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Sep 27

EV advocates weigh in on Toyota’s EV avoidance

 

NOTE: This is a reprise of some info we gave you before that was basically one sided. Here we have counterpoints and more balance. Is Toyota being smart, or missing out?

Have you ever found yourself wishing for a time machine to project a decade or longer into the future just to see how things turned out?

For starters, we could settle whether Toyota is wise in sidestepping mass-market battery electric cars for now, or whether EV advocates are correct saying it’s misguided, excessively self-serving, too risk averse, and possibly even conspiring to postpone progress.

 

Yes, we’ve heard all these allegations and more from a well-connected EV advocate who asked to remain anonymous. And it’s almost ironic considering to date, Toyota has basked in a reputation as an electrification pioneer – a mantel it proudly wears and helps along as needed, now having sold 5 million Toyota and Lexus hybrids worldwide.

“The environmental effect has been an estimated 34 million ton reduction in C02 — the equivalent of taking 4.8 million vehicles off the road for an entire year,” said Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Carter last month of Toyota’s hybridization at its first “Hybrid World Tour” media event in Michigan.

"Hybrids are Toyota's core strategy"
“Hybrids are Toyota’s core strategy,” said the caption to this PowerPoint image. In contradistinction, advocates say the Japanese automaker is overlooking opportunities to leverage its current lead, and may hurt itself while doing little for the ultimate cause. Toyota says its vision is simply about meeting customer expectations.
 

Toyota’s ecological pop-star status started with its Prius launched in Japan in 1997, and the U.S. in 2000. The company now has 23 Hybrid Synergy Drive vehicles across its global lines with plans for 15 more by 2015.

But with the advent of lithium-ion-powered global electric cars from Tesla, Renault-Nissan and even Mitsubishi – plus limited-market or pending EVs from Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Fiat, and BMW – some say Toyota’s hybrids are no longer the most progressive means to wean away from petroleum.

The company does have its Tesla-powered RAV4 EV, but this is California-only with just 2,600 units to be built before production halts next year.

And Toyota has otherwise sung the anti-theme to the battle cry of the EV faithful.

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” said “the father of the Prius,” Toyota Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada in September 2012 as Toyota canceled development for the FT-EV II city EV.

Canceled last year: FT-EV II.
Canceled last year: Toyota FT-EV II.
 

Last month in Michigan, Toyota outlined its past, present and future centered on hybrids including plug-in hybrids to come, and mentioned also a plan to leapfrog battery electric to fuel cell vehicles beginning in 2015.

It has never said never for commercialized EVs of the sort that Nissan is now spending billions to cultivate a market for, but expounded on why joining the push for EVs would be a waste of its resources.

Toyota had flown in from Japan Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso, formerly the Prius lead engineer who’d followed in the footsteps of Uchiyamada, and now higher up in Toyota’s alternative-tech development.

Most importantly, [emphasis by Toyota] it seemed to be a system that held great potential … for constant improvement, for many years to come,” Ogiso said of the Prius in his earlier days working on its evolution. “Uchiyamada-san would be right. If this was a bridge technology it looked like a very long bridge.”

Toyota’s presentation suggested hybrids will grow to near ubiquity and still be going strong as far out as 2070 and beyond.

Articles of Faith

Actually automakers’ amorphous “all-of-the-above” approach will see several competing – or complementary – technologies vying for a place, but where folks are agreeing to disagree is on how much emphasis should be put today on battery powered cars.

If hybridization is a “bridge,” then all-electric is the ground to which the bridge is leading. Are we on a protracted crossing, or are we already setting up camp on the other side?

Nissan Leaf.
Nissan Leaf.
 

One of the beliefs encouraging plug-in EV advocates is U.S. market plug-in cars are doing slightly better than hybrids did in their first two-and-a-half years from 2000 onward.

Plug-in cars are being adopted especially in regions where hybrids were more widely accepted first, and their success is considered evidence of battery electric cars’ destiny to also succeed.

To this theory, Toyota offered a refutation.

First off, sales of perhaps “5,000-10,000” battery electric cars annually is not enough to “move the dial” for Toyota’s fleet to comply with regulations considering the 2 million units per year volume it does, said VP of Technology and Regulatory Affairs, Tom Stricker.

