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By Robert Rapier on Aug 11, 2011 with 94 responses

Will a SmartGrid and GM’s Volt Stimulate the Electric Vehicle Industry

The following guest post is from Victor Sequeira. Mr. Sequeira is Principal of VerisNRG LLC, a Houston based energy consultancy. He can be reached at victorseq [at] comcast [dot] net

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Can GM’s Volt Provide a Jolt to the Electric Car Industry?

I remember my first trip to Bentonville, Arkansas to visit the WalMart corporate headquarters. As I looked at the offices of all the vendors who sell to WalMart, I remember thinking “being the world’s biggest retailer has its advantages.” So it is with the development of the electric car (EV). We root for companies like Tesla but, to move the market in a substantive way, you need to be big.

Most Americans have watched General Motors in recent years, hoping it will regain the fire that made it the largest car company in the world. A tanking U.S. economy, coupled with surging upstarts like Hyundai have made that task all the more difficult.

So it is particularly impressive that GM stuck to its guns in terms of the Volt rollout. Even in the midst of bankruptcy and jeering analysts asking “where is GM’s answer to the Prius ?!?”, GM methodically completed its testing and targeted rollout of the Volt.

Initial reaction from both industry analysts (2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year) and the public at-large has been enthusiastic. With 3,200 Volts on the road as of today, GM is doubling its initial production capacity to enable 20,000 units a year.  Rob Peterson, GM Volt Spokesperson, recently told me in an interview “At this point we know that Volt owners are averaging 900 miles between refueling the 9 gallon gas tank (about once a month).” GM touts the Volt as a “no compromise, range-extended electric vehicle.” Meaning that Volt drivers should not concern themselves with range, given that the Volt has a gasoline engine that can both recharge the battery and drive the transmission.

Citing GM’s ability to predict how drivers would utilize the Volt, Peterson adds, “…two-thirds of these customers’ travels are all-electric.” To enhance their ability to brag about the number of all-electric miles driven, many Volt drivers have installed 240V charging stations in their homes. This option comes at a $2,000 cost on-top of Volt’s $40,000 price-tag and yet, Volt buyers are eager to upgrade.

So the Volt is a success and is the domestic answer to the Prius that the EV-market watchers have been asking for.

How the SmartGrid Can Aid the Rollout of Electric Vehicles

Enter the one company that can challenge GM in its connection to the American psyche, General Electric. In addition to owning media, manufacturing and technology behemoths, GE has been a leader in the power generation and power management industries for years now.  GE tops the list of companies who can execute a global business strategy and do so with both quality and profit in-tact.

So when Onstar (wholly owned by GM) recently announced that it was partnering with GE to pilot a SmartGrid-based system to monitor the Volt’s usage and recharging needs, EV watchers took notice.

GE has agreed to buy 12,000 Volts through 2015 for its fleet customers. A portion of these will be used in the Onstar-SmartGrid pilot at a utility that has yet to be named. Onstar notes that “the initial pilot cars will be Volts,” hinting that GM may have another EV in the stable.

An Uphill Battle Displacing the ICE

So why do we care? It’s no secret that EVs have an uphill battle in displacing the internal combustion engine (ICE). Not just because the technology is imperfect (range limitations, performance issues), but the infrastructure that took 100 years to build which supports the combustion engine is valued in the trillions of dollars [sources: American Petroleum Institute (page 18 - .pdf), University of Michigan (page 6 - .pdf)]. Washington has spent its last trillion dollars and the check has come due. The government can help with tax incentives and forward-thinking energy policy but we don’t want the government in-charge of the development of the electric vehicle any more than we look to Washington to develop the next microprocessor.

The development of the EV, and the SmartGrid to support it, are inextricably linked. Which is to say, it is a BIG undertaking. So it will take a company of GE’s size to move that process forward in a purposed, profit-oriented manner if it is to occur anytime soon.

Lest we underestimate the task at-hand, here is the stark reality of the current national power-grid:

  1. The 100-year-old electric grid of today struggles to meet current demand. The 2003 blackout affected 8 states and parts of Canada.
  2. With 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the U.S., the SmartGrid upgrade costs are in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
  3. With every new home built and every gadget sold, demand on the power grid increases.
  4. The first commercial-scale SmartGrid was started in Italy, not the U.S.
  5. Other than a handful of cities in Texas, Colorado and California there are no commercial-scale SmartGrid deployments in the U.S.

Conclusion

The statistics above are what happens (or rather what doesn’t happen) when development is left up to regulated entities. What we need, now more than ever, are companies like GM and GE to flex their significant muscles and think big. The economic impact of the billions of dollars invested and millions of jobs created from the development of the EV and a national SmartGrid is incalculable.

So count your lucky stars GM and GE. By being “too big to fail” you’ve survived the worst economic downturn in recent history and are in a strong position to excel. Now get to work and help build the cars and infrastructure that America will use for the next 100 years. This is the opportunity and responsibility that comes from being so big.

Note: GE did not respond for comment in time for publication.

Mr. Sequeira can be reached at victorseq [at] comcast [dot] net

  1. By Kup on August 11, 2011 at 9:36 am

    As a few people here know, I have owned a Volt since March of this year and so this article particularly interests me. Since I am very interested in avoiding (or minimizing the effects of) what RR calls “the long recession” I followed the Volt, the Smart Grid and blogs like RR’s to see where we are on the various technologies we will need to avoid a rather bleak future.

    The article captures some of the overlap between the Volt and the Smart Grid but if you are really interested in the good, the bad and the ugly of the Volt, I would suggest going to gm-volt.com and to see real world statistics of about 60 real life Volt owners go to voltstats.net. I guess the bottom-line is that the Volt is a superbly built car that is incredibly fun to drive but will vary wildly in performance based on how you use it.

    For me personally, I’m a touch under driving in EV mode for 90 percent of my miles and have reduced my direct gasoline consumption by over 90 percent. Since driving on electric is MUCH cheaper than driving with gasoline I am saving over $2k per year on gasoline purchases while only paying about $300 total for increased electric bills (although this may be an anamoly since I get to charge at work for free).

    But to the larger point, some people I talk to seem to grasp the basics of Peak Oil and so they understand why I bought the Volt but some of those same people say “well, it’s fine for a few people but once many people have EVs the electric prices will go through the roof and so going EV isn’t a viable option to help solve the Peak Oil issue.” That is where conservation, energy efficiency and the Smart Grid all come in to play but by then it is apparent they have grown tired of the intracacies of the issue and want to get back to being part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

    Also, a small point, with the recent upgrades at the Hamtrammck plant, GM will be able to produce up to 5,000 Volts per month by January not the 20,000 per year cited here. Will demand for a “net” $35,000 car reach that level? Those of us that drive the Volt think so because it is simply that good but the market will ultimately decide that debate.

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  2. By Kup on August 11, 2011 at 9:44 am

    OT: Also Robert, I would be interested in your take on this Science Daily article about the apparently radical advancement in the efficiency of making butanol from E. Coli. One of the key quotes:

    “On a cell-per-cell basis, the bacteria produced the butanol, a biofuel that can be substituted for gasoline in most engines, about 10 times faster than any previously reported organism.”

    Here’s the link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/re…..133010.htm

    Thanks and Cheers

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  3. By rufus on August 11, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Kup, congratulations on your purchase. I’m pulling for you. I sincerely hope it works out great for you. Please do keep us posted.

    I’m just a little jealous. :)

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  4. By Wendell Mercantile on August 11, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I’m just a little jealous.

    Rufus~

    Just keep hitting those Tunica casinos. Someday you’ll hit it big and will buy able to buy your own Volt.

    I think the Volt is a great concept, but the price has to come down. Right now only the rich and dedicated early adapters can (or will find a way to) afford one. Hopefully, the economies of scale will get the price down to the high teens or low 20s — the expected price point for a car of that size and fitting.

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  5. By rufus on August 11, 2011 at 11:06 am

    I agree, prices will have to come down; and, I want to see what happens when those batteries start dying. What Will a seven year old Volt with a semi-dead battery be worth?

    I hope these questions can get answered in the next couple of years. Meantime? I’m Still a bit jealous. :)

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  6. By russ on August 11, 2011 at 11:26 am

    In principle I refuse to prepay the gas/diesel bill for many years to come – that is what they are making the customer do.

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  7. By rufus on August 11, 2011 at 11:39 am

    There are two times to “gamble,” Wendell: When you have so much money it doesn’t matter, and when you have so little money it doesn’t matter.

    I don’t, at present, fit in either category; so I pretty much leave the “gamblin’” to someone else, now.

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  8. By Wendell Mercantile on August 11, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    There are two times to “gamble,” when you have so much money it doesn’t matter, and when you have so little money it doesn’t matter.

    I’m guessing most of those at the Tunica casinos (and at the tribal-run casino near me) are in the “so little it doesn’t matter” category and see the extremely remote probability of hitting it big at a casino (or in a state lottery) as their only possible hope.

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  9. By mac on August 11, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    The Volt-wagen ?

    (just kidding)

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  10. By doggydogworld on August 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    russ said:

    In principle I refuse to prepay the gas/diesel bill for many years to come


     

    I can understand why your views about real future petroleum prices might lead you to choose not to prepay, but why is it a matter of principle? If you knew gasoline would cost $8-10/gal from 2012-2025 wouldn’t you gladly prepay?

    The current Volt is too expensive, but so was the first generation Prius (first two generations if you count the original Japanese-only version and the later, upgraded US-legal version as separate generations). The 2004 Prius was bigger, faster, got better MPG yet cost the same as the prior model.

    It can be tough to pin down Volt production levels, but the company will build about 12,000 2012 Volts and Amperas this calendar year (July-Dec) which is roughly a 20k/year run rate. The company says they will hit 5000/month (60k/year run rate) in January 2012.

    Rufus – a 7 year old Volt with a dead battery should be worth the same as one with a live battery, since the battery warranty runs 8 years.

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  11. By Kit P on August 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    First misconception:

    “The 100-year-old electric grid of today struggles to meet current demand. The 2003 blackout affected 8 states and parts of Canada.”

    The grid is not struggling nor is it 100 years old. No amount of batteries or being smart will substitute for have power plants where they are needed. The primary cause of the 2003 blackout was an unusual number of large power plants off line and not properly trimming trees under power lines.

    Like all articles about the smart grid they fail to tell what a ‘smart grid’ is. The reason is that telling you would upset you. I want my utility to provide reliable power and not depend on turning of my power as a solution to not being able supply power.

    Utilities are always in the process of modernizing equipment. Yes that is smart.

    “So the Volt is a success … ”

    I would not call ‘With 3,200 Volts on the road as of today’ an example of success.

    Kup wrtites

    “I am saving over $2k per year on gasoline purchases”

    I did the same thing by not driving 20k miles a year commuting to work. Furthermore I saved another $40 by not buying a junkie car with lots of batteries. I am also skeptical of KUP because first he tells us that he has owned his car a few months then provides us data for a year.

    “Tunica casinos”

    Well Wendell I won $2000 there. Left the hotel room with $60 and came back with $20 but I had fun. I know what you are thinking Wendell. I really lost $40 but when you do the math the way solar PV and BEV advocates do, you make up things however you like. Only a jerk would suggest that they are not helping the environment when they show not evidence of doing so.

    The only people who buy BEV are those who do not understand good economics, reliability, or the environment impact of BEV.

    I am betting the GM will only make a few more BEV than consumers buy.

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  12. By mac on August 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Jobs for Americans ?

    GM awards A123 Systems production contract for batteries for future EVs
    11 August 2011

    General Motors has awarded a production contract to A123 Systems, a developer and manufacturer of advanced Nanophosphate lithium-ion batteries and systems, for batteries to be used in future GM electric vehicles to be sold in select global markets.

    The contract includes advanced Nanophosphate cells and fully integrated electronic components. The specific vehicles and brands will be announced at a later date. All of the battery packs will be assembled at A123’s plant in Livonia, Michigan. (article continues at: )

    http://www.greencarcongress.co…..110811.htm

    Right now Volt batteries are sourced from, LG Chem, the big S. Korean Chemical company.

    Perhaps a few judicious, well thought-out tariff barriers might be in order for our nascent Li-ion battery industry.

