Sunday, December 26, 2010

An exciting ride in a VERY fast EV!

If you give engineers enough time and money, they can design some amazing products. Witness the Peraves E-Tracer, winner of the tandem division of the Progressive Automotive X-Prize.

This amazing 2-seat enclosed "cabin" electric motorcycle can travel close to ten miles on a kWh of energy while traveling 70 mph on the freeway. That's the equivalent of about 350 miles per gallon!

My buddy, Stefano Paris, drove this amazing vehicle to the beach on Sunday and enticed me away from my friends at the rings with the promise of an extended test drive on the LA freeways.

This is the view from the cockpit as Stefano arrived at the beach. Stares from everyone!

My friend, Alexandra, tried to convince me she should get the ride, but I wasn't about to give up my turn in the E-Tracer for anything!

Stef wanted to drive across town to Pasadena to visit a friend. So, I settled into the back seat, which looked very cramped until I got in and found my legs could stretch out fully making for a very comfortable ride.

The E-Tracer, being an enclosed motorcycle, presents an interesting problem when coming to a stop. Since you can't put your leg down as on a normal motorcycle, you have to flip a lever on the dash which triggers outrigger-style wheels that immediately (within half a second) hit the ground. The noise was similar to that of the wheels being lowered on a jetliner, although much quicker and quieter. When the light turns green, or the traffic clears in front of you, the driver begins moving forward and then hits the "wheels up" lever to get back to two wheels.

We jumped on the freeway and Stefano gave me a taste of what this engineering marvel was all about. Traffic was light, and conditions good, so he just barely opened the throttle and the bike bolted forward like it had all the power in the world. We've all driven cars for years, and everyone knows the feeling of a given vehicle's power to weight ratio. Most cars have generally the same feel, a lot of weight and only moderate power. This was not like that.

The acceleration was an enormous rush! It feels like you have about double the power of a normal car, but with one fourth the weight and virtually no drag.

We zoomed past the car in front of us like it was barely moving. It felt a lot like my exhilarating rides in a Tesla roadster, only instead of having the pedal to the metal, the throttle was barely tweaked.

Cruising at 70, we were consuming a mere 4 kW of power from a motor capable of 150 kW. Stefano says the E-Tracer is geared for a top speed of 200 mph! While we weren't about to test the top end of this bike, we definitely got to test the acceleration. The gearing is set for a fast top speed, so the 0-60 acceleration was something just north of 4 seconds. However, the 60-120 time is a mind-blowing 3 seconds! I only got a slight taste of that since Stef is a careful driver and doesn't want to risk a ticket.

The power plant Stefano had at his control is an AC Propulsion 150. This is the same motor that BMW used in its uber-popular MINI-E, and is the basis of the motor in the first generation Tesla. One big difference is that the E-Tracer is a mere 1260 lbs, less than half that of the Tesla.

The straight cut gears gave out a soft whine much like the EV1. Stefano says the production model will use helical gears which will eliminate the sound all together. Other than the gears, all you can hear is the wind. It's a very quiet ride.The view from inside as we cruised the 110 freeway in downtown LA. Notice the "Tron" advert in the upper right.

The windows are huge from the inside. The visibility is almost as good as being outside, yet you're in a climate controlled environment, protected by a kevlar shell capable of withstanding a pretty serious crash. The people inside, who knows? We did have three point belts, and I felt much safer than on my Vectrix.

One of the other aspects of the E-Tracer that contributes to its phenomenal efficiency is a coefficient of drag - how much air it pushes aside as it travels down the freeway - of only .19. This compares to the Tesla Roadster's .35 and a Hummer H2 of .57.

In LA, Ferraris and Lamborghinis are somewhat common, so while they elicit a longing look from the teenage boys and their close cousins, men in their mid-life crisis, they don't garner near the attention this unique vehicle gets. Everyone who saw this bright yellow bullet with its decals and sleek "Tron-like" appearance strained to get close enough to take pictures. I've never seen so many cameras shooting in my direction! It was like being on a movie premiere red carpet. What fun! When we were going through downtown LA and the traffic slowed to a crawl, cars on both sides of us jockeyed to get pictures. Given the speed, we had to drop the balancing wheels several times which must have looked really bizarre to those behind us.

Being a careful driver, Stefano didn't go very fast, but now and then, he would tweak the throttle to show the 7 series Beemer next to us that, well, there is no contest here. I was jonesing for a Ferrari, or even better, a Tesla, to pull up beside us so we'd have some decent competition, but the BMW was the fastest car we got to blow the doors off of.

Before heading back to Santa Monica, we stopped by the home of Alec Brooks, one of the leading designers of the modern EV, and a central character in "Who Killed the Electric Car?". Alec knows this motor well having worked for both AC Propulsion and Tesla in his storied career. Few people on the planet could have the appreciation Alec has for what this vehicle represents.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A discussion with an EV denier

This is a thread I contributed to today with a fellow on an EV list.

It's an example of what I do every day. It's weird, but I spend a lot of time commenting on various websites and in response to all manner of people who for some reason find fault with electric vehicles. Whether it's because they don't understand the truth of the technology and are therefore just ignorant, or they have some malice toward what it means politically to switch away from oil to electricity, they are compelled to spend energy fighting this technology.

Anyway, the following consists of three emails with someone who took issue with EVs without responding to direct questions. You may enjoy reading them.



You state, "Although our military may be used in some fashion to help
protect our oil interests and plays a factor in our low priced oil, I
do not readily accept the numbers you provided."

Fine, tell me the number you do accept. You cannot be saying that you
think this number is zero, can you? Is the life of a soldier worth
zero? Or, was the trillion dollar cost of the Iraq war (so far) not
based in fact? Do you have another number to share? Or, are you
suggesting that the Iraq war had nothing to do with oil? Which is it?
What are your numbers?

You state, "I happen to feel that there are many other concerns facing
the world far more serious than reducing our use of oil."

