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.