Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Aug 27

PUMP Documentary advocates fuel choice, exposes Big Oil’s manipulation of America


I’d really like to see this pending documentary. The trailer appears to be right out of the playbook from the United States Energy Security Council, but I could be mistaken.

This Washington-based group advocates increased reliance on electrification, but is not wedded to electrified technologies, citing political problems the Volt has been blissfully immune from.

“Competing technologies and fuels to the internal combustion engine and to gasoline and diesel have often been viewed as political pet projects by the opposing party, resulting in a swift death when control of the Congress or White House shifted,” said United States Energy Security Council. “What is needed is an integrated, multi-pronged approach that cuts across administrations and covers transportation fuels and vehicles. It is unlikely we will achieve true and lasting energy security without it.”

Right. Now we have “PUMP” …

That America is “addicted” to petroleum may involve conspiracy theory about “Big Oil,” but wrapped up in it may also be conspiracy fact – and this PUMP aims to explore.

The documentary, “starring” industry movers and shakers including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, opens in Los Angeles and New York theaters Sept. 19 and in Utah the following week, and examines the history of petroleum as the life blood of America.

A deeper look will be given to hidden costs to the present American way of life, and alternatives will be considered. The film aims to show holdbacks to now-ready alternative fuels it asserts have been deliberately suppressed by monied interests from the very beginnning.

“PUMP is an inspiring, eye-opening documentary that tells the story of America’s addiction to oil, from its corporate conspiracy beginnings to its current monopoly today, and explains clearly and simply how we can end it – and finally win choice at the pump,” say its promoters.

Among alternatives, the film examines biofuels, flex fuel vehicles, natural gas, battery electric powertrains, and more. Elon Musk is actually the second name in the list of stars. The first is John Hofmeister, founder and CEO at Citizens for Affordable Energy, and former president of Shell Oil. Also starring are Luiz Inácio da Silva, Brazil’s president from 2003-2011.

“Today oil is our only option of transportation fuel at the pump. Our exclusive use of it has drained our wallets, increased air pollution and sent our sons and daughters to war in faraway lands,” says its promoters. “PUMP shows us how through the use of a variety of replacement fuels, we will be able to fill up our cars – cheaper, cleaner and American made – and in the process, create more jobs for a stronger, healthier economy.“

More info can be seen at the film’s Web site.
P.S., Coming back to the U.S. Energy Security Council’s fuel-neutral observations, here are some in its recipe for true and effective bi-partison support leading U.S. Energy Independence.

Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. is not heavily dependent on the Persian Gulf for oil nor has it ever been. The region currently supplies under 10 percent of U.S. oil demand, and … never in history has the number surpassed 15 percent. Most U.S. oil imports originate in the Western Hemisphere. …

Driving down the price paid at the pump in a sustained way will require opening the transportation fueL market to commodity arbitrage by opening cars to fueL competition. …


The reality is that there are fuels that are cheaper than gasoline. Electricity, natural gas, and methanol are less expensive than gasoline per energy unit– and in some cases, vastly cheaper. For some of these fuels, payback time when taking into account vehicle cost premiums is very short. This is particularly true for natural gas-based methanol, which enjoys a substantial price advantage over gasoline on a per-mile-basis and can be used in flexible fuel vehicles, whose marginal manufacturing cost as compared to gasoline-only cars is on the order of $100 a vehicle.


Aug 26

VW e-Golf starts selling for $36,265 in November


There’s a new EV coming to town (assuming you live in a ZEV state). What do you think of the car from the automaker that now sells more cars (in total) in China than GM, and which aspires to be global #1 across its divisions by 2018?

It’s a lot bigger than the Spark EV but not likely as quick or efficient – though VW does invoke the fun-to-drive factor when describing it. …

Will GM start selling its head-start car in more states like we’ve been hearing from dealers it could?


Yesterday Volkswagen announced its first U.S.-market all-electric car will start at $36,265 including $820 destination when it goes on sale in November.

The e-Golf SEL Premium is being positoned as a “fully equipped” competitor to Nissan’s Leaf albeit sold in selected U.S. markets for now. Volkswagen hasn’t published the specific states, but company spokesman Mark Gillies said yesterday it will be the states that follow California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle rules with an eye for market expansion in time.

We’ve seen early reports stating range at 115 miles positioning it as the highest next to a Tesla Model S, but Volkswagen says the car is capable of 70-90 miles “depending on driving style and charging behavior.” Gillies said he has under normal driving seen 105 miles himself, but VW is stating 70-90. Otherwise EPA data including MPGe is not yet ready for publishing, he said.