    We fought the Europeans for years over their tariffs on U.S. steel.

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  13. By Kup on August 11, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Look at the big brains on doggydog! You got it pretty much nailed down with respect to the Volt.

    To be sure Rufus has a good general point about the batteries. To infer his point, Li-ion batteries for automotive use is relatively new and the cooling and heating systems for these batteries are unproven. Can these batteries really keep 80 percent of their range after 8 yrs/100k miles? GM is betting it has engineered it correctly to make it do so but I admit I took a bit of a roll of the dice betting with them.

    With that said battery technology is going to be excellent in 8 years and the costs are going to be significantly lower. So I would expect that a battery replacement will run in the $2k to $3k range with superior performance range and lifespan over the first gen batteries. Meanwhile, gas is going to be extremely expensive and I would expect that the net savings of the Volt would only increase at that time. Thus, I think from the typical point of view, that the Volt’s resell would be quite excellent.

    Ironically, I worry about re-sale value from the non-typical viewpoint. I worry (sort of) that battery technology and EV penetration and cost reductions will make the first gen Volt look crappy in comparison and that people would rather buy 2nd or 3rd gens of something else. If that happens I will be sad for my re-sale value but quite happy because electrification of the auto industry will have truly taken off.

    Oh, and Wendell, it’s pretty subjective but the fit of the Volt is being compared quite favorably to BMWs and Mercedes. It’s in no way an economy type car (Prius, Civic, etc.) when it comes to fit or finish, at least according to most automotive magazines that have reviewed the Volt. I can’t directly compare because I’m not accustomed to the higher end cars as I could barely afford the Volt but many Volt owners have been turning in higher end cars and giving the Volt very high marks compared to what they gave up.

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  14. By rrapier on August 11, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Kup said:

    OT: Also Robert, I would be interested in your take on this Science Daily article about the apparently radical advancement in the efficiency of making butanol from E. Coli. One of the key quotes:

    “On a cell-per-cell basis, the bacteria produced the butanol, a biofuel that can be substituted for gasoline in most engines, about 10 times faster than any previously reported organism.”

    Here’s the link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/re…..133010.htm

    Thanks and Cheers


     

    Hi Kup,

    I am glad that people continue to push forward with butanol research, but the real issue isn’t reaction speed. The biggest problem is that the organisms have a very low tolerance for butanol, so the concentrations of butanol in water tend to be very low. A faster reaction speed doesn’t address that issue. Further, I am not sure that organisms that require glucose to produce the chemical they are producing will be viable unless that chemical commands a very high market price. Just not sure how much glucose production can be expanded in a cost effective manner.

    Cheers, Robert

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  15. By Kit P on August 11, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    “If you knew gasoline would cost $8-10/gal from 2012-2025 wouldn’t you gladly prepay?”

    Doggydogworld sells times shares. I bought a Corolla for my wife five years ago. There was no go reason then nor is there not a good reason now for me think paying extra to haul around batteries is a good idea.

    So far doomer predictions have always been wrong. It would be kind of stupid of me to spend $40 fixing a problems that may never happen and if it does it will be a 100 years after I die. If the cost of my commute increased $5k a years or to the point it was too expensive, the obvious solution would be to carpool not spend $40K on a new car.

    I have been hearing about BEV for 20 years. Advocates ignore all the practical solutions in favor of the worse one because it is so impractical that they do not have to consider costs or environmental impact. The scary part we keep electing BEV advocates to public office. I would be happy to be wrong but advocates have the math sills of a turnip and understand of making electricity of a tree squirrel.

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  16. By Kup on August 11, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Kit, I can understand your comment “I am also skeptical of KUP because first he tells us that he has owned his car a few months then provides us data for a year” because I’m just an anonymous guy on the internet. But here’s the facts, I bought the car on March 19th and I am proficient enough in math to annualize my cost savings over my prior car even though I have only had the car a little less than five months.

    Oh and if you are REALLY curious just go to that Volt stats site I mentioned (voltstats.com), look up “Baby Koop” ie Volt 1885 and you can see my stats to date.

    And yes, from a pure economics point of view, no new car, including the Volt, is worth the money. I bought the car for many reasons and don’t regret it for a second.

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  17. By Wendell Mercantile on August 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Oh, and Wendell, it’s pretty subjective but the fit of the Volt is being compared quite favorably to BMWs and Mercedes. It’s in no way an economy type car (Prius, Civic, etc.) when it comes to fit or finish

    Thank you Kup. I live in a part of the country where one can’t yet see a Volt up close, so I don’t know exactly how they are fitted out.

    But it is a car GM touted as being for commuters that mostly travel less than 40 miles per day. $41,000 for that kind of car is a bit steep. For commuting, one could buy a pretty good used car for $10,000, and buy many years worth of fuel with the other $31,000.

    I also see nothing wrong with the interiors of a Prius, Civic, or for that matter the Jetta TDI that I drive. A luxuriously-appointed interior is more a matter of psychological need and self-satisfaction than necessity.

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  18. By perry1961 on August 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    I don’t worry about peak oil any more. If we wake one morning to headlines that a new, voracious microbe has eaten the world’s remaining oil, we will have the tools to cope. Transportation would be more expensive, but everything can be run on something besides oil. The same is true for plastics, paints, and other products made from oil. There are coke and pepsi bottles on shelves now that are cellulosic. The look and feel are the same, and they biodegrade much quicker. Airline travel might be reserved for the rich and famous, but biofuels can get a jet from point A to point B. Who knows, the zeppelin might even come back into style.

    My point is, EV’s and PHEV’s are more expensive than ICE’s, but the automobile was more expensive than horses too. For some strange reason, we moved along anyway. Peak oil will turn out to be little more than an annoyance imo.

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  19. By m on August 11, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    With 74 million out of 130 million people making 505 a week or less. Making the median wage somewhere closer to 15 thousand as opposed to 50 thousand.
    Not unless the .gov has a car stamp program which subsidizes 95 % of new volts cost.

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  20. By Kup on August 12, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    I know I shouldn’t but what the heck.

    Ok, Kit, you make the statement that articles won’t tell you what the smart grid is and say that if “they” told you that we wouldn’t like it. What is your interpretation of what the smart grid is and how it accomplishes it’s stated objectives?

    To be upfront, I’ll say that in my mind the concept that we call Smart Grid is merely a grid that allows modern communication systems to more efficiently and effectively balance electricity consumption and demand to make better use of our limited resources. With that understanding, the Smart Grid is a no brainer and is inevitable.

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  21. By Kup on August 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    m said:

    With 74 million out of 130 million people making 505 a week or less. Making the median wage somewhere closer to 15 thousand as opposed to 50 thousand.

    Not unless the .gov has a car stamp program which subsidizes 95 % of new volts cost.


    Here’s the thing.  EVs, BEVs, PHEVs are all new and, just like the cell phones in the early 90′s are extremely expensive.  While I don’t expect the experience curve to lead to production increases and cost decreases at the same rate as cell phones or computer memory, I do expect to see significant cost reductions.

    When you then take into consideration that electric vehicles are cheaper to operate, are cheaper to maintain and that gas is going to get much more expensive in the upcoming years, the electrification of the automotive industry is pretty much inevitable in my mind.  But you are right that currently relatively few people can afford the Volt.  I saw a report several months ago that said that only about 7 percent of the public could afford the Volt.  Needless to say, that number needs to change.

     

    Fortunately, the Volt is such a solid car and the response to it has been really positive (except by those heavily influenced by ignorant partisan crap from one particularly party).  This has caused GM to dramatically increase production plans and, as reported just yesterday, that they are rumored to have green lighted the Cadillac version of the Voltec platform (the Converj).  This development should lead to certain economies of scale and a reduction in the price of the technology.

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  22. By mac on August 12, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    The Cost of Electric Cars

     

    MSRP for electric cars                 Final cost after $ 7,500 tax credit**

     

    Chevy Volt         $ 40,280                   $ 32,780                  

    Nissan Leaf        $ 32,780                   $ 25,280

    Misubishi iMiev     $ 30,000*                 $ 22,500

     

    The Volt undoubtedly has significantly more to offer than the two battery-only cars, but  Leaf and iMiev could very well outsell the Volt —

    simply on price alone.  This might be what is happening.  Nissan just announced they have sold  5,000 Leaf in the U.S. as of Wednesday, August 12, 2011.  Chevy has sold about 3,200 Volts so far, but the GM Volt factory was shut down for several weeks for re-tooling recently. It’s still early in the game, and it will be interesting to see how things eventually play out.  In 2011, Nissan should easily eclipse first year Prius sales as only about 5,700  Prius were sold in the U.S. their first year.  Volt will also undoubtedly sell more than Prius did in year one..

     

    * The MSRP for the Mitsubishi iMiev is an estimate, since the iMiev is not currently sold in the U.S.

    **  Some states also offer tax incentives and other “perks” for EVs. 

     

     

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  23. By Wendell Mercantile on August 12, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    Final cost after $ 7,500 tax credit**

    One has to wonder why there is a $7,500 tax credit for the Volt. Since only rich people can afford it, why do we need to sweeten the deal for them when as a country we are already $14.5 trillion in debt?

    I’d like to hear Kup’s thoughts on this, but I doubt any rich person who was already considering buying a new car decided to buy a Volt because of a Federal tax credit. More likely they wanted to be the first in their social circle to own one; wanted to establish their “green” street credentials; or are dedicated early adopters.

    If we are going to help anyone buy a car, it seems it should be those single moms working shifts for minimum wage at the Dollar General Store in some part of the country where there is no public transportation and her job absolutely depends on having a reliable car.

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  24. By paul-n on August 13, 2011 at 1:23 am

    The US government seems obsessed with tax credits, but they are not always the best way to do things.  In the case of the Volt, Leaf etc if they have to pay a subsidy, a better way would have been to pay a $7.5 or $10k subsidy, and then make that taxable.  So the rich folks lose more of it than the lesser folks.

     

    But Wendell is right, how many “lesser folks” are going to buy Volt?

     

    I actually favour a return of the cash for clunkers program – with one modification – that the money is paid for scrapping the old car – regardless of whether or not you buy a  new one.  That way if the person is able to restructure their life such that they don;t need a car at all, they still get the benefit, and take the old car off the road, which was the main idea.

    That may not help the single mum at the dollar store, but neither does the Volt subsidy.

     

    Given all the hype about the Leaf and the Volt, I find the fact that they have each sold less than 5000 in half a year, in a vehicle market of 10 million per year, to be very underwhelming.  If the two vehicles finish the year with 20,000 between them, that is all of 0.2% of sales.

    I will maintain that since the best use of an EV is for a daily commuter car, that they should be trying to make an affordable commuter car, not an electric family car.   

    Otherwise, the Volt (and Ev’s in general) will remain a solution that is too expensive to be adopted widely enough to make any difference to anything

     

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  25. By mac on August 13, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Will the real Chevy Volt please stand up !!

    In 1956 Ford came out with the Lincoln Continental Mark II. It sold for $10,000. In inflation adjusted dollars, that’s $81,700 in today’s money

    At $40,200 the Chevy Volt (with no tax credits) costs less than half what that 55 year old Lincoln Mark II did.

    The Volt has all the so-called luxury features that the Lincoln had and a few more besides that. The Lincoln didn’t come with features such as GPS, or even cruise control, or heated seats, or a modern AM/FM radio/ stereo system, or a disc player, or electric power steering, or a embedded window defrosters and radio antenna, or even rain sensor windshield wipers……………..

    Pop Mechanics test drove the Volt. They ran the Volt until the grid electricity in the battery was depleted. Then they drove the car in extended mode (genset only) both in the city and on the highway (with-out the benefit of any plug-in grid recharge) The results were 32 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.

    On the other hand the Lincoln Continental Mark V “averaged 7 mpg under normal driving conditions and 3.5 mpg under full acceleration. Ford was close to violating the Corporate Average Fuel Economy law so in 1980, a smaller Continental was introduced.”

    The Volt sells for half the price of that old gas guzzling Lincoln and might just be more fun to drive and actually hold to the road better too.

    Maybe the Volt is not such a bad buy after all.

