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By Russ Finley on May 4, 2012 with 9 responses

Electric Car News

Electric Ford Focus
Some test drive reports for the electric Ford Focus are out–fake radiator grill, optional leather seats, looks like a regular car, blah, blah, blah. Other than superficial appearances, it’s almost indistinguishable from a Leaf in performance, and costs a few grand more. One was used as the pace car at the NASCAR Sprint Car Series race last week in Richmond so at least they are marketing the thing and the Leaf really could use some competition. Then again, I also thought the Prius would have met some stiff competition from American hybrids by now. The latest episode of the sitcom 30 Rock was about an American engineered couch that was so uncomfortable the government bought them to torture terrorists …I think I have one of those couches.

If you are looking for another made-in-America electric car, this may fit your bill, although I honestly don’t know how much of it is made in America. Nissan has a factory in Tennessee that will be able to produce 150,000 Leafs a year.

The Society of Automotive Engineers recently declared that:

Barring an unforeseen breakthrough that significantly drops the cost of automotive batteries, fully electric cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles are likely to remain confined to a niche of under 10% of the market through 2025 and beyond.

Visionaries, these guys are not. The article also mentions that:

A conventional, gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine and transmission make up about 10% of the cost of a $30,000 car, or about $3,000

That’s right. Today’s almost unimaginably complex assemblies known as engines and transmissions, consisting of thousands of precision machined metal parts, presently cost four times less than the bags of powder that constitute the Leaf’s batteries. That’s the power of the economy of scale. It’s only a matter of time before the price of batteries plummet as well. Automotive engineers are not soothsayers, and don’t seem to like electric drive systems–too simple, elegant, little to tinker with, fix, or improve.

Honda just announced that they are building a recycling plant to process nickel-metal hydride batteries collected from hybrid cars. This is not the same technology used in electric cars but similar recycling will eventually exist for lithium ion batteries as well. The critique that there will not be enough rare earth metals for electric car batteries has just been dealt its death blow.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and Citizens (UCS&C) recently released a study that came to the same conclusion as the first half-dozen studies on the same subject that proceeded their version; the carbon emissions associated with your electric car depend on your source of electricity. However, they also created a very easy to understand graphic to explain the concept to a public that does not know a kilo-watt from a tuna sandwich.

Another point of interest that came from that study is that nuclear power produces less GHG emissions than solar.

Nuclear GHG

On the other hand, their press release made no mention of nuclear energy, which is the main reason electric cars have such low emissions.

My Leaf continues to hum along flawlessly. I ruined a tire in a pot hole last week. Called the number in my owner’s manual and got a free tow to a local dealer. The tire wasn’t cheap but the dealer also didn’t offer me any deals on oil changes or engine tune ups while they had me at their mercy. The intermittent problems with my charger have been fixed with a free upgrade as well.

Photo courtesy of mariordo59 via Flickr

  1. By Herm on May 4, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Interesting point on the cost of an engine and transmission, I bet the transmission is the most expensive and the one that fails first.   A replacement Leaf motor is $2054 and the inverter is $3870 at the parts counter,  Nissan will pay much less than that.

     The Leaf also has a single-gear transmission/differential but I have no idea how much that is.. battery is around $11k-15k with a life of about 1000-1500 cycles or $7 per full cycle, probably 80 miles per cycle for the average driver. Battery should be good for the economic life of the car, with reduced range from the 10th thru 20th year of use.

    Note the Volt uses two motors and two inverters. 

     

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  2. By notKit P on May 5, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    “inverter is $3870 ”

     

    This is the component that is the downfall of solar PV. I have found many PV systems that have higher ghg emissions than coal. The reason is that they do not perform as designed.

     

    Many nuke plants closed early because the cost of steam generator replacement cost more than the projected amount of power that would be produced. The Trojan nuke plant near Portland Oregon is an example. Of course today, SG replacement is economically justifiable.

     

    “A conventional, gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine and transmission make up about 10% of the cost of a $30,000 car, or about $3,000 ”

     

    The fallacy here is that the engine and transmission cost the same a $15k Corolla which meets the same transportation needs as a $30k ripoff.

     

    When someone pays more for batteries than I paid for my wife’s car, then tell me how they are saving money on oil changes, I think they did not take Econ 101 at Purdue as I did.