So? Does this mean you do nothing about our use of oil because there
are other concerns that are more serious? Can you not multi-task? Do
you not brush your teeth because there are more important things than
brushing your teeth?

Just because there are more important things than reducing our use of
oil does not excuse any of us from reducing our use of oil. The
problems associated with the use of oil are massive and far reaching.
They include enormous pollution of our biosphere, the weakening of our
economy (the purchase of foreign oil is a full 45% of our foreign
trade deficit!), and the national security issues that come from
funding our enemies by purchasing oil from them. Maybe you can list a
few problems that are worse than these (I have a hard time coming up
with any), but for you to claim that you can't be bothered doing
anything about it sounds pretty insincere.

You state, "Any saving of oil that I personally contribute to is so
minuscule that it is meaningless."

Boy, this is a great statement! I assume you don't vote either? Are
you teaching your children that anything they do to make the world
better is "meaningless" because, "hey, you're only one person"? Way to
go, dad.

You state, "The day you convince high school kids across the nation to
ride bikes, walk, or take the school busses to school instead of
driving their cars I will consider limiting my use of fuel."

This is the noise Republicans and other climate change deniers make
when dismissing our attempts to pass measures that will limit CO2.
They say the same thing about China and India. "We won't make a move
to do the right thing till they do it first". These are not the words
of a good citizen.



You state, "And, be careful in accusing me of contributing garbage. I
have found when someone is only interested in furthering their own
views they tend to call other people's views garbage. Respect
an other man's opinion and you will advanced your cause further.

I used the term because I'd asked you at least twice to tell us why
you refuse to count the externalities in your calculations. You never
responded until now, and the response, I must say, leaves a lot to be
desired. I considered your remarks to be garbage because you were
stating things that were just not true and you were refusing to answer
specific questions. When you respect others by answering their
questions, others might treat you with respect.

You state, "The bottom line is that if you begin with the carbon
infrastructure that is already in place and the present cost at the
pump to the customer and compare it to the cost of unsubsidized
batteries it is more expensive to operate an electric car over a ten
year period than a comparable gasoline car."


It's also true that if you ignore the external costs of dirty energy
for over a century and millions die in the meantime, and you just keep
on ignoring these unpleasant realities, that you can keep on going as
though there are no problems - until your kids have to go die in a war
over oil, until your wife gets cancer and dies, until your nation's
economy collapses and you are fighting for survival with all the
crazies out there with guns. Yes, these things are indeed true.


(In response to Oliver's contention that Nissan wasn't serious about their EV program)

Whatever. If you knew anything about the auto industry and how hard it
is to design, produce and market a new car, especially one with a
completely different type of drivetrain, you'd be more willing to cut
Nissan some slack. But if you want to be angry at them, fine. It's not
going to hurt them one bit. We're going to be sold out on the LEAF for
at least two years, and probably more. Your comment that "Nissan may
have to pull the plug on the whole deal" is crazy talk. Nissan is
spending multiple billions on the EV bet. They are "all in" as they say.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Nissan Delivers, Others Queue Up

We have reached the turning point when internal combustion has met its maker, so to speak. The world's fourth largest car maker, Nissan/Renault, makes millions of gas-burners, but Saturday, they began the transition to electric in earnest. Nissan could have delivered the first LEAF to a celebrity to get maximum coverage but, to their credit, they delivered it to Olivier Chalouhi, CTO of a tech company in the Bay Area who happened to be the first person to put down a $99 deposit. I like that!

Here is North American Nissan's Chairman, Carlos Tavares giving the keys to a very happy Chaloudi.
Photos by Marc Geller

Nissan will be alone in the market only briefly, as several transport trucks left Detroit yesterday loaded with dozens of Volts headed for eager recipients waiting with cash in hand.

As reported in the Detroit Free Press, "GM said it expected a total of 160 Volts to ship this week to its initial launch markets: California, Austin, Texas, and metro New York City and Washington, D.C."

And at last month's LA Auto Show, both Honda and Toyota indicated their intent to re-enter the EV market with announcements of the electric Honda Fit and the re-introduction of Toyota's well-loved electric RAV4 this time sporting a Tesla drive train.

I've sold 54 LEAFs so far, and as word spreads through the main stream media, inquiries are flowing in from all quarters. People just now learning of the EV revolution want to get in on the action, but patience is warranted since the numbers of cars will be limited at first. I can attest to the frustration at the slow roll out of the LEAF as many of my customers are asking "when is my car coming?" All I can say is "soon".

In addition to the manufacturers named above, we'll soon see EVs from Ford, Mercedes, Volvo, Mitsubishi, Coda, Fisker, Think and of course, Tesla.

The late comers needn't worry that the Volt and LEAF will gobble all the pent up demand since the first EVs to hit the market will do nothing but generate intense interest and demand for any car with a plug.

The recent rise in gas prices serves as a reminder of what happened in 2008 when gas hit north of $4. We all know that it can - and will - happen again. Those in line now to get their EV will avoid the worst of the damage when those prices inevitably rise.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I've never done a blatant ask of this kind in my blog before, but I'm making an exception.

As many of you know, Nissan has been taking a dozen LEAFs on tour through the west coast, and eventually across the country. At each stop, they are putting about 1500 people behind the wheel for a test drive. After the test drive, you are encouraged to stand in front of a camera for 30 seconds saying anything you want about the experience. The video that gets the most votes is the winner of a brand new LEAF.

As you can imagine, people are pulling out all the stops with clever and interesting spiels. I've even voted for a video or two for friends who did a very admirable job and who deserve a free LEAF (you know who you are:~).

However, my friend Stephen Johnsen, long time member of Seattle's large and vibrant electric vehicle association, has produced what I think is the winning spot. I apologize to my friends (you know who you are:~), but I'm sending Stephen's video out to 2,500 people and putting it on my blog.

