The Truth About Cars » EV http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 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 » EV http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Opel-Badged Chevrolet Volt Killed In Europe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/opel-badged-chevrolet-volt-killed-in-europe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/opel-badged-chevrolet-volt-killed-in-europe/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:01:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=870161 ampera-450x317

The Opel Ampera, an Opel-badged Chevrolet Volt, will be killed off in Europe due to slow sales.

The Ampera will be axed after just one generation – with a new Volt being launched in the second half of 2015, an Opel (and presumably Vauxhall) version will not be produced.

Automotive News Europe reports that Ampera sales slid dramatically in 2013. In Germany, the Ferrari F12 supercar has sold nearly twice as many units as the Ampera.

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Reader Ride Review: 2013 Nissan Leaf http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/reader-ride-review-2013-nissan-leaf/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/reader-ride-review-2013-nissan-leaf/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 11:30:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=850682 photo2

Let’s play a little word association, shall we? Okay, great! I will say the name of a car, and you describe its owner.

Nissan Leaf S. Got it? Cool.

Here’s what I came up with: LeMons-racing, Glock-owning, Libertarian-leaning, father of four, mechanical engineer. Wait, that’s not what you came up with? Well then you don’t know Brian, TTAC reader and owner of today’s Reader Ride Review, a black 2013 Nissan Leaf S.

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Who is the smartest guy you know? Okay, in true Niles Standish fashion, “Double it!” Brian’s brilliant engineering mind led him to lease the Leaf about eight months ago. Although certainly not opposed to the ecological benefit, he leased the Leaf because “I did the math on it. I had a PT Cruiser before this, and when I calculated the cost of the lease after the available subsidies, subtracted fuel cost, and added in the twenty bucks a month to charge it, it worked out to be a significant savings for us.” As a father of four, Brian also owns a Pentastar minivan for kid-hauling duty, and he races a ’75 LTD in LeMons (which Bark M. said was a pain in the butt to pass, at Carolina Motorsports Park earlier this year).

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As opposed to most Leaf owners who are city dwellers, Brian and his family live in a rural area known as Greer, SC. It’s a little ways out from the city, which we southerners like to say is out in the sticks. When I arrived at his house to check out the Leaf, the little black car was plugged into a standard garage outlet, charging back up from a day’s worth of commuting.

My initial impressions of the car upon seeing it were…well, I will let Brian say it.

“It’s not an attractive car,” Brian said. “I didn’t buy it for the aesthetics.” He’s right. In the Leaf, Nissan managed to do the impossible—they made a car that’s uglier than the Cube. In the base level S trim, the Leaf’s ugliness is borderline charming, though. Brian’s had cop-spec black steel wheels with no wheel covers, almost like that kid you used to know who wore black military boots to school. This particular Leaf had a unique decoration, placed on the left side of the rear windshield by Brian—a Glock window sticker. “I wanted everybody to know that this car doesn’t belong to a hippie,”he explained. Duly noted!

Sitting behind the wheel of the Leaf requires a bit of re-education. First of all, I realized that the Leaf would be silent upon start-up, but I subconsciously expected to hear SOMETHING when I pressed the Start button. Nope…total silence, like a golf cart. The gear shift in the center console had only two settings—Reverse and Drive, with a button in the middle for Park. The Leaf’s instrument display shows all sorts of things that this author had never seen before. Squarely in the middle sat a gauge that showed how much electricity was either being used under acceleration or being generated by the regenerative braking system. In the bottom right of the display was a miles to empty gauge—it showed 37 miles when I started our drive out of Brian’s driveway. I immediately and needlessly sensed a bit of range anxiety. What would happen if we got stuck in traffic? Or had a detour? Or had an emergency ice cream run? One never knows about these things.

My first impressions upon driving the Leaf? It’s not slow. Not at all. In fact, the instant torque delivered by the electric motor makes it pretty quick off the line. “It’s as fast from 0-45 as a BRZ,” explained Brian from the passenger seat. Granted, that’s not saying a whole lot, but it’s definitely sufficient to move the Leaf around comfortably in city traffic. The low-rolling-resistance tires didn’t inspire cornering confidence, but grip was sufficient for everyday driving.

The one thing that surprised me was a light whistling sound the car made when you would slow down to a stop. Brian explained to me that because the Leaf makes nearly no noise when going slowly, Nissan added the whistle to alert pedestrians amend other motorists of its presence in city situations to satisfy some pending legislation. Too cool!

Visibility from the main cabin was excellent, aided by some cut outs in the A pillar; it felt as if I was driving a windshield, not an EV. In comparison to my Sonic, it was spacious and comfortable. The back seat was big enough for an average adult to sit quite comfortably in, and the rear storage area was surprisingly large—a week’s worth of groceries for this single gal would fit, no problem. The S trim level meant that the bells and whistles of the car were pretty limited, but it still had Bluetooth connectivity (which Brian used to connect his flip phone…engineers!) and steering wheel audio controls. Black and gray plastic is abundant throughout, but the spartan nature of the interior almost added to the functional charm of the car.

As we drove, I asked Brian what else he had considered in addition to the Leaf. “Honestly, other than Tesla, there isn’t another truly electric car on the market. In South Carolina, neither the Spark EV or the Focus EV is available for sale. Plus, Nissan just did this car correctly. Everything about it is right.” Upon entering the highway, I found it hard to disagree with him. I had no trouble coaxing speeds well over the 65 MPH limit out of the Leaf—in fact, the single gear transmission and lack of engine noise make it easy to nose the car past 80 without even realizing it. It never struggles or whines or roars…it just goes, and it does so without difficulty or complaint.

I kept watching the miles to empty tick down closer to zero, and as we got under ten, it no longer gave me an actual number. Instead, it just blinked at me. Brian said that it has been surprisingly accurate,over the course of his ownership, especially considering how difficult it can be to measure such things. He launched into a very technical explanation of why that was, but as a mere mortal, I just took his word for it.

I saved my final and most important question for last: If you only had two kids, would you consider making this your only car?

Brian hesitated slightly, and answered reluctantly. “No. I still like to go on trips every now and then, and the range of the Leaf just isn’t sufficient for that.” I couldn’t agree more. If you buy an EV then you are consciously making a choice that will change your lifestyle and fact is, some lifestyles are not made for conformity.

So, does Brian have any regrets about the decision to lease a Leaf?

“Not one. It’s been great. It’s exactly as advertised, and, again, Nissan did everything right when it came to this car.”

After my thirty-seven miles in the Leaf, I came to the same conclusion. Yes, it is, for all intents and purposes, an appliance. However, it doesn’t pretend to be anything but, and it also happens to be a damned good appliance. Everything about the car is exactly as it should be. Everything just works.

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My only complaint is the price. $28K before subsidies, and in South Carolina, about $21K after, which puts it squarely in the realm of some cars that might be more enjoyable to drive, still deliver good fuel economy, and have many more standard features (Fiesta, Sonic, Fit). That being said, it’s not a penalty box by any means, and if you drive enough to make the math work for you, then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. I liked it much more than I expected to, and if you aren’t “too cool” for it, you would, too.

Many thanks to Brian, who provided his car and a tank of…er, some electricity!

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BMW Crushes ActiveE Units En Masse http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/bmw-crushes-activee-units-en-masse/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/bmw-crushes-activee-units-en-masse/#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 04:01:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=828945 CrushedRecalling the fateful end of GM’s EV1 program, BMW has decided to crush a number of their 1-Series based Active E after the pilot program finished.

The 1,110 Active E units were leased to customers as a means of vetting electric drivetrain technology in advance of the i3 and i8. Due to the nature of the lease program, crushing the cars at the end of their lifespan is standard operating procedure.

Despite the many conspiracy theories and complex explanations for the crushing of EVs, Occam’s Razor can often be applied to these situations: OEMs (in this case, BMW and GM) do not want to be on the hook for replacement parts and servicing obligations, which, by law, can last for over a decade after the end of the vehicle’s production.

Creating a parts and service network for such a small-volume vehicle is prohibitively expensive, and often times, taking back the cars and crushing them is a more economical alternative. Of course, there’s also the potential for the technology to fall into the hands of a competitor, which could be another unfavorable outcome that the OEM wants to avoid, but that’s a smaller concern.

Fortunately, the Active E will live on. Jalopnik reports that a number of units will be put to work as part of a Bay Area car-sharing service. And of course, there’s the all new EVs being introduced by BMW in the near future. Not a bad tradeoff.

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PSA, Mitsubishi May End EV Partnership http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/psa-mitsubishi-may-end-ev-partnership/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/psa-mitsubishi-may-end-ev-partnership/#comments Thu, 22 May 2014 04:01:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=828330 CITROËN_C-ZERO,_2012,_IFEVI

PSA and Mitsubishi may discontinue their electric vehicle partnership in the next 12 months, according to PSA CEO Carlos Tavares.

Speaking to a government body related to economic affairs, Tavares said that PSA would be re-evaluating the arrangement, which has PSA selling the Mitsubishi i-MiEV under the Citroen and Peugeot brands.

According to Reuters, sales of the PSA branded EVs are down dramatically, from a combined 6,222 units in 2013 to 1106 in 2014. Despite this, Tavares cited the strength of the yen as a possible factor for the partnership’s fate.

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Piston Slap: Verboseness and The Brief Commute http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/826138/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/826138/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 11:43:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=826138

Wade writes:

Hey Sajeev,

This is going to take while to get to the point. For those with logophobia, skip to the last paragraph. Those people who think How I Met Your Mother was too rushed, keep reading. Sajeev, you have to keep reading too. You do say to “spare no details”. (Fantastic. – SM)

I was laid off in early 2011. That was because my specific job was transferred to the plant in Mexico. Due to the Trade Act of 1974, this qualified me for several benefits. The most relevant benefit to my question would be the training program. If you can prove that a training program would increase your employability and that there is a projected demand for workers with that training, the government will pay for it. Since I was laid of in Las Vegas and unemployment was well into the double digits, I thought for a bit and decided to go with an Aviation Maintenance Technician program. There wasn’t an approved program in Nevada at the time, so I found the program at Midland College in Midland Texas.

At the time, my wife and I owned a 2000 BMW 323i and a 2001 Pontiac Aztek. Since housing was scarce in Midland, we decide to purchase a FEMA trailer. Neither of our vehicles could tow such a trailer, so we sold the Aztek and bought a 1989 Ford F250 cheap because the dealer was just about to sent it to auction as he couldn’t manage to sell it. In the week between buying the pickup and loading up the crap we decided we had to keep, I replaced the faulty alternator harness and did a few other simple maintenance tasks. We headed out of Las Vegas heading for Dallas to pick up the trailer and drop our crap off at a storage lot in Midland. All went well until I blew a rear tire in Eastern Arizona. We lost a day since it blew 30 minutes after the nearest tire shop had closed for the day. It even hauled the FEMA trailer with no issues.

I don’t especially like pickups unless they are a 1960 to 1966 Chevrolet. Those truck seem to be the last ones with character. Anymore, you can lop off the portions of a pickup ahead of the front wheels and behind the rear wheels and you can’t tell the difference from one to another. But the F250 had a ZF 5 speed manual and I was starting to be impressed. The more I drove it, the more I liked it. I started school and all was well until a moron in a new Toyota Tundra decided that he had to dart across 4 lanes of traffic to avoid having to wait for the semi in the turn lane to get by. I was hidden from his view on the other side of semi accelerating in lanes the semi was vacating. The F250 was killed on impact and I think I cracked a rib. I did get 3x what I paid for the truck just 4 months earlier.