Power to the front-wheel-drive compact built on the Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform is from a 115-horsepower, 199 pounds-feet electric motor and routed via 1-speed transmission. Top speed is 87 mph and three energy usage modes are Normal, Eco, and Eco+.


Battery pack size at 24.2 kwh is very close to the Leaf’s 24 kwh. It’s built in-house at VW’s Braunschweig facility and includes a 7.2-kw onboard charger as standard.

It’s also equipped to handle DC quick charging by way of a “Combined Charging System” (CCS) that puts 80-percent charge back in under 30 minutes.

The battery, like the Leaf’s, is not liquid cooled. When asked whether VW was setting itself up for issues as Nissan had experienced a couple years ago, Gillies said the li-ion battery is engineered to be gently charged and discharged, and sent a statement from the comapny’s German engineers.

To keep operating temperatures at ideal levels, VW has developed a Battery Management Unit with intelligent thermal control that allows the pack to remain within an optimal temperature range, helping to maintain performance and range in a variety of temperatures. This innovative system allows the e-Golf to operate in its intended manner, even in more extreme temperatures, without the need of a cooling system.


With a primary focus on efficiency rather than charge-time or capacity (like some of our competitors), VW was able to design a battery pack and utilize battery chemistry for the lithium ion cells (provided by Panasonic), that make the e-Golf one of the most efficient EVs on the market. As the battery system is so efficient, minimal waste heat is created during operation (i.e. during fast charging), which is quickly directed by the battery metal structure into the chassis, away from the battery, preventing extreme temperature conditions inside the pack. The lithium-ion cells being used, referred to as “marathon cells” by our engineers, are designed for gentle charge and de-charge thereby reducing heat and excessive energy consumption often associated with cells designed for rapid charging and de-charging. The elimination of the cooling system also allows VW to keep the weight of the battery pack down, which aides in overall efficiency of the vehicle.

The set up employed for the e-Golf has passed various long-term engineering evaluation milestones in desert temperatures and cold weather climates without the necessity of a cooling system.


Interior volume is close to the Leaf also. VW says the e-Golf will match the regular Golf line with 93.5 cubic feet of total interior volume. The Leaf has 92.4 cubic feet. Cargo volume for the e-Golf is listed at 22.8 cubic feet. Leaf has 23.6 cubic feet.

The entry level Leaf S also starts at a lower price point in the $30,000 range. The Golf is relatively better equipped and positioned above this, and a closer match for the upper level Leaf’s.

Gillies said he has already been explicitly asked whether the e-Golf is a compliance car, and he said it’s really not. Volkswagen has designed the e-golf on a global platform as a global seller. For now, it is selling where compliance cars are selling, but the plan is not to stay only there forever.

Volkswagen is taking a wait and see approach, and did not state a specific roll-out plan beyond ZEV states, but that it is preparing for more growth in the electrification of the automobile is more certain. The e-Golf is the first, and assuming market acceptance, it’s implied the vehicle will eventually be made more widely available in the U.S. Gillies said also VW will in time offer more than just the fully packed version as now being launched.

He also emphasized the driving experience and utility will compare favorably with a regular Golf.

Upper level features standard with the e-Golf include:

• Three driver-selectable regenerative braking levels
• 5.8-inch touchscreen navigation system and infotainment center
• Bluetooth® technology
• SiriusXM® Satellite Radio
• Automatic Post-Collision Braking system
• Leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel
• Dual-zone automatic climate control
• LED headlights
• Bespoke 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
• Keyless access
• Heatable front seats
• Rearview camera; and front and rear Park Distance Control

Volkswagen has also announced a “holistic” approach to offset carbon emissions in an effort to let e-Golf claim carbon neutrality.


Aug 25

Is ‘MPGe’ a ‘bogus’ metric confusing consumers and hurting plug-in sales?


Some readers here have said “MPGe” (mile per gallon equivalent) is not the best way to represent efficiency for EREVs, EVs, or PHEVs. Actual operating costs or cost per mile is another way, and there are alternatives besides these.

But regarding MPGe, a writer says this is hurting sales. Could an equally valid counterpoint be that shoppers need to put on their thinking caps? Is all the info they need already available if they will just be proactive? The government has all sorts of data down to an efficiency calculator to measure real costs.

Shall we blame the government when it’s already subsidizing the industry and forcing CAFE on automakers, and more?

Not sure what the actual truth is. That plug-in sales have been less than some hoped for is apparent. Others say we’re off to a decent start. There are lots of angles to this. The writer in the summarized story following talked more about the PiP because he has one, but similar observations – to a degree – could be made about the Volt…
- Jeff

Story By Mark Atkinson


Even at the best of times, introducing new technology can be painful. Teething problems, false starts and high initial costs are all part of the deal.