And to say plug-ins are doing as well necessitates an “apples-to-coconuts” comparison because today market conditions and policies are “very different” than in the early 2000s, he said.

cumulative
 

Back then, the original Prius swam against a heavier tide in America. Gas was cheap and there were no subsidies except for a tax deduction that might net up to $600.

US sales
 

Stricker observed only two hybrids were marketed for the first 31 months after 2000, the Prius and Honda Insight.

Since December 2010, the U.S. market has seen a dozen EVs and PHEVs come along and their combined volume is only mildly exceeding the two lone hybrid pioneers.

31 mos
 

But these EVs and PHEVs are actually riding on the coat tails of hybrids, said Stricker. They are being bought most heavily in regions prepped by hybrids and need less explaining to sell to those already lined up to buy.

What’s more, billions in government dollars allocated for subsidies for consumers, loans and grants for manufacturers and infrastructure providers is adding to a virtual “tailwind” pushing EVs and PHEVs along.

tailwind
 

But, Stricker postulated, what if we look at hybrid sales from the moment the IRS allowed them a several-thousand-dollar credit around 2005 through 2010 and California offered solo occupancy for its HOV lanes?

Isn’t this sort of fair? Hybrids in 2005 benefited from the previous several years of hybrid proliferation and so are today’s plug-ins.

Assuming a worthwhile comparison, Stricker presented another chart showing hybrids sold from 2005-on enjoying just some of the props from which EVs and PHEVs have benefited.

2005
 

Coincidentally, Stricker said, exactly a dozen hybrids were being sold after January 2005, and guess what? For the period of 31 months after the 12 hybrids sold 10-times the volume of the 12 EVs and PHEVs for their first 31 months.

Stricker said he realized this was not a completely equal parallel, but felt it had a measure of validity.

He noted also plug-in car proponents are basically “hanging their hat” on the assumption that battery costs per kilowatt-hour will drop and allow for longer-range, cheaper EVs.

battery costs
 

The Electrification Coalition, one of the “more optimistic” advocates of this belief, Stricker said, had estimated a few weeks prior that $275 per kwh will mean a tipping point to be achieved in the next several years.

Stricker figured by then, federal plug-in subsidies will no longer be available, so factoring savings for battery costs, but an increase due to lack of incentives, he calculated EVs’ value proposition would be worse, not better.

That’s one alternate view anyway, he said at the finish of his presentation.

Counterpoint

Nissan and GM have reported Prius owners trading hybrids for their Leaf and Volt.

Plug In America’s Legislative Director Jay Friedland turned tables on Toyota’s spin saying this indicates Toyota is missing market signs as its once-faithful move on.

Chevrolet Volt.
Chevrolet Volt.
 

Despite expected and unexpected setbacks, he said, evidence suggests the proverbial horses have left the stable, and there’s no putting them back.

Friedland and others in his camp have pointed to principles including those taught by Crossing the Chasm explaining conditions surrounding “disruptive” technology, as well as statistical analyses explaining the study of “technological diffusion.”

SEE ALSO: 2013 Leaf Review – Video

The study of technological diffusion looks at past adoption curves and may also chart how fast a given technology may be accepted from the day of its introduction onwards.

Forbes
 

It involves advanced mathematical equations and data-crunching computers but the short story is technology that has made it always did so against resistance.

Trends have shown newer and less regulated technologies became mainstream faster than previous ones – assuming the technology was destined for viability and did not die in the cradle.

It’s as though this more-connected society is consuming new inventions with less lag time, than, say, the telephone, that required 71 years to be in 50 percent of homes. In contrast digital TVs took 10 years, DVD players took 7, and MP3 players took 6.

interchangeable
 

A paper examining diffusion of battery electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and hybrids by Dr. Patrick Plotz of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (Fraunhofer ISI) suggests these propulsion technologies are substitutable for one another.

His paper goes into great detail, but his charts project proliferation for battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars. By later in the decade of 2020-2030, one hypothetical model suggests hybrids will start tapering off as technology ripens for plug-in cars.

fig4
 

This could be due to plug-in EVs becoming less expensive, their range multiplying, charging much faster, or a combination thereof.

And if anyone is saying three years into it that battery cars are a losing investment, bear in mind we are 13 years since the U.S. Prius launch, and today hybrids comprise less than 4 percent of U.S. sales.

fig6
 

Technically, hybrids are still early in the adoption curve. Toyota now embraces them, but Friedland said it’s misreading the parallel for battery cars.

