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Feb 15

Tesla and NY Times Model S stand-off continues

 

Since New York Times reporter John M. Broder wrote his account last week describing a $101,000 Tesla Model S leaving him stranded in the cold, a virtual skirmish of insinuation and accusation has continued between the Times and Tesla.

Yesterday, Tesla issued what it said would be its final word with a bullet list of points it says were culled from data logs taken from the test car Broder drove. The company says these prove his story cannot be true.

As we noted on Tuesday, Elon Musk said the data logs the company keeps on all journalistic test drives show Broder’s story is “a fake.”

 

Yesterday, Tesla drew parallels between Broder’s alleged editorial hijacking and lessons learned at the hands of British auto show Top Gear in which they staged a run-out-of-juice scene of a Tesla Roadster.

“While the vast majority of journalists are honest, some believe the facts shouldn’t get in the way of a salacious story,” wrote Tesla in a blog post bylined by Elon Musk, Chairman, Product Architect & CEO. He was speaking of Top Gear, but then said the same was basically true of Broder.

“The logs show again that our Model S never had a chance with John Broder. In the case with Top Gear, their legal defense was that they never actually said it broke down, they just implied that it could and then filmed themselves pushing what viewers did not realize was a perfectly functional car. In Mr. Broder’s case, he simply did not accurately capture what happened and worked very hard to force our car to stop running,” wrote Musk.

Allowing that in other times during the past week Musk has attempted to show himself as diplomatic as possible, in blunt terms one could say the automaker is calling the New York Times reporter a liar.
 

Salacious Story?

 

Broder’s story, which he has maintained is absolutely factual, was juicy in its details that added up to fodder in support of the usual messages we hear EV critics make.

The trip he contemplated from Washington to Boston was to test the Model S and its Supercharger fast-charging stations.

He did it in the dead of winter, when true enough, electric vehicles do experience diminished charge holding capacity and range, but the 85-kwh Model S was capable of making the trip – according to Tesla, not Broder.

Broder said the car – subsidized by $465 million in taxpayer loans and costing triple an average new car that could have made it – let him down. This, Broder said as he chronicled his adventure from his influential New York Times platform toward the Model S’ alleged failure.

“As I crossed into New Jersey some 15 miles later, I noticed that the estimated range was falling faster than miles were accumulating,” he wrote of when he began to sense things might be going wrong.

“I began following Tesla’s range-maximization guidelines, which meant dispensing with such battery-draining amenities as warming the cabin and keeping up with traffic,” he wrote.

Brode and his juice-less S. Photo courtesy NY Times.

Broder and his juice-less S. Photo courtesy NY Times.


 

“All the while, my feet were freezing and my knuckles were turning white,” he said of an experience that would immediately turn off anyone contemplating making the plunge into an electric vehicle.

“If this is Tesla’s vision of long-distance travel in America’s future, I thought, and the solution to what the company calls the ‘road trip problem,’ it needs some work,” wrote Broder.

Then while documenting his real world trip that ended by being towed to a charger on a flatbed, he noted with irony the glowing words of former Energy Secretary Steven Chu that implicitly sounded like hype. He noted the money spent by the American government on behalf of its citizens. He noted how expensive the Model S is.

Following that first story, and Musk’s initial responses, the New York Times has gone on record essentially implying it is Musk who may be lying. Broder also blogged a defense of Musk’s rebuttals, and the Times has also posted a story saying it was not sorry its negative report “sunk” Tesla’s stock – at least for the days following this drama.

“Let’s answer these assertions in turn. My account was not a fake. It happened just the way I described it,” wrote Broder in his own defense, and then proceeded to account for issues for which Musk had publicly cried foul.
 

Fake or Not?

 
Below we’ll present bullet points given by Tesla’s CEO written in a Tesla blog post yesterday and Broder’s responses follow. Actually the entire point / counterpoint section was taken from Broder’s rebuttal which quoted Musk verbatim right down the line from Musk’s blog post.

We’ll add the points Musk asserts could be considered very damaging to Broder’s story and credibility if they are indeed shown to be true. Where this saga will end, remains to be seen, but we’re just laying it out with links also in this post for you to follow.

In his lengthy rebuttal, Broder explained the timing and trip had been proposed by Tesla, he was qualified to do the job, and his position would suggest no bias or axe to grind.

“Since 2009, I have been the Washington bureau reporter responsible for coverage of energy, environment and climate change,” wrote Broder yesterday. “I have written numerous articles about the auto industry and several vehicle reviews for the Automobiles pages. (In my 16 years at The Times I have served as White House correspondent, Washington editor, Los Angeles bureau chief and a political correspondent.)”

What’s more, Broder asserts Tesla handed him the car without full explanation of the charging network and some of the car’s features and peculiarities.

So, sticking to his story that this was a good faith report, he continued to chronicle his side that three hours into the trip, he made the first of around one dozen phone calls to Tesla seeking guidance.

Here is the point / counterpoint with bullets by Musk and responses from Broder:

• “As the State of Charge log shows, the Model S battery never ran out of energy at any time, including when Broder called the flatbed truck.”