I took the insurance money and again found an idiot at a dealership. This one had a 1st gen Honda Insight with battery pack issues. He had been told by his buddy at a Honda dealership that it was out of warranty and to replace the pack would be about $5000. I did my own research and found that it was still within the extended service letter age and mileage range and thus paid less then half of blue book. After which I took it down to the local Honda dealership and had them replace the battery at their cost.

I thoroughly enjoyed that little Insight. I wasn’t your typical hybrid driver. Green means go so when it lit up, I nailed the throttle. I only lightly braked for corners. And still I got 40 MPG. Soon I was nearing the end of my training program and started to look for work. Since I didn’t want to work for an standard airline, it seemed that I would end up either in the panhandle of Alaska working on floatplanes or down on the Gulf Coast working on offshore helicopters. Both would require moving the trailer and that Insight just wasn’t going to cut it. My wife had decided that the BMW was too had to climb in and out of on a daily basis and so was had traded it off for a 2007 Suzuki Grand Vitara. That also wasn’t going to move the FEMA trailer. So we began to look for pickups, again.

Now back in 2005, Hurricane Katrina had chased out of Long Beach Mississippi and temporarily up to Tunica in my 1984 BMW 528e. My wife’s work on a helpdesk for a large casino chain had offered us shelter in one of the casino hotels there so she could keep working for them. After a short time, they offered her a position in their Memphis office or the casinos in Las Vegas. Having spent a bit of time in the Memphis area, we decided to go for Las Vegas. We had already accumulated more crap then could fit into the BMW, so we went looking for a cheap truck and trailer. A couple days before we left, we found a Ford Bronco II from a dealer who had repo’d it and it was just out of it’s waiting period and eligible for sale. After buying it, found some knucklehead had run the trailer wiring between two metal panels and that had shorted out the brake lights. Got that fixed, bought the last small trailer in Memphis, loaded up out crap and we headed out. In the middle of the night, while going through the mountains of New Mexico in I40, one of the CV joints gave up. That cost us a couple days in a motel as the local mechanic (who was a retired Ford service tech) replaced the driveshaft.

I had to tell you that little flashback so you would under stand this next part.

So having had moved twice using trucks bought within a week of the move, my wife started to push me to find us a truck early so we could take our time getting things fixed before entrusting it with all our worldly possessions including our house. Finding a medium duty truck for sale in West Texas isn’t hard, they make up 50% of the vehicles on the road. The hard part is finding one that doesn’t have over 200,000 miles, half of which weren’t spent on a maintained road. Finally managed it and traded off the Insight for a 2004 Ford F250 with the 6.0 diesel 2 months before the end of classes and the deadline for moving. A month later I had found my 1st job as an A&P. 50 miles away from school and home. 2 months after starting work, I was tired of driving that truck. It was just a cold hunk of steel barrelling down the road at 65 MPH (any faster and the MPGs go down in a hurry). 50 miles in the morning, 50 miles in the afternoon, up and down flat and straight roads. And all it was doing was hauling my bored ass.

I needed to find me something different. I decided I needed something RWD and a manual. Didn’t really matter to me what it was as long as it wasn’t a pickup or an SUV. I’ve had my fill of those. I looked for several months and finally scooped up an RX8 at a local Subaru dealership. They had just taken it in trade. I got an extended warranty on the driveline instead of getting the compressions checked. My mood improved, especially when I ran it up to redline in 1st or 2nd. The previous owner had replaced rotten mufflers with plain exhaust pipe. It makes a glorious cacophony when you rev it and pops so prettily when you let off. The commute instantly became bearable and I really didn’t mind the drive. Even if the only real fun were the 4 or 5 intersections where I turned.

Then the landlord told us she was putting the property up for sale and we began to look for a new place to park the trailer. It took us a couple months, be we ended up finding a nice fenced in space in a mobile home park. It’s right around the corner from my job.

Literally: 0.7 of a mile. I measured it.

I walk or ride my bicycle to work now since .7 of a mile doesn’t even get my RX8 out of fast idle. It gets driven once a week 70 miles (35 miles each way) on the grocery run. Straight down the flat straight road from our little town of 1 independent grocery store to the nearest city where the prices are better and so are the choices. Even when it gets out on the road, it doesn’t get to have any fun.

It hurts me to not drive the RX8. I start my day off with a frown as I push my bicycle out the front gate and by it on my way to work. I have no idea how people can buy a “weekend” or a “summer” car. It sounds like auto abuse to me. Someone should call APS (Automobile Protective Services) on y’all.

So I’ve been thinking. Should I trade it off for an EV? I liked that Insight. A lot. Of my 40 years of life, trading it off is my only real regret. And I can’t really go back to it or one like it. The ICE is required and that’s the whole problem with driving my RX8 to work. The only vehicles that make any sense for me right now are EVs or EVs with range extenders. And EVs would be hard to live with out here in the middle of nowhere. Most of them lack the range to get home from the dealership. I’d have to buy them and ship them home.

I won’t get much for the trade. It’s a perfect 15 footer. It gets exponentially worse as you get closer. There is an exhaust leak at the manifold. Alignment of the left rear is off. The front splitter and under tray have seen better days and need rebuilding. Pretty sure it’s lost a couple apex seals. The transmission whines a bit in certain gears and I think the synchros are ready for replacement (or I’m not as good with a stick as I think I am). Road construction on my previous long commute have all but shattered the windshield. There are cracks on both the inside and outside glass layers and one cuts right through the driver’s vision. It’s need new vacuum valves and ignition coils. Paint chips abound. The sunroof doesn’t work right, I think one of the drive cables has snapped. I should think about getting at least some glass packs to quiet it a bit. Maybe. It’s a nice drivable project car.

It’s going to be hard to part with. In the last 24 year of driving, I’ve already parted with a Sirocco, a couple of BMWs with automatics, an RX7, a 924, a 300ZX, an ex-Fire Department S10 Blazer, and an old 70′s Datsun (I think. I was young, stupid, drove it once and scrapped it after it overheated).

But it would be nice to ride inside a car to work when it’s raining. Or snowing. Or the wind is whipping by at 30 mph. Or it’s 120 outside. Or when it’s 20 outside. Or go to lunch now and then instead of nuking something to eat at my desk.

Finances currently prohibit a new acquisition as that would mean 3 car payments at once.

TL/DR:
My current commute is .7 mile long and that won’t get my RX8 even out of fast idle. Should I trade it in on an EV? I love that RX8. You’ll have to talk me out of it.

Sajeev answers:

Oh my damn, Son!  I sure hope you’re aware of the irony of your lengthy letter and the remarkably short commute behind it.

More to the point, I don’t care!  Care about your ICE, that is.  You admitted the RX-8′s cardinal sin to internal combustion is already experiencing apex seal failure, so who cares if a 0.7 mile commute makes it marginally worse?  For the love of all that’s right in the world, it’s a rotary motor and it’s gonna take a premature dump no matter what!

Keep the RX-8 until it implodes.  But it won’t: you’ve lived quite an intriguing life, and you’ll be ready for a new machine well before the RX-8 forces you into a more reliable, more lifestyle befitting mode of transport. Enjoy the ride, you’ve done pretty damn well so far. And I must say, hat’s off to you, sir!

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

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Cadillac ELR Inventories Balloon To 725 Day Supply As Dealers, Consumers Offered Big Incentives http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/cadillac-elr-inventories-balloon-to-725-day-supply-as-dealers-offered-5000-incentives-for-test-drives/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/cadillac-elr-inventories-balloon-to-725-day-supply-as-dealers-offered-5000-incentives-for-test-drives/#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 12:00:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=819986 Click here to view the embedded video.

The Cadillac ELR is shaping up to be one of the biggest automotive flops in recent memory – as of May 1, inventories had expanded to a 725 day supply, with Cadillac moving just 61 units in April.

At the start of April, dealers had 1,077  ELRs on their lots. As of May 14th, that number had increased to 1,517, with inventories far outpacing sales of the car.

Now, Automotive News is reporting that dealers are being offered a $5,000 incentive to offer test drivers of the car if they have seven or less unused ELRs in their fleet, and $10,000 for two ELR demos if they have more than seven units. The test drive demos must log 750 or more miles, with the program expiring on June 2nd.

GM is also offering a $3,000 customer incentive if an ELR is purchased or leased (on top of government incentives that already exists), and dealers can qualify for a $2,000 incentive in July or a $1,000 incentive in August for selling ELRs.

While a Cadillac spokesman insists that the inventory backup is a result of production scheduling, the rising inventories, lagging sales and heavy incentives paint a clear picture: the ELR is an overpriced dog that is finding few buyers compared to the much cheaper Chevrolet Volt and the much more prestigious Tesla Model S, to say nothing of the various plug-in and pure EV offerings from other car makers.

Even worse is Cadillac’s inventory picture as a brand: according to the Automotive News Data Center every vehicle except the SRX recording over 100 day’s worth of inventory. Even the much lauded ATS and CTS had 153 and 138 day’s supply, far above industry norms.

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Next Nissan Leaf Will Look Like A Normal Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/next-nissan-leaf-will-look-like-a-normal-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/next-nissan-leaf-will-look-like-a-normal-car/#comments Mon, 12 May 2014 12:27:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=819425 2011_Nissan_Leaf_SL_--_10-28-2011

Nissan’s next iteration of the Leaf EV will hang on to its hatchback styling, but it will look more like a conventional car.

According to Automotive News, Nissan EV product chief Andy Palmer said that the next version of the Leaf would conform more closely to the latest Nissan design language seen on cars like the Rogue – that means Nissan’s new V-shaped grille opening, rather than the completely flush front end used on the current Leaf.

What the next Leaf won’t be is a sedan. That will be reserved for a now-delayed Infiniti EV, which is expected to debut in 2017. The Infiniti EV will arrive first, and may even be able to exceed the Leaf’s range, due to its sedan shape, which allows for different packaging. Palmer said that 300 km (186 miles) is the internal target for the next-gen EVs, versus the current Leaf’s 84 mile range.

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TTAC Long Term Tesla Part 5: The Mystery Of The Vacaville Supercharger, Or Why I Miss Gas Stations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/ttac-long-term-tesla-part-5-the-mystery-of-the-vacaville-supercharger-or-why-i-miss-gas-stations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/ttac-long-term-tesla-part-5-the-mystery-of-the-vacaville-supercharger-or-why-i-miss-gas-stations/#comments Thu, 08 May 2014 04:01:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=817762 img-0288

Vacaville, California. Population 93,899, as of two years ago. Median income $57,667. A series of stripmalls. A Buffalo Wild Wings. And one of Tesla’s Superchargers – the weirdest Supercharger, the Supercharger that I cannot understand the location of, nor the existence of – unless, of course, you’re driving like I was from Napa to San Francisco, and needed a quick charge.

The “Supercharger” in question is really just a line of Supercharging units – the tall white holders that you get your power from. Next to it is a gigantic, billowing generator (I think) that makes a sound like a jet engine. And that’s it. The phrase “Supercharger” in the past had become synonymous with a performance accessory for supercars. If you’re a weirdo like me, you associate it with some sort of Tesla experience – a “place” where you take your car that has an “experience” attached to it. Instead what it is is a peculiar charge-bank in a strip mall.

