Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Zero Motorcycles unveils 2015 model year - up to 185 miles electric riding range

Zero Motorcycles announced today specifications and pricing for their 2015 lineup of electric motorcycles.  The Scotts Valley, CA, based company has been building electric motorcycles since 2006, and its' market leadership is demonstrated through multiple models addressing both off-road and on-road motorcycling.  The improvements for the 2015 model year are iterative, rather than revolutionary, and bump the top end range to 185 miles (city) or 94 miles (highway) riding range.

Zero's lineup covers four bikes:  S (street), SR (race-ready), DS (Dual Sport), FX (street fighter) and Police (a Zero DS kitted out with police gear).

The Zero S is attuned to street riding and has a top speed of 95 miles/hr, and 0-60 times as fast as 4.8 seconds.  The 420 amp controller means that for the Zero S, the company is sticking with the SEVCON Gen4 Size4 controller.  Coupled with Zero's custom-designed radial flux permanent magnet electric motor, it delivers 68 ft-lb of torque and 54 horsepower.  The battery pack size ranges from 9.4 kilowatt-hours up to 15.3 kilowatt-hours of on-board storage.  The latter is accomplished by adding the "Power Tank" option to the 12.5 kilowatt-hour model.  The on-board charger is a pathetic 1.3 kilowatt model that is useless for charging away from home.

Across Zero's model line they've switched to Showa suspension parts front and rear, and an ABS braking system from Bosch.

MSRP ranges from $13,345 for the base model up to $17,840, with pricing differences based on the battery capacity.

The Zero SR is attuned for those who want more performance.  It was developed from the company's experiences on the race track.  The most common modification done by those who take Zero's to the races is to replace the stock Size4 controller with a Size6 controller.  That's what the Zero SR is, a Zero S with a larger controller and other modifications required for racing performance.

For example, studying the specifications closely I see that both bikes appear to have the same motor (Z-Force 75-7) but on the SR the motor has heat-resistant magnets.

Zero's motor design is passively air cooled with the heat-producing parts located on the outer rim of the motor where the heat sink has an easier time removing the heat.  But the racers riding Zero's bikes with a Size 6 controller have had extra problems with heat.  Heat resistant magnets should help, and the spec sheet says the SR has significantly higher performance - 106 ft-lb of torque, a 0-60 time as fast as 3.3 seconds, 64 horsepower, and a top speed a bit over 100 miles/hr.

The minimum battery pack size on the SR is 12.5 kilowatt-hours, delivering 151 miles city range or 77 miles highway range.  Price ranges from $17,345 to $19,840 if you add the Power Tank.

The Zero DS looks to me like a Zero S with a different rake, suspension setup, and beefier suspension.  As a dual sport bike it's attuned for both on-road and off-road riding.  Other than suspension differences, the specs, performance, and pricing are the same as the Zero S.  Well, the fastest 0-60 time drops to 5.3 seconds.

The differences between the DS and S are apparent if you closely study the spec sheets.  The DS has more suspension travel and different rake angles and other details in the bike setup.

The Zero FX is a very different beast that more closely resembles bikes Zero used to make - the X and MX.  It's an all terrain motorcycle, legal on the streets or capable of being taken off-road.  It is a lot lighter than the Zero S, SR or DS thanks to a much smaller battery pack.  That also means a much shorter riding range.  It has the same motor as the other bikes, along with the 420 amp Size 4 controller, but with a much lighter bike they've turned the power up considerably.  It delivers 70 ft-lbs of torque and a 0-60 time as fast as 4 seconds.

Price is $9,845 for the Zero FX with a 2.8 kilowatt-hour battery pack, or $12,340 with a 5.7 kilowatt-hour battery pack.

Zero Motorcycles also sells police versions of each of these bikes - the Zero SP, DSP and FXP.  These bikes are kitted out with police-specific gear like a siren and flashy police lights.  The Zero MMX is a militarized version of the Zero FX.  They don't say whether that model comes with laser canons or what.

I don't see availability information in Zero's press release.  If the company holds true to form, deliveries will begin in January 2015.

Learn more at http://www.zeromotorcycles.com/

Monday, September 29, 2014

The problem with some news coverage about electric cars - and the Blink network

I've recently written a few blog posts about the Blink Network and its problems.  The other day I posted a not-so-well-thought-out survey of questions about Blink, and other charging networks.  The results weren't very conclusive because of the small number of responses, but did agree with the widely held belief that Blink is not a good charging network.  What's bringing me back to my keyboard is a piece in The New Yorker which is both deeply flawed, and contains some nuggets of a ray of hope for the future of the Blink Network.

Maybe, just maybe, Blink will become useful.