Stephen is a great guy, he's done a lot for the movement. AND he'll be charging the LEAF on that squeaky clean grid mix in Seattle! Coal and natural gas combined are only two percent of the mix, all the rest is zero CO2. That's clean!

So go here to see Stephen's great 30 second LEAF spot. And spread it around to your friends.

Oh, and you might get a kick out of Stephen's description of his test drive. It's typical of how the LEAF makes you feel.

As for my LEAF test drive experience... My friend Chad and fellow SEVA member Ron Easley went down and test drove the LEAF Sunday. I was very pleased with the quality and all the thought put into the driver display and neat options like using your I-Phone to pre-select the cabin temperature and also having the car email you about charging conditions or if you forgot to plug it in! These are things that you don't even get with an infernal combustion vehicle! I'm a big fan of EV things that not only meet but exceed people's expectations.

Another thing I thought was cool was seeing the 6 Aerovironment Level 2 charging stations on their make-shift fence and the big Level 3 Fast Charger on the back of the Semi truck!
I also learned that you can negotiate with Nissan and Aerovironment to simply purchase a home Level 2 charging station for only $721 if you want to have your own electrician install it (It's really a simple 30A device)

As far as handling... the car has some spunk! It is quite fast and would do well for showing your friends that EVs can get up and go! I was able to really floor it and get some wheel slippage with the traction control ON and my friend Ron could burnout with the traction control off. I got to thinking, if I had gone so fast that I rolled the LEAF in the parking lot would I be "TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF" This vehicle is a real game changer and I believe Nissan deserves major Kudos for making a pure battery electric vehicle that people would actually want to drive.

Sincerely, Stephen Johnsen
P.S., If you Supercharge a LEAF do you use a "LEAF BLOWER" acha, cha, cha, cha I got a million of 'em...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plug In America's Gas and Electric PSAs

Lauren de Long with Director, Eric Swenson's Roadster
Photo: Stefano Paris

This is a big week for Plug In America. For several months, we've been revamping our website, and this week it was made live. Well, I say "we", but it was really our IT director, Richard Kelly ably assisted by one of our hardest working volunteers, Colby Trudeau. The two of them have created a much more user-friendly site chock full of great information and featuring a couple of interesting and useful new items.

With the new wave of EVs about to break, most of the media's stories have shifted away from "whether the EVs will come" to stories about "where are we going to charge these cars". Consequently, questions about EVSE (Electric Vehicle Service Equipment, commonly known as charge stations) are everywhere. To help those who are about to become new EV owners, Plug In America has created the first ever EVSE tracking page. There are many good companies getting into the business of manufacturing the devices that will safely transfer the electrons from the grid to your battery, and since you'll need to get one eventually, we thought you might like to learn about your choices.

But what made the news this week, even more than the new website, was the debut of Plug In America's Public Service Announcements. Many of you might recall our plea for funds to help pay the hard costs of making these PSAs back in the spring. We were thrilled when our members stepped up and donated enough money to cover all the hard costs so that the voluntary cast and crew had all the tools (and food!) they needed to produce seven high quality PSAs to be used to educate the general public about plug-in cars.

Many people were involved in the project, but special thanks goes to Producer, Alexandra Paul for coming up with the idea and carrying it through; Director, Eric Swenson, a visual effects DP who now has some great spots for his directing reel; and our Editor, Jeff U'ren who glued it all together seamlessly and even took the time to create a fun 25 minute long "making of" video you don't want to miss.

We released the first two PSAs yesterday and will release another one every 2-3 weeks till all are available. Go to the Plug In America site to view them, and let us know what you think. We want them to get a lot of exposure, so please pass them around to your friends.

Last two photos: Zan Dubin Scott

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Honda is finally on board with plug-ins

Many people new to the EV world may not understand the importance of Honda's announcement about the inevitability of EVs. Honda's new CEO, Takanobu Ito, stated in an interview with Reuters, "It's starting to look like there will be a market for electric vehicles. We can't keep shooting down their potential, and we can't say there's no business case for it."

The story needs some context.

Back when the big six car makers, GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan and Honda were told by California's Air Resources Board (CARB) that they would have to build zero emission vehicles if they wanted to do business in California, there were howls of protest, ultimately resulting in most of these companies pursuing fuel cell technology as the end game for zero emissions. It was this technology that was used to convince CARB to rescind the mandate for battery electrics in place of fuel cell cars.

Honda, along with Toyota and GM, were the leaders in the fuel cell race, but even though the Honda Clarity fuel cell is a beautiful car, it's clearly proving to be problematic to commercialize.

That's why Ito's announcement of the viability of plug in cars is so welcome. It follows closely the Toyota announcement of the resurrection of their fabulous RAV4 EV with a Tesla drive train.

Honda will be showing both a pure EV commuter car concept as well as a plug-in hybrid at the upcoming LA Auto Show. Ito will be there to introduce them himself. This underscores the importance of this announcement since it's the first time the CEO of Honda has come to this show for an announcement of any kind.

We'll have plug-in cars at this show from Honda, Toyota, Nissan, GM and Ford. This will be the last LA Auto Show to which the general public cannot drive in mass produced EV. In every subsequent auto show, the parking lot will boast of ever higher percentages of EVs to gas burners.

That's a good thing for our country's economy, our national security and our environment.

Friday, October 15, 2010

From Protest to Plug-Ins: Plug In America celebrates 5 years of activism

Five years ago, this motley crew known as "", fresh from protests to stop the crushing of the Ford Think, Ford Ranger, GM EV1 and the Toyota RAV4 EV, met for a celebratory weekend retreat at the Mariposa County ranch of Dave Raboy and Heather Bernikoff. We needed to relaunch what had been a grassroots protest group, grown from the burning desire to prevent thousands of great electric cars from being destroyed by the very companies that built them, into an advocacy group that could help rebirth the modern EV. We really didn't know how we were going to do it, but we knew it had to be done. With the addition of a few key board members with very good strategic skills, we earned some serious clout within the federal and state legislative process, created a very effective outreach and education program, and to some degree, we convinced the car makers themselves that plug-in cars were part of their future.