Diffusion theory contemplates that first-generation EVs are going against societal expectations rooted in petroleum vehicles that have matured for 100 years.

Friedland also noted an “Innovator’s Dilemma” that could be working against Toyota’s leaders and explained in another seminal work with this same title by Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen.

Unbeknownst to Friedland, his views echoed those from a recent article by Green Car Reports which used tenets on disruptive technology espoused by Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma to essentially put Toyota on the therapist’s couch.

GCR writer Matthew Klippenstein succinctly analyzed Toyota’s corporate psyche questioning whether its success with hybrids is blinding and binding it to its past instead of allowing it to bravely go from strength to strength.

Oh what a feeling! Toyota Tesla!
Oh what a feeling! Toyota Tesla!
 

This is exactly what Friedland said independently. The idea behind the innovator’s dilemma is that leading technological innovators – such as Toyota – have been shown to lose their market dominance as a potentially superior but underdog replacement technology – such as battery electric cars – comes along.

Past examples of the phenomenon include floppy disk drives that shrunk in size until they were replaced by solid state storage, CRT televisions replaced by flat screens, VCR tapes replaced by DVDs, cassette tapes replaced by cds, and so on.

Along the way there were Big Dogs – like IBM, Sony, etc. – who became weaker members of the pack in specific markets because they failed to embrace on time the superiority of new ideas over the technology to which they were wedded, and they were left behind.

Brass Tacks

Toyota does not say it will be left behind, but will continue to lead.

It has worked out its hybrid formula which is now quite profitable, does cost less than EV tech, doesn’t need subsidies to sell, refuels in minutes, has no range anxiety, and the market presently speaks louder than theorists.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Toyota Prius Liftback Review – Video

“Over the past 5 years, the percentage of hybrid sales at Toyota has grown from 10 to 16 percent of our total sales mix,” said Toyota’s Carter. “Honda is less than 2 percent and Ford is less than 3 percent. And while hybrid as a percentage of the total market is just under 4 percent, we believe that it can … and must grow.”

Not at all bashful of Toyota’s stance on hybrids, Carter actually issued a challenge for competitors to join it.

“I would like to see us – as an industry – accomplish the same thing in the U.S.,” said Carter. “That is … 5 million hybrids, cumulatively, in the U.S. by close of business 2016.”

Musk
 

Do you think Elon Musk or Carlos Ghosn are listening?

In any event, Toyota says such things now, but in 1997, Toyota’s leadership had no idea that its allowing the Prius to see daylight would be a turning point and make it a hero.

The company fully admits there was huge internal resistance and skepticism all the way through to the second-generation Prius in 2003.

What’s more, if “business is war,” it’s been suggested today Toyota is playing a cagy strategy of sitting out expensive, uphill commercialization of mass-market EVs while it lets its competitors do the heavy lifting and preparing of a market it may come back to when it sees profitability.

U.S. market Toyota and Lexus Hybrids.
U.S. market Toyota and Lexus Hybrids.
 

And, Toyota is ultimately not against battery electric cars.

“The performance of this new generation of powertrains will reflect significant advances, in battery, electric motor and gas engine technologies,” said Ogiso of hybrids. “And is part of Toyota’s larger portfolio strategy towards the electrification of the automobile including plug-in hybrid, battery electric [emphasis ours] and fuel cell technologies.”

Fact is, no one, including Toyota, knows the future. According to Toyota media rep, Maurice Durand, its decisions are based on the present as it sees it, and it can shift gears later.

“We are aware of all different possibilities out there,” said Durand, “If the market merited it Toyota would be prepared to meet this need.”

And truth be told, at the moment only Nissan and Tesla are making much of a dent in the battery electric market.

Through August this year, Tesla sold in the U.S. an estimated 13,150 of its pricey Model S, and more tellingly, Nissan sold 14,123 of its Leafs. Limited-market players by comparison are hardly doing more than Toyota’s next-to-nothing. Honda sold 420 Fit EVs, Ford sold 1,225 Focus EVs, even poor Mitsubishi sold only 958 i-MiEVs and the recently launched Chevy Spark EV is only offered in Oregon and California.