The article features a discussion with Michael Farkas, CEO of the CarCharging Group.  CCG became the parent of the Blink Network about a year ago, after ECOTality's bankruptcy.  In the piece Farkas describes that as a mouse swallowing an elephant - clearly meant for us to feel sympathy for the task CCG has in front of itself.  For CCG to make something useful out of purchasing the Blink Network, they have to rehabilitate that network, fix the flaws which made it so unreliable over the years, etc.

Earlier this month CCG changed the Blink fee structure, but the customer base is revolting at the resulting drastic cost increase.

The New Yorker piece purports to be going over Blinks problems with the CEO in charge.  But not a smidgeon of a mention is made of how angry Blink members are at the new fee structure.

Instead it focuses on other problems - problems that essentially every Blink user will recite verbatim.  Charging stations that are frequently down, the Blink app doesn't reliably show charging station status, and the fact that Blink had to turn down the charging rate on their charging stations.

Farkas' explanation of why the charging rate was turned down is plain wrong.  He is reported to have said that Blink ended up with "bad cords" on their charging stations, and supposedly it wasn’t immediately clear who might be making high-quality cords.

I'm sorry, but that's flat out wrong.  In Feb. 2013 there were reports of Honda Fit EV and Toyota RAV4 EV owners whose charge ports were overheating, melting even, when connected to Blink charging stations.  Learning of it, I did some field research, going over to a nearby Blink station and turning the charging rate up a little bit higher than I should.  At a 35 amp charging rate the charging connector did get a bit hot.  But it didn't seem to be hot enough to cause any damage.

What I learned that day is the charging connectors on the Blink charging station were only rated for 30 amps.  Blink had set the charging stations so they'd run at around 30 amps.  The rule is that for "continuous use" (like electric car charging), you're supposed to limit it to 80% of the rated rate.   That would make 24 amps the correct maximum charging rate through cords rated for 30 amps.

(Yes, that's an electric Karmann Ghia)

Some time after the controversy Blink did indeed decrease the charging rate to 24 amps.  But it wasn't because Blink accidentally ended up with "bad cords".  ECOTality/Blink made two major mistakes:

  1. Choosing cords rated for only 30 amps
  2. Running cords rated for 30 amps at over 30 amps

ECOTality/Blink could have used cords rated for higher power levels, and they could have set the charging stations to the correct charging rate.  They didn't and that's entirely their fault.

The good news is there's a "major overhaul" due in "mid-October."  One that will replace all the charging cords, allowing Blink to turn the charging rate back up.  They might fix some other problems as well - such as vandalism, network connectivity problems, etc.

CCG's purchase of the Blink network gave CCG a huge charging station footprint.  The "mouse swallowing an elephant" analogy is on the mark.  But, by making this purchase, CCG bought themselves a major role in the electric car charging business.  It is important for the rest of us that CCG fill that role with honor and distinction.  We need there to be more than one charging station company of significance.

This market is too important to be left to ChargePoint alone.  CP needs a significant competitor.  CCG bought themselves that role.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tesla Motors quietly slips a couple driver assist features into Tesla Model S

Tesla Motors has been criticized for not including any kind of driver assist features in the Model S.  Driver Assist features are commonplace among not only luxury cars, but regular cars, now.  Some of them take care of tasks like parallel parking, while others help the driver do so safely.  Supposedly.

Last year I broke a story on this blog, being the first to report Tesla was hiring sensor engineers to develop automated driving features.  Later confirmed by Tesla.   I'd assumed it would take a couple years for anything to show up in shipping cars, but it appears that Tesla Motors has quietly begun shipping Model S's with some sensors and driver assist features.

The news comes not through any official channel, but by new Model S owners excitedly reporting via online forums that their cars now have a "new suite of driver assistance features including lane departure warning and speed assist".

A setup screen posted online shows two driver assist features - A "lane departure warning" and a "speed assist".  Both appear meant to give warnings to the driver, rather than automatically drive the car so it stays in the lane or stays within the speed limit.

The feature is arriving even on cars where the Tech Package was not ordered.

Unfortunately the feature is reportedly not retrofittable into older Model S's.

We should see this as a tiny first step on Tesla Motors' roadmap for driver assist and automated driving features.  Tesla Management (a.k.a. Elon Musk) has said the goal is to support partially automated driving by 2017.  They appear intent to not provide fully automated driving.

Renault customers cry foul over battery pack rental terms - Owning the car but renting the pack puts car makers in drivers seat?

Because electric car battery packs are expensive, some in the industry think the pack should be leased separately from the car.  Doing so would reduce the price of an electric car, making it more affordable, speeding up electric car adoption.  That was the value proposition offered by Better Place, for example, that not only would you lease the pack but your vehicle would be recharged at a Better Place battery pack swap station, all for a monthly lease fee.  While Better Place has gone out of business, Renault is selling their electric cars with leased battery packs.

Some dislike, perhaps hate, the terms of Renault's battery pack lease and have recently launched a petition drive demanding changes in the terms.

