Monday, December 31, 2012

Prius Is On Life Support

Yesterday my SO rear ended a car on her way home hard enough to deploy the front driver and knee air bags.  There is extensive front end damage and I suspect that the car maybe totaled.

So, guess I am in the market for a new car.  With any rear ender, she will be labeled at fault for following too closely and we will be responsible for the $500 deductible but its still a 2010 package 4 with sunroof, etc and 45,000 miles on it so wont get enough to replace the car and maybe that is a good thing.

The amazing lease deals that are going around right now might be the way to go.  If I can get into something for a few thousand down and payments of around $250 or less, that might be ideal.  The other thing is the expense of Ryland's school being so unexpected means the extra cash will allow us to get ahead on the bills for now.

Only thing is what to lease? I would love to get another LEAF but my job occasionally requires me to travel and many are beyond the LEAFs range or seriously challenges it.  On Monday, will need to go to Gig Harbor which is about a 74 mile round trip and in the LEAF it will be a cold slow trip (thank god for the heated jacket!)

Back from Gig Harbor. Preliminary checking on lease deals shows the Volt leases are not as good as they were several weeks ago.  C-Max Energi is more than I want to pay right now.  Looks like it might be another Prius lease I can get for around $199 but taxes are additional and that is the *best* rate. But then again, this would be 4th Prius from same dealer. I should get a volume discount of some sorts.

**note** Getting some feedback that the Prius might not be totaled out. Anyone have any experience with this kind of thing?  Front end damage seems pretty extensive and had driver front and knee bags deployed.

** 1/5/13  UPDATE; Got voice mail from collision shop that the car is less than $200 from being totaled and there is probable engine damage. They are forwarding information to my insurance company for advice on what to do since they will have to pull engine for further evaluation. The shop is recommending a total loss.

**UPDATE; 1/20/13**

Got email on Friday that EFT has been submitted for just under $23,000 and should get it about 5 minutes AFTER I leave for Yokohama. So much for car shopping before I go.  Will be a rush when I get back for sure. In retrospect, I guess I came out "ok" despite now having to get back into the market for another car.  When I purchased the 2010 Prius, I was part of the Prius Priority Purchase Program and part of the group allowed to view the Prius at the Detroit Auto Show almost exactly 4 years  ago. By taking delivery in May, 2009, I did not have to pay sales tax. so with the discount I received, I paid just over $28,500 out the door.  Getting back as much as I did for over 43 months of driving, I guess I came out ok.

So, I will finish my last minute packing and see you all when I get back next Saturday!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Nissan Announces Capacity Warranty For LEAF

Today, Andy Palmer announced an update to the warranty of the Nissan LEAF retroactive back to the very first LEAF sold in the US two years ago.  Starting sometime this Spring 2013, If any LEAF loses its 9th capacity bar within 5 years or 60,000 miles, Nissan will replace or refurbished whatever component necessary to get back to a minimum of 70% of the original capacity or more.  I am guessing the actual capacity restored will be highly dependent upon the mileage the vehicle has. I would venture to say that someone with qualifying losses with barely 10,000 miles on the odometer would get a much "fuller" pack than someone with 40,000 miles.

Currently the capacity bars disappear at 15% loss on the 12th bar and about 6 % on each successive bar.  The ninth bar would disappear about 33% so the warranty would return some capacity.  Now, I am just over 26,000 miles and have lost roughly 5% capacity so this wont do a thing for me.  I got the LEAF on the premise that a 30% range reduction to about 50-55 miles would still be workable for me.  It would still do most of the trips I need to make.

But this is the first real sign that Nissan is amenable to our needs. This weak terms of this warranty will make very few existing owners happy but I have to think this announcement is really a setup to a purchase/exchange program that Nissan will be able to offer at very attractive rates as soon as the much cheaper TN built batteries start to fill up the supply pipeline.

Right now there is a fellow WA State LEAFer who is struggling with a only a 15% loss of range. Now, he loves his LEAF. He also has over 60,000 miles and his transportation need is great.  A program that would allow him to pay for a  replacement battery that would get him back up to near 100% of his original capacity is the logical next step.

This program would enable  LEAFers to maintain a minimal level of SOC for as long as they want for a price. The higher the SOC desired, the more it will cost in more frequent exchanges. But that is what many people need. The ability to "see" options 10 years down the road. Introducing  "EV Friendly" long term financial planning!
More importantly, it is good solid business sense.

Exchanged batteries will still have significant capacity that can be used in other charge storage applications where weight/performance is not critical further bolstering Nissan's revenues. +1 for the manufacturer

Dealerships will gain a revenue stream from installations of the packs.  This will "hopefully" improve dealer attitudes towards selling a car that requires nearly no maintenance.  +1 for the dealer (by far the weakest link!)

This program could provide possible upgrade of capacity/power or even "weatherization" enhancements (although I believe TMS to be the super secret surprise for 2013)  in the future.  +1 for the customer

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

WA's $100 EV Tax

Being one of the first to get a LEAF in the State of Washington has been a great honor for me.  I got my picture in the local paper and have had the benefit of 23+ months of super cool electric driving!

But another benefit is that my registration renewal date of Jan 18th will be just days before WA State institutes a $100 license fee for specific electric vehicles for road use fees since the normal collection method of the gasoline tax does not work for EVs.  Now,  Extended range electrics like the Chevy Volt will be excluded along with NEV's.  Now, I am all for paying my fair share to help maintain the roads but this law is not fair.

I know a few Chevy Volt drivers lucky enough to have charging available at both home and work and rarely ever buy gas who will be paying less than their fair share.

I also know LEAF owners who work at home, live centrally and shop locally who drive much less than the average, who would be paying more than their fair share. So a flat rate does not work on several levels.