    Let’s face it, the Chevy Volt is not the “people’s car” It’s not an electric version of the VW Beetle designed for the common man. The Volt is basically a luxury sedan, just as the Lincoln Mark II was. But the Volt costs half as much in real dollars and has many more features than the old Lincoln did…….. and the Volt goes seven times farther on a gallon of gas. (even when running the ICE genset continuously.)

    Think of it !! Just seven mpg for than that old, clunker ’56 Lincoln versus 34 mpg city/highway for the Volt.

    The Volt is not the Model T, and the Volt is not a car the average working man can afford, That’s because the Volt was never meant to be the next Model T or Volkswagen beetle……

    But the Volt is ingenious, ground breaking technology. It will be an expensive technology at first and that’s exactly why Tesla, Fiskar and even Chevy (and others) are building cars designed basically for the upper middle class and beyond. If it makes you feel better, look at it this way……..The “fat cats” and their money and their vanity are just being used to perfect the technology.

    You can’t hide the expense an $18,000 dollar battery in a car that’s supposed to sell for $20,000 dollars, but you can hide it in an $86,000 dollar “luxury” vehicle like the Fiskar Karma.

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  26. By mac on August 13, 2011 at 9:23 am

     

     

    The problem wirh electric cars is that the gas tank is too expensive,  too small, and it takes too long to fill it up.

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  27. By drunyon on August 13, 2011 at 10:05 am

    I agree the tax credit doesn’t make that much sense.  I purchased my Civic GX in December to (about $25k, $7k premium over gasoline Civic LX) benefit from the $4,000 credit that expired 12/31/2010, but would have bought it anyway this year to keep car pool lane access (like many others are doing in California this year since hybrid car pool access lapsed on 6/30).  I think incentives (like car pool lane access) are much better incentives for alternative fuel cars than tax credits (I agree with Wendell and others with our deficit we don’t need these give-aways).  I had 215 miles two tanks ago (fueling every other day), so better range than pure electric and acceptable for a wider range of drivers.  I am in sales and car pooling doesn’t really work with my work.  There is no substitute for face to face interaction with customers.

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  28. By paul-n on August 13, 2011 at 11:05 am

    @ Drunyon – what is your $ per mile working out to?  How many miles to pay off the $7k premium?

     

    @ Mac  Comparing the Volt to a very expensive, large, luxury car is meaningless.  There are $80k cars available to day – so what?

     

    Now comparing it to the Model T is useful – lets look  at that.  The Model T got 25mpg – way better than any other car of its day. It was built without a lot of “features” that other cars had, to keep the cost down, and it sold in record numbers and changed the world forever.  Is the Volt in it’s present form going to do that?

    The T was a success because it eschewed all that luxury, in favour of economy = affordability.  Look at the world’s other great selling cars – the VW Beetle, the Citroen 2CV, Fiat 500, Mini, and the original versions of the Civic and Corolla.  I should point out that the Volt does not beat most of these cars for fuel efficiency!

    For the Volt to change the world – and the widespread adoption of a PHEV would indeed change the world, it needs to be a really affordable car – which it ain’t, and won’t be.  

     

    Rather than starting out as a “luxury” car that is eco friendly, the Volt should have been designed, and built from the start, to be a simple affordable car, that happens to be PHEV, and to meet a specific price – like $20k.  The VW, mini etc were all purpose designed for economy, both fuel and $.  Taking a luxury car and then trying to design the luxury, and size and weight out of it is a back-asswards approach, though that is what we have come to expect from GM.

    The Volt was the opportunity for a game changer, and GM has missed it.  Yes it’s a PHEV but it hasn’t, and won;t take the world by storm.

    I suspect that the Koreans will likely be the ones to do that.  All the other car making countries have come out with there world changing cars over the last century, I think that one of the Korean companies (which is also where the best battery developers are) will likely pick up the ball the GM has dropped and score a touchdown.

     

    When you can buy a new Kia Rio for $12k, they can probably afford to add a motor and 8kWh of batteries and stay under $20k.  Then do the $7.5k tax credit and you would have something that would sell like hot cakes.  

    Subsidising a luxury car, whether eco friendly or not, is simply a waste of money.

     

     

     

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  29. By russ-finley on August 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm

     

    What if everything ran on gas?

     

    From the original article:

    So it is particularly impressive that GM stuck to its guns in terms of the Volt rollout.

    Only time will tell if this was an impressive move. The Volt may never turn a profit, same for the Leaf. This was said about the first Prius as well but time has answered that question.

    GM touts the Volt as a “no compromise, range-extended electric vehicle.”

    It is a plug-in hybrid. They rejected that label so they could market it to the public as an electric car.

    “where is GM’s answer to the Prius ?!?”

    Good question. There are a lot of hybrid cars out there competing with the Prius. The Volt is a plug-in hybrid and will be going head-to-head with other plug-in hybrids. It may turn out that plug-in hybrids in general may never catch on. They cost a lot and you are still stuck with all of the downsides of the complex nature of  an internal combustion car, oil, gas, coolant, transmission, pumps, and on and on.

    Almost without exception, attempts to combine two functions in one leads to engineering and cost compromises. That’s why we still have digital cameras instead of just cell phone cameras. That’s why so few people buy the Shopsmith Mark 7 all in one shop tool.

    Rob Peterson, GM Volt Spokesperson, recently told me in an interview “At this point we know that Volt owners are averaging 900 miles between refueling the 9 gallon gas tank

    Riiight … that works out to exactly 100 miles per gallon and smells like more marketing.

    given that the Volt has a gasoline engine that can both recharge the battery and drive the transmission.

    The engine cannot replace the charge that was put into the battery by the electrical grid. Once that charge is used up the Volt becomes a hybrid lugging around a very heavy battery.

     

    “…two-thirds of these customers’ travels are all-electric.”

    Most likely because of the limited range of the battery. That number might move from 60% to 95% if it had the electric range of a Leaf.

    So the Volt is a success and is the domestic answer to the Prius that the EV-market watchers have been asking for.

    We can’t honestly say the Volt is success yet.

     

    So when Onstar (wholly owned by GM) recently announced that it was partnering with GE to pilot a SmartGrid-based system to monitor the Volt’s usage and recharging needs, EV watchers took notice.

    The Leaf uses a system called Car Wings to do the same thing.

     

    Not just because the technology is imperfect [electric cars] (range limitations, performance issues),

    No technology is perfect. The electric car’s lower range is its only limitation. It outperforms an equivalent ICE car in just about all metrics.

    the infrastructure that took 100 years to build which supports the combustion engine is valued in the trillions of dollars

    Actually, our infrastructure is constantly turning over every few decades. Tooling up for new car lines is done every year.

    So it will take a company of GE’s size to move that process forward …What we need, now more than ever, are companies like GM and GE to flex their significant muscles and think big …Note: GE did not respond for comment in time for publication.

    All companies eventually fail. Some fail when they become too large to innovate as is the case with GM. GM continues to exist only thanks to life support.

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  30. By russ-finley on August 13, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    mac said:

    General Motors has awarded a production contract to A123 Systems,

    I’m glad to see that. I’ve been using that battery chemistry on my electric bike since 2007. Still using the same packs. Wonderful battery.

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  31. By drunyon on August 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Paul N: some variation on natural gas prices, but use the current $2.40/gallon equivalent and 33 mpg (my average mixed highway and city), so $.073/mile. I think $3.85/gallon regular here. Probably Civic gasoline also 33 mpg, so $.117/mile. I do about 20,000 miles a year, so about $879 savings a year for fuel. I think maintenance, and car longevity pretty much the same (Civic GX around more than 10 years, so good data). Certainly no economic payback without the $4k tax credit I had from 2010 (but as I mentioned, I did this for HOV lane access). I posted more to point out there were non-gasoline options that were much less than $40k and had 2x the range of pure electric. It does seem the regulation around natural gas cars in USA is somewhat onerous (natural gas cars in other countries have much less a delta in price). No engineering required for much larger use of natural gas for commuting cars, and natural gas supply also reasonable for the foreseeable future (certainly the life of my car).

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  32. By russ-finley on August 13, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Paul N said:

    Otherwise, the Volt (and Ev’s in general) will remain a solution that is too expensive to be adopted widely enough to make any difference to anything

    True that but the added cost of an electric car is in its battery. So to be more specific, battery costs have to come down. That may happen. Combine lower battery costs with the lower manufacturing costs of an electric car (given similar production rates) it just may happen faster than anticipated ..or not.

    The slow adoption of electrics could be predicted. As stated earlier, the public was leery of the Prius as well and less than 1% of our cars are diesel.

    We will see.

    Subsidising a luxury car, whether eco friendly or not, is simply a waste of money.

    Probably so. Are there any real world examples of government subsidies actually working to create a new industry (other than basic research)? Were the Prius subsidies a waste? Probably unknowable.

     

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  33. By paul-n on August 13, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Thx Drunyon,

     

    I am a bit dissapointed that the CNG price is so high, given that NG is currently so cheap.  I wonder if more volume of CNG sales would bring that down?

    I am also suprised at the price premium for the CNG conversion, but there are not that many being done, and even the Civic GX is a conversion of a completely built gasoline Civic, not a factory built system.   In Australia, LPG (propane) cars are $2-4k premium, with the only real difference in equipment being the tank and regulator.  there were 100,000 LPG cars built/converted in Australia last year.

    Obviously for someone who drives more miles, the CNG equation gets better, and for a taxi, batter still.  All taxis in australia have been LPG for over 30 years now.

     

    I agree that NG vehicles are a viable alternative – though not for all vehicles.  The Civic seems an odd one, since it is already small and fuel efficient.  An NG Accord, Pilot, Ridgeline would cost the same for the conversion but have  a payback of probably half the time.  The bigger they are and the more miles they do, the more favourable for NG – which is why I favour a serious effort at NG dual fuelling for heavy trucks.

    Like these guys are doing – I can’t see much downside here;

    http://www.cleanairpower.com/

     

     

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  34. By Kup on August 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Hey Wendell,

    I’m probably too open on the internet but I do value honest discussion and so I’ll give you some background to better understand where I’m coming from on the Volt and the tax credit. I work for a non-profit and, all things considered, I’m not doing too bad for myself but I’m extremely far from being rich. I make less than $80k a year but my wife works and makes about the same (although she is self-employed and thus has higher taxes).

    Anyway, without the tax credit I’m not sure I would have bought the Volt because it is not a cheap car. Another fact is that I have only bought one other new car in my life and that was a joint purchase with the wife of a 2006 Honda CRV which is about $15k less than what I paid for the Volt (prior to the tax credit).

    Anyway, we are not extravagant people and so we are savers. So we had the money to pay for a car that would significantly reduce our oil consumption, that would cause us to be more energy independent, that would lower pollution and would spur development of this fledgling industry. In other words, while it may not make the most sense from a purely economic point of view it would better align my actions with my values.

    Now when it comes to the tax credit I, as a “conservative” registered Republican, don’t think too highly of most manipulations of the tax code but I fully support this tax credit and I support increased taxes on all hydrocarbon based fuels. I also favor taxes or certain charges for EVs to pay for the roads that we use. The reason for this is that I think that it is a moral imperative for us that lived on the up slope of the oil production curve to help ease the transition to the down slope of the production curve. The “free market” is ill-suited to do this on it’s own since it is far too focused on the short term horizon and is exceedingly poor at providing price signals for long term phenomenon like Peak Oil. I could expand but this post is long enough.

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  35. By drunyon on August 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Paul N: cngprices.com is a good place to see the variability of CNG prices.  In Oklahoma, I see stations at $.78 per gallon equivalent.  To RRs comments about using ethanol in Iowa for all vehicles, one would think everyone in Oklahoma would be driving natural gas vehicles.  Unfortunately, few conversions are approved and not many new builds (I believe Civic the only car).

