EV Explosion Imminent?

This has been my first post in awhile.   With my new gig, I have been very very busy, much of the things I work on – I cannot blog about.  Sometimes I tweet a bit about what is going on, snippets here and there but nothing that hits me and says “Bloggable” – so for those that follow, more will come.

Forward

Back in the 90’s during a trip to Florida, a gentlemen asked me if I wanted to drive a car called the “EV1” – a 60-100 mile range EV manufactured by General Motors.  At the time I didn’t drive the car on a roadway, but on a dyno.   I was instantly hooked, instant smooth acceleration, a unique and futuristic vehicle.  I knew at this point I wanted an electric vehicle, and this would be the future.

Realism kicked in – at the time I lived well over 60 miles from where I worked, my life had me driving 150+ miles in a single day and owning an electric was simply not feasible in my life – that and the GM EV1 was only ever leased in California.  It also came with Lead Acid batteries or later on NiMH which resulted in heavy weight, low life and limited places to charge but at home (some public locations existed). An interior that was years ahead of its time made the entire car look very futuristic.

Eventually just like GM killed the Pontiac Fiero (Which I happened to be driving at the time) the GM EV1 leases were all cancelled, owners FORCED to return their cars, and they were almost all destroyed except a few that remain on inactive display today.   Go and check out “Who Killed The Electric Car” for the whole story, it is a good one.

Hybrids and What We Learned?

I’m not here to discuss these – they are complex – which is part of the problem.  Take a complicated internal combustion based vehicle, add in electric, then try to combine it – make things even more complex and voila – great car.  However not without challenges.

To add some context, I did own a 2009 Toyota Prius – also known as the “Gen 2” which was an amazing car, I loved owning it.   It was futuristic, and gave me a little bit of the feel of the GM EV1, the electric power was amazing, I could force the car to drive only on battery which was an amazing feeling that only those who have driven an EV can describe.  Sure it only went 5KM and only under 50KPH, but it was PURE battery.

Over the years I had it, it never had a single problem, with the exception of a very very over active traction control system that caused the brakes not to function properly (Ok that was pretty serious) but otherwise the car was very reliable.  I was featured by CityTV in 2010 when I took one of their reporters on a drive to demonstrate what I called “Floating brakes”

This ended up being a software related problem, they claimed they fixed it – but I still had issues.  They also claimed my car wasn’t affected.

Why is this relevant?  All electric cars have one problem – power – they can quickly and easily destroy themselves because the motors have instantaneous torque – so complex traction control or torque control systems need to be used to ensure the electric motor doesn’t just spin the tires endlessly.

Think of it this way – electric motors can put out maximum torque at zero RPM instantly.   Gasoline engines have to “rev up” or get moving somewhere into their power band before they deliver maximum torque, so there is little shock on the drive system.   Electric motors have enough power to just twist stuff.

“Range Extended” EV cars exist today, some where the engine only charges the batteries like the “Volt” – I see these cars as a stop gap measure, but they are here to stay.   Mechanically driven Hybrids will remain in the performance market, but in the cheap car world, systems similar to the Volt will be popular simply because they are less complex.

“Modern” EV’s

Surprising but, we have not come very far, if you put aside the DIY’s and the one off EV cars the first mass produced generally accepted electric, was without question the Nissan Leaf, first delivered in 2010.  Part of the reason for this long gap is very simple – battery technology.  The Leaf used Lithium Ion, lighter weight and a higher energy charge per pound.   The styling left something to be desired and the range was only about 110km (depending) due to the very small 24KWh batteries.   Many followed suit with similar cars with similar poor performance, 0-60 times near 10 seconds and ranges as low as 60KM and as high as 150km – but still nothing that could get the average long distance commuter to and from work and to the grocery store without relying on charging stations that didn’t exist.

Things are improving, with current EV’s available with BIG incentives in many regions, where I live there is a $14,000 incentive from the government, but that was recently revoked for any car worth over $75K (Rich person tax) and rumors have that incentive going away completely.

What can you get today?   A short example is the Smart ForTwo EV (135KM), Ford Focus Electric (185KM), Nissan Leaf (150km), Hyundai Ionic (180KM), Kia Soul (150km), VW E-Golf (140km), Chevy Bolt EV (350KM), BMW i3 (156km), and of course, Tesla.    However with the rare exception of the not widely known about Chevy Bolt EV, all of these have very small batteries designed for city runabouts.   Most have 25ish KWh batteries, with the Bolt around 60kwh, and the Tesla with various ranges.    We also have this problem of range ratings – depending on which range “test” you look at it varies by 30% – well if I need to get to work 70KM each way and I buy a Focus Electric because it’s supposed to 185KM, and doesn’t – I’m not going to be happy – also keep in mind weather plays a HUGE factor on electric range, to the tune of 30%.