Shown here are Ron Freund, Linda Nicholes, David Lane, Heather Bernikoff, Jennifer Krill, Sherry Boschert, Paul Scott, Ted Flittner, Lisa Rosen, Dave Raboy, Paul West, Mike Kane, Marc Geller, and Kevin Lyons. Not shown is Chelsea Sexton who unfortunately could not attend that weekend, but was Plug In America's first Executive Director.

We endured many frustrations along the way, but eventually, there were successes.

Of singular importance was the premiere screening at Sundance of "Who Killed the Electric Car?". Exiting the hot crowded theater into the freezing Park City night, the realization that we had such an amazing tool to use in getting the word out about electric cars gave me shivers above and beyond the cold air.

(This picture was taken minutes before we saw WKTEC? for the first time. Shown Left to right: Sherry Boschert, Marc Geller, David Lane, Howard Stein, Dave Raboy, Heather Bernikoff, Paul Scott, Zan Dubin Scott, Mike Kane, Ted Flittner, Jennifer Krill, Linda Nicholes, Colette Divine, J. Karen Thomas, Alexandra Paul, Dave Freeman, (?? Please help??), Butch Pash, Chelsea Sexton, Lynda Pash, and Earl Cox)

We knew this film would change things, but we didn't imagine it would become one of the most popular documentaries of all time. The EV movement owes Chris a lot for creating such a fine film, and we'll no doubt go deeper in debt when "Revenge of the Electric Car" releases in the spring.

Through Chelsea Sexton, we found a donor from the east coast who paid for hundreds of WKTEC? DVDs to be sent to all 50 Governors and all of the members of the House and Senate, including the staff of George Bush's White House. This was a significant donation that no doubt contributed to some key Representatives and Senators supporting plug-in vehicle legislation once Obama got elected. Jay Friedland's strategic legislative work helped seal the deal on $14.1 billion dollars in federal support for plug-in vehicles.

This is some of what Plug In America has done for the movement.

We continue to focus our efforts on dispelling myths about plug-ins and educating the public on the importance of this technology.

Virtually all of the reasons we need to make the transition to electricity and away from oil fall into three areas.

The Economy.

From the point you get your EV, unless you drive a lot of long distances, you will never give the oil companies another dime of your money.

Let that sink in.

Consider that you spend between $2,000 - $4000 every year for gas. Sixty percent of that money leaves the U.S., and 90% leaves our respective communities. We spend a billion dollars every day for foreign oil. This constitutes 45% of our national foreign deficit. A thousand million dollars every day, leaving our country instead of staying here, creating jobs and wealth for us.

When you get your EV, your part in that ends.

Think what good your money will do when it is instead spent on local goods and services, creating jobs for your friends and family instead of helping some freaking Saudi Prince buy a freaking palace.

When you get your EV, your part in that begins.

Health and the Environment.

Now, I know there's a lot of "controversy" over climate change, but the science is very clear that our atmosphere is warming, and energy (heat) added to the atmosphere causes more frequent and more intense storms. The only "scientists" in opposition to this position are paid by those who are heavily invested in maintaining the status quo - staying dependent on dirty carbon-based energy.

The costs of Katrina-type events, combined with record heat waves and snowfalls, will only increase.

With global population increasing by 85 million each day, the pollution problem grows right along with it. India and China are rapidly industrializing, building millions of cars and hundreds of coal plants. Peak oil is pretty much here, and its effects will likely be felt within two to three years. You can argue those time lines, but you'd be a fool to not plan for the worst.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, for every gallon of gas burned, there are 28 cents in health and pollution costs generated. University of Southern California Cancer Center published a report that documented thousands of cancer cases along the freeways and downwind of the refineries in Southern California.

None of these costs are paid by those who buy the gas.

National Security.

According to a recent RAND study, we annually spend about $75-$80 billion to protect and gain access to foreign oil. This figure is exclusive of the war in Iraq.

When you buy a gallon of gas, you pay nothing for that.

We have never fought a war over electricity and we never will.

Broadly speaking, these are the reasons we have to transition from oil to electricity, the sooner the better. Making this happen is Plug In America's central focus. All of our efforts are geared toward expediting this transition.

This is why you need to support us by coming to our party and helping us celebrate the historic moment when the transition begins. We want to share this moment in history with our friends and supporters who have been there to help us when we needed you.

We have a great evening planned with several examples of the first wave of new electrics, including the Volt and LEAF situated next to the pool, the Ford Focus EV, Think EV and Chris' Tesla in front as guests walk in, and fresh from winning its category at the Automotive X-Prize is the super efficient, and super fast 200 mph E-Tracer. We'll have it in the interior courtyard where Stefano Paris will be keeping a close eye on this one-of-kind world's best electric motorcycle.

For tickets, go here.

And best of all, the long awaited debut of the seven mysterious Plug In America PSAs. Based on the popular Mac vs. PC ads from Apple, our "Gas Vs. Electric" spots are the ultimate in "edutainment" for the EV world. You don't want to miss these.

Our creative team of director, Eric Swenson, editor, Jeff U'ren, along with producer Alexandra Paul will be showing these slick and funny public service announcements for the first time anywhere. Our entire board is anxious to see them as even we have been kept in the dark. We're told to expect greatness:~)

Sorry for the length of this post, but today was a rainy Sunday in Santa Monica, and so I couldn't go to the rings. It was a perfect day to plop down on the sofa and crank this out while playing with the kittens.



Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Chelsea Tells it like it is, and starts a great comment war

For those of you unfamiliar with the writing of Chelsea Sexton, her blog on GM's creation of a Volt Customer Advisory Board is a must read.

First of all, no one not named Dan Neil is as articulate as Chelsea on the subject of plug-in cars. Her command of language is something many professional writers would envy. And those who have heard her speak on the subject of plug-in cars would say that was her forte. I won't argue that, she's very good at both.

