The drama circling around the New York Times test of the Tesla Model S doesn’t surprise me one bit. Why? Because I understand, perhaps at a deeper level than most of the motoring press, how batteries work. Perhaps that has to do with growing up in a family of engineers and scientists, but battery technology has always interested me. So when people from Phoenix came to me crying in their soup about their LEAFs in the heat and friends started wagging fingers at Tesla and the New York Times, I figured it was time for a battery reality check.
Now that the Nissan Leaf is being made in Tennessee, Nissan has decided that a big price drop is in order. While the 2012 car retailed for $35,200, the 2013 Leaf starts at $28,800, thanks to a new base model. Anyone who bought a 2012 must be pretty ticked off at the resale-ruining price cut. Higher-end SV and SL trim levels will retail for $31,820 and $37,250 respectively. (Read More…)
Photos courtesy of Cars In Depth
As part of the festivities surrounding the Woodward Dream Cruise, GM organized a parade down Woodward and back up again made up of 50 Chevy Volts driven to the event by their owners, at their own expense, from around the country. As far as car company promotional events go it was fairly low key (I was asked not to publicize the pre-parade reception for the owners) but it was clearly a high priority item for GM. The Volt marketing team was out in force and they brought in NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who are racing at Michigan International Speedway this weekend, to wave green flags at the start of the Volt parade. Gordon and Johnson both own Chevy dealerships and they both personally own Chevy Volts. They race for Rick Hendricks, who owns quite a few Chevy (and other GM) stores himself. There were news teams from at least two of the Detroit tv stations and a satellite truck that I believe was used for a national network or cable interview of the NASCAR drivers. GM also brought out a number of pace cars from their private stash of Camaros, Corvettes and even one Chevy SSR that paced races at Indianapolis and Daytona. There was also the ZR1 that set a lap record for production cars at the Nurburgring. Marketing being what it is, the parade also included 2 squadrons of Chevy’s most recent new product, the Camaro convertible and the subcompact Sonic. There were 100 cars in total, one for each year in Chevy’s current centennial.
There were t-shirts and baseball caps for the guests, and the Volt owners each got a nice die cast model of their car, but the Volt owners weren’t there for the swag or for autographs, though they eagerly accepted both. The Volt owners were there because they really, really, really like their cars.
Though an global Accenture study [via Green Car Congress] found that up to 68% of respondents would consider a plug-in electric vehicle for their next purchase, the issue of range continues to be the great unknown. And unfortunately for all the models and predictions of future EV sales, the issue of range points to some severely irrational consumer behavior. Namely, there’s a giant disconnect (nearly ten-fold in fact) between the actual number of kilometers driven each day and the range expectations for future EV purchases. Meanwhile, 62% of respondents rejected battery swapping, the most credible current solution for range anxiety, for reasons that are not immediately clear. In short, Energy Secretary Chu had beeter be right when he says EV range will triple and costs will be reduced over the next six years… otherwise, EVs will die a quick death at the hand of consumers’ outsized range expectations.
Though The Department of Energy has offered only the flimsiest of evidence for the practicability of President Obama’s electric vehicle goals, Energy Secretary Steven Chu is out writing checks about the future of EVs that the industry may not be able to cash. Speaking at the installation of the 500th ChargePointAmerica charging station in Southern California, Chu explained his vision for the future to the LA Times.
“Because of increased demand, we’ve got to think of all the other things we can do in transportation. The best is efficiency,” Chu said.
Batteries are the “heart” of electric vehicles, he said, adding that the Department of Energy is funding research that will drop the cost of electric-vehicle batteries 50% in the next three or four years and double or triple their energy density within six years so “you can go from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on a single charge,” he said. “These are magical distances. To buy a car that will cost $20,000 to $25,000 without a subsidy where you can go 350 miles is our goal.”
So, a 300+ mile car costing less than $25k without a subsidy, within the the 2017 time frame. Which essentially means that within six years, the Nissan Leaf would have to triple its range and lose the equivalent of the government subsidy’s $7,500 in costs. That’s not a wholly unreasonable goal, but what’s not clear is how it will be reached. After all, the Leaf is already behind on the government’s volume predictions, and starting next year the Volt will be too. A tripling of range in one long product cycle (or two short ones) seems as optimistic as the government’s EV volume projections, which imagine 120k Volts being produced next year, as well as 5,000 of the nonexistant Fisker “Nina” PHEV. Chu’s vision is commendable, but at this point the DOE’s credibility is more than a little strained when it comes to the future of EVs.
TTAC has a long, proud tradition of tearing into puffy automotive journalism, so it was not without a little trepidation that I wrote in the comments section of Michael Karesh’s excellent review of Zero To Sixty that
Toothless reporters put execs at their ease… which allows them to say naive or revealing things that toothy bloggers can then rip into. In a weird way, the worse the reporter, the better the reporting (as long as the quotes are then duly digested). As time goes on, I find myself more and more at peace with this evolving media food chain… and TTAC’s place in it.
To be clear, this is not an endorsement of toothless coverage per se, it’s just a pragmatic response to the reality that auto industry coverage will continue to be dominated by PR-approved puff. And this video provides yet more proof that non-threatening journalists are actually the most effective at snagging scoops, even if they’re totally unaware of said scoop. Which is where the bloggers come in.
As we saw in the last VBW, the Volt’s range-extender still needs some software work. But efforts to to keep the gas engine from acting like a thrashing, disembodied dervish will have to balance the desire for smooth operation and maximum efficiency. And it’s looking like efficiency in charge sustaining (CS) mode won’t match the hybrid standard-setters. Volt chief powertrain engineer Alex Cattelan breaks the news gently to the true believers at GM-volt.com
You’ve got to understand that all of the decisions that we’ve made around this product are made because its an EV. That is the first and foremost thing that it needs to be. So because it is an EV some of the decisions that we’ve made around engine operation will be different than what Toyota makes in its parallel hybrid. For them they are always operating in hybrid mode so they need to optimize everything for engine operation.
In our case we’re optimizing everything for EV operation and the secondary is certainly going to be better than conventional vehicles, but were not necessarily totally optimizing the system for charge sustaining mode because we don’t want to compromise electric vehicle mode.