Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lockheed promises compact fusion reactor, cheap and safe enough to remake society according to the hype


Today Lockheed-Martin announced new Fusion Reactor technology which could shift humanity's energy supply from the stone-age mentality to the modern energy paradigm.  Some of my recent postings have drawn a distinction between the old energy paradigm, that I've called the stone age energy mindset (burning things to get light, heat or motion), and the new energy paradigm that's based on electricity, electromagnetism and similar forces for everything.  This distinction is important for electric car owners because we want these cars to make a big environmental difference, but overwhelmingly the electricity we use is generated by burning fossil fuels negating some of the benefit.

Electric cars powered by renewably generated electricity, where no fossil is burned, are highly desired.  That's why electric cars are often pictured with a backdrop of solar panels or wind turbines.

Getting back to Lockheed's Fusion Reactor announcement - this isn't about Fusion Reactor research such as is happening at Lawrence Livermore National Labs.  Traditional fusion energy research, like at LLNL, involve huge magnetic fields containing ultra hot plasma's and huge amounts of energy in huge facilities and it's taking decades to work through all the bugs.  That sort of research may eventually produce a large scale fusion reactor that makes a huge beneficial impact on society.  What Lockheed announced is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The press release describes a compact reactor.  They believe that Lockheed Skunk Works will be able to build a test reactor within a year, and deploy production reactors within 10 years.

How "compact" is compact?  How about a unit producing 100 megawatts that's roughly the size of a big rig tractor trailer?  Specifically - transportable reactors measuring 23 feet by 43 feet.  Within the realm of electricity generation plants, that's extremely tiny.  Typical natural gas plants that size consume dozens of acres of land housing the necessary large building.

Aviation Week has an exclusive in-depth presentation of the details.  Basically, the Lockheed team went over all published research into fusion reactors, took the best bits of each, combining them in an ingenious way in a novel new reactor design.  The key is a different magnetic field geometry for holding the plasma, that's inherently safe and stable, resulting in a tremendously smaller system design.

Very little material is required to run these reactors - 25 kilograms of "fuel" is enough for a year of operation. The fuel is made of Deuterium and Tritium, both of which are plentiful.  Fission reactors are fueled by rare materials (Uranium, Plutonium).

While the reactor parts do become radioactive through normal operation, the half-life is rapid enough that the radiation dies down within 100 years.  By comparison Fission reactor equipment stays radioactive for thousands of years or more.

There's also no chance of a nuclear meltdown, and the threat of proliferation is basically nonexistant.

In short it sounds like the perfect sort of nuclear reactor.  No negative side effects, small enough to be sited anywhere, and a huge power-to-size ratio.

This could potentially be a big game changer in the quest to completely replace fossil fuels.  However with the mind-set prevalent among the decision makers the cost will have to be lower than the incumbent fossil fuel plants, right?

Over on the ThinkProgress blog they try to position this technology within the quest to avoid climate catastrophe from our addition to spewing carbon into the atmosphere from burning so many fossil fuels.

Staying within 2 degrees C of global temperature rise means peaking greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and rapidly falling shortly thereafter.  The developed countries (the U.S. etc) may have to peak as early as next year, 2015.

This fusion reactor won't, if it develops as Lockheed-Martin thinks, even be ready for production use until 2025.  Meaning that we cannot depend on this particular technology to save us.

The technology currently available - solar power, wind power - work today and it's just a business exercise to deploy the systems.  There are no technological hurdles to overcome, just the willpower to build out solar and wind power systems at the scale necessary to move the needle on greenhouse gas emissions.

Further, there's a risk this technology could be entrapped by Lockheed's usual customer base - top secret military projects.  Will Lockheed commercialize the compact fusion reactor for civilian deployments, or will it be relegated to powering nuclear powered warships?

Bottom line is that we collectively must abandon fossil fuels as quickly as possible, and if we want to avoid reverting our society to the middle ages we must rapidly deploy clean electricity generation systems.  We can't afford to trust Lockheed's claims because their fusion reactor design might not work out, or may take longer than they think to refine and productize.

Tesla Motors will build at least one battery swapping station by December 2014

According to several sources today, Tesla Motors is going ahead with their robotic battery exchange technology and will deploy one battery swap station somewhere between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  The service will launch by December 2014, and no I don't know anything more than that.

