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Posts Tagged ‘Nissan Leaf’

Education

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.

Education…

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Sexism

January 19th, 2011 Comments off

This morning, while standing at the bus-stop waiting for the public transit system to take me to work, a woman walked up to the newspaper vending machine next to me to purchase her copy of the Post.  As she turned to walk away (after retrieving her print edition of what everybody else read online yesterday), she asked me, “Sir, would you like the Sports section?”

Now, I’m sure this unexpected gesture was born out of genuine kindness, pure and simple.  But, should I have been offended? I mean, if our roles had been reversed, and had I offered her the Style & Beauty section, would she have been right to feel insulted?

Bottom-line:  there are many things in this world which are, rightly or wrongly, associated with either men or women.  This includes cars.

There are vehicles that are traditionally for guys. Four-wheel-drive trucks.  Jeeps.  Muscle cars.  Anything with a loud exhaust.  And then there are “chick cars”. The VW New Beetle.  The Mazda Miata (until guys figured out it was fun as hell to drive around a race track).  And minivans.  (OK, minivans may be more stay-at-home-mom-schlepping-the-kids-all-around-town car than chick car.  But still.)

Of course, the lines are now blurring – at least when it comes to minivans.  And auto companies (or at least their marketing firms) realize it.  Take for example the “Rock Van” ads about the latest Honda Odyssey, or the “Swagger Wagon” spots about the Toyota Sienna.  (Meanwhile, OEMs like Chevrolet – who doesn’t have a minivan offering – position vehicles like the Traverse as the less demeaning alternative to the minivan.)

I wonder which gender-bin electric-drive vehicles will fall into, now that they’re becoming more and more available. I’ve been told that the Prius is a chick car.  I suspect that the Leaf may fall into that category as well, though the Volt has a more masculine presence.

The Tesla Model S?  I’ll take mine along with the Sports section, thank you very much.

The End?

November 7th, 2010 Comments off

In music, a coda is a movement that brings a work to a conclusion.  In other words, it’s the end.

So, when it comes to naming your new start-up electric car company, why would you choose the name “Coda”? Would it be to signify the end of the internal combustion engine?  Maybe the end of transportation as we know it?  Or perhaps it might even be a subconscious decision which turns out to be foretelling of the ultimate fate of your company itself.

In the case of Coda Automotive, I’m leaning towards that last, prophetic choice.  Turns out, Kevin Czinger has just resigned as the company’s CEO, just a few days after the Senior VP of Global Sales announced his departure.  And although the company is still theoretically a going concern, one must wonder how the orchestra will continue once the maestro exits.

Coda Automotive spun off from Miles Electric Vehicles – makers of smaller, slower neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) – a few years ago, with the charge of producing highway-capable, full-size EVs for the American consumer.  Although Miles EVs aren’t bad (for what they are), my own opinion is that Coda’s aim is slightly off target.  Their upcoming (?) EV appears reasonably capable, though its styling is more like that of a mid-1990s Toyota Corolla than the “effortless blend of style and function … with a classic profile and sleek lines [and an] aesthetic rival[ing] the coolest cars on the road” described on the company’s slick website.

Even less harmonic is the price, at over $37k after the $7,500 tax incentive! This is about $4k more than the much more attractive Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle, and about $13k more than the also much more attractive Nissan Leaf EV (with similar specs to, albeit with a significantly smaller battery than, the Coda) – both due out in about a month’s time.

I’m excited about the new electrified cars we’re about to see on our nation’s roads.  But as for Coda – well, the next song on their program might just be Requiem for an EV.

Differences

September 16th, 2010 Comments off

This is a real car:

Nissan Leaf

And this is not:

Edison2 Very Light Car

And if you happened to be walking down L’Enfant Promenade in Washington, DC this afternoon, it’s quite likely you would have seen both of them.

The first car is Nissan’s new all-electric vehicle, the Leaf, which you will be able to buy (or at least order) within the next few months at your local Nissan Dealer.  (And if you haven’t seen the new commercial, go watch it now.)

The second is the Edison2 Very Light Car.  It was in town because the Progressive Insurance Automotive X-Prize winners were being announced.  (You can read about them here.)  The Edison2 won the prize – the five million dollar prize – in the mainstream class. …Really?  Mainstream? This car doesn’t look mainstream to me.  It does meet the definition of mainstream as defined by the PIAXP folks.  It does carry four passengers, and is presumably capable of transporting them around on public roads with some modicum of comfort, safety, and practicality.  It’s motivated by a 1-cylinder, E85-capable 40 horsepower motorcycle engine.  And it can do this because it weighs a scant 800 pounds.