I wanted to send this out to my readers because of the remarkable turn around GM has taken in their EV program. As Chelsea states, "The Volt team is intensely earnest, and I’ve seen several of the executives go giddy over it. But those things will not be enough; the last generation of EV’s didn’t suffer for lack of good cars or sincerity."

Chelsea makes the case for a truly new and improved GM, at least as far as the electric vehicle is concerned.
From crushed EV1s to the remarkable Volt! Solid proof that GMs current management "gets it".

Be sure to read the comments. About half way through, there is some pretty funny repartee from readers assuming various personna.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Testing LEAFs in Santa Monica

This weekend was the first stop on Nissan's public test drive extravaganza. The lead off venue just had to be the 5th AltCar Expo in Santa Monica given its history of teasing us with the potential of "some day soon" production EVs. I spent the previous four iterations of this early October expo in a Plug In America booth with veteran PIA board members and a legion of well educated volunteers dispensing our brochures and telling folks of the coming alternatives to oil. My prediction after last year's AltCar that the next one would herald the dawn of the new EV age was spot on. The 2,000 or so lucky people who got a chance to drive the LEAF and Volt would agree.

In addition to the LEAF, the expo had the winner of the Automotive X-Prize, an incredibly fast motorcycle, the E-Tracer, ably demonstrated by Plug In America's own Stefano Paris. Both the Coda and Volt were there available to buy, although delivery for all of these cars would be toward the end of the year. I heard many people have been talking to dealers about putting in orders.

Ironically, this was the first year Plug In America didn't have a booth since Zan and I, who usually take the lead in organizing the booth, were instead working for companies displaying vehicles for sale. Zan was helping AC Propulsion with PR for their part in supplying the drive train for the ultra-fast E-Tracer, and I spent both days assisting the Nissan folks demonstrate their LEAF.

As much as I love informing people about the coming EV revolution for Plug In America, it was vastly more exciting to actually ride with people in an EV that they not only could buy, but one that many of them had already purchased. Well over 500 LEAFs have been sold as Nissan makes its way through the 20,000 "hand raisers" who have deposited $99 for a place in line. Quite a few of my friends, who had never driven an EV, and who bought a LEAF having never seen it, much less driven it, were there to confirm they'd made the right decision.

To a person, they were all excited about the performance of the LEAF. Even the old timers who have driven EVs for years were impressed.
Here's Doug Korthof, the EV movement's bulldog, giving the LEAF a thumb's up after his test drive. Those who know Doug will understand how significant this endorsement is.

One of my favorite customers is ex-Fox News producer, Bob Tarlau seen here displaying his "EV grin".

Steve Factor, my co-worker at SolarCity expresses his disdain for the effluent coming from the tailpipe of a soon-to-be-extinct gas burner. Not soon enough for us, but they will go away eventually.

Last night, after the final test driver had left the lot in Santa Monica, I watched as the crew dismantled the elaborate glass "tents" and loaded the LEAFs on transport trucks. I was suddenly struck by the similarity of this view to that of March 2005 when GM workers loaded the last of the EV1s onto similar trucks and hauled them into the Arizona desert where the jaws of an industrial crusher sealed their fate. Instead, these gleaming LEAFs were being carefully treated by the crew so that at the next stop on the LEAF tour, a few thousand enthusiastic Americans would get to slide behind the wheel and glide through their first experience in a quality EV.

It's my goal to ensure that when this young man is old enough to buy his first car that there will be nothing but plug-in vehicles in the market. He and his friends deserve a world with clean air, a strong economy, and no wars over oil.

Photos courtesy Nissan.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Mandarin Moon Shots

Thomas Friedman makes a very important point in his excellent column published in the New York Times on Saturday.

The gist of the article is that China is looking decades into the future and building the world's biggest network of ultra-modern airports, creating a web of high-speed trains, developing a world-class cell/genetic engineering industry, and lastly, China is investing $15 billion in its fast growing electric vehicle industry.

After laying out this expansive plan that will undoubtedly make China the most powerful nation on Earth, Friedman puts it all into perspective with this:

"Not to worry. America today also has its own multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing moon shot: fixing Afghanistan."


We spend billions to fight wars over oil and China spends billions to get off of oil.

Friedman further states, "... the country that replaces gasoline-powered vehicles with electric-powered vehicles — in an age of steadily rising oil prices and steadily falling battery prices — will have a huge cost advantage and independence from imported oil."

This is the best argument for why it's right and proper that our federal and state governments provide incentives to get the initial cost down for plug-in cars.

Consider that every day our country spends over a billion dollars for foreign oil. That's over a thousand million dollars leaving our country every single day. The longer we wait to end this dependence, the higher the price of oil and the more money we ship out of the country.

What's worse is that 90% of the money we spend on gas leaves our communities. While losing much of it to other countries is bad enough, think how many billions of our dollars are lost to local merchants and industries that would hire our friends and family if only those dollars were spent for locally grown or manufactured goods instead of sent to the overflowing coffers of the oil barons.

Of course, it doesn't stop there. Those oil barons spend millions of "our dollars" hiring effective lobbyists to essentially run Congress, and millions more to affect political contests. Witness the massive fight we have on our hands here in California over Prop 23, a measure that will overturn the will of the citizens of this progressive state who enacted AB32, the country's most progressive climate change legislation. Two Texas oil companies and a couple of right-wing billionaires from Kansas are pouring oil money into this fight.

Those who buy plug-in cars will no longer contribute their own money to be used against them in this manner.

Friedman says. "Europe is using $7-a-gallon gasoline to stimulate the market for electric cars; China is using $5-a-gallon and naming electric cars as one of the industrial pillars for its five-year growth plan. And America? President Obama has directed stimulus money at electric cars, but he is unwilling to do the one thing that would create the sustained consumer pull required to grow an electric car industry here: raise taxes on gasoline."