I think EV'ers should be taxed based on mileage driven.  Some proponents of this idea discount this option because they feel that GPS should be installed to properly monitor the mileage driven. I think that  a mileage statement at the time of renewal every year is more than sufficient.  I have lived in other states who used mileage as a basis and that is how mileage was reported there and I think it will work just fine here.

In any system where the end user has to report a figure, there is always a possibility of fraud but that fraud can be a tough one to get away with when odometer readings must be reported at the time of sale so any discrepancy would be caught at that time meaning that the seller will have some use taxes due when the sale is made.

Now, that will work for pure EV drivers. As far as the Volt drivers? well,  baby steps...they did pay sales tax on their purchase so its not like they got off scott free.

Free No More? Charging at Level 3 AV Stations

Recently a fellow LEAFer from Portland, OR posted that he noticed the AV portal was billing a $2.50 charge to each session. I logged into mine and found that charge as been there since day one.  So guessing the charge I see is some sort of accounting placeholder for when real charges happen. Hopefully, that is all it is because...

Quick charging is quick...for about the first 8-12 minutes. After that, the rate drops off fast, but that is ok. In a LEAF, that is long enough to get to the next quick charge station 20-30 miles down the road so why stay longer?  Even if there is nothing to do or the desire to do anything, a 10 minute is bearable. Even better, a bathroom break or stop for drinks will eat up most if not all of that time.

But if AV goes forward with flat rate charging this could be a mistake.  This will encourage people to charge longer since it is possible in most cases to get a fuller charge and make it to the 2nd quick charge station down the road.  This opens up the very strong possibility that a backup can occur at a popular charging station.

Now it would not be so bad if the "80% in 30 minutes"  was enough to get you two stations down the road but unless you are very efficient, the weather is right and the route is friendly, its not going to happen for most of us.  In a new LEAF driving conservatively, an 80% charge should get us 60-64 miles which is just about how far the 2nd QC station will be but we dont want to run the SOC to that low of a level (plus not a good idea to cut it that close) if we can help it not to mention that most of us will be driving a LEAF with a least some range degradation.  So a 90% charge is probably where we need to be.

Unfortunately, that extra 10% is going to mean another 20 minutes charging so now we have gone from 15 minutes to 50 minutes.  or 4 cars getting enough to make it to the next station every hour to just one making it two stations away.

AV; take my advice.  I understand the flat rate. Easier on the books and all that but I think its a mistake. I'd rather see a connect charge then a charge per Kwh instead. That way, I will still want to get my 12 minutes and open up the station for the next guy!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Government Assistance, Part Two; A New Era of Regulations

On my previous post, I discussed that EVs are slow to take a foothold in Americana due to lack of support.  We need money to get anywhere in this world and I think I have a great way to get the money and not take a penny out of the pocket of the consumer!

The other side of the page is regulations to help EVs flourish  because every mile an EV  travels is a benefit to the entire country and includes everyone no matter what kind of vehicle you drive or how far you have to drive it!

We already talked about the fact that gas prices are based on demand and unfortunately we are addicted, so raising gas taxes should lower prices (ya thats right!) by reducing consumption which means more oil available years from now when we will need it for the handful of  oil-based critical operations that will remain.

ICE'ing; ICE (Internal Combustion Engines) is a term used to designate cars that use liquid fuel. ICE'ing is when that car is parked at an EV charging station.  This can create a very stressful situation when an EV'er who has meticulously planned his day comes to the charging to find out that he cannot charge due to a car that CANT charge being parked there.

Laws need to be enacted TODAY to prevent this. It is of national importance that EVs be allowed every chance to flourish. That includes regulated parking to insure EVs have the chance to charge up when needed. Preventing ICE'ing also increases the station providers chances of increasing revenue so its a win all the way around.

Hosts could help by locating the charging stations away from the prime parking areas but if you have ever been to Costco or any other high volume store, you know even non prime parking will only have limited success without repercussions for violators.

Increase Visibility; In my experience, I have seen people ICE'ing an EV parking spot unknowingly despite the presence of signage. A law has the double benefit of making people aware that they need to be more diligent in looking for the signs.  A standardized EV Charging Only Symbol needs to be designed and uniformly implemented nationwide to enhance visibility and recognition.

Demand Charges;  Some states have public utilities with regulations that were designed to provide equal access to all customers for basic power needs. If you had a need that was beyond what the utility considered basic, you were charged for it and charged big time! For example;  A single event requiring power over a set baseline is billed for each KW over that baseline. This can add hundreds of dollars to a monthly charge for the host despite only using a bit more electricity than someone who does not pay demand fees.

These laws were created  and it addresses very large power customers who may have a constant high  power demand making demand charges a fair and equitable system. Public utilities need to create a policy to address the specific needs of EVs.  If they dont conform, we need to get rid of them.  Here in WA, it has become a common practice to do exactly that. Puget Sound Energy is the public utility "of choice" here but many local governments have taken it upon themselves to provide their own electricity. This has resulted in lower rates and better service. Thurston County where I lived actually voted on doing just that  during the most recent election, but the bid failed. Most major cities in WA have gone private.

Mandating EV charging; This would require at least L1 charging (L2 preferred) stations be installed. A guideline requiring any parking whether public or private (employer based) over a certain amount of spaces be required to install charging stations.  It would be up to the host as to how they handled access. They could charge for access and perhaps validate free charging for purchases. This will help build customer loyalty and is good for the community.  Less smoking cars on the road means better air which means less sick days which means less expense to the employer.

Now all these suggestions may seem to pick on gasoline cars, but its actually only giving EVs the advantages that gas cars were given.  Each type of transportation mode has its specific needs and for gas cars, it was roads.  So the government stepped in and built the national highway system.  It greatly enhanced usability of the automobile in general and despite the enormous cost of the project, it was still beneficial to do not to mention the huge impact on local economies and the jobs it provides.

