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Jul 31

OXIS set to be first to commercialize lithium-sulfur batteries


More often revolutions start with a big bang but could it be the replacement for lithium-ion batteries is taking off with a relatively small but not insignificant pop?

This appears to be the case for OXIS Energy of the UK, which has plans in motion to put its 30-percent more energy dense polymer lithium-sulfur (Li-S) chemistry into production next year. Plans are also to sell its technology to European niche electric vehicle makers, the military, for solar energy storage systems, and several major auto manufacturers are in discussions with OXIS as well.


OXIS says its batteries are less costly to produce, lighter, safer, potentially more durable, maintenance-free and able to accept 100-percent discharge instead of the only 80-percent or so to which li-ion is limited.


While the OXIS batteries do not yet boast headline-exploding four or five times lithium-ion’s energy density – though this is predicted – they do have enough superior about them to equate to a better battery than lithium-ion in several respects.

In so many words, even in its infancy, Li-S is a baby giant of a technology and able to pick up where the comparatively mature potential of li-ion first commercialized in 1991 by Sony is now tapering off.

Getting Started

In 2010 OXIS had just 10 employees, and now has 45. It’s based at the UK Atomic Energy Research Centre in Oxfordshire where lithium-ion batteries were first developed and prototyped. It holds 47 patents on its Li-S technology with over 32 more pending.

At the end of last month OXIS tweeted it had achieved a benchmark 500 charge cycles for its pouch cells, and last week it told us this is up to almost 600.

According to Dr. Mark Crittenden, OXIS’ business development manager, the company can reasonably extrapolate this result to say these same cells should be good for 1,700-1,800 charge cycles before they can only hold 80 percent, or “Beginning of Life.”

This was tweeted for OXIS' 200 Wh/kg pouch cells June 27. The line is now just about at 600 and OXIS is seeing 20 percent Wh/kg capacity improvement per year.

This was tweeted for OXIS’ 200 Wh/kg pouch cells June 27. The line is now just about at 600 and OXIS is seeing 20 percent Wh/kg capacity improvement per year.

“Having both high specific energy, excellent safety and good cycle life are key to why OXIS is now putting our cells into production early next year,” said Crittenden.

However, he says it’s yet questionable in the short term how suitable OXIS’ state-of-the-art is for “saloon cars” or passenger vehicles. These, he says would require 2,000-3,500 charge cycles based on commonly quoted European standards, but makers of electric utility vehicles, scooters, e-bikes, and even a small city car are planning to use its products as OEMs eye a technology predicted to be production-car ready not long after.

“With the improvement being made to the OXIS technology,” Crittenden said, “we expect to see our cells in the saloon car market in 3-5 years.”

Given these opportunities and others where Li-S can fill a niche, OXIS signed a contract at the beginning of this year with GP Batteries of Singapore. GP has several facilities in Asia, and is the largest consumer battery manufacturer in China. This will therefore be the first large-scale manufacturer to produce commercially available lithium sulfur cells – and it will save costs because OXIS uses a liquid gel electrolyte.

Since OXIS’ batteries are close enough in design to lithium-ion, GP will be able to use existing assembly line machinery to put the Li-S chemistry into production. This is a major hurdle that other Li-S battery chemistries – particularly solid-state type – will likely not be able to overcome, which effectively gives OXIS a nice head start.

Getting some of the first and best is that most famous of

Getting some of the first and best is that most famous of “early adopters,” the military. OXIS, PolyPlus and Sion are working on bleeding-edge projects. For example, PolyPlus has already demonstrated disposable Li-Air batteries with 800 Wh/kg and all are in process of delivering Li-S.


In a phone interview with one of only a handful of other companies known to be working on lithium-sulfur, PolyPlus, we were told its solid-state technologies – while just as promising – will require new assembly machinery. Less is known about Sion, another purveyor of Li-S, as possibly are also a few automotive OEMs working behind the scenes, including Toyota and Daimler.

But Crittenden says OXIS and GP are good to go.

“Analysis of the bill of materials for lithium sulfur pouch cells produced in volume, indicates that the total material costs are similar to that of lithium iron phosphate,” said Crittenden in an article he wrote for Batteries International. “The production processing required is about 70 percent of lithium ion, with much of the equipment similar, so that both capital investments costs and processing costs will be lower.”

Meanwhile, OXIS says it has been achieving 20-percent year-over-year improvements for cells that are presently delivering 200 Wh/kg at the pouch cell level, 350 Wh/kg at the coin cell level, and with promise of a doubling or more in the next 2-3 years.

This is not a whole lot better than li-ion, but Li-S offers other benefits not least of which is major upside potential.

The theoretical energy density of lithium-sulfur is actually 2,700 Wh/kg, or five times that of lithium-ion. We’ve seen in recent weeks other promising Li-S developments such as by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory which is working toward U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) goals.

OXIS Energy Ltd.

OXIS Energy Ltd.

OXIS, as do other companies working on their own approach to the challenges of uncapping lithium-sulfur’s potential, sees lithium-sulfur as the next most viable energy storage chemistry on the way to lithium-air.

IBM has said lithium-air will be practical some time in the early 2020s – how it can have 2020 vision a decade into the future is a good critical question, but we digress. In any case, OXIS’ statements are of what it has in its hands now. OXIS does concede Li-Air is the next step beyond Li-S, but Crittenden says he doesn’t think Li-Air will be ready until after 2030.

Truth be told, some would say even lithium-sulfur is barely ready, but OXIS is getting started with the lowest hanging fruit. This lets it meet needs now as it also begins to earn revenues and works on its business rather than isolating itself in a lab attempting to develop higher energy density as is currently the case in the U.S.

Not that American researchers are exactly in isolation, but the U.S. DoE-sponsored project, JCESR is one such project that sets much higher benchmarks before it will deem Li-S ready for prime time.

The DoE placed a $120 million bet on this project hosted by Argonne National Laboratory formally known as the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research at the end of 2012. Its goal is to come up with an automotive propulsion battery with five-times the range capacity, costing one-fifth present lithium-ion batteries, and to be completed in the next five years.

This is a simplified overview of the science. Non-techies may skip it if they want.

Good Enough For Government Work

Despite the U.S. government demanding more for Li-S before using it for electric car batteries, other government entities – particularly the military – see reason to get started now.

Crittenden says energy storage systems using metallic lithium offer the highest specific energy, and OXIS has also received support for UK Ministry of Defense battery packs to be carried by NATO soldiers. Soldiers must carry 8 kg or so, and if this can be cut in half, that is a huge tactical advantage in the eyes of commanders.

Where the batteries have a leg up for certain transportation needs is in the area of safety. OXIS cites the Boeing Dreamliner incidents and other evidence of fire hazard for those who believe lithium iron phosphate batteries (LiFePO4) and other forms of li-ion are safe enough.

OXIS Li-S electrolytes, says Crittenden, offer a mechanism for the passivation of suspended or “mossy” lithium by instantaneously creating a (Li2S) film on metallic lithium.

A lithium-sulfur cell consists of layers of the following: • An anode of lithium metal, protected by a lithium sulfide passivation layer; •A sulfur-based cathode – the sulfur combines with the lithium as the electrochemical reaction, but as sulfur has a low conductivity, carbon is also added. Polymer is then used to bind the cathode together; and •	Separator and Electrolyte. The choice of electrolyte is critical for ensuring the safety of the cell. For a safe cell, it is important to formulate an electrolyte which has high flash point and thus a low flammability.

A lithium-sulfur cell consists of layers of the following:
• An anode of lithium metal, protected by a lithium sulfide passivation layer;
• A sulfur-based cathode – the sulfur combines with the lithium as the electrochemical reaction, but as sulfur has a low conductivity, carbon is also added. Polymer is then used to bind the cathode together; and
• Separator and Electrolyte. The choice of electrolyte is critical for ensuring the safety of the cell. For a safe cell, it is important to formulate an electrolyte which has high flash point and thus a low flammability.

Passivated lithium that forms during charging is dissolved upon discharge or when the battery is at rest, he said. This protection is supported chemically and is associated with what’s called the “sulfide cycle.” Li2S has a melting point of 938°C and OXIS says it is a perfect insulator.

“The failure mode for OXIS’ Li-metal battery is the loss of capacity due to formation between electrodes of non-conductive and highly stable passivated lithium sulfide,” says a statement from the company. “OXIS’ batteries use ‘heavy’ electrolytes with high flash points. Our prototypes have demonstrated safe performance from room temperatures to 140°C, albeit with reduced capacity at the top end of this range.”

