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. Mon, 14 Apr 2014 16:57:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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 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.

 

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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

 

2013 Fiat 500e Cargo Area 2013 Fiat 500e Cargo Area-001 2013 Fiat 500e Electric Motor 2013 Fiat 500e Electric Motor, Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-001 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-002 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-003 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-004 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-005 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-006 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-007 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-008 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-009 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-010 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-011 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-012 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-013 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-014 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-015 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-016 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-017 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-018 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-019 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-020 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Interior 2013 Fiat 500e Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-002 2013 Fiat 500e Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-004 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-005 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-006 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-007 2013 Fiat 500e Interior-008 2013 Fiat 500e Radio 2013 Fiat 500e TomTom Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat 500e Wheels IMG_4666 2013 Fiat 500e LCD Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes IMG_4758 ]]>
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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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Tesla Is Into Swapping While Nissan Is Watching http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/tesla-is-into-swapping-while-nissan-is-watching/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/tesla-is-into-swapping-while-nissan-is-watching/#comments Fri, 21 Jun 2013 13:23:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492892

Now that Better Place went belly-up,  Tesla  joined the battery-swapping lifestyle.  As promised, Tesla unveiled a system to swap battery packs in its electric cars.  According to Reuters, Tesla “will roll out the battery-swapping stations later this year, beginning along the heavily-traveled route between Los Angeles and San Francisco and then in the Washington-to-Boston corridor.”

“There are some people, they take a lot of convincing,” Musk told the wire. “Hopefully this is what convinces people finally that electric cars are the future.”

The swapping transaction itself needs a little polish. Says Reuters: “A battery pack swap will cost between $60 and $80, about the same as filling up a 15-gallon gas tank, Musk said. Drivers who choose to swap must reclaim their original battery on their return trip or pay the difference in cost for the new pack.”

The technology garnered attention from an unlikely corner: That of Nissan, maker of the Leaf.  The swapporama was featured in today’s issue of “The Week in Autos,”  featuring the always elegant Coco Masters and the dapper Ian Rowley, both of Nissan’s global newsroom, and both familiar faces on TTAC.

Interestingly, their series does what other makers rarely do: Talk about the competition. They even talk nice about the other guys. Tesla is partially owned by Nissan’s rival Toyota, which makes the matter even more interesting.

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Reuters Sees EV Doldrums, Barrons Sees Tesla Hit A Brick Wall http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/reuters-sees-ev-doldrums-barrons-sees-tesla-hit-a-brick-wall/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/reuters-sees-ev-doldrums-barrons-sees-tesla-hit-a-brick-wall/#comments Thu, 13 Jun 2013 11:14:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=491971

If TTAC would headline “Doldrums in U.S. electric car sales could linger indefinitely,” we’d come under screeching attacks by electric propulsion proponents, screaming “bias,” “slow newsday,” and “faux news,” along with choice invectives that would overpower our bad word filter. Well, we are sorry to disturb the peace again, but before the screeching starts, be advised that it’s not our headline. The headline is from buttoned-down Reuters. The wire doubts EVs will become a serious factor anytime soon, despite rounds of aggressive pricing.

In May, we recommended to “prepare for a low intensity price war over electric vehicles.” By now, the war is in full swing, and it is fought with big artillery. Writes Reuters:

“With even more new EVs and hybrids on the way later this year, including the BMW i3 and the Cadillac ELR, manufacturers are stepping up discounts on their green cars.”

According to the wire, “General Motors Co is the latest company to offer aggressive pricing.” GM offers incentives of up to $5,000 on the Volt. The new Chevrolet Spark EV was announced at a bargain price of $27,495 before government incentives. Nissan lowered the entry price for its Made-in-the–USA Leaf from $35,200 to $28,800. Honda lowered the lease cost for its Fit EV from $389/month for 36 months with 12,000 miles/year to $259/month for 36 months with unlimited mileage, free service, and a free 240V charger thrown in.

There are curious stories about bargain basement leases and a shortage of cars.

Then, there are people like Beau Boeckmann, whose family owns Galpin Ford, Ford’s largest U.S. dealership with locations all over California and Arizona, supposedly a hotspot for EVs.

Galpin sold only “very, very few” of Ford’s plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, Boeckmann told Reuters. Only 2 percent of the vehicles Galpin sold last month were plug-ins. The national average is even lower: Only 0.56 percent of all cars sold in America in May could be plugged in, Hybridcars says.

