Volt, the best selling electric car ever was the Detroit Electric, produced by the Anderson Carriage company from 1907 to 1939. They sold thousands of them (1914 was the high water mark with ~4,500 produced). Among the people who drove Detroit Electrics were electricity pioneers Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz and the wives of automotive industrialists  Henry Ford and Henry Joy (he ran Packard). Interestingly, John D. Rockefeller, who made his enormous fortune from petroleum products like gasoline, owned a pair of Detroit Electric Model 46 Roadsters. Now, not only has the electric car industry been revived, but also the Detroit Electric company, which says it will start producing battery electric sports cars in a Michigan facility by the end of this summer. Following Tesla’s example, their first car will be based on a Lotus, in this case an Exige coupe, and the company promises two other “high performance” models in 2014.

Teaser of the Lotus Exige based Detroit Electric sports car

Using a Lotus glider as the basis of an EV, as mentioned, isn’t a particularly original idea. Besides the Tesla Roadster if you remember, before their bankruptcy, Chrysler showed a raft of electric powered concept cars including the Circuit EV based on the Elise derived Europa. With aluminum superstructures and composite bodies, Lotus cars are light enough to still have good performance after being fitted with heavy electric battery packs. The choice of the Exige is an interesting one since that car is not sold in the United States – apparently because of a regulatory issue with its airbags. Perhaps Detroit Electric’s chairman and CEO, Albert Lam, who used to run Lotus, will use his connections with the British firm to get the gliders federalized.

John D. Rockefeller had two Detroit Electric Model 46 Roadsters, like this one for sale at RM’s 2012 St. John’s auction

In addition to announcing that Detroit Electric is going to be more than just a placeholding website that’s been around since Lam acquired the rights to the brand and logo in 2008, the company has signed a lease for its headquarters to be located in Detroit’s historic and automotively connected Fisher Building. The new car will have a press launch in Detroit early next month, followed by a global reveal at the Shanghai auto show later in April. In addition to signing the lease on their HQ, Detroit Electric has selected what they call a “dedicated production facility” in Michigan that will have an annual capacity of 2,500 cars a year. Since they’re working with the quasi-governmental Michigan Economic Development Corporation, most likely it will be a facility that has formerly been used to build relatively short production runs of specialty cars. My WAG would be either the facility in Troy where Saleen did final assembly of the Ford GTs, or the former GM Lansing Craft Centre that built the Chevy SSR. Between the offices in Detroit and the production plant, Detroit Electric hopes to create 180 new jobs in Michigan over the next year.

Detroit Electric logo on the aluminum running board of Helen Newberry Joy’s 1914 Detroit Electric. Note the broken shoe scraper.

Apparently that production facility will not be owned by Detroit Electric. Before working at Lotus, Lam’s resume includes stints in Asia with Apple and Sun Microsystems, and Detroit Electric will be following an “asset light” business model, focusing on R&D and marketing and jobbing out production.

When the new Detroit Electric sports car is first revealed next month we’ll have coverage of the event. Press release here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Junkyard Find: Electric 1995 Geo Metro http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/junkyard-find-electric-1995-geo-metro/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/junkyard-find-electric-1995-geo-metro/#comments Tue, 26 Feb 2013 14:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=479114 Normally, I wouldn’t consider an 18-year-old Suzuki Cultus badged by a now-defunct GM marque to be worthy of inclusion in this series, but this particular example— which I found at my favorite Denver self-service wrecking yard— has been converted to electric power and is thus sort of interesting. The valuable stuff that electric-car geeks like […]