OXIS has also attempted to abuse the batteries to test for failure. Nail penetration tests both on freshly assembled and cycled pouch cells (0.5Ah capacity) resulted in no significant temperature increase.

Examination confirmed that there was no localized temperature increase where the nail penetrated. This is due to the rapid spread of the reaction across the full surface of the lithium electrode producing effective heat dissipation.

In fact, a nail penetrated cell was actually recharged and functioned albeit with less energy because of the missing material where the nail damaged it.

The cells have also been shot through with bullets for military tests, and subjected to short circuiting, all without inducing fire from “thermal runaway.”

Spec-wise, some info is being divulged at this point: Cells’ continuous discharge figures (from fully charged to fully discharged) are typically 2C.

“For voltages, we are not currently openly disclosing our cut-off voltages. However I can say that the nominal voltage is 2.1 volts,” Crittenden said.

As for recharging, Crittenden said larger packs could take seven hours but this is an area the company has not focused nearly as heavily, and is now doing so. OXIS expects charge times to reduce to 5 hours in the next 6 months, to 4 hours in the next year, with the ultimate goal of achieving “fast-charging” technology.

As mentioned, OXIS cells are “maintenance free.” This means unlike today’s li-ion-powered electric cars, no charging is required to prevent damage when left for extended periods.

Therefore you won’t likely “brick” them if you leave them unplugged for a duration – a problem Tesla had with its Roadster, had to take steps to mitigate with its Model S, and still a potential concern for any car with li-ion batteries.

Crittenden also says Li-S is more environmentally friendly than li-ion because sulfur is used instead of heavy metals such as nickel and cobalt.

As an added bonus, the sulfur is a recycled by-product from petroleum processing, so in effect, the oil industry is providing a raw ingredient that could one day lead to its demise.


Actual Applications

To start with, automotive or nearly automotive projects OXIS is known to be working with are those with the innovative French company, INDUCT. While Crittenden said talks are ongoing with European and other OEMs, the company’s CEO, Huw W. Hampson-Jones who joined OXIS in 2010 in part to help grow the transportation business, has said major manufacturers are sometimes reluctant to run with new ideas.

“The automotive industry is very slow; and although I understand their reticence in accepting a new technology, what is frustrating is their lethargy in grasping the movement of ideas and science that has enabled the breakthrough OXIS’ technological development has made on many levels,” said Hampson Jones. “Working with smaller, less well established automotive manufacturers is, at present, far more rewarding for us as their hierarchy and decision making skills are far more effective in the adoption of new ideas and execution.”

To wit, the first cars to receive Li-S batteries appear to be the INDUCT Modulgo Urban Car (top photo) and driverless Navia (in video).

These and two wheelers by other companies that will use Li-S will not require a liquid thermal management system. Li-S operates safely at higher temperatures, and Crittenden said he is unsure whether larger scale packs would require a liquid TMS either.

A smartphone serves as instrumentation and the means to start the Modulgo car.

A smartphone serves as instrumentation and the means to start the Modulgo car.

The Modulgo is designed from telematics technology and intended to offer advanced car sharing solutions as a low-cost urban EV.

It seats three in a single row, tops out at 68 mph (110 kph), and has a maximum range in the city of 87 miles (140 km). A mobile phone is used as the dashboard and ignition key. The car offers multimedia for the driver and passengers, recharges inductively, and its body is 100-percent recyclable.

The Modulgo was revealed at Geneva in 2011 and OXIS says its batteries will be in it next year.


The Navia – also called the Cybergo – is equipped with laser range finders, cameras and a software package that allows it to move autonomously and safely in any environment.

Here safety is critical with no human actively monitoring it. Crittenden said the safer than li-ion aspect of LI-S was a big selling point. This vehicle will get an approximately 10-kilowatt-hour Li-S pack in 2014.

Two wheelers to receive OXIS batteries will be the WESP scooter, which is made by QWIC of the Netherlands, and to be distributed to around 350 shops in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and France.

Crittenden would not disclose specs, but range will be impressive, he said, and it will be user friendly and safe as a scooter can be.

The same goes for Wisper e-bikes being developed in Germany for European markets and OXIS says it will be launched in 2014 year. Present customers include the City of London Police and Dominoes Pizza.

Wisper e-bike.
Wisper e-bike.

We asked the company if it could project a dollar per kwh cost for a Li-S pack. Presently in U.S. it’s around $700 with projections that it could drop to as low as $150-200, but we got only a around-a-bout reply.

“Our first priority is to develop a world class Li-S technology that can deliver the features and services which we have defined in conjunction with our partners and customers,” answered Hampson-Jones. “That price is important, I don’t deny, but safety, the elimination of distance anxiety, the lightness of weight a premier features, and our customers are very much ready to pay for those. In achieving those features and being competitive is our objective.”

Left unsaid, but it should be evident by now is that the company is a forerunner in a niche market with an ostensibly viable product that must begin to supplant li-ion, so that could be a further hint about pricing for now.

Like Goldilocks’ porridge, it will have to be not too hot, not too cold, but just what the market will bear.

Primed and Ready

While the U.S. attempts to perfect lithium-sulfur to a far greater degree of its inherent potential, OXIS has lined up its initial supply chain and distribution channels and is pushing ahead of all.

The company has also signed Joint Development Agreements with France’s leading chemicals producer, Arkema, as well as with one of the world’s largest polymer companies, Bayer MaterialScience of Germany.

These are hoped to helps expedite development of new polymer binders, carbon materials, electrode substrates and lithium salts to continually improve the technology going forward.


OXIS also has links with St Andrew University, Imperial College London, Oxford University and Cranfield University, as well as with Material Science Departments of both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

It also received an investment of £15 million ($23 million) from the giant South African energy and chemical company Sasol, and has accepted further grants as well.

The company also recently signed with Canadian defense contractor Panacis which caters to U.S. and NATO military. OXIS says it is well positioned therefore to grow, even as it reaches ahead of all others to be, in the words of Crittenden, “the world-leading company in the development of lithium sulfur, seen by many as the next Generation Battery technology.”

We also asked Hampson-Jones why no info on work with U.S. companies is to be found on its Web site, but he said this would change soon.

“We are collaborating with US companies, watch this space for an announcement in the fall,” said Hampson-Jones. “We aim to enter the U.S. market in 2014.”


Jul 23

$42,275 and up for BMW i3


Get ready to sell your Volts. BMW is coming to town.

Just kidding!

More or less in line with previous statements and speculation, BMW announced yesterday that its all-electric i3 city car will start at a suggested retail price of $41,350 plus $925 U.S. destination charge.

The car is set to debut concurrently at events on July 29 in New York, London and Beijing, and will be available in showrooms by the second quarter of 2014. BMW did not specify price for the range-extended version, nor did it verify launch plans, although it is believed the RE will cost an extra $4,000-$5,000 for those so inclined.


BMW Group Canada also announced a base price of $44,950 for the BMW i3 and it will be available in Canada in the first half of 2014.

And, the company further announced UK lease pricing of £369 (incl VAT) per month scheduled to begin November 2013. This is for a 36 month term and with an initial £2,995 (incl. VAT). Contract mileage is 24,000 miles and the arrangement includes a 7.4-kw AC Fast Charger to replenish from zero to 80 percent charge in three hours.

“The BMW i3 heralds the dawn of a new era for individual mobility and for the BMW Group. True to a genuine BMW, the BMW i3 has strong emotional appeal, outstanding product substance and a guarantee of sheer driving pleasure,” said Ian Robertson, Member of the Board of Management, Sales and Marketing BMW. “With this leading-edge vehicle and attractive price, we will provide customers with a compelling offer for electromobility.”

BMW’s innovative EV will feature 170 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque from its hybrid-synchronous electric motor that was developed and to be produced in house by BMW.

Range from the 22-kwh lithium-ion battery is said to be 80-100 miles, and recharging for the U.S. version is via a standard SAE J1772 level 2 system or via DC fast charging through its optional SAE DC Combo-Fast Charger.



And interior room is said to be comparable to a 3 Series although the body is shorter. Its wheelbase is comparatively long however, says BMW, and the car’s turning circle of 32.3 feet promises to make it fun to drive, yet practical for tight urban areas.

BMW notes the i3 make use of the industry’s first mass-produced carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) passenger cell mounted on an aluminum chassis. What’s more, the car boasts sustainable interior materials and assembly lines in Moses Lake, Washington and Leipzig, Germany make use of hydro-electric, wind and solar power to power the CFRP production facilities.