What I see in the petition are issues I worried over when the lease arrangements were first announced a couple years ago.  Basically, Renault is exerting a lot of control over the customers through the battery pack lease.

A couple years ago when the terms were announced I simply wrote them up naming the financial terms - that the Renault ZOE or Twizy buyer would pay Renault about $100 a month for the battery pack lease.  And that's fine, you're paying for the expensive battery pack over time just like we do when buying a cellphone on contract.  It's a low up-front cost, with the full cost paid over time.

But it means Renault is deeply in control of your car.  Unlike a cellphone where you can just pop in the SIM card for another carrier and carry on using it, an electric car battery pack is central to the usefulness of that car.  Renault is the only supplier of battery packs for its cars, giving Renault a potentially authoritarian role over the car.  If you don't like Renault's battery pack rental/lease deal you can't go down the street to Henri's Battery Shop and get a 3rd party replacement.

A few months ago I realized the battery in my MacBookPro laptop had worn out, and opening the computer I found the pack slightly swollen.  A swollen pack is risky, and has to be replaced.  Fortunately 3rd party battery makers build replacement packs that even offer more energy capacity than the one Apple sold me with this laptop back in 2009.  Apple surely preferred I buy the replacement pack from them, and had their Genius's do the replacement at a store.  But, the replacement parts market for Mac laptops is robust enough that I could get a better pack from a 3rd party and, with the help of some online videos, do the work myself.

Generally speaking electric car owners at this time don't have that freedom.  Buy a Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, etc, and you're stuck with the battery pack options supplied by the manufacturer.  No 3rd party battery packs, and it's an uphill slog if you want to replace the pack yourself.  Fortunately it's not impossible to do it yourself, because tinkerers at home are getting packs from crashed vehicles and performing teardowns and learning how to diagnose pack problems on their own.  Bravo.

Leaf/Volt/etc owners have this much freedom because they're buying the whole car as a package, and therefore own the battery pack.  Other than the risk of voiding the warranty, they're free to do what they want.

Under Renault's battery pack rental/lease program - sure the customer owns the car, but they don't own the battery pack.  Therefore the customers hands are tied against do it yourself anything with the battery pack.

According to the petition:-

  • Renault doesn't allow you to buy the battery pack - only lease/rent it
  • In the future you won't be able to upgrade to new battery technology and thereby get a better car
  • Selling the car carries some extra restrictions on that transaction because of the leased/rented battery pack
Because you can never buy out the contract, this isn't a real lease arrangement.  Instead the car owner is renting the battery pack.  According to calculations in the petition, owning a Renault ZOE or Twizy for 5 years or 10 years and you'll pay Renault 2-3 times the battery pack cost in rental fees.

We can take this all as a warning - maybe battery pack rental is not good for the customer?

Here's the petition and other information that appears to be the lease terms.  The original is in Italian, but the translation is provided by the Chrome web browser and is therefore rough.

Why is it important


Renault, RCI Banque, ZE Mobility

We call for the amendment of the contract relating to the rental of the batteries!

Welcome Friends, we need your support.

This time, the sector is that of electric vehicles, in particular that of Renault Twizy, (in the case to be extended if any of you have had experience with other vehicles).

The case in question is focused on the rental agreement of the batteries, which indicates the obligation to return the vehicle, even though it is your property, in the event that the contract runs out!

I quote some articles of the contract:

ART. 15.8 In the event of sale of the vehicle by the Lessee that it is the owner, in a private or a professional in the countries listed above, the Lessor is obligated - to Italy directly or indirectly through their group to others Countries in art. 8:13 - to enter into a new lease of the battery with the third party purchaser of the vehicle, upon notice to all of the following details of the new Tenant:

- By a natural person: name, nationality, date and place of birth, marital status, social security number, residence, activities and data of any employer, bank account details for payment of the fees;

- A legal person: company certificate updated (no more than 30 days), bank account details for payment of the royalties.

ART. 13 - Term of the Contract; Restitution of property; Early termination of the lease and the death of the Lessee.

ART 13.1 Upon expiry of the contract originally agreed upon or extended pursuant to art. 5 or earlier pursuant to art. 13.6, the Lessee shall within 48 hours if it is the owner of the vehicle, and does not intend to extend the contract, he must notify the Lessor data operator authorized Renault ZE who has completed the delivery of the battery with the vehicle and certify the exact date of this return through a report signed by the operator. If so, then the provisions of art. 13.7 and / or art. 8:15;

ART 13.2 At least three months before the expiry of the Contract, if do not want to prolong it pursuant to art. 5.3, the Lessee shall notify by registered letter, or the intention to return, at its own expense, the battery with the vehicle in the place indicated by the Lessor or the sale of the vehicle by a private operator or other professional in compliance with the provisions of art. 8.15. Except in cases of force majeure, if the Lessee does not manifest its intentions in order to return the battery to the vehicle, the Lessor will provide legal billing allowance of value equivalent to the enjoyment of the rent from last in force, including services referred to in Articles. 9 and 10.