The chargers themselves worked…strangely. When I parked and plugged my car in, with three other cars next to me, I charged at 100 miles per hour (of course, this denotes how much juice you get in a given amount of time, not the traditional measurement of velocity). This kicked up slowly to 150 “mph” once another car left. This was totally fine – I was spoiled by the speed of the Freemont Supercharger, which at my last trip was able to get me to 320 miles per hour of charging.

The Vacaville Supercharger has a bigger problem, though – culture. On the Supercharger Promise Scale, it succeeds only in being able to give you a place to go to the bathroom (a 5 minute walk across the parking lot) and a bite to eat (a vending machine with some candy in it). The scenery is weird – you’re by the highway, there’s a Coldwater Creek Outlet and some other stores, and nothing else.

In short, the Supercharger feels horribly out of place. As did I charging my car. People would walk past the line of Teslas, running their hands on them, or slowly drift by gawking and staring me in the eyes as I waited for it to charge. I don’t mind, really – hands are fine, at least they’re not keys. It just felt a spectacle.

As a functional “charger”,  it worked well– and as far as travelling to/from Napa, it was about as perfect it could be. It also brought up the interesting definition that Tesla needs to make between a SuperCHARGER and a Supercharging STATION – a secondary term that doesn’t exist yet, but should.

I am frustrated that Tesla seems so ardently unable to follow through on the basic statements on their website. While their definition of Supercharger is a very fast charger, the pictures they use on the website suggest beautiful, scenic chargers – not a line of weird stalls alongside a strip mall, or awkwardly sandwiched next to the sales office at HQ. In the same way that gas stations function as refueling facilities for both the car and the driver, the Supercharger should be a station not a charger – especially since you’re there for a lot longer than it takes to fill a car’s gas tank.

If the Tesla network is to grow illustriously and truly make a go of being an alternative to gasoline, they have to provide more of a service at a Supercharger. Yes, it’s great that I can get back 50% of my power in 20-30 minutes. However that’s 20-30 minutes I’m sitting around in the car – messing with the screen, twiddling my thumbs – that would be a lot better spent stretching my legs. And no, saying “it’s by a strip mall” is not a sufficient answer.

Considering the amount of care and attention to detail put into the Model S, the Superchargers – at least based on my experiences in Vacaville and Fremont – feel deficient. No doubt they’re expensive to install and maintain, and would be even more so if you added actual services on top of them, but perhaps now is the time for Tesla to make the next step. Sorry, Elon, but I shouldn’t be missing gas stations. And I am.

I realize that sounds immensely bratty – but the basic existence of the gas station is one that is there to partially support the driver. Even if it’s just to have a pee, grab a drink, stretch your legs and then get driving, it’s an experience that is unglamorous but necessary. And until Musk recreates it for the Tesla, it’s something that will effect my willingness to take particularly long drives.

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TTAC Long-Term Tesla Part 3: (Super)Charging http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/ttac-long-term-tesla-part-3-supercharging/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/ttac-long-term-tesla-part-3-supercharging/#comments Fri, 02 May 2014 12:00:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=813305 img-0219

Here’s a blunt statement for you: If you don’t have at least a 240V charger in your home, or plan on getting one very quickly, or live very near (10 minutes or less) to a Supercharger, do not buy a Model S. I hate to say that because I love this car. But charging without having a charger at home is frustrating and/or expensive.

I live in San Francisco and commute to Mountain View. For all the talk of this being the official car of the Bay Area Tech Douche, there are few convenient chargers available in the Palo Alto or Mountain View area. The nearest Supercharger is in Fremont, which is 30-40 minutes away – more if there’s traffic.

The Chargepoint network is an abomination. Finding a charger using their app (a hodgepodge of HTML mashing into Apple Maps) is ponderous. When you do find one, you had best hope it’s not a 120V charger. Because that will get you anywhere from 3 to 10 miles for each hour of charging, which is not useful when you drive 30 to 40 miles each way. This is also assuming one is *available* – many Chargepoint stations have two outlets, and you can’t reserve many of them.

You can also find chargers with SemaCharge, which is just as bad.

In San Francisco there are many chargers inside large, expensive garages, such as 3 Embarcadero. For $3.99 an hour for the first four hours, then $6 an hour afterwards, you can charge your car at a decent pace – I forget the exact rate, but I think I was at 50% and was quoted 5 hours to charge. So you’re paying for the garage, the charger, and whatever wacky rate they add on top of it.

Get your own charger if you want to save money on gas. Actually, get your own *240 Volt* charger. This will charge you at – I think – 20-30 miles for each hour of charging. This is bearable overnight, and will get you back on your feet for the next day. A 120V (as in a normal plug) will get you three miles an hour. That is not practical for any human being.

If you can, get the high-powered wall charger that Tesla sells. It can go from 40-80 miles for each charging hour, which will mean that you can just go to bed with your car charging. I got my building to install one, and if an apartment building can do it, you can do it.

Now, the positives. My Volvo cost about $50 a tank if memory serves, and that wasn’t even using premium gas (yes, I know miles per gallon is better, but I can’t remember). I’d say that I’d be gassing up on my current schedule two or three times a week. At a conservative estimate, that’s $400 a month. $4800 a year, $38,400 over the course of the 8 years of my warranty (yes, I bought an extended warranty). This is actually an underestimate deliberately engineered to ward off the potential comments of “you suck at math.” If I was filling up the Audi Q5 I drove via Zipcar, the cost of the premium gas they demand would be more like $80 a tank from about a quarter left. Yes, that’s an SUV, I know. But mathematically speaking the Tesla can and will save you money, and the additional stress of finding a gas station.

The “but what if I travel?” argument leads to the Superchargers, which I’ll talk about shortly. However, the general argument I can give you is that while the Chargepoint network sucks for the constant need to juice up, there generally seems to be – at least in California – a good network of places to charge. 4 star and 5 star hotels consistently seem to have 240V chargers – I spotted one in Charlotte, NC at the Ritz Carlton – and even some lower-end hotels in Napa appeared to have them. This isn’t to say that it isn’t inconvenient. The infrastructure of the overall EV-charging network needs significant work to establish the convenience of readily-available gas. However the argument of “you’re gonna get stranded” does not seem to apply in this state. Outside of California, it’s a different world, and I recognize that our state is in a unique situation.

 

Superchargers were originally advertised as beautiful little oases – places you could go, charge your car, get a cup of coffee, eat a bagel and relax. However, at least in Fremont, the result is less glitzy. A line of chargers, some metal chairs and a lot of buildings that you can’t go into. I was dreaming of being able to grab a cup of coffee and relax while the car juiced up. My dreams are shattered. Other Superchargers may be different – but you’d think the marquee Supercharger where you pick up your car would be gorgeous.

To quote the website: “Simply pull up and plug in, take a quick bathroom or food break, and get back on the road.” There was no usable bathroom at Fremont – at a late stop (10pm) I was able to use the intercom and security let me into the one in the delivery center. There was no food. I had to pathetically ask a secretary for a glass of water. Unless I intended to walk across a highway, there was no readily-accessible way to take a quick bathroom or food break unless I brought snacks and intended to pee on the ground.

When the Supercharger *works* it’s fantastic (and free). I really mean it. The ones that work can charge you with 200 miles worth of juice in just an hour – you can swing in, get your car powered up while you sit inside and then get out of there in 30 minutes to an hour. The new 6.0 firmware update allegedly will up the rate of charge at Superchargers to 400 miles an hour.

The problem for me personally is that Fremont is not convenient. Neither is Burlingame. I’m confused as to why there is no Palo Alto or Mountain View or San Francisco Supercharger.

There are also the issues of the deficient Superchargers. I’ve been to the Fremont charger three separate times. Chargers 1A and 1B charged my car at 180-200 miles per hour. However, 4B trundled along at 80-90, and took three tries to get it to even charge. I head similar complaints of other chargers doing the same from other people parked there, who were apparently not as big of an asshole as I am and thus just stayed at one point to charge. I did not call the Supercharger complaint line like it says to on the chargers. I would not be surprised if nobody ever has. I probably should have. But you’d think at the Tesla plant, where Tesla is, where Elon Musk (I assume) sits upon a throne of skulls, that the Supercharger would be flawless. It isn’t.

The Supercharger network is growing across the country, but there’s a fair amount of obfuscation as to where. You can’t zoom in on the list, you can’t click the red circles to find out where the exact spot is (and my geography sucks). The list doesn’t even update when you move to “coming soon.” There are fan-made listings that work based on permits, but there is no reason in the world that Tesla shouldn’t be providing this information themselves. Unless, of course, they’re worried that they’ll get railroaded if they reveal their plans.

From my research it appears that you could do a cross-country drive. I would be a little bit nervous to, or get the help of someone good at planning. By the end of 2014 it would appear that it’ll be a lot easier, and over time I can imagine the network will be good, even if you do have to settle for 80-90 miles per hour.

 

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AAA: Extreme Temps Hurt EV Range http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/aaa-extreme-temps-hurt-ev-range/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/aaa-extreme-temps-hurt-ev-range/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 14:06:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=777009 550x366xIMG_6417-550x366.jpg.pagespeed.ic.H6TYJJxGdw

Yes, we know water is wet too, but this study from the AAA provides some interesting findings regarding how extreme temperatures affect the driving range of electric vehicles.

Apparently, the extreme temperature problem cuts both ways

Vehicles were tested for city driving to mimic stop-and-go traffic, and to better compare with EPA ratings listed on the window sticker. The average EV battery range in AAA’s test was 105 miles at 75°F, but dropped 57 percent to 43 miles when the temperature was held steady at 20°F. Warm temperatures were less stressful on battery range, but still delivered a lower average of 69 miles per full charge at 95°F. 

AAA performed testing between December 2013 and January 2014. Each vehicle completed a driving cycle for moderate, hot and cold climates following standard EPA-DOE test procedures. The vehicles were fully charged and then “driven” on a dynamometer in a climate-controlled room until the battery was fully exhausted.

Anyone who has spent time in Texas in the summer knows that high temperatures are sufficient to render your phone too hot to use, and the cold is notoriously harsh on battery life for any electronic device, let alone an electric car. But how about the use of wipers, HVAC systems and other essentials for winter (and well, summer) driving, all of which requires battery power when used in an EV.

In temperate climates like Southern California, EVs will always be a viable, 365-day proposition. In cold countries like Norway, where driving distances are short, fuel is astronomically expense and taxes are high for gasoline and diesel cars, EVs can make sense. But given the drops in range when the temperatures hit either end of the scale, it’s tough to see how they can become a viable, mass-market proposition in the near future for much of the United States and Canada.

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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 450x298x1488276_10151952273333579_659848810_n-450x298.jpg.pagespeed.ic.WC5A2hrjb7

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 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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Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 14:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=707986 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001

Now and then you run into a car that just “fits”. It’s like finding a perfect shoe, or a comfy smoking jacket. Until now I have been keeping my secret love on the down-low for several reasons. First off, I’ve always thought having a “favorite car” tends to color one’s judgment when comparing cars, so I try to avoid such statements. Secondly, my dalliance with my automotive flame was fleeting. As most of us know, one-night-stands rarely hold up to the scrutiny of a long-term relationship. And lastly, coming out as a hybrid-lover has been difficult. When folks ask me “what was the best car you drove in 2013?” and my answer is “the 2014 Accord Hybrid,” they stare at me like I have three eyeballs.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The Accord is the mid-size sedan least likely to offend. While some call the tall greenhouse and upright proportions boring, I found them to be elegant and restrained. Indeed the Accord’s side profile reminds me a great deal of former Lexus products, a similarity that was shared by passengers during the week. Several passers by even confused the Accord with a Lexus ES. This is good news for Honda but bad news for Lexus.

