Tuesday, September 20, 2011

First Time Fast Charging

Last Friday, I took a quick trip from Santa Monica down to Cypress, CA. to the headquarters of Mitsubishi USA to visit with David Patterson, Chief Engineer, Mobile Emissions Regulatory Affairs & Certification for Mitsubishi's R&D division. He is the guy to talk to about their iMiEV the next EV to hit the U.S. market. Kitty Adams of Adopt a Charger a new non-profit that installs sponsored "fee-free" charging stations throughout the U.S. and Canada, had set up the meeting and accompanied me. Mitsubishi installed the first DC fast charger in southern California at their headquarters, and they were interested in talking to us about installing some under the umbrella of Adopt A Charger. We drove up to their beautifully designed 40 kW solar array under which were several Level 1 and Level 2 charge stations used to keep their fleet of iMiEVs charged. In the middle of these stood the refrigerator-sized EATON 480 volt device, an imposing charger to one used to much smaller. After locating someone with a key to unlock the device (they don’t allow unsupervised use) I locked the large connector into the big port on the front of my LEAF.

The display screen was simple enough, just push start and that was it. It started out pushing 380 volts at 120 amps, a lot of power! While we chatted for a few minutes, the amperage dropped gradually as the battery pack filled and by the time we were ready to go to lunch it was down to about 39 amps. We left it charging while we took one of the iMiEVs for a spin to the restaurant. The iMiEV is a great car!

I reported on a right hand version in February, 2010 after getting a loaner for a weekend. This time, we had a production model made for the U.S. market with the steering on the left side. The ride was every bit as good as the first time, maybe a bit quieter. The interior was comfortable although not as richly appointed as the Volt or LEAF, but still very nice. Acceleration was exactly as I remembered it, I'm guessing 0-60 in about 10-11 seconds. There is an "eco mode", but it's not the same as that in the LEAF. They have it programmed to increase the regen quite a bit, much more than the LEAF, so I liked that.

Kitty took her turn behind the wheel on the drive back and was similarly impressed. David says that Mitsubishi will be selling these by November of this year, so they'll beat the Ford Focus EV to market. Even better is the price. David says they will sell a fully loaded iMiEV for under $30K before incentives. Here in California, that means you could purchase one for under $20K after state and federal incentives. This is great news as it opens up a much larger market for new EVs. I see this as a perfect college car, low cost to buy, very inexpensive to operate, and your kid won't be driving to Vegas, at least until we get those DC Quick Chargers installed:~)

Upon arrival back at the charger, my LEAF was filled to the 80% level, not full. Apparently, and this was news to me, if you start the fast charge with less than 50% state of charge (SOC), the charger will automatically stop at 80%, but if you start with more than 50% SOC, it will take you all the way to 100%, but slowing down as it gets toward full. This is a software feature in the LEAF, not in the charger. Maybe some of the Nissan engineers who read this blog will tell us the reason for this feature. My preference would be to take it all the way to full, even if it has to go much slower for the last 20%.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An Extraordinarily Bad Article

I've been absent from my blog for a while, but I haven't been neglecting the issues. Mostly, I've been spending time commenting on stories about EVs and energy. There are some great ones out there because things are moving fast in the EV world and good journalists are covering the stories. (BTW, since starting my job selling the LEAF for Santa Monica Nissan exactly one year ago, I've delivered over 120 LEAFs to some very excited and happy customers. A lot of my long time EV friends have their EVs now and everyone is loving them.)

But there are some particularly nasty articles, too. It almost seems that the people who write them are working together, the things they say are so off-the-charts wrong. It's like they're coordinating with each other to feed misinformation to the public. For a very good example, see this op-ed from Forbes today. They had the nerve to name it "Electric Cars Are An Extraordinarily Bad Idea". It's like they were daring me to weigh in on them.

I was so incensed that Forbes, as conservative as they are, would stoop so low as this. It's very hard to get an op-ed in the NY Times or LA Times, so I imagine it's not easy to get in a magazine like Forbes. You would think they'd at least read it.