Jul 12

Review: 2013 Ford C-Max Energi


By Larry E. Hall

As part of its commitment to sell a broader selection of fuel-saving hybrid and electric-powered vehicles, Ford launched the 2013 no-plug C-Max Hybrid and plug-in C-Max Energi hybrid.

The C-Max is an American version of the European five-passenger C-Max that shares its underlying global C platform and many key components with the 2012 Ford Focus.

“C” refers to an international size class, which in the U.S. falls into the compact class. In Europe, the C-Max is called a multipurpose vehicle (MPV), while most Americans will dub it a hatchback.


Even though the Toyota Prius may be the undisputed benchmark of hybrid vehicles, Ford believes the C-Max near twins can chip away at Toyota’s market dominance of hybrid cars. And part of their strategy takes a page out of the Prius’ playbook — design.

“This is our Prius fighter,” said Ford’s then head of global marketing, Jim Farley, during a press announcement prior to their launch. “We did a lot of research that suggested having a distinctive shape that is easily recognizable not only helps Toyota sell more Prius hybrids but gives an image benefit to the rest of its lineup.”

The C-Max Energi began with a slow roll out to dealers, but the pace has picked up recently. “We have more than 700 dealers EV certified nationwide, and we are working quickly to have 900 certified by the end of the summer,” said Amanda Zusman, Ford electrified communications coordinator  “We now have EV certified dealers in all 50 states, so Energi products are now sold nationwide.”

Third Generation Hybrid System

C-Max Energi and the less-electrified C-Max Hybrid are the first Ford models to employ the third-generation version of Ford’s hybrid system. They also mark Ford’s first integration of lithium-ion battery technology in a hybrid.

Both C-Max models use a lean-burning Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, scaled down from the 2.5-liter version in the Fusion Hybrid. Without delving into details, an Atkinson-cycle engine gives up a little power output in exchange for improved fuel efficiency and reduced emissions.

Ford rates the four’s output at 141 horsepower and 129 pounds-feet of torque.

2013 Ford-C Max Energi Engine

The engine shares motivational tasks with a 118 horsepower AC electric traction motor that generates 177 pounds-feet of torque. When working together, the two power sources deliver 188 system horsepower and an estimated 200 pounds-feet of torque. (Ford doesn’t publish combined torque numbers.)

Ford’s hybrid system is a powersplit architecture design. In a powersplit hybrid, the gasoline engine and electric motor can work together in blended mode or individually to maximize efficiency.

The engine also can operate independently of vehicle speed, providing power to the wheels or charging the batteries via regenerative braking as needed.

The motor alone can deliver enough power to the wheels to whisk the C-Max to a speed of 85 mph, and can work with the engine at higher speeds.

A planetary gear set transmits power output of the engine, motor or the combination of both to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT) that directs the power to the front wheels.

An eCVT is essentially an automatic that replaces a finite set of gears with a planetary gearset. The intent is continuously changing gear ratios that more precisely match engine output with acceleration and fuel economy.

The C-Max Energi exchanges the standard hybrid’s 1.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion traction battery pack with a much larger, 7.6-kwh battery in the cargo area.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi Charging

Energi’s lithium-ion batteries are engineered for recharging and extended discharge during all-electric mode, whereas the C-Max Hybrid batteries are designed for shorter surges of electrons.

Using a standard 120-volt outlet, recharging a depleted battery takes seven hours. C-Max Energi buyers would be well served to have a 240-volt recharging unit installed which reduces recharging time to three hours.

There are three selectable modes that allow drivers a choice of when and where to use electric power via a button on the center console. In EV Auto, the default mode, the Energi operates as a pure EV unless more power is requested by the driver. EV Now is all-electric driving until the battery is depleted, then automatically reverts to hybrid mode. EV Later operates as a hybrid and reserves battery-pack for later use.

There’s also an EV+ feature that can keep the vehicle in electric-only mode for longer durations once it learns a driver’s frequent destinations.



C-Max styling is heavily influenced by the Iosis MAX concept unveiled at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show.  The design was created by Ford’s European design group and follows the company’s “kinetic” styling themes.

Up front, a large, lower, inverted trapezoid grille and small upper grille are becoming signature design elements of Ford cars. Long flowing headlights establish an athletic look and the short, sculpted hood leads into a sharply raked windshield.

Outer corners of the bumper boast eye-catching fog lights that direct the eye to prominent front wheel arches. Standard 17-inch aluminum wheels and 50-series tires do an effective job of filling the fenders.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi Front Right

The profile of the steeply raked windshield continues with a sweeping, coupe-like roofline that ends with a strong-rising C-pillar, similar to the smaller Fiesta. The shape is not only striking, but plays a major role in the C-Max’s aerodynamic drag coefficient of just .30.

At the business end are an upright tailgate and taillight shapes that mimic the headlights.

The only attribute that distinguishes the Energi from its sibling is the round “filler door” on the left front fender. A four-element LED light ring surrounds the perimeter of the port, lighting up in segments as a visual cue to let the driver know the battery’s charge status upon parking the vehicle and plugging it in.

The Inside Story

Like the Focus, the same Ford kinetic design shapes the distinctive features and surfaces of the Energi’s dashboard, reflecting the modern character of the exterior. Center console controls are inspired by modern mobile phones, and it’s clear the design is targeted at a generation that’s grown up with all manner of mobile infotainment devices.

Thanks to its 5.3-foot-tall height, the cabin has a spacious feel. With a full 41 inches of front-seat headroom and the slightly less 39.4 inches in the rear, it’s roomy even for 6-footers.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi Interior

Ford has done a commendable job with the C-Max Energi’s interior. The mostly leather cabin with its metal accents give it an upscale ambience. The touch points are soft and every inch of the cabin uses high-quality materials.

Front seats are firm yet comfortable and are infinitely adjustable. Rear seating is more roomy than most cars of this size, accommodating three average-sized adults.

There are some quibbles, however. For instance, when placed in Park, the shifter completely conceals several function switches, including the fuel-door release. Also, climate-control knobs are so small they are difficult to grip.

A more noteworthy downside is the Energi’s cargo space. The battery pack’s placement beneath the floor of the cargo area reduces capacity to 19.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats compared to the hybrid model’s 24.5 cu. ft. Worse, when the rear seats are folded, exposed is the battery pack’s intrusion that creates a shelf behind the rear seats that is a about seven inches higher than the load floor.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi Seating

The Energi is available in just one well-equipped trim level that’s comparable to the C-Max Hybrid’s SEL trim. Standard are leather-trimmed seats with heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, hands-free calling system, wireless Bluetooth audio for access to music on a smartphone, and three years of free, personalized news, sports and business news.

Also standard is Ford’s MyFord Touch system with SYNC voice commands. This system combines climate, entertainment, telephone and navigation function into an integrated system that responds to voice commands.

Available options include navigation with SYNC, a Sony audio system, a hands-free power lift gate and a hands-free self-parking system.

Too Much Information?

Data geeks will do flips over the information that can be gleaned from a variety of menus. To learn what’s available, the Reader’s Digest-size owner’s manual devotes 23 pages to information displays.

Steering wheel controls allow selecting information from either right or left hand displays on the instrument cluster. Right side is primarily infotainment features while the left screen is a virtual maze of info with categories named Inform, Enlighten, Engage and Empower.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi Information Display

In addition to instant miles per gallon, the left screen can display instant MPGe, miles traveled on electric power alone, total gallons of gasoline used and total kilowatts of electricity used, plus a list way too long to include.

My favorite feature is the clever Brake Coach, for which Ford has filed patents for the algorithm and display function. It coaches the driver in a manner that maximizes the energy returned to the battery pack through regenerative braking – brake early and lightly.

Rounding out the high-tech goodies is the MyFord Mobile app, which can keep owners connected to their Energi. Free for five years, the app can locate charging stations, show the battery pack’s state of charge, preset charging times for off-peak utility hours and a host of other functions. These can all be done via a smart phone or laptop.

On the Road


As a plug-in hybrid, the C-Max Energi is essentially two cars in one – a battery electric vehicle and a hybrid vehicle.

Driving in EV mode, the Energi performs quite well. Thanks to the instant-on torque from the electric motor, acceleration can be rather brisk when needed, but that action can devour electrons rapidly.