The Edison2 will never be sold to the public. But it’s interesting for a few reasons.  It demonstrates that there are ways to build a 100 mpg car that doesn’t use electricity as its fuel – namely, through the use of lightweighting and aerodynamic improvements.  (It also demonstrates what a group of individuals who cut their teeth in auto racing can do when they focus on fuel efficiency.)

The Leaf, on the other hand, is remarkable in that it’s so unremarkable, while at the same time being unlike anything the mass market has seen.  It’ll cost around $24k (after the $7500 federal tax credit), which is pretty inexpensive considering its 24kWh battery that gives it a 100 mile range between charges.  And it’s a nice car – with better tactile feedback and quality of materials than many other conventional cars in its price range.  It’s roomy, handles well, is quick off the line, and is quite fun and intuitive to drive.  My test-drive was brief, but easily enough to convince me that Nissan likely has a success on their hands.  (It should be noted that the Leaf was not an entrant the Automotive X-Prize competition.)

The Edison2 may have won the Automotive X-Prize competition (and the $5 million purse).  But my guess is that a year from now, it will be the Nissan Leaf that will have won consumers’ hearts.  And even the hearts of a few polar bears.

Don’t Screw It Up

August 31st, 2010 Comments off

Recently, my boss gave me an assignment with vague instruction, including the solitary bit of guidance:  “Don’t screw it up.

This edict echoed in my mind yesterday, when I read a story at Autobloggreen about some troubles that a few prospective Nissan Leaf purchasers are facing regarding having a car charger installed in their garage.  It seems Aerovironment, the maker of the de facto Leaf charger, has an installation mechanism that may not be as flexible as it needs to be.  The result is that installation fees, in many cases, are higher than they should be.  Significantly higher.  Outrageously, ridiculously higher.

Nissan made it known a while back that the average price for the charger, including installation in your garage, would be about $2,200.  Some folks were surprised (and perturbed) to find out that much of this cost is for the actual installation.  And now, a subset of these people are understandably pissed to discover that, even if their garage is pre-wired for the charger (meaning installation consists of a couple of bolts and actually plugging in the unit), they might be paying $1,200 for the installation alone.

Obviously, there will be cases where the Leaf charger installation will should cost much less (or much more) than average.  It disturbs me to think that installation guidelines and pricing policies may be such that all installation circumstances can’t be suitably handled, with the result being a lot of frustrated (and ultimately former) potential EV purchasers.  When people ask me why I think electric-drive vehicles will be successful THIS TIME around, my honest response is that, this time, we’re doing it differently.  We’re doing it right.  We’re introducing vehicles and building charging infrastructure on a scale that’s unprecedented, and that paves the way for even broader commercialization in the future.  There’s momentum and support from the auto makers, the general public, and federal, state, and local governments.

…But it’s a balancing act.  A few mis-steps could derail the whole process. And this is an example, as trivial as it is, of one such stumble.

Fortunately, purchasers of the Leaf have other sources for a home charger, and may even be able to get one for free.  But if the whole experience of acquiring an electric vehicle and the required charger is a pain in the ass, it’s not going to happen.

So, please, don’t screw this up.

Anniversary

June 25th, 2010 Comments off

Time flies. It was just about a year ago that ThatCarBlog kicked off with my inaugural post.  A lot has happened since then:  Cash For Clunkers came and went; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act doled out several billion dollars to help improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, primarily through electrification; automobile manufacturers introduced a few new interesting vehicles; a few Toyota Priuses got Christined and took their drivers on a wild ride; oh, and BP broke something that they don’t know how to fix…

Unfortunately, I’ve been busy the past month, and haven’t had time for a single update.  To my recollection though, not much has happened during the past few weeks, automotively speaking.  We’re still waiting for the public release of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf later this year – signifying the mass-market introduction of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles in the U.S.  (One thing that has happened is that a few automotive journalists have had the chance to drive the Leaf, and were quite impressed!)  Mercedes did reveal the first prototype of the all-electric version of their SLS AMG, which is drop-dead gorgeous, although the color-scheme for the prototype is questionable…  Tesla Motors’ initial public offering of stock is right around the corner, with much speculation as to whether it’ll be a success or a flop.  …Oh, and BP has done basically nothing to stop the oil-geyser that they created in the Gulf of Mexico, despite spending over $2.3 billion.