To Reuters’ bafflement, “both the Leaf and the Volt have been outsold this year by the Tesla Model S, a battery-powered luxury sedan that is more than twice the price of the Leaf and nearly double that of the Volt. Sales of the Model S through May were 8,850, making it the best-selling plug-in car in the United States despite a starting price of $70,890.” An analyst interviewed by Reuters thinks it’s a short-term phenomenon, and that the cars are bought “by the same set that will buy a Ferrari.” There aren’t too many of those.

The same analyst doesn’t see EVs “getting too far beyond a couple of percentage points” of market share between now and 2020. The man is an optimist, considering the fact that hybrids have been at it for well over a decade, and had to contend with much lesser obstacles, only to hover at around 3 percent market share today.

Barron’s thinks (and I agree) that the big test for Tesla comes when it exits its cushy supercar niche to go mainstream, something it has to do to fulfill the projections of hundreds of thousands Teslas that fuel its $100 stock price. “The high price of the Model S lets it pack enough battery capacity to overcome the range limitations that stifle sales of cheaper electric cars,” writes Barrons. Volume however comes at a price low enough to compete with the bargain basement offerings of other makers. Volume is created by people like you and me, with limited funds, people who buy a car to use it, not to show it at Cars & Coffee.

Tesla and its stockholders will soon face price range anxiety. To get in the general vicinity of the real world car buying demographic, Tesla must make a “Grand Canyon leap to reach its goal of cutting its car’s $90,000-plus sticker price in half,” Barrons says.

“The challenge is battery cost,” the paper continues. Analysts hope battery prices will drop by half, and that consumers will accept a driving range below 140 miles. However, says Barrons, “the U.S. government and industry researchers say the cost performance of batteries is coming down slower than hoped. At GM, Director of Global Battery Systems Bill Wallace believes that battery-capacity costs can improve by about 20% in the next few years.”

A mass market maker can afford a few quota cars sold at a loss. If all you have is EVs, EVs sold at a loss will kill you.

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day Seven (EV death and resurrection) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-seven/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-seven/#comments Wed, 05 Jun 2013 22:05:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490939 2013 Fiat 500e Exterior-004

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

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

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

ev12.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

The Leaf battery pack

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

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

 Day 6

]]> http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-seven/feed/ 87 Living With an EV for a Week – Day Six (Don’t honk at me, I’m saving the planet) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-six-dont-honk-at-me-im-saving-the-planet/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-six-dont-honk-at-me-im-saving-the-planet/#comments Tue, 04 Jun 2013 22:07:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490709 Rainy forest, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 7

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day Five http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-five/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-five/#comments Mon, 03 Jun 2013 22:55:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490683 2013 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid, Exterior, Charging Plug, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 6

Day 7

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day Four (can we get a charging standard please?) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-four-can-we-get-a-charging-standard-please/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-four-can-we-get-a-charging-standard-please/#comments Sun, 02 Jun 2013 19:18:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490456 2014 Fiat 500e Under The Hood, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

If you’re just now reading this series, here’s what’s going on. Because reviews of electric vehicles (my own included) seem to be 1/4 review and 3/4 whining about EV related issues, I decided to divorce the review from the “EV experience” and post daily about driving a car with an 80-95 mile range. You can catch up by going to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 before coming back to the saga. Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. Day three ended with my battery at 15% because I drove the orange creamsicle Fiat we have named “Zippy Zappy” over 175 miles. I don’t have a 240V charging cable at home so the car told me it would be 24 hours until the car was charged at 120V. Good thing day four was a Saturday.I woke up and debated whether I should shirk my weekend chores and head to the beach. After all, I had discovered the beach was equipped with a 240V station. No dice, I looked up the station online and it was occupied, probably because charging is free in Capitola By The Sea. Looking at the ChargePoint station map it’s obvious to see how the landscape has changed in a year. The SF Bay Area now has 781 public charging stations on the ChargePoint network,  172 on the Blink network, 23 DC “Fast Charge” stations that deliver 90 kW (nearly 14x faster than the onboard charger in Zippy Zappy or the 2014 LEAF). Of course Fiat hasn’t signed onto the CHAdeMO bandwagon yet leaving the LEAF and iMiEV the only cars capable of sucking down electrons at such a speed. No, I haven’t forgotten about Tesla, we’ll talk about that later.

In addition to those stations there another 980 private 240V chargers in the Bay Area that are part of PlugShare, a deal where you let random EV people charge at your home using your juice. Last time I had a LEAF, I decided to use a PlugShare station, so I looked one up and followed the directions. I texted the guy who was sharing his station and he told me to just drive up and plug my car into his station in his driveway. I was so blown away by thig I interviewed him. He told me he thought of PlugShare as”EV random acts of kindness.” How sweet. Let me ask you all a question to put this in perspective. How many of you would sign up for “GasShare.com” a place where you keep a 5-gallon gasoline can in your driveway so you can share it with your fellow neighbors? Anyone? I suspect that as EVs become more popular and the charge rate increases fewer people will be willing to let strangers park in their driveway and suck down $10 worth of electricity.