SEE ALSO: August Sees Ups and Downs For ‘Little League’ EV Players

In 2012, Toyota’s total U.S. sales rose 27 percent to 2.08 million units. If Stricker said “5,000-10,000” EVs was insignificant, do you think 25,000 like Nissan may sell would make Toyota change its mind?

For now, the answer is not likely. If later technology improves – and assuming the prognosticators in Silicon Valley are wrong – Toyota will be able to pick up where it left off and this is part of Toyota’s long-term consideration, as Ogiso said.

2013-Toyota-Prius-winding-road
 

Ogiso also dropped hints about a massive R&D budget for things like advanced solid-state batteries, wireless recharging, and other technologies the company will want in battery electric cars wearing a Toyota or Lexus badge.

And it sees fuel cells coming to maturity soon too, but we’ll save that for another day.

Meanwhile, is Toyota betraying its core as is alleged? Or is it continuing to be true to itself? Is it making the right choices? Are its options still open? Or is it due to miss out?

Lacking a time machine, we’ll have to ask you to check back with us in 10 years or so to learn whether Toyota is being crazy, or crazy like a fox.

 

Sep 20

Who makes the fastest-charging EV?

 

Since we’ve been on a roll with EV news, and there does not appear to be a lot on the Volt at the moment, I put together this all-in-one list of the 10 electric cars sold in the U.S.

I may do a plug-in hybrid list later where GM’s E-REV will show up, but for now, this was long enough …

The problem with asking “which EVs charge the fastest” is while some may think it’s a simple inquiry, it really isn’t. In fact, if we had to put asterisks on the highly qualified answers, we’d need asterisks for the asterisks.

2014-Chevrolet-SparkEV
 

But for those of you who grew up accustomed to quicker gratification – from such experiences as drive-in restaurants, and, well, quick-filling gas stations for example – the list is under “Recharge Times” below.

If you want an easy answer, go ahead and skip over the following qualifier sections if you dare.

Asterisks And More Asterisks

 

Are you still here? Cool. We’ll try to keep this simple and more interesting than the fine print for a credit card app, or what have you.

Rule number one is, assuming an “empty” battery, EV charge times depend on the kilowatt-hours (kwh) of the battery being charged, and how fast it will accept juice.

For example, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV has the smallest (16-kwh) battery and the Tesla Model S comes with the largest 60-kwh or 85-kwh battery.

All conditions being equal, a larger battery takes more energy, and this should mean a longer recharge time.

Mitsu-i-MiEV_Arch
 

But we warned you answers need qualification. Believe it or not, in this case Tesla has figured a way for people at home to cram electricity back into its 4-5 times larger packs much faster than the i-MiEV, but we’ll explain this later.

Another factor to be mindful of is the electric current delivered by the charger. Actually, the “charger” is not the device with a cord you plug into the car. The “charger” is the on-board charger built into the car – often 3.3 kw, or 6.6, kw, and in the case of Tesla, 10 kw or a pair equaling 20 kw.

The rate at which the car’s on-board charger passes juice to the battery pack makes for an effective bottleneck. As a loose analogy, with a garden hose you can’t very easily water your lawn faster than the hose will allow, can you? So it is with the charger. It delivers electricity at a certain maximum rate, and that’s it.

Nissan Leaf with aftermarket charger installed.
Nissan Leaf with aftermarket charger installed.
 

(Of course if one were to retrofit a faster on-board charger, aside from voiding the warranty and possibly causing other problems, he or she might charge the car quicker, but we’ll leave this discussion at that).

And if these aren’t enough qualifiers for you, consider also the “EVSE” (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment). Often mislabeled the “charger,” these matter as do the amount of volts and amps of the circuit it’s plugged into.

To sort of level the playing field, our list below focuses on official manufacturer ratings for 240 volt – AKA “level 2″ or “220” volt – power fed through a “charger” (actually the blandly titled EVSE.)

EVSE

 

A 240-volt EVSE is something most EV owners choose to install. If you want to plug into 120-volt “house” current with the included cord, plan on it taking around a day and a night or longer to recharge a depleted battery.

EVSE units are basically a fancy switch with safety built in to prevent unfortunate things like you electrocuting yourself, or taking or delivering more power than would be copacetic.

They plug with a special multi-pin connector into the car – usually an SAE J1772, but Tesla (like Apple) which likes to zig when everyone else zags – has gone its own route with a proprietary plug and port, but offers adapters.

bosche_evse

The EVSEs sold today vary in their maximum amperage and kilowatt output and thus can serve as another effective bottleneck.