Well, we at Plug In America have a few people who like to comment when we see these kinds of stories, and we really ripped this guy a new one. If you want to have a good read, go to the bottom of the article and click to expand the comments. I'm pretty sure Forbes, and this Louis Woodhill fellow, know now they can no longer expect to get away with this sort of biased and dangerous journalism.

Lastly, if you want to read something really good, check out the "EV Hater's Guide" by a very talented writer/doctor in St. Louis, MO. by the name of Steve Harvey.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chris and Doug get their LEAFs

Funny how time flies. It's been about three months since I got my LEAF, a very sophisticated electric car that continues to amaze me every day. Since I live less than two miles from the EV store, my commute is pretty easy. I can go round trip on less energy than it takes to power a 100W light bulb for ten hours. That's cool! The ride is solid, quiet and smooth as glass, at least on roads with good pavement. Probably 60% of my driving is giving test drives. Some are walk ups, some schedule ahead of time, but all of them, 100%, want to buy this car. I even had a guy offer me $70,000 for my LEAF, double what I paid for it not a month earlier.

One especially excited customer wanted to know if the LEAF would drive from Santa Monica to Disneyland and return with 10 miles of range remaining. I said sure! My RAV could do that, so I figured the LEAF, with 3 fewer kWh capacity in the pack, could as well. So, we drove to the front gate of Disneyland, stopped across the street for lunch, then drove back to the dealer, a total of 87 miles, and had 13 miles remaining. It was virtually all freeway driving, and we even used the AC some. I kept the speed between 55-60. Looks like under those conditions, the range is 100 miles.

Driving in heavy traffic, and using hypermiling techniques, I can get up to 120 miles, but you have to drive gently in eco mode to get that. Eco mode reduces the energy in the accelerator requiring you to push the pedal further to get the same amount of energy. It's a rather simple, but ingenious method that enables you to drive efficiently. I wish all cars, gas and electric, incorporated it. We'd save a lot of oil if they did.

The number of delivered LEAFs is still small, maybe about 500 total in the U.S., and about 3,000 in Japan. Last week, and today, I delivered two that bear a mention. Doug Korthof and Lisa Rosen, two of the EV community's most earnest enthusiasts, picked up their red LEAF today. Doug is best known for his righteous and vigorous condemnation of GM for crushing the EV1. To this day, Bob Lutz dreads the thought of receiving another of Doug's emails. The other delivery, yet another red LEAF, went to our man, Chris Paine, director of "Who Killed the Electric Car?". The car arrived just in time for the premiere of his new film, "Revenge of the Electric Car". On Friday, Chris will join Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors (not to mentionSpace X and SolarCity), and Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan in NY at the Tribeca Film Festival for the exciting debut of this eagerly awaited follow up to Who Killed.
Chris now has quite the stable of green cars: a Tesla Roadster, LEAF, Volt, RAV EV and his gas hog Prius. Once he sells the RAV and Prius, he'll have the only garage anywhere with an example of all three of the cars featured in his new film. Now that's cool!

Since both Doug and Chris have solar on their houses, there are two more LEAFs driving on southern California's most abundant resource - sunlight. EV/PV strikes another blow against the oil and coal companies!

BTW, Chris and I are selling our respective RAVs, so if you're interested, give me a shout.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Carbon Nation"

I saw an important documentary today called, "Carbon Nation". Director, Peter Byck, did a terrific job of explaining the problem in the first 15 minutes, that of too much CO2 and other global warming gasses being emitted into the atmosphere. This part won't convince your typical hard-core denier, but it's compelling to any rational person.

The rest of the film consists of a series of interviews with committed people who are tackling various aspects of energy from all angles. You come away energized to act, because you know how serious the problem is, but more importantly, you have just seen a lot of people having significant effect on their part of the problem. They give you all kinds of great ideas how you can help.

You meet a one-armed Texan who organized his local area farmers into building the world's largest wind energy cooperative, a military strategist making huge gains in reducing military energy waste, Van Jones, The Man when it comes to creating green jobs for those who need them most.