The news came first through SlashGear, and that site says Tesla confirmed the plan to them.  The post gave no more details than that, and Tesla Motors hasn't independently released any information.

Tesla's battery swapping technology was shown in 2013, and can swap battery packs using robotic arms within about 90 seconds.  (Watch the video below)  The system is significantly different from the one developed by Project Better Place - coincidentally that company was formerly headquartered across the street from the Tesla Motors headquarters in Palo Alto.

That Tesla was developing fast battery swapping technology was known as early as June 2010, when I was reviewing SEC filings Tesla Motors filed related to their IPO.  At that time the company said the Tesla Model S would include both rapid charging and fast battery swapping capability.

Both are methods to implement what we know as the Road Trip.  In the theory that drivers deserve to replicate every behavior of gasoline cars in electric cars, many people dismiss electric cars because they cannot do road trips.  How often do most of us take road trips?  The average driving pattern is less than 40 miles a day, right?

In any case the "rapid charging" system became known as the Supercharger, and has enabled Model S owners to routinely take long distance trips with ease.  At a Supercharger port, a Model S can gain about 300 miles of range per hour of charging.  On a long trip one would drive 3-4 hours, stop for an hour at a Supercharger station, stretch their legs, visit a nearby eatery, then get back in the car refreshed from the pause for another 3-4 hours of driving.

That's the healthy way to road trip - defrazzling your mind every so often, and by walking around the lymphatic fluid gets pumped around, etc.

But that's not good enough for the hard core road tripper - the one who stops only long enough to pee out the soda they drank since the last stop, and who eats quickie food in the car to avoid stopping for any length of time.  The goal is to put as many miles behind you as possible, letting ones health take a back seat.

For such a road tripper, 90 seconds for a robotic battery pack exchange is a direct 1-for-1 replacement for gassing up at a gasoline station.

The plan to go ahead and deploy battery swapping stations immediately raises a large number of questions - cost, etc.  But there's one big question to discuss.

Who owns the battery pack?  How will you be certain "your" battery pack is returned to "your" car?

When Better Place developed their battery pack swapping model - headquarters directly across the street from Tesla Motors - the concept was that battery packs would be leased to car owners, and that Better Place would own the packs.  You, as the car owner, would pay Better Place a monthly fee rather than paying for the pack outright.

This would decrease electric car prices, while insulating electric car owners from battery pack problems.  Lower priced electric cars would make consumers more likely to buy these cars, increasing the speed of greening the transportation system.  Back in 2012, Nissan Leaf owners were complaining about battery capacity degradation.  Wouldn't that scenario have played out differently had the packs been leased to Leaf owners and easily exchanged?  However as Renault owners show us, there's plenty of room for misunderstanding and mistrust with leased battery packs.

But that's not the model Tesla Motors is following.  A Model S owner owns the whole car including the battery pack.

Let's again ask - what happens to your battery pack when the robotic gizmo takes it away and gives you a fresh pack.  Yes, it's cool you nearly-instantly get a fresh battery pack.  But, that's your battery pack which was just taken away.  Right?  What happens to it?

What if you're not taking a round trip - San Fran to LA and then back (a round trip where you can easily retrieve your original pack while returning home) - but instead taking a multi-legged trip, and you will not pass by that swap station again?  Presumably Tesla will deploy other swap stations, maybe even a country-wide network of these stations.  What if you're a one-way coast-coast trip because you're moving from LA to NYC?  How do you get back to the original battery swap station to retrieve your battery pack?

In the video below, Elon Musk tried to tell us the only question we should ask is "Do you want 'faster' or 'free'?"  I hope I've made it clear there are other questions than what Mr. Musk wants us to ask.

We won't know Tesla's plans until the company itself makes a proper announcement.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The electric motorcycles that can run rings around the Tesla Model S P85D (or come close)

Yesterday Tesla Motors unveiled the 'D', the Dual Drive version of the Tesla Model S.  The fully tricked out Model S P85D will set you back a minimum of $120,000, and be the fastest 4 door sedan ever built.  Raw acceleration is demonstrated by the video below, and the spec saying 0-60 miles/hr in 3.2 seconds.  Top speed, about 155 miles/hr.  That makes it the fastest electric vehicle on the market, right?