Manufacturers typically quote level 2 recharge times based on the assumption that you are using the most potent 240-volt EVSE possible, often 30 amps with kilowatts varying.

If an EV can take more amps or kilowatts, that means it can replenish more “miles of range per hour” as Tesla puts it.

These details are not always spelled out in graphic detail by EV sellers, but the good news is it is not advanced astrophysics. When we asked every EV maker in America today to answer the same list of questions, we got varying degrees of transparency. Some did not know all the answers, some failed to even get back to us, and Fiat (Chrysler) took the cake as being the most crystal clear in its answers to the spirit of what we were asking.

“Amperes are everything when it comes to recharging. Charge time is directly proportional to amps,” replied Chrysler media rep Jiyan Cadiz. “A simple example would be, if you install the AeroVironment Level 2 EVSE (30 amp service) offered through Mopar on a 20 amp circuit, the charge time would be 1/3 slower (or 20 amps/30 amps = 2/3 max energy draw into the car).”

And we’ll add, if you buy a 15 or 25 amp EVSE and plug in a car set up for 30 amps or more, you have again effectively handicapped your recharge time.

On the other hand if your car can only accept 30 amps, and you plug in a 40-amp EVSE, software will limit the input, and it will charge no faster than at 30 amps.

We could go on and on adding qualifiers to this, but the simple answer is if you want fastest recharge times, the correct thing to do is to ask the automaker or a charging equipment supplier what’s the fastest way to go.

Among EVSEs, Tesla offers the most potent – its High Power Wall Connector (HPWC) – with up to 80 amps deliverable to cars with “twin chargers.”

high-power-wall-connector
 

This, by the way, is the answer to how Tesla at “level 2” can charge a Model S quicker than a Mitsubishi i-MiEV. The Tesla also costs around four times more, so go figure.

Tesla advertises that 62 miles range per hour gets added back to a Model S using its HPWC under ideal conditions of voltage, amperage and wire gauge size at minimal length. We know of one Model S Signature Performance owner who uses all 80 amps of his HPWC plugged into a dedicated 100-amp circuit, and gets only 54 miles per hour range.

Quicker Options

 

Beyond home charging, a few cars accept what’s called “level 3” or “DC Quick” charging. These expensive-to-install public EVSE deliver around 480 volts and a whole lot of amps. Tesla also has its public free “superchargers.”

Final Note

 

NEMA_14-50_plug
 

If you plan to install a charger at home – for any brand EV – you will want to ensure the amperage of the line is up to the needs of the charging equipment, and ideally, use a “dedicated circuit.”

In other words, do not also run an air conditioner or clothes dryer on the same circuit, or this will limit the power to your car, and may even overload the circuit if it is not set up for this much draw.

EV Recharge Times

 

This list for U.S. market cars assumes the battery is fully drawn down to the point that its battery management system (BMS) has stopped the car.

All these EVs can be plugged into ordinary wall current, and some drivers may be fine with that. Recharge times listed however are for the quickest level 2 recharge either estimated or as stated (often in ballpark terms) by the manufacturer.

For cars that specify a “preferred EVSE supplier” in most cases (except Tesla) it’s not required you go with only this supplier.

Honda Fit EV – under 3 hours

 

2013_Honda_Fit_EV1
 

Its smaller 20-kwh battery recharges quickly with a fast 6.6-kw on-board charger at 32 amps.

House current recharge time is estimated at 15 hours. Level 3 is not now available.

Leviton is the preferred EVSE manufacturer.

60-kwh Tesla Model S – 3.35 hours

 

Going with Tesla’s “62 miles of range per hour” quoted recharge rate with its HPWC, the 208 miles EPA-rated range of the 60-kwh car should be replenished in 3.35 hours. This assumes the twin on-board chargers rated at 20 kw.

Tesla_Model_S_Sunset

With only the single standard 10-kw onboard charger, or an EVSE rated at lower amps, times increase. Tesla quotes 31 miles of range per hour with level 2 and using its included Mobile Connector.

If Supercharger compatible, 150 miles of charge range can take under 20 minutes.

Preferred EVSE supplier for its proprietary charge port is – you guessed it – Tesla. For more details, check out Tesla’s interactive Web page.