Up front the Accord Hybrid wears blue-tinted versions of the regular Accord’s grille and headlamps instead of the Plug-In Accord’s enormous maw. Our Limited trim model was equipped with LED headlamps but lesser trims have to get by with halogen bulbs. Out back the restrained styling continues with hidden exhaust tips, clean lines and plenty of LEDs in the tail lamps. While there are plenty of mid-size sedans out there, the hybrid market is limited to the Accord, Camry, Fusion, Optima and Sonata. In that lineup, I find the Fusion the best looking with the Accord in a solid second place and the refreshed Optima taking third.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002

Interior

Like the gas-only Accord, the hybrid sports a double-bump style dashboard. The first “bump” houses the same tweaked instrument cluster as the Accord plug-in with a large analog speedometer, no tachometer, LED gauges for battery/fuel and a power meter. Inside the speedo is a circular full-color LCD used for the trip computer, secondary nav instructions (if so equipped) and other vehicle information. Housed in the second “bump” is a standard 8-inch infotainment display.

Front seat comfort has long been a Honda strong suit and the Accord is no different with thickly padded and ergonomically designed thrones. The seats are lightly (and widely) bolstered so larger drivers and passengers shouldn’t have a problem finding a comfortable seating position. Because the EX trim of the gas Accord serves as the “feature donor car” for the Hybrid, all models get adjustable lumbar support, 10-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, standard Bluetooth, a backup camera, keyless entry/go and active noise cancellation.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Instrument Cluster-001

Thanks to the tall green house and complete lack of “four-door-coupé” styling cues, the Accord’s rear seats are the best in the segment. On paper there’s nothing extraordinary about the rear cabin dimension. The truth is in the sitting. The Accord’s rear seats are more comfortable than a Camry and roomier than an Optima or Sonata. The seat back angle is also the most upright of the bunch allowing easier entry and exit when compared to the reclined Fusion. That reclined rear seat is how the Fusion manages to match the Accord when it comes to inches of head room, but the Accord’s rear compartment is far more accommodating.

As with most hybrids, there’s a trunk penalty to be paid. Thanks to energy dense Lithium-ion cells, the Accord only drops 3 cubic feet to 12.7 cubic feet, and I had no problem jamming six 24-inch roller bags in the trunk. The Li-ion cells mean the gas-only Accord’s smallish trunk translates in to a roomy storage area compared to the other hybrids. Sadly everyone else has managed to preserve some sort of cargo pass-through to the trunk while Honda decided to kill it. Honda wouldn’t say what the reason was, but judging by the battery position there was still room for a cargo slot capable of handling a surf board. Call that an opportunity lost.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment-002

Infotainment

Base models use physical buttons to control the standard 8-inch LCD in the dash, while up-level Accords get the two-screen layout you see above. Bluetooth, SMS voice messaging, Pandora smartphone integration and USB/iDevice control are all standard on base models as is a 6-speaker, 160-watt sound system. The 8-inch LCD handles all infotainment interactions in this base system from playlist browsing to phone dialing. Honda integrates their active noise cancellation technology into the head unit, so keep that in mind if you plan to swap into an after-market unit.

I suspect that most shoppers will opt for the mid-level “EX-L” which adds a subwoofer, 360 watt amp, and a 6-inch touchscreen for audio system controls. For reasons I don’t understand, the touchscreen is surrounded by “sparkly” plastic that looks like someone tossed in some glitter in the last moments of the plastics process. In an otherwise expertly executed cabin this “easter egg” seems out-of-place. This dual-screen setup struck me as half-baked when I first sampled it, and although I think it could still use a few minutes in the oven, I have warmed up to it. Voice commands are easy to use, the system’s layout is intuitive and responsiveness to commands is excellent. However, I still don’t understand why you use the touchscreen for changing tracks and sources, but you have to use the knob and upper screen for changing playlists. I also think it’s a pity that navigation isn’t sold as a stand alone option as you have to pony up $34,905 for the Touring trim to get it.

Front Wheel Drive Biased

Drivetrain

In many ways the Accord Hybrid shares more design themes with the Fisker Karma than a Toyota Prius. Up till now, mainstream hybrids used one of two systems, either an electro/mechanical power split device designed around a planetary gearset like the Ford, Toyota and GM Voltec hybrids, or they sandwich an electric motor between the engine and transmission (Honda, Kia/Hyundai, Mercedes, VW and everyone else). Honda went back to the drawing board and designed a true serial hybrid – as long as you stay under 44 mph. Things start out on the drawing above with a 2.0L, 141 horsepower engine mated directly to a motor/generator that is capable of generating approximately 141 horsepower (Honda won’t release details on certain drivetrain internals so that’s an educated guess). Honda says this is the most thermodynamically efficient four-cylinder engine in production, a title I have no reason to doubt. Next we have a 166 horsepower, 226 lb-ft motor connected to the front wheels via a fixed gear ratio. Under 44 miles per hour, this is all you need to know about the system. The 166 horsepower motor powers the car alone, drawing power from either a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, or the engine via the generator and the power control circuitry. Over 44 miles per hour, the system chooses one of two modes depending on which is most efficient at the time. The system can engage a clutch pack to directly connect the motor and generator units together allowing engine power to flow directly to the wheels via that fixed gear ratio, or it can keep operating in serial mode.

When the Accord Hybrid engages the clutch to allow the engine to power the wheels directly (mechanically), power is flowing via a single fixed ratio gear set. The fixed gear ratio is somewhere around a typical 6th gear in terms of gear ratio. This improves efficiency at highway speeds because there is always some loss in power conversion from the generator to the motor. The single ratio is the reason the system must use in serial hybrid mode below 44 mph. There is another side effect at play here as well: below 44 MPH, the system’s maximum power output is 166 horsepower and rises to 196 when the clutch is engaged.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005

Pricing

Starting at $29,155, the Accord Hybrid is nearly $4,000 more than the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. However, the Accord delivers a high level of standard equipment dropping the real margin to around $1,900. Instead of stand alone options, Honda offers just three trim levels. The next step is the $31,905 EX-L model which adds leather seats, a leather steering wheel, upgraded audio system with two LCD screens, memory driver’s seat, power passenger seat, moonroof, a camera based collision warning system and lane departure warning. While the base model fares poorly in direct cross-shops, the EX-L is a decent value, coming in essentially the same price as a comparably equipped Sonata, Fusion or Optima.

Work your way up to the top-of-the-line $34,905 Touring and you get full LED headlamps, navigation, XM Radio, an adaptive cruise control system and a snazzier backup cam. Although that’s more than a top trim Camry ($32,015), Sonata ($32,395) or Optima ($31,950), the Honda packs more features and when you adjust for the features missing in the competition the difference drops to a few hundred dollars. Meanwhile the Fusion wins the award for the most expensive in this segment at $37,200 with only a few features not found on the Accord.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-004

Drive

The Accord Hybrid’s impressive 50/45/47 MPG EPA rating (City/Highway/Combined) is even more impressive when you look at some of Honda’s design choices. First off all hybrid trims get tires one size wider (225/50R17 vs 215/55R17) than the gas-only Accord to compensate for the 230 lb weight increase. Secondly Honda chose to trickle-down Acura’s two-mode damper technology into the Accord. These two choices define how the car feels out on the road with the Accord barely nudging the Fusion out of first place when it comes to overall on-road performance. The Fusion Hybrid Titanium provides better overall grip, but the Accord has better poise and the two-mode dampers operate as advertised yielding to highway imperfections but maintaining a crisp feel on winding back roads. The take away from this is that the hybrid version of the Accord provides the best balance of grip and poise in the Accord lineup while all other manufacturers make you pay a handling penalty (albeit slight in the Ford) for the improved mileage numbers. Meanwhile the Sonata, Optima and Camry designers swapped in 205 width tires for reduced rolling resistance resulting in those hybrid models handling more like value-priced base entries.

After driving Ford’s latest hybrids, I was skeptical of Honda’s fuel economy claims. The last 47MPG Ford we tested ran between 39.5 and 41 MPG over 560 gingerly-driven miles. Keeping in mind that my commute is hilly and highway heavy I had expected the Accord’s numbers to suffer in relation as the Accord’s highway figure is 2 MPG lower than the Ford. I was wrong. I actually averaged better economy during my week with the Accord than I did at the launch event set in the Texas flat-lands (47.8 vs 45.9.) I attribute some of the difference to final tweaking of the software by Honda and some of the difference to California’s milder climate. The numbers struck me as so good I spent three days driving, filling, driving, filling only to discover the fuel economy was spot on. It is at this point I am surprised that Honda chose not to offer some sort of “eco” trim with skinny low rolling resistance tires, grille shutters and a weight loss regime for more even impressive numbers.

Honda’s new hybrid system switches between modes more smoothly than the Sonata and Optima and on-par with the Toyota and Ford systems. The smooth transitions are a good thing since the Accord spends far more time switching between EV and gasoline operating modes on level highways between 55 and 65 MPH. The system will charge the battery up, turn off the engine and run EV until the battery drops to a point that it needs to be recharged. This is different from the others that generally run engine only once you’re on the highway. Honda swiped the Accord’s brake design from their hydrogen Clarity sedan and it is easily the best I have ever driven. Stops are linear without the “grabby” feel you get in Toyota hybrid models if you transition rapidly from mild to moderate braking. Downhill driving in the Accord is also a vast improvement. Most hybrids transition to engine or 100% friction braking when the battery is full but Honda has a trick up their sleeve. Because of the Accord’s design Honda is able to continue using the traction motor to provide braking assistance. Once the battery is full, the software shuttles this energy over to the generator unit and consumes it by spinning the engine. This results in the most consistent braking feel of any hybrid so far.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-010

The Accord Hybrid drives like an EV below 44 MPH, much like a charged Chevy Volt and in sharp contrast to the Ford and Toyota hybrids. This is of course because the Accord’s electric motor is the only thing that can motivate the car below this speed. Because of the nature of this drivetrain, there there is definite non-linear relationship between the engine and the wheels. Press the throttle down and the engine catches up in a while, climb a hill and the engine will vary between a wail and a dull roar. While I’m sure that will bother some folks, I don’t mind the noises cars with CVTs make and this Accord is no different. Likely due to come software tweaks since I first drove it, 0-60 times dropped a few tenths to 7.0 seconds flat putting the Accord near the top of the pack in acceleration.

The Touring model Honda lent me featured all of Honda’s latest safety gadgets from the Lane Watch system that displays your right-side blind spot on the car’s 8-inch LCD. I honestly found Lane Watch to be a little gimmicky, even after having experienced it several times before. In a car with limited visibility it might be more useful, but the Accord’s large greenhouse and low beltline give it the best visibility in the segment. Touring trim also gets you a full speed-range radar adaptive cruise control with pre-collision warning. Honda’s radar cruise control isn’t the worst on the market but neither is it the best. The system brakes sharply, reacts slowly to traffic speeding up ahead of you and when you set a speed the car dips 5-6 MPH before accelerating back up to the speed you were driving when you hit the button.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-008

With all the numbers tallied the Accord Hybrid is an easy winner. It is more expensive than the competition but that delta shrinks when you account for feature content. The delta becomes immaterial however when you look at our average fuel economy numbers of 47.8 MPG in the Accord and 30 to mid-30s in all of the competition (including that 47 MPG Fusion.) Honda’s hybrid has the best road manners in the pack, the most composed ride, a comfy back seat and a quiet cabin. On my tally list, the Accord’s driving dynamics, fuel economy, performance and comfort more than outweigh my complaints about the cruise control and dual-screen infotainment system.