ART 13.3 In the event of agreement on the return of the battery with the vehicle, the same must be done within 48 hours of the expiry of the contract will be made and recorded in the minutes signed by the lessee and operator authorized pursuant to Renault ZE 'art.13.1, which will be highlighted any flaws, defects and damage that they have, not due to normal wear and tear and obsolescence and even now that the Lessee is obliged to pay compensation. The date affixed to the minutes of the return or document stating the refund shall determine the date on which occurs the transfer of risks to the Lessor or Lessee of the new battery. If the date affixed to the minutes of the refund is later than 48 hours after expiry of the contract, the Lessee shall be obligated to pay - a penalty - a sum equivalent to double the rent to be in last place, proportionate to the period additional availability of the built-in battery in the vehicle.

ART 13.6 If there is a just cause, the Lessee may terminate the Contract in advance by returning the battery with the Vehicle to the Lessor, applying all the provisions of art. 13.1 and contextually matching to the Lessor compensation calculated as indicated in art. 13.10. The Lessee shall not in any case exercise the right of withdrawal until the time in which he has not fully paid all amounts owed prior to the Lessor for any reason under this Agreement and the withdrawal will not be effective until Tenant shall have fulfilled their obligations restitution of art. 13.1 Welded and all other amounts payable to the Lessor.

ART 13:13 If the Lessee is the owner of the vehicle, in the event of sale of the Vehicle, the Renter must preserve the property rights of the Lessor on the battery and fulfill its obligations under Article. 8.15. In any case, the Lessee will be required to pay an amount equal to the rent until such time as the said obligations have been met and have entered into a new lease agreement with the third party purchaser.

Art. 15 - Termination clause

ART 15.2 intervened termination of this Agreement, the Lessee must return, at its own expense, the battery with the vehicle in the place indicated by the Lessor and shall be required per day - as compensation - payment of an amount commensurate to the incidence Daily last rent due, from the date of this resolution until the date of refund. As a penalty, will also be due to the amount equal to the total amount of the lease payments, in addition to greater damage.For example, it will be due compensation for additional damages if the goods returned are devoid of ancillary documentation or present defects and differences not caused by normal wear and tear or obsolescence, and should still be reconditioned, where technically possible.

ARTICLE 16 - Submission of the Contract termination conditions.

16.1 The Contract is conditional resolutely to the following conditions:

- The vehicle is - for whatever reason - scrapped or otherwise ceases to exist;

- To be resolved - for whatever reason - the contract of sale of the vehicle;

- Lessee is required - for any reason - return the vehicle.

ART16.2 In the event of a termination of the conditions listed above, the Lessee shall pay to Lessor an allowance calculated under the prior art. 13.10.

-------------------------------------------------- -----------------------------------------------

What does this mean?

provided that the new battery has a cost of € 3,150.00, Renault does not allow to buy it, "I wonder why?", allows only the formula of the rental contract with a never seen before, a real contract halter.

This contract, which damages the customer, because:

- Leaves no alternative to signing the contract halter;

- Once signed the contract we will be condemned to a lifetime of the vehicle to pay a monthly fee ranging from € 24.59 + VAT (if you go down only 2500km in 3 years) to € 1,188.52 + VAT (if you go down in 200.000km 1 year), we say that an average distance of 50.000km in 3 years (they say that three years is the average length of contracts) monthly cost € 71.04 + VAT (€ 86.67) and not cheap.

- This fee or "rental fee" when multiplied x 5 years (the period of depreciation of a vehicle as small as the Twizy) returns the expenditure of € 5,200, well above the cost of the battery. But if your vehicle is kept for a longer time, say 8-10 years or many more, saw that the electric motors are virtually eternal except minor surgery to replace parts that wear? try to make a calculation and you will see that behind this beautiful project, it hides a real "...." I can not define it otherwise!

All the advantage that could give an electric vehicle in terms of saving on fuel and maintenance gets pulverized by this tax on the vehicle's life, so anything but cheap. You are born perhaps of secret agreements with the oil companies? what is taken initially, he is then returned later? In short, we will never be independent?

- For example, if after 2 or 3 years we want to sell the vehicle, most likely we will move forward more and we may not succeed due to exceeding the battery technology (remember that Twizy has a range that varies from 75 to 90 km, depending on how where it is headed), perhaps in the meantime the market will offer better performing batteries and with greater autonomy. In front of a vehicle capable of traveling 300km on a full tank, who never buy a vehicle that makes 75km or 90km? No one! So we can not sell the vehicle, we will have to keep it and pay the monthly fee famous? unfairly or return to Renault after purchasing it personally as indicated in the articles of the contract? Renault with this operation causes us to lose the value of the medium as used, why can not resell it! I forgot, for the uninitiated must also pay insurance on batteries as well as the obvious one for the RC.