It cruises city streets in quiet fashion and easily keeps up with the flow of traffic. Considering the 38-psi inflation pressures for the Michelin Energy Saver P225/50R-17 tires, the ride is quite smooth.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi Driving

Ford engineers did a remarkable job of eliminating the flutter-rumble that many hybrids make when transitioning from electric mode to gas engine and vice versa. There is no vibration or shimmying when the gas engine kicks in to help the electric motor.

When the battery charge depleted, the hybrid powertrain delivered more than sufficient acceleration to give it enough oomph to quickly merge onto freeways, and passing on two-lane highways was accomplished with ease.

In terms of handling, the Energi was more than competent and was devoid of vices and totally predictable. It cornered well and the electric power steering had good on-center feel and offered decent driver feedback. The all-independent suspension provides a compliant feel that makes it ideal for long trips and daily commuting.

Fuel Economy

As noted in our review of the standard C-Max Hybrid,

there are several class action suits against Ford claiming that owners can’t come close to the 47 mpg EPA rating for city, highway and combined driving.

Since the Energi has the same powertrain and the larger battery boosts weight by 259 pounds, we were curious if Energi’s EPA estimate of 44 mpg city, 41 mpg highway, 43 mpg combined and 100 mpg equivalent (the last number based on it being driven under electric power) was attainable.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi Badge

During our week with the Energi we clocked 608 miles, 540 of which were tallied on a round trip from Olympia, Washington to Sun River, Oregon. That route included about 220 miles of Interstate with the balance mostly two lane highways including the elevation climb on Mt. Hood Highway.

After our week of testing, the fuel economy in the C-Max Energi came to 45.3 mpg, exceeding the EPA estimate by 2.3 mpg (ed. note: full disclosure, Larry also managed on his first try to get 58 mpg from a 2012 Camry Hybrid, beating its EPA estimate by 17 miles. He is good at maximizing efficiency short of being a take-no-prisoners hypermiler).

As for electric drive range, with a fully charged battery we drove the city streets of Olympia for 19.3 miles before the juice ran out. I think we could have made the Ford claimed 21 mile mark had it not been for a nearly two-mile unavoidable steep hill. The readout display indicated 108.4 MPGe, again better than the EPA estimate.



The C-Max Energi’s direct competitors are the Toyota Prius Liftback Plug-in and Chevrolet Volt.

While the C-Max and Prius function similarly, the Energi has some advantages. For example, the Energi’s battery is larger than the Prius Plug-in’s 4.4 kwh battery, giving Ford the edge of 21 miles versus 15 miles (11 miles according to the EPA) of electric driving range.

Also, the C-Max’s overall system output of 188 horsepower versus the Prius’ 134 horsepower gives C-Max drivers more speed and better drivability.

However, while the Energi can travel farther on electric power, when both are on gasoline power, the Prius delivers better fuel economy with an EPA estimate of 51 city/49 highway and 50 mpg combined versus the Energi’s 44/41/43 mpg.

Standing taller than the Prius, the Energi offers more front and rear headroom. But the Prius’ longer wheelbase provides more front seat legroom. In what could be a deal breaker for some, the Energi’s 19.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second-row seats is overshadowed by the Prius Plug-in’s 21.6 cubic feet.

Comparing prices, the base Prius Plug-in starts at $32,795 (including destination charges), nearly $1,000 less than the C-Max Energi before tax credits, and includes features like a standard navigation system.

When federal tax credits are plugged in (pun intended), the Energi’s $3,750 credit versus the Prius’ $2,500 gives the C-Max a $300 edge. If you want all the bells and whistles, the Prius Plug-in Advanced model offers features not found on the Energi like radar-based cruise control, head-up display and adaptive headlamps and can top $40,000.

While the Chevrolet Volt plugs in, its drivetrain is different from the C-Max Energi in that it employs a gasoline engine that powers an electric generator, and the engine only occasionally sends power to the wheels.

The most obvious difference is the Energi seats five to the Volt’s four. And while the Energi offers more head- and legroom than the Volt, the Volt’s cargo space can expand to around 30 usable cubic feet when rear seats are folded with a nearly flat load floor.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi Cargo Area

Energi trounces the Volt’s 35 mpg city/40 highway/ 37 combined gasoline fuel economy but the Volt can travel 38 miles on electric juice compared to the Energi’s 21 miles. The Energi also posts a 100 MPGe compared to the Volt’s 98 MPGe.

Volt’s base price is $39,995 and qualifies for a federal tax credit of $7,500, lowering the price down to $32,495. That’s $2,200 more than the Energi after the tax credit, but if your round trip commute is in the 35 to 40 mile range, that difference could be offset with the savings in gas-free commuting.

Choosing between these three plug-in cars will require determining what your needs are and how a car fits into your daily life.

Toyota’s Prius Plug-in has the least amount of electric-only driving range but the best gasoline fuel economy. The Chevrolet Volt offers the most EV range of the three and is a must drive if you’re considering a plug-in.

The Ford C-Max Energi is an excellent green-oriented family hauler and commuter vehicle. And, if your commute is around 40 miles and you can plug-in at work, it’s a very pleasing electric car.


Jul 02

A lithium-sulfur battery could give a Volt 152 miles AER* by decade’s end


*Assuming the Volt is not just a “bridge” toward EVs like Li-S could also make viable …
Note – Please don’t post June Volt sales in comments. Numbers may be out today, and as always, I’ll do a post ASAP (tomorrow in this case) – Thanks

Could it be that the laboratory that once ushered in the atomic age has developed the battery chemistry that will enable affordable electric cars with 300-400 mile range, and possibly E-REVs also with four-times present all-electric range?

These are some of the implication for Oak Ridge National Laboratory‘s solid state nanotechnology based lithium-sulfur chemistry developed between 2007-2013. As we reported last month, ORNL announced it as a patent-pending scientific success that’s theoretically safer and cheaper than lithium-ion.


At this point it’s up to a competent engineering company to license the “beyond lithium-ion” chemistry from Oak Ridge which started life in 1942 as a home to the Manhattan Project, is now the largest science and energy lab in the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) system, and appears destined to become a national park as well.

ORNL’s mission is far more benign today, but its recent invention has had several interested parties “knocking on the door” including “at least two” in the automotive business, according to ORNL’s David L. Sims, technology commercialization manager.

A $30,000 electric car later this decade or early next that could outdistance today’s $90,000-plus 85-kwh Tesla Model S would be a significant milestone surpassing more modest electric cars which today may go only 80-100 miles on a charge.

Perhaps the biggest electric vehicle (EV) news on a more-predictable horizon is a $35,000 Tesla with 200-mile range said to be pending for 2016. This however is to use a bulky Panasonic Li-ion-based pack with one-quarter the energy density of what ORNL says is ready to go commercial.

Tesla's galleries are already capturing peoples' imaginations. The start-up promises much, and roves ahead for future technologies while pushing what can be done now.
Tesla’s galleries are already capturing peoples’ imaginations. The start-up promises much, and roves ahead for future technologies while pushing what can be done now.

As things stand, four-five times today’s EV range from a more elegant Li-S battery could happen within seven years, according to Altairnano engineer and Senior Director of IP & Technology, Jay Akhave.

Of course there are no guarantees, and there are hurdles to overcome, which Akhave is just as quick to observe.

The ‘Science Problem’ Is Now ‘Solved’


After an hour-long interview last week however, we summarized the discussion saying, “This may be one of the hottest contenders to change the paradigm. If everything goes well, it could lead to a Nissan Leaf that goes 300 miles on a charge.”

“Right. I concur with that,” said Akhave who was recommended as someone knowledgeable by the head of ORNL’s project. “Lithium-sulfur is a class I think that has the potential and some good battery designers and good practical designers can make that kind of difference in the range.”

Akhave is qualified to postulate this as he’s essentially a talent scout for intellectual property and technologies for which Altairnano may want to become involved.

“I study their IP portfolios and look at the pluses and the minuses and chart out a road map for us,” said Akhave of the Reno-based company described as a leading provider of high-power energy storage systems for the electric grid, industrial equipment and transportation markets. The company’s lithium-titanate technology is built on a proprietary nano-scale processing technology that creates high-power, rapid-charging battery systems with industry-leading performance and cycle life.

“More battery companies are looking at ways to improve energy density, you know, where you have more capacity,” he added.

Akhave said only “no comment” when asked whether Altainano was one of the companies intending to negotiate a license with ORNL.

