Sunday, November 29, 2009

Confessions of An Economic Hitman - Interview with the Author

Many of you have no doubt heard of the book, "Confessions of An Economic Hitman" by John Perkins. Essentially, Mr. Perkins was recruited to work for the World Bank and organizations like USAID to convince certain developing nations to become indebted to the World Bank in order to develop infrastructure (roads, utilities and the like) that mostly benefited the wealthy of those countries and ultimately neutralized them politically while enabling extractive industries, mostly oil, to take all they wanted.

Over the years, Perkins had a change of heart as he saw the results of his work. He is a brave man to have written the book given the stakes involved. His detailing of the inner workings in this two-part interview is riveting.

What does this have to do with EVs and energy? Knowing how the world economy is manipulated by these truly evil people, and that much of their wealth stems from oil that you buy, will give you that much more of a reason to make the switch to domestic renewable energy when given the chance next year.

Part I:

Part II:


Friday, November 13, 2009

Nissan's Leaf falls gently to Earth in LA

Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault/Nissan, was on hand to introduce the new Nissan Leaf electric car this morning at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. A large crowd of media and EV enthusiasts were on hand to drive the Nissan Versa test vehicle sporting the electric drive train of the Leaf.

The Versa is very close in size and weight of the Leaf, so the driving characteristics are pretty much what you'll see in the Leaf itself when Nissan brings it to market next fall.

Acceleration was quite good even when going uphill with the weight of three adults. Nissan's Larry Dominique says 0-60 is under 10 seconds, quick enough for most folks. Regenerative braking will be automatic with two levels, a very mild deceleration similar to what you feel when you lift your foot from a gas pedal in an internal combustion car, and a slightly stronger regen you can employ by moving a lever. It wasn't clear if the car will be enabled to "freewheel" like my RAV. For hypermilers such as myself, freewheeling is very important. I assume they'll incorporate it eventually if it's not already there.

I found the car to be a bit more attractive in person than in the photos. It's distinctive without being bizarre. The lines are clearly drawn with a low drag coefficient in mind and this accounts for the ability to average about 4 miles per kWh.

The car comes equipped with a lithium manganese battery pack made by Nissan partner, NEC. The capacity is a mere 24 kWh, 3 less than my RAV's NiMH battery holds.

The first model year comes equipped with a 3.3 kW charger that will upgrade to a 6.6 kW charger in the next model year. I confirmed that you will be able to upgrade the 3.3 to a 6.6 charger should you want to (trust me, you will want the faster charger). The Leaf will also be able to charge from a 50 kW DC charger as well. Nissan intends to install 50 of these fast chargers throughout California next year in anticipation of the cars coming to market. Fast charging will allow you to greatly extend your range without having to wait for a long charge.

This picture shows the two charge ports located under the Nissan badge in the front of the car. Level 1&2 charging will happen with the plug on the right, and level 3 fast charging with the plug on the left.

Ghosn confirmed rumors that Nissan would sell the car, but lease the battery. This initially troubled me given the problems we had a few years back when GM, Toyota and others recalled the leased EVs to destroy them, but the logic of leasing the battery works in this case.

Nissan expects to sell the car for about what a comparable gas burner would cost, somewhere in the neighborhood of $30K (this price is before the $7,500 federal tax credit and any applicable state tax credits). The gas burner would, of course, need gas, oil changes, tune ups and smog checks, so you need to add those operational costs to the total lifetime cost of ownership. With the Leaf, you pay about the same for the car, but the battery lease payment, combined with the kWh you buy to charge the battery, will be about the same or slightly less than the gas costs for the internal combustion car. You also get numerous other privileges with the Leaf, such as never spending a single minute at a gas station, no tune ups or oil changes - and the big one - you get to drive without guilt.

Ghosn is the first CEO of a major car maker to mention the guilt line. That's because he's the first to offer a car that can be driven on 100% renewable electricity. One of the journalists in attendance offered that he had coined a great marketing tag with his comment about guilt-free driving. I expect we'll see that in the ad campaign once they get it cranked up.

I have to say, this was a very satisfying event. Instead of Plug In America showing up with protest signs like we used to do, we now get to come to these great events where progressive companies like Nissan are making high quality electric vehicles and rushing to get them to market. I heard a rumor that Nissan will start taking reservations in February. You'd be smart to go to their website and give them your name now.

Lots of Plug In America members were there. In this picture, we see PIA documentarian, Stefano Paris, Director, Chris Paine, political gadfly extraordinaire, Dency Nelson, myself and the one and only Chelsea Sexton. Chelsea, by the way, was THE hot interview of the day. Virtually all the media wanted her opinion of the Leaf. From what I heard, she liked it every bit as much as I.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A "Peak" Into the Future - Not So Pretty

As if we needed anything more to worry about, we read today in The Guardian that the U.S. has pressured the International Energy Agency to lie about the level of worldwide oil reserves. Ostensibly, this was done because revealing the true level of reserves would cause a financial panic since, well, we don't have much of an alternative to turn to.

"The world is much closer to running out of oil than official estimates admit, according to a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency who claims it has been deliberately underplaying a looming shortage for fear of triggering panic buying.

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves."

This is important because once the economy improves, and it becomes apparent that global oil production cannot meet increased demand, the radically increased price will wreak havoc with the world's economies. We're already weakened from the Great Recession. A dramatic run up in the price of oil will cause many jobs to disappear overnight just as consumer goods, food and energy costs rise.

And we're what, still a full year from the first wave of plug-ins to come to market?

I'll be curious to see how the media plays this one. Do they ignore it, or do they begin to inform people that we're about to go up a stinky creek, and um, you better take a paddle with you.

"A second senior IEA source, who has now left but was also unwilling to give his name, said a key rule at the organisation was that it was "imperative not to anger the Americans" but the fact was that there was not as much oil in the world as had been admitted. "We have [already] entered the 'peak oil' zone. I think that the situation is really bad," he added."

If that comment doesn't send a chill down your spine, you should read it again.

This report should make the front page of every newspaper, but I fear it will be buried.

All I can say is we better push for viable plug-in cars to get to market sooner than later. Everyone reading this blog should pay close attention to who's making what kind of EV and be ready to act when they do get to market. Once the peak is evident, it'll be too late to get one at MSRP.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

GM Insider Admits Company Knew Consumers Demanded Efficient Vehicles Decades Ago

I try to only talk about the future of EVs here, but this story from the past got my attention.

It's from a blog called All Cars Electric and is titled "GM Insider Admits Company Knew Consumers Demanded Efficient Vehicles Decades Ago."

This is a pretty astounding admission.

"As McManus said, "The survey would estimate that people would estimate fuel economy fairly highly. Being a good economist, I said, 'No, they don't,' and I changed the results. [...] Our job was not to seek the truth, but to justify decisions that had already been made."

So, as we go forward toward this new electric future, keep in mind that when big dollars are involved, you can expect that not everything the car makers, the utilities and even the regulators tell us is going to be true.