The car’s display screen said the car was shutting down, and it did. The car did not have enough power to move, or even enough to release the electrically operated parking brake. The tow truck driver was on the phone with Tesla’s New York service manager, Adam Williams, for 15 or 20 minutes as he was trying to move the car onto a flatbed truck.

• “The final leg of his trip was 61 miles and yet he disconnected the charge cable when the range display stated 32 miles. He did so expressly against the advice of Tesla personnel and in obvious violation of common sense.”

The Tesla personnel whom I consulted over the phone – Ms. Ra and Mr. Merendino – told me to leave it connected for an hour, and after that the lost range would be restored. I did not ignore their advice.

• “In his article, Broder claims that ‘the car fell short of its projected range on the final leg.’ Then he bizarrely states that the screen showed ‘Est. remaining range: 32 miles’ and the car traveled ‘51 miles’ contradicting his own statement (see images below). The car actually did an admirable job exceeding its projected range. Had he not insisted on doing a nonstop 61-mile trip while staring at a screen that estimated half that range, all would have been well. He constructed a no-win scenario for any vehicle, electric or gasoline.”

The phrase “the car fell short of its projected range” appeared in a caption with an accompanying map; it was not in the article. What that referred to (and admittedly could have been more precise) was that the car fell short of the projected range, 90 miles, that it showed when I parked it overnight at a hotel in Groton, Conn.

Tesla is correct that the car did exceed the projected range of 32 miles when I left Norwich, as I was driving slowly, and it gave me hope that the Tesla employee I’d consulted was correct that the mileage lost overnight was being restored. It wasn’t enough, however, to get to Milford.

• “On that leg, he drove right past a public charge station while the car repeatedly warned him that it was very low on range.”

If there was a public charging station nearby, no one made me aware of it. The Tesla person with whom I was in contact located on the Internet a public charging station in East Haven, Conn., and that is the one I was trying to reach when the car stalled in Branford, about five miles shy of East Haven.

• “Cruise control was never set to 54 m.p.h. as claimed in the article, nor did he limp along at 45 m.p.h. Broder in fact drove at speeds from 65 m.p.h. to 81 m.p.h. for a majority of the trip, and at an average cabin temperature setting of 72 F.”

I drove normally (at the speed limit or with prevailing traffic) when I thought it was prudent to do so. I do recall setting the cruise control to about 54 m.p.h., as I wrote. The log shows the car traveling about 60 m.p.h. for a nearly 100-mile stretch on the New Jersey Turnpike. I cannot account for the discrepancy, nor for a later stretch in Connecticut where I recall driving about 45 m.p.h., but it may be the result of the car being delivered with 19-inch wheels and all-season tires, not the specified 21-inch wheels and summer tires. That just might have affected the recorded speed, range, rate of battery depletion or any number of other parameters. Tesla’s data suggests I was doing slightly more than 50 over a stretch where the speed limit was 65. The traffic was heavy in that part of Connecticut, so cruise control was not usable, and I tried to keep the speed at 50 or below without impeding traffic.

Certainly, and as Tesla’s logs clearly show, much of my driving was at or well below the 65 m.p.h. speed limit, with only a single momentary spike above 80. Most drivers are aware that cars can speed up, even sometimes when cruise control is engaged, on downhill stretches.

• “At the point in time that he claims to have turned the temperature down, he in fact turned the temperature up to 74 F.”

I raised and lowered the cabin heat in an effort to strike a balance between saving energy and staying somewhat comfortable. (It was 30 degrees outside when I began the trip, and the temperature plunged that night to 10 degrees.) Tesla jumped to the conclusion that I claimed to have lowered the cabin temperature “at 182 miles,” but I never wrote that. The data clearly indicates that I sharply lowered the temperature setting – twice – a little over 200 miles into the trip. After the battery was charged I tried to warm the cabin.

• “The charge time on his second stop was 47 minutes, going from —5 miles (reserve power) to 209 miles of Ideal or 185 miles of E.P.A. Rated Range, not 58 minutes as stated in the graphic attached to his article. Had Broder not deliberately turned off the Supercharger at 47 mins and actually spent 58 mins Supercharging, it would have been virtually impossible to run out of energy for the remainder of his stated journey.”

According to my notes, I plugged into the Milford Supercharger at 5:45 p.m. and disconnected at 6:43 p.m. The range reading was 185 miles.

Photo by John M. Broder/NY Times.

Photo by John M. Broder/NY Times.

• “For his first recharge, he charged the car to 90%. During the second Supercharge, despite almost running out of energy on the prior leg, he deliberately stopped charging at 72%. On the third leg, where he claimed the car ran out of energy, he stopped charging at 28%. Despite narrowly making each leg, he charged less and less each time. Why would anyone do that?”

I stopped at 72 percent because I had replenished more than enough energy for the miles I intended to drive the next day before fully recharging on my way back to New York. In Norwich, I charged for an hour on the lower-power charger, expressly on the instructions of Tesla personnel, to get enough range to reach the Supercharger station in Milford.

• “The above helps explain a unique peculiarity at the end of the second leg of Broder’s trip. When he first reached our Milford, Conn., Supercharger, having driven the car hard and after taking an unplanned detour through downtown Manhattan to give his brother a ride, the display said “0 miles remaining.” Instead of plugging in the car, he drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot. When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in. On the later legs, it is clear Broder was determined not to be foiled again.”