Light vehicle transportation accounts for 60% of emissions and adds nearly half a trillion to the national debt every year so reducing our foreign oil needs AND increasing homegrown electrical demand which will create jobs AND doing it with renewable energy sources is a win-win for everyone.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Government Assistance; It Aint Always About Money

2012 is coming to and end which means a flurry of "Year in Review"  or "Best of (Worst of) 2012) articles and the like.  EVs sales and acceptance is still disappointing with very low numbers in both production and sales. Aggregate Plug in numbers are way up but only because of several new entries.

The #1 EV, the Nissan LEAF just celebrated its two year anniversary and with nearly 20,000 units sold in the US alone, it has a decent start but 2nd year sales were far short of expectations.  There are several reasons likely contributing to the sluggishness.  It is still new and for the most part, a misunderstood technology.  In these cases, word of mouth advertising will help tremendously.

Another issue that is still present after two years is the lack of governmental support. The rollout of charging stations has been very late at best. In the Pacific Northwest, we are lucky enough to have two charging infrastructure programs being developed in conjunction with a handful of private companies who are taking the initiative to provide charging stations as a customer relation strategy.

But the project sponsored by the US government has met with constant delays which greatly hampers the EV user experience.  Now, we can blame the vendor chosen and there is no doubt they probably should shoulder some of the blame.  Might not have been the best idea to choose a small start up for such a massive task.

But the other thing to address is the lack of governmental support at every level.  The huge disparity from one area to the next is primarily due to the acceptance level from one governmental agency to the next.  Oregon was first to start and make significant progress on the West Coast Green Highway (WCGH) project that would electrified I-5 from Canada to Mexico.  Oregon is also a state that must import 100% of fossil fuels they burn. They have neither an oil field or refinery in the state which means every gallon of fuel not burned is money in their pocket. Throw very cheap and abundant natural power generation sources and it was not too hard for the State of Oregon to understand this and help pave the way for local governments and utilities to insure a rapid deployment of an effective quick charging network.

Next is WA State. We do have refineries and process a lot of Alaskan Oil here so there is some vested interest in continuing to make EV Owners Struggle .  Our WCGH project is nearly complete but the national Electric Vehicle Highway Project which promised 40 quick charge stations thru out the Seattle Metro Area has been very slow to develop. To date, less than a handful of these critical stations are up and running. There is a dim light at the end of the tunnel with a station in Fife recently breaking ground. This station bridges a huge gap between the two projects South of Seattle. Before it was a 60+ mile jump from the Seattle area to the Tumwater Station that was a difficult (but doable) challenge for the very heavily traveled Seattle to Portland corridor.

California with the largest electric vehicle market in the world has struggled with both projects.  With both oil wells and refineries, powerful forces have almost completely stalled the progress. Right now, only a handful of quick charging stations exist for the entire state and most of them are due to private companies and not either the state or federal government programs in the area.

Right now, funding ANYTHING is a pretty touchy subject. As the deadline for the "Fiscal Cliff" approaches, the only thing more disheartening is the deteriorating terms of the compromised solution. Even programs previously considered "untouchable" are being used as bargaining chips.  Both of the electric vehicle government programs were started in hopes that private entities would pitch in to help the movement but that contribution has been disappointing so far.

So we need the money but we have to provide a way of getting the money. What I propose is a raise to the national gas tax. It has not been raised in 20 years and right now when gas prices are low would be the perfect time to do it.  Use the money to help build the charging infrastructure which will create jobs and build a bigger tax base.

Use the additional taxes to fix the roads. That will add jobs and a larger taxable income base. Although raising taxes is generally a pro/con argument, there is no downside to the proposal as long as you dont run an oil company.

People will argue that raising gas taxes will raise the cost of gasoline and put a crimp into the pocket book of small business, commuters, delivery companies, etc.  I contend that a significant jump in the gas tax would only add a few pennies to the price of gas.  Should prices go back up again; the reduced consumption caused by the higher prices will simply lower the price of gasoline due to lower demand.

It should be plainly obvious that there is only one real thing that affects the price of gas and that is demand.  Why does gas go up just before Memorial Day every year but drops back down every Winter?  Does gas get more expensive to make in Summer? No... It goes up because the weather is nice. Great for camping, taking road trips, etc. So we drive more and are willing to pay more for gas because its not the "normal bill paying" its the "Vacation Fund"  that pays for the gas. It is the "I worked hard all year for this and I deserve it so I am ok with paying a little more to get what I want" syndrome.

So, in effect; raising the price of gas has the end result of lowering oil company profits to "obscene" levels from the much higher levels the oil companies currently enjoy.

More importantly, but much farther down the road which means it impossible to get anything down at the governmental level due to its real benefits being beyond the term length of sitting Congressional Member,  is the building of the EV infrastructure that will HAVE TO BE DONE sooner or later.  Right now, we need the jobs.  Our infrastructure DEFINITELY needs some TLC.

So, tell me, since there always is supposed to be one...

What is the drawback to increased gas taxes??

Saturday, December 15, 2012

People Kill People (China Verses the US)

 In the United States, 32 people die by a gun every day.   every day, 2-3 people die accidentally by gunfire, most of them children. That equates to  600-800 deaths annually.

Yesterday, two incidents a world apart happened. Both happened at schools. Both involved a deranged individual bent on destroying very young, innocent lives.  The number of students involved were nearly identical.  One incident in China, the other in the United States.  In China, 22 children injured, 9 seriously but no one died.  In the United States,  21 children injured, 20 of them died.  The difference here.  the destructive power of a Machete verses a gun. The disparity here is only part of the picture here. People kill people and usually by the hand of another person. That has been true since the dawn of Man and will never change. We are animals, violent ones. Our intelligence only allows us to invent new and imaginative ways to kill one another so making it easy to kill on a large scale basis is not necessary.