Four-times greater energy density also stands to improve range-extended vehicles. It could mean a Volt with more all-electric range than today's Leaf while still having combustion-powered backup.
Four-times greater energy density also stands to improve range-extended vehicles. It could mean a Volt with more all-electric range than today’s Leaf while still having combustion-powered backup.

In any case, ORNL is looking to give preference to a U.S. business to maximize return on taxpayer investment, according to Jennifer Caldwell, group leader, Technology Licensing.

“We want to deploy the technology as soon as possible and we do not want the technology to be shelved,” she said of intellectual property under control of UT-Battelle which operates ORNL for the DoE.

Sims said the first deal among multiple licensees working in various sectors – from automotive to consumer electronics to grid storage and more – could come later this year.

“So on this particular license, with the interest that we have so far I would hope – and again, stressing the word hope – I would hope that we could have a deal completed in two to three months,” Sims said, adding money has not yet been discussed.

Sims is confident because Dr. Chengdu Liang, the head ORNL project, is satisfied with the solid-state Li-S chemistry.

“We don’t see any problem where this battery can’t be used in all kinds of applications,” said Liang last week. “It really depends on the design of the battery, not the science. Now we’ve solved the science problem.”

The First Of More To Come?


There are other companies working on lithium-sulfur which has been challenging researchers for decades, said Akhave. These include DoE-sponsored Polyplus and Sion – which has already seen a Li-S battery used in a record-setting solar aircraft – and the UK’s Oxis.

It’s also nearly certain BMW and Toyota and perhaps others are quietly chipping away at lithium-sulfur’s technical hurdles as is the DoE-sponsored Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) project at the Argonne National Lab.

JCESR is a collaborative between top research hubs around the country. It is actually in competition with ORNL, so you see, the Energy Department has bet taxpayer dollars on multiple contenders.

A total of $120 million was allocated for JCESR to develop a battery with five times the energy density of lithium-ion in five years and capable of 500 charge cycles.

“Out of the $120 million, most of the money has gone for lithium-sulfur and lithium-air,” said Akhave of another promising contender. “Little has gone for lithium-ion. Why? Because I think they consider lithium-ion a commercialized technology, the basic research is done, mostly. Research is focused on Beyond Lithium-Ion.”

Lithium-air has potentially 10 times the capacity of lithium-ion, but lithium-sulfur is perceived as having a shorter time to market.

“The pressure to do it, and the money being put into research has already been deployed in other companies,” said Akhave. “They have their ideas on how this is going to happen. Dr. Liang has come about with his solution – an inventive solution on top of that.”

And so far in this technological horse race, ORNL’s solid-state lithium-sulfur is ahead by well more than a nose.

Sidebar: Tech 101

(This is in simplified terms, but non-techies can skip it, if desired, for a quicker read.)

Lithium-ion ordinarily delivers 100-200 milliamp-hours (mAh) per gram, up to a theoretical limit of 300-320 mAh/g. A Chevy Volt might have 140 mAh/g and a Tesla Model S may be pushing a bit more.

Lithium-sulfur at ORNL has demonstrated 1,200 mAh/g for up to 300 cycles.

“I believe that the five year goal, 500 cycle goal that the DoE has is a good one and quite do-able,” said Akhave.

Dr. Liang has thus far reported 300 charge cycles with his solid-state chemistry, but says he is satisfied with this.

“I see 300 cycles as enough to prove the concept,” said Liang. More critical, he added, is his chemistry does not self discharge when left off of a charger on a shelf.

“Self discharge is almost completely eliminated,” Liang said.

Akhave said the DoE’s goal of 500 charge cycles means “you are in business,” agrees 300 is significant, but left some ambiguity open on this topic.

Essentially a charge cycle is defined as completely draining the battery to perhaps 20-percent charge. At this point the battery management system (BMS) shuts down the party, and the battery must be recharged.

Dr. Liang holds up ORNL's lithium-sulfur coin cell.
Dr. Liang holds up ORNL’s lithium-sulfur coin cell.

If, for example, an EV has 80-miles range and you only travel 45, then plug it back in, that does not count toward the “charge cycle” count. Likewise, if you have 350-miles range, drive 100 miles and plug back in, that ought not to count either. Partial discharge may have some effect, but does not normally count toward the total.

These questions become critical when determining lifetime for an electric car. If it could be used just 300, 500 or even 1,000 times, we’d still have disposable cars only lasting a few years.

The prospect of “only” 300 charge cycles being good enough to commercialize is arguably validated given that with four or more times the energy density, the car could be realistically used for a normal lifespan. Most people will plug the car back in before depleting the battery. Plus, it appears there is room to exceed the 300 charge cycles thus far established. It’s still early, and as Liang said, the battery does not self-discharge, which he sees as most important along with benchmarks established to date.

chargedischarge mechanism

Liang is understandably hesitant to speak beyond the basic science however. He also qualified that “four-times” energy density is “gravimetric” – that is, by weight, and not “volumetric” – by volume.

In other words, a solid-state Li-S pack in the floor of, for example, a Nissan Leaf, would look a lot different than Li-ion. ORNL’s energy density is not by volume, and Liang expressed uncertainty whether this would equate to four-times the range.

Akhave cleared this up, however.

Of a hypothetical electric car, we asked: “Is it really going to have four times the energy density and therefore four times the ell-electric range?”

“It will go up, but the factor depends on a lot of other design elements,” said Akhave. “Gravimetric energy density is just per kilogram … volumetric is per cubic foot or per liter,” he said, noting “gravimetric” is also called specific energy.

“Volumetric energy density is projected to equal and go beyond lithium-ion,” he said, so if the same size (volume) of battery were used, it would have the same power energy, but Li-S would weigh less. Akhave said it thus appears likely that a Li-S battery could be designed that delivers four-times the energy density by weight.

What’s more, it’s believed engineers will be able to pack Li-S more tightly into a given volume of space than a liquid electrolyte Li-ion pack assembly. The solid-state battery may not need liquid cooling from a thermal management system (TMS) and as much air space as would Li-ion, so this too will play into the final result.

A question then becomes: “Are you efficiently using every little volume in there and packing it with energy? That’s the issue so whether you compare gravimetric or volumetric they are correlated in that sense,” he said.

Chemistries have varying material densities so a battery space (volume) choice depends upon the chemistry. Once battery volume is fixed (based on many other car  design considerations), then the amount of storage is fixed for that chemistry. One generally does not place another chemistry in the same volume and look at tradeoffs. If you change the chemistry, you must go back to the earlier step  and evaluate how much battery volume you want to now have for that new battery chemistry. At this point, assuming the same weight, it’s safe to say Li-S is four-times better than Li-ion chemistry. Actual volumetric differences remain to be seen.
Chemistries have varying material densities so a battery space (volume) choice depends upon the chemistry. Once battery volume is fixed (based on many other car design considerations), then the amount of storage is fixed for that chemistry. One generally does not place another chemistry in the same volume and look at tradeoffs. If you change the chemistry, you must go back to the earlier step and evaluate how much battery volume you want to now have for that new battery chemistry. At this point, assuming the same weight, it’s safe to say Li-S is four-times better than Li-ion chemistry. Actual volumetric differences remain to be seen.

Another detail to be worked out is the need for quick-enough recharging.

Liang has demonstrated a 2C charge rate – with C rate being measured in units of 1/hr.

“If a battery charges its entire capacity in one hour, they call it a 1C charging. Same with discharging,” said Akhave. “If a battery charges in 30 minutes, then it is a 2C rate and if it does it in six minutes, you have a 10C rate.”

Liang said shorter recharging times for a full-scale EV pack could be achieved if one heats the Li-S battery to 100 deg C. This is counterintuitive to present Li-ion designs, but conductivity goes up with heat for solid state Li-S.

This heating could be accomplished by a built-in TMS to heat the battery. The battery also heats itself during its operation, so this too could be contemplated by engineers.

A Li-ion battery with liquid electrolyte cannot be allowed to get too hot. Present Li-ion electric car batteries are usually engineered with a liquid cooling TMS to prevent excessive vapor pressures, the electrolyte from evaporating, and in worst-case, fire.

In short, Liang’s solid-state Li-S chemistry works much differently.

“With this all-solid everything, the rules are going to change,” said Liang, adding there is no assembly line in the world that could yet build Li-S packs.


What’s Next?


Presently, ORNL’s Li-S chemistry appears to be the most viable, but challenges remain and we asked its inventor if it will be part of an electric car one day?

“I think in theory it will be,” said Liang.

And Akhave does too, but said ORNL will want to take care with who it allows access to its new chemistry.

