Archive for April, 2011


April 29th, 2011 Comments off

Earth Day recently came – and went – and, given the push for green transportation these days, a lot of the major car magazines put forth issues devoted to fuel-efficient vehicles in honor of the event.  Autoweek was one of these, with an Earth Day Special Issue, containing a bevy of articles about hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, and clean diesels.  But the article that caught my eye devoted a third of its page layout to a photograph of a Nissan Leaf being loaded onto a tow truck, with the title, Riding the Flatbed of Shame.

The author of this article, Mark Vaughn, describes his 45-mile (one way) journey to a track to conduct testing of the new all-electric Leaf.  Track testing – as in 0-60 mph acceleration tests, pedal-to-the-floor quarter-mile runs, and skid-pad exercises.  (In other words, activities that won’t do much to preserve the state-of-charge of his Leaf’s battery.)  He began this journey with 73 miles of range showing on the dash – which should have made it obvious that he wouldn’t be returning home on the same set of electrons with which he began.  But rather than deal with that reality, Vaughn continued to test the car, even with visual and audio “low battery” warnings of increasing ferocity.  Eventually, our fair automotive journalist set out to an auto electric shop, to cobble together an adapter to connect the Level 1 charging cord that came with the Leaf (which allows for connection into any standard household socket) to a dryer plug. Which immediately ruined the charger.  And required the tow-truck.

If you had *this*, and needed electricity at the other end, what would *you* do?

I have a few problems with this article.  Although the message is really, “If you’re an idiot, an EV won’t work for you,” the visual of the Leaf on the flatbed is simply “EVs don’t work.”  Secondly, Vaughn declares that you have to lay out every mile of your trip and compare it with every kilowatt-hour of charge in your lithium-ion battery pack.  If the numbers don’t add up, don’t go, which is sort of an alarmist view of EV usage.  Thirdly, Vaughn didn’t think, for whatever reason, to plug the charge-cord-he-already-had into a plug for which it was intended – instead taking on the challenging task of putting a square peg in a round hole.  And finally, in describing the final outcome of his mistake of plugging the 110-volt, 12-amp cord into a 220-volt, 50-amp outlet, he explains, with 38 amps more than the cable was designed for, it immediately fried.  Although non-electrical-types can’t be blamed for not realizing that the 50-amp rating of the outlet had nothing to do with the charger failure (it was the 220 volts that got him), as an automotive journalist writing in a major magazine, Vaughn should get his technical information correct.

Put simply, consumers must be educated about new technologies, such as electric-drive vehicles.  And Vaughn’s article only serves to miseducate.  (At least he correctly asserts that “it was nobody’s fault but my own.”)

Recently, I watched an episode of Speedmakers on Speed TV, dealing with Electric Vehicles.  It was an interesting piece that highlighted the Chevy Volt, Tesla Roadster and Model S, and Jaguar C-X75.  Unfortunately, the narrator consistently referred to the 16-kilowatt battery pack in the Volt, and the 52-kilowatt battery pack in the Roadster.  Which is sort of like me saying my Audi has a 50 horsepower gas tank. What the gentleman means to say is kilowatt-HOUR, which is how battery capacity is measured.  Education…

Earlier this month, there was a garage fire in a Connecticut home.  The garage was completely destroyed, as were the two cars in it.  One of these cars was a brand new Chevy Volt, plugged in and charging overnight.  The other was a Suzuki Samurai that had been converted by the owner to an electric vehicle, also plugged in (to a home-made charging system) and charging overnight.  Although the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, that didn’t stop local news outlets (such as WFSB) from declaring that the Volt may have ignited the fire.  In the headlines… As for me, I’m suspicious of the home-made conversion and its charging system.  The Volt was almost certainly the victim here.

In any case, I sure am glad that gasoline doesn’t burn.




April 3rd, 2011 Comments off

On a recent road-trip to West Virginia, I saw a bumper-sticker that said, Sick of traffic?  Invest in Highways!

(What is it the kids say these days?  I believe the term is FACEPALM!…)

One can’t be blamed for thinking the solution for too much traffic is to provide more pavement for the cars to travel on.  I mean, if the 4-lane highway is too crowded, then wouldn’t 6 lanes, or 8 lanes – or even a shiny new freeway – fix the problem?

Then again, if there weren’t any highways, there wouldn’t be any traffic.

Of course, eliminating all of our roads is about the worst possible solution to solving our traffic problems.  But building a lot more roads isn’t much better.  Roads create traffic. While a highway expansion may eliminate bottlenecks and traffic jams in one location, it increases the number of cars that travel to other locations – typically denser, urban centers or commercial areas into which people commute for their jobs.  Once this “easy access” to the city is built, there’s an influx of people to the suburbs, creating more traffic, requiring more roads, and the downward spiral continues.  The eventual outcome is a sprawling metropolitan area, with a massive network of roads and highways, nearly all of which are constantly clogged with traffic.  (Look at Atlanta, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC as prime examples.)

No, if you’re sick of traffic, don’t invest in highways.  Invest in public transit. High-speed rail and commuter rail make great alternatives to interstate freeways.  Light rail and buses work well in urban areas.  And in addition to the traffic congestion relief provided by transit systems, we also get the environmental and petroleum reduction benefits.  Additionally, high-speed and light rail offers economic opportunities along their routes.  (Of course, the economic impact isn’t universally agreed upon.  Those opposed argue that no transit system can succeed without massive subsidies.  Then again, what about our highways?  Until every road in the U.S. is a toll-road, that roadway upon which you’re driving is 100% subsidized!)

The Sick of Traffic? Invest in Highways! slogan comes from the American Traffic Safety Services Association, a legitimate trade group representing its members who are involved in traffic control and roadway safety.  Obviously, they’re looking out for their members’ interests, and they certainly can’t be blamed for that.  But the irony isn’t lost on me that the particular bumper sticker I saw was plastered on the back of a Hummer H2, rumbling down I-66 carrying only a single occupant.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, we’ve got over four million miles of roads in the U.S.  On the other hand, we’ve got about 21,000 miles of Amtrak, 7,500 miles of commuter rail, and 1500 miles of light rail.  Right now, we don’t need any more roads.

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