I drove around the Milford service plaza in the dark looking for the Supercharger, which is not prominently marked. I was not trying to drain the battery. (It was already on reserve power.) As soon as I found the Supercharger, I plugged the car in.

The stop in Manhattan was planned from the beginning and known to Tesla personnel all along. According to Google Maps, taking the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan (instead of crossing at the George Washington Bridge) and driving up the West Side Highway added only two miles to the overall distance from Newark, Del., to Milford, Conn.

Neither I nor the Model S ever visited “downtown Manhattan.”

• “When I first heard about what could at best be described as irregularities in Broder’s behavior during the test drive, I called to apologize for any inconvenience that he may have suffered and sought to put my concerns to rest, hoping that he had simply made honest mistakes. That was not the case.”

Mr. Musk not only apologized, he said the charging stations should be 60 miles closer together and offered me a second test drive when additional stations were built.

30,000-Foot View

 

After lobbing potentially painful and costly words from East to West and back, the drama has done a great job of stoking ire and passions – or disgust and disinterest – among those who have paid attention – or tuned it out.

It is clear electric vehicles have to prove themselves and are being weighed in the court of public opinion – not especially known for its jurisprudence or clarity.

Undeniable is EVs are subsidized, do cost more on average, if not a lot more, than gas counterparts. They also take longer to refuel, and there are fewer chargers publicly available to do so.

Those facts are part of the backdrop in a pointed dispute between two opinion makers – the New York Times, and Tesla’s rock star of a CEO, Elon Musk.

People on the sidelines have been offering comments siding with one or the other, while others more wisely say “show me the data.”

Tesla has now given the data, says it has nothing more to say, so now what?


This testing was done last April in Baudette, Minn., and is not related to Broder’s drive.
 
 

However this spat turns out, more certain is that if the EV will make it, it will make it on its merits, and bad news in itself, while always seeming fresh and dramatic at the moment, is really part of a sad state of affairs we have today.

And, we could add, people do love a good fight, so this surely feeds the need for those so inclined.

The Times has now refuted the refutation of Elon Musk, and in the end, whenever that is, we hope after the fear, uncertainty, accusations, and doubt, the truth will prevail.

 

Jul 11

GM E-REV news from three continents

 

Some days the Volt-specific news we might be able to find and post here is unfortunately limited.

Today is not one of those days!

In fact, just for fun, I’ll fold in three stories as it’s kind of novel to have GM EREV-related stories from the U.S, Australia and UK.

 

US News: Love your new Volt or get your money back

Were you thinking about buying a Volt or another economical car in Chevrolet’s line-up but were not quite sure whether you’d have buyer’s remorse later?

Taking a strategy out of the playbook of retailers of less-high-priced consumer goods, beginning yesterday through Sept. 4, Chevrolet says it is offering a “Love it or return it” money back guaranty.

 
Chevy_offer_webpage 

The deal actually applies to all 2012 or 2013 Chevrolets, but yesterday Chevrolet spokesperson Afaf Farah said it definitely includes the Volt.

According to Farah, the offer is a repeat of a similar company wide program GM ran in 2009, and is being offered again in light of Chevrolet having a number of new and improved models, and the company wants to woo buyers back to the brand with a bold offer that shows it really has confidence in its lineup.

You can read the fine print here, but in short, if you buy an eligible vehicle, and hold onto it from at least 31 up to 60 days, drive fewer than 4,000 miles, and decide the vehicle is really not for you, then no worries.

Chevrolet will take the vehicle back for the full actual selling price plus the sales tax you paid – but you will forfeit registration fee, title fee, or municipal and other miscellaneous fees as applicable.

The “Buyback Price” will be fully disclosed prior to taking delivery, and the intent is to avoid unwanted surprises – so, while there are terms and conditions, there will be no haggling, a restocking fee, or other penalties if you decide not to keep your 31-60-day-old Chevy.

Other caveats include this does not apply to leasing, but purchases only, and if you return it, it must be through the same participating dealer. Also the vehicle must not have incurred damage or non-warranted repairs in excess of $300, regardless of whether such damage has been repaired. And furthermore, it must not have been subject to any liens or other security interests other than a lien for the original financing used to purchase it.

 

OK, but it still sounds like a pretty liberal deal. And someone might ask, what happens if some person tries to game the system? In other words, could this deal become like a relatively minimal cost 31-60 day rental if someone was willing to put out the upfront costs and go through the trouble of buying the car?

The short answer is, yes. But Farah said the last time GM did this, it had around a 1-percent return rate while seeing an incremental increase in sales.

So, not unlike an offer at a bookstore that lets you read the whole book then return it for money back, Chevrolet is taking the chance that most people won’t take the option out, and it will sell more vehicles.

What do you think? Is this a good offer? Is it good enough to make you buy that now-discounted Volt you were thinking about in light of 2013 models being just around the corner?

Full details and limitations can be found at chevyconfidence.com.