    Almost all the garbage trucks in our area have gone to CNG, and increasingly the public buses, UPS delivery trucks and so on.  LNG for long haul trucks and trains looks feasible as well (engines and trucks already being sold by Paccar, and see http://www.westport-hd.com/).  I could get close to $1/gallon equivalent if I used a home refueling appliance, but (in this area at least) it is $5-7k installed (appliance and separate electric meter).  I would need to run 5 hours a night to fuel, and the compressor would need to be rebuilt every 3-4 years – difficult to justify, and my US Navy experience with high-pressure compressors makes me leery as well.  I agree larger vehicles are better in many respects (more space for tank), but I was trying to keep $/mile down (mileage is not better with natural gas, just different fuel).  In my Civic, the truck is not deep (see http://cngchat.com/forum/showt…..ht=costco) – a “glass is half full” posting on how much money Civic GX owners save at Costco.  The 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas will be available in many more trim levels and locations (but not available yet).  http://cngchat.com a great place for more information.

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  36. By Kup on August 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Russ Finley said:

     

    GM touts the Volt as a “no compromise, range-extended electric vehicle.”

    It is a plug-in hybrid. They rejected that label so they could market it to the public as an electric car.

     

    Rob Peterson, GM Volt Spokesperson, recently told me in an interview “At this point we know that Volt owners are averaging 900 miles between refueling the 9 gallon gas tank

    Riiight … that works out to exactly 100 miles per gallon and smells like more marketing.

     

    As a Volt owner I would say that it is difficult to really classify the Volt.  You are right that it is a plug-in hybrid but there is a huge difference between a series hybrid (Volt) and a parallel hybrid (essentially all other hybrids).  On top of that I’m personally off of gas during the week.  So from Monday thru Friday, to me, in my day-to-day driving experience it is a true EV.  On top of that there are times when the Volt’s gas engine provides torque to the wheels and it is also a parallel hybrid under those rare occasions.  So in my personal experience the Volt is an EV, it is a series hybrid, it is a parallel hybrid and it is a plug-in hybrid.  Some people choose to focus on one aspect or the other but it seems that from a real world experience the marketing arm of GM has it just about right when it calls it an EREV (extended range electric vehicle).

     

    Now as to your skepticism regarding the real world experience of most Volts, I would suggest you look at the voltstats.net site that I mentioned earlier.  It is a relatively small sample size (a little over 60 owners) but it runs the gammit of people that are getting over 1500 MPG to people that are under 80 MPG.  The last I saw the average was running at about 110 MPG which tends to back up GMs claim.  To be sure GM has access to all the data and the website I mentioned is a self-selected group out of about 3000 owners.  But they tend to backup one another.

     

    Anyway, GM has built a truly great car in the Volt, IMO.  Whether that translates into market acceptance and “success” is, as you said, an open question.

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

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  37. By Benny BND Cole on August 13, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Mac–great writing about the Lincoln and the Volt. I have been saying the same.

    I always thought GM should have brought out the Volt as a luxury car. After all, people pay $5k for leather seats. What is $10k for being able to snub smelly gasoline stations?

    The future is bright. Lithium batteries are improving at about 8 percent a year. In 10 years we can expect double the range. There seems to be a lot of movement in research.

    I think we are about to see something else: The return of sexy cars, and I hope detroit doesn’t forget how to do it.

    Think about it: If you are getting 80 miles on the charge, is wind resistance all that important? We can get away from bubble cars and go to sexy cars with fins or grills or even faux aero-swept styling. The drag co-efficient can go up a little. We have beaten the mpg dull-queen.

    As for our domestic power system, new power plants are not expensive. Natural gas plants are under $1 billion. We spend $1 trillion every year on national defense, Homeland Security and the VA.

    We easily have the ability to make a better, more prosperous and cleaner world.

    We have only to make the big right choices.

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  38. By mac on August 13, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    “After all, people pay $5k for leather seats.”

    Ben,
    Yes people do pay big money for leather interiors and olive burl dashboards. I think the leather seats/heated seats option for the Volt is about $1300 bucks. I love those old Lincolns, What magnificent automobiles… but man were they ever hard on gas.

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  39. By Wendell Mercantile on August 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    I always thought GM should have brought out the Volt as a luxury car.

    I agree Benny. Chevy is the brand for GM’s blue-collar demographic — it was a misstep to brand the Volt as a Chevy.

    For better or worse, there are people in the Buick and Cadillac demographic who won’t lower their perceived self-esteem enough to buy a car with Chevy’s bow tie on the front. (Before anyone asks, I’ll point out that the Corvette does not have a “bow tie” logo anywhere on the car, and GM deliberately avoids calling it a Chevy Corvette.)

    At the Volt’s price point, they would have been better off calling it a Buick, or simply the “General Motors Volt” and selling it only at their upscale dealerships.

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  40. By mac on August 13, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Ben,
    I think Wendell might be on to something. If battery technology is still too expensive to build and market a truly competitive economy car, then GM might have been better off to market the Volt under a separate marque and sell it as an upscale luxury sedan.

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  41. By perry1961 on August 14, 2011 at 11:58 am

    The lease is only $350 per month. You can lease a stripped down Corolla for $200 per month, but it will cost you another $100 per month to fill it up. All other things being equal, which would you prefer to cruise around town in?

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  42. By russ-finley on August 14, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Kup said:

    As a Volt owner I would say that it is difficult to really classify the Volt. You are right that it is a plug-in hybrid but there is a huge difference between a series hybrid (Volt) and a parallel hybrid (essentially all other hybrids).

    Huge is a relative term.  Every Hybrid manufactuer uses a different design, which explains in part the different efficiencies. A diesel locomotive is an example of a pure series hybrid, the Volt is not.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H…..drivetrain

    The Prius can be called a “Power-split or series-parallel hybrid.”

    The bottom line is this; The Volt uses an internal combustion engine to help turn the wheels once the grid charge is used up  (if that engine quits working because of some malfunction like a leaking water pump, the Volt will not move one inch once the battery charge is used up). How the Volt gets power from the engine to the wheels is relatively irrelevant.

    The Volt’s gas engine applies mechanical torque to the mechanical drive train via a planetary gear system when needed. This planetary gear system design requires input from two power sources to function (you need an engine and an electric motor or two electric motors applying power to opposite ends of the gear set to react one set of gears against another). From GM’s chief engineer:

    “…you can turn on the engine to generate electricity (snip)…we …there are situations where we will (pause) take some mechanical torque (pause) from (pause) the engine and we will actually react it against one of the other electric motors (pause) and then the sum of that comes out of the planetary gear set and goes to the wheels.”

    Engine>>>planetary gear set to wheels<<<big electric motor

    or when the battery has adequate charge (provided by grid or regen or generator set)

    small electric motor>>>planetary gear set to wheels<<<big electric motor

    On top of that I’m personally off of gas during the week. So from Monday thru Friday, to me, in my day-to-day driving experience it is a true EV.

    Nobody has made the claim that the Volt can’t move with the engine turned off (assuming the battery has adequate charge when that happens). So can the plug-in Prius (or normal Prius for that matter). It is purely a matter of degree, a function of battery size.

    On top of that there are times when the Volt’s gas engine provides torque to the wheels and it is also a parallel hybrid under those rare occasions.

    Rare is also a relative term. The engine applies torque to the wheels anytime the car needs more torque than can be provided by the electric motor alone (when its battery is too low to provide enough power). This happens about as often as it does in a Prius once the Volt’s grid charge is used up. It is only rare when the battery still has grid charge. Trying to charge the battery by using the gasoline engine would result in lower efficiency than direclty applying engine torque to the drive train.

    So in my personal experience the Volt is an EV, it is a series hybrid, it is a parallel hybrid and it is a plug-in hybrid. Some people choose to focus on one aspect or the other but it seems that from a real world experience the marketing arm of GM has it just about right when it calls it an EREV (extended range electric vehicle).

    If they can call it that then everyone else can call their plug-in hybrids an EREV as well.

    Now as to your skepticism regarding the real world experience of most Volts,

    I was not skeptical about the stats, I was pointing out that he chose stats that made the best sound bite “100 miles per gallon.”

     

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  43. By mac on August 14, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    @ Ben.
    You mentioned that battery tech is advancing at about 8% a year. Here’s an interesting article from the GM Volt website concerning advances in cathode technology. A battery cell is made up of 3 basic parts, the cathode, the anode and the electrolyte. A battery cell is fairly easy to understand, but the chemical reactions of the three basic parts can become quite complicated, This is why there is so much research going on with various materials and how they interact.

    I agree with you that GM might have been better off to market the Volt as a luxury vehicle. It has all the features of mid-fifties Lincoln Town Cars and much more besides that.

    http://gm-volt.com/2011/01/27/…..p-company/

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  44. By mac on August 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Russ,

    I watched your U-tube video on your home-made e-bike. Pretty cool.
    A123 makes a good battery. Bill Dube’s Killa-cycle held the the 1/4 mile record for EV motorcycle drag racing for about 10 years. He ran his bike on A123.

    Our good buddy Vinod Khosla recently said that A123 would be out of business within ten years, I guess that’s because he’s invested in See-O and Sakti who are both working on solid state electrolytes that promise a 50% gain over present Li-ion technology. But Khosla has been wrong before (Range Fuels ?)

    Great home made e-bike.

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  45. By russ-finley on August 14, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Khosla is usually wrong and he knows it. He can afford to be. He’s looking for one big winner. A123 may very well be out of business within ten years if a vastly better technology arrives, as will everyone else making that type of battery. That would be a good thing overall. Let’s hope he’s right for once ; ) He’s convinced that batteries have to rival liquid fueled cars in range and fueling time to compete. However, if batteries get cheap enough and you could buy a Leaf for say $18,000 then another of his predictions will bite the dust because at that price a lot of people would happily accept a 100 mile max range for their second car. Predicting the future ain’t easy.

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  46. By mac on August 14, 2011 at 7:28 pm

     

     

    Here’s something for Paul N

    Report: 50.6% of households in Japan now own a small, frugal kei car

    http://green.autoblog.com/

     

    th, 2011 at 4:51PM

    Daihatsu e:S

    Daihatsu e:S – Click above for high-res image gallery
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  47. By mac on August 14, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Russ comment:

    “Khosla is usually wrong and he knows it.”

     

    Mac comment:

    You can’t just stick a programmed disc into a computer and suddenly out pops a car…..

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  48. By Kup on August 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Russ, I don’t think your understanding of hybrids and my understanding are the same but maybe we are just splitting hairs. You say that the Prius (and the PiP) and the Volt all can move under battery power and it’s just a degree of the battery size. That is true but phrasing it that way fundamentally misstates what the difference is between the Volt, the Prius and the PiP. For the Prius, the battery size is so small that the gas engine kicks on at about 40 mph regardless of SoC. For the Plug-in Prius, the gas engine will kick on some time between 50 and 60 mph (from the early reviews) due to the larger battery size. For the Volt, even if you go 100 mph the gas engine won’t kick on. You don’t like my use of “huge” or “rare” and that’s fine but the Volt’s design is fundamentally different on this issue.

    You then go on to say that the Volt applies torque to the wheels as much as the Prius does when the EV range is used up. My understanding is that this is not true at all. From my understanding, the Prius’ gas engine supplies torque to the engine the majority of the time it is on since the battery size is so small. For the Volt there are a handful of times when the gas engine provides torque and the main one is when you go over 70 mph when the EV range is used up. EV purists don’t like that fact but I like the fact that instead of wasting that energy it is put to get use.

    Another way of framing this debate is that the Volt’s primary use of the gas engine is to act as electricity generator while the primary use of the Prius’ engine is to provide torque to accelerate the car. Two fundamentally different approaches between the cars. To be sure, you and I would agree that this is largely the function of the difference in battery size but the different sized batteries allow entirely different approaches to powering the car and each attempts to maximize efficiency given their two sources of energy.

    A way of demonstrating this is to drive the Prius and the Volt and accelerate from 45 to 60 mph. The Prius will engage the engine and the rpm’s of the engine will change through that speed range. The Volt will not use speed to decide whether to turn on the gas engine but will instead use State of Charge of the batteries. But assuming that the Volt is in extended range mode the rpm’s of the engine will not change between 45 to 60 mph like the Prius. The reason goes back to what my argument is and that is that the Volt’s engine is primarily a part of a generator system and will mostly stay at a constant rpm that is the most efficient to generate electricity.