2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, charging connector, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

About that Tesla. The charging standard situation  is like a VHS/Betamax battle with only one player on the Beta side: Tesla. I do understand the logic with the new charging connector, it is without a doubt superior into the J1772 that every other EV and plug-in hybrid uses. It is also better than the CHAdeMO DC charging plugs on Mitsubishi and Nissan EVs. Finally it’s way, way more attractive than that funky SAE combo connector the society is pushing.

How is Tesla’s cord better? First off the connector is smaller. I’m not convinced this is a big deal since every car has a fuel door and so far nobody has  told me they hated their fuel door because it was too big. But the electrical side of the connector? Tesla rocks. J1772 started out with a 30A max draw, later amended to 80A in 2009 (although I have yet to see an 80A capable station). If your car supports J1772 AC charging and CHAdeMO quick charging, you have the ginormous connector above shown above ( on the left of the J1772 connector). It’s HUGE. Now we really do have a size problem because  you can’t hide the two of them together behind a normal fuel door. Tesla went another way and (we can only guess at some of this because they haven’t shared their charging standard with anyone) and combined the AC and DC charging onto the same pins. (You can see the Tesla connector below.)Even though the Tesla connector is smaller it’s just as beefy with a Model S drawing 80A if you buy the 20kW charging option. That’s over 330% faster than a LEAF, Focus EV or Fiat 500e. The only problem being that your home needs to support that and my home has only a 100A service so I would have to choose between charging my car and using the oven. If that’s not fast enough you can stop by a Tesla “Supercharger” station and suck down power at 100kW (400 volts at 250 amps) 10kW faster than CHAdeMO.

The problem with this charging superiority is that it’s exclusive to Tesla. With the adapter that comes with every Tesla model S, you can use the 1,933 J1772 charging stations in the Bay Area, but you can’t share your home station with a LEAF driver. If you’re a multi EV family with a Model S and a 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV (powered by Tesla ironically), you will need to either use a J1772 station and deal with the slower charge in your Tesla or have two stations at home. (You know, aside from the fact that you’re going to be nearly maxing out your 200A service.) More vexing than that is DC quick charging your Tesla. Yes, I freely admit CHAdeMO is an enormous chunky plug, but there are already 23 CHAdeMO stations in the Bay, 28 in Tennessee, 18 in Portland, 6 in Seattle, 19 in Phoenix and several in Southern California. (Not to mention hundreds in Japan.) Right now there are only eight Tesla Supercharger stations in the USA growing to some 50+ stations by the end of the year. Great. But as of now you can’t charge your Tesla from the existing CHAdeMO stations and you can’t charge your CHAdeMO car from a Tesla station. If we cared about the EV landscape and wanted EVs to succeed, we need to use the same connector. How would it go down if Honda came up with a new Accord and used an all-new and all-sexy fuel filler neck that was incompatible with anything but a Honda gas station unless you used a funnel? A comparison to Apple is usually drawn here, but even Apple has always used industry standard NEMA power cords.

socket4, Image from blog.widodh.nl

This this is all about Tesla vs Nissan? Think again. There is so much indecision in the industry over what charging standard to support that most manufacturers do nothing, which is probably worse. That means you can’t fast charge your RAV4 EV, a car that really needs it, or your Focus, 500e, Fit EV, Mini e, A3, Active e, iQ EV, fortwo, Spark EV, or Transit Connect Electric. What do the car companies say? “We are waiting for a standard to emerge.” Funny, I’d call the hundreds of DC stations already installed in America a standard that has emerged.

After 15 hours of charging, the wee Fiat was ready for a trip to civilization as we had a party to attend. We pre-planned and carpooled with some friends so we could leave Zippy Zappy plugged into their garage outlet for a few hours. There was zero range anxiety this time with an 84% charge. The EV Fiat proved amusing to drive quickly on the winding mountain roads we traversed. EVs add a fair amount of weight to any conversion like this, but because the battery pack is positioned low in the vehicle, it improves the centre of gravity and weight balance when compared to the gasoline 500. Four hours of partying later, the 500e was a minor celebrity with all manner of people wanting to see it/sit in it/ride in it. Even though you see EVs driving around all over the place in N. CA, they still have a novelty factor that makes people interested. Saturday was a slow day with only 49 miles going on the Fiat and an estimated time to a full charge when we rolled in of 9 hours even at 120V.