 

News from Oz: Better Place and Holden team up on charging

We more often hear of Better Place as offering EV battery switching stations for Renaults, but yesterday for the Volt in Australia, Holden announced Better Place would be its “preferred partner for renewable energy and faster charging.”

Better_Place_Holden

For those of you less familiar, the “long range Holden Volt” is the Australian re-badged version of the Chevy Volt.

Holden says Better Place will enable effectively reduced emissions by making available a number of membership packages for Volt customers.

Central in this is a “Charging Spot” recharger unit and ability to purchase renewable energy or 100-percent government certified renewable energy certificates.

Ordinarily plugging into 240-volt, 10-amp house current in Australia is said to require a bit less than six hours for a full recharge. With the Better Place unit pushing 15 amps from a dedicated line, time is said to be decreased to under four hours.

While offered to consumers, Holden Energy and Environment Director, Richard Marshall noted the Better Place option is likely to be especially popular with fleets wanting to run their Volts predominantly on the initial battery charge.

For its part, Better Place said the partnership gives Volt motorists a complete recharging solution for their electric driving.

“The partnership between Better Place and Holden means Volt drivers can choose an all-inclusive service that delivers complete peace of mind and makes driving an electric car easy, convenient and reliable,” said Better Place Head of Strategy and Marketing, Ben Keneally. “We look after everything a Volt driver needs – including installing personal charging spots at home or work, delivering shorter charging times, and providing ongoing management, maintenance, and 24-hour customer care.”

Better Place will also install a Volt Charge Spot at the limited number of Volt dealers for demonstration purposes when the 2013 Volt is released in a fully optioned single specification level at $59,990 Australian dollars ($61,118 USD) – plus dealer delivery, road registration and associated taxes – in the fourth quarter of this year.

This morning Holden spokesperson Andrea Matthews said also that charger pricing is still pending.

“Better Place have not yet announced pricing for the charger but it will vary as there will be a number of different membership packages available,” she said, answering also a question about projected numbers. “We won’t speculate on sales volume of any of our vehicle lines but our expectation is that this will be a niche model for us.”

Matthews said also she appreciated your checking in to see what Holden is doing – so feel free to keep clicking the links

“By the way, I also look after the Holden blog and we’ve seen some good traffic from your site in the past week,” she said, “so thanks!”

 

News from Europe: UK man trades Leaf for Volt over range anxiety

By Huw Evans
 

In the United Kingdom, Dan Green (not his real name), decided, after 18 months of ownership that his Nissan Leaf was too stressful and so opted to trade it in for the British version of the Chevy Volt, a Vauxhall Ampera.

Ampera_UK

Asked why, Green cited the fact that he was tired of running out of charge, which doubled journey times and significantly increased his stress levels since he often worried if he would make it to his destination.

Part of the reason for his decision stems from the fact that in Green’s eyes, development of an EV infrastructure simply hasn’t been rapid enough to support the sales of the cars themselves, which means that the prospect of running out of range was a major concern.

“Although the tow truck drivers were friendly,” Green said, “being taken away on a flatbed truck turns a 1.5 hour journey into a 3.5 hour one. That’s okay if you’re on your own, but it doesn’t impress your passengers and doesn’t help the cause of electric cars.”

He also said that on busy motorways (freeways) or during rush hour, driving slower to maximize range endurance was also particularly stressful, not only irritating other motorists but also proving quite dangerous, especially considering that many drivers travel at speeds of 75-85 mph on motorways in the UK.

As a result, he decided enough was enough and went to a Vauxhall dealer to trade the Leaf in on a new Ampera. “They gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said, no doubt aided by the fact Green paid in cash, giving him extra bargaining power.

However, despite his new found motoring freedom, thanks to the Ampera’s onboard gasoline generator, Green does say there are some things he misses about the Leaf, namely its onboard CarWings telematics and satellite navigation system. “I really hate the satellite navigation in the Ampera,” he says, though “now I don’t have to worry about plugging in any more,” [getting 250 miles per gallon equivalent] is simply a much more enjoyable and relaxing experience.

Green Car Reports

 

Jun 15

Momentum Dynamics ready to launch wireless charging

 

Pennsylvania-based clean energy firm Momentum Dynamics said yesterday it will launch its wireless electrified vehicle fast-charging system to fleets this year, to consumers within two years, then as an original equipment feature by mid-decade.

The company’s magnetic induction-based system significantly outperforms level-2 chargers, costs far less than level-3 chargers, works automatically, in any weather and was on display this week at the Commercial Vehicle Megatrends USA 2012 conference in Dearborn, Mich.

In an interview yesterday with Momentum Dynamics’ founder and CEO, Andy Daga, I learned the U.S. Department of Energy as well as other state agencies concerned with green energy have endorsed the system and grant funding has amounted to $1.1 million total to date.

Momentum_Dynamics_Volt_groundpad 

As you might imagine, the system is designed for any plug-in vehicle, and Daga said the company is actively engaged with beginning several fleet pilot programs around the country with delivery companies like FedEx and UPS, shuttle services, and others.

If all goes as planned, the inductive charger could be introduced for consumer aftermarket purchase possibly as soon as 2013.