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Normally, I wouldn’t consider an 18-year-old Suzuki Cultus badged by a now-defunct GM marque to be worthy of inclusion in this series, but this particular example— which I found at my favorite Denver self-service wrecking yard— has been converted to electric power and is thus sort of interesting.
The valuable stuff that electric-car geeks like to keep (i.e., the electric motor, control circuitry, and batteries) is all gone, but you can see that this setup used the Suzuki front-drive transaxle more or less intact.
It looks like there was some sort of electrical fire or maybe a big acid spill in the rear of the car at some point, judging from the pried-open-in-a-hurry hatch and melted insulation.
You don’t see many 400-amp ammeters and 180-volt voltmeters in junked econoboxes!
Now that you can buy genuine factory-made electric cars, these homemade jobs don’t quite make the statement they once did. Still, the guy who built this car is probably driving a different electric machine. Let’s hope it’s an electron-driven Triumph Stag.
02 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 1995 Electric Geo Metro Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Plus ça Charge: Electric Touring http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/plus-ca-charge-electric-touring/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/plus-ca-charge-electric-touring/#comments Sat, 16 Feb 2013 20:59:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=477823 While following the he said he said back and forth between the New York Time’s James Broder and Tesla’s Elon Musk, over Broder’s unsuccessful drive from New York to Boston in a Tesla Model S, it seemed to me that one important factor affecting consumer acceptance of EVs is being obscured by all the Sturm und […]

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Note the date of publication is 1914, not 2013

While following the he said he said back and forth between the New York Time’s James Broder and Tesla’s Elon Musk, over Broder’s unsuccessful drive from New York to Boston in a Tesla Model S, it seemed to me that one important factor affecting consumer acceptance of EVs is being obscured by all the Sturm und Drang of the NYT and Musk both working this story for maximum bad publicity for their respectless enterprises. That factor, ironically, is why Tesla set up the media road trips in the first place, the fact that EVs will need a publicly accessible charging infrastructure if they are going to be seen as anything other than town cars. The Model S press trips from DC to Beantown were supposed to demonstrate Tesla’s expanding network of locations equipped with Tesla’s “Supercharger” quick charging stations.

That need for public charging stations has been obscured by other issues in the discussion of electric cars, which it seems to me have been focused more on range than anything else. Tesla is not unwise to create it’s own charging infrastructure for its customers because the simple fact is that if you could recharge an EV as quickly and as conveniently as you can refuel a gasoline or diesel powered vehicle, and if you could find a charging station within your EV’s range, range becomes more of a non issue. Let’s face it, how many owners of gasoline cars really consider range on a single tank of gas when buying a new car? As long as you can get ~300 miles between fill ups, the vast majority of car consumers don’t really care about range. Gas mileage yes, but I’d bet that total range is only important to a minority of gas/diesel drivers.

This is nothing new. Like 3D photography and movies, this is not the first go-round with EVs. Electric cars and were marketed more than a century ago, at the dawn of the automotive age and soon enough electric car companies, electric component makers, trade organizations, tire and battery companies, and publishers rushed in to help EV owners find a charge.

The EV side of the auto industry understood that drivers of EVs would need public charging facilities at the same time that it promoted electric cars as suitable for touring. The Electric Vehicle Association of America even published a charging station guide to the Lincoln Highway, America’s first attempt at a coast to coast road. Since the longest distance between charging stations was about 120 miles, well beyond the range of any contemporary electric car, it’s doubtful than any early electric automobilists completed the entire route, but the EV industry did what it could to dispel the image that electric cars could not be taken on long trips. Tesla is doing the same today.

The fact that the Electric Vehicle Association agreed on a standard charging plug that was used by most EV makers made things a little easier. In the photo above, the charging port on a 1922 Milburn Light Electric is being held open so you can see the terminals in the photo above. The photo below shows a similar charging port, though closed, on a 1914 Detroit Electric runabout.

By 1912, the Detroit Electric Car company, the most successful of the first wave of EV makers (it has only been in the past year that the Nissan Leaf surpassed the Detroit Electric as the most successful EV ever, in terms of total sales) had both standalone charging garages as well as combined sales branches and charging stations in Detroit, Manhattan, Chicago , Boston, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Cleveland, Evanston, Kansas City, and Minneapolis.