Our good friends, Jim Woolsey and Ed Kjaer expound on global security and utility side solutions respectively. There are many more, and every one of them is making real gains against this massive problem.

There are some poignant moments between some of these people and their fathers. It's almost as if these elders were taking the place of Mother Earth in that their progeny, all too aware of the dangers to their planet, were trying to save them from death. The severity of the issue compels an all out effort.

Peter drove home the point that we have to "PUT A PRICE ON CARBON" (my shouting). This is the most important take away from the film. Without it, we make scant progress.

I was disappointed there was no mention of population. In the Q&A, Peter said they really wanted to discuss it, but to do it justice would have taken too much time. I understand, but in every discussion on this subject, we need to always bring it up.

Watch the terrific trailer here and take action of your own by seeing this movie in a theater if you can. If not, their website has a button for arranging your own screening. Invite some friends over, or better, get your local middle school and high school to show all the kids. That's where we make some progress.

From their website:

How you can help Carbon Nation...
We are thankful for all the support you have shown over the past few years and thrilled that our movie opens in theaters this February.

Many of you have asked how you can help promote Carbon Nation.

We have the perfect solution - organize a group to go see the film opening weekend in your city! You can buy tickets for your employees, sponsor a local youth group or religious group, or buy tickets for your child's class or school! If you can organize a group to go see the film on opening weekend in your city it will help get the word out about our optimistic and solutions based film. All you have to do is email jackiepapier@hotmail.com and she will facilitate your group purchase with the theatre from start to finish.

Here is our schedule – the film will run for a week in each city:
2/10/11 - Premiere - New York, NY– Film Society of Lincoln Center
2/11/11 - New York, NY– Cinema Village
2/18/11 - Los Angeles, CA - Laemmle Sunset 5 Theatre
2/25/11 – Austin, TX – Regal Arbor Cinema
3/4/11 – Portland, OR – Regal Fox Tower Stadium
3/4/11 – Seattle, WA – SIFF Cinema
3/11/11 - San Francisco, CA - Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Revisiting the scene of the crime

Chelsea Sexton organized a great meeting of Volt drivers yesterday at the GM training facility where Plug In America held its 28 day vigil back in 2005. Chelsea and others were loaned Volts as part of GM's "Customer Advisory Board", to give feedback on the car while it was being rolled out. Many others who have already purchased and taken possession of their Volts also showed up. In addition, Chelsea invited all EV drivers to participate, so around 100 folks showed up in 44 EVs.

Scenes from the film, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" of dozens of EV1s loaded on 13 transport trucks headed for the crusher in the AZ desert elicited strong emotions from viewers of the film.
Linda Nicholes, Plug In America's first president, is seen here holding back tears and saluting the cars as they leave for their fate in the desert.

It was hard for us to see back then how things would pan out exactly, although we knew the end game would be plug-in cars. We won some battles and lost some battles, but the war has been decided decisively in our favor.

The event drew 44 EVs consisting of some of the old RAVs, a Chevy S-10, a conversion and lots of Volts, LEAFs and a coil of Tesla Roadsters. After an hour spent relishing the moment, we mimicked the exit of the transport trucks with our own EVs turning right instead of left onto Riverside Drive with the destination Irwindale, CA where Southern California Edison has their Smart Energy Center. There, we were treated to a long row of Coulomb Technology charge stations situated under a sizable solar PV array. When I arrived, all the charge stations were occupied, so a friendly Volt driver, who didn't need to charge because he had the range extension, made room for my LEAF. Once hooked up and sipping sunshine at 3.3 kW, I knew I'd have plenty of juice to make the trip home.

SCE's, Ed Kjaer, arranged for his efficiency troops to give all of us a great tour of their smart grid display. If you live in the SoCal region, this is a must see. SoCal Edison is probably the most progressive utility when it comes to integrating plug-in cars into an advanced and efficient grid. It's not just the cars, but all your appliances that will be tied into the devices that will tell you how much your energy costs at a given moment, and how much money you will spend for each electrical device. I can't wait till everyone is hooked up to these devices and we can start reducing the horrible waste of which so many Americans are guilty.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My New LEAF Arrives!