The system simply works and is convenient, and Daga said it renders plugs obsolete to the point that he’s in talks with four automotive OEMs so far. If things bode well, he said we could see Momentum Dynamics systems installed as original equipment in certain vehicles by model year 2015 – though he made clear Chevrolet was not one of the companies he is yet partnered with.

The way the system operates is not unlike the magnetic inductive charging used with wireless devices that are laid on an inductive pad, or even an electric toothbrush sitting on a stand on your bathroom sink, Daga said. The difference is the energy needed to recharge a vehicle can be on orders of magnitude higher – around 10,000 watts – albeit still without fear of electric shock to a person or pet, or damaging the grid’s local power transformer.

As installed on the Volt, the system can recharge through an air gap between the pad on the floor and a receptor installed between the front wheels under the Volt’s chassis – and despite all that power, Daga said the vehicle’s metal underside does not increase in temperature.

The company is still working out details however – such as how to properly remove an effective bottleneck in respective onboard chargers that slows down recharge times. The Volt’s 3.3-kw charger limits charge times to the speed of a standard level 2 charger for now.

Daga said the company is actively working with OE engineers to update hardware and software, and has been told the Volt’s battery can easily handle input power of 10 kw, though for now it’s limited to 3.3 kw, and the next benchmark will be upgrading to 7.2 kw prior to arriving at 10 kw.

Once Momentum Dynamics successfully modifies the Volt’s T18 Battery Control Module to 10 kw, speed for a full recharge to the Volt’s 16-kwh battery will be a blazing one hour. This is one-third the approximately three hours it would take via a 240-volt level 2 charger, or one-tenth the 10 hours via 120-volt house power.

Maybe fast charging doesn’t matter to some of you Volt owners content to charge overnight, but you Tesla Model Model S or even Nissan Leaf buyers may be rightfully getting more curious …

If you want to know a bit more, the Momentum Dynamics system utilizes two matched coils working as a set – one being a transmitter connected to the electrical grid and located on or in the pavement, and the other being a receiver installed in the vehicle.

The transmitting coil is tuned to create an alternating magnetic field of a specified frequency. The receiving coil is also tuned to this frequency, and as the transmitter is energized, the receiving coil has a current induced within it, even though the two coils are not in contact with each other and separated by up to two feet.

Daga said a driver needs only park close to on-target, and is guided by audible chirps in the vehicle that help position it within an acceptable distance, so it does not take special talent to park the car in order to charge.

The blue mat in the photo is just one application, and as alluded to above, the system can be embedded in pavement, and in the works also are a series of embedded pads set in a row that could charge slowly moving, semi-parked taxis waiting at a curb for passengers, for example.

The company is eager to prove the system works in municipal and commercial settings for stationary or near-stationary vehicles, but time could come when moving vehicles could also take advantage of it.

If you happened to see reports of this yesterday quoting MLive.com that said it exceeded Level 3 performance, that was a mistake I was told, though it will cost a whole lot less than a $70,000-plus DC fast charger, Daga said, so in that sense it “outperforms.”

Daga also said he never said the system works for cars skimming past at 40 mph, as others reported, but hinted that is not an impossibility.

The system is enabled to recognize a specific vehicle signaling it via a transponder, and an account would be assigned like a turnpike EZ Pass for billing purposes, Daga said.

While it’s too soon to commit to actual pricing, Daga estimated first-generation aftermarket consumer pads could cost perhaps $5,000-$6,000, with in-ground designs intended to be flush with a driveway surface or garage floor costing perhaps a couple thousand more before installation costs.

Commercial applications such as those intended for electric Enterprise shuttle buses at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., would be about $10,000 before installation costs.

Consumers would also have to pay perhaps $500 – or more if battery management upgrades are also involved to speed up charge times – for the receiver that would be attached under their vehicle, and as a factory installed option later this decade, it would be less, he said. Naturally, any vehicle that normally plugs in, such as a Nissan Leaf, Tesla, Ford Focus Electric, and of course, Volt or others could make use of the system.

If used proactively, the company says its system also stands to potentially extend a vehicle’s battery life by avoiding full discharging. It also potentially counters the threat of theft or vandalism that could be a concern to EVs using ordinary plugs for recharging.

Momentum Dynamics designed and manufactures the components in the U.S. – and Daga said it intends to remain a U.S. manufacturer, and not outsource.

Although dedicated to American production, Daga also said he has his finger in the wind to determine political winds sweeping across the country, and hinted at what we all know that the plug-in industry is influenced by sentiment and perceptions.

We know also that others are working on similar technology, and while SAE and CHAdeMO proffer proprietary plug standards, the solution some have felt is inevitable is wireless charging such as that with which Motion Dynamics hopes to make a name.

For more information, consult the company’s Web site.

 

May 18

Low-cost Revolo bolt-on, plug-in hybrid system touted for its potential

 

Note: This is a different story than usual, but I spoke with an engineer in India for nearly an hour, recorded the whole conversation, and wrote about this expedient solution initially for the emerging Indian market. As you’ll see, it’s technologically flexible and if eventually brought to Europe or the U.S. costs would undeniably go up, but I was curious what you all thought …

While some U.S.-based aftermarket startups are offering high-five-figure hybrid powertrain retrofits, an Indian original-equipment (OE) automotive supply firm is preparing to launch a simple $1,300-$3,500 bolt-on plug-in parallel hybrid system for the masses.