Tesla “Revolution”

It would be difficult not to suggest that the current EV revolution was largely at the behest of Elon Musk.  A man sometimes compared to the late Steve Jobs in how he manages companies and builds empires.  He started a bunch of businesses that he sold and eventually one of them was “PayPal” which he sold to E-Bay for 1.5 billion.

Many credit Elon Musk for starting Tesla but that isn’t actually true, he started there as an investor, eventually taking control of the company and turning it into what it is today.A close-up of Musk's face while giving a speech

Musk focuses the company on battery and drive train technology, with the intent to build a system that can be used by all automakers – focusing on the real problems associated with EV’s, battery technology, charging and reliable drive trains.

His goal was to create the $30K USD EV car – and with the Model 3, he is coming close to that.   The Tesla Model S was the first generally available EV Car that exceeded the 200 mile range even with the small P60 model with the P100D model surpassing 300 miles.   However prices approaching 6 figures are pretty common, a base Model S will run you $75K USD, a Model 3 with the longer range battery will run you $44K+ USD.   These are not inexpensive.

Tesla is however pushing this forward, and unlike the “big 3” and the overseas car makers, they have no petrol past to worry about, only an electric future.   Somehow Tesla managed to get a $250 Million dollar interest free loan from 250,000 people who plopped down $1000 to get in “line” for a Model 3 that might be delivered at some point, maybe in the near future with no promises.   From a company that has a history of late vehicle delivery I might add. People are actually getting those cars, but I will be honest, the car isn’t without it’s quibbles and problems, and, it is still a premium car.  Many who are willing to plunk down $80K+ simply cannot because the company just cannot deliver cars fast enough, that is a nice business problem to have but if Tesla does not figure out how to fix it soon, other car makers are going to start eating away at their market share quickly.   Most of the Tesla problems are related to manual manufacturing processes in their facilities and problems with automation – things are just happening too slowly.

200 Miles+ in 2019

Just about every car maker has cars coming in 2019 that will exceed 200 miles (325KM).    Nissan’s very popular Leaf (arguable the most popular EV next to Tesla) is rumored to have over 225 mile range, the Bolt EV is already there, Hyundai claims the new Kona will have 250 mile range.
Image result for jaguar ipaceJag has an SUV coming called the ipace with 239 mile range and over 500FT/lbs of torque carrying a 90KWh battery for $69K USD.  A shot across the bow at the Tesla Model-X for sure, and for a significantly lower price.

2019 will be the year when EV goes mainstream (In my opinion).   CUV/SUV cars that are fully battery operated are showing up, and performance cars have already started to integrate the extreme performance that only electric can provide.

What this also means is – let the battle begin on price.  Tesla will start to feel the heat, with other car makers figuring out how to actually deliver cars, Tesla will be left behind if they cannot figure out how to actually deliver product.

EV Challenges

Owning an EV is not without its challenges, just to name a few lets talk about them, you might be surprised.

Plug Standards

 

Image result for J1772That’s right you thought electrical plugs were standard, if you have ever traveled the world you know the plugs differ, and on cars that is no different.   Luckily the world seems to have standardized on the average “Level 2” charger, or the one you would put in your home, and they call it “J1772” or “Level 2”.  You will find this on almost every electric car – except some Teslas, but they give you an adapter for it.  Any charging station at any public place or home you will find this charger – but – it could take about 8+ hours to charge your car from empty to full, not exactly a “fuel” stop

Image result for CHAdeMOThen we have “Level 3” chargers, which are designed to fill your battery from empty to almost full in 30ish minutes.   There is no clear standard here and the entire world seems to still be arguing.  They do this by basically bypassing the internal A/C charger on board and delivering DC power direct to the battery cells. These fit into 3 standards as the most common.  CHAdeMO (Left) a japanese standard and CSS (right) a more North American standard.   The CHAdeMO became popular because the Nissan Leaf uses it, and the popularity of that car drove adoption of that plug standard.   Here is the best part, because of various technical reasons – an adapter from CHAdeMO to CSS is not impossible, but would be VERY expensive to build,  Tesla makes a CHAdeMO to Tesla adapter, but not CSS.   From where I sit,  CHAdeMO is on its way out, CSS is going to win this battle, even the european union is looking at passing a law to remove subsidy for CHAdeMO installs.   Luckily right now, most stations have BOTH.