In 1914, the New York Electric Vehicle Association, in conjunction with Automobile Blue Books started publishing route guides for “electric touring”, that mapped the locations of charging stations and provided suggested touring routes.

The guide was updated, apparently annually. In an emergency, drivers of electric cars could get a charge from electric streetcar or trolley wiring – as this Tom Swift story relates.

While General Electric sold  mercury arc rectifier based residential chargers to EV owners, the majority of the more than 14,000 chargers that GE sold a century ago were sold to public facilities like hotels and parking garages.

The Exide battery company, perhaps the major EV battery maker in the early days of the automobile, set up its own storage and charging garage (many city dwellers didn’t have residential parking for their cars) and “battery depot” in New York City.

In addition to public charging facilities, taxicab companies that operated electric cabs set up their own charging garages and had chargers installed for their drivers’ use at hotels they serviced.

As was shown 100 years ago, broadscale consumer acceptance of electric cars needs a publicly accessible charging infrastructure. It’s unfortunate that the war of words between Mr. Musk and the New York Times is obscuring rather than illustrating that need.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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A123 Wants to Void Contract with Fisker, Fisker Says That Would Disrupt “Ongoing Business” http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/a123-wants-to-void-contract-with-fisker-fisker-says-that-would-disrupt-ongoing-business/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/11/a123-wants-to-void-contract-with-fisker-fisker-says-that-would-disrupt-ongoing-business/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2012 17:08:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=465622 While Johnson Controls and China’s Wanxiang Group have competing bids to acquire the assets of advanced battery maker and Fisker supplier A123, a more serious battle is occurring in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware between the startup automaker and what is arguably its most important vendor. A123 wants the bankruptcy judge to void its contracts […]

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A123 Battery Pack for Fisker Karma Image courtesy of A123. Not exactly your standard AA cells.

While Johnson Controls and China’s Wanxiang Group have competing bids to acquire the assets of advanced battery maker and Fisker supplier A123, a more serious battle is occurring in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware between the startup automaker and what is arguably its most important vendor. A123 wants the bankruptcy judge to void its contracts including those for supplying batteries to Fisker. That could stop production of Fisker’s only car, the Karma. A123 says that the existing contract with Fisker is burdensome and that the amount they are getting paid for those batteries is below market value. Fisker attorneys, in a filing with the court, have challenged A123 and said that “Fisker’s ongoing business and operations will be severely disrupted and harmed” if the court voids the contract. The pas de deux between the two companies may be spinning into a danse macabre. Twenty five percent of A123’s revenue comes from its deal with Fisker, while A123 is Fisker’s sole supplier of the lithium-ion batteries it needs to make the extended range EV Karma. There is no way that Fisker can find a supplier who can engineer a replacement battery pack quickly enough to keep the Karma in production. Electric vehicle batteries are not like AA cells that you can pick up at the corner store. While there are standard lithium ion battery formats, the Tesla Roadster is the only high profile EV that uses standard format Li-Ion cells. All other electric cars, including Fiskers, use cells specifically designed and engineered for them. The Fisker 20 kWh battery pack manufactured by A123 is made up of 315 individual Li-ion cells.

A123 image

Of course this is about money. One reason why A123 is in bankruptcy court in the first place is because of the financial hit the company took due to a recall of defective batteries supplied to Fisker. Since the companies are interdependent, my guess is that if the judge does throw out the contract, a new one will be cut, either between A123 and Fisker, or between whichever company, Johnson or Wanxiang, ends up owning A123’s battery factories.

With such an important vendor in bankruptcy court, Fisker is between a rock and something that would peg a Rockwell tester.