The chemo made me do it!

After first buying a wonderful EV from Toyota eight years and 34 days ago, today I took possession of a new LEAF from Nissan. Thus begins, for me, a physical manifestation of history in the making. For decades to come, the percentage of people who burn filthy oil will grow smaller, while the percentage of people who use clean kWh generated from sunlight and wind will grow larger.

The well-publicized delay in the roll out of the LEAF these past few weeks elicited a lot of comments. I riffed off of the term "range anxiety" to coin "delivery anxiety" as stories proliferated about how upset people were due to the delay in delivering their beloved LEAFs. I could understand their concern, but still counseled patience, while taking the long view of one who has been fighting for EVs for 8 years. Surely, we can wait a few more weeks for our cars. However, last week I was told my car would come every day. It was off the boat at the harbor, they said. The realization at the end of each day that my LEAF wasn't there gave me a robust taste of delivery anxiety, with the tart taste of irony on the side.

All that faded quickly from mind when I came to work this morning to see this sweet red ride beautifully detailed by Santa Monica Nissan's hardest working employee, Juanito.

It wasn't long before a customer was sniffing around, asking questions and clearly interested in going for a drive. I hadn't even sat in the car yet, and needed to take my inaugural drive, so I invited him along. Within a mile, I pulled over and gave him the controls to my brand new car. We had a great time. He loved the acceleration, the nimble handling, and of course, the quiet. We drove a few miles looking for safe opportunities to try out the LEAF's full power. He had a big EV grin the whole time.

Less than 100 LEAFs have fallen on U.S. soil, and a few hundred Volts have been delivered. I don't think we considered how quickly or slowly the cars would actually be delivered. The reality of building bullet-proof EVs is that prudent companies will, by necessity, take their time in the initial roll out phase to be sure the quality is high. One glance at the LEAF and Volt forums confirms very happy customers, so it appears they were successful.

I've got a lot to learn before I can cover everything about this LEAF , but one feature really got my attention, and it's one that a lot of you who have driven new cars the past few years know all about. When I use bluetooth in my RAV, I have this little uncomfortable bud in my ear, and it's not that easy to hear conversations over the ambient noise. But when a call comes into the LEAF's bluetooth, the stereo cuts out and the phone call comes over the stereo system. Whoa, that's really cool! If you're hard of hearing like me, you're going to love this.

Felix Kramer of Cal Cars initiated the movement to popularize the plug-in hybrid over 9 years ago. Along with his partner, Ron Gremban, and mentor, Andy Frank, they all got their Volts a couple weeks ago. Felix called just as I was writing this to tell me he, too, got his LEAF today. We think that makes him the first person on Earth to own both a production EV and production PHEV. I can think of no one more deserving.

Given the long range capability of the Volt and the simplicity of the LEAF, these two technologies will cover virtually all of our driving. The range extended hybrids will have lots of customers who need to drive long distance often, and many commercial heavy duty vehicles will need both power sources, yet operate with efficiencies far beyond today's meager options. Those who rarely, or never drive long distances, will be fine with the nominal 100 mile range of most EVs. What's important is that only those who really need liquid fuels will use them, and by then, most of the liquid fuels will be from non-petroleum sources.

Selling the LEAF and selling solar PV to go with it is definitely the best job I've ever had. Now that I have the car at work, I'll be able to give test drives to anyone anytime.

Someone called me as I was leaving work tonight, said they represented "a royal family" and offered me a huge number for my LEAF. I haven't even owned it for a full work day and this guy wants it for "his client". It was weird, because I didn't even hesitate to say no. Not after waiting all this time would I let this car go to anyone.

Now, the RAV is another story. Zan's going to use it till I find it a good home. If you know anyone who would appreciate one of the few remaining historic Toyota RAV4 EVs that propelled a few dozen otherwise normal people into becoming zealots for a cause, please have them contact me.

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.