I don't blame Obama alone for this since there are precious few in Congress who would dare promote raising taxes on dirty energy, yet without those price signals, we'll make slow progress in ridding our country of its addiction to oil.

It comes down to individual citizens and their personal position on dirty energy. Ignorance is no excuse, the information on how coal and oil hurts our country is everywhere, you only need to read it.

Every day wasted making the transition to clean, renewable energy results in more sick and dying citizens poisoned by our collective waste and more dead soldiers sent to protect our access to the dwindling supply of oil.

If you are not in favor of higher prices on dirty energy, you are not an environmentalist, you are not a patriot, and you will share responsibility for the failure of our country to thrive in a future where fossil fuels will no longer be cheap nor plentiful.

Vote accordingly.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Selling Leafs in Santa Monica

My memorable trip in June to Yokohama to test drive the Nissan Leaf concluded with a private lunch with CEO, Carlos Ghosn.

After hearing Mr. Ghosn describe Nissan's plans for electrifying their fleet, and driving this remarkable car on their test track, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to personally help Nissan get the car into driver's hands. One by one, I want to replace those filthy internal combustion engines using 60% foreign oil, with clean, powerful motors using domestically-produced, renewable kWh generated from sunlight and wind.

Plug In America co-founder, Marc Geller, and I with Mr. Ghosn.

Since returning from Japan, I have been talking to various Nissan folks, and ultimately the very nice owner of Santa Monica Nissan. After being offered a position, I decided to go to work for Santa Monica Nissan exclusively selling the Leaf. I'm very excited since I'll still be selling solar PV systems for SolarCity, making me the first person on Earth to sell those two items together.

EV/PV. It has a nice ring.

Coincidentally, Dan Neil, the most talented auto writer in the English speaking world, finally got his turn behind the wheel of Nissan's Leaf. After describing the attributes of the Leaf, he states, "Such a car would have been science fiction five years ago."

Five years ago, Plug In America was deep into the fight with the auto industry to stop the crushing of EVs.

For almost eight years, I've known the day would arrive when well made, highway capable EVs would once again be available, and that when it happened, it would mark the beginning of the transition from oil to electricity as the energy source for our vehicle fleet. I have had the privilege of a front row seat to this amazing sequence of events, and now I want to do more than talk and write about it, I want to literally replace the dirty cars with clean ones.

If you live anywhere near southern California, and are interested in buying a leaf, I encourage you to contact Santa Monica Nissan and ask for me. If you haven't put down your deposit for the Leaf already, go to this Nissan site today and secure your place in line.

Neil makes the comment, "The Leaf also represents one of the most daring bids for market dominance I've ever seen in the car business because no one, and I mean no one, knows if the damned thing will sell."

Well, Dan, I know. I intend to be the number one Leaf salesman in the world. When you are ready for yours, look me up.


Friday, August 13, 2010


Those of you who listen to Ira Flatow's "Science Friday" on a regular basis know how good the show can be.
Tonight was especially good
as Ira had as guests, Mark Perry of Nissan and Tony Posawatz of GM. Both talked of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt respectively.

I urge you all to listen to this show. Intelligent questions were asked by Ira, along with several callers, and both Mark and Tony were spot on with their answers.

Best of all, they were collaborative.

Each car represents a different market niche, and both are needed. Twenty years from now, virtually all vehicles sold will be either fully-electric or some variation of plug-in hybrid.

Rather than trying to one up each other, they spoke of the relative merits of each car. I detected mutual admiration from both parties since they seemed to understand that this is more about electricity vs. gas than Nissan vs. GM.

The sleek Leaf knifes through the air.

The Volt holds Bruce Tucker's upright bass with room to spare.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

GM's Bright Idea

A couple weeks ago, I got a call from John Waters of Bright Automotive to talk about things. I'd heard he might be leaving the company he helped start and was pleasantly surprised to hear his upbeat tone. Turns out, the rumors of Bright's imminent demise were unfounded. He instead indicated there would be a big announcement soon.

This week's announcement of a $5 million investment by GM Ventures to buy a minority stake in Bright was the reason for John's great mood. Bright will now be able to get much closer to a production-ready model of their Bright "Idea".

According to Bright CEO, Reuben Munger, "... GM has taken a minority stake in our company, and will supply advanced powertrains and technology for the Bright plug-in hybrid IDEA vehicle. GM's investment puts us on the fast-track toward mass production of the IDEA as we ramp up development later this quarter."

As I wrote in a previous post, Bright was formed of some of the best EV engineers brought together from the likes of Rocky Mountain Institute, Aerovironment, GM and Andy Frank's UC Davis PHEV program.

Their creation is designed to be light weight and aerodynamic in order to use a minimum amount of energy to get the job done. Millions of fleet vehicles burn millions of gallons gas and diesel every day in the U.S. Keep in mind that 60% of our oil is imported, so anything that can double or triple efficiency is extremely beneficial.

Should the DOE follow through with the loan to get these vehicles into production, there will be thousands of Americans hired in Indiana, a state that could use the jobs.

As for the rest of us, our local post office can trade in their funky, inefficient vans for something that does the same job with a tiny fraction of the energy.

Good for GM. Good for Bright.

Friday, July 16, 2010

RAV Resurrection

There was a rumor recently that Telsa had converted a new model of Toyota's popular RAV4 into an EV. Today, Toyota announced that Tesla will supply the drive train for a resurrected RAV4 EV, possibly to be built at the recently purchased NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA. This is the giant 5 million sq. ft. plant that was the subject of a fascinating story on This American Life in March.

This is really good news for the EV community since the RAV EV has been the most reliable EV from the ZEV mandate days of the late 90s and early 2000s. It also gives consumers a great option if what the family needs is a reasonably sized vehicle that can haul stuff. Both the Nissan Leaf and GM Chevy Volt are great cars, but there is clearly a market for SUVs out there.

Here we are taking possession of our brand new RAV on winter solstice, 2002.