The same holds true for the gradual electrification of vehicles, which despite billions of dollars in investment still only makes up a fraction of the cars, trucks and SUVs sold every year.

Dylan Tweney, a writer at Venture Beat and owner of a plug-in Toyota Prius, takes aim at what he believes are the real culprits in EVs slow popularity crawl: the EPA and its miles-per-gallon-equivalent (MPGe) ratings.

“Sometimes, the advantages of a new technology are unclear because people are evaluating it with an outdated metric,” he says. “We’re saving an enormous amount of money by driving on electricity instead of gas, but none of that savings was obvious before we bought the car.”

Tweney says the MPGe ratings, introduced in 2011 and mandatory on Monroney (window) stickers ever since, isn’t very clear when comparing EVs to gas-powered models.


“What does it mean that an electric car like the Nissan Leaf has an MPGe of 126 city/101 highway or that the Tesla Model S gets 95? These cars never consume gasoline at all, so those figures are purely imaginary. It’s hard to translate these numbers into a measure of what the economics of these cars really are.

He says other information on the stickers — in much smaller print, mind you — discussing how many kwh per 100 miles on electricity and gallons of gas per 100 miles on the gas engine are easier to grasp.

Despite the Prius plug-in only having an EV-only range of 10 or 11 miles, the 3 kwh required to fill the battery only costs about 25 cents at night, meaning 2.5 cents per mile. In “regular” gas-burning mode, the Prius still delivers excellent economy relative to rivals at 10 cents a miles. It has saved his family significant money — “over $100 per month, or almost half the cost of the car’s lease.” — especially compared with the family’s old Mazda minivan, which Tweney says averages about 21 cents a mile, or nearly 10 times as much as the EV-mode Prius.


However, the uncertainty about variable electricity prices adds just as much confusion to the mix.

“Electricity prices are not only variable, they are not at all transparent. You can’t look them up on PG&E’s Web site. So it is almost impossible to make this calculation until you actually drive the car home and try it out for a while and then look at your utility bill.”

The combination of “outdated means of measurement” and “the market for electricity [remaining] opaque, few people will be able to figure out whether they’re worth it.”



Aug 22

Drive Review: 2015 Ford Fusion Energi


For Friday and the weekend, it was a toss-up between stories to post, and I decided to give you a sneak preview of a review mainly written for It is not a full-on cross comparo and does not declare what is the “best” car. I’ll leave that to you to name.

We all know the Volt’s attributes. It’s AER is double, its EREV powertrain is unique. But if any of you have said you want a back seat for three across, this larger Fusion starts to look good for that and other reasons.

As it is, I’ll let the rest of the review speak for itself with a section at the end just for GM-Volt.


Ford’s Fusion Energi enters its 2015 model year with only trim and feature updates, and since its February 2013 launch has offered a solid balance among the growing crop of plug-in hybrids.

The Energi shares its powertrain with the C-Max Energi, and shares its sleek five-passenger, mid-sized exterior and interior design with a stable of Fusion variants.

As the top of the range, it outdoes even the premium Lincoln MKZ Hybrid which also utilizes the non-plug-in Fusion Hybrid’s powertrain. The Fusion plug-in Energi does these one better with its trunk-mounted battery for up to a rated 19 miles all-electric range.

SEE ALSO: Is There A ‘Best’ Plug-in Hybrid?

But competition in the PHEV space is yet scarce. Probably the closest competitor would be the 13-mile, limited-market mid-sized Honda Accord Hybrid plug-in hybrid. There’s also the (arguably) 11-mile mid-sized Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, or 38-plus-mile compact Chevrolet Volt.


The Fusion’s e-range positions it as viable for the estimated half of all the Americans who commute less than 20 miles daily. The whole idea with a plug-in hybrid is to use cheaper and cleaner electricity to propel the car instead of the gas engine.

Despite a reduction this year in its EPA-estimated range and mpg in plug-in and regular hybrid drive modes, the market is positively responding – helped no doubt by a $4,000 price cut for 2014 – and sales have increased, with an all-time record set in June.


As a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, the Fusion Energi uses a third-generation hybrid system that shares design features and patents – but not components – with Toyota’’s Hybrid Synergy Drive. Ford says the Energi has over 200 patented powertrain parts out of its almost 500 hybrid system patents.

The heart of it is the aluminum head and block 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle engine built in Chihuahua, Mexico. It generates 141 horsepower and 129 pounds-feet of torque and works in conjunction with a 118 horsepower AC permanent magnet electric motor that delivers 118 horsepower, 117 pounds-feet of torque.