Ford Focus Electric – 3.6 hours

 

Ford-Focus-Electric-Feature-1213

The Ford Focus Electric’s 6.6-kw onboard charger and 30 amps makes for a rapid recharge.

Level 1 recharge time is estimated at 18 hours, and the car does not accept level 3.

Ford’s preferred EVSE supplier is AeroVironment.

Nissan Leaf – less than 4 hours

The 2013 models now have a 6.6-kw on-board charger either standard or optionally, and accept a maximum 30 amps.

IMG_9866

Previously the 3.6-kw charger was a bottleneck making recharge times for the 24-kwh battery closer to 7 hours. Preferred EVSE supplier is AeroVironment.

House current takes around 16 hours and a DC Quick Charge via a CHAdeMO port allows for 80-percent charge in an estimated 30 minutes or less.

Fiat 500E – less than 4 hours

 

Fiat_EV_FT013

Tied with Nissan’s time for level 2, the Fiat 500E also has a 24-kwh battery and 6.6-kw on-board charger.

Estimated charge time for level 1 is longer at 24 hours. Level 3 charging is not available.

AeroVironment is the preferred EVSE supplier.

85-kwh Tesla Model S – 4.27 hours

 

This one takes more asterisks than usual. Tesla likes to hedge answers, and indeed a lot of variables come into play.

The theoretically quickest time assuming Tesla’s “62 miles per hour” recharge rate with Tesla’s HPWC for its 265 miles EPA-rated range should be 4.27 hours with twin on-board chargers.

model-s-red-palosverde_1

If Tesla’s “300” miles range often quoted is indicated on its range readout – and as mentioned, depending on your real-world recharge rate – time could be longer.

“A Supercharger can charge about half the battery in 20 minutes,” says Tesla.

If equipped with only one 10-kw on-board charger, max amperage is cut in half to 40 amps, and charge times go up commensurately.

The Model S touch screen for fully equipped models allows charging input from 5 amps to 80 amps (in single amp increment/decrement settings) with all home or public charge options.

If you wish to use only house current, recharging at 12 amps at 120 volts could take up to 52 hours, 24 minutes.

For a fuller idea of variables, we suggest perusing Tesla’s Web page.

RAV4 EV – 6 hours

 

Toyota’s Tesla-powered EV is actually estimated at “5-6” hours with its preferred EVSE supplier Leviton delivering 40 amps and 9.6 kw. The RAV4 EV also comes with a 12-amp Level 1 cable, but the maker “strongly” recommends the Leviton level 2 unit and does not even quote how long it takes at level 1.

2013-Toyota-Rav4-EV-Action

Note this unit delivers more power for the medium-large 42-kwh battery than other EVs can take and it still takes longer than most.

If Tesla had outfitted the RAV4 EV with Model S recharging technology, and even made it Supercharger compatible, that might have put this EV at the top of the list, but the omission is no surprise.

Toyota says it will only produce 2,600 RAV4 EVs for California through the end of 2014.

Smart ForTwo ED – 6 hours

 

Charging_Station_Stuttgart_2013

The Daimler-made Smart ForTwo ED comes with a smallish 17.6-kwh battery and takes around 6 hours with a lower-capacity on-board charger.

House current recharging is estimated at around 14 hours, and charging from 20 percent to 80-percent takes around 10 hours.

Bosche is the preferred EVSE supplier.

Chevrolet Spark EV – 7 hours

 

2014-Chevrolet-SparkEV-058-medium

GM only gave its 21-kwh battery a 3.3-kw onboard charger, so its level 2 EVSE from preferred supplier Bosche delivering 30 amps takes longer and charging on house current does too, at 20 hours.

If the car had an on-board 6.6-kw / 32-amp charger like the Honda Fit does it might placed second from the top instead of second to last.

The upside is a SAE combo DC fast charger promises to charge the battery to 80 percent in just 20 minutes.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV – 7 hours

 

i-MiEV

The i-MiEV’s 16-kwh battery takes around 7 hours to recharge at level 2.

Mitsubishi is bold enough not only to offer the car in 50 states, it also confesses level 1 recharge time is 22.5 hours with the supplied cord.

The car also accepts DC quick charging via a CHAdeMO port that can replenish 80-percent charge in 30 minutes.

Relevance?