As per normal Tesla didn’t follow suit, part of the reason is that they recognize that people need to charge – FAST,  double the speed of most Level 3 chargers – they created their own system called “Supercharger” and even went so far as to deploy a network of them realizing if they were going to sell EV’s then people will need a place to charge them, their chargers using their own technology charge must faster than their counterparts.  I will give Telsa one thing, their connectors are much nicer looking than the counterparts.  They call it the UMC, but now depending on the market the cars are sold in – some are coming with standard Type 2 connectors.

Battery Replacements

Most of the companies are getting around this worry by consumers by basically providing a REALLY long warranty, 8 years and 192,000 KM from Tesla, longer than some of the others.  We also have not had mainstream EV’s long enough to understand what a battery replacement would cost – nobody has had their Tesla long enough.

Nissan Leaf owners have seen $5,000 USD to $8,000 USD prices on replacement batteries, but it seems they replace most under warranty.   Tesla batteries have a price around $12,000 for some Model S cars, the bottom line is these are expensive.

70% design life seems to be the magic number in the industry, once your battery loses 30% of the capacity, the battery is considered failed and your manufacturer will replace it.   Under 60K Miles in the Leaf, regardless of age, Nissan has been known to just replace the pack.  Tesla is very hush hush about the work they do – they tend to “Just fix it” and send people on their happy way.

The bottom line is, there is tons of good will going on, car makers need people to trust the technology and not worry about the batteries, so they are offering this kind of coverage.  Most manufacturers are stating that the batteries will survive the life of the chassis – I am not sure I agree with that statement.

The current Nissan Leaf batteries switched to a passive cooling system instead of active cooling – users all over the internet are talking about early battery degradation – cost savings by Nissan, but is it hurting the opinions of EV owners?   The internet opinions suggests it does.

Charging Stations

chargepoiontsOne look at this map and one might think “Wow they are everywhere”.  However there are challenges, many are restricted access, many require paying for expensive parking to access, some charge you to use them and sometimes at rates that are higher than what it would cost to fill a gasoline vehicle.   Some are very busy stations and often full.

Then there is plug standards, only about 15% are Level 3 fast chargers, the rest are J1772 Level 2 – remember 4-8 hours to charge depending on your particular car, but wait,  the J1772 chargers are typically 30A Max.   Many of the public charging stations can be limited by the installer, many are 7-10A maximum.  Why?  To limit how much they are putting in your car, after all someone has to pay for the power.

“Free” charging is pretty common right now, but that is changing quickly, some “free” charging comes with a expensive parking charge – at least you get something out of that deal, but if it is 7A, and you are there for 1HR, that is not going to net you very much additional range.

It would also appear that many that charge are doing so based on TIME – and not KWH, which is pretty poor when you consider they are limiting you to less than 30A, so a 1 hour charge might cost you $15 – but only net you 25 miles of additional range, that is exceeding gasoline costs.

The last problem is – etiquette, some EV owners are of the opinion once your car is full, you should return to your spot and move it – giving the spot to someone else to use.  Many feel the spot is theirs, and they are not moving.   Do you move your car mid day today?  Probably not.   Our minds and mind-set needs to change, but fights over charger access do occur.

In my opinion public charging stations should be considered a nice convenience, but if your intention is to buy an EV – and rely on public charging stations to complete your journey – you are making a big mistake.   You cannot rely on their availability, or output.

Electrical Grid Stress

Nuff said.   Right now if every person was using 7.2Kw to charge at least 1 car in the garage, based on the math on the street I live on – only half the houses on my street could do it before it overloads just the transformer on my street.   The grid is far from ready for this explosion.  Also what happens when “Sorry boss power went out, couldn’t charge the car” is your excuse at work?  Is that going to fly?

Conclusion

We are on the cusp of an EV revolution, with reasonable prices on vehicles that go the distance and are practical.  I have said for years, the first EV that is $25K USD, that goes 350 Miles on a charge will win the electric car game.  We are not there yet and will not be, my guess is 2022.

I need to do ‘the things I want in a single day’ without thinking about charging in order for this EV thing to work.   We are close to that, we are there for those who live in the city, but for commuters like me, like I said, 2019 will be an interesting year.

The bottom line is, for electric cars – EVs to catch on, we need to eliminate the fuel stops, because with EV’s right now charging the car in the 200 seconds it takes to fill my VW Golf simply isn’t possible, but I hear they are working on that too.

I simply cannot go about my day depending on access to a limited charger network that has limited reliability, limited spots, and a long charge time, I have to go about my business and make it home – no range anxiety and no questions asked.

A two car family could probably own one petrol car, and one EV – long trips you grab the Petrol car, but day to day, the EV becomes the choice.    Time will tell – for me – my next purchase will probably be one of these EVs, that I know for sure.

 

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