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day Three (and why MPGe is stupid) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-three-and-why-mpge-is-stupid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-three-and-why-mpge-is-stupid/#comments Sat, 01 Jun 2013 21:00:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490098  

Fiat 500e LCD Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Day three dawned with a nearly full battery, the exact level seemed unimportant to me. Perhaps it’s the Range Anxiety patch I ordered online for three easy payments of $9.99, or my new-found confidence in tripping across EV stations. Either way I decided bold action was required. I set the climate control to 68 and headed up the hill.

How far would by battery get me today? That’s a good question. Since trip computers aren’t intelligent, they can’t make adjustments for terrain like we can. For instance, I know that the freeway without traffic that’s flat the whole way is the efficient route while the possibly shorter mountain road is going to consume more energy. There’s a problem with Zippy Zappy however, she doesn’t display “fuel economy” in terms of the fuel that’s actually being used, instead the silly display shows you how many Miles Per Gallon equivalent you’re getting. MPGe is stupid.

My apologies for calling the Fiat 500e the most efficient EV available, I was misinformed and I must fall on my sword. The Scion iQ EV is the most efficient EV with a combined rating of 121 MPGe. There’s that MPGe thing gain. Everyone say it with me: EVs don’t drink gasoline. What would be helpful to me as I’m driving down the road is how much energy it takes to move my car one mile, just like a normal car. What I want is mi/kWh. The LEAF and s few other EVs give you this information, but there is no standard and with the EPA heading off in the weeds with MPGe it’s only complicating things. If you bought electricity in MPGe it would be different, but we don’t.

C-MAX Energi

The reason MPGe exists must be to confuse everyone, and confuse it does. I have seen Chevy Volts advertised as 98 “MPG” (without the e), and when people look at the window stickers of EVs, they ask, “but I thought it was electric?” Starting with the 2012 model year cars needed to display a standard way of communicating efficiency to the customer. Because the EPA gets wrapped up in their own red tape easily, they decided that the American public was too stupid to think in terms of mi/kWh or kWh/100 miles. So what they did was they sat down and calculated how much energy burning one gallon of gasoline would produce. The answer was 116,090 BTU or 34.02 kWh per US gallon. Then for some reason the EPA picked 33.7 for the official exchange rate. That’s lovely, but again I ask: where exactly do I buy electricity in MPGes? Nowhere, that’s where.

We can take something away from this MPGe nonsense however, it is obvious how inefficient internal combustion engines are. If one gallon is equal to 34.02kWh, ZZ’s 24kWh battery pack “holds” around 7/10ths of a gallon of “gallon equivalent” and will transport you 80-95 miles. If something running on real gasoline was that efficient, that  20 gallon gas tank would get you from California to Florida on one tank.

With some range experience under my belt I decided to set the cruise control to 74, climate control set to 68 and zipped to work like I was driving any other car. The only thing to report is I got the same scornful looks from the LEAF drivers as I did in any gasoline car as I passed them in the pack of commuters eager to get to work on time. There’s just one thing, ZZ has a top speed of 88 MPH instead of the 130 you can do in the Abarth or the 120 in the regular $15,995 500 Pop. Despite having a stout 111 HP and 147 lb-ft of twist, the A/C motor under the hood of the little Fiat can only spin so fast. The same goes for gasoline engines of course, but they have multi-speed transmissions and torque converters, that all reduces efficiency. Instead the “single” speed transmission in most EVs is nothing more than a reduction gear and a differential. Need to go in reverse? Just spin the motor backwards. Since motors deliver excellent torque at near zero RPM, there’s no need for an efficiency robbing torque converter. There are compromises when picking that reduction gear ratio and the Fiat engineers favored efficiency, hence the 88 MPH max speed. The Tesla Model S uses a motor that can spin faster (it’s a more expensive car so it can have a more precision motor) and since it competes with the Germans in the luxury market, a 130MPH top speed was required. I’m not sure how fast that Tesla’s motor spins at 130 but it’s bound to be singing.

Charging Port, J1772, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When I arrived, my newly discovered charging station was once again available, so I plugged in and sucked up $7.84 worth of electrons (16 kWh) in two and a half hours. My battery was full before lunch time. For lunch I jammed three passengers in the wee Fiat, depleted my battery by 10% by engaging in EV shenanigans (instant torque makes for entertaining one-wheel-peel) and figured I’d top off the battery the slow way with the free 120V juice from the office. Except I forgot to actually plug the car in. My bad. I discovered my error when I went to unplug ZZ from her umbilical. Never mind, 90% is enough to return home and then some, so I cranked the A/C (it was 89 degrees) and took I-280 home as a happy medium between the flat and efficient US-101 with bad traffic and the traffic-free but decidedly inefficient Highway 35.