Revolo3
A Revolo-converted Suzuki Alto. The system is covered by several patents, and has already won eight awards.

Having proven its effectiveness in testing so far, the prototype system called “Revolo” is being developed by KPIT Cummins as a gas- or diesel-engine add-on, first for the Indian market, but North American, European and Asian automakers have also already expressed interest in the system.

The anticipated installed cost of its belt-driven electric motor, battery and battery management system (BMS) works out to about one-third the selling price of a new vehicle in India, and the system functions essentially like GM’s eAssist.

While the batteries remain charged for average daily driving needs, fuel efficiency is said to be improved by 35 percent, emissions by 30 percent, and the system’s payback is to be less than two years from time of purchase.

One of the company’s two similarly sized “green” buildings in India. KPIT Cummins says both are designed to allow optimum utilization of natural resources.

If you’ve not heard of KPIT Cummins, briefly, it is a $309 million publicly traded company with over 7,700 employees, based in India, 11-percent owned by Cummins of North America. It has operations in North America, South America, Europe, Japan, Korea, China, and is a supplier to 14 of the top 20 original equipment manufacturers.

In a phone interview this week with one of the engineers involved in the project, we learned this will be the company’s first foray in automotive hardware plus software products, but it is building on its strengths as a behind-the-scenes automotive technology provider to most major automakers.

High Tech Low Tech

 
 

Because a low-cost but effective system had to be devised that could sell itself without any green car conversion incentives in India, KPIT had to think hard to come up with solutions to meet these criteria.

This was all the more challenging when trying to be viable in the light-duty commercial market for such vehicles as cabs and delivery trucks. Many Indian small businesses do not have pockets as deep as, say, American corporate fleet buyers who might spring for something like a $30,000 retrofit by the likes of ALTe or a $70-80,000 turnkey converted pickup from VIA Motors.

So to be sure, the several-hour installation of the Revolo parallel hybrid system upgrade – intended for engines up to 3.0 liters – is not as involved as these series hybrid powertrain retrofits, but it is said to get the job done with a quick return on investment.

Presently two motors are being developed for the system. One is for smaller passenger cars, rated at 2.2 kilowatt (3 horsepower, 22 pound-feet torque), the other is for light commercial vehicles rated at 7.5 kilowatts (10.2 horsepower, 55 pound-feet torque). KPIT Cummins says these continuous-output ratings can be peaked by triple these numbers for up to one minute bursts when needed.


Suzuki Alto on left, Tata 207 pickup on right. The Revolo system is currently made under a joint venture with component supplier Bharat Forge in India.

The result is a system that adds 20-40 percent more power to the internal combustion engine’s output when needed without using any fuel.

The idea is when the engine needs it most – such as at low rpm – the instant torque of the electric motor assists, then tapers off above 1,800-2,000 rpm seamlessly thanks to the sophisticated engine control unit (ECU).

The BMS and ECU that come with the installation are the company’s own design, can be adapted to a variety of battery chemistries, and rely on algorithms fed signals by some retrofitted sensors, as well as the vehicle’s stock sensors used by its ECU sensors.

Another innovation is the use of a high-efficiency AC induction motor, instead of a more costly permanent magnet motor, and unique lead-acid batteries made more durable with carbon technology.

Comparatively inexpensive lead acid batteries are usually considered the bottom of the automotive battery hierarchy, but the added carbon and other technological innovations extend life to around 750 recharge cycles.

In contrast, lithium-ion – which by the way, the system is compatible with also – would normally cost 3-5 times more.

KPIT Cummins has also tested with lithium-ion, but the carbon-enhanced lead-acid chemistry is getting the nod for the Indian market at this juncture. The Revolo system would also work with nickel-metal hydride, but KPIT-Cummins has not gravitated to that chemistry in its development work.

Planned battery range with lead acid is expected to be up to 62 miles for commercial vehicles, and about two-thirds that for commuter applications.

 

The idea is to provide enough range to work for most applications, either light commercial vehicles traveling up to 62 miles per day, or commuters traveling the average 18-25 miles per day in India.

After the batteries deplete, the BMS shuts the system down, the petrol engine continues to operate as normal, and the electric motor simply freewheels with no parasitic drag.

Regenerative braking does also offer 10-12 percent recharging to the batteries on average, extending range somewhat. After the system finally depletes, the regen feature stays operative, and if the batteries reach a sufficient state of charge, the system will automatically turn back on.

Another low-cost, but effective aspect is this plug-in hybrid system uses a basic three-phase plug much like a computer cord. No fancy 5-pin SAE J1772 or CHAdeMO plugs here to pay for – or risk being stolen.

Economics and Pragmatism First

 
 

For now, the Revolo system is intended as an efficiency boost, and not as a speed or acceleration performance enhancer, so 0-60 runs will only barely be improved. The main goal is saving money without costing a lot of money, and the benefits have not been lost on some of KPIT’s existing OE customers who’ve shown interest in the system.