To successfully build an electric car battery pack will take “somebody who has been there, done that, and has sweated it out in terms of trying to make a practical battery work,” said Akhave noting a company experienced with Li-ion development is most qualified. “Someone who has just discovered the new lithium-sulfur solution at a chemical level will be hard pressed to convert that to a functioning battery in the industrial sector.”

Assuming the right people get the chemistry, the first thing they will need to do is research and build a coin-cell most likely, or possibly a 1-inch by 1-inch cell.

In testing, they will need to consistently demonstrate number of charge cycles – preferably over 500 – and desired operational temperature. An automobile needs a certain window of cycles and temperature.

The “skateboard” chassis design like this one for a Tesla Model S offers several advantages. The actual volume required for a Li-S battery pack is in question. This could be the best way to pack maximum energy into a Li-S architecture while giving automakers freedom to innovate suitable designs.

“That does take time. Honestly I’d be happy to see a lithium-sulfur cell performing 500 cycles with this kind of duty in three to five years,” said Akhave. “This requires solving several complex interlinked technical problems simultaneously. Once that performance is set at the research or pilot level, systems engineers don’t take a lot of time, but need to reconfirm performance at every stage of scale-up.”

Assuming their fundamental building block panned out, engineers would then build a “real world” battery. At this stage they’d test to re-confirm the performance observed at the pilot level.

Next, they’d scale up to module level, test and further confirm. These in turn would be taken by systems engineers and assembled serially or in what ever way they chose into usable battery packs for electric cars.

“At every level – cell, module, systems, you have to reestablish that and recalibrate and understand the performance,” Akhave said and this depends on “whatever design and improvements and niceties you are building in … and then you have to take the pack and put it into actual duty.”

Here’s where engineers may subject their Li-S pack to freezing Alaska or the baking Mojave. They may leave it unplugged, and otherwise test/abuse it until satisfied they have something acceptable for consumers.

In Sum


We regularly see stories where the promise of “game changing” technology is so many years away, but unlike ORNL’s discovery, none have had the chemistry, anode, cathode and electrolyte all worked out and proven.

As always, nothing is certain until it happens, and this is actually only the first of other Li-S and Li-Air chemistries that are believed likely to come along.

The road ahead looks promising, but challenges remain.
The road ahead looks promising, but challenges remain.

Quadruple the energy density would dramatically improve all sorts of things that use batteries today including electrified bikes, trucks, aircraft, watercraft, laptops, smart phones, grid storage, not to mention applications for the military.

For electric cars, it could put them over a perception hump, leave far fewer would-be consumers sitting on the fence, and this possibility now appears closer than ever.


Jun 24

2013 Toyota RAV4 Review


By Larry E. Hall

Toyota’s 2013 RAV4 EV is the automaker’s second go round of converting its small gasoline powered sport utility to an electric vehicle. From 1997 to 2003, 1,484 RAV4 EVs were leased or sold. Of those, Toyota says approximately 449 are still on the road.

This time, rather than develop the electric RAV4 on its own, Toyota joined forces with upstart Silicon Valley electric carmaker Tesla Motors to co-develop and co-engineer the latest all-electric RAV4.

Toyota was responsible for the vehicle’s design, ride and handling, safety systems and its human-machine interface. Tesla supplies the RAV’s electric drivetrain, including the battery and electric motor, which it shares with Tesla’s base Model S luxury sedan.

Developed in a remarkably short 22 months, production is completed at the RAV4’s plant in Ontario, Canada.

Based on the 2012 RAV4 – not the all-new 2013 model – Toyota says only 2,600 units will be made, with production halting at the end of 2014.

The battery-powered RAV4 is available for sale only through select dealers in California’s major metro market areas of Los Angeles / Orange County, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Sacramento.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Action Front

With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $49,800 plus $845 destination charges, RAV4 EV customers have the option of a purchase or lease program. The vehicle is eligible for a $7,500 Federal Tax Credit and qualifies for California’s $2,500 rebate through the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program as well as that state’s white sticker program, allowing a single occupant to drive in HOV lanes.

Tesla Produced Powertrain

Deviating from Toyota’s custom of employing synchronous permanent-magnet motors in their hybrid powertrains, Tesla supplied an AC induction motor. The 115-kilowatt motor’s peak output is 154 horsepower with torque output selectable by the driver.

In Normal Mode, the motor’s generated torque is 218 pounds feet and sends the electric RAV4 from zero-to-60 mph in 8.6 seconds with a top speed of 85 mph. When needed, the Sport Mode increases the torque to 273 pounds feet, decreasing the time to reach 60 mph to 7.0 seconds and increasing top speed to 100 mph.

Power from the motor is directed to the front wheels through a fixed-gear open-differential transaxle with a gear ratio of 9.73:1.

Located beneath the floor pan under the rear seats, the RAV4’s battery is a 386-volt lithium-ion pack comprised of around 4,500 cells similar to those used in laptop computers. Rated at 41.8 kilowatt hours of usable energy at full charge, maximum power output is 129 kw.

2013 Toyota Rav4 EV Motor

The liquid cooled battery pack’s 41.8-kwh capacity is nearly double that of competitive EVs Honda’s Fit EV is equipped with a 20-kWh battery, the Ford Focus Electric employs a 23-kwh unit and the Nissan Leaf uses one that is 24-kwh.

Unlike other electrics, the RAV4 EV features two charging modes, Normal and Extended. Normal charges the battery to 35 kwh providing the vehicle with an EPA-estimated average driving range rating of 92 miles.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV ChargingIf a driver needs more driving range, the Extended mode charges the battery to its full capacity of 41.8-kwh and extends the range to 113 miles.

For the window sticker, the EPA requires averaging the two, showing 103-mile range. Comparatively, the Focus EV has an EPA average range of 76 miles, the Leaf 75 miles.

While Standard charging provides less driving miles, it does extend the life of the battery. However, regardless of the mix of charging modes, including Extended charging only, spokesperson Mario Apodaca said the battery is covered with an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

With such a large battery pack, funneling electricity to the car at 110 volts takes 44 hours for Standard mode and 52 hours for Extended mode. But thanks to a 10-kw onboard charger, using a level two 40-amp, 240-volt home charging unit reduces charging to five hours for Normal mode and six hours for Extended. That’s on par with the Leaf’s six to seven hours but more than the four hours for the Focus.

Toyota deserves a gold star for the additional driving miles from the Extended charge mode, but earns a demerit for not providing a quick-charge port.

Maximizing Battery Efficiency

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV GaugesApodaca said the development team made trips of up to 145 miles per charge. Obviously they used a judicious right foot, but engineers also devised ways to maximize the battery’s efficiency, including engineering the regenerative braking to minimize kinetic energy loss. The results of this cooperative regenerative braking are increased driving range by up to 20 percent.

Since regen braking cannot effectively stop a vehicle under hard braking, a conventional hydraulic system takes care of that task.

The RAV’s climate control system has three modes that allow the driver to select the preferred level of comfort and driving range. Normal mode provides maximum comfort, but draws the most juice, thus reducing range.

Eco Low mode dispenses a balance of comfort and extends range by automatically activating the seat heaters if necessary and reducing power consumption of the climate control system up to 18 percent. Eco Hi also automatically activates the seat heaters if needed and further reduces power consumption up to 40 percent compared to Normal. While the results are incremental, using Eco Lo or Eco Hi modes extends driving range.

Also, a remote climate control system lets owners preheat or precool the RAV4 while it is plugged-in, which conserves battery charge and EV range. The system can be programmed by a timer on the navigation display, and can be activated using a smart phone.


2013 Toyota RAV4 EV BadgeThe electrified RAV mimics other contemporary Toyotas, featuring a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.30 – impressive for a SUV-like contour and a notable improvement over the standard RAV4′s 0.34 Cd.

Contributing to the low Cd number are a new grille and front bumper, more aerodynamic mirrors, deeper rear spoiler and underbody cladding. The front-end changes give a more contemporary, sleek appearance to the RAV4 EV compared with the 2012 edition’s truck-like front.

New lighting isn’t just for looks. Battery power consumption is reduced by using LED low beam projector headlights with halogen projector high beams, LED daytime running lights which dim to parking lights and LED taillights.


RAV4 EV buyers have a choice of just one trim level with no options. The vehicle is basically a standard RAV4 V6 with the sport appearance package, meaning no spare tire mounted on the rear hatch.