When I got home I had 33% of my battery left and I was informed that we were to go and visit my cousin-in-law. No problem, a quick numbers game in my head said that 33% plus a 20 minute stop at the 240V charger at the grocery store on the way (had to get some wine anyway) and mooching off their power with the 120V cord once we arrived would leave us with battery to spare. Unfortunately when we got to the store my “Plug Rage” reared its ugly head once more. I had 30% of my battery left (thanks to the 11 miles to the store being mostly down-hill) and there sucking off the only electric teat in the lot was a Ford C-Max Energi. I was incensed, she didn’t need the power as much as I needed it. Didn’t she know there was a gas station around the corner? Here she is sucking down the electrons I needed to get home when she could just burn some gasoline and we could all get home. We started the errand running and I kept a watchful eye on the ChargePoint app (it really needs a feature to notify you when a station becomes available now that 99% of stations on the map can no longer be reserved). My waiting was rewarded and I got a 25 minute charge. After a 3-hour dinner party and 3.1 kWh courtesy of my cuz, we made it back up the hill with the car flashing, beeping, whining and whimpering that it had 14% of its battery remaining. This made us ask: what happens when you run out? I wasn’t brave enough to find out.

Day three ended proving that thanks to ZZ’s 6.6kW charger you can put over 175 miles on your 500e in a day without too much stress. Charge at home, charge before lunch, charge after lunch, charge at the grocery store. By thinking of your EV as a 1990s cell phone where you were always hunting for a charge, you’ll be fine. Just ask me. Sadly we will have to wait 21 hours for day four to dawn because I don’t own a Level 2 charger.

 

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 4

Day 5

 Day 6

Day 7

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-two/#comments Fri, 31 May 2013 22:52:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490093 2014 Fiat 500e, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drive Route With Topo

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

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

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

 

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

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

Columb ChargePoint Station, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 1

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

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Living With an EV for a Week – Day One http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-one/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/living-with-an-ev-for-a-week-day-one/#comments Thu, 30 May 2013 22:55:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490088 2014 Fiat 500e, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

TTAC has borrowed EVs in the past. Nissan even let us snag a Leaf for a week. Since then, I’ve driven every EV on the market except the Model S. (Not for a lack of half-trying, I call Tesla HQ regularly, but am too lazy to visit a Tesla dealer.) Every time I’ve had an EV, the conversation is more about living with the EV than the car itself. This time we’re doing something different. When the review of the spunky little orange Fiat 500e (I’ve decided to name her “Zippy Zappy”) hits in a few weeks, it will be 100% about the car and 0% about EV trials and tribulations. That divorced conversation is happening this week in daily installments.

EV tech is evolving rapidly from every angle, which is why we’re taking a look at it in this way. When the Tesla Roadster came on the scene it was the first real EV you could buy in ages, but the lacking of a standard charging connector, two seats and a steep price tag limited its commercial viability. Next up we had the Leaf which sported the new J1772 standard charging connector and the first DC quick-charge connector in the USA. Sadly there were zero quick charge stations in America when we last Leafed. Just a year into Nissan’s grand experiment there were significant updates to the Leaf and thanks to California’s zero-emissions mandate we have an EV explosion with just about everyone hopping on the eBandwagon. Are they ready for prime time?

2014 Fiat 500e Digital LCD Instrument Cluster

The 500e is the most efficient EV on the market. That’s not just because it’s one of the smallest EVs available, but also because technology in this field is moving rapidly. The 500e’s motor, batteries, charger systems, etc are all the latest in design and that is what pushes the little Italian to the head of the pack. [Edit: my apologies, the Scion iQ EV is now the most efficient EV, but the 500e is very close] Even so the 500e is capable of only 80-100 miles depending on your driving style, the climate and your Range Anxiety. I suffer from RA pretty badly so my first day in the 500e I drove home with the cruise control set to 64 on the freeway and used my most efficient (and most level) shortcuts possible. Leaving work at 93% full (thanks to not being delivered at 100%) I stopped at the grocery store 41 miles later having consumed 55% of my battery thanks to climbing a 2,200ft mountain pass at freeway speeds. Range estimate: 75 miles, not too shabby and better than the Leaf on the same journey. 10 miles later my EV told me it would take 15 hours to recharge to 100% using the 110V “emergency” charger. I thought about heading to the beach 12-miles away since the weather was amazing but my RA kept me at home where I looked at pictures of the beach on my laptop. What will tomorrow bring?

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

Looking for the other installments? Here you go:

Day 2

Day 3

 Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

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