Wrong.

Of course it depends on how you define "fastest".  The electric motorcycle manufacturers don't get as much attention as they deserve, and are delivering electric motorcycle performance matching this new-fangled Model S P85D.

The 3.2 second 0-60 time of the Model S P85D is impressive, but what about 3.3 seconds for the 2015 Zero Motorcycles SR?

The difference between 3.2 seconds and 3.3 seconds - well, to a racer looking to win that's an important difference, but for regular folk like you and me that's not an important difference.  They're both pretty darn fast.

The SR is the race version of the 2015 Zero S.  It's built with a beefier controller, and an electric motor built for more speed than the Zero S (thanks to better magnets).  The official top speed is 102 miles/hr, but I know some people who will tear into this bike, change the controller settings, change the gearing and some other things, and probably hit 120 miles/hr or more with it.  

The cost?  $17,345 is about 1/7th the price of the fully tricked out Model S P85D.

Brammo is another long-time electric motorcycle manufacturer.  Their Empulse R and Empulse TTX are directly competitive to the Zero SR.  Their Empulse RR is a pure prototype bike that's extremely unlikely to go on sale, but that bike is in the top tier of electric motorcycles whereas the R and TTX are in the second tier.  I'll explain that in a second.

The website only lists a top speed for the Empulse R, of about 110 miles/hr.  I've sent them a query for 0-60 times etc, but let's go with 110 miles/hr for now.  That makes it a bit faster than the Zero's but when I've seen races with both Zero's and Empulse R's or TTX's the Zero's tend to win.  Maybe.

The Empulse TTX is a racing version of the R originally built as a joint project with the TTXGP.  It's an Empulse R kitted out to fit the TTXGP rules.  However, the TTXGP, FIM e-Power and eRoadRacing series have all ceased to exist, and accordingly Brammo's website doesn't show the TTX as an available model.  Perhaps the TTX has been canceled?

The cost for the Empulse R is $18,995 or also about 1/7th the price of the Model S P85D.

The Empulse RR is in a whole other league of performance than the Empulse R or Zero SR.  Those bikes perform, in race conditions, similarly to 250-450cc gasser bikes.  On the other hand, Empulse RR and Mission RS and Lightning LS-218 and some other bikes performed, in race conditions, similarly to the 600cc superbikes or even better, in some cases.  The Empulse RR is not for sale, and Brammo treats it as a testbed with which to prototype design ideas.

This is what I meant earlier by top tier and second tier.  These tiers are readily apparent in the road racing on a race track events I've attended.  What's most important in that case are lap speeds, not 0-60 times.

The top tier of electric motorcycles got, at the Laguna Seca raceway, lap speeds below 1:40.  The lap speed record is 1:31 set by Steve Rapp riding a Mission Motorcycles Mission RS in the 2011 FIM e-Power/TTXGP race at Laguna Seca.  Lightning Motorcycles, MotoCzysz and Brammo have all hit lap times close to the 1:31 record still held by Mission.  That's the top tier bikes, lap speeds under 1:40 and approaching 1:30.  The second tier bikes get lap speeds starting at 1:55 and longer.

The fastest lap speed for a Tesla vehicle is about 1:50, set by Tesla's own lead test driver with a Model S P85+ at the 2013 REFUEL race.  He was closely followed (10ths of a second difference) by Joe Nuxoll driving a Tesla Roadster with race tires at the 2013 and 2014 REFUEL race.  It will be extremely interesting to see the results of the 2015 REFUEL race to see whether the Model S P85D will break through the 1:50 lap time barrier in any significant way.

The Mission RS, by Mission Motorcycles, is in the top tier of electric motorcycles, and the company is promising to bring it and the Mission R to market.  Sometime.  The model they plan to sell is derived from the bike Mission Motors brought to the FIM e-Power (and TTXGP) race at Laguna Seca in July 2011.  Their rider, Steve Rapp, is among the top tier of motorcycle racers, and with the bike broke the lap speed and top speed records for all electric vehicles at that track.  Those records still stand today, despite attempts by Lightning Motorcycles, Brammo and others to best them.

