Monday, February 22, 2010

BMW will build electric cars in Leipzig

It's been crystal clear for some months that BMW would be making more EVs after getting nothing but high praise for its little 500 car MINI E experiment. Not so much for the logistical foul ups in their haste to deploy the fleet in time for valuable CARB credits, but for the giggle-inducing speedster they unleashed on the world.

Thanks to Tom Gage and Alan Cocconi's world-class motor/controller combo, the famed ACP 150, BMW proved that a mid-priced electric pocket-rocket could be made. With what they learned burning a hole in their corporate pocket, the Bavarian engineers are busily refining designs for multiple electric BMWs.

They plan to build them in Leipzig with the initial cars hitting showrooms around mid-2013.

The first to market will be a subcompact they dubbed the "Megacity" car. It will approximate the MINI E in size, and while I doubt it'll be powered by ACP motors, one can hope.

Considering how many cities the world over are crushed with clogged arteries coursing with pollution-spewing internal combustion vehicles that continue to pollute while sitting in traffic, the thought of a small, easily maneuvered and quick off the line, city car that doesn't pollute at all, will appeal to millions.

Remember, it's never about who can't use a car like that, it's about those who can. Turns out, there are tens of millions who fall into that category.

Tens of millions.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait till the day when it's rare to see an internal combustion car. At some point, they'll be anachronistic reminders of a day when people didn't think twice about spewing poisons into the common airshed. Like smoking in line at the grocery store, you won't believe people used to do it everywhere.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Zan and Paul test the Mitsubishi iMiEV

Last Friday, Chelsea Sexton dropped off the cute little Mitsubishi iMiEV (pronounced I-meev) test car. She and her husband, Bob, had been driving it for a week, and now it was our turn.

This version is a right-hand drive built for the Japanese market. Driving from the right side of a car isn't that hard to get used to, but remembering the turn signal vs. windshield wiper switch took concentration.

According to Mitsubishi, this Smart-sized EV will be aimed at the commuter market which, given the sub-80 mile range, is a perfect fit. The 16 kWh LiIon pack, located under the passenger compartment, keeps the center of gravity low. One of the benefits of having a smaller battery pack is that the overall weight of the car is just a bit north of 2300 lbs.

The driving experience was very good. Acceleration was comparable to our RAV, which is to say, it's not going to beat a Tesla Roadster, but it had no problem accelerating up to speed on the freeway. I particularly liked its cornering ability, and the small size makes it very easy to park just about anywhere. Their engineers must have been listening to us since they incorporated a creep mode into the software. This mimics how a gas car will roll forward when you take your foot off the brake. It's helpful when you're on a hill so you don't roll backward, and it's something you expect, so the experience is very close to what you're used to. The iMiEV is also very quiet, much like the RAV.

There are two modes of regenerative braking, accomplished by shifting into "eco mode". There is no "freewheeling" which will disappoint RAV drivers who like to use this coasting method for hypermiling. When you are in full power mode and lift your foot off the accelerator, the regen is always there at about the same level as that found in a Prius. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I prefer the option to freewheel since I can get better efficiency when driving in heavy traffic.

The instrumentation in this near-production prototype was spare. I want to see a digital readout of my state of charge (SOC), not some approximation from an analog bar. One of the great things about electric vehicles is their ability to travel a predictable distance per kWh. Zan and I don't hesitate to drive the RAV all the way down to the bottom if we need to, because we know precisely how far we can go given we have RAV Info, an after market Palm Pilot program that taps into the RAV's main CPU where all the car's info is. We can see to a tenth of a percent how much SOC we have. All of the EV companies need to adopt something similar, but make it part of the standard instrumentation, not an after market thing.

Charging the iMiEV was simple, we just plugged it into one of our standard 120V outlets in the garage. It's a slow way to charge, but we had the whole night, so that's plenty of time. The Level 2 charging cord set wasn't available, so that's all we could use. Once the car is ready to sell to the general public, we'll see 240V Level 2 charging which is plenty fast for a commuter car.

The iMiEV is a lot roomier on the inside than you would expect from looking at it. Seeing it parked here behind our gas-guzzling Honda Insight, you can see that it's a bit larger than that tiny two-seater. Sitting inside the car, I got the feeling it was even roomier than our RAV.

Pricing is unknown, but rumor has it that they'll be well under $30K. I think it'll sell fast if they can price it about $4K-$5K under the Nissan Leaf. There are millions of people who commute to and from work in huge, inefficient vehicles that are grossly over sized for the task at hand. I think Mitsubishi will get a good share of these people to switch once they get this to market some time in the fall of 2011.

One very sad note, as I was completing this blog, word comes over the net that a small plane piloted by one of Tesla's chief engineers, and carrying two others, crashed just after takeoff from a Palo Alto airport. From what I hear, all the engineers were working on the Model S program. They were on their way to meet with Elon Musk here in LA. The EV community mourns this terrible loss.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


The line for a new plug-in vehicle from a major OEM is now forming with Nissan's announcement that you can register for a first come - first served place in line to get their Leaf.