Combined system total for the front-wheel drive five-seater is 188 horsepower and maybe 200 pounds-feet torque though Ford doesn’t publish this. When the battery is charged, the system can deliver up to 195 horsepower and maybe more torque since its the e-drive that’s adding extra oomph.

A 7.6-kwh battery dominates the trunk space. This big battery pack enclosed in a safety oriented carpeted box halves the conventional Fusion’s 16 cubic feet to 8.2 cubic feet.

The shadow obscures it deeper in, but the stepped shelf against the back seats compromises room. One or maybe two medium-large suitcases and smaller items will fit.
Recharge time from house current is up to 7 hours from empty. From a level 2 charger it can be done in 2.5 hours. Overnight charging is thus no worries with just 120-volt current. The charge port is a standard SAE J-1772 and a neato blue LED light ring is one feature that looks cool, and distinguishes the nearly indistinguishable plug-in from its family members.

An in-house-designed electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT) delivers power which can be switched to several modes, including Eco cruise, and EV.

Deep-Green Fusion

The unibody chassis Fusion Energi is assembled in Hermosillo, Mexico and shares with all other Fusion siblings the now-quite-common design statement that’s put Ford back on the map among many new car buyers – including new conquest sales.


Its bold aerodynamic styling still looks fresh a few years into it, and is sporty and contemporary.

Underpinning it is a four-wheel independent suspension with stabilizer bars. Up front are Macpherson struts, in back is a “Control blade” multilink arrangement. Brakes which can regenerate up to 90 percent of kinetic energy are 278mm diameter vented units in front, and 280mm sold discs in back.


The car is jam packed with safety and convenience features including stability control, a host of airbags including for knees and side curtains, tire pressure monitoring, SOS post-crash alert, and Ford’s proprietary inflatable seatbelts.

Other available safety features are adaptive radar-utilizing cruise control, forward warning system with brake support, Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross-Traffic Alert, active park assist, back-up camera, and lane keeping assist.

Ford’s Energi as well as the entire Fusion line are five-star safety rated by the U.S. government.

Hybrid-specific features include a plethora of energy and powertrain data provided by a center 8-inch screen, and dual 4.2-inch LCD screens to either side of the center instruments. The car also has SYNC with MyFord Touch infotainment, MyFord Mobile App and Web Site and last year it was awarded ‘Connected Car of The Year’ at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show.

Oh also, it’s a nice comfortable car with room for adults front and back – though rear seat headroom is compromised for taller folks by the sloping rear roofline. The Titanium edition’s leather heated sport seats we experienced are especially nice, as is the Sony HD audio system upgrade.

As we said, aside from metropolitan-if-not-avante-garde design language you get with a Lincoln MKZ hybrid, the Fusion Energi with its special powertrain – particularly the top-line Titanium we drove – one-ups Ford’s upscale branded division’s best.

Driving the Energi

Aside from a pleasant little chime, pushbutton start up in default EV mode is characteristically quiet as is the drive in electric mode which continues for around 15-22 miles – the latter we confirmed under easy going conditions – assuming fully charged battery pack.

Acceleration is OK, but don’t go picking any stoplight drag races if you wish to keep it in all-electric operation. Zero to 60 time with full 188 or 195 horsepower with battery charged may be in the lower to mid eight-second range, but you can tack on maybe another five-six seconds when it’s doing its part-time EV imitation.

That said, this is no turtle. Ford doesn’t specify torque, but in in hybrid mode its horsepower is easily sufficient for the 3,913-pound car. In EV mode, it can go to 85 mph and it’s not a big deal keeping the gas engine from inadvertently turning on.

Ride quality is on the firmer side, but mainly pretty smooth. The suspension soaks up most bumps well. Around bends, it feels controlled and quite-brisk driving is of no concern. Despite 486 extra pounds mainly from the big battery assembly, the vehicle is quite manageable.

Braking action also is reasonably linear, and not juddery with regen energy being scored on the left-side 4.2-inch instrument panel when selected. This is to coach drivers to better efficiency and the right LCD screen says “Thank you for driving a hybrid!” after every shutdown.


And without a doubt, in addition to battery state of charge, how you drive makes all the difference in actual mpg returned.

Officially, the EPA rating – downgraded in June – is for battery enabled MPGe of 95 city, 81 highway, 88 combined. This is the worst MPGe of all comparable PHEVs, but redeeming it is the range.