    Now perhaps we are splitting hairs but the differences I describe are the fundamental differences between the Prius’ tech and that of the Volt. The Volt wouldn’t be winning so many car of the year awards, engine design awards and rave reviews by automotive critics if the Volt was essentially a glorified parallel hybrid (Prius). In short, it’s the difference between 50 mpg a Prius would get on my commute and the infinity MPG that I get with my Volt.

    I don’t mind being pointed out where I’m wrong and so please correct me if your understanding is different.

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  49. By Kup on August 14, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    As far as the argument goes regarding putting the Voltec platform under the Chevy brand I’m not entirely convinced it matters much in the first several years.  The early adopters are generally informed enough to understand the relationship between GM, Chevy, Buick and Cadillac.  So they will be primarily interested in the technology of the car and not the marketing of the car (ie putting it under Chevy, Buick, etc.).  In addition, the Voltec platform is going to be shared within GM.  It appears that the first off-shoot of the technology will be to put the Voltec platform under the Cadillac brand in the form of the Converj.

     

    Anyway, if the EREV technology is going to be shared across the brands it doesn’t make much difference in my mind which brand gets the first use of the platform.  But, with that understanding, if you know you have a “game changing” technological concept then it might be best to tie all the positive buzz to your corner-stone brand which is Chevy.  Thus, I would tend to have supported putting the Volt under the Chevy brand.  Further, while some people may shy away from the Volt because they put it under the Chevy there are several times more people that can afford a Chevy over a Buick (let alone a Caddy) and so they may think that this new technology might make economic sense to them.  

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  50. By Wendell Mercantile on August 15, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Further, while some people may shy away from the Volt because they put it under the Chevy

    Kup,

    Which car-buying demographic do you consider yourself?

    * A blue-collar Chevy-guy?
    * A somewhat older, college-educated, professional Buick-type?
    * An upscale, status seeking, newly wealthy Cadillac-type?

    …there are several times more people that can afford a Chevy over a Buick (let alone a Caddy) and so they may think that this new technology might make economic sense to them.

    But a Volt is hardly an affordable car for the Chevy-buying masses.

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  51. By Kup on August 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Wendell, I wouldn’t say I’m really any of those. I’m 40 and the only other new car that I bought was the Honda CRV which was what my wife has driven since we got it. So usually I have bought used cars that typically got pretty good gas mileage.

    But based on income and age I would say I’m more of a Buick guy although I was driving a loaner Chevy Cavalier for the 18 months prior to buying the Volt. And yes, the Volt is not really affordable to most people and GM has a lot of work to lower the price of the Volt well in excess of the $7500 tax credit that GM cars will no longer be eligible for in a 3 or 4 years.

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  52. By Walt on August 16, 2011 at 10:50 am

    MIDLAND — Evergreen Solar Inc., the Massachusetts-based solar
    company that received millions in state subsidies then shut down its
    massive East Coast plant, has filed for bankruptcy and plans to cut its
    losses by selling its Midland manufacturing facility.

    According to the Boston Herald,
    the company announced it is seeking a reorganization in U.S. Bankruptcy
    Court in Delaware and also reached a deal with certain note holders to
    restructure its debt and sell off certain assets.
    The
    company said it would lay off another 65 jobs in the U.S. and Europe,
    most likely through the sale of its high-temperature filament plant in
    Midland. The Herald reported that leaves about 68 workers left in the
    company, according to the bankruptcy filing.
    About 30 employees work at the Midland facility.
    According to Bloomberg, the solar company owes $485.6 million to creditors, and plans to pay it off by selling itself at an auction.
    Last month, company officials warned that shares of Evergreen Solar could be worthless, after they received a deficiency letter from Nasdaq.
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  53. By mac on August 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Walt.
    I am not sure what your post has to do with the Chevy Volt but ,many businesses fail in all fields of endeavor. What ever happened to the Pierce Arrow or the Nash Metropolitan ? Or the Henry J or the Crosley or the 1924 Star or the 1930 air-cooled Franklin ? Or the Tucker ? All these automobiles have passed from the scene.

    The same will be true for solar companies, Some solar companies will survive and some will not, just as some auto-makers have survived and others have bitten the dust.

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  54. By mac on August 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm

     

    Will the Volt Survive

     

    I don’t know.  Will we all be eagerly awaiting the next Chevy Volt model ten years from now ?

     

    I don’t know.

     

    Will there be a lot more PHEVs on the road in ten years because GM had the guts to build this car ?

     

    Yes !

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  55. By mac on August 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Fossil Fuel Traitors

     

    There is a long list of fossil fuel “traitors” 

     

    1.  Bob Lutz

     

         Lutz.  with opposition from within the company (GM) pressed the Volt to a finished end product. Lutz owns 4 Segway electric       transporters

     

    2. Lee Iacocca

     

         Former CEO of Chrysler set up Global Electric after he retired, that sold neighorhood  NEVs and electric bicycles.

     

    3. Bob Semple

     

         Former CEO of GM went into the battery business after he retired from GM.

     

    4. Frank Jamerson

         Perhaps the most  credentialled of all of the above, Jamerson worked on the EV-1 and on  neodymium magnet development. He  is a nuclear physicist.  What is he doing now ?

     

    Selling electric bicycles,  of course.

     

    Laugh

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  56. By paul-n on August 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    Just to be clear, Mac, Jamerson is not selling electric bicycles, he is selling a report about electric bicylces.  Same as his entire career has been about researching things that, with the exception of neodymium magnets, have not made it to market.

     

    The EV-1 is probably the best, most sensible electric car ever made, and where is it now?  None of these people seem to be trying to do a new version of it, even though they all seem to believe in it.

     

    For all the efforts of these people, how close are we, really,. to widespread EV implementation? The Segway is a useless joke, NEV’s are only used in places like university campuses where you might just as well walk, and the only thing that is widespread are made in China electric bikes.

     

    Nothing, except high oil prices, has stemmed the tide of ICE vehicles.

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  57. By mac on August 17, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Paul said:

    “The EV-1 is probably the best, most sensible electric car ever made, and where is it now? None of these people seem to be trying to do a new version of it, even though they all seem to believe in it.”

    First of all, what a bunch of non-sense.

    Secondly, everything the EV-1 had on board has been improved: Batteries, controller, regen braking. etc. All except perhaps for the wind resistance profile which remains unsurpassed with the possible exception of the Solectria Sunrise, also an electric car from appx the same era as the EV-1,

    Secondly, the EV-1 was a two-seater. The Nissan Leaf is not. The Volt is also not a two-seater. Both the Volt and Leaf are quantum leaps above the EV-1 in virtually every way.

    Specious arguments on your part and It’s obvious that you do not like electric cars.

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  58. By mac on August 17, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Paul.

     

    When speaking of Jamerson’s career you said:

     

    “Same as his entire career has been about researching things that, with
    the exception of neodymium magnets, have not made it to market.”

     

    What a crock of  BS.  The electric bicycles (that Jamerson writes about and supports) haven’t made it to market yet ?

     

    What century are you living in ???

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  59. By paul-n on August 18, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Well, I certainly know how to get your attention, Mac.

     

    I don;t think the Ev’s have advanced since the EV, I actually think they have gone backwards.  The EV-1 set a world record for production car aerodynamics, but that has been given up for “styling”.   Comparing to the Leaf, the EV-1 was lighter, and longer range – even with inferior (and cheaper)  batteries than today.  Yes it was a 2 seater as that fitted the primary role for the car – an urban commuter, not a family car.  The Gm marketers wanted a  seater and the engineers refused (a prototype was built) as it would make the car bigger, heavier, need more batteries and more expensive.  So, with the Leaf, we have a 4 seater that is …. bigger, heavier, less aerodynamic, needs more batteries, has a lower range and costs more.  It is out of the range of the urban commuter that wants an affordable commuter car that is electric.  So just how is it that much better?

    I would bet an EV-1, repowered with the modern motor, controllers, lithium batteries would knock the socks of the Leaf, and could either have close to a 200 mile range, or be a 100 mile car with a battery half or 2/3 the size (and cost) of the Leaf.

    The best application for ev’s, at present is as urban commuter cars.  In order to get the most of these on the road and save as much oil as possible, there should be a model that is simple, and affordable.  The EV-1 comes the closest to that, and a modern version would hit the mark.  If it was sold for $15k, after the $7500 tax credit, I’ll bet GM would have sold many more of them than they are the Volt.

    It’s not that I don’t like electric cars, I just don’t like the ones that are being made – they are trying to be like an ICE family car, and not trying to carve out their own niche.  The model T, Mini, 2CV, Beetle, Civic, Corolla all inspired a whole new generation of people with affordable, minimalist motoring.   Not coincidentally, these are all in the top 10 best selling cars of all time – I can’t see the Leaf or Volt doing that.

     

    As for Jamerson, he did not invent the electric bike, they have been around in China for quite some time.  Yes, he makes his living writing about what others have done with e-bikes, and that’s fine.  It is just too bad that much of his research didn’t amount to much new stuff from GM – which may be more to do with GM than what he did.

     

    But what have the combined efforts of these four people achieved, compared to say, one Henry Ford, or Sir Alec Issigonis, or John Kemp Starley?  All of your four made their living in the ICE business – sure they have made noble efforts on EV’s in their retirement years,  but they haven’t come up with a viable alternative.  If Lee Iacocca had been able to do for the ev what he did for Chrysler, half of us would be driving them.  But he hasn;t and we aren;t – but we are still waiting.

     

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  60. By Wendell Mercantile on August 18, 2011 at 9:40 am

    The best application for ev’s, at present is as urban commuter cars. In order to get the most of these on the road and save as much oil as possible, there should be a model that is simple, and affordable.

    Paul,

    I agree. There will come a day when almost everyone has a light, electric car for getting around cities and the suburbs. The fortunate may have a long-range, liquid-fueled car for those long weekend jaunts.

    There have been lightweight, electric cars available for years for urban use, though they have yet to catch on widely (other than in a few retirement cities in the Sunbelt.) GEM Electric Cars

    I think too many still associate cars like the GEM with golf carts — but their day will come as liquid fuel gets more and more expensive. I think there will actually come a day when people won’t be able to believe that we used to burn liquid fuels to make trips of only a few miles.

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  61. By paul-n on August 18, 2011 at 10:28 am

    There will come a day when almost everyone has a light, electric car for getting around cities and the suburbs.

    Wendell,  couldn’t agree more – if there must be suburbs, then there should be suburban cars – which is not an SUV.  The thing is, the technology exists to build such cars today.  The GEM type Low Speed Vehicles  are seen (correctly) as glorified golf carts, and something between that and the ordinary subcompact car (Kia Rio, Honda Fit, etc) is probably required, in terms of safety standards.  

    For those who have to have a macho feeling car, instead of an androgynous GEM car, they can always get one of these;

     

    These are from e-ride industries of Minnesota  have a (governed) top speed of 25mph, 55 mile range  and can carry 850lbs.  And this based on lead-acid batteries!  Put on a car-like body, car tires and lithium batteries, and you would have a fine suburban car

    But since those standards are unlikely to emerge, then the next best thing is to just get on and make a small, light EV that meets the current rules.

    Keep the price down by stripping it of unneccessary stuff – just have a docking station for an I-pad and that is your nav system etc, and an I-pod stn for the stereo.  Use some of the tricks form the Edison Very Light Car – which met the road safety rules –  to get the weight and aerodynamic drag down.    Make it two seats and you only need half the batteries of a Leaf to get a 60+ mile urban range – plenty for suburban applications.

    It is the obsession with the family car that can do everything that is holding things back.  Change the insurance rules so that the third party liability insurance goes with the driver, not the car (you can’t drive two cars at once, so why have them insured at once), and it becomes more affordable to own a cheap, efficient second (or third) car.

    This would probably be the best way to make living in the suburbs affordable – cheaper than servicing them with transit.

    I have never understood why this approach has not taken off – something that makes it easier for people to buy and own more (locally built) cars – you would think the auto industry would be all over that.