In 2010, another attack at a school in China left 20 people dead, over 50 wounded. (apparently the article referenced is incorrect. other reports states 20 children injured resulting in 3 deaths)  This prompted China to post security guards at school. This fact undoubtedly contributed to the prevention of deaths during yesterday's attack.  Here in the US, there has been 31? (a lot of stories have been written with several numbers reported...) school shootings starting with Columbine in 1999 that has led to increased security which has to be graded as ineffective at best.

Carelessness is also an undeniable trait we Humans possess which means accidental deaths far outnumber all other causes.  Unlike a person's intent to do harm, accidents can be prevented or reduced. What really amazes me is the lengths we go thru to prevent one type of accident but ignore other types.

Last year, over 32,000 people died on our nations highways. Although 32,000 deaths is hardly anything to be proud of, the last time the numbers were that low was 1949.  Despite having 4X more drivers, driving 5X more miles, we have still improved and have done so several different ways. This year we will challenge getting below one death per 100 million passenger miles traveled. In 1949 the rate was over 6 deaths.

 In the  early 2000's,  84% of single car accidents that involved a fatality was a roll over accidents with SUVs claiming the large majority. They were top heavy, popular and easy to mishandle.  It was a problem. Vehicle stability control (VSC in a Prius but known by several other similar names) was added to nearly all SUVs resulting in regular passenger cars (most of which not equipped with the VSC) taking the lead in rollover deaths. The effectiveness of VSC probably means it will be the next thing required on all cars certified for use on the highways. Luckily, many manufacturers have taken the initiative to add that to several models.


  • Alaska: 104 gun deaths, 84 motor vehicle deaths
  • Arizona: 856 gun deaths, 809 motor vehicle deaths
  • Colorado: 583 gun deaths, 565 motor vehicle deaths
  • Indiana: 735 gun deaths, 715 motor vehicle deaths
  • Michigan: 1,095 gun deaths, 977 motor vehicle deaths
  • Nevada: 406 gun deaths, 255 motor vehicle deaths
  • Oregon: 417 gun deaths, 394 motor vehicle deaths
  • Utah: 260 gun deaths, 256 motor vehicle deaths
  • Virginia: 836 gun deaths, 827 motor vehicle deaths
  • Washington: 623 gun deaths, 580 motor vehicle deaths

Every week, 50 children are backed over 70% of the time by a close family member resulting in over 100 deaths annually. The typical age of these children are 12-23 months.  Back up cameras, once only seen in high end or "techy" cars will become much more commonplace and more lives will be saved.

The list goes on and on. Accidents happen, we determine why and we take (usually very expensive) steps to prevent them. When it comes to children, we spare no expense, but...

How would you react if you lived in an area where 2-10 children died every year going to or from school?  Is this not an accident that can be prevented? In WA, it is prevented thru 20 mph school zones, traffic cameras and huge fines.  WA averages a single death of a child in a school zone every other year. The entire state averages 10-15 pedestrian deaths of children 14 and under with more than half those deaths attributed to back overs.  A great statistic? ya maybe but still something the state is currently working on to continuously reduce that number and why?? because its our children right?

I live in an area where 2-10 children either kill another child or themselves with their parents gun EVERY year.  How would you feel if your 3 year old Son shot your 7 year old daughter with your gun?

How do you start a conversation with your daughter who just witnessed a 3 year old boy shooting himself?

How much will it cost a school district where an 8 year old girl was shot when the backpack of a nine year old containing a gun accidentally discharged when it hit the floor?

These incidents all happened within ONE WEEK in March of 2012. In most states, there is no requirement for training in the handling or the safe storage of guns. 1.7 million children in the US today have access to unsecured firearms. When is the last time we took real steps creating real penalties and accountability for the estimated 250 million firearms in the United States?

People will kill people. That is our nature and nothing will change that. One way or another, we will find a way to kill, but what about accidents? Every year, 500 children die in gun accidents. That is 5X more than back over incidents. So lets forget about that and concentrate on what we can prevent.

Things to consider;  Requiring every gun owner to carry a license that must be renewed on an ongoing basis.

Require all weapons to be sold with trigger locks

Require all gun owners to attend regular safety classes where submitting a "secure gun storage" plan would be required.

We will never be able to take guns out of the hands of the citizenry due to the Bill of Rights but one thing we cannot lose sight of is that their are no "rights." These are privileges that are earned and can be lost if that "right" is abused. 

**EDIT**  12/28/2012

Some further statistics sent to me.  I cant help but feel that if the public were more aware of these statistics that more would be done BY THE PUBLIC before lawmakers had a chance to legislate anything.

Between 2006 and 2010, 561 children age 12 and under were killed by firearms, according to the FBI’s most recent Uniform Crime Reports. The numbers each year are consistent: 120 in 2006; 115 in 2007; 116 in 2008, 114 in 2009 and 96 in 2010. The FBI’s count does not include gun-related child deaths that authorities have ruled accidental.
 So about 100 or so children under age 12 are murdered by guns and tracked by the FBI but the stat that says more than the 5 year period referenced above are killed in accidents every year seems to get less attention?

Can these accidents be reduced? The appalling number of children  THREE YEARS OLD or younger involved should be clue enough.

A Springville, Utah, police officer had a non-service gun in his home that officials said did not have external safeties. His 2-year-old son found the gun and shot himself on Sept. 11.
Yet there was no gunman on the loose when Julio Segura-McIntosh died in Tacoma, Wash. The 3-year-old accidentally shot himself in the head while playing with a gun he found inside a car.
 Why are so many babies having access to loaded firearms?  Most of the country has heard of the plight of the Carlisle family referenced above where their 3 year old shot and killed their 7 year old daughter.