People also like to mention astronomical “mpg” but by omitting actual electric costs, it’s misleading to say you got 335 mpg as though some garage-based genius – per conspiracy theory – wasn’t snuffed out by the oil companies and permitted to patent his amazing ICE. Nope. The juice ain’t free, and no one for that matter really got thousands of mpg in a Volt, really. It’s a qualified number, even if electricity really is cheaper and cleaner.

The Fusion’s 19 rated miles AER splits the difference between the low-range Accord and Prius plug-ins, but falls short of an effective 40 miles for the 2015 Volt with 17.1-kwh battery.

In regular hybrid mode, once the battery is depleted, it morphs back to the base hybrid it’s based upon.

Drive it like a race car, and lower 30s or worse is possible. Drive it with average care and 38-40 mpg is not hard to do. With some care, and you can match or even exceed the now-rated 40 mpg city, 36 highway, 38 combined.


We’ve heard of some folks who’ve netted the full $4,007 federal tax credit, plus a healthy state credit, and with negotiated price from the dealer claim they made out better than if they’d bought the Fusion Hybrid.

Also helping things could be if you have access to charging – preferably free – at your destination to increase effective daily range.

As a package, the roughly $35,000 starting price can be attractive. Next to pure internal combustion Fusion variants, total cost of ownership for most people will be higher over five years, but again, this depends on particular situations.


Analyzing 2014 model year cars (latest available), the cost-of-ownership calculator operated by unaffiliated Web site Intellichoice shows a $34,700 MSRP Energi SE costs $43,018 in five years. A $27,280 Fusion Hybrid SE is $33,763, and a $23,935 ICE Fusion SE rated 25 city, 37 highway, is $34,521. These admittedly averaged general numbers reveal a regular Fusion Hybrid has a better chance of paying back, but the Energi, as mentioned, may.

Also, those wanting to assess the real worth to them can – as applicable – factor in the benefit of reducing emissions, potentially cutting a lot of gasoline use out of their lives, and solo access to HOV lanes in California, and possibly other states.


Next to the PHEV competitors, it’s a solid alternative but all are first-generation efforts that need a close look at your personal situation to decide between.

Certainly the Fusion Energi is awesome in many respects, including that it’s handsome, well appointed, roomy, quick and agile in its class.

But What About the Volt?


Compared to the car GM built, we’ll be frank: GM could build a car larger like the Energi, and – as true also of an SUV and other body styles – GM basically needs a midsized car like this, but with more range, ideally, and without compromised trunk.

The Volt only beats the Fusion Energi in some ways: Its energy efficiency and range are superior. But it uses premium gas, not regular like the Energi, and it’s smaller – a consideration for those who want to haul more people, larger people, particularly in the back seat. The hatchback Volt’s cargo capacity is much better however.

We’ve heard it many times about GM’s electrification plans. Its Voltec architecture is class leading, and the pending gen-2 Volt has everyone hoping a better compact will come along with a Bowtie on the front.

In other news, Ford is reportedly planning to develop a unique platform PHEV/non-plug-in-hybrid model range later this decade to go head to head with the Prius in a more thoroughgoing manner than it does with its Fusion or C-Max.


Like every other automaker, Ford tells us it can’t comment on future plans, but that story is here. That Ford is doing better than GM in the regular hybrid space is clear, and its plug-in effort is coming along also. One can only imagine what it might do for its own gen 2 in a couple of years or more.

Meanwhile, the Volt is the top-selling plug-in by virtue of its lead time in the market and has some key advantages. Gen 2 sounds promising. If GM is planning more Voltecs, that would be welcome, because the competition including Ford, Toyota and others, are not sleeping.


Aug 21

Is ELR GM’s answer to Tesla? Yes or no, which is it?


Is the Cadillac ELR a “Tesla fighter?” From our vantage point we initially said no to the folks piping up with disdain for GM’s “pig with lipstick” as one man called the ELR who also thought I was too easy going in my ELR review.

As it is, Mark Reuss, GM’s head of global product development, purchasing and supply chain seems to have definitively answered it is not.


The story was reported Aug. 14 by The Detroit News, where Reuss clarified for the record whether it’s GM’s answer to the Model S.

“People like to say the ELR is, but it’s really not,” said Reuss. “It’s a different car, it’s a different price point. It’s way-different technology.”

The story of Reuss’ clarification has since been re-reported by others including GM Authority, and one commenter yesterday said all the people stating that the ELR is a competitor were making things up.

“Show me where GM or Cadillac ever stated that this car was targeted directly at the S model Tesla? Where?” said reader scott3 on GM Authority. “You will not find it because no approved official ever stated it.”