According to Fisker attorneys, “ the rejection of the Fisker contract represents an immediate threat of significant disruption and harm to Fisker’s business, with a corresponding negative impact on Fisker’s lenders, suppliers, customers and investors.” One of those lenders, of course, is the United States Treasury, American taxpayers having loaned Fisker almost 200 million dollars.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading– RJS

 

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Nissan Leaf Gets The “Taurus G” Treatment http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/nissan-leaf-gets-the-taurus-g-treatment/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/nissan-leaf-gets-the-taurus-g-treatment/#comments Fri, 05 Oct 2012 18:05:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=462805 With sales of the third-generation Ford Taurus lagging, the Blue Oval decided that an entry-level variant would be just what was needed to help kickstart sales. Faced with slumping sales of their Leaf EV, Nissan is apparently taking the same route. Without the $7,500 tax credit, a Leaf costs $36,050, and there’s no indication of […]

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With sales of the third-generation Ford Taurus lagging, the Blue Oval decided that an entry-level variant would be just what was needed to help kickstart sales. Faced with slumping sales of their Leaf EV, Nissan is apparently taking the same route.

Without the $7,500 tax credit, a Leaf costs $36,050, and there’s no indication of how much the entry-level trim will knock off the sticker price. The new base model will forgo the high-tech, energy-efficient LED headlamps in favor of traditional HID units, as well as some unspecified features integrated into the car’s GPS system. The LED lamps are considered integral to the Leaf’s battery performance, since they use far less energy than traditional headlights.

Nissan will also switch production of the Leaf and its battery components to Tennessee, allowing the Leaf to escape the unfavorable exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the yen. Leaf production hasn’t started Stateside, but battery production at the Smyrna, TN plant is set to begin shortly.

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Is the EPA Fudging EV MPGe Figures? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/is-the-epa-fudging-ev-mpge-figures/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/is-the-epa-fudging-ev-mpge-figures/#comments Tue, 12 Jun 2012 14:06:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=448493 Is the US EPA fudging the way it calculates miles per gallon equivalent ratings for electric and hybrid cars, making EVs appear to be more energy efficient than they really are, increasing their consumer appeal? That’s what Lindsay Leveen, author of Hydrogen – Hope or Hype? A Primer on Energy and Sustainability, says. The U.S. […]

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Is the US EPA fudging the way it calculates miles per gallon equivalent ratings for electric and hybrid cars, making EVs appear to be more energy efficient than they really are, increasing their consumer appeal? That’s what Lindsay Leveen, author of Hydrogen – Hope or Hype? A Primer on Energy and Sustainability, says.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculates MPG ratings based on energy at point of delivery. That means that it ignores the energy costs of drilling, pumping, refining and transporting the gasoline to the corner gas station. When calculating miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) ratings used to evaluate fuel costs for electric vehicles and hybrids, the EPA also ignores the energy costs of producing and transmitting electricity as well as the energy costs of transforming transmission line voltage to 110/220 VAC and then losses in converting to the Direct Current needed to charge batteries. The EPA also assumes that EV batteries have a charge/discharge efficiency of 100%. Essentially the EPA is treating EVs as though electricity is 100% efficient until it gets to the vehicles’ motors. You could say it does the same for gasoline, not looking at the total energy costs of getting that fuel to market. The agency then mileage tests EVs, dividing electricity consumed by an energy conversion factor of 33.7 kilowatt hours per gallon of gasoline to arrive at MPGe ratings.

So what’s the problem? As long as the EPA is evaluating energy costs at the point of delivery, it’s comparing apples to apples, right? Well, it seems as though some apples take more energy to plant, grow and get to the fruit market than other apples. It’s true that there are extraction, processing and transportation energy costs for all fuels, including the coal, natural gas and uranium used to generate electricity as well as for gasoline. Drilling, pumping, and refining crude oil plus trucking and dispensing gasoline consumes the equivalent of about 10% of the energy in the crude oil.

That 10% energy cost is comparable to the 90% efficiency of electrical transmission lines and local distribution systems, or the 90% efficiency of AC/DC conversion and battery charge/discharge cycles. Those 90% efficiencies, though, if I remember my math terms correctly, are associative – together they yield 81% efficiency, not 90%. Of course, with gasoline, unlike electrical generation, that 10% energy cost is all that’s involved.