It is apparent that gun owners are simply too lax. Mandatory annual licensing and classes should be required. Maybe constant reminders of what can happen will lessen the chances of very preventable tragedies like these from continuing to occur.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Why Tesla Will Suceed

The current model of selling cars is one that involves a profit model that allows many people to bank cash on a single automobile sale. During my very brief interlude selling cars, my eyes were opened to the huge amounts of pricing manipulation that went on in the industry.

The scenario; Customer walks onto the lot. He is greeted by a salesperson who assesses their needs, shows them some cars, test drives it, etc.  Customer decides its time to negotiate.  The salesman helps him fill out a credit app while writing up a "foursquare" which is a basically a bid sheet that will compromise of

1) selling price
2) trade in allowance
3) Down payment
4) monthly payment terms

Each entry is one that can be manipulated by the dealer to entice the customer to buy the vehicle.  After the credit app is filled out, Salesman takes it to the Sales manager who will run the credit app, find out what kind of terms are available and fill out the  Foursquare and give it back to the salesman to present to the customer. There may also be a team leader aka "the closer".  This will be an experienced negotiator that maybe employed to get customers who are teetering on the fence to "get over the hump"

After the price and loan terms are negotiated, the customer will talk to the finance person who will finalize paperwork and attempt "upsells" on extended warranties and that kind of stuff.  The customer signs, provides any down payment, insurance is verified and out the door he goes.

Now; he has just paid everyone he talked to and even paid a few others he did not talk to.

Besides the salesman, the closer, the sales manager and the finance person (all of whom is paid commission based on the profit of the sale) the General Manager, Owner of the dealership, Finance Manager, and even the loan company also gets paid and most get paid VERY well.

Now all car dealerships are franchises  They are independently owned and they obtain certification from various auto manufacturers to sell their cars.  It is up to them to get the car at the wholesale price and turn around and sell it at a profit which they determine.  the MSRP is a starting point that has a certain amount of profit built into the price.  By manipulating the other 3 entries on the Foursquare, the dealer is able to maximize their profits so the above scenario is somewhat different from dealer to dealer but one thing that is pretty much standard thru out the industry is that only the receptionist and the lot attendant (the guy who washes the cars) get paid a regular wage. Everyone else is paid commission.

By using an "Apple-like" model for presenting their vehicles to the public, Tesla does not have that same overhead which means that they can sell their cars at a much lower price percentage wise than regular auto dealers and still be profitable. This also allows them to better predict revenue and profits since there is no dickering on the price.  Now for many of you in my financial position, you might be saying "But why are they so expensive?"

EVs are still new technology and unlike other manufacturers, do not have established history or the status gained from being an integral part of the American economic landscape for decades behind them so there is still the start up costs that must be managed.

But Tesla announced late last week that they were now running at a slight profit for the first time ever.  Obviously this does not account for the loan that still must be paid back but payments are expected to be on time.  Add to that, the Tesla S winning just about every possible award that can be given to a 4 wheeled animal and the future is looking very bright for Tesla being the first auto maker to be a successful start up in several decades.

Tesla's real advantage will be maintaining the current sales model when they introduce their moderately price EV tentatively set for 2015-2016. The target is the $30,000 range and with the much smaller overhead and the benefit of 3 more years of research in cost cutting and  performance gains they have a good chance of being able to dominate the market in the range/price category.

For those of you that might doubt the level of profit auto dealers make; consider the outstanding deals on the LEAF and the Volt.  Huge price cuts are now available to clear out the 2012's to make room for the 2013's.  Is Nissan letting them go at a loss?? No way.  Just a bit less profit is all...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Early Winter 2012 Range Test

After 25,000 miles I have to be honest in saying my degradation on my 2011 LEAF has been much less than I had expected at this point.  In my previous experience with my ZENN and its lead-acid power pack the initial loss from a new battery pack happened in very short order, then leveled off for a bit, then died off at a relatively rapid pace.  Unlike the Lithium pack in my LEAF, Lead-Acid did not do well when using more than half its charge on a regular basis. Nissan stated to expect about 20% loss after 5 years, 30% after 10.  If a year is 12,500 miles I figured the rate of degradation after the initial break in period to be 2% per year based on the additional 10% of loss expected in the latter 5 years. That means a slightly higher rate would be expected for the first few years.

The other thing I was hoping for was good battery management on my part would help my numbers. So, I started working with a baseline of 15% after 5 years, 25% after 10 years.  With that in mind and still taking 2% annual degradation for the last 7 years means losing 11% in the first 3 years.  Keep in mind; other than Nissan's statement of expected capacity loss, all the comments to this point is pure speculation.

Based on extrapolating various trips using average GIDs per mile, I projected a winter range of 75 miles using minimal climate control.  Yesterday, I was faced with a journey that would be about 75.8 miles (according to Google Maps) round trip.  I could have taken the Prius but I just had to see what the LEAF could do if I really needed it to do it.

I left with a full charge of 269 GID (95.7% capacity) at 5:15 AM,  OAT 37º, virtually no rain (actually a very light mist) Since I knew I would be taxing the range, I only used enough defrost to keep the windows clear.  I started out driving speed of 56-58 mph.  Return trip was at 1 PM mostly at 60 mph traffic permitting,  OAT 43º and partly sunny. I pulled into the Tumwater DCFC at 74.8 miles and 34 GID. I used 235 GID and averaged 3.14 GID per mile. Based on that, I had about 5.6 miles of range before hitting Turtle mode at 8 GID.

The trip did end up with 5.8 miles of city driving mostly at 40-45 mph (this was "fastest" route setting) so with another 5.8 coming back along with 4 miles at this end made it approximately 58 freeway miles. Dash stated I did 4.5 miles per Kwh which calculates to 17.86 Kwh from car to wheels.  Now, if I had used heat both ways, moderate settings would have averaged 1.5 to 2 Kwh and total trip time of just over 90 minutes so would have burned about 2.25-3 Kwh.  Keeping with the 4.5 miles per Kwh, my range could have been as little as  67 miles.  This is what I call the "family" range.