It’s good that he insists on facts. Today’s communications-rich society lets people with apparent credibility say all kinds of things. Personal views or rumors can get passed off like fact, and info can tend to sometimes get sloshed around with less-than-full accuracy.

But the notion GM’s ELR is positioned against the Model S is not a pure fabrication. If you want an official GM statement, we’ll give you one from a Cadillac media rep specifically tasked to answer inquiries about the ELR. We’ll withhold this rep’s name because the intent is not to humiliate anyone. Odds are once upon an early time for the ELR launched officially in January, GM did eye the Tesla as closer to a direct competitor, if not the same exact tech.

“It’s an electrified luxury coupe that uses the EREV technology from a full-line luxury automaker with hundreds of dealers provided service and maintenance from coast to coast in the US. So there’s really nothing like it,” wrote GM’s Cadillac media rep to in an e-mail in February. “But we consider Tesla a competitor given its price point, EV technology, customer base and interior and exterior design.”

Once again:

Reuss said: “It’s a different car, it’s a different price point. It’s way-different technology.”

GM’s ELR rep said: “[W]e consider Tesla a competitor given its price point, EV technology, customer base and interior and exterior design.”

Is it just us, or does this appear these statements and criteria they specify directly contradict one another? … technology, design, price point. All three.


It should be noted the ELR, an extended-range EV based on the Volt’s powertrain, but now with a 0.6-kwh-smaller battery – that uses more of it however – is not really a Tesla fighter.

Our tendency – just as we did with the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid vs. Model S comparo – was to steer wide comparing “apples to oranges.”

And if Tesla aspires to be the next Apple, maybe apples are in season, and oranges aren’t selling as well because they’re not as ripe and flavorful?

Through July, with incentives, HOV lane access, cheap leases, and reportedly as much as $14,000 effectively off by dealers, U.S. Cadillac dealers moved 188 ELRs in July, and 578 for the year.

Regarding Tesla, it sold an estimated 1,400 units through July, and an estimated 9,400 for the year.

How do you like them apples? And oranges?

But according to Reuss, whose quote was a near inversion of Cadillac’s just a few months ago, it may be OK because ELR is not really an answer to Cadillac.

Assuming benefit of the doubt, one question now could be what will be GM’s answer to Cadillac? Since it’s not indicated there is one, maybe it is content to let Tesla run?

Despite industry watchers reacting, and GM tasking a Tesla watch team, are those same watchers also waiting to see if the Tesla Phenomenon will slow down?

Already some reports have been that maybe the market for well-heeled early adopters has slowed. Maybe instead of Tesla, they’re heading to the Sharper Image catalog to find a new gee-whiz toy for less cash?

Or maybe not. Maybe Tesla will keep surfing this 50-foot wave it’s riding as the beachcombers stand and predict what will happen next.

Your guess is as good as ours. While you’re at it, does GM need to answer Cadillac? Will it? Will it’s answer eventually silence the critics?

No doubt plenty more could be said. Please pardon us if we did not make this an exhaustive analysis. The rest of the blanks, we’ll leave for you to fill in.

UPDATE: We’ve for now disabled voting. The person or persons who thought it was funny to game the system and vote up and vote down people neutralized the truth of voting. We can consider changing that, but first the perpetrator needs to write on the blackboard 100 times:

“I promise not to cheat. I’m sorry I did not play fair.”

Just kidding! But seriously, we’ll consider your feedback and respond accordingly.


Aug 20

The electrification revolution can’t fizzle, can it?


Here’s the counterpoint to the article last week. It’s not as in-depth, more surface, but hits as many issues.

Perhaps you’all can fill in the missing info?


There are many reasons to be encouraged that the electrification of transportation has a bright future.

This round up of 10 broad reasons however is in case anyone has any doubt after we gave a sober look at what yet gives critics breathing space to poke at the effort to rely on batteries instead of gasoline.

If you missed that, it observed – among several issues – that hybrid vehicle market share has paralleled a growing U.S. passenger car market since 2010 at about 2.5-3.1 percent, and plug-in hybrids and electric cars are yet a trickle comprising 0.4 percent each.

Electrification proponents think that’s too bad given viable solutions exist now and U.S. transportation accounts for 70 percent of all oil consumption and 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

But there’s hope. Lots of it, and this won’t be hype, but facts, in brief. Following are positive drivers to the global effort to increase the number of electrified vehicles against the sea of gasoline vehicles that 95 percent of U.S. consumers yet buy.

We won’t rank these by importance because they all contribute to the synergy. Some of the following points are aspects of other points but deserve their own focus. And, some do have more influence than others. So, here we go …

Global Emissions and MPG Regulations



If automakers want to stay in business they will have to significantly clean up their fleets, and electrification, they know, is an ideal way to do that.