- Renault does not allow for the upgrade of the batteries in case they were to get out of the new and the best on the market;

- If through external channels than Renault can buy batteries at much less than € 3,150.00, why not give this opportunity to the customers?

- Considering the quick steps of the technology, especially in this area, because we have to be forced to pay € 85 a month for the entire life of the vehicle, when maybe in a year will come out better and cheaper batteries? One thing is that the customer can choose between buying a house with potential risks, if ever there were, and a purchase by the economic benefits brought by the parent company, is one thing to be forced to sign a contract that would cut the legs danneggiandoci economically!

- Twizy, it would be a good buy, if it were free of this contract, if it were free from these batteries, if it were free from the obligation to return the vehicle at the end of the rental agreement.


- As indicated in the contract, in the event of sale of the vehicle to another customer, the customer who buys have to sign a new lease. Otherwise if this does not happen the first customer remains holder of the contract. - Today the batteries are replaced only in case of malfunction and in the case of exit on the market of better performing batteries - The duration of the rental is indicative only and then linked to the calculations end of the contract. Normally, the average duration of 36 months is signed. This is because the car is prolonged as long as you remain owners of the vehicle - If today did not want to sign the rental agreement, the customer from whom you acquired the vehicle would continue to pay the existing contract - the last point concerns the concept is that the battery is inherent in the vehicle, basically to use the vehicle you need to rent the battery, and then the contract. To date, Renault does not give the option to purchase the vehicle with battery electric vehicles.



1) The customer who purchases the vehicle is the owner and then they may dispose freely without Renault and other companies may restrict its right of ownership;The vehicle is totally independent from the batteries.

2) BATTERY PURCHASE: Ability to buy batteries from Renault and other suppliers, insurance is not mandatory, and client released from Renault or from other suppliers can freely use the means and the batteries as it sees fit, disassemble, replace, without Renault and other providers may impose limits or ask for compensation;

3) BATTERY WITH PURCHASE FINANCING: Ability to buy batteries with a monthly fee that goes to get the cost of the battery during 2/3/4/5 years at the discretion of the client in terms of the benefit offered by the type of financing; if the vehicle is sold for example, after three years compared to 5 funded, the funding can be passed to the customer successor who will pay the remaining two years. At the end of the installments, the battery is the owner. It could be accompanied, at the discretion of the customer, a policy that covers any replacements, damage, etc..Obviously, the client should have the opportunity to buy it with their own funding.
As for point 1) the customer became the owner is released from Renault, may freely use the means and the batteries as it sees fit, disassemble, replace, without that Renault itself may set limits or ask for compensation;

4) PURCHASE OF THE VEHICLE WITHOUT BATTERIES: The customer must have the opportunity to sell / buy a vehicle, new or used, without the battery, (with a refund of the batteries in case of buying a used one from the rental agreement, the Renault , RCI Banque, ZE, etc.) and be able to freely dispose of the vehicle being totally free from Renault. The client can mount any battery suitable for use of the medium.

5) HIRE PURCHASE OF THE VEHICLE BATTERY INDEPENDENT: Renault or other companies may offer a rental agreement that provides for the batteries at the end of the contract the return of the sun batteries as the vehicle is owned by the customer and shall have freely no strings attached. The advantages of a hire purchase or a loan and a course will be offered by proponents of the services.

6) The new contract should not contain articles which infringe the rights of clients, limiting their freedom and diminish the enjoyment of the product in an absolute sense.

7) The amendments of the contract will be extended to all those customers who have already signed the contract.

How they think they can diffuse electric vehicles, although currently with the limits (see autonomy), if encumbered by these contracts? How many of you who have signed the contract, you really carefully read the rental agreement of the batteries?

Our demands are quite logical, does not ask the impossible, but the use of common sense.

We are many, and to change the things we have to follow these two simple steps, the ones that do more harm to them, disclose, inform as much as possible to be united and not to buy more products up to the change.

Such a product (administratively speaking) should not be bought! These companies need to understand that they have to sell to customers the benefits and not the usual disappointments hidden among the items of a contract with hundreds of lines written in character "5"!

Our proposals will produce benefits for both parties in the transaction of sale:

- For customers, thanks to a real savings;

- For Renault, thanks to increases in vehicle sales data by a lower cost of ownership of the vehicle and for freeing customers from illogical limitations on the exercise of their property rights;

- For the environment, due to less pollution.

Every satisfied customer, will talk about his purchase and benefits occurred personally, with such serenity and firmness and passion, to induce others to purchase, more than any talented professional seller. We estimate that by the time the contract was detected halter Renault, for the rental of the batteries, our information have changed my mind to many people.

Confident that Renault will be able to understand the demands and will probably be able to understand even better in economic terms what it means to have dissatisfied customers of the product purchased, we are confident in finding a short term.