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  62. By thomas398 on August 18, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Paul

    Early adopters are not minimalists–by definition.  In addition, GM and Nissan are trying to dispel the stereotype that an electric car is a ”compromise vehicle”.  They want to be like Apple not Alcoa.  As we’ve discussed before, I don’t think range will be the critical characteristic of the electric vehicle.  There will be an industry consensus around something between 70 and 200 miles per charge.  Once an EV clears this benchmark, the focus will be on “styling”. In the same way talk time is not the “sell feature” on smart phones.  I would also argue that the success of the vehicles you named was not because they were minmalist.  The consumer got a lot of car for an affordable price.  That’s economy.  Looking back at the Civics I’ve owned, I had cupholders, radio, usb plugs, A/C, four seats etc…That’s not minmalism. 

     

    The electric Model T will come, but new technologies never enter at the “bottom”. 

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  63. By Wendell Mercantile on August 18, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Paul,

    I have seen a couple of ZENN cars tooling around our small mid-western college town. ZENN Neighborhood Electric Car They were built in Toronto, but apparently have stopped assembly.

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  64. By paul-n on August 18, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Thomas, the way I see it with Ev’s is that there has been 100 years of “early adopters” – if these vehicles are going to achieve anything, they need to break out into the mainstream- I just can’t see an iteration of the Volt of Leaf doing that.

    Sure GM and Nissan are trying to be an Apple, and for three decades, Apple has held a single digit share of the computer market.  Apple has done really well by inventing new things (ipod, Iphone, I pad) , but the EV is not a new thing, it is just a variation on a thing that everyone already has.  

    I am sure the carmakers will spend lots of money on stylign etc – that;s just what they do.  And a 200 mile, nice looking electric car might sell well, and will probably have a $40k+ price tag.

    But the idea of the government EV initiative and the $7.5k tax credit was to encourage a shift change in  transportation.  The only successful gov programs to do this were ones like the Beetle, Fiat 500, Citroen 2CV, etc.

    If you don’t think these vehicles were minimalist, check out the original versions of them – including the Civic.  The original, base model Civic and Corolla were bare bones affairs.  They  have become bloated in the decades since, that is why both Honda and Toyota have had to introduce smaller, cheaper models since.  Since the 90′s the Civics have been so in name only.  

    I can however, see that the carmakers are very reluctant to introduce a cheap, game changing EV, as it will steal sales away from all their existing, higher margin vehicles, and take their “brand” downmarket.  That’s why I think it will be an aggressive auto maker with little to lose, like one from Korea or even India or China, that will go this route.  The legacy automakers will make expensive EV’s, but for those drivers that really need to save money on their commuting, these offerings are of little help.

    All new technologies  become mass market only when they become “cheap”(e.g., PC’s, cellphones, Model T’s, flat screen tv’s, air travel) There is a huge opportunity out there for whoever does this first with an EV.

     

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  65. By Wendell Mercantile on August 18, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I can however, see that the car makers are very reluctant to introduce a cheap, game changing EV, as it will steal sales away from all their existing, higher margin vehicles, and take their “brand” downmarket.

    How true. Do you think the car makers want commuters going to work in small, lightweight electric cars selling for $10,000 that have almost no profit margin, when instead they could be driving the much more profitable SUVs and pickup trucks? (Even though most commuters never use the capabilities of either.)

    When Bob Lutz was at GM, he once famously said, “We can’t make money selling small cars.”

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  66. By paul-n on August 18, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Spot on Wendell, that’s why GM won’t do this, but Hyundai, or Tata or Chery just might.  After all, we are conditioned now for accepting cheap import products.  The $10k electric suburban car would appeal to a lot of 20 somethings that refuse to buy cars, or make do with cheap 2nd hand ones.  They are OK that their Iphones are made in China, and at least some will accept cars made there.

    {edit} Mahindra (not Tata) is selling its Pik Up in Australia, and elsewhere, for 1/2 the price of a Toyota equivalent, and doing quite well.  They could easily do so with an EV.

     

    The Zenn car was a failure as it cost too much for what it was.  It was still a Low Speed Vehicle, restricted to 50km/h(35mph) roads and was  high teens $ – you could buy a Smart car, or a Kia Rio, for the same money and go anywhere.  It showed that people won’t pay for no emissions or noise – if you have the speed/road restrictions you have to be cheaper than ordinary cars, and they weren’t.

    Zenn also said they had an inside line with EEstor, and would have a revolutionary battery in their cars “soon”.  Naturally, if they are promising that, almost all their potential customers waited.    Of course, EEstor have never produced anything, so Zenn was left with nothing.

    Someone needs to take the Henry Ford approach, and set a price – say $10k (or $15k if it will qualify for the $7.5k credit) and design the car to that price.  Sounds like a great challenge for a company with young upstart engineers and motivated staff hungry to hit the big time – exactly not what GM is! 

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  67. By Wendell Mercantile on August 18, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    …say $10k (or $15k if it will qualify for the $7.5k credit) and design the car to that price.

    How about a $7500 car that qualifies for the $7500 tax credit?

    Instead of that tax credit helping rich people (who need neither help nor an incentive) buy Volts, it would help people who really need help buying cars, and now mostly own cast-iron clunkers that get horrendous mileage and are of questionable reliability.

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  68. By paul-n on August 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    That would be something, wouldn’t it?  

    The people driving the medium-old clunkers are indeed the target.  The cheapest option for them, today, is to just keep driving what they have and pay the cost of fuel.  But these cars use the most fuel, leak the most oil, create the most air pollution and are the least safe.  Rather than having somone buy a new Volt and having them sell their old car, and the “trickle down”, just go straight to those that really need it. 

     

    So, reinstate the $3k cash for clunkers, with the change that you do not have to buy a new car, you just need to scrap the old one.

    Then make the electric car credit a sliding scale.  If the sticker price is $ 10k or less, the full $7.5k credit, and you lose $750 for each $1000 increase in sticker price, so if the sticker price is $20k, the credit is zero.

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  69. By thomas398 on August 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Apple has done really well by inventing new things (ipod, Iphone, I pad) , but the EV is not a new thing, it is just a variation on a thing that everyone already has.

    Paul: You can see the forest for the trees.  The ipod (walkman), iphone (cell phone) ,and ipad (laptop) are not new things.  They are modernized versions of older more “minimalist” products.  “The money” is not in creating new things. Its improving upon and rebranding existing ideas into a “must have” consumer product—and charging a premium to own it.   This is not about engineering its about consumer appeal.

     If you want to argue that the $7500 incentive should be taken away that’s something different.  I think it would be more interesting if the government allowed EVs to charge for free the first, say, five years.  Lots of taxis would switch.  Implementation of that would probably be impossible.

     The EV is not a “new” product from an engineering perspective, but it is new for the car buying public.  The same could be said for the cellphone in the 80s.

    Drivers who want to save money or be “minimalist”  would ride a bike/motorcycle.  Owning a car is about personal preference and convenience not going from A to B.  

    Technology has always trickled down.  Those who “really need it” always have to wait or improve their economic situation.    The early adopters of cell phones had phones at home and at work (often multiple lines).  Those who did not largely had to wait.  That is consumerism and this is ConsumerEnergyReport.com.

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  70. By paul-n on August 18, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Thomas, I’m not missing the point, but I do think we are seeing things differently.  The fed gov has targeted ev’s , with a goal of one million on the road by the end of 2015, to help meet its goal of reducing oil imports.  That is an issue of energy (and national) security – not consumerisim.

    “The money” is not in creating new things. Its improving upon and rebranding existing ideas into a “must have” consumer product—and charging a premium to own it.

    This is true, and if companies want to make money like that, then power to them, and the government has no need/place in subsidising them to do so.  Also, those companies get to pick what they want to “improve” and how and why , and, to date, none of them have voluntarily taken the path of highly efficient and/or electric vehicles.

    There is the disconnect – what is really needed here – consuming less – is not how companies have made their money in the past.  Each new version of the i-whatever comes out with more capacity, features etc, but with an EV, adding more of anything other than batteries decreases performance.  You need a car that has less “stuff”, not more.

    I think it would be more interesting if the government allowed the cars to charge for free the first, say, five years.  Lots of taxis would switch.  Implementation of that would be impossible however.

    The cost of electricity for the cars is so low already that being free wouldn’t make any appreciable difference. The barrier to uptake is the high initial cost – why should the government then give those that can afford that, free electricty, while those that canlt afford it pay for fuel and road taxes?

    Wouldn’t work for taxis as the charge time is too long.  Losing half an hour plus for charging every 3-4 hours will cost almost as much as the fuel cost savings.   The battery life will be pretty short too.  Given that American taxi drivers have been very slow even to start using Prius for their vehicles, I can’t see them trading into smaller ev’s anytime soon.

    Drivers who want to save money or be “minimalist”  would ride a bike/motorcycle.

    Try convincing people to do that in any northern city in the winter, or a southern city in mid summer.  If these cities had effective transit, there may be an alternative for some people, but most of these places don’t.  And for many of the lower paid workers, where their jobs are is not necessarily near a transit line, or where anyone else is driving, or within cycling distance – that’s just the way American cities have developed – sprawled.

    If left to just the market, there won’t be many EV’s – those who can afford them currently, can afford the fuel for ICE’s, and those who can;t afford semi-luxury like the Volt, are stuck with their old vehicles, and nothing much will change, except for the small minority of people who “have to have” an ev.  This may make them happy, but it isn’t making a dent in oil consumption.

     

    Consumerism hasn’t and won’t work here with EV’s, because they are not better cars – they are actually less useful ones that just don’t use oil.  If the government really deems this important/worthwhile, then they will have to find ways to make it happen – faster

     

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  71. By thomas398 on August 18, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    This is true, and if companies want to make money like that, then power to them, and the government has no need/place in subsidising them to do so.

    If you really believed that you would advocate for car companies to fund roads, highways, and bridges—infrastructure that is not merely a government subsidy but, serving as the basis of the auto industry.  

    There is the disconnect – what is really needed here – consuming less – is not how companies have made their money in the past.

    Companies have not made money in the past nor will they make money in the future by convincing they customers to consume less.  Thats not how capitalism works. 

    The government’s goal is to lower oil consumption–a national security priority. EVs do this by increasing electricity use in private transportation.  I think it will be an accomplishment if the auto industry has the capacity to produce one million EVs over the next 4 years.  Much less sell them.  Government goals are moonshots.   ”Consuming less” in general is lifestyle choice and equivalent to asking everyone to “be nice people”. 

    Try convincing people to do that in any northern city in the winter, or a southern city in mid summer.

    Yes, as I stated, the public has a preference for automobile transportation over bike/motorcycle. 

    Consumerism hasn’t and won’t work here with EV’s, because they are not better cars – they are actually less useful ones that just don’t use oil.   

    Better? Ipads are less useful and in many cases more expensive than laptops.  The people who own them could afford to buy a laptop.  Some could even afford personal secretaries. The people who don’t have access to books and the internet can’t afford them. Its not logical its consumerism.  Do you doubt in 20 years every public school child will have something similar instead of a backpack full of books?  That’s how it works.

    If you want people to consume fewer road-miles (i.e. consume less).  EVs seem to be a good compromise. 

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  72. By mac on August 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    “Tata reported dismal sales of its Nano microcar in India for the month of November.(2010) The figures are down 85 percent compared to the same month last year. This is partly due to concerns over lack of safety and the availability of finance, but mostly to production problems caused by the relocation to a new plant.

    Only 509 Nanos were sold in the month, the lowest level since its launch as the world’s cheapest car. Customers have shown concerns following a series of fires affecting the models, despite the fact that the carmaker is offering free safety upgrades.

    This is the forth straight month of falling sales from the high of 9,000 cars in July this year.”
    ————————————————————————————————
    No one in the U.S. is going to buy this underpowered, unsafe piece of junk with three (count them ) lug nuts on each wheel,

    Remember the Yugo, anyone ?

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  73. By paul-n on August 18, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    If you really believed that you would advocate for car companies to fund roads, highways, and bridges—infrastructure that is not merely a government subsidy but, serving as the basis of the auto industry.

    I guess the car co’s could do that, but really, when the government has done all that for them, and people insist that government do it for them, why bother?  They chose a more sneaky route bu buying up and closing down trolley systems, forcing people to use cars.  That seemed to work fairly well for the car co’s back in the day.

    Mind you, Apple and Motorola don;t bother with providing wireless networks, by being the market leaders, they have the networks begging to carry their signal.