Being on the down-low, my former last word on the Accord was “The Accord may not be the best looking hybrid on sale, (for me that’s still the Ford Fusion) but the Accord’s simple lines and unexpectedly high fuel economy make the Honda a solid option. Being the gadget hound I am, I think I would still buy the Fusion, but only in the more expensive Titanium trim. If you’re not looking that high up the food chain, the Accord Hybrid is quite simply the best fuel sipping mid-size anything. Prius included.” But now I’ve decided it’s time to come clean. I’d take the Hybrid Accord period. No exceptions, no hair splitting.

 

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

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.0 Seconds

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69 db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 47.8 MPG over 835 miles.

 

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Drivetrain 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Drivetrain-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-004 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-008 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-009 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-010 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-011 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-012 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-013 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Infotainment-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Instrument Cluster 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Instrument Cluster-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-004 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-008 ]]>
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Chicago 2014: Kia Soul EV Debuts http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chicago-2014-kia-soul-ev-debuts/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chicago-2014-kia-soul-ev-debuts/#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2014 16:10:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=735049 kia-soul-ev

 

While sister brand Hyundai has yet to offer an EV, Kia will step up to the plate and offer an electric version of the Soul, with a range between 80-100 miles via a 27 kWh battery pack. The Soul EV puts out 109 hp and  210 lb-ft of torque, relatively tame figures for an EV. Level 1 and Level 2 fast charging is supported, with provisions for DC fast charging and even conventional outlet charging, which can take as much as 24 hours. On the other hand, charging via a 50 kWh charger can provide 80 percent juice in as little as half an hour. Notably, the battery pack lies flat, so you only have to give up 5 cubic feet of cargo room and a 3.1 inches of leg room to attain a zero-emissions Soul.

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-chevrolet-spark-ev-with-video/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 14:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=705962 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior

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

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

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

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

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006

Exterior

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

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

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005

Interior

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

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

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

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001

Infotainment

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

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

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

Drivetrain

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

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

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port

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

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

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels

Drive

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

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

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

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

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010

Pricing

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

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

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.72 Seconds

0-60: 7.08 Seconds

 1/4 Mile: 15.78 Seconds @ 86 MPH

Average observed economy: 4.3 miles/kWh

Sound level at 50 MPH: 70dB

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Charging Port 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Drivetrain-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-009 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Exterior-010 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-002 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-003 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-004 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-005 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-006 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-007 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Interior-008 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV LCD Gauge Cluster 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV MyLink-001 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Wheels ]]>
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Nissan To Offer e-NV200 In Europe in 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/nissan-to-offer-e-nv200-in-europe-in-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/nissan-to-offer-e-nv200-in-europe-in-2014/#comments Wed, 30 Oct 2013 14:31:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=638161 Nissan e-NV200. Photo courtesy Nissan.The all-electric future creeps upon us all steadily, from Tesla’s luxury offerings more appropriate for New York Fashion Week, to Nissan’s electric blue and white jelly beans moving eco-conscious families to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

Speaking of Nissan, the automaker has decided to unleash the e-Nv200 upon the streets of Europe in 2014, with both fleet and private sales in mind.

The reason is, of course, due to regulations. According to Automotive News Europe, vans made and sold in 2020 for fleets must release no more than 147 grams per kilometer of CO2. Current regs allow for 203 grams of the greenhouse gas per kilometer traveled. Some European cities, such as Barcelona, have or will have stricter limits on how much nitrogen oxides and particulates a vehicle can produce – no surprise then that Nissan and the municipal government are working hand in hand to promote EVs.

The e-NV200 will be screwed together in Barcelona alongside its gasoline-fueled sibling, and will share its powertrain with that of the Leaf; batteries sold separately in England.

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Elon Musk Buys 007 Submarine, Will Attempt To Make It Functional http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/elon-musk-buys-007-submarine-will-attempt-to-make-it-functional/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/elon-musk-buys-007-submarine-will-attempt-to-make-it-functional/#comments Fri, 18 Oct 2013 13:42:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=626753 800px-TSWLM-LotusEsprit

Elon Musk, the real-life Tony Stark of our times, has quite the extensive résumé: Founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors; billionaire investor of projects and businesses such as SolarCity and the preservation of Nikola Tesla’s lab; inventor of the Hyperloop rapid mass transit concept; 007 cosplayer…

Yes, you read that right: Musk is a huge fan of the man who loves his martinis shaken and his women to have double entendre naming schemes. So much so, in fact, that he now has one of Bond’s most awesome vehicles ever conceived.

In a double exclusive with our friends over at Jalopnik, the secret buyer of the Lotus Esprit Mk I-cum-submarine from the 1977 Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” was Musk himself, who paid nearly $900,000 for the privilege of owning one of the most famous vehicles in the history of film, beating out another bidder in a duel worthy of a Bond film (or so we would hope). The star car — or, rather, the star submarine — was originally lost in storage limbo, then discovered, spruced up, and put up for auction by Canadian auction house RM Auctions in early September of this year.

Alas, Musk was a bit disappointed that all the Esprit did was look pretty and float, but since this is Musk we’re talking about (via Tesla’s PR department)…

It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond in “The Spy Who Loved Me” drive his Lotus Esprit off a pier, press a button and have it transform into a submarine underwater. I was disappointed to learn that it can’t actually transform. What I’m going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real.

If his SpaceX can successfully dock with the International Space Station, and his Tesla can make EVs cool (the first was based off the Lotus Elise, no less), then Musk can make this impossible dream possible. We look forward to seeing his car arrive at San Diego Comic Con 2014 via Pacific Beach in all of its glory.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Still Not Ready For The Rental Counter: EV Rentals Fail To Thrive http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/still-not-ready-for-the-rental-counter-ev-rentals-fail-to-thrive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/still-not-ready-for-the-rental-counter-ev-rentals-fail-to-thrive/#comments Tue, 15 Oct 2013 19:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=624593 Tesla_Supercharging_in_Gilroy

Tis better to own a Leaf or an S than to rent one, it seems. According to Enterprise Holdings Inc., known for driving around in cars wrapped in branded brown paper for some reason, customers who rent electric-only vehicles from their lot soon return their sustainable rides for a one with a sustainable range based on the number of (gasoline and diesel) fuel stops along the way.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Enterprise Head of Sustainability Lee Broughton note that while customers were “keen” to give electric power a go, range anxiety led many a renter to return the car for one where they know the infrastructure is there to meet. On average, a renter will spend almost two days with an electric-only car versus a week with a conventional road warrior. Currently, the St. Louis-based rental car business has 300 electric cars in their overall fleet, all Nissan Leafs. The figure is down 40 percent from the target of 500 of the cars set by Enterprise back in 2010.

Despite the overall lack of demand in this emerging rental market due to lack of infrastructure and larger-capacity batteries for extended range, competitor Hertz added the Tesla S to its Dream Cars lineup in September for their customer base in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The daily rate to feel like Elon Musk is $500; Enterprise offers the S in their Exotic Car Collection for $300 to $500 in the same locations, with three currently in the lineup available. The Leaf offered by Enterprise goes for $55 to $140 a day depending on location.

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First Drive Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 10:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=612689 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007

As of October, the most fuel-efficient mid-sized sedan in America is the Honda Accord. Or so Honda says. After all, Ford has been trumpeting a matching 47 MPG combined from their Fusion. Who is right? And more importantly, can the Accord get Honda back into the hybrid game after having lost the initial hybrid battles with their maligned Integrated Motor Assist system? Honda invited us to sample the 2014 Accord Hybrid as well as a smorgasbord of competitive products to find out.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

I have always been a fan of “elegant and restrained” styling which explains my love for the first generation Lexus LS. That describes the 2014 Accord to a tee. Like the regular Accord, the hybrid is devoid of sharp creases, dramatic swooshes, edgy grilles or anything controversial. This is a slightly different take than the Accord Plug-in which swaps the standard Accord bumper for a bumper with a slightly awkward gaping maw. In fact, the only thing to show that something green this way comes are some  blue grille inserts and  LED headlamps on the top-level Touring model.

This means the Accord and the Mercedes E-Class are about the only sedans left that sport a low beltline and large greenhouse. Opinions on this style decision range from boring to practical and I fall on the latter. I think the Ford Fusion is more attractive but the Hyundai Sonata’s dramatic style hasn’t aged as well as its Kia cousin’s more angular duds. The Camry failed to move my soul when it was new and it hasn’t changed much over the years. This places the Accord tying with the Optima for second place.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Despite sporting an all-new interior in 2013, you’d be hard pressed to identify what changed over the last generation Accord unless you owned one. Instead of radical design buyers will find incremental improvements and high quality plastics. The dash is still dominated by a double-bump style dashboard with the second binnacle housing a standard 8-inch infotainment display. With manufacturers moving toward slimmer dash designs the Accord’s remains tall and large. For hybrid duty Honda swiped the Plug-in’s tweaked instrument cluster with a large analogue speedometer, no tachometer, LED gauges for battery, fuel and a power meter. Everything else is displayed via a full-color circular LCD set inside the speedometer.

Front seat comfort is excellent in the accord with thickly padded ergonomically designed front seats. There isn’t much bolstering (as you would expect from a family hauler) so larger drivers and passengers shouldn’t have a problem finding a comfortable seating position. The product planners wisely fitted adjustable lumbar support and a 10-way power seats to all trims.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Speaking of trim levels, in most ways (with the exception of that driver’s seat), the Accord EX serves as the “feature content” base for the hybrid. This means you’ll find dual-zone climate control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, standard Bluetooth, a backup camera, keyless entry/go and active noise cancellation.

Thanks to a wheelbase stretch in 2013, the Accord hybrid sports 1.3 inches more legroom than the last Accord and is finally class competitive with essentially the same amount of room as the Fusion and Camry and a few inches more than the Koreans. The Accord’s upright profile means getting in and out of those rear seats is easier than the low-roofline competition and it also allows the seating position to be more upright. Honda’s sales pitch about the low beltline is that it improves visibility for kids riding in the back, I’m inclined to believe them. As with most hybrids, there’s a trunk penalty to be paid but thanks to energy dense Lithium-ion cells the Accord only drops 3 cubic feet to 12.7 and I had no problem jamming six 24-inch roller bags in the trunk.  Honda nixed the folding rear seats, a feature that the competition has managed to preserve.

2014_Accord_Hybrid_Touring_043, Picture Courtesy of Honda

Infotainment, Gadgets and Pricing

Base Accords use physical buttons to control the standard 8-inch infotainment system and sport 6 speakers with 160 watts behind them.  Honda wouldn’t comment on the expected model split of the Accord, but I suspect that most shoppers will opt for the mid-level EX-L which adds a subwoofer, 360 watt amp, and adds a touchscreen for audio system controls. The dual-screen design struck me as half-baked when I first sampled it in the regular 2013 Accord and although I have warmed up to it a bit, I think it could still use a few minutes in the oven if you opt for the navigation equipped Touring model.