Our experience with the RAV has been nothing short of amazing. The car just works. Other than replacing the shocks at 60K miles, and consumables like tires, aux batteries and wiper blades, there has been virtually no maintenance or parts in 8 years and 84,000 miles.

Some RAV drivers have had their battery packs replaced, but they averaged about 120,000-130,000 miles before doing so.

I can't tell you how many times I've plugged my car in at a public charger and had people engage me in a long conversation about what this vehicle means to society and then express the burning desire to get one just like it. It's happened hundreds of times over the years and each time, I had to tell them, nope, can't do it, they destroyed hundreds of them, and the remaining 800 or so RAV EVs are all there would ever be.

Now I can tell them to wait a year or so and they'll not only be able to buy a RAV EV, but it'll be powered by a Tesla drive train with, we can assume, a LiIon battery pack. We don't know pricing or performance specs, all that will come in due time, but the importance of this announcement is that Toyota is getting back in the EV game. We'll have to update Plug In America's vehicle tracker page to list this popular model.

This leaves Honda as the lone hold out. They are still claiming their Clarity fuel cell vehicle is the end game of alt-fuel vehicles. But as more and more EVs are announced for delivery in the next two years, it seems as the game might end with fuel cell vehicles forever in the on-deck circle, never getting a chance to step up to the plate and bat.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Some Historical Perspective

TEXT OF LETTER (December 23, 2002):

To the Editor:

The Column notes that fuel cell technology, while promising, is unlikely to be viable for decades. We have just taken possession of our new Toyota RAV4 EV, an all-electric car that we will charge with power generated from our rooftop solar panels.

Our new car will easily accelerate up to 80 miles and hour and travel 100 miles on a single charge. Installing a charger at work would give the car a traveling range of 200 miles. More than enough for most folks.

The column says we must cut our dependence on foreign oil. I strongly agree that self-sufficiency is a laudable goal. However, while auto companies go on searching for their fuel cell holy grail, we'll be cruising the streets and freeways of Southern California in a 100 percent pollution-free vehicle using technology that's been around for over a century.

Paul Scott
Zan Dubin Scott
Santa Monica, CA , Dec. 23

I was going through some old papers and came across the letter above that Zan and I wrote to the NY Times back in December of 2002, just days after taking possession of our brand new Toyota RAV4 EV. We had responded to an article about hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars that were all the rage during the early Bush administration. We were so new to the EV world that we didn't know a fight had been brewing for some years over the controversial Zero Emission Vehicle mandate that had forced the auto companies to build electric vehicles, a fight in which fuel cell cars played a pivotal role.

Within two weeks of this letter, we'd organized our first event drawing some 50 EV drivers to our quiet street in Santa Monica. That's when we started meeting all these other activists, some of whom had been working on the issue for a few years. In our naivete, we thought a few protests and a concerted letter writing campaign would suffice to save the EVs from destruction. Boy, were we wrong!

The crucial California Air Resources Board (CARB) meeting of March 2003 stunned us. In spite of overwhelming support by the drivers of these EVs, the Board acquiesced to the demands of the car companies to kill the battery EV in favor of this promising new kid on the block, the fuel cell.

George Bush proclaimed in his 2003 State of the Union speech, “With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen and pollution-free.”

When I heard George Bush say this, it occurred to me that a child born before the Civil War was able to drive a battery EV since that technology dominated the cars of the 1890's. Well, the kids born in 2003 are now seven years old, still a ways from driving age, but much has happened in the intervening years. Virtually all the car companies have announced plug-in vehicle programs (Honda, where are you?), and we're on the cusp of seeing thousands of Leafs and Volts on the roads.

Just this week, Tesla held a very successful IPO becoming the first electric vehicle company to do so. And on Wednesday, Zan and I were invited to see the gorgeous Fisker Karma at the local Santa Monica Fisker dealer. In this picture, newly minted Phd., Shannon Arvizu ("Miss Electric"), joins us in celebrating the moment.

So, as the oil continues to gush into the Gulf, billions continue to gush out of the country to buy oil, and our Congress continues to gush over oil companies' largess to their campaign coffers, the only good news is that, with each spin of the Earth, we get closer to the day when we no longer have to participate in all of that.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Testing the Leaf on Nissan's Yokohama track

Dawn broke early this morning in Yokohama, and I was awake to see it since I was still on west coast time. I also couldn't sleep given this was the day I would finally get to drive the actual Leaf EV, not a converted mule like those I'd driven before.

Nissan flew Marc Geller and me, along with a few auto journalists and bloggers from around the world, to Japan on Monday for a Leaf immersion. We got started early with a hearty breakfast followed by a short bus ride through this large industrial city hard to Tokyo's southern city limits. The streets were amazingly clear of traffic, at least compared to any large American city I've visited. Marc speculated that it might be due to a good mass transit system. Also missing was even a hint of graffiti. Wish that were true of the U.S.

We arrived at Nissan's test track and were brought into a building where we received a thorough overview of the Leaf, along with instructions on how to avoid hitting the birds on the backstretch (hint: stop the car immediately!).

We were each given up to 30 minutes behind the wheel on the track, and I drew the lucky straw to be first. A very nice engineer who had designed many of the exterior features of the car was my instructor. He walked me through the starting process which essentially consisted of pushing a button that triggered a melodic series of notes, one of three you can choose to hear when you start your Leaf. Putting the car in drive is accomplished by nudging the round knob toward you and back, not unlike the dash mounted device on the Prius, but this one is located precisely where your hand naturally rests, so there is no reaching for it.

Ergonomically, the car is a dream. Everything inside seemed to fit my frame perfectly, and I suspect it will for most people. I tried the back seat and there was ample leg room and plenty of head room. Three adults could easily fit in the back seat.

The interior of the car is gorgeous! Like most Japanese cars these days, Nissan is taking pains to make sure as much recycled product is used to manufacture the interior panels, seat fabric and most everything else inside the car. The result feels good tactically and emotionally.