You can reserve your place in line starting in April for a refundable $100, and confirm the purchase as early as August for a delivery probably in December, or shortly thereafter.

Of interest is that they are confirming you can either buy the car, or lease it. No confirmation on whether you can buy the car and lease the battery. They're still working on how that would work, if at all.

Some might not feel it's important to get one of the first of any particular car, especially since brand new vehicles tend to have some shakeout issues that get fixed in subsequent iterations. However, there are those who like being in the vanguard and want to be the first on their block with exciting new technology.

Well, if you fit that description, you'll definitely want to get on Nissan's list. And GM's for that matter when it starts.

I wasn't that type of guy for most of my life, but I stumbled into the most incredible opportunity in 2002 that literally changed my life forever. My wife and I bought an electric car.

From that point on, we haven't emitted a whiff of pollution while driving.

We stopped going to gas stations entirely.

We never, ever wondered if our car would start and run. It's operated perfectly 100% of the time for over 7 years and 78,589 miles.

All of our energy money stays in our country. Most of it in our own pockets.

We can run our car with energy generated from the sunlight falling on our house.

All of these things making driving a complete and utter joy.

This is why I think Nissan and GM, not to mention BMW, Mitsubishi, Volvo, Mercedes, Ford and all the rest, are going to have a hard time keeping their cars in stock. There will be a strong initial demand followed by huge word of mouth.

And once the inevitable increase in the price of gas occurs, the masses will follow. This is why the smart people are paying attention.

To get on Nissan's list, go to

REGISTER: Interested people can register for more information about the Nissan LEAF on To date, close to 50,000 people have registered on the website. Registrants will be given first priority to reserve a Nissan LEAF.
RESERVE: The reservation process will begin in April, shortly after the announcement of the price of the Nissan LEAF. Upon paying a fully refundable $100 reservation fee, registrants will be among the first in line able to order a Nissan LEAF.
ORDER: Nissan will begin taking firm orders in August, for deliveries when sales begin in the driver’s particular market.
EARLY DELIVERIES: Rollout begins in select markets in December 2010, with vehicles available in all major launch markets quickly thereafter.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Balqon for the heavy EV lifting

I drove through a rare LA rain storm down to Torrance, CA to meet up with fellow Plug In America board members, Mike Kane and Linda Nicholes for a tour of the Balqon facility. Long time readers of this blog will remember our big EV inaugural parade of last January when 78 highway capable Electric Vehicles were paraded down Main St. in Santa Monica to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama. While the Teslas were the glittering stars of the parade, the EV that got the most attention was the Balqon tractor which was capable of hauling a full 60,000 lbs. The Teslas put to rest any talk of EVs being slow, and this big boy silenced any talk of EVs not having towing power.

Full disclosure, I own stock in Balqon.

We spent a couple of hours talking with B. Samra, Balqon's CEO, who as it turns out, has quite a long history in the EV business. Way back in 1992, Samra worked on a deal to bring 3,000 electric trucks to Mexico City where they were used to great effect as delivery vehicles in that dense and polluted city. At least for a while, some of that pollution was displaced by his trucks.

Fast forward to the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach where some of the worst pollution in the U.S. is generated by the thousands of diesel burning rigs that are used for moving the containers offloaded from the ships to be stacked in preparation for distribution throughout the country.

According to Samra, some 16,000 trucks are used to shuttle these containers from the ship to a stack inside the port. Samra told us these trucks are turned on each morning and left running all day long, even during lunch breaks. Since the trucks never leave the port, they only drive an average of 4 miles a day, yet because they are not turned off, they burn an astounding 27 gallons of diesel fuel! The people at the port who are responsible for this atrocity should be fired, but given the union control over employment there, that's not likely to happen.

What should happen is that each and every one of those trucks should be replaced with a vehicle capable of doing the same job but with 100% renewable electricity. Balqon has sold 25 of their trucks to the ports so far, a good start. Considering how many ports there are around the world, the market for this type of vehicle is enormous.

Yard tractors in ports are not the only market. Samra has identified several other applications for heavy duty electric trucks. Balqon has wisely partnered with Autocar, one of the worlds leading truck manufacturers. Combining Balqon electric drivetrains with Autocar trucks, Samra sees opportunities in refuse hauling, street sweepers, airplane de-icing trucks and anything with a low speed duty cycle and 90% off-freeway route. The savings in pollution, energy and money are just what our country needs.

To the left is one example of Balqon's electric drivetrain with the batteries in the green cases and 240 kW motor underneath. It fits into the space we see in the tractor at right.

In case you were wondering how these 140 kWh lithium iron phosphate (LiFePo) packs get their charge, it's courtesy of Aerovironment's 80 kW Posicharger.