The previous day, I had a trip that was slightly longer, about 80 miles round trip. Unfortunately the LEAF was reserved so I took the Prius. Even with "unlimited" heat, I find that even settings as low at 68º on the climate control is too warm for me. The Prius fogs up a lot more (probably because of the warmer air...)  so toggling defrost must be done more frequently, but my winter range would probably be closer to the 72-75 miles as stated earlier.

Previously my unscientific measurement of "family" winter range was 70 miles so it would appear that I have lost at least 3 miles. which would only be 4%. I have lost about 5% in GID count.  If this holds up, I think I can project a 12% loss after 5 years and 22% after 10 years.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Filler Up Please!!

Watching the new Nissan LEAF commercial, I was pleased that Nissan is finally using a message that might resonate with the public much better than "Polar Bear"  hugs.  After all, with the amount of misinformation fed to us by Big Oil, the climate debate has become a chore to keep track. The fact that many of the people in the debate have switched sides ("Sold to the highest bidder??")  does not help.

At the very end, they showed the LEAF powering up a person's home with the disclaimer "Only in Japan"...officially that is.  Nissan does provide an inverter for the Japanese market that will take the power from the LEAF and allow it to provide power from the pack. It is not available in the US, but where there is a need; someone will figure it out and has.  A fellow LEAFer in Northern VA, although not a victim of the power outages Old Dominion Power suffered from a thunderstorm a few months back, did have relatives "in the dark."

Having the technical chops, he immediately charged up his LEAF, went over and set up a LEAF powered station that provided enough to keep the fridge and freezer (it was still warm so heat not an issue) going for the two days it took for the lights to come back on.  Generators!! you say.  Sure but not always the best option to run a noisy (and smoking) machine all night in your garage!

This reminded me of my dilemma experienced almost a year ago.  We were "blessed" by a record snow fall that literally shutdown my town of Lacey for the better part of a week.  I measured 25" of snow in my yard and that was more than enough to leave the Prius stranded.  I did not have snow tires and traction control insured that the Prius would be there until the snow melted (plows NEVER showed up) so the LEAF was our only source of transportation.

Its ability to disable traction control allowed me to rock the LEAF enough to make it to the main street (150 feet away) and it only took about 20 minutes! Here is a video taken during another (much smaller) snowstorm)

So the transportation issue was solved...for a day. Then the snow started to melt and slide on the overburdened trees and SNAP, their went the branches and the power.  So now we had a LEAF that was near dead, a Prius buried in snow and we had no power... more on our storm later.

The devastating destruction of Hurricane Sandy was scary but what concerned me most was the aftermath in restoring services. Subways were flooded,  power out,  refineries off line, nothing was moving.

Eventually gas was trucked in from hundreds of miles away but then the logistics of feeding millions of hungry cars from a few dozen operating gas stations made me realize that gasoline's time was already over and we were too afraid to admit that change was inevitable.  The effective flow of fossil fuels were disrupted for entire regions for the better part of two weeks and more and there was no effective back up plan.

Granted there were people who had no power for weeks but there was also power restored the next day. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people had their power restored.  This meant someone looking to "fillup" their EV had a million choices verses someone looking for gas who might have had 100.  I like my LEAF's odds.

But disruptions in the flow of gasoline to the gas stations have become too frequent as of late.  The gap between our capacity to produce and the demand has narrowed. Refineries are not being maintained or kept open. A single breakdown (or just a hiccup) causes the price of gas to jump as much as 25%.  Now, not going to accuse anyone of restricting the flow of oil for profiteering, especially since someone already has.

Another thing to consider; electricity can be made a dozen different ways. gasoline? essentially only one. When our power went out, first thing I did was took LEAF to public charging station where power was still on. I juiced up enough to be able to get my errands done (my Son and I built snowmen in Sears abandoned parking lot while the LEAF juiced up!) I also spent time calling around to find out who did have power. We ended up spending two days at the in-laws plugged into their garage enough for me to go to work (since we had 60% absenteeism, my employer offered free food, Starbucks gift certificates and anything else they could think of to get us in!)

Now a lot of people are hesitant over new technology. But charging an EV is so simple even a child can do it as my then 4 YO Son Ryland demonstrates

Best part of this is that you have to detour to stop for gas. So it is time out of your day. Be it 5 minutes (unlikely but I have done it) or 28 minutes (yes, I timed it but average about 14 minutes) it is still a hassle to get gas. Charging from your own home? just a "bit" more convenient.

As solar and wind energy take on greater and greater roles supporting the grid, the question of money still comes up. Any new technology is expensive until we figure out how to make it cheaper and market demand ramps up.  But one thing to keep in mind; there will come a day when no amount of money will increase the flow of oil.  Whine all you want about the cost of green power, but at least that can be bought and that will NEVER change.

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Right now, Ford is beginning to see what Hyundai and Kia saw over the controversy of EPA ratings of their cars. Both the new 2013 Ford Fusion hybrids and Ford C-Max hybrids were rated a strangely consistent 47/47/47 mpg  by the EPA?? (actually the EPA did not rate this which is the reason for the controversy) a huge leap over previous years by the same model and similar cars by other manufacturers. But initial reports by reviewers and owners are stating mileage results significantly lower.

Both Kia and Hyundai admitted they made mistakes and are providing debit cards to owners to account for the difference in their gas costs as compensation. The fact that they so readily opened their purses tells me that they used a questionable marketing scheme to spur sales and now they are paying for that scheme. In the long run, the additional sales caused by the high mileage claims puts them ahead of the game.