     

    Companies have not made money in the past nor will they make money in the future by convincing they customers to consume less.  Thats not how capitalism works.

    Agreed, that is why a “market solution” to consuming less oil has been so difficult, even though it is now becoming more important.

    I think it will be an accomplishment if the auto industry has the capacity to produce one million EVs over the next 4 years.

    Once upon a time the auto industry produced hundreds of thousands of military planbes in four years – more complex beasts and with less technology than they have today.  if the gov gave them an order for a million Ev’s in four years, I think they could produce them.

    Much less sell them.

    As we are seeing with the Volt and Leaf.  It is the auto industry’s discretion to produce cars that people do not want to buy.

     

    “Consuming less” in general is lifestyle choice and equivalent to asking everyone to “be nice people”.

    Yes and yes.  But it seems that Americans would rather send their finest sons to fight and die for more oil rather than consuming less of it.  so be it.

    if you want people to consume fewer road-miles (i.e. consume less).  EVs seem to be a good compromise.

    Well, not in their present form, unless you mean make fuel, and EV’s, so expensive that many people can afford neither.  The current EV’s are  not a practical option for anyone that needs to save money on driving.  Yet for many people, their incomes are going down as their living costs are going up, and the current Ev’s are of no help.  The program behind the Beetle, 2CV, model T, etc was specifically to make a cheap car for the masses – no one could accuse the Volt or Leaf of the same goal.

    Presently they are demonstrating that they are too expensive to be a widespread solution – something has to give.

     

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  74. By paul-n on August 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Mac, my bad in post #67- it is Mahindra that I meant was selling the Pik Up in Aust.  Tata tried too hard to make it too cheap – $2kUS.  They’ll work it out eventually.

    I am not suggesting they try to sell the Nano here – though not because of the number of lug nuts.  The Smart, by Mercedes Benz, also has three. 

    Someone will work out how to do a minimalist but appealing car.

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  75. By mac on August 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    Paul.

    I used to get up at 5 am every Saturday morning to watch the AG news (I live in cattle and farming country) and Mahindra seems to be making some serious inroads into U.S.. tractor sales. I have no objection to this. It’s just an observation.,

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  76. By thomas398 on August 18, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    As we are seeing with the Volt and Leaf.  It is the auto industry’s discretion to produce cars that people do not want to buy.

    I think you are premature at pronouncing these models DOA.  Lets wait until their respective producers are making 10k+/year.  Toyota sold 5600 Prius in the U.S. in 2000.  It should be noted the Prius isnt the Model-T hybrid and 2000 was a much better year to sell a car.  If you look at its demographics these drivers are not would-be Camry/Civic owners. 

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  77. By paul-n on August 18, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Mac, 

    Neighbour of my brother in Oz has a Mahindra Pik Up – very happy with it.  They are doing well on the small tractor sales in Oz too – which had been mainly Kubota – very good but expensive.  I think they learned if they are going to export against the big boys they have to be reliable – which so far they seem to be.

     

    Thomas,

    I’m certainly not doing a Kit and saying they are DoA, I just don’t think they are going to be hot sellers in their current form/price, and certainly would not be without the credit.  The value propostion is not there for budget mineded owners, and there ire probaly only so many people that will buy them simply becasue they are electric.  And many of those are probably already Prius owners.  

    Unless something changes, I expect the one million target for 2015 will be one zero too many.

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  78. By Kit P on August 19, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    “To be upfront, I’ll say that in my mind the concept that we call Smart Grid is merely a grid that allows modern communication systems to more efficiently and effectively balance electricity consumption and demand to make better use of our limited resources.”

    That is the marketing concept KUP but the reality is balancing the grid demand will not change the use of resources which are not limited in North America.

    “The problem wirh electric cars is that the gas tank is too expensive, too small, and it takes too long to fill it up.”

    This true MAC but the tank is very, very heavy and inefficient. Hauling batteries around is a really stupid idea until we run out of liquid fuel for an ICE.

    Paul writes,

    “but we are still waiting.”

    Then counters with,

    “All new technologies become mass market only when they become “cheap”(e.g., PC’s, cellphones, Model T’s, flat screen tv’s, air travel) There is a huge opportunity out there for whoever does this first with an EV.”

    Sorry Paul, electric motors and batteries are not new. Thomas gets it rigt,

    “Consumerism hasn’t and won’t work here with EV’s, because they are not better cars – they are actually less useful ones that just don’t use oil.”

    A Corolla does not make a very good golf cart but a golf car makes a very bad car.

    “Thomas, I’m not missing the point, but I do think we are seeing things differently.”

    Careful what you ask for Paul. If it is a national security issue as it was in WWII, we know how to solve that problem.

    “Yes and yes. But it seems that Americans would rather send their finest sons to fight and die for more oil rather than consuming less of it. so be it.”

    More liberal nonsense, Americans are very good at protecting the world from evil with the help of our friends. Energy is a cheap commodity; it is cheaper to buy it that to steal it.

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  79. By thomas398 on August 20, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Paul N said:

    Unless something changes, I expect the one million target for 2015 will be one zero too many.


     

     I would be very suprised if 100k EVs were on the road in 2015.  It took the Prius four years (2000-2004) to break 100k.  The Prius is cheaper than either of these cars and those years were much better economically.  

    I tend to agree with you that the Leaf and Volt will take attract exisiting Prius owners.  Toyota probably agrees with you as well. This is the second biggest purchase most people make.  I think we will see a plodding transistion towards EVs rather than a quick adoption. 

     Cheap low mpg vehicles => light high mpg vehicles => hybrids and clean diesels =>expensive plugin hybrids, EVs

      The speed of this transition will be positively related to the price of gasoline and inversely related to the cost of Li batteries.

     

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  80. By paul-n on August 20, 2011 at 2:48 am

    I think what may hinder the transition even more is the state of the economy – not many people buy cars when they are worried about their job or have already lost it.

    The US car market has already shrunk from 17m in 2006 to 11m in 2010, and may shrink more.  Average fleet age has been steadily increasing fiorn a decade.  Trucks and SUV’s have been a steadily increasing part, and EV’s don’t subsitiute there.  

    So, yeah, the EV’s are in for a tough time in the US.  Even 50k of them on the road by 2015 would be an achievement.

     

    Oddly enough, the carmakers themselves seem to prefer a transition to fuel cells – most of them are still, quietly, proceeding with fuel cell development, regrdless of whether they are doing EV’s or not.  I can’t see the point in that myself, but car companies do strange things.

     

    I did go for a ride on an H2 fuel cell bus at Whistler last weekend…

     

    Very nice but at $4.5m each for buses and fuelling stn – VERY expensive.  Another Olympic waste of money.

    At least the electricity for the H2 is generated right there.

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  81. By Wendell Mercantile on August 20, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Oddly enough, the carmakers themselves seem to prefer a transition to fuel cells – most of them are still, quietly, proceeding with fuel cell development…

    Paul,

    One has to admit the idea of fuel cells is technically sweet, but also horrendously expensive, and one has to wonder how practical and economical they will ever be.

    If you need a compact power supply in the International Space Station, or for a mission to Mars (where price would be of little concern), they certainly are appropriate, but the idea of millions of cars on the road being powered by fuel cells is doubtful.

    And yet, I remain intrigued by methanol fuel cells. It is already possible to purchase fuel cell power packs for wireless phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices that you simply keep filled with methanol.

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  82. By paul-n on August 20, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I am with you on both aspects – the H2 system is insanley expensive, safety issues etc etc, but the carmakers seem to like it as it fits in with their “model”  I think it is a case of if custioemrs have to choose between a limited range EV, and a more expenssive but unlimited range, rapid refueling H2 vehicle, they’ll go H2.  And then the carmakers cans plead for gov to build the H2 network.

     

    I guess the problem with methanol fuel cells is the low efficiency, but it’s hard to argue with their simplicity.  That is why they are being used by telcos, railroads, etc to provide power at remote, unattended sites.  24/7 reliabillity, scaalble large or smalle size, the fuel won;t freeze until -60 or whatever, no moving parts, a pretty compelling argument.

    For cars, I’m not so sure, but it is worth developing.

    At the other end of the fuel cell scale is the direct carbon fuel cell, another very interesting concept, which can, theoretically, get 80% efficiency and run on – coal!

    It always seems that H2 is the worst of all worlds with fuel cells except for the H2O exhaust – which I could actually see dripping out of the “exhaust pipe” of the the Whistler buses.  If every vehicle did that, there might be a problem in winter….

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  83. By russ-finley on August 20, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Kup said:

     

    Russ, I don’t think your understanding of hybrids and my understanding are the same but maybe we are just splitting hairs.

     

    First, I don’t want you to see my comments as a criticism of your choice of car. I concur that it would fit the bill for single car urban families where the electric range meets the vast majority of driving needs. I’m just clearing up misperceptions and GM’s marketing slight-of-hand for the sake of conversation.

     

    phrasing it that way fundamentally misstates .. the Volt’s design is fundamentally different …Two fundamentally different approaches between the cars …the differences I describe are the fundamental differences

     

    We are all victims of marketing in different ways and to different degrees. The Volt is not fundamentally different from other plug-in hybrids hitting the market. The Volt simply has the biggest battery …but also the worst hybrid mode fuel economy and less seating capacity. The rest is marketing hype.

     

    From an Edmonds car review:

     

    Here’s the long and short of it: The Volt is a four-seat, four-door “series-parallel plug-in hybrid” hatchback

     

    For those who stop bothering to plug them in, and anytime the grid charge on the battery is used up, the four-seat Volt will get about the same mileage as a five-seat Ford Fiesta. They will still use a lot less gasoline than the average American car. And that’s a good thing.  And of course, while on battery power they will not use gas and that is also a good thing.

     

    Toyota could design a version of a plug-in Prius with a bigger battery to get the same all-electric range as the Volt. They might also have to lose passenger seating like the Volt to do so. It would, also, like the Volt, cost a small fortune.

     

    However, unlike the Volt, it would get about 50 something mpg while in hybrid mode instead of 30 something. GM chose a design that led to 30 something mpg hybrid mode, thirty something electric, and Toyota chose a design with 50 something mpg hybrid mode, 10 to 15 miles electric. Is that a fundamental difference? Had Toyota decided to put the same battery size in, they would match the Volt’s electric range and get 60% better mileage in hybrid mode.

     

    I’m a mechanical engineer and I’ve had lots of technical discussions with other mechanical engineers and we tended to concur that the Volt generator idea was going to lead to pretty poor hybrid mode mileage because of the thermal bottleneck between the generator and motor …and we were right. The engineers at GM knew that as well but engineers build what they are told to build.

     

    I suspect Toyota didn’t build one with a bigger battery to compete with the Volt because they think their version of a plug-in will be more profitable and only time will tell on that issue.

     

    The Volt is one of two things (and again, only time will tell which); an example of America’s superior corporate management decision making …or just the opposite. GM chose a design that gets 60 % worse mileage in hybrid mode when they could have emulated the Prius plug-in drive system with a bigger battery and gotten 50 mpg instead of 36.

     

    At what point would you start calling such a “plug-in Prius hybrid” with and oversized battery an “extended range electric vehicle?” Inversely, at what point do you start calling the “extended range electric vehicle” Volt a “plug-in hybrid?” The terminology is purely an attempt by GM marketing to convince consumers like yourself that the Volt is fundamentally different, and in your case, it worked.

     

    You seem to be using the term “torque” as a synonym for direct mechanical linkage. Torque from an ICE can be applied to wheels via a direct linkage or via an electrical one. How a car achieves its performance (electric range and gasoline mileage and acceleration) is largely irrelevant. What matters is the resulting performance.

     

    The only reason this seems to matter to people is that GM at first claimed there would be no mechanical linkage (as part of the marketing to make the car appear “fundamentally” different). When people discovered that it does use a direct mechanical link it took some of the shine off. GM marketing still has most Americans thinking the Volt is an electric car instead of a plug-in hybrid.

     

    The Volt wouldn’t be winning so many car of the year awards, engine design awards and rave reviews by automotive critics if the Volt was essentially a glorified parallel hybrid (Prius).