Slip onto the driver’s seat and the interior looks nearly identical to the gas-powered model — the same seating position, same outward visibility and same bi-level dash layout with upper and lower glove boxes. Immediately noticeable, however, are new digital gauges, a restyled center stack with an eight-inch color LCD touch screen atop, the absence of control knobs and the quirky gear shifter borrowed from the Prius.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Cockpit

Flanking the digital speedometer are two small gauges. The left posts driving range while the right can scroll through screens to show things like trip efficiency, CO2 reduction and a driving coach with an overall driving score. Engaging the Sport mode changes the background color to red from the Normal mode’s blue.

The large touch screen contains audio controls, backup camera, a navigation system that can locate charging stations and Toyota’s Entune app system. Having to dig into the system for audio settings is somewhat annoying, but at least there’s a volume-control button on the steering wheel.

Front seats, with eco-friendly cloth, are supportive but not excessively firm, with acceptable bolsters and thigh support. A tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and six-way adjustable driver’s seat makes easy work of finding a comfortable driving position.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Front Seats

A relatively high seating position, low cowl and sloping hood provide excellent front visibility, while lengthy side windows eases over-the-shoulder lane checking.

There’s generous room for two rear seat adult passengers, three, not so much. Rear seatbacks recline and the 60/40 split seats slide fore or aft to optimize passenger room or cargo capacity.

Since the battery doesn’t intrude into the cabin, the 37.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row seats is the same as the gas powered model — more than enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries. For more space, a simple flip of a lever folds the rear seat flat to expand cargo room to 73 cubic feet.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Rear Seats

If little ones are along for the ride, rear seats can accommodate two rear-facing infant-safety seats, two convertible child-safety seats or two booster seats. Latch anchors on the outboard seats are buried in the cushions but are easily reachable. Attaching tether anchors, however, is somewhat cumbersome and requires sliding the seats forward to connect the tethers.

Driving The RAV4 EV

My time with the RAV4 EV was limited to around an hour, but the drive route north of downtown Phoenix was varied enough to walk away with a good grasp of how Toyota’s small electric SUV performs and handles on the road.

When I pushed the blue start button, the RAV electric went through a quick and silent system check, “booting up,” Apodaca said – no sounds of a gasoline engine coming to life.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Action

With the familiar Prius style shift lever moved to “D,” the small crossover moved silently through the parking lot. The rack-and-pinion electric power steering felt light, needing only a slight effort to turn. As speed increased, the steering became more weighted and acceptably responsive with more feedback than anticipated.

Short brake-pedal travel took a few miles to get used to. Once I adapted, I found breaking to be smooth without the grabby, jerky feel of some regenerative braking systems. Panic stops produced no surprises and there was no indication when the hydraulic system took charge to safely bring the RAV to a halt.

Acceleration is quite frisky – really frisky in Sport mode. The go pedal is easy to modulate allowing minimum electricity use during in-town driving yet, providing instant get up and go when necessary.

Ride and handling is similar to the conventional RAV4, meaning it’s close to a typical small car. The all-independent suspension did a commendable job of absorbing bumps and the infrequent Arizona potholes.

The RAV4 EV is certainly no canyon carver, but the placement of the battery lowers the center of gravity allowing even sharp curves to be taken with confidence while exhibiting only slight body roll when pushed hard.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Action Left

Toyota added sound insulation in the roof, doors and front fenders as well as thicker windshield glass. The result is a serenely quiet cabin with just a touch of wind and tire noise and, on occasion, a slight whine from the electric motor.

And about the driving range?

After going through the system check, the dashboard display lit up showing an estimated range of 119 miles. That was immediately reduced to 92 miles when I selected the climate control’s Normal mode to cool the interior. Hey, the RAV had been parked for more than an hour in near 80-degree heat.

After a couple, three minutes the cabin cooled, I switched to Eco Hi and the range increased to 118 miles.

The drive route included a state highway, a four-lane boulevard, residential streets and a cruise through a small town. While the terrain was primarily flat, we did encounter a four or five mile hilly stretch with some very sharp curves.

As the miles went by, the decrease in the estimated driving range stayed very close to the miles driven until I decided to try out the Sport mode, and then it was Whoopee!

Pushing the sport button was transformational. The Mr. Green Jeans personality instantly became a near silent road rocket and before I realized it, we were at 75 mph in a 55 mph zone. Not good. This was the last of the four-day press introduction of the 2013 RAV4 and the local gendarmes were out in force, having already handed out three speeding tickets.

Driving in Sport for six miles knocked driving range down by nearly eight miles but I added some juice along the way by braking more than normal. When we pulled back into the parking lot, the 48.3 run lost just 46 miles of battery range. Apparently, Toyota and Tesla have figured out battery efficiency.

A Compliance Vehicle?

Like the first RAV4 EV this latest edition is indeed produced to comply with California’s ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) mandate, a requirement that a certain percentage of vehicles sold in the Golden State must meet.

But Toyota says the electrified RAV is not just a compliance vehicle.

“The Zero Emission Vehicle mandate has been a fact of life in California for over 20 years. It’s nothing new,” said Jana Hartline, environmental communications manger for Toyota.

“We’re committed to meeting our ZEV credit requirements through a combination of plug-in hybrid, pure battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicle sales.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Rear

“Do we think electric vehicles will replace the internal combustion engine? No. But we do think they are an important part of our portfolio of technologies for the future.”

Toyota is also learning from its alliance with Tesla. While the company would not discuss specific technology based issues, Sheldon Brown, RAV4 EV executive program manager, said that it has been a very useful collaboration.

“In a number of areas from power train control to battery management strategies to HV system architecture, our engineering teams each brought their own experiences and understanding to the table and debated and collaborated to find the best application for the specific issue at hand.”

“In the end,” Brown continued, “it really served as a great gut check – a chance to re-consider some of our traditional practices and determine for ourselves if we need further improvement.”

One of those traditional practices being reconsidered might well be Toyota’s stance that hybrids and plug-in hybrids with small batteries are the best answer to the broad range of consumer needs rather than large battery EVs.

Reinforcing that stance, Toyota’s vice chairman, Takeshi Uchiyamada stated in February that, “Because of its shortcomings – driving range, cost and recharging time – the electric vehicle is not a viable replacement for most conventional cars.”

Digging deeper, however, it appears that Toyota’s dismissal of EVs is in the context of near term, not long term.

With little fanfare, in 2008 the company formed a research division to develop “revolutionary batteries.” It aims to commercialize solid-state batteries that will be up to four times more powerful than today’s lithium-ion batteries, followed by lithium-air batteries that will be five times as powerful. Those numbers project a driving range of multiple hundreds of miles on a single charge. Unfortunately, these new batteries aren’t expected until around 2020.

Until then, those who are giving serious thoughts about purchasing a battery-powered vehicle for the first time, as well as EV devotees, should seriously consider the RAV4 EV. With its SUV body style it offers an elevated driving position plus, generous space for passengers and cargo.

And, even though my time behind the steering wheel was short, I came away convinced that it delivers the longest driving range of the current crop of EVs. Except the Tesla Model S, of course.


Apr 05

Revived EV American maker Detroit Electric reveals its SP:01


Chevrolet, a comparatively younger company founded in 1911 and bought by GM in 1918 does not hold a candle to the original Detroit Electric with regards to its electric car credentials.

And Detroit Electric, founded in 1907 as a dedicated EV maker is back. Taking up residence in an iconic 18th floor location in downtown Detroit, with an assembly plant located in Michigan, the company is playing up its pedigree as far as it can.


Actually, the company was shuttered in 1939 while Chevrolet went on to glory for decades beyond. And Detroit Electric’s new head is actually a Brit re-purposing a Brit car with plans for more all-electric, all-American creations soon. It’s a bold development gambit not unlike the path now being traveled by a billionaire South African dreamer in Silicon Valley named Elon.


“We’re back, over 70 years on,” says Detroit Electric on its Web site. “Back in Detroit and back to reignite positive movement in the motor industry. Just as we did in 1907. Proving that we were never behind the times. We were ahead of it.”

A few weeks ago the resurrected Detroit Electric displayed a teaser image of its pending all-electric sports car, and has now wasted no time in providing glossy images of … a car remarkably like the former Tesla Roadster.

The connection should be less of a surprise given that Tesla used modified bodies supplied by Lotus – although Tesla points out the Roadster is not merely an electrified Elise – and the reviver of the EV company in Detroit has strong ties to Lotus as well.

Shut down since the days of FDR, the iconic Detroit Electric brand was “re-booted” in 2008 by former Lotus Engineering Group CEO and executive director of Lotus Cars of England, Albert Lam.