Honda’s concept was to move all the audio functions to the touchscreen thereby freeing the upper screen for some other use like the trip computer or navigation screen. The trouble is the lower screen simply selects sources and provides track forward/backward buttons meaning you still have to use the upper screen to change playlists or search for tracks. That minor complaint aside, the system is very intuitive and responsive. Honda’s improved iDevice and USB integration is standard fare on all models and easily ties with the best in this segment.

2014_Accord_Hybrid_EX-L_ Picture Courtesy of Honda

Starting at $29,155, the base Accord Hybrid is the most expensive mid-sized hybrid sedan by a decent margin especially when you look at the $25,650 starting price on the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. However, the Accord Hybrid delivers a high level of standard equipment including standard Pandora smartphone app integration and Honda’s Lane Watch system. Lane watch still strikes me as a little gimmicky since the Accord has such small blind spots and the best outward visibility in the segment already. Instead of stand alone options Honda offers just three trim levels. The next step is the $31,905 EX-L model which adds leather seats, a leather steering wheel, upgraded audio system with two LCD screens, memory driver’s seat, power passenger seat, moonroof, a camera based collision warning system and lane departure warning. While the base model is a little more expensive than cross-shops, the EX-L becomes a decent value compared to comparably equipped competitive hybrids.

Working your way up to the top-of-the-line $34,905 Touring model the Accord is no longer the most expensive in the class, that award goes to the $37,200 loaded fusion. At this price the Accord is less of a bargain compared to the competition, although you do get full LED headlamps and an adaptive cruise control system. In comparison the Camry spans from $26,140 to $32,015, the Sonata from $25,650 to $32,395, Optima from  $25,900 to $31,950 and the Fusion from $27,200 to $37,200. How about the Prius? Glad you asked. The Prius that is most comparable to the base Accord Hybrid is $26,970 and comparably equipped to the Accord Touring is $35,135.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Being the drivetrain geek that I am, what’s under the hood of the Accord hybrid is more exciting than the Corvette Stingray. Seriously. Why? Because this car doesn’t have a transmission in the traditional sense. Say what? Let’s start at the beginning. The last time Honda tried selling an Accord hybrid, they jammed a 16 HP motor between a V6 and a 5-speed automatic. The result was 25MPG combined. The 2014 hybrid system shares absolutely nothing with the old system. No parts. No design themes. Nothing.

Things start out with the same 2.0L four-cylinder engine used in the Accord plug-in. The small engine is 10% more efficient than Honda’s “normal” 2.0L engine thanks to a modified Atkinson cycle, an electric water pump, cooled exhaust gas return system, and electric valve timing with a variable cam profile. The engine produces 141 horsepower on its own at 6,200 RPM and, thanks to the fancy valvetrain, 122 lb-ft from 3,500-6,000 RPM.

The engine is connected directly to a motor/generator that is capable of generating approximately 141 horsepower. (Honda won’t release details on certain drivetrain internals so that’s an educated guess.) Next we have a 166 horsepower, 226 lb-ft motor that is connected to the front wheels via a fixed gear ratio. Under 44 miles per hour, this is all you need to know about the system. The 166 horsepower motor powers the car alone, drawing power from either a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, or the first motor/generator. Over 44 miles per hour, the system chooses one of two modes depending on what is most efficient at the time. The system can engage a clutch pack to directly connect the two motor/generator units together allowing engine power to flow directly to the wheels via that fixed gear ratio. (Check out the diagram below.)

Front Wheel Drive Biased

Pay careful attention to that. I said fixed gear ratio. When the Accord Hybrid engages the clutch to allow the engine to power the wheels directly (mechanically), power is flowing via a single fixed ratio gear set. The fixed gear improves efficiency at highway speeds, reduces weight vs a multi-speed unit and is the reason the system must use in serial hybrid mode below 44 mph. There is another side effect at play here as well: below 44 MPH, the system’s maximum power output is 166 horsepower. The 196 combined ponies don’t start prancing until that clutch engages.

So why does Honda call it an eCVT? Because that fits on a sales sheet bullet point and the full explanation doesn’t. Also, a serial hybrid can be thought of as a CVT because there is an infinite and non-linear relationship between the engine input and the motor output in the transaxle.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Let’s start off with the most important number first: fuel economy. With a 50/45/47 EPA score (City/Highway/Combined), the Accord essentially ties with the Fusion on paper and, although Honda deliberately avoided this comparison, is only 3MPG away from the Prius-shaped elephant in the room. In the real world however the Accord was more Prius than Fusion, averaging 45-46 mpg in our highway-heavy (and lead-footed) 120 mile route and easily scoring 60-65 mpg in city driving if you drive if like there’s an egg between your foot and the pedal of choice. Those numbers are shockingly close to the standard Prius in our tests (47-48 MPG average) and well ahead of the 40.5 MPG we averaged in the Fusion, 35.6 in the Hyundai/Kia cousins and 40.5 in the Camry. Why isn’t Honda dropping the Prius gauntlet? Your guess is as good as mine.

Due to the design of the hybrid system, I had expected there to be a noticeable engagement of the clutch pack, especially under hard acceleration when the system needs to couple the engine to the drive wheels to deliver all 196 combined ponies. Thankfully, system transitions are easily the smoothest in this segment besting Ford’s buttery smooth Fusion and night and day better than the Camry or Prius. Acceleration does take a slight toll because of the system design with 60 MPH arriving in 7.9 seconds, about a half second slower than the Fusion or Camry but half a second faster than the Optima or Sonata and several hours ahead of the Prius.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

At 69 measured decibels at 50 MPH, the Accord hybrid is one of the quietest mid-sized sedans I have tested scoring just below the Fusion’s hushed cabin. This is something of a revelation for the Accord which had traditionally scored among the loudest at speed. When driving in EV mode (possible at a wide variety of highway speeds) things dropped to 68 db at 50 MPH.

When the road starts winding, the Accord Hybrid handles surprisingly well. Why surprisingly? Well, the hybrid system bumps the curb weight by almost 300 lbs to 3,550 (vs the Accord EX) and swaps in low-rolling resistance tires for better fuel economy. However, unlike the Camry and Korean competition, the Accord uses wide 225 width tires. Considering the regular Accord models use 215s, this makes the Accord’s fuel economy numbers all the more impressive. The Fusion is 150 lbs heavier and rides on either 225 or 235 (Titanium only) width tires which also explains why the hybrid Fusion Titanium gets worse mileage than the base Hybrid SE model. I wouldn’t call the Accord Hybrid the equal of the gas-only Accord EX on the road, but the difference is smaller than you might think.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Helping the Accord out on the road are “amplitude reactive dampers” or “two mode shocks” as some people call them. These fancy struts have worked their way down from the Acura line and use two different valves inside the damper to improve low and high-speed damping performance. The difference is noticeable with the Hybrid having a more compliant ride, and thanks to thicker anti-roll bars the hybrid is more stable in corners. Still, for me, the Accord gives up a hair of performance feel to the Fusion hybrid out on the road. It’s just a hair less precise, not as fast to 60 and lacks the sharp turn-in and bite you get in the Fusion Titanium with its wider and lower profile tires. However, keep in mind that Fusion Titanium takes a 1-2MPG toll on average economy in our tests dropping the Fusion from 40.5 to 38-39 MPG.

The Accord may not be the best looking hybrid on sale, (for me that’s still the Ford Fusion) but the Accord’s simple lines and unexpectedly high fuel economy make the Honda a solid option. Being the gadget hound I am, I think I would still buy the Fusion, but only in the more expensive Titanium trim. If you’re not looking that high up the food chain, the Accord Hybrid is quite simply the best fuel sipping mid-size anything. Prius included.

 

Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and gas at a launch event.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2 Seconds

0-60: 7.9 Seconds

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69 db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 45.9 MPG over 129 miles.

 

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Trunk ]]>
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Saab 9-3 Back in Production http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/saab-9-3-back-in-production/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/saab-9-3-back-in-production/#comments Thu, 19 Sep 2013 11:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=523065 Saab re-starts production

After years of rumors and speculations of the will they/won’t they variety, a brand-new Saab 9-3 has – finally! – managed to roll down the assembly line! Don’t be fooled by the fact that this new Saab looks just like the 2009 models the company was building when it was spun off from GM’s bankruptcy, however. This car features all-new components designed by Saab engineers and manufactured in Trollhättan, Sweden.

Saab, now owned by the National Electric Vehicle Sweden company, promised its new cars would reach production in 18 months. That was in September of 2012, so they’re about 6 month ahead of schedule. That on-track message puts NEVS-owned Saab in a decidedly different league than faux car-makers like Detroit Electric and Elio Motors, who’ve spent more time justifying delays than they have building cars. Don’t take my word for that, though, check out the well-appointed assembly line and experienced Saab assembly workers in the photo gallery, below, and start getting excited.

Saab’s back, baby! All we need now is a new Saab 900 revival and we’ll really be in business!

 

saab saab_3 saab_2 New Saab 9-3

Sources | Photos: Saabs United, via WorldCarFans; Originally posted to Gas 2.

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Review: 2013 Chevrolet Volt (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-chevrolet-volt-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-chevrolet-volt-video/#comments Mon, 22 Jul 2013 13:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495593 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Chevrolet Volt may be the most maligned and least understood car on the market. After a week of strange questions and bipolar reactions to GM’s plug-in hybrid, I came to a conclusion. GM’s marketing of the Volt stinks. By calling the Volt an “Electric Vehicle (EV) with a range extender,” a huge segment of the population can’t get past “Electric” and immediately cross the Volt off their list. There is also [strangely] a segment of the population that says, “that’s great but I want a hybrid.”  Guess what? The Volt is a hybrid.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Aerodynamics dictate the shape of modern high-efficiency cars, and as a result, the Volt has a profile very similar to the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. Like the Japanese hybrids, the Volt is a liftback design which is more practical than your typical trunk lid for carrying large items from the home improvement store.

The Volt’s styling isn’t for everyone, but I find the overall style aggressive and attractive. There is a caveat. Since the shape is dictated by wind-tunnel testing (just like the Prius and Insight) the Volt reminds me of NASCAR cars. Why? Because they all have the same shape and teams paint / add decals to “brand” their car. The Volt/Prius/Insight reminds me of this tactic and parked next to one another in the dark you’d be hard pressed to differentiate them by silhouette.

For its first refresh since it launched as a 2011, GM decided to ditch the somewhat awkward black roof and black painted liftgate opting for a more harmonious body-matching hue. There are also subtle tweaks to the rear tail lamp modules this year.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Hybrids have long suffered cheaper looking and feeling interiors than their “normal” counterparts. That is true for the Prius, Insight and the Volt. The reason is two-fold. The first is obviously cost. Motors and batteries aren’t cheap and the Volt has 288 batteries jammed into a “T” shaped battery pack that runs the length of the car and across the back of the car behind the rear seats. With a nominal 16.5kWh capacity, this battery is about four times larger than the Prius Plug-In’s pack and nearly twice the size of Ford’s Energi. The second reason is weight. Hard plastics weigh less.

Hard plastics included, the Volt is a nicer place to spend your time than a Prius but Ford’s C-MAX takes top position in terms of interior parts feel. Style is subjective, but I would rank the Volt between the Prius’ funky interior design and the C-MAX’s mainstream interior. Part of this is because 2013 brings more sedate and mainstream choices to the Volt’s interior. Gone are the funky orange door panels with “circuit board” patterns replaced by a dark silver plastic panels on the black interior. New for 2013 is some brown love, a color combo that brings the Volt’s interior feel up a substantial notch without actually improving the quality of the plastics.