     

    In your comment you also seem to be mixing up the hybrid Prius performance with the plug-in hybrid Prius which results in an apples to oranges comparison with the Volt. Those awards are handed out to different cars every year and don’t really mean very much. What are you going to say if the Prius plug-in hybrid wins those awards next year?

     

    But, with that understanding, if you know you have a “game changing” technological concept then it might be best …

     

    I would not call a plug-in hybrid that consists of a larger battery and a drive system that gets 60% worse gas mileage in hybrid mode than the plug-in Prius  a “game changing technology.”  Certainly, if Toyota decides to install a big battery and match the Volt’s price, there would be little reason to buy the Volt with 60% worse hybrid mode gas mileage.

     

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  84. By russ-finley on August 20, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    I don;t think the Ev’s have advanced since the EV, I actually think they have gone backwards.

     

    If by backwards you mean they are not two-seat sports cars, then yes, but in every other aspect they have advanced a great deal ; )

     

    The EV-1 set a world record for production car aerodynamics, but that has been given up for “styling”.

     

    Aerodynamics is not special to electric cars. Your critique that car makers pay little attention to drag is valid but it applies across the board to all cars.

     

    Comparing to the Leaf, the EV-1 was lighter,

     

    You are of course comparing an apple to an orange–a mid-sized five-passenger hatchback to a two-seat roadster.

     

    …and longer range

     

    It didn’t actually have longer range. According to the old GM EV1 web site it got 75-130 miles, coincidentally, this is almost exactly the range claimed by the Leaf.

     

    …even with inferior (and cheaper) batteries than today.

     

    The two-seat roadster EV1 cost quite a bit more than a five-seat hatchback Leaf does. Those old batteries used in a Leaf would add well over 200 pounds.

     

    Yes it was a 2 seater as that fitted the primary role for the car – an urban commuter, not a family car.

     

    Urban commuter or James Bond roadster?

     

    So, with the Leaf, we have a 4 seater that is …. bigger, heavier, less aerodynamic, needs more batteries, has a lower range and costs more.

     

    Bigger and less aerodynamic but you are wrong about the range and cost. The Leaf seats five, costs less, and has essentially the same range (up to 138 for the Leaf verses up to 130  for the EV1 depending).

     

    It is out of the range of the urban commuter that wants an affordable commuter car that is electric. So just how is it that much better?

     

    So was the EV1

     

    I would bet an EV-1, repowered with the modern motor, controllers, lithium batteries would knock the socks of the Leaf, and could either have close to a 200 mile range, or be a 100 mile car with a battery half or 2/3 the size (and cost) of the Leaf.

     

    I concur that the market could use a small two seat version of the Leaf but again, apples to oranges. Of course a small two seat version of the Leaf will go further and cost less than a five seat hatchback all other things being equal.

     

    The best application for ev’s, at present is as urban commuter cars. In order to get the most of these on the road and save as much oil as possible, there should be a model that is simple, and affordable. The EV-1 comes the closest to that,

     

    The EV-1 was not affordable in its day even though it was bare bones by today’s car standards. Certainly a modern version would be cheaper and again I concur:

     

    If it was sold for $15k, after the $7500 tax credit, I’ll bet GM would have sold many more of them than they are the Volt.

     

    Although given the choice, I may have gone for the Leaf anyway as I chose it over the cheaper MiEV. I pushed it pretty hard last week. Commuted 13 miles on the interstate. From there I went to the airport, maybe another ten miles, to pick up family and all of their luggage. Delivered them home. Went to a doctor’s appointment five miles away, and from there back to office and from there back home. Started with 80% charge finished with 20 miles left to go.

     

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  85. By Wendell Mercantile on August 20, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    I think it is a case of if custioemrs have to choose between a limited range EV, and a more expenssive but unlimited range, rapid refueling H2 vehicle, they’ll go H2.

    Paul,

    Although apparently the ammonia in urine gives up its hydrogen atoms much more easily than does water. Makes one wonder why GM or Ford isn’t working on a urine-powered car with hydrogen from urea going into their fuel cell. Hydrogen Easier to Extract from Urine Than from Water

    Urine’s major constituent is urea, which incorporates four hydrogen atoms per molecule – importantly, less tightly bonded than the hydrogen atoms in water molecules. Botte used electrolysis to break the molecule apart, developing an inexpensive new nickel-based electrode to selectively and efficiently oxidise the urea.

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  86. By mac on August 20, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    Russ Finley said,

     

    “Certainly, if Toyota decides to install a big battery and match the
    Volt’s price, there would be little reason to buy the Volt with 60%
    worse hybrid mode gas mileage.” 

     

    I assume most of this
    is due to the fact that the Toyota Prius uses the variable valve timing
    Atkinson engine versus the standard ice in the Chevy Volt genset.  Pop
    Mechanics ran the Volt in “hybrid only mode” and only got about 35 mpg
    city/highway

     

    Also,  thanks for addressing some of the myths and half-truths
    concerning the EV -1 compared to current electric cars. Coming from an 
    engineer and someone who actually owns an electric car, it’s a 
    refreshing change

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  87. By mac on August 21, 2011 at 12:11 am

    Paul said

     

    ” So, yeah, the EV’s are in for a tough time in the US.  Even 50k of them on the road by 2015 would be an achievement.”

     

    Just exactly what universe are you living in ?

     

    The
    Volt and Leaf have already sold nearly 10.000 vehicles in the U.S. this
    year and the year is not nearly over.  And you dont think they can sell
    50.000 by 2015 ?

     

    Just exactly what planetary system do you hail from ?

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  88. By russ-finley on August 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    mac said:

    I assume most of this is due to the fact that the Toyota Prius uses the variable valve timing Atkinson engine

    In part but most of the difference is the thermal bottleneck between the generator and electric motor. This is a thermodynamic law of nature. If you use a hand-cranked generator to power another hand-cranked generator in reverse (use it as an electric motor) you would find that if you turn the generator crank one revolution, the crank on the motor would only turn about a third of a revolution. The Volt is using a generator to turn an electric motor, thus the 60% penalty.

    myths and half-truths concerning the EV -1 compared to current electric cars

    The EV1 was an example of what happens when the government tries to mandate a technology before it is ready for commercial application. Sound familiar?

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  89. By mac on August 21, 2011 at 3:20 pm

     

    Russ Finley said:

     

    “The EV1 was an example of what happens when the government tries to
    mandate a technology before it is ready for commercial application.
    Sound familiar?”

     

    Yes it does.  I think Robert is dicussing this in his latest post on cellulostic ethanol.

     

    A couple years ago I went over the schematics for the Toyota Synergy system.  Pretty ingenious.  Rather than get into a protracted patent war,  Ford (and others) have apparently simply licensed the technology.  The Voltec system I am not too familiar with. 

     

    As far as electric bikes go………….I started to buy one from Wall-Mart about a year ago but the bike was heavy and had lead acid batteries, so I backed off.  So, I am still riding my old 15 speed.  I use it 90% of the time versus my truck.  My trail tires are almost bald so I am thinking of buying smoother tires as you did.

     

    Amazing how electric bikes grew from about 48,000 in 1998 (mostly in China) to  world-wide production of between 25-30 million in just a little over 12 years.  Bike Europe claims over a million were sold in the EU last year.  Perhaps, the e-bike phenomenon is a portent of things to come for other electric vehicles.

     

     

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  90. By Herm on September 21, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    You guys are overcomplicating things too much.. the Volt is a BEV, once the battery is drained it switches modes and becomes a serail/parallel hybrid.. the Prius plug-in is similar but can switch out of BEV mode if you step on the gas too hard, a minor difference to non-EV-weenies..

    Serial vs parallel, many make the argument that a pure serial hybrid is not as efficient as a parallel hybrid, they talk about electrical conversion losses etc. The Volts transmission is derived from the FWD 2 Mode transmission that GM/Chrysler/Mer developed previously.. it has several modes it can use. Once the battery is depleted and it switches to a hybrid mode it uses a pure serial configuration up to 40mph (I’m a bit hazy on the numbers but they have been published), from 40-70 it can remain in serial mode but it can switch transmission rates using orbital gears in a similar mode as a Prius, after 70 mph it switches to a parallel hybrid configuration and connects the engines output “directy” to the wheels, in addition to using a serial power transfer.. The whole point is that at certain times a series hybrid is more efficient than a parallel hybrid, and viceversa.

    Why is the Volt rated at 40mpg on the hwy while the Prius is 50mpg?.. the Volt is much heavier and does not use an atkinson cycle engine (the EPA’s hwy cycle is not a pure 100% hwy cruise at constant speed) ..its also a sportier car and that has an economy cost. Nothing to do with serial vs parallel efficiencies.

    How come GM did not use an atkinson ICE?.. GM probably chose an ICE that was too small to afford the torque losses of an Atkinson engine.. they may switch to a bigger engine soon and ironically improve their mpg in the hybrid mode. The engine is required to power the car at up to 100mph and has only 84hp to work with. The Volt is a marvel of efficiency for its weight, size and performance level.

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  91. By Wendell Mercantile on October 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Can GM’s Volt Provide a Jolt to the Electric Car Industry?

    Is the Chevy Volt a sales flop?

    General Motors has repeatedly claimed a sales target for 2011 of 10,000 units for the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt sedan. But, nine months into the year, they’ve only shipped 3,895 off the lot. In fact, in September sales numbers, released an hour ago, GM sold only 723 Volts.

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  92. By mac on October 5, 2011 at 5:57 am
    Corvette Production
    1953   300
    1954  3,640
    1955   700
    1956  3,467
    1957  6,339
    1958  9,168
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  93. By Kit P on October 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    “Does any of this explain the seemingly slow numbers for the Volt ? I don’t know but if you look at the early days of the Chevy Corvette, it was a poor seller, yet has ended up as an American Icon with nearly sixty years of continuous production.”

    Both are expensive and impractical. There are only so many customers that fall into the ‘long-suffering first adopters’ category. Being first has limited bragging rights but when your BEV is just another car then practical and cheap matter. Being unique is mutally exclusive with being common.

    Hauling batteries around to store energy will never be practical. 100% of zero is still zero. On the other hand E10 is practical and something that has been achieved in 5 years with less consumer rejection that consumer acceptance of EV.

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  94. By mac on October 5, 2011 at 11:59 am

     

    What the heck is going on at GM ?  I’m not sure.  A number of explanarions have been offered on various auto blogs. Here’s just one of many explanations.

     

    To date some 3,895 Chevy Volts have been delivered to customers out of GM’s 10,000 unit production run for 2011.  Originally, GM planned to introduce the Volt in a well-orchestrated, carefully planned state by state roll-out to take place over the space of about a year.  At some point in time it was determined by GM gurus that demand was so great for the car that its introduction needed to be sped up.  (GM supposedly had some 350,000 positive hand raisers from off the internet expressing interest in the car)

     

    Okay. So far, so good.

     

    Unfortunately, there are about 2,400 Chevy dealerships in the U.S. and for GM to furnish each and every dealler with just one Volt demo model requires an additional 2400 vehicle production run.  (Not so good for deliveries). In addition, the only plant where the Volt is made was shut down for 4 weeks this summer for re-tooling.  (Also, not so good.) And, finally, GM is planning the imminent release of the Volt in Europe as the Vauxhall Ampera (U.K.) and Opel Ampera (Cont. Europe)  At first GM plans to manufacture the Euro-Volt soley at its Hamtramck Plant in Detroit, so even more demonstration vehicles and dealer stock will no doubt be heading toward Europe (Once again, probably not so good for deliveries to the long-suffering first adopters patiently awaiting their vehicles here in the States)

    Further complicating the Voilt roll-out is just having to train salesmen how to sell the car and mechanics how to fix it.

     

    When you add it all up, it sounds to me like one great, big, gigantic cluster-bust with relatively few vehicles making it into the hands of the true believers.  

    Does any of this explain the seemingly slow numbers for the Volt ?   I don’t know but if you look at the early days of the Chevy Corvette, it was a poor seller, yet has ended up as an American  Icon with nearly sixty years of continuous production.  It took Corvette 11 years to sell the first 100,000 cars.  It still doesn’t sell well.  Last year fewer than 15,000 were sold.

     

     

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