I urge you to sign the petition online at the following address:

It declares, pursuant to Legislative Decree no. 30th June 2003, n. 196 "Code concerning the processing of personal data" that the information provided will not be used for the above mentioned petition

For more information please contact us at the following address:petizionetwizylibera@libero.it

Inform, disclosed, share as much as possible, please sign up. The constant commitment of all produces the final result.

Thank you all!


Friday, September 26, 2014

SURVEY: Are electric car charging networks gouging the customers=? What's the right fee to pay?

The question of whether Blink is gouging its customers, or not, raises a set of questions in my mind.  Is that really what Blink is doing?  Do the majority of EV drivers really think Blink is gouging them?  What about the other charging networks?  Maybe what I'm seeing is just the sour grapes of a few noisy people on Facebook, and everyone else is satisfied with Blink?

I don't really believe that last point, but surely you agree that we need to find out.  This also gives me a chance to try out a service for embedding polls in blog posts.  I'm going to embed several polls in this post that together will act as an open survey/questionnaire.

Maybe, together, we can get to the bottom of what the charging station networks should do to be fair.

Now that we have that out of the way, what about the other charging station networks?

It seems there should be a fee, of some kind, to use an electric car charging station.  If nothing else, fees discourage squatting.

But let's first try to understand how long the typical charging session lasts.  That will give us context for understanding the fee per hour or per kilowatt.

Now let's talk about the fee per unit of time or kilowatt hours.

And, what are you currently paying?

Since we're focusing on Blink, how good is their service?

This is the last question. There are lots of charging networks available, but which are the most popular?

There we go.  Hopefully this will be of use to all of us ...  Have fun with the questions, and if you like them please share the survey with your friends.  If you have suggestions let me know in the comment box below.

Petition drive seeks to reverse 200%+ increase in Blink Network charging station fees

A few days ago I asked whether Blink's recent pricing change for charging services was gouging consumers.  That pricing change had some welcome changes, such as switching from charging by the hour to charging by the minute.  But the effect has been a drastic increase in the cost of a charging session at a Blink station.  I'm seeing repeated complaints about this from EV drivers posting on Facebook, and now there is a petition drive underway asking the CarCharging Group to revert the pricing on Blink charging sessions.

Formerly these sessions cost $1 per hour.  With a car capable of charging at 6 kilowatts, that translates to a cost of $0.16 per kilowatt-hour.  Except Blink has been derating their stations because of overheating problems at the charging cord, so it might have been working out to be $0.25 per kilowatt-hour.

The new rate varies (click on the second link above) and users are now seeing costs around $3 per hour.  Yikes.

The petitions notes the same point I just mentioned - a huge percentage fee increase for charging at a Blink station.  The author of the petition claims this increase will deter potential electric car drivers, and cause an exodus of users from Blink's stations.

I suppose that's what will happen - the company is certainly earning a negative reputation from this action.  Rather, the already-negative perception of the Blink network is simply being reaffirmed.

The petition notes, as did I in an earlier post, that the charging network owners must be able to make their profit.  Since $0.49 per kilowatt-hour seems to be a fairly common price at charging stations, that makes me wonder if that's the price level needed by charging networks to sustain the business?

The charging networks obviously have costs beyond the cost of the electricity.  That means their price must be high enough above the electricity cost to give them enough to cover their costs and maybe even a bit of profit.

At the same time, the higher the price at the charging station the closer it gets to the cost of gasoline.

A big attraction of electric cars is that, at $0.11 per kilowatt-hour for electricity, the "fuel cost" to drive an electric car is a tiny fraction of the fuel cost for gasoline.  But at $0.49 per kilowatt-hour that no longer holds true.

The terms of the petition are to

  • Revert the fees to $1 per hour or equivalent
  • Maintain the change where it's calculated on a 1 minute granularity
  • Rethink the business model
Like the author of the petition, I am unable to charge my electric car at home.  Most of the planning for EV charging assumes drivers will charge at home at the low $0.11 per kilowatt-hour (or so) that's the nationwide average.  Those of us who don't have that option are completely beholden to whatever the charging networks decide is their fee structure.  

EV Drivers have enjoyed free charging for a few years now, and maybe just maybe have become addicted to that idea.  I wonder if free charging, or unsustainably low-cost charging, will survive for the long term?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Five factors to help you choose the electric car (or plug-in hybrid) best for your needs

What if it's time to buy a new car, what do you choose?  Thanks to lithium-ion battery technology, we now have a new drive-train choice.  Rather than being limited to variant of gasoline engined vehicles, we can now buy electrified cars or motorcycles.  Assuming you've already chosen to go electric (in some form), how do you choose between the models and manufacturers?

We're only four years into the project of electrifying our cars, motorcycles and trucks, but there's already a couple dozen models targeted to the average consumer.  Well, in California; because some models are only sold in California.  