Front seat comfort slots between the Ford and Toyota alternatives up front, in the rear there is less headroom and legroom than in the Prius or C-MAX. There is also one less seat. The lack of a 5th seat seems to be a common reason given for choosing something else over the Volt, but the battery had to go somewhere so the Volt trades more cargo room with the seats in place vs the C-MAX Energi for that 5th seat. Pick your poison.

 

2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment & Gadgets

When it comes to infotainment and trendy gadgets, the Volt scores big. Sure the 7-inch LCD gauge cluster isn’t as snazzy as Land Rover’s 12-inch readout, but the Prius is stuck in a 1980s Chrysler LeBaron electrofluorescent-time-warp and one 7-inch readout trumps Ford’s twin-4.2″ display setup in my mind. That’s before I comment that the Volt’s gauges are where they belong, in front of the driver…

The Volt gets Chevy’s latest MyLink infotainment system with some slight tweaks for 2013. GM’s mid-market  entertainment operating system is one of my favorites. The graphics are slick, the display is easy to read and GM offers a touchscreen and a joystick/knob controller so you can use whatever comes naturally. Unlike MyFord Touch and Cadillac’s CUE, the Chevy is virtually crash-free and always responsive. 2013 brings improved voice commands for your USB/iDevice allowing you to command your tunes at the press of a button, and unlike Toyota’s similar system, MyLink doesn’t have a problem with large music libraries. If you opt for nav software, destination entry is quick and the map software uses high-resolution maps with satellite traffic info.

On the safety gadget front 2013 brings collision and blind spot warning systems from the Cadillac XTS. The system is camera based so you can’t get radar adaptive cruise control, a system that is offered on the Prius and the Fusion Energi but not on the C-Max Energi.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Before we dive into the Volt, it’s important to know how hybrid systems work. GM’s Belt-Alternator-Starter, Mercedes’ S400 Hybrid and Honda’s IMA hybrids are all systems where the engine is always connected and even if the car is capable of “EV” mode, the engine is spinning. Porsche, VW, Infiniti and others use a pancake motor and clutch setup to disconnect the engine from the motor and transmission allowing a “pure EV” mode. Honda’s new Accord has a 2-mode setup where the motor drives the wheels via a fixed ratio gearset, the engine drives a motor and above 45MPH a clutch engages, linking the engine and motor together at a ratio of roughly 1:1. Ford, Toyota and the Volt use a planetary gearset “power splitting” device. Yes, the Volt uses a hybrid system that although not identical, is thematically similar to Ford & Toyota’s hybrid system.

Say what? I thought GM said it was a serial hybrid? Yes, GM did at some point say that and I think that has caused more confusion than anything else about the Volt. The bankrupt Fisker Karma is only a serial hybrid. The engine drives a generator, the generator powers the battery and the motor to move the car forward. At no point can the engine provide any motive power to the wheels except via the electrical connection.

The Volt’s innovation is that it can operate like a Fisker Karma or like a Prius. It is therefore both a serial and a parallel hybrid. To do this, GM alters the power split device power flow VS the Ford/Toyota design. Then they add a clutch allowing the gasoline engine to be mechanically isolated from the wheels. And finally they add software with a whole new take on a hybrid system.

volt-tranmission, Courtesy of MotorTrend.com

The Volt has four distinct operating modes.

  1. Starting off from a stop, the Volt draws power from its 16.5kWh (10.8 usable) battery pack to power the 149HP main motor.
  2. At higher speeds, the car will connect the 72HP secondary motor/generator via the planetary gearset. This is not to increase power, but to reduce the main motor’s RPM therefore increasing efficiency. Maximum horsepower is still 149.

When the battery is low, or when “hold” or “mountain modes are engaged, the system switches to one of two hybrid modes.

  1. The system starts the 1.4L 84 HP gasoline engine and uses it to turn a 72HP motor/generator. The system feeds the power to the battery and primary motor. Maximum horsepower is still 149. When more than 72HP is being consumed, the balance is drawn from the battery.
  2. When more power is required, the system disengages the clutch pack and the system functions very much like a Ford/Toyota hybrid with the gasoline engine assisting in the propulsion both mechanically and electrically via the power split device. Maximum horsepower is still 149 BUT this mode alters the torque curve of the combined system and in this mode acceleration is slightly faster than in any other mode.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Why do I mention the four modes? Because you can easily encounter all four modes in a single trip. Which mode the Volt uses is determined by the car, it is not user-selectable. Starting off at home with a full battery, I was able to drive 32 miles in EV mode. That’s about 22 more than the Prius Plug-In and 18 more than the C-MAX Energi. How is that possible with a battery that is so much larger? Allow me to digress for a moment.

GM takes an interesting and very conservative approach to battery life. Rather than charging and discharging the battery nearly completely as Nissan and Tesla’s EVs do, the Volt will only use the “middle” 65% of the battery. This means that when the display says it is “full,” the battery is really only 85% charged. When it reads empty, the true state of charge is around 35%. Why? Because batteries degrade more rapidly when they are at high or low states of charge. By never operating the battery at these extremes and having an active thermal management system, I expect the Volt’s battery to have a longer life than other vehicles on the market with the same battery chemistry.

Back to those modes. We clocked 0-60 in 8.72 seconds when the Volt was operating as an EV (slightly faster than the C-MAX Energi and much faster than a Prius). In parallel hybrid mode, the broader torque curve dropped this to 8.4 seconds. Transitions between modes is practically seamless unless you are driving the Volt aggressively on mountain roadways. On steep inclines when you’re at a lower state of charge, the Volt will switch from serial-hybrid to parallel-hybrid modes to keep from draining the battery below the minimum threshold. Transitioning from one mode to the other causes a momentary delay in power application as the transmission disengages the clutch pack and synchronizes the speeds of the motors and engine. This transition is more pronounced than a typical gear shift in a traditional automatic.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When it comes to road holding, the porky 3,899lb C-MAX Energi is the winner thanks to its wide 225-width rubber and the chassis’ Euro origins. The Volt is a close second at 3,781lbs with the standard 215 low rolling resistance rubber. The Prius? A distant third despite being the lightest at 3,165lbs. Admittedly handling better than a Prius isn’t a terribly high bar to leap, but in the grand scheme of things the Volt handles as well as the average compact sedan. Overall wind and road noise slot (yet again) between the quieter C-MAX and the noisier Prius.

Fuel economy is the most important part of a hybrid, and this is the area where the Volt starts having problems. Starting with a full battery (at my rates, this cost $1.52) the first 32 miles were in EV mode followed by 26 miles in hybrid mode. My average economy was 90 MPG, a few better than the Prius plug-in’s 72 on the same trip and 60 for the Ford. Being unable to charge the Volt at my office due to construction, these numbers fell rapidly on my way home. On this single-charge round trip, the Prius averaged 62 MPG, the C-MAX averaged 50 and the Volt dropped to 46. What’s going on? Once under way the Volt’s four-mode hybrid system seems to be less efficient than the C-MAX. The exact reasons for this I’m not sure, but on a round-trip commute without charging, I averaged 32-33 MPG vs the 40.7 in the C-MAX Energi and 52 in the Prius Plug-In. The longer you drive your Volt without charging it, the more it will cost to run than the Ford or Toyota.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Charging Port

On the flip side if your commute is within 30-35 miles of a charging station you will almost never use the gasoline engine. (The Volt will run it now and then to make sure the gasoline doesn’t go bad in the plumbing.) Unlike the alternatives, the Volt will also stay pure electric even under full throttle acceleration giving you a driving experience that is very much like a LEAF/Tesla until you deplete the battery.

This brings us full circle to the EV vs hybrid question. What is the Volt? In my opinion it’s a plug-in hybrid. I also think this is the best marketing angle for GM because when you explain to people that there is no range anxiety in the Volt and you can use the HOV lane in California solo, they seem to “get it.” The fly in the ointment is the price, The Volt starts at $39,145 and ends just shy of 45-large. The “that’s too much to pay for an electric Cruze” is a hard rep to shake, and even GM throwing cash on the Volt’s hood isn’t helping. Factor in the $8,000 premium over the C-MAX Energi and Prius Plug-In and you start to see the rest of the problem. At the end of my week with Chevy’s car with a plug I came to the conclusion that the Volt is the most misunderstood car on the market right now. But with a high sticker price and only four seats I’m not entirely sure that understanding GM’s conflicted EV/Hybrid will help them sell.

 

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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.285 Seconds (EV Mode)

0-60: 8.72 Seconds (EV Mode), 8.4 Seconds (hybrid mode)

1/4 Mile: 16.66 Seconds @ 84 MPH (EV Mode)

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 48MPG over 565 miles, 32-33MPG hybrid mode

 

2013 Chevrolet Volt Charging Port 2013 Chevrolet Volt Drivetrain 2013 Chevrolet Volt Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-001 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-002 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-003 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-004 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-005 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-007 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-008 2013 Chevrolet Volt Exterior-009 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-001 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-002 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-003 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-005 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior-006 2013 Chevrolet Volt Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes ]]>
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Ghosn Sees No European Turn-Around Anytime Soon, Or Later http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/ghosn-sees-no-european-turn-around-anytime-soon-or-later/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/ghosn-sees-no-european-turn-around-anytime-soon-or-later/#comments Sun, 07 Jul 2013 11:03:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=494447 IMG_3274

Nissan and Renault co-CEO Carlos Ghosn still sees a future in the electric car, it’s the European market that doesn’t have great prospects of a turn-around as far as Ghosn is concerned.

Ghosn does “not expect any strong recovery in the troubled European auto sector in the medium term,” Reuters reports from France. “I am preparing Renault to several years of market stability, at best,” Ghosn said. That’s stability at low levels not seen for 20 years, mind you.

While some cling to hopes for a quick turn-around (hello, Opel), Ghosn repeatedly warned of a “structural decline” of the European car market.  Simple population studies show that there will be fewer and fewer new car buyers in Europe for many decades, with no relief in sight.

Ghosn’s faith in electric car sales however remains unbroken. Between the two of them, Renault and Nissan will have sold a total of 100,000 electric vehicles so far by the end of June, Ghosn told Reuters. Ghosn said the alliance’s investment in hybrid and electric vehicles “is not a bet, it is a certainty.” Other than Europe, EV sales can only go up.

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Tesla Dodges A Legislative Bullet http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/tesla-dodges-a-legislative-bullet/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/tesla-dodges-a-legislative-bullet/#comments Mon, 24 Jun 2013 12:30:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=493103 450x307xTesla-Japan-Picture-courtesy-cleveland.com_-450x307.jpg.pagespeed.ic.XfzUsQfxqK

A proposed law that would have eliminated Tesla’s ability to sell cars in New York state has died on the vine, after lawmakers adjourned their legislative session without taking any action on the bill.

The bills, introduced in both the lower house and state Senate, would make it illegal for an auto maker to operate a dealership in the state, and any current licenses would be ineligible for renewal, save for those issues prior to July 1, 2006, which would be grandfathered in. Tesla has faced various legislative battles in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Massachusetts, and Minnesota and has so far succeeded only in Minnesota.