…OK, so maybe a lot has been going on in the last month. The automotive world doesn’t stop just because I don’t have time to think about it.  (Or because the World Cup is happening.  …Hhhmmm, maybe that’s why I haven’t had time for ThatCarBlog in the last couple of weeks!)

Anyway, Happy Birthday to ThatCarBlog.  Thanks for reading!  Now, it’s time for Brazil v. Portugal!

Peeks, Leafs, and Curves

April 25th, 2010 Comments off

Just over a week ago, I opened my mouth about V-Vehicle Company, and the fact that they appeared to be dead in the water.  Apparently, the folks at VVC read my post, and thus decided to give a few journalists a sneak PEEK of their affordable, efficient, composite-bodied compact.  According to Autobloggreen, it looks like a cross between a VW Golf and a Dodge Neon. …Who knew ThatCarBlog had such an effect on the automotive start-ups?

2011 Nissan Leaf

In other news, this week Nissan revealed that 6,635 people in the U.S. have paid $99 to reserve a Leaf … in only 3 days.  This is notable for several reasons.  First, lack of customer demand was one of the reasons GM cited in the early ’90s for the limited availability (and eventual cancellation) of the EV1 program.  (Of course, when customers … demanded … the EV1, GM’s stance was, “Oh, they’re not really serious.”)  Demand for the Leaf, which won’t be available until the end of the year, is already stronger than expected – a very good sign for Nissan (and EVs in general).  Secondly, compared to the expectations and media chatter surrounding Chevrolet’s Volt, hype surrounding the Leaf has been relatively limited.  This deserves mention, considering the Leaf will arrive at around the same time as the Volt, and it’s an all-electric vehicle (compared to the Volt’s plug-in-hybrid … er, extended-range-electric propulsion architecture).  Many folks still consider pure EVs to not quite be ready for mass-market consumption.  …And finally, the 100-mile range Leaf will cost $25,280 after tax incentives, about $7k less than the Volt.

2011 Audi RS5

And on a final note … I just can’t stop staring at Audi’s new RS5.  This is one sexy car, with subtly striking CURVES and amazing performance potential.  OK, so the 450 hp, 4.2 liter V8 underneath its hood may not be the most efficient power plant imaginable, but with an average fuel economy of 22 mpg, it’s not nearly as thirsty as most cars of this caliber.  And with such visual appeal on the outside, it’s hard to pay attention to what’s on the inside…

A Battery of Questions

November 24th, 2009 Comments off

cell photoI often think I know more about things than I really do. And one thing I think I know a lot about is batteries – the kind that goes in your Prius, and the kind that will go in your Volt.  As most car-folks know, the battery industry is currently transitioning from nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries (i.e., what’s in your Prius) to lithium-ion (Li-ion; i.e., what’s in your Volt.  Or Leaf.  Or Tesla.).  And, it turns out, a battery isn’t just a battery – different types of batteries require significantly different control mechanisms to manage how much and how quickly they are charged and discharged, and how they behave while in operation, so that lifetime, safety, and performance are maximized.

But it’s even more complicated than that.  There are dozens of different Li-ion battery chemistries.  Every battery manufacturer has their own idea of the right combination of chemistry and manufacturing process that will result in the winning formula.  But each of these batteries has very unique characteristics that require very specific controls once it’s embedded in an automobile.  Auto manufacturers, on the other hand, would like to be chemistry-agnostic.  (They just want a battery that meets their requirements.)  But, given that the battery dictates the control software, it’s not so easy for a car maker to just pick a battery off the shelf.  Substantial development effort must take place between the auto maker and the battery maker, so that the car and the battery work together as a system.  (Just look at all the effort that has gone into the Volt’s development, in conjunction with Compact Power / LG Chem.)  Once a vehicle has been developed with a particular battery in place, changing battery suppliers would be a major hurdle.  As a result, there have been a lot of joint-ventures formed between auto manufacturers and battery companies, effectively tying their efforts together.

In the end, we’ll likely see each electrified automobile maker tied to one particular type of battery.  But there’s also the issue of standardization in the industry.  I wonder, if each auto/battery manufacturer takes a different path, will this complicate standardization?  How will this effect business models like Better Place – will their entire infrastructure be wedded to one type of battery and one manufacturer?