It's important to remember that the dollars you spend on one widget versus another widget is your vote.  All those years where we couldn't even buy an electric car were years we couldn't even vote on electrified transportation.  But, now we can cast that vote.  It's always a good idea to purchase wisely.

Perhaps the most important step is to honestly assess your real needs.

Tesla Model S
fully loaded easily over $100K
Widely voted to be best car ever made
There's a big difference between perceived needs and real needs.  You may ~~~WANT~~~ that Tesla Model S because it's such an awesomely perfect car.  Oh, and the P85+ version out-accelerates a Porsche.  But do you really need it?  Can you even afford it?

Early in my exploration of electric vehicles I kept a diary of my driving, and when I bought gasoline.  How many of us just drive around blissfully unaware of how far we drive?  Or even of how often we buy gasoline?  Or the fuel cost to go to a given place?  What I learned from logging my driving was that my commute (at the time) was over 70 miles round trip, and that I often spent an hour driving each way.   Shortly afterwards I moved to a place closer to the office, getting a drastically shortened commute time, reduced gasoline consumption, and improved quality of life.

Before buying an electric car, spend a couple months tracking your actual driving.  Study where you go and how often.

The main thing to learn is your average daily driving, and how often you drive further than that.  The average U.S. driver travels less than 40 miles a day, meaning most of the electrified cars, typically having an 80ish mile range, are far more than adequate.  

That's the average - it's YOUR daily driving needs you have to satisfy.  That's why YOU must study YOUR driving patterns.

The data you gather will help you gauge which electrified car is for you.  If you're honestly driving 200 miles a day, a Tesla Model S will be your only choice, for example.  But if you're driving 60 miles a day, or less, any of the fully electric cars will work.  If you frequently take long trips a plug-in hybrid might be a pragmatically good choice.

The next thing to consider is how good is your local electric car charging infrastructure.

Most people will be charging their car at home.  This is one of the advantages of charging an electric car at home.  The car is always fully charged every morning, and you don't have to stop somewhere for refueling.  Well, if you can charge at home, and not all of us can do so.

On the other hand, charging only at home means your electric travels are limited to a circle around your house.  Charging at the office gives a little more flexibility.  For longer trips on electricity you'll need to use a public charging station.

The public charging stations are owned and operated by several "charging networks".  Each publishes their own maps and smart phone apps listing their stations.  While each of the apps are straightforward to use - the stations are shown as pins on a map - it's inconvenient to keep flipping from one map/application to another to figure out which is the closest station.

The PlugShare app has data on all the charging networks in one map, making it easy to find the closest charging station no matter the charging network.

What are your frequent destinations?  What's the closest charging station to each?  To which networks do the charging stations belong?  Join those charging networks.

What if your mix of destinations and charging stations doesn't fit into the 80ish mile range of the typical electric car?  The solutions are:  public charging stations, public fast charging stations, or driving a plug-in hybrid.

You need to understand charging speed, and the difference between level 2 charging and fast charging.

Refueling an electric car is different than a gasoline car.  With gasoline the refueling process takes less than 5 minutes, and you get over 300 miles of range.  Effectively you're gaining about 3600 miles of range per hour of gasoline fueling.

Electric cars don't do this.  Yet.

That electric cars don't refuel as quickly as gasoline isn't the kiss of death that the range anxiety proponents say it is.  Typical daily driving needs are easily handled even with the slowest of charging methods.

The charging rates are described by "level 1," "level 2" and so on.

Level 1 charging is what you get out of a typical 120 volt household power outlet.  It's 120 volts at about 12 amps, for about 1.4 kilowatts.  That works out to 4-5 miles of range gained per hour of charging.  While that's pretty slow, if you plug the car in at 6pm when arriving at home, by 7am the next morning it will have gained over 60 miles of range.

Level 2 charging runs at 240 volts, often at 30 amps, for about 6 kilowatts charge rate.  The rule of thumb says the car gains 20-25 miles of range per hour of charging.  This is still fairly slow but is perfectly adequate if your car is going to be parked for several hours anyway, like at home or at work.

Fast charging station in Chicago
DC Fast Charging is not so widely deployed and is frequently mis-named "level 3" when it's actually "DC Level 2".  Where all electric cars support level 2 charging, not all of them support DC Fast Charge.  The ones which do gain over 100 miles of range (or more) per hour of charging.  The Tesla cars gain as much as 300 miles of range per hour of charging.

Getting back to your local charging infrastructure, how many DC Fast Chargers are near you?  Are there plans to build more?  And, unfortunately, you have to consider what kind of fast charging system is available.

Left: CHAdeMO Right: CCS
Unfortunately there are three types of DC Fast Charging (DCFC) available, and the automotive industry is dragging their feet on straightening out the incompatibility.