You may use some energy getting petroleum out of the ground and then turning it into a useful fuel, but electricity generation that isn’t hydro or geothermal necessarily involves consuming fuel, either fossil or nuclear. Most of America’s energy comes from coal fired power plants. In the near term, what won’t get generated from coal will probably be generated from natural gas (owing to the ongoing boom in gas discoveries and production), not wind and solar power (which have their own energy costs).

Essentially, to run an electric vehicle you’re converting chemical or nuclear energy into heat into electricity. As we know from internal combustion engines, turning chemical energy into heat into power involves waste heat. As Leveen seems to enjoy saying, you cannot avoid the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Entropy exists. Average energy efficiency of electrical power plants is about 42.5%. Multiplying all the efficiencies in getting electricity generated and charged into your car’s battery pack and you come up with 34.4%.

That means that the EV version of the Honda Fit’s EPA rating of 118 MPGe, multiplied by electricity’s inefficiencies, would actually work out to 40.6 MPG. A conventional petrol fired Fit has a combined EPA rating of 35 MPG. Taking that 10% energy cost of production and distribution of gasoline into consideration yields 31.5 MPG. While that still puts the EV Fit as 29% more fuel-efficient than the gasoline version, that’s not nearly as impressive as triple digit MPGe figures. If you’re running a government agency that wants to encourage the sale of electric cars, using the larger figures might make sense but then political science and real science, as Leveen points out, aren’t the same thing.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Blind Spot: It Ain’t Easy Being Green http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/blind-spot-it-aint-easy-being-green/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/blind-spot-it-aint-easy-being-green/#comments Tue, 17 Apr 2012 22:04:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=440444 When government, media and industry agree that a trend exists, it’s generally taken as fait accompli. After all, these three institutions wield immense cultural power, and together they are more than capable of making any prophecy self-fulfilling. But there’s always a stumbling block: acceptance by the everyday folk who actually make up our society. And […]

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When government, media and industry agree that a trend exists, it’s generally taken as fait accompli. After all, these three institutions wield immense cultural power, and together they are more than capable of making any prophecy self-fulfilling. But there’s always a stumbling block: acceptance by the everyday folk who actually make up our society. And when a trend is taken for granted, the ensuing rush to be seen as being in touch with said trend often generates more heat than light. Such is the case with the trend towards “green cars.” Few would deny that they are “the future,” but at the same time, there’s been precious little examination of how this future is to be realized. And when such examination does take place, it tends to raise more questions than it answers.

Case in point: the Union of Concerned Scientists recently published a report examining just how “green” the “greenest” cars available, namely electric cars, are. By examining the average C02 emissions of the various regional power grids, they are able to show on a roughly apples-to-apples basis how carbon-efficient EVs are in comparison to their gasoline-sipping cousins. And their findings show that in broad swathes of the US, pure-electric cars are little better than hybrids like the Prius in terms of average C02 emissions.

This ACS report is something of a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes an important point about EVs: that they are only as environmentally-friendly as the grid from which they draw their power. This fact has long been ignored by policymakers who take the “greenness” of EVs for granted and create uniform national EV stimulus, as if EVs were uniformly “green.” On the other hand, the ACS clearly has a pro-EV agenda, and its report concludes that

There are no areas of the country where electric vehicles have higher global warming emissions than the average new gasoline vehicle.

Given that EV offerings are currently limited to the Compact and Subcompact segments, this is hardly a fair comparison. And since the EPA includes cars like the Bentley Continental GTC as a “subcompact,” a fair comparison would take some real work. To be fair though, the UCS is correct when it points out that 45% of Americans live in the coastal regions where relatively clean grids offer strong environmental incentives for EV use. More importantly, those areas which have dirtier grids tend to be the same regions (the South and Midwest) where geography and development patterns create more practical disincentives for EV use. For this reason, the somewhat disappointing results of the study are unlikely to dramatically hurt the nascent EV market.