When it gets to be crunch time later this decade and next, they will have to introduce more hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars.

The less gasoline they use, the easier it is to spike their fleet average mpg score.

How’s that for a motivator? Pressure will be on for “bridge” technologies like hybrids. Plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles boost the ability even higher to meet government mandates.

Laws with teeth include U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations and California’s Zero Emissions Vehicle rules calling for one-in-seven ZEVs by 2025. Beyond that the Europeans are clamping down with more focus on CO2 emissions, which are the other side of the mpg equation – increasing mpg usually reduces CO2, or reducing CO2 increases mpg.

Also driving this is Japanese rules, and China keeps upping the incentives for EVs and several global automakers are working like busy bees with their state-mandated joint venture partners in China.

Globally, rules are getting tighter.

Electricity Is Cleaner


Automakers can try to squeak out more efficiency from internal combustion engines, if they want. They can roll out all the 8- 9- or 10-speed transmissions, diesels, gasoline diesels, direct-injected, downsized, turbocharged, you-name-it tech they want.

Nothing beats zero emissions from an electric motor. This would also apply to fuel cell electric vehicles, but battery electric vehicles and other plug-in and regular hybrid vehicles are super effective.

What’s not to like about cleaner air? Battery powered cars can also benefit from a grid that itself is regulated, and mandated to become cleaner. Renewable sources such as solar, geothermal, wind, and hydro will play a greater part to one degree or another. The world is pushing for it, and electrified vehicles will make more sense as time goes on.

Electric Motors Are More Efficient



Electric motors convert their energy supply to usable propulsion force with efficiency in the high 80s to 95 percent or so. Gasoline engines may be in the upper 20-percent range, and the pending new Prius engine and some by Honda, such as in the Accord Hybrid, may push to high 30s to 40 percent thermal efficiency.

The best gasoline engines are relative energy hogs and fossil fuels produce more heat than usable work energy. The only thing holding back electrified vehicles – or, alternately the only thing justifying them – is electric motors work efficiently with limited energy storage – batteries.

At this stage, electric motors make sense enough for the industry to have begun, and a tipping point could come as soon as someone improves the technological equation.

For those of you old enough to remember, did you think 25 years ago the Internet would be what it is? Did you envision that connected devices and smartphones and flat screen TVs with life-like picture would be so extremelty common and affordable?

Electric motors are also quiet, offer instant torque from zero rpm, and need very little maintenance with fewer moving parts.

Battery Improvements Are Coming



Today the lithium-ion battery is the energy storage medium of choice. These come in various chemical cocktails and the highest-range EV today is the 85-kwh Tesla Model S as Tesla says a 400-mile battery could be retrofitted soon to its original 2008-2012 Roadster.

Numerous automakers, as well as universities, and other concerns are improving energy storage. It’s been reported the next-generation EVs, such as Nissan’s Leaf, could have range upwards of 180 miles, which may come from a new chemistry.

Higher ranges are demanded by many consumers, and Tesla is dead set on building a 200-mile range EV priced near where the Leaf is now.

Beyond this, other energy storage tech, including supercapacitors which could play a role, are nearing commercial readiness. Promising research is underway for lithium-air, solid state batteries, and aluminum air and advanced military and aerospace concerns are already using these as the work to cost-effectively increase energy density to several times li-ion continues.

One potential example is by Israel-based Phinergy. This startup has demonstrated its aluminum-air battery ideal for range extending a convention li-ion BEV. The company has partnered with Fortune 500 giant Alcoa and if that’s not a huge vote of confidence that this is not vaporware, we don’t know what is. Today its technology exists for cost-effective EVs that can go 1,000-2,500 miles if someone wants to build it.

This and other hopeful signs are out there. The brightest minds are working on it, and many scientists would like to have their name attached to a world-changing breakthrough.

Infrastructure Is Ready



Fuel cells use electric motors but the “feed stock” to produce hydrogen is natural gas meaning Big Oil will stay in business. Plus, you can almost count the number of hydrogen stations with the fingers of two hands, and the build out will take hundreds of millions of dollars just to see if the cost can be driven down.

Battery-electrified vehicles on the other hand are a tad more convenient to recharge. Do you know where the nearest refueling station is for a plug-in car? It could be only feet away from you – the nearest electric outlet will do. Home charging with 120 or 240-volt equipment is convenient, can be done overnight when rates tend to be lower.