Once I had adjusted the mirrors and fastened the seat belt, it was time to drive. With cameras rolling I glided out of the staging area and onto the track's main straight away, flooring it to see what kind of kick it had. Since I'd driven the GM Volt not too long ago, I could fairly compare the two in terms of acceleration. I'd give the nod to the Volt on that score, but just barely. The Leaf had plenty of power in the lower speeds, but it leveled out just a tad as I got over 60. I didn't try to hit the top speed, but did get over 70 quickly and it was still pulling strong as I let off. On the third lap, I was feeling like I could push the curvy section and did. The car responded perfectly, hugging the road and steering predictably. I learned later that this is a consequence of having the bulk of the weight distributed tightly in the lower center of the car. This eliminates yaw of the vehicle when turning hard. An internal combustion car's front end will pull to the outside since the heavy engine is toward the front of the car. One final test was an emergency brake. I warned the co-pilot so he wouldn't freak out and slammed on the brakes. Just as with the RAV, the stopping ability was very strong. This seems to have something to do with combining the regen of the motor with the disc brakes. It really gives you peace of mind knowing it'll stop so well.

My co-pilot insisted I roll up the windows while we drove so he could demonstrate how quiet the car was. I've driven several EVs over the years, but nothing comes close to being as quiet as my RAV, that is until I drove this Leaf. Total silence, well, except for the tinnitus, but that's all in my head so it doesn't count. I even forgot about the controversial noise that the federation for the blind has insisted be added to all electric vehicles. Many in the EV community have tried to fight the move to add noise to these quiet cars since we think it's not really needed, but legislation is before Congress to do just that. Both Nissan and GM have given in to the demand and added noise to their respective EVs when they are driven at low speeds. After I got out, I didn't recall hearing the noise, so I asked them to demonstrate it. They brought a small gas car, the Nissan Versa, and a Leaf to a separate area and had first the gas car drive slowly toward us, then the Leaf. I could barely hear either of them, but the Leaf did have an audible noise. If you clicked that link, you heard the noise for both going forward and backing up. It sounds very loud in the you tube video, and that's why so many of us got upset that Nissan added such a noise, but in reality, it's barely audible when you're outside the car, and pretty much not audible at all from in the car with the windows rolled up. If there is ambient noise on the street, you probably won't hear it at all. The back up noise is about twice as loud, however, and was a bit obnoxious to me. Both noises can be turned off with the push of a button once the car is on, so it won't be a big problem unless or until the legislation passes and then they'll probably have to eliminate the button that disables the noise on future models.

Here's a picture of the small solar panel you get if you buy the SL version. The energy generated by the panel will help maintain a charge in the car's auxiliary battery to power in-vehicle devices. It's a nice touch and helps people understand that they can power the car's traction battery pack by installing a larger solar PV system on their house.

This photo shows a design of the Leaf that some have found unappealing, the head lamps. We learned today that they were designed to divert the airflow around the side mirrors to improve the coefficient of drag and reduce wind noise. The photo they showed from the wind tunnel seemed to prove the efficiency of the design.

They had three Leafs driving constantly over the course by the 2 dozen invited guests, with most everyone pushing the car to its limits over and over. After we were finished, they plugged in to a couple of 50 kW chargers to replenish the energy. I'd never seen an EV charge so fast! The Tesla HPC charges at about 18 kW and my RAV charges at 6.6 kW. This 50 kW charger took the Leaf's battery pack to 80% full in less than 20 minutes, then the amperage automatically dropped to top off the battery safely. The Leaf is initially coming out with a 3.3 kW charger, but will eventually be built with a 6.6 kW charger. However, as slow as 3.3 kW is, as long as you have one of the Aerovironment fast chargers available near your house, you'll always be able to get charged up in a matter of minutes (the one shown here is a Nissan built charger). Several dozen will be installed in the initial roll out cities with hundreds more planned as the number of Leafs grows throughout the first year. Eventually, there will be thousands of fast chargers along the freeways and inside of cities everywhere. All you'll have to do is drive to your favorite coffee shop and plug in. By the time you've sipped your latte, your car will be full.

The day was capped off with a big dinner on the 70th floor of Yokohama's tallest building. Nissan's top executives were sprinkled throughout the room with our table being graced by Nissan's super-friendly COO, Toshiyuki Shiga. Marc and I bent his ear for most of the dinner, then he was replaced with Hideaki Watanabe, Corporate VP and lastly with Andy Palmer, Senior VP, Product Planning. These executives have bet the bank on the success of their EV program, and Marc and I were happy to tell them their bet is safe.

If you haven't already deposited $99 to get a place in line, go here and do so today.

Thursday, we have lunch with CEO, Carlos Ghosn. I can't wait...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Think Test Drive

There's a whole new class of small, highway capable electric cars preparing to enter the American auto market. These "City Cars", exemplified by the Mitsubishi iMiEV and Mercedes' Smart car, are designed for commuters who are in need of good, inexpensive vehicles that do the job of transporting to and from work while using a minimal amount of energy.

Norway's Think (sometimes written as "Th!nk") is making a strong push for the American market with their recent announcement that they are building a manufacturing plant in Elkhart, IN near Enerdel, the battery manufacturer they have chosen to supply the 24 kWh packs that will power the cars.

Eight Plug in America members were recently asked to come to the Orange County offices of Think to test drive the latest version of this highly efficient EV. Linda Nicholes, past president of Plug In America, has written a great blog on the test drive, so I won't go into too much detail, but I will say that the Think impressed me with its overall performance and handling. It's very similar to the iMiEV in most all respects, and if both are priced appropriately, i.e., a few thousand lower than the Nissan Leaf, they'll sell very well.

Think isn't ready to announce price yet, but they should by the end of the year. As we get into the era of expensive oil, city cars will gain an ever larger share of the market. Easy to drive, easy to park, and they use minimal energy to get the job done. Total cost of operation will be very low relative to even the smallest of gas burners.