  • CHAdeMO comes from Japan and is supported by the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and the Kia Soul EV.  CHAdeMO is very widely deployed, and has been in use since 2008.
  • The Combined Charging System is a newcomer, and there are very few CCS cars on the market.  This should change since most of the automakers have voiced support for CCS.
  • Tesla Motors has its proprietary Supercharger system, and is building charging networks in North America, Europe and China.
Chevy Spark EV
None of the DC Fast Charging systems are compatible with each other.  While all electric cars can recharge at a level 2 charging station, fast charging can only be done at a compatible station.  That there are three standards means a pain for electric car owners caught between automotive industry standards battles.  Fortunately the charging station makers are building DCFC stations that support both CHAdeMO and CCS.  Over time these dual protocol charging stations will be common enough that we won't have to worry.

The next point to consider is which electrified car can you afford, and the potential to save money on fuel.

The more affordable of the electric cars are priced in the low-mid-$30,000's.  While that looks cheap compared to the nearly $100,000 price tag of a Tesla Model S, $35,000 is a lot of money to spend on a car.  For most people.

That is, a lot of naysayers talk about the price premium an electric car.  For example the gasoline powered Chevy Spark runs about $14,000 and the 2014 Chevy Spark EV costs nearly $30,000.

The government tax incentives closes the gap on the price, some.

But, electricity is a lot cheaper a fuel than gasoline.  The more you drive on electricity the more you save on fuel cost.  The way to calculate this is the cost of electricity or gasoline to travel a given distance.

As long as you're charging at home, the cost per mile of distance traveled is cheaper on electricity than gasoline.  Of course that depends on both local electricity rates and local gasoline prices.

The last point to consider is which automaker is most serious about electrified vehicles.

By now you may have figured out I'm the boring guy who focuses on practical details.  Rather than judge cars by how nice they look, I'm judging them on environmental footprint, utility, and price.

Fiat 500e
The Fiat 500e is a beautiful car, fun to drive, and can flit around city traffic with ease.  But Fiat has made it clear they aren't serious about electric cars.  Fiat's CEO recently complained they were losing over $14,000 per car they sold, and begged us to please stop buying the 500e.

Some of the automakers are making fine electric cars, but selling only the minimum necessary to earn the ZEV credits in California necessary to keep selling gasoline cars in California.  We call those Compliance Cars, built solely for compliance with California's ZEV mandate.

Some automakers are pretty serious about building and selling electrified cars.  Getting back to that idea of voting with our dollars, doesn't it make sense to buy from an automaker who's seriously electrifying their cars?

These are the automakers showing the most serious intentions over electrified vehicles:
Kia Soul EV

  • Tesla Motors is only sells electric cars.  The company is clearly on a mission to change the transportation system.  The Tesla Model S, while being very expensive, is taking a significant share in the luxury car market.
  • The Nissan-Renault Alliance is the other leader in electric vehicle sales.  Both are building electric vehicle charging infrastructure, selling several models, and have generated sales of perhaps 200,000 electric vehicles.  
  • BMW has just begun selling their first electric vehicle, the i3, and a plug-in hybrid sports car, the i8.  Sales are occurring across the U.S. and in Europe, and manufacturing is running at a pretty good rate.  The company went to the trouble of developing an affordable carbon fiber manufacturing process, to reduce weight.  Before the i3 the company built two vehicles, the Mini-E and ActiveE, as prototypes to understand their customers real needs.
  • GM makes the Chevy Volt, Caddilac ELR, and Chevy Spark EV.  I used to consider the company as being very serious about electrified vehicles.  But, the ELR and Spark EV are both selling in minuscule quantities, and the Volt's sales have been surpassed by cars from other makers.  This doesn't show serious intent for electrified vehicles.  Maybe they're waiting for the Volt 2.0 to make a serious push?
  • Kia is just entering the electric car market with the Kia Soul EV.  While it's in limited production and only being sold in California, for its first model year, the company has made a couple moves demonstrating seriousity.  They're building a network of fast charging stations at Kia dealers, and indications are that next year they'll ramp up production and sales.  Additionally, the Soul EV is getting excellent reviews in both Europe and North America.
  • Ford's Focus Electric is selling in minuscule quantities making many dismiss Ford's efforts as not being serious.  I see a couple things in Ford's favor that outweigh their intransigence towards the Ford Focus Electric.    1)  The company has an interesting long-term strategy, The Power of Choice, in which customers choose between drive trains just as they choose between leather or cloth seats today.   The strategy isn't fully realized yet, but the result will be to make any Ford vehicle available in gasoline/hybrid/plug-in-hybrid/electric versions.   2)  Add together sales of the Fusion Energi and the C-MAX Energi, and Ford is outselling the Chevy Volt.
Watch VW and Mercedes, both of whom might join this list in a couple years.  The other car makers are doing their best to avoid electric vehicles.  Some that are especially worthy of shame are Fiat, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota.

I hope these ideas have been helpful in choosing an electric car.

Please leave comments below about anything I may have missed.