While fence sitters yet abound, all it has taken to turn some consumers into supporters of the plug-in lifestyle is seeing that worries were overblown, and it can work.

Production Costs Are Declining



Costs per kilowatt-hour for li-ion are declining. Tesla aims to improve this with its massive gigafactory and other automakers are working away as well.

Other components such as motors and controllers and other electrified vehicle specific parts, while still costly, are also coming down.

The watchword is “economies of scale.” While hybrids and plug-ins are a relative minority, costs do work against them making the value of cheaper and more efficient electricity less clear cut for some. But as more are sold, production costs will improve which can be passed to the consumer.

Competitiveness among makers bringing new vehicles to market will eventually improve the cost equation as well. Admittedly, some electrified vehicles are pretty bloated, but as they say, this is not a sprint, but a marathon – and others like a leased Leaf, say those who’ve taken the plunge, do make fantastic sense now.

Consumer Demand



If you’ve not noticed, green is in. Fence sitters are for now are held back by perceived costs or lack of full knowledge about alternative choices, not so much because they hate the idea.

Sadly, auto company marketers have struggled to be as effective as they could. Also dealers are not always incentivized to show how hybrids or plug-ins can make sense. But today more people could benefit from a hybrid or plug-in car who so far haven’t bought, and this will increase as the word gets out against an entrenched paradigm.

With next-generation offerings, the value proposition will improve. As other synergies come into play, people who are already prepped will jump in.

Some today also are standing back from plug-ins merely because they are new, and don’t buy first gen products on principle.

Marketers know there will be waves of buyers for whom the light bulb all of a sudden turns on. Not everyone bought a flat screen TV for $12,000 when they were new, but as price-for-performance got cheaper toward commodity item status, these products were snapped up as consumers felt comfortable.

Horses Out Of The Stable



The documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car” illustrated GM’s PR nightmare of its leased EV1 which was later taken back, and many were crushed in Arizona.

Today many different plug-in hybrids and electric cars have been purchased, so no automaker can kill these off entirely.

Moreover, the commitment to create next-generation products – such as Chevrolet with its Volt – is definite.

Although the electrified fleet is relatively small against millions of internal combustion cars, the electric horses are now out of the stable, and there is no putting them back.

Energy Security



Reports of potentially massive U.S. oil and natural gas reserves may weaken the argument about electricity’s contribution to energy security, but do not nullify it.

As mentioned above electricity is cleaner, more efficient, and as long as we are importing petroleum to the U.S. the battle cry of plug-in advocates holds true:

You will never see a tanker arriving from the Middle East loaded with electricity.

The notion of pursuing energy security – aka national security – is otherwise valid. Wars have been fought, and untold billions spent, and lives lost and bodies maimed so the first world can have its petroleum.

For all the costs that critics observe against efforts to jump start plug-in vehicles, or hybrids before them, they’re a drop in an oil barrel compared to America’s “addiction.”

The U.S. Department of Defense is also pushing toward battery power in numerous applications. It recognizes the value and the defense industry itself is another driver to furtherance of electrified technologies.

The military industrial complex does what it wants. The elected officials you put in office make it so. They too are a driver pushing against the petroleum tide.

Tesla Motors



The California start-up gets its own entry even if confusion yet exists. Just yesterday we were talking to a banker who said Model S is a “toy for the rich,” and he’d not want to travel from Pennsylvania to Florida and have to stop over for “6 or 7 hours” to recharge.

Make no mistake, there is an information battle out there and some of the information watering troughs are ladling out spin from half truths. We informed the gentleman about the existence of 20-30-minute Superchargers, and Tesla’s plan to build less expensive cars. He was far from convinced, but others get it.

The truth is: a truly high-volume selling electrified “game changer” has not arrived yet but that doesn’t mean the entire electrification effort is illegitimate, and Tesla aims to prove that.

Tesla is offering free charging to all its customers who buy Supercharger compatible cars, has freed its patents, and is building a gigafactory, but there is one fact more important: The fact that Tesla even exists.

The company is pushing 200,000-employee giants like General Motors to assign a team to monitor Tesla, and BMW and reportedly Audi too are responding to a company selling the “toys for the rich” in volumes higher than Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, and so on.

Tesla will have its hands full expanding from niche player to mass marketer with Model 3 and beyond, but it is a goad proving defiantly what can be done today when you’re in it to win it with no vested ties to petroleum energy.

Assuming it succeeds in opening a mass market, it will force others to follow. They will want some of the fun too.

Much more could be said about the provocation to global automakers by the yet-small company that refuses to burn gas. The jury for Tesla is still ultimately out, but 10 years into it, it’s been so far, so good.