Honda just won a court case when a lady in LA challenged their EPA ratings. In Honda's case, it was shown that the driver was more at fault than Honda emphasizing the addage "YMMV" (your mileage may vary). Although Honda was not at fault, the confusion to the consumer is clear.  Changes need to be made in the gasoline world.

Now comes Electric Vehicles and they add much more complexity to the game.  It is one thing to have a gasoline car with a 6 day supply of gasoline in Summer be reduced to 4 days in Winter.  But EVs are different in that they can also lose a third of their range in cold weather which may already be inflated putting the driver at risk of being stranded.

Add to that various processes employed for battery management and climate controls.  Both of which can greatly impact the range of the vehicle in various weather conditions.  All these variances are difficult for EV enthusiasts to follow which means a regular consumer would not have a chance to understand how effectively an EV can address their transportation needs.

All this means that EVs are very much not in the category of "one size fits all" This means additional information needs to be added to the EPA sticker but the how to do it in a way that a casual consumer can at least get an inkling of what they can expect.

I suggest zones. Divide the country into zones with an associated multiplier for each season.  EPA ratings now are based on very pleasant conditions which simply are not the case in a Chicago Winter or a Phoenix Summer.  This is a lot of information to process but at least it gives the consumer a fighting chance.

The 2nd suggestion I want to make is that the Auto manufacturers take the initiative and provide this information voluntarily until the EPA gets around to it. As we all know, waiting on the government normally does not happen until hundreds or even thousands of consumers get burned and start complaining.  Lets not let it get that far.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Electrified Rail

Great Britain is making a big push into electrified rail and why not? It is much cheaper and efficient to move product. There is also a movement started here that aims to do the same thing.

Things to think about;

** Electrified rail can be as much as 20X more efficient than diesel trucks in transporting freight per mile.

** Electrified rail is 2.5-3X more efficient that diesel powered trains in high altitude applications.

** Power from remote renewable wind/solar stations can be transported to population centers via the very same rail that would bring your flat screen TVs from China to your doorstep.

**  Reducing traffic on the roads. Trucks cause 30X more damage to the highways than passenger cars and are "subsidized" an estimated 30 to 40 Billion annually in road repairs from road use fees they DO NOT pay. Guessing its not too hard to figure who does take up the slack?

That last point is more than enough to justify creating a national electrified rail system.  The biggest challenge for any country that spans 3000 miles including the roughly 1700 miles crossing the Western states from the coast to major shipping hubs in the midwest is the distances involved.   Most of this land is owned by the federal government. It would be a no brainer to set up wind and solar farms along the more desolate rail lines that would create enough power to operate the rail and have enough to help with power needs in the populated areas.

The trucking industry burns thru 700 million barrels of refined diesel annually hauling roughly 58% of the freight with rail carrying 28% and water covering the remainder. Trucking dominated freight hauling under 500 miles. Electrified Rail can reduce the truck's role to one way trips under 100 miles, this could save up to 300 million barrels.  From; with minimal impact to the electrical grid.

The total electrical demand to carry most of today’s trucking and all of the current rail freight is just over 1% of total US electrical demand. This is an amount that we can easily conserve. The United States can create an oil independent transportation system for people and cargo that runs on conservation.

What I have not touched on it the overall impact to our economy. This project would create jobs, investment into the infrastructure of the US, and create new avenues to encourage personal travel by rail.  Wouldn't it be great to have your LEAF loaded onto an electrified rail train. Haul it to the midwest to be unloaded to vacation 1700 miles from home?

Of course, there is the money aspect. Its estimated that it would take 400-500 Billion and 10-15 years just to upgrade the most used 42,000 miles of rail (mostly in the East) but that includes cost of upgrading existing power plants to handle the additional demand required. In the West where there is plenty of space for renewable power options, rails would need to be added.  But advancements are being made that would eliminate the high cost of integrating disparate power supplies, incompatible locomotives, etc.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

November 2012 Driving Stats

Holidays are in full swing. One down, a few more to go! Our driving jumped up considerably this month with the Prius taking up all the slack nearly matching the LEAFs mileage meaning that EV still won the mileage game 1426.6 to 1366.7.

The Prius traveled 30% farther in Nov over Oct while the LEAF traveled 30 miles less.  Thank goodness gas prices dropped considerably from Oct. It "only" cost $93 or 6.8 cents per mile. First time below 8 cents a mile in almost a year.  To illustrate the difficulties of budgeting for the cost of gas.  On Feb 12, 2012 I filled up tank @ $3.359 a gallon for 3rd straight time. Then the powers that be decided that was not enough and on Feb 18, 2012 I paid $3.799 for gas due to various incidences like refinery fires that were supposed to cause a problem when ultimately it did not.  Oil companies made a tidy little Christmas bon... no, guess that would be a "President's Day?" bonus?  Problem is that bonus lasted until AFTER Halloween!

As always; one goes down, the other goes up. The LEAF cost went up from $17.55 in Oct to $23.38 in Nov on 1426.6 miles or 1.63 cents per mile.  The reason for the jump in cost is the reduced use of free quick charging. (Remember, Oct was Quick charge experiment month, AKA lame excuse to be cheap...) Still managed 10 trips to AV,  two to Blink (on same day) for total of 112 Kwh but still free, so it goes. But if I had not charged at the QC's and paid the home rate my cost would have been $34.80 or about 2.4 cents per mile.

Remember the Centrailia commute ends Dec 15th with job change to Lacey for SO starting the 16th.  So will be going from 64 miles RT to about 10 miles. Very nice!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

BP Or Not BP? Is That Really the Question?

Better Place is falling on hard times. They have changed CEO's faster than a prostitute changes sheets lately and all that does not bode well for any company, especially one still trying to find a market. This makes long term goals very difficult to envision when the captains are rotating in faster than pitchers on a last place baseball team. In concept, they have a great idea but maybe a bit too soon? Is it the "build a better egg timer before the Chicken is invented" scenario?