For example, in testing the system mated to a sophisticated modern “European luxury SUV” with over 60 on-board ECUs – which KPIT Cummins was not at liberty to name – the Revolo system provoked no diagnostic error codes. This and other such testing have been taken as a good sign that the computer programming side of KPIT Cummins’ automotive engineered solution is as effective as the low-cost side of it is.

First things first however is to prove it works in the real world. The initial Indian market launch of the lead-acid system is anticipated to be a “lucrative” market with no downside for consumers.

Pending plans are for retrofitting the system through third-party franchises to existing vehicles. At the same time, KPIT Cummins is in discussions with automakers to build the system into new vehicles.

As mentioned, the company says it is talking with automakers about installing it in vehicles intended for the Indian market.

If all goes as intended, the company hopes for OE joint ventures, and in time to see its Revolo plug-in hybrid system installed in vehicles made for other markets also – possibly even the U.S. assuming it works as advertised.

 

May 11

Landlord in SF Bay Area says no to Volt-owning tenants plugging in

 

Trinity Management Services, reportedly one of San Francisco’s largest landlords, has put the kabash on one of its tenant’s intentions to recharge his Chevy Volt on premises.

According to a newscast by a Bay Area ABC affiliate which focuses on such perceived inequities, tenant Richard Wiesner got himself the new plug-in car which can be recharged in eight hours on regular 120-volt current, but was firmly denied permission.

The video lays out the case, but the short story is this landlord barring all its tenants isn’t the first or last, and such phenomena could represent a rude logjam in the stream of progress toward green cars at an epicenter of green car adoption.

VoltPlugin

 

For its part, the landlord reportedly said only that it would deny any plug-in vehicles from recharging, but refused to comment further.

An attorney interviewed by the TV news team verified that the letter of the law says the landlord is not contractually obliged to allow discretionary access to the outlet.

That said, the receptacle is right next to the indoor parking spot the tenant would use, and before it became an issue, it was presumably there for other benign purposes – such as as perhaps for a shop vac – although that is only implied, not entirely clear.

Further, Wiesner offered to pay for the few extra kilowatts, but that was a no-go as well – perhaps because it would need a meter and that could turn into a hassle if others wanted the same arrangement?

What ever the case, given that somewhere around half of Bay Area dwellers reportedly rent their homes, the newscast said this could be a repeated problem in the face of an otherwise strong initiative to encourage cars that plug in.

And to be sure, the overall tide of sentiment is in favor of green cars, and in other quarters advocates have said such things as businesses and employers might readily provide plug access for free or for a nominal fee as a value-added service.

But that is apparently a wishful fantasy in this purported backwoods corner of the Bay Area region. Despite Wiesner’s reasoned entreaties, the landlord simply said no.

Really, it’s a classic case of what constitutes a right versus a privilege, and a repeat of the age-old saga of who has the moral upper hand besides.

For his part, Wiesner said he thinks a decade from now he’ll be able to look back and laugh at a retracted mentality and policy that tried to stand in the way of plug-in vehicles.

For balance, we’d add also the landlord’s position, but we cannot, because it has only said no comment.

KGO-TV San Francisco

 

May 04

Jason King is on his way to driving his Volt for ‘free’

 

Is the Chevy Volt way too expensive – a car for well-meaning but well-heeled greenies to make themselves feel good? Or, is it so frugal to own and drive that you cannot afford not to get one?

Those are two extreme views aren’t they? We’ve heard from critics – who often have never even driven one – and who’ve tried to paint negative views, and more recently we heard from Jason King, who says his Volt fits the latter scenario, and is paying him back fast.

King is a writer and photographer living in Maui who figures his driving will soon be effectively “free” due to low-cost solar panels he had installed to keep his car charged.

 

The cost of solar has come way down in recent years, but we know where gas is going, don’t we?

“Gas prices are only going up,” King said. “Gas here is around $5 a gallon, and I drive by just laughing, you know?”

What’s more, King says his Volt is the best automotive value he’s yet had despite not having recouped any federal or state subsidies when he bought it. Being eager to get one early, he bought his Volt in California just two months after GM began production, and shipped it for about $1,000 to Hawaii.

His cost for installing nine extra solar panels to his pre-existing solar array was $5,000, plus he paid $500 for an optional fast charger.

If you have no solar now, you would also need a DC-to-AC inverter and related hardware, so it could be up to double or more compared to what King paid, but this is an investment that would last for many years that would effectively wipe out your gasoline bill, and you may even be able to sell unused electricity back to your local utility.

As for King, he says buying a Volt and solar charging is a good deal even though he forfeited eligibility for a $4,500 Hawaiian state subsidy now available, and the $7,500 federal subsidy.

To others, he says it should also make good financial sense, as they more likely will qualify for federal and state subsidies – for the car, and possible for the solar installation.

King’s estimation that charging costs will soon be no charge takes into consideration what he formerly spent monthly on gas for a Honda CR-V. In nine more months, his Volt will have paid off its lifetime cost to solar recharge, then every electric mile he drives thereafter is effectively free.


Not having a particular affinity for the undesirable effects petroleum has had on the environment and society, King has set up his house to live autonomously yet with high quality of life.