According to the Mission Motors website, the RS performance is better than the Model S P85D.  Top speed is 150+ miles/hr, 0-60 time under 3 seconds, and 1/4 mile time of 10.492 seconds.

The cost is $58,999 or $74,999 with the "GP Package" that beefs up the suspension system.  The company plans to build just 40 of these bikes, pouring the income into production of the Mission R.

That bike, the Mission R, has similar performance specs to the RS, 0-60 time under 3 seconds, and 1/4 mile time of 10.492 seconds.  Top speed is either 140 miles/hr or 150+ miles/hr depending on which variant you buy.  

Price ranges from $32,499 to $42,499 depending on the battery pack size.  That's about 1/3rd to 1/4th the price of the Model S P85D.

The Lightning Motorcycle LS-218 is also in the top tier of electric motorcycles.  The company has been racing with variations of this bike since 2011, in the TTXGP, land speed racing, and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.  

In 2011 they set the land speed record for electric motorcycles, on the Bonneville salt flats, at 215 miles/hr.  The model name LS-218 comes from the top speed hit during that run, 218 miles/hr.  In 2013 they beat every motorcycle rider at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb by over 20 seconds.  By "everyone" we mean, all the motorcycle riders, even the ones with 1200+cc fully tricked out gasoline powered superbikes.  They also won other events in the TTXGP, FIM e-Power and other series.

The production version of their motorcycle has all the same equipment as the prototypes with which they achieved those wins.  From 0 miles/hr to 215 miles/hr, no gear changes.  

Richard Hatfield, CEO of Lightning Motorcycles, tells me the company has not attempted to score optimal 0-60 or 1/4 mile times.  He believes they would get sub-3 seconds from 0-60 and sub-10 seconds in the 1/4 mile, with good traction.

The company is nearly ready to sell motorcycles, and the starting price is $38,888.   That's about 1/4th the price of a Model S P85D.

Your electric thrill ride can be had in the form of an electric motorcycle with all the speed and acceleration of the Tesla Model S P85D, but a fraction of the cost.

If your pocketbook is modest, you can get competent bikes from Zero Motorcycles or Brammo with most of the oomph of a P85D, but at a fraction of the cost.  These bikes are in the 2nd tier of electric motorcycles and will certainly give the P85D a run for its money.  If your pocketbook is suitably large enough to plop down $35,000 or more on a motorcycle, you can buy one that will run rings around the P85D - well, when Lightning and Mission finally get their bikes into production.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

D is for Dual Drive, and in Tesla's world "Something Else" is for Auto Pilot but not autonomous driving

Tonight, Tesla Motors unveiled the "D" (and something else) before a crowd at their facility in Hawthorne - the same facility where the phallic Supercharger pylon is located.  Last week Elon Musk slyly hinted it was time to unveil the D, but didn't say much else.  I'm glad to say the actual announcement - driver assist features and a dual motor version of the P85 - are in line with my guesses last week.

For reference - Model X cutaway showing dual drive
On the Model S P85D the 0-60 time will be closer to 3 secs
What they did not announce was a full self-driving car, nor details on the Model 3, nor a Diesel powered Tesla Model S, nor any of the other nonsense that had been floating around.

The Tesla Model S P85D will have the dual-motor drive train that's an option for the Model X.  One motor is up front, the other in the rear, making the P85D an all-wheel-drive (AWD) Model S.  The second motor will also make it go much faster, giving it a 0-60 time of about 3 seconds.

This image was posted to the Tesla Motors Club
almost a week ago, immediately after Elon's tweet.
It shows a Model S with "P85D" markings
The regular Model S P85 does 0-60 in 4.2 seconds.  Tesla's website doesn't give many details for the Model X, but says the dual motor version of that car will do 0-60 in under 5 seconds.

Elon Musk claims the 3.2 second 0-60 time matches the McLaren F1.

The new dual motor drive system is expected to make the Model S more efficient, boosting range by about 10 miles to 275 miles.

This method of implementing AWD is significantly different from what's done in gasser cars.  A gasser AWD system has a drive shaft going to both front and rear axles, and it's difficult (impossible?) to do much adjustment of torque to the front or rear axle.  Tesla's implementation has independent electric motors, each connected directly to their respective axle.  As electric motors it's easy to ramp torque up and down independently for more precise torque control.  So not only will the D system be capable of supercar performance, it'll be a huge safety improvement on slick roads.