Well, I think so. They contracted with Renault for cars so now they are limited to people who want to drive EVs and who like the one single solitary model offered with the swap capability.  Tough business model. Even the i pod comes in several different versions (capacities anyway)

They did pick a near perfect place to start. Israel is a small compact, technically advanced country that endures the 3rd highest gas prices in the world. But adoption has been slow, the upfront infrastructure costs very high.  Already, BP has lost half a billion and revenue has been weak.  The next foray for them will be in Denmark.

Denmark is EV crazy and its because the government is behind the technology 100%.  Taxes for non EVs are steep making the high sticker price of an EV relatively affordable. Denmark is also one of the greenest countries on the planet, produce ample power and also has pretty high gas prices as well. But I think the weather challenges will be many. Denmark is also much colder and I am experiencing a usable range drop from the mid to upper 80's to the mid to lower 70's and it really is not that cold here.

Either way, BP has a tough uphill road and will need a lot of help and support to survive. Battery swapping is something that will happen as a compliment to driving electric but there are some technical hurdles to address.

Battery Swapping II will have much more options. I envision one branch to be much more end user friendly.  Right now, EV batteries are completely out of the reach of the normal DIY'er and that has to change. Some people simply wont accept something that they have no control over and eventually manufacturers will see that.

The Scene.  Driver pulls up to 7-11.  Gets out of the car, pushing a button that opens a hatch revealing the battery module bay. there is 12 slots but only 4 are full.   Each module is good for 15 miles and his 38 mile daily commute is well covered but preparing for the weekend to the beach is why he is here.  With a glance, light indicators tells him which modules should be swapped. He pulls them out and walks in with 2 modules and returns 5 minutes later with 8 modules. This will give him plenty of range to get there where he can inductively charge back up. The BMS instantly recognises the new modules and adjusts parameters to accept modules to insure they are depleted efficiently.

Unlike most drivers, he is single, lives in an apartment and does not have the room  (or the money) for a charging unit. His older brother is married and his two EVs are charged in his garage which also keeps  his 12 spare modules charged as well in case something comes up where he does not have the time to charge. Since his spare modules are charged either during off peak or thru his solar system, the only cost was the charging unit and the deposit on the spare modules that he does not own.

Now the above scenario has a mountain of logistical challenges.

1) BMS that can balance modules of different degradation and charge levels

2) A monumental monitoring system that must track degradation, billing, and ownership/lease issues for customers while detecting abuse, fraud and everything else people try to do...

3) A battery bay that is user friendly. The hatch thing is not going to realistic on all cars. Some cars maybe a small hatch where modules come out one at a time (if you have a 6 disc changer in your car, you can figure out the rest)  I know you guys were gonna complain that no one would want to empty their trunk in the middle of a trip to replace some batteries!!  HA!!  :)

4) Modules that are user friendly. Right now, batteries are too heavy. A module must provide enough power to be usable but at the same time, be light enough for the average person to carry.

But it does have its advantages;

* Much less efficiency penalty carrying around more battery than you need.  Recent reports of RAV 4 EVs struggling to get 3½ miles per Kwh tells me that the weight penalty question is a big one.  How many K's are we wasting on a Tesla driving around town 360 days a year in preparation for those 5 trips to Grandma's house?

* A greater level of affordability.  Unlike gas cars, we cant buy half a battery pack because we had a short check or an unexpected bill. Its make the decision at purchase time and hope you can manage it a year later.  FYI; Nov 2012 report. An uptick of people who are at least 60 days behind in their car payments. Lucky for us, they are probably behind due to spike in gas prices...

* Consumer choice. We love options. After all when everyone buys the same car, how can you talk proudly of yours when you have already heard it from 5 of your friends? Now you can talk up the charger you bought whether it be a 6 bay or 12 bay charger (Bays being the # of extra modules you can store charged and really to glow)

* Grid stability. Eventually there will be hundreds of thousands of these portable, ready to glow power packs distributed thru out the entire country.  Power out for two weeks?  pull a module, place it in the adapter station (at an additional cost of course!) and power up the house, the fridge or the big screen on Super Bowl Sunday!  Granted; they are heavy but what is to stop AZ from shipping 50,000 solar powered charged units to NY during the aftermath of "Sandy 2?"

* Range ala carte. Never worry about getting the right charge or a busted charging station out in the middle of nowhere.  Your own car will allow you to instantly check on status and supply of modules. Hate it when you venture to the store in the middle of the night to find out that your store is out of Rocky Road for only the 2nd time in 3 years? Not happening here.  We will simply steal Walmart's distribution planning software...its not like there is not enough disgruntled ex-employees out there who are willing to give us a hand now is there?

* Future proofing.  Changes in battery tech will come along but I fear the current model will be "happiness by a million tiny cuts" model perfected by intel.  I use them as an example because I was working there when they introduced the old MMX Pentiums. they started at like 200 Mhz then went to 233, then 266 etc. IOW, the technology was milked for all it was worth.  Right now manufacturers know that batteries is really the only reason to upgrade. Nissan's JPN announcement maybe unexpected to some, but not to me. Although we want it, it makes no sense to "put all your eggs  in one basket" so the nominal increase in range was expected.  A weight reduction this year,  capacity increase next year,  chemistry change the year after... This is what we call "job security"

But the new BMS only needs a module that fits into the slot. does not matter what the chemistry or voltage is or how many cells are in the module. All of that is detected and configured to work best with the other 7 disparate modules.

OK!! I am done. Your turn to flame me but keep in mind for those who think I have been drinking the "good" egg nog. I am willing to bet that if we come back 10 years from now, no one would even be close to predicting what directions and technologies EVs will have taken. How much do I think the above scenario will happen?

I dont know, but it is the Christmas season and I be dreaming of an EV Xmas!!