 

For those who want to travel the farthest in a day, quicker options can mean less “range anxiety.”

For example, a Nissan Leaf zapped back mid-day with a quick charger, may travel 150 miles or more, if the owner is resourceful, or fortunate enough to have charging options.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Nissan Leaf Review – Video

Range for any EV can also be extended with any sort of intra-day charging, so speed can make a difference.

Obviously many other factors play into whether an EV is a good decision, and this is not intended as any sort of buying guide.

However, if you were curious now you have all the US-market EV charge times in one spot, but remember, “your actual results may vary!”

 

Sep 19

Spark EV infographic helps drum up more interest for the limited-market car

 

Chevrolet’s latest infographic for its 2014 Spark EV along with its whimsical etiquette list is another attempt at more-than hinting the car can be fun.

Without actually saying so itself, Chevrolet also quotes recent reviewers who attest to their view that the Spark EV is “fun,” “spunky” and a “hoot to drive.”

“Spark EV is the new benchmark for electric cars aimed at urban driving and a kick in the pants to pilot around town,” Chevrolet quotes Lindsay Brooke, senior editor, SAE International magazines as saying. “Spark EV owners who are new to all-electric driving will soon find out how difficult it is to hide their silly grin when they realize how far that car will take them for pennies on the dollar.”

 

Actually, benchmark status notwithstanding for the 119 MPGe subcompact, GM is only dipping its toes in the EV waters by launching it in Oregon and California, with “sales expanding to Canada, South Korea and Europe later.”

Chevrolet has offered no word yet on when the other 48 U.S. states will get this superlative EV that zips from 0 to 60 in less than 7.6 seconds with its electric motor delivering 130-horsepower, 400 pounds-feet of torque.


 

Perhaps as it puts out light-hearted ad spots with the car attracting skateboarders and driving on a building’s roof, and what not, Chevrolet is gauging interest as it plans how and when the rest of its home country will get the car priced at $27,495 before subsidies?

Meanwhile, Chevrolet says “getting plugged-in to an all-electric, no-gas-required lifestyle will be a new experience” and offers the following tips:

SparkEVetiquette02-medium

• Recharge daily – And do it quicker with the soon-to-be-available SAE combo charger for DC fast charging. It can recharge the 21-kWh lithium-ion battery pack to 80-percent capacity in 20 minutes.
• Extend range – Maximize the mini-car’s EPA-estimated 82 miles (130 km) of driving range by recharging in public charging stations, or use Spark EV’s standard 120V cord in any outlet.
• Don’t be a juice hog – Public charging stations are in high demand. After charging, move on so that other EV owners can recharge. Or if parking conditions allow, place a note on your dashboard saying it’s okay to unplug your car if the Green Light indicating a full charge is flashing.
• Know the distance – The available BringGo smartphone app can help Spark EV owners know how far they can go without recharging by providing full-function, in-dash navigation via Chevrolet MyLink as well as live traffic updates, for less than $60.
• Go with the flow – Many EV owners like to maximize range by driving at or below the speed limit. No problem, just steer clear of the fast lane so other Spark EV drivers can enjoy their instant torque.
• Be loud – The Pedestrian Friendly Alert Function projects a light chirp and calls attention to Spark EV’s presence. Pulling the turn signal lever back while in Drive will give a friendly honk. The alert can be set to activate automatically in Drive and Reverse at speeds below 18 mph (28 km/h).
• Enjoy the savings – Spark EV can save its owners approximately $9,000 in fuel over five years compared to the average new vehicle – that’s $150 per month that can be spent on something else.
• Be an EV advocate – Expect to get lots of questions about Spark EV. Take these opportunities to spread the advantages of going gas free.

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This last bullet point: “be an EV advocate” and “expect to get lots of questions” might also lead one to ask the “question” whether Chevrolet is being as much the “advocate” as it can with its EV sold in a couple of the most ardent EV adopting states (if we don’t count Atlanta, Ga.).

Maybe Chevrolet wants to see whether people will really clamor for the car it teases to 50 states, but offers to two?

Should we start a list of intenders like Lyle did for the Volt?

 

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.

battery_history
 

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.

phone_Modulgo

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.

WESP
 

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.

i3

 

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.

Styling

 

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, http://www.hybridcars.com/2013-ford-c-max-hybrid-review-video/

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.

Competitors

 

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.