Tesla would have had to close their three stores and two service centers in New York if the bill passed. Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican who sponsored the bill in the upper house, reportedly proposed a separate measure to make an exception for Tesla, echoing a “compromise” from Mark Scheinberg, the head of the Greater New York Auto Dealers Association. Scheinberg told Automotive News that he had offered to extend the grandfathering date, but Tesla refused. Even so, he denied trying to put them out of business, since, after all, Tesla could still establish a franchised dealer network.

According to AN, Tesla denied ever receiving the compromise – and even if they had, they would have rejected it.

 

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Review: 2013 Fiat 500e Electric (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/review-2013-fiat-500e-electric-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/review-2013-fiat-500e-electric-video/#comments Sat, 22 Jun 2013 16:45:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=491871 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Despite being an incredibly small part of the US market share, you don’t have to look far in California’s urban areas to find a car with a plug. The reason for that is California’s controversial EV mandate. California wants 1.4 million EVs and plug-in hybrids on the road by 2025. Up till recently, California’s regulations seemed like a pie-in-the-sky dream with a far-away deadline. That changed last year when CARB (California Air Resources Board) mandated (in a nutshell) a combined 7,500 zero-emission vehicles be sold between 2012 and 2014 by the large auto makers in the state. (Credits and trades are not included in that number.) Come 2018, smaller companies like Volvo, Subaru and Jaguar will have to embrace plug-love and at the same time, most of the silly green credits go out the window. By 2025, if my home state has its way, 15% of new cars will be an EV. In California. This brings us to the little orange 500 Fiat lent us for a week. Because everyone is getting into the EV game, this will be our first EV review where we make no mention of living with an EV, range anxiety or charging station availability. If you want to know about that, click over to our 7-part saga “Living with an EV for a week.”

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

Fiat’s pint-sized car started its life as a Fiat Panda, a popular European car that is constantly bashed on Top Gear. (The Panda isn’t a bad little car, but it looks like something the soviet government would have cooked up.) The 500 however is modern Italian chic from bumper to bumper. While the Nuova 500 (as the Italians call it to distinguish it from the original) isn’t as handsome as the original “new” Mini, it is a plucky little car that makes people smile and point as you drive by. It could have been the $500 optional bright orange paint, but the 500e received more points and waves from passers by than a BMW M6 drop-top or a $120,000 Jaguar.

How small is a 500? We’re talking 139 inches long and 64 inches wide. That’s 7.0 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower than the Mini and a whopping three feet shorter than a Civic and 5 inches narrower than the compact Honda.

For EV duty, Fiat stuck with the 500′s winning formula. The EV gets a tweaked front and rear bumper for improved aerodynamics, wheels that have very little open space to reduce drag and a spoiler designed to do the same. Together the aero improvement reduce drag by 13% over a gasoline Italian. Fiat dropped the charging connector behind the fuel filler door and kept EV badging to an absolute minimum. The 500e’s discrete personality (you know, aside from the orange paint) didn’t go unnoticed by me or by my weekly troupe of lunch guests. Oddly enough when I first drove a 500 gasoline version two years ago everyone I met asked me if it was Electric. Now that there is a 500 electric, nobody thought about asking if it was an EV.

2013 Fiat 500e Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

EV variants of “normal” cars suffer from the same problem as high-performance variants: the common parts bin. The 500′s plastics and trim parts are entirely appropriate in a $16,000 500 Pop edition but a gasoline vehicle starting at $31,800 would normally be expected to have nicer bits. But this isn’t a gasoline car so we should talk actual competition before we go much further.

The gas 500 finds itself head-to-head with the likes of the Mni Copper, Scion iQ and Smart, the $31,800 500e swims in a larger and more varied pond. We have the $28,800 Leaf, $29,135 i-MiEV, $39,200 Focus Electric, $26,685 Spark EV, as well as the lease-only Fit EV, the expensive crossover RAV4 EV, the crop of “almost EV” plug in hybrids and, yes, even the Model S. (The Mini E is not available for sale yet and Think! went belly-up.)

With the competition now in mind we can assess the interior more honestly. As a dedicated EV, the Leaf was built to a weight so plastics are hard and thin. Ditto the Volt and i-MiEV. The C-MAX and RAV 4, being based off slightly more expensive gasoline vehicles have more luxurious interior plastics. Meanwhile the 500 has plenty of hard plastics but Fiat cast them in stylish shapes that are sure to lure PT Cruiser, HHR and Mini buyers. The only real change to the 500′s interior was the installation of shift buttons where the traditional shifter used to live. I think the change was fine but I wish Fiat had gone further and just removed that portion of the dash so you’d have more knee-room.

EV efficiency is driven as much by environmental concerns as the reality that range is limited and charging times are long. Weight the enemy of efficiency so you won’t find heavy items like cushy seats, adjustable lumbar support or power adjusting mechanisms. The 500e’s thrones aren’t uncomfortable, but they lack the range of adjustibility you find in an average mid-sized sedan. Thanks t0 the 500′s upright profile, the rear seats are surprisingly easy to get into and provide enough headroom for a pair of 6-foot tall adults. On the down side, the battery pack intrudes making the footwells four-inches shallower than the regular 500. (Check out the video for more.) The EV conversion doesn’t really shrink the cargo area as much as it converts it. The 500e has a flip-up cargo floor that reveals a can of fix-a-flat and the 120V “emergency” charging cable which suck up about six-inches of cargo load floor.
2013 Fiat 500e LCD Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

 

Infotainment & Gadgets

The 500 may seem fresh to Americans since it’s only been sold here for three years. Unfortunately for gadget lovers, the 500 is really a 6 year old car launched in 2007. That means that the gadgets on offer were already ageing when “our” 500 hit dealers in 2010.  That means you won’t find any snazzy touchscreen LCDs, self parking doodads or Ford SYNC aping voice commands. To correct this deficiency, 500es sold in the USA come standard with Fiat’s customized Tom-Tom nav system that “docks” into a dedicated hole in the dashboard. For some reason our Canadian brothers and sisters (who are able to buy the 500e) don’t get standard nav-love but Fiat will sell you one for some extra loonies.

Helping counter the 500e’s price tag, Fiat throws in the up-level Alpine sound system from the gasoline model with Bluetooth speaker phone integration and a USB/iPod interface. EV buyers also get a snazzy 7-inch LCD gauge cluster. The disco-dash offers slick graphics but limited customization in this generation. Instead of reworking the car’s controls for the 500e, the LCD is still controlled via the complicated combination of steering wheel buttons, a button on the wiper stalk and three buttons on the dash. Confused? Check out the video to see what they all do.

2013 Fiat 500e Electric Motor, Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain & Drive

In place of the gasoline engine sits a 111HP/147lb-ft three-phase AC synchronous motor. That’s a 9HP and 49lb-ft improvement over the 1.4L four-cylinder gasoline engine. Power is stored in a 624lb, 24kWh battery pack that’s liquid cooled and heated that is located mostly under the 500′s Italian body. Power gets to the front wheels via a single speed transaxle. Transaxle is perhaps not the best word to use here since the 500e doesn’t have a transmission in the traditional sense; its more of a reduction gear and differential combination. No reverse gear is needed because the motor can spin backwards just as easily as it can forwards.

Charging is handled by an on-board 6.6kW charger which will take the pack from zero to 100% in just under four hours if you have access to a 240V level 2 charger. 120V charging will take 22 hours, a notable improvement over some EVs thanks to the small size of the 500′s battery. Range clocks in at 80-100 miles depending on how you drive and my range numbers landed in the middle at 90. Thanks to an efficient drivetrain and the 6.6kW charger, the 500e can “opportunity” charge while you’re shopping gobbling up 20-25 miles of range for every hour of 240V public charging. Due to the ongoing DC-charging standard war, Fiat decided to skip on the feature leaving 500e owners to gaze longingly at the possibility of gaining 4 miles of range a minute.

The 111HP motor changes the way the 500 drives dramatically. Motors deliver all their torque from nearly zero RPM to moderate speeds. As a result the 500e has far more “oomph” from a stop than the regular gasoline model that needs to rev to bring the power to a boil. This means the EV version has more torque steer and more one-wheel-peel, but it also runs out of breath over 65 MPH in a way the gas model doesn’t. If you mash your foot to the floor you’ll clock 30 MPH in a very respectable 2.69 seconds, 60 MPH in a four-cylinder Accord 7.87 seconds and a slow 79.7 MPH quarter mile after 16.37 seconds. Keep your boot in it and 88 MPH will happen eventually, at which point the Bosch battery management system will kick in with German efficiency reducing power to keep you from toasting your Samsung cells. Those performance numbers slot the 500e right between the $16,000 500 Pop and the $19,500 500 Turbo which makes sense given the linear power delivery EVs are known for.

2013 Fiat 500e LCD Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The 500e may have more around-town scoot than its gasoline brother, but an overall weight gain of 600lbs vs the dino model and low rolling resistance rubber define the 500′s handling. While its true the battery pack causes the 500e to have a better weight balance than the gasoline 500, it just means you’re going to head into the bushes door-first rather than nose-first. Still, 2,980lbs is a fairly light electric car and that is obvious when you drive the 500e back-to-back with a Leaf or Fit EV. Electrification hasn’t destroyed the 500′s dynamics, but it has dulled them.

Despite the changes, the 500e is still an excellent runabout with a tight turning radius, decent visibility and (thanks to is small size) it’s a breeze to park. The same can be said of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, but it’s dreadfully ugly and the 500′s pug nose has a cute factor that can’t be denied. The 500e is also running Bosch’s latest regenerative braking software which handles the friction brake/regen brake transition the smoothest of any car I have driven to date, an important feature in a city-EV. Fiat has one selling point we haven’t covered, the ” Pass program” which gives owners “free” access to 12 days of rental car access per year for three years via Enterprise, National or Alamo. The logic is to quell range anxiety with almost a fortnight in a gasoline car for your yearly road trip. Speaking of leases, I’m not sure how many people would pay $31,800 for 500 that ran on electrons, but Fiat’s $999 down, $199 a month (plus a heap of taxes and fees) is fairly attractive. Nissan is also offering a $199 a month lease on the Leaf, but it required another grand down. Based on the little car’s operating costs, the 500e would make an ideal commuter, especially if your employer foots your charging bill (a growing number in California do.) Just keep in mind that you can’t claim that $7,500 tax credit that is heavily advertised by EV makers if you lease, and Fiat only sells the 500e in California. Bummer dude.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Most fun to drive EV this side of a Model S.
  • Good looks can’t be overlooked.
  • 36 days in a rental car sounds like a reasonable perk.

Quit it

  • Fiat’s infotainment options are old school and awkward interfaces abound.
  • No DC quick-charging ability leaves you wishing you had a Leaf sometimes.

Fiat provided the vehicle, insurance and 24kWh of electricity for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.69 Seconds

0-60: 7.87 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.37 Seconds at 79.9 MPH

Average Observed Economy:148 MPGe over 580 miles

 

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Video: Tesla’s Battery Swap In Action http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/video-teslas-battery-swap-in-action/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/video-teslas-battery-swap-in-action/#comments Fri, 21 Jun 2013 13:49:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492895

Those of you wondering exactly how Tesla’s battery swap technology works, here’s your answer. The fully automated system, said to be akin to a carwash, supposedly takes just 90 seconds. To prove the point, Tesla did a side-by-side comparison with an Audi A8 at a fuel pump. It should be noted that the A8 has an enormous 23.8 gallon tank. As Bertel points out, the battery swap system isn’t cheap – but for the folks who are buying a Model S anyways, it’s not a big deal.

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