As for the "something else" - that's the long-awaited driver assist features which Tesla Motors began quietly factory installing a couple weeks ago.  Unfortunately they cannot be retrofitted to existing Model S's - and I'm already seeing tweets saying "that sux".

Tesla is having to play catch-up in this area because driver assist features are commonplace among not only luxury cars, but even cars for regular folk.

The company has been able to implement some auto-pilot features much more quickly than they'd expected.  It was about a year ago that Tesla Motors confirmed they were working on implementing autopilot features (Sept 20, 2013) and it was a couple months before that (Aug 6, 2013) where I'd seen job listings on the Tesla website for radar systems engineers to start up the autopilot project.

That's worth repeating - In August 2013, Tesla Motors was looking for engineers to launch the autopilot project.  In Sept 2013, Elon Musk said to expect something in 2016 or beyond.  Today, they announced that Model S's are already being shipped with the required sensor equipment, and the autopilot features would start being enabled with over the air updates.

Tesla was able to implement this more quickly than expected.

The system is not full autonomous driving - where you can fall asleep and the car will drive itself.  Instead this is an autopilot system, where the car is actively helping the driver do a better job, and can do a few automatic actions like self parking.

The sensor systems are:

  • Forward looking RADAR that can see through fog, rain, sand, etc
  • Camera's with image recognition capability that can read street signs, pedestrians, stop lights, etc
  • 360 degree long range ultrasonic SONAR, that can see soft objects at all speeds from 0-155 miles/hr
  • Integration with navigation, GPS and Traffic Data systems
Additionally, all driving systems on the car are (now) digitally controlled rather than controlled with analog systems.  Steering, brakes, speed, etc, are all computer controlled, meaning that the autopilot computer can control any aspect of the car's behavior.

With this Elon Musk talked about how Tesla's engineers had implemented lane keeping, automatic cruise control (reading the speed limit off street signs), automatic braking in emergencies, self parking (step out of the car and it'll park itself), etc.  That includes a mode where you can "summon" the car and it will drive itself to you.  And, if you've turned on calendar support in the car, it'll recognize you have an appointment, what time you have to leave, and prepare itself by driving to the front door and turning on the air conditioning at the right time.

Since none of this is retrofittable to existing Model S's I'm predicting some turnover of Model S ownership, where people will be trading in their cars for the newer ones with autopilot.  Coincidentally, Tesla Motors just announced the opening of a certified used car program.

As we noted a couple weeks ago, for the last two weeks all Model S's have been manufactured with the sensors required for the autopilot features.  It's already shipping.

What's next is for Tesla Motors to begin turning the features on via over-the-air updates.  Elon Musk didn't make it clear the availability of these autopilot features, but it sounded to me the features named above (and other features) will be turned on over time rather than all at once.  

The announcement event did not give details of availability or pricing for these new features.  However the details are shown on the Tesla Motors website.

There will be three models of the dual drive system - 60D (60 kWh dual drive), 85D (ditto but 85 kWh pack) and the top of the line P85D (ditto but for the performance model).  P85D deliveries will start in December 2014, while the others start in February 2015.

The 60D and 85D carry a $4000 price premium, while the P85D has a $14,600 price premium.  The site explains that the P85D requires the Tech Package, Smart Air Suspension and 21" wheels.  The baseline price rises to over $120,000 for the P85D.

As for the autopilot features, some of those are already turned on, and more will be turned on via over-the-air updates.  From the Tesla Motors website it appears that buying the Tech Package will turn on additional autopilot features.

That makes the low end price $81,320 (US) for the 60D - options are the dual drive system ($4000), Supercharger enablement ($2000) and the Tech Package ($4250).  


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Can GM or anyone else deliver a 200 mile range EV in 2017 to compete with Tesla Motors? Or are they all toast?