“I was previously spending at least $2,500 a year on gasoline so that means in two years the solar panels have paid for themselves, compared to what I previously spent on gas,” King said. “You know – in terms of the cost of the solar panels to power it. That means in two years my driving is not only pollution free, it’s free.”

The deal was especially sweet where Maui electric rates can hover around 30 cents per kilowatt-hour or more.

King acknowledges everyone’s situation is different, and living entirely off the grid as he does, his environmental commitment is deep, but having researched solar, he does not understand why more people are not doing it – particularly when a less-involved approach of grid tie-in is more financially feasible than ever.

Nor is he alone.

Jay Friedland, legislative director for Plug In America says a growing number of people are discovering what it is like to cut or eliminate the electric bill – and even be able to sell energy back to their local utility for a very satisfying turning of the tables.

State-by-state subsidies are available, as is a 30-percent federal tax credit, and so are loans if needed.

Friedland cited others who have realized – like King – that all of a sudden having effectively free kilowatts on hand, they would benefit from buying or leasing an electric vehicle.

Naturally, beyond the cost-benefit analysis, every individual’s motivation is unique. People’s rationales can include preferring their energy to be domestically sourced, and it’s satisfying knowing the money stays at home, instead of paying domestic or foreign oil suppliers. Others point to what it costs in wars and military expense and lives to keep the oil flowing here. Others point to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Others point to being self-reliant and not having to pay for ever-increasing gasoline expense. You can take your pick, or empathize with some or all of the above.


King’s off-the-grid living is made possible through readily available technology.

But consumers who are not as ideologically driven want to know they are not paying extra just to support a cause. There are those who want to able to simply justify the outlay, and see a return on investment.

That ultimately depends on a host of variables for your local circumstances, but the good news, says Friedland – and King – is that solar recharging can pay back out-of-pocket costs to switch to solar.

King says his solar power system includes 24 deep-cycle batteries for storage, and a diesel generator backup – which he rarely if ever uses, and he looks forward to when the Volt can be used in a smart grid application as his backup.


Twenty four deep-cycle marine batteries last maybe seven years or so. The rest of the system is much more robust. Battery backup is optional, and not required for more ordinary grid-tied systems.

In any event, his solar panels recharge 100 percent even on a cloudy day, and about the only time he may not generate power is in a torrential downpour.

If anyone thinks solar is only for sunbelt states though, you’d be mistaken. They just need a clear exposure to the sun, and Friedland notes the second largest solar energy usage outside of California is in New Jersey. King observes also that Germany leads the world in solar proliferation.

As for justifying whether it would be worth it for solar electric car recharging, one major factor to consider is how much you spend on gasoline and electricity per year, and factoring the Volt’s electric range and money saved can make a compelling case.

In King’s moderate climate, his Volt’s all-electric range is much better than the EPA-stated 35 miles, and he averages 45-48 miles on a charge. All this to him will soon be effectively free, as he is not even paying a utility for the kilowatt-hours or a gas station.

His reasoning extends also to other electric vehicles with longer ranges, such as the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubushi i, and other available or soon-to-be models like the Ford Focus Electric or Tesla Model S, and others.


Going well beyond creating enough juice for their car, Norma and Alan Williamson power their California home with photovoltaic panels. We’re including this photo to show an example of a more ordinary residence with solar system potentially tied to the grid. This is one of Plug In America’s case examples mentioned.

If the vehicle to be charged has a larger battery as pure EVs do, you’d need enough solar energy daily, and a 240-volt level 2 charger, but the math can still work out – while giving a hedge against inflationary gasoline prices.

For his part, King says the Volt makes the most sense because its range meets his daily driving needs – and statistically, those of most Americans – and has gasoline backup when needed. Thus far, he estimates he’s only used about four gallons, and has effectively driven the Volt at 2,000 miles per gallon – with his electricity soon to be paid off as well.

“It’s not just a hype – the lack of range anxiety that I feel having that backup, you know? I mean if it was just pouring rain for few days and I needed to use the electric that my panels were generating for my house; I didn’t want to charge the car,” King said. “So yeah, I can still drive. You know, if I need to drive 100 miles in a day because I have friends visiting and I’m taking them all over the island, no problem, so I’ll drive 100 miles and I’ll use a gallon of gas.”

To determine what state-by-state incentives are available, the Energy Department has an interactive map. You can think also about leasing solar from a company like Sungevity, or others, and as you know the cost of a Volt can also be offset by a presently reasonable lease rates – and this might make sense especially if you do not fully qualify for incentives.

For more information on solar power in general, you can contact a non-profit like the American Solar Energy Society, and the Energy Department has further info worth perusing as well.

 

Besides these resources, there are many others, but they ought to get you started in the right direction.

Calculating cost for solar would also mean factoring in amortization, as the solar array will not last forever, but they are known to last many years even decades.

But if you ask Jason King, he says he has the formula dialed and even if your daily mileage goes a bit over the Volt’s electric range, it still is an elegant solution with no downside.

“The point I want to drive home to people is most people think that they can’t afford to do it,” he said. “I’m living proof that you know what, you can’t afford not to do it. I only have nine months to go until all my driving is free and powered by the sun with no pollution.”