Still, this geographical distribution has important consequences for public policy. For one thing, it points out the futility of a nationwide EV incentive program, at least as an environmental policy. Luckily, this reality seems to have taken hold in D.C., where EV-only incentives are being broadened to include multiple fuels and encourage local solutions. On the other hand, the fact that EVs are a hot trend means local governments are often more anxious to show off their trend-awareness than craft sensible policy based on local realities.

For example, Colorado has one of the least “green” grids in the country, and yet its state government has been one of the most aggressive in handing out EV tax credits. Prior to 2010, Colorado allowed Tesla buyers to take up to $42,000 in credits. Today EVs get a $6,000 incentive in addition to the $7,500 (soon to be $10k) federal credit, and a local group has received half a million dollars in federal grants to promote EVs in the state. Given that Colorado-based EVs emit equivalent emissions to a 33 MPG combined gasoline car (think: Hyundai Elantra), this is proof that hopping on a PR-driven bandwagon often outweighs the actual benefits of such “environmental” policies.

But, in a profoundly ironic twist, Colorado may well become a leading market for EVs… and not just because of its generous government incentives either. In fact, Colorado’s relatively dirty grid actually makes it one of the cheaper states in which to operate an EV. In its cost analysis of individual cities, the UCS finds that Colorado Springs’ 2.4 cents-per-mile operating cost for a Nissan Leaf is one of the cheapest in the country, especially when compared to cities with the best emissions scores. Though there’s not enough evidence in this study to support a direct link between the cost and cleanliness of electrical grids, it’s no surprise to find that they do trade off with each other to some extent.

This is one of the key takeaways from the report for the simple reason that running cost, rather than pure environmental benefit, is what will drive the EV market beyond its early adopter niche. And as utilities invest in ever-greener powerplants in hopes of improving the environmental performance of EVs, running costs will rise. And as EVs become more popular, increased demand on the grid will further drive up prices. This tradeoff encapsulates the dilemma of all EV stimulus: the hoped-for environmental benefits are dependent on the mainstream economic viability of EVs, which in turn depends on cheaper (rather than cleaner) power and much, much cheaper EVs. The UCS report’s conclusion attempts to square this circle by pushing EV adoption as the overriding concern, noting

Of course, cleaning up the nation’s electricity production won’t deliver large reductions in the transportation sector’s emissions and oil consumption unless electric vehicles become a market success. While they are now coming onto the market in a much bigger way than ever before, EVs still face many hurdles, including higher up-front costs than gasoline vehicles. Lower fueling costs for EVs, however, provide an important incentive for purchasing them, and our cost analysis of 50 cities across the country shows that EV owners can start saving money immediately on fuel costs by using electricity in place of gasoline.

While this is true enough, it fully ignores how the market works. For one thing, the fuel savings touted in the report are in comparison to an “average gasoline compact vehicle,” and therefore fails to account for most of the market segments. Consumers buy cars that fill their needs, and many Americans need cars larger than a compact. Furthermore, though those savings are estimated to be as much as $1,220 per year (for a Nissan Leaf), these savings do not include amortization of the EV’s up-front cost premium. Consumers will see “immediate savings” on fuel costs, but will be far behind on total ownership cost for years.

Currently the EV market is truly a “green” market, as potential EV consumers are currently motivated by the desire to reduce their carbon emissions. But EVs simply won’t have much of an impact on national emissions until they offer the kind of “green” that actually motivates consumers: money, in the form of real savings. As long as federal and state governments focus, as the UCS has, on carbon emissions, EVs simply won’t find much of a market. If, as the UCS claims, reductions in transportation-sector C02 emissions require mass EV adoption as a prerequisite, the carbon question is currently little more than a distraction. Environmental benefits must give way to economic reality, lest all of the possible “green” benefits of EVs remain a permanent mirage.

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