Chevy Sonic
possibly the base of a Chevy EV in 2017
The 200 mile range electric car from General Motors, badged with a Chevrolet brand, is possibly going to be announced in January at the Detroit Auto Show.  Chevy Volt fans are clinging to this idea while sales of that car are languishing and sales of the Nissan Leaf are thriving.  Over the last couple years GM's management, like former-CEO Dan Akerson, have spoken about longer range electric cars as being a couple years away.  At the same time GM has to compete with the Tesla Motors of 2017 who is promising to start delivering a 200+ mile range electric car for $35,000 MSRP.  GM and the rest of the automotive industry had better come up with something or they're all toast.

Today the Detroit Free Press quoted GM's global product chief, Mark Reuss, as saying GM is "pursuing" a 200 mile range $30,000 MSRP electric car.  Yes, GM has to do this, but does "pursuing" mean that GM will definitively deliver such a car any time soon?

Reuss also promised a redesigned Volt that will "leap-frog a lot of the competition."  This car will be shown at the 2015 North America International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, in January.

Reuss's comments came at GM's meeting for analysts and investors held earlier this week.  As Inside EV's notes, the information was not published in the slide decks or other info that GM made available through its media website.  It only exists as comments made by Reuss in the meeting.

Green Car Reports has a piece out going over evidence for a 2017 Chevy Sonic EV with a 200 mile range.  It will be an adaptation of the current generation Chevy Sonic, not the next generation that's due to arrive in 2018.  Production will be very limited, 1,800 vehicles or so, making this car not much of a competition for anything.  GCR expects the styling to remain the same as the gasoline Sonic, and I'd agree that with such a small production run it wouldn't be worthwhile to change the style.

BTW all those factoids point to Yet Another Compliance Car from GM.

The big question worth real megabucks is "How?"  It's obviously possible to build a 200 mile range electric car - Tesla Motors is doing so, and the Tesla Model S is far outselling the Chevy Volt.  That despite the huge price tag on the Model S.  To bring the 200 mile range electric car down to the $35,000 or $30,000 level means a whole new price/technology level for battery packs.

That's what the Gigafactory is supposed to do for Tesla Motors, give them a drastically lower cost per kilowatt-hour for battery packs enabling Tesla to hit a $35,000 MSRP.

GM's current battery supplier is LG Chem.  Over the summer LG Chem's CFO was quoted by Reuters saying LG Chem plans to supply batteries for electric vehicles that can travel more than 200 miles per charge, by 2016.  A car maker was not named.  LG Chem supplies batteries not only to GM, but Renault, Ford and others.  Nissan may even switch to cells from LG Chem rather than continue making their own cells.

Unless, that is, Sakti3 can commercialize their solid state battery technology in time.  That company is promising 2x the energy capacity at 1/5th the cost.  Such a jump in price/performance would be a game changer for electric cars.

Over the summer InsideEV's reported that GM was working with focus groups on a 200+ mile range electric car.  The details they'd published at the time had to be pulled, because the details came from a focus group member who was under a Non-Disclosure Agreement and wasn't supposed to disclose what he had.

Among the comments on that piece are people noting we can't have 200 miles range in a Chevy Sonic because the chassis is too small.  (EDIT: that has a $35,000 MSRP)  That would be true for today's battery technology ...but... what about tomorrow's?  The main thing we hope for in future battery technology is higher energy density, meaning storing more kilowatt-hours of energy per kilogram of weight.

There are two energy density measures to consider.  Kilowatt-hours per kilogram, and kilowatt-hours per liter of volume.  If/when the battery manufacturers can improve either, it will be possible to fit more kilowatt-hours of energy into a small vehicle.  Note what I wrote about Sakti3 above - 2x the energy capacity means that if a Sonic EV fitted with today's battery technology can hold 20-25 kilowatt-hours of energy, the Sakti3 battery could enable it to hold 40-50 kilowatt-hours.  That starts to be enough energy for 150 miles or even 200 miles of range.

With this kind of information its difficult to definitively say GM will be producing an 200 mile range electric car any time soon.  What I'm confident of is the prediction that GM, Nissan, et all, are toast if they don't deliver such a vehicle and Tesla does do so.  The proof of Tesla's seriousity is the $5 billion they're investing in the Gigafactory.