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  3. By Herm on May 5, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Kit, if your wife only drives 10 miles a week then it makes no sense to get her an electric.. you could probably stretch out your oil changes to 2 years and save even more money.

    In any case, who buys a nearly $40k car to save money?.. its a luxury item since craigslist is full of perfectly fine $2k cars. 

     

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    • By Russ Finley on May 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm

      Good points, Herm.

      Homo sapiens sapiens is a social primate. Through 99 percent of our history, status within our hunting and gathering band determined reproductive success, as it still does today in other primate social groups like baboons. That instinctive proclivity explains  why we  don’t all live in trailer parks and drive used economy cars. The trick is to create environmentally benign, or even environmentally beneficial ways to display status.

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  4. By notKit P on May 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    The trick is to not be fooled by marketing terms like ‘luxury’, ‘performance’, and ‘green’.

     

    In any case, there is diminishing returns. I remember family trips across the country when only luxury cars has air-conditioning. Since cars with air-conditioning have less drag than rolling down the windows, air-conditioning is a luxury that saves energy.

     

    A second way to reduce the environment impact of transportation is ‘product life extension’ or maintaining your car so it last longer.

     

    The third way is to not drive aggressively or car pool. It is a good way to save money on fuel and repair bills and not a violation of the KISS principle.

     

    However, storing electricity in batteries is not a ‘green’ solutions. All the UCS is doing with the LCA is is showing that nuclear has less environmental impact than coal. Since nuke plants in France load follow maybe BEV have lower impact in France.

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  5. By Mark on May 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    The Ucsc “study” was a tank to wheels comparison only and did not take into account the 7 to 12 kwh  required to refine a gallon of gas from crude. And guess who sponsored the study? Toyota … Yup got to love the new and novel ways the auto boys find To sell gas burners.

    The reality is that an EV can go further on the energy used to refine a gallon of gas than most cars can on the gas, and even if that car s a Prius , it going to produce between 1.5 and 2.5 times the emmisions that an EV like the volt or leaf will in any state.   But what toyota salesman is going to let the true get in the way of a sale right? whose going going to stop this misinformation?  Only an informed consumer… That’s you.

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    • By Russ Finley on May 7, 2012 at 10:45 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Mark

      The amount of energy it takes to make a gallon of gas varies greatly by source (tar sand vs light crude). The energy required to mine, grind, and transport coal would also have to be taken into account. It would be interesting to see some actual numbers.

      The results  as a tank to wheels study are legitimate. I’ve seen several similar studies and did one of my own. They all came to the same conclusions, which is rare.

      The reality is that an EV can go further on the energy used to refine a gallon of gas than most cars can on the gas, and even if that car s a Prius , it going to produce between 1.5 and 2.5 times the emmisions that an EV like the volt or leaf will in any state.   But what toyota salesman is going to let the true get in the way of a sale right? whose going going to stop this misinformation?

      The Volt is a plug-in hybrid. It’s main competitor is the Prius plug-in hybrid. Toyota is not behind any conspiracy to make electric cars look bad. The Prius is just a very efficient car.

       

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  6. By drunyon on May 11, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    “It’s only a matter of time before the price of batteries plummet as well”

    I have participated in a number of lively discussions on John Petersen’s blog  (http://seekingalpha.com/author/john-petersen/articles).  With all the back and forth, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of this in the short-medium term.   Do you have a reference for this, or are you just hoping?  I would like to see cheap, plentiful electricity and cost-effective BEVs in my lifetime, but don’t see something I want to buy now.  My daily drive of 80 miles is fine for my Civic GX, but (particularly with our summer heat and traffic), would be challenging to drive a Leaf.

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  7. By Russ Finley on May 13, 2012 at 1:26 am

    “Do you have a reference for this (battery prices will plummet), or are you just hoping?”

    Economists rarely successfully predict the future. They butter their bread explaining in hindsight why something happened, which is fairly worthless.

    I can’t predict when batteries will be cheaper than a conventional drive train, but it’s inevitable they eventually will be if electric cars become numerous enough to capitalize on the economy of scale and profitable enough for entrepreneurs to design cheaper ways to make batteries.

    The break point is different for different people. The Leaf’s present price and range is acceptable to me, a guy who has been waiting for a mass produced electric car for decades. It’s still cheaper than an Escalade.

     

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