So while some may initially offer that imitation is a sincerest form of flattery, the Lotus connection is arguably as valid with Detroit Electric as it ever was with Tesla.


What’s more, the lightweight and agile rear-wheel-drive Lotus platform is a good starting point to achieve a dynamic all-electric sports car regardless of who did it first.

Called the SP:01, the sporty two-seater EV will, as was the case with Tesla, pursue the high-performance, limited-edition approach to establishing its brand.

Only 999 copies are to be produced, prices start at $135,000, and the SP:01 shares similarities and has some differences with the Tesla starting perhaps with its battery pack.

Tesla Roadster 2.5.
Tesla Roadster 2.5.

In the SP:01’s case, its lithium-polymer pack is much smaller than the Tesla’s. The SP:01′s pack is thermally managed by conditioned air and said to be rated at 37-kwh compared to a 53-kwh pack that came with Tesla’s Roadster.

But the Detroit Electric’s curb weight is lower by a not-insubstantial 13.5 percent, approximately, and its transmission options are greater, so acceleration to 62 (100 kph) is said to be in a highly competitive 3.7 seconds, and top speed is 155 mph (249 kph).

Tesla Roadster.
Tesla Roadster.

Traveling range for the battery powered SP:01 is rated on a variety of standards as coming in between 139 miles and 188 miles. And no doubt if this sportster were shuttled to a track day and allowed to flex its muscles full time, its range would be much less still – as is true of any car.

Curb weight for the carbon-fiber-clad SP:01 is said to be a scant 2,358 pounds (1,070 kg) – not far off the traditionally ideal 1,000 kg mark – and not a whole lot of bulk to push; the SP:01 should provide excellent handling and braking performance in addition to blistering speed.

Its mid-mounted AC Asynchronous motor needed to push around this altogether lightweight package is therefore not that staggering on paper.

Detroit Electric SP:01.
Detroit Electric SP:01.

It is rated at 201 horsepower (150 kilowatts), and 166 pound-feet (225 Nm) of torque.

Compared to the 403-horsepower and 959 pounds-feet torque from the part-time electric Fisker Karma, this sounds miniscule. But the Karma is a 5,300-pound behemoth, and the classic Lotus formula of lightweight will pay big dividends for Detroit Electric.

The SP:01’s power-to-weight ratio is what should be focused on, and to be sure, this car will smoke a Karma that might lumber up to 60 mph in a traction-control-limited 6.3 seconds or so, and will wallow in corners compared to the bantamweight SP:01.

Competition however between the Detroit Electric EV and the Tesla Roadster – a quicker car than even the Model S sedan – ought to be much closer of a match.

Another advantage the SP:01 has is transmission options. These include a four-speed manual, or an optional fifth gear added to the four-speed, or a two-speed auto.

The approximately 2,723-pound (1,235 kg) Tesla Roadster kept things simpler with a single-speed gearbox, and its top speed was limited to 125 mph with a single ratio low enough to launch with a comparatively quick 0-60 in 3.7-3.9 seconds from a start.

It needed more motor power too, with various spec versions rated between 248-288 horsepower, and 200-295 pound-feet torque.


The Roadster’s all-electric range was however longer as well – in excess of an attainable real-world 200 miles, up to around 244 miles or more estimated.

Recharging time for the SP:01 is said to be 4.3 hours using the quickest charger, and with a standard EU outlet, 10.7 hours. No doubt it would take much longer with a U.S. outlet supplying but 120 volts, so a fast charger is essentially required.

Rounding out the specs, the car rides on a fully independent double-wishbone suspension with high performance dampers and coaxial springs at all four corners. It specs AP racing twin-piston front brake calipers and Brembo single-pistons in the rear. Tires are 195/50 R16 in front, and 225/45 R17 in rear.

Inside the car, Detroit Electric says it’s the first to use smart phone applications to fully manage in-car infotainment system.


Called “SAMI” (Smartphone Application Managed Infotainment system), the system accesses a variety of functions, including music player, satellite navigation, interior lighting adjust and vehicle systems status – such as the level of battery charge, range to recharge and other vehicle telemetry.

Naturally, it can also be used to make mobile phone calls.

“Our research engineers at Detroit Electric have taken steps to break the mould,” said Lam. “SP:01 is more than just a sports car, it is a mobile energy unit, allowing the user to use its stored battery energy to power not just the car but even an entire home. SP:01 is equipped with bi-directional charge and discharge capability, allowing it to release its stored electrical energy to power a home.”

The SP:01 uses a patented Detroit Electric home charging and power back-up unit, called “360 Powerback.”


It is a smart home-charging and power back-up unit that enables the SP:01’s battery to be charged at the rate of 8-kwh (240 volts @32 amps). The unit can detect a grid power failure and provide the option – via SAMI and the GSM network – for the user to instruct the vehicle to restore power to the home using its stored energy.

“360 Powerback is the next level of innovation and shows our determination to provide additional value proposition through our EVs, uniquely elevating us from others in the segment,” said Lam.

Past, Present, Future


The former Detroit Electric had its heyday and went out of business 69 years before Lam and company came along, but as has become standard operating procedure for a revival of a classic name, lore and legend come with the package for the polished up, once-sleeping brand.

As did the London-based venture capital firm that purchased the name rights to the iconic Chris-Craft boat company and Indian Motocycles, Detroit Electric’s marketing copywriters have jumped in head first. Their self descriptions evoke a legacy that the present management did not earn as they wax eloquent over a company of entirely new identity albeit with a name purchased from one from long ago. They presume to state the company is “back” as though speaking with the voice of ghosts of long-dead founders who were merely away for a while. They essentially declare a sense of continuity, and essentially rest fully on their purchased laurels.

“It’s hard to imagine that back in the early 1900’s, electric cars were the most prolific vehicle. And guess who helped spark the movement,” says Detroit Electric’s Web site. “Our founder, William C. Anderson made his first Detroit Electric in 1907. By 1910 we were leading the way, selling up to 2,000 cars a year. Petrol cars were unreliable and dirty, but Detroit Electrics could be charged at home and used in an instant …”

The family resemblance to the company's newest car and this original Detroit Electric EV is just a bit elusive.
The family resemblance to the company’s newest car and this original Detroit Electric EV is just a bit elusive.

The new-start company says it produced 13,000 electric cars total – “a world record for electric vehicles in the 20th century.”

Why, even Henry Ford’s wife, Clara, drove one, says Detroit Electric’s marketers, as did also Thomas Edison, Mamie Eisenhower, and John D. Rockefeller Jr. among other notable customers.

This is certainly a distinction, and even Tesla Motors cannot claim Nikola Tesla ever drove one of its cars.

And so it goes. The approach is not unfamiliar in today’s world where bold personalities climb new heights, sometimes on shaky ground where others more conservative would fear to follow.

2011 Lotus Elise.

In any case, we sincerely hope the new-old company can pull it off, as the electric vehicle world needs more innovators and risk takers with good ideas. It would be great for this company to make it – a new American car company in Detroit dedicated to EVs!

Plans for Detroit Electric now are to launch the SP:01 by August, with more cars to follow down-market by 2014 including a family sedan for under $50,000 or so.

The company has signed a long-term lease for its corporate headquarters in downtown Detroit’s Fisher Building, and it aims to produce its cars at its new facility in Wayne County, Mich. as well.

The production facility is promised to have an annual capacity of 2,500 cars and Detroit Electric intends to create over 180 sales and manufacturing-related jobs over the next 12 months.

Its business has been “asset light” – modeled on Apple and Nike – and minimizing overhead and requirements for excess capital. It reportedly has just 17 employees thus far.

More fun than a barrel full of Spark EVs.

In question is how it will fare in what is actually a capital-intensive business. It’s starting with a pricey product that looks even more like the original Lotus Elise gas-powered car than Tesla’s Roadster – and Tesla has succeeded so far, while, speaking of history, that is where another aspirational company also headed by a non-American transplant, Fisker Automotive, seems to be slipping into.

Wishing to establish new history, Detroit Electric is looking for more investors, and of course, customers for the SP:01 which will have its global reveal at the Shanghai Motor Show on April 20.

After five years of intense research and investment in its pending product line, the company is offering signups for test drives for would-be buyers. The SP:01, priced from $135,000, will come with a three-year, 30,000-mile warranty with an optional extension for the battery to five years and 50,000 miles.

More information can be found at Detroit Electric’s Web site.