In 2017 - 200+ mile range electric car, with $35,000 MSRP, and manufacturing lined up for 100,000+ per year volume at the outset, ramping up to 200,000 or more within a couple years.  That's what Tesla Motors intends to do.   What are the other automakers going to do?

Tesla Motors' D, and something else, causing wild-ass guesses to masquerade as news

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has made another of his obtuse tweets, suggesting something will be announced next week - something to do with the letter D - and something else.  Good, thank you for sharing that you're learning the alphabet?  A bit over two years ago Elon tweeted about an upcoming announcement that will seem like alien spaceships landing at rest stops.  That turned out to be the Supercharger system, but you wouldn't have been able to guess from the tweet.  A tweet saying "About time to unveil the D and something else," well, okay, this being Elon Musk I'm sure it's going to be interesting (or I wouldn't be writing this blog posting) but I'm content to wait until Oct 9 rather than leaping to conclusions.

The image - shown here to the right, is too indistinct to say anything more than "gosh, that's a Model S front end."

Using my power of deduction I'm guessing this has to do with product changes or updates on the Tesla Model S.  That car has been on sale since July 2012, and if this were a normal car company the 2015 Model S would be getting announced about now.

All the other car companies roll out product updates on a year-year basis, with next years model starting to be shown in the Fall - ergo, about now.   Tesla's policy seems to not be to roll out new model years, but to go ahead and integrate product changes on an iterative fashion.

For example, the other day I wrote some forum discussion noting that Tesla has started shipping Driver Assist features in the Model S.  No fanfare, just new features.  Not just any old new features, but long-awaited driver assist features that were glaringly missing compared to other luxury cars.

It seems the Press is jumping on the idea that Tesla is going to be announcing a new car design.  For example, the Albuquerque Business Journal speculated this is the car for which the Gigafactory is being built.  Uh, sorry ABJ but this just made you look bad.

Tesla's next car design for which the Gigafactory is being built has already been discussed - the Tesla Model 3.  That model is already associated with a letter, 'E' so that Tesla can sell S and E and X.  In other words, whatever the 'D' thing refers to it's not the Model 3.

On the other hand there is this issue of the driver assist features that have quietly begun shipping.  Tesla Motors is unlikely to let that happen without some kind of announcement.  This is a major hole in the Model S (and Model X) product features.  It turns out there's plenty of people who've been holding off on ordering a Model S because of those missing driver assist features.  Hence, Tesla probably needs a big announcement so to reach those people waiting on this feature.

And, the letter 'D' can be associated with the Model S in the same way the letter 'P' is.  The fully loaded Model S is the P85+ where 'P' means Performance, the '+' means even more performance, and the 85 means an 85 kilowatt-hour battery pack.  That adds up to a lotta dollars on the purchase price, but it is also the pattern of associating a letter with the car model name.  In the same way a Model S D85 would be an 85 kilowatt-hour model with driver assist features.

D stands for Driver Assist?  Maybe.

It might also stand for Dual Motor.  The Model X is based on the same underpinnings as the Model S, and will be sold with a dual motor option for all wheel drive.  Could the redesigned factory layout, preparing for Model X production, have allowed Tesla Motors to develop a dual motor variant of the Model S?

Maybe, but I'm still leaning to the driver assist features.  That Tesla has added that feature is actually pretty big news, and needs more attention than they've given it.

Over on Gas2.0 they are somewhat more-informed in their speculation (hey everyone, at this stage we're all making it up - we won't be able to say anything definitive until the 9th).

First, the announcement in question will be made at the Paris Auto Show.  According to Gas2.

Second, like me their opinion is this isn't a whole new car but a variation on the Model S.  For example, an even more uber-performance model than the P85+.  One with a better air dam on the front, and some other performance tweaks.

Third, is the idea of a stretched Model S.  Tesla is already having to do something for the Chinese version to give more rear leg room.  But what about people wanting a near-limousine-sized Model S?  We are talking about the luxury car market, after all.

I've reviewed all the other news reporting on this and I just have to reiterate one thing.  None of us know what this D thing, or the something else, will be.  Everything you read about Tesla's D, at this time, is sheer rampant speculation.  Some of it is so laughably off the mark that I wonder how those specific writers are able to keep holding their jobs.

Hey people, don't trust anything on this subject until October 9, 2014, okay?

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/