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Posts Tagged ‘Chevy Volt’

(Un)Fit to Print

July 1st, 2011 admin Comments off

The majority of folks these days get their news and information from some form of mainstream media outlet.  Which is a shame. Because, while most of us (myself included) assume “they must know what they’re talking about,” when it comes to subjects about which we ourselves have no expertise, it’s on those occasions when they so ignorantly cover a topic of which we DO have intimate knowledge that we then call into question their comprehension of basically anything.

I know stuff about cars.  Alex Taylor III does not.

In a June 27 Fortune Magazine online article (also published on CNN.com), Alex The Third writes about how all the Chevy Volt enthusiasts out there are incredibly misguided because, although the Volt can travel an average of 35 miles on electricity alone, it only gets 32 mpg in the city (36 mpg highway) once the battery is depleted and the gasoline engine turns on.  The upcoming plug-in version of the Toyota Prius, on the other hand, can be expected to get 51 mpg city / 48 mpg highway (same as the current “regular hybrid” Prius) once its battery is depleted after 13 miles of electric driving.  Thus, Mr. 3 contends:  “On trips of 13 miles or less, the Prius plug-in and Volt deliver the same all-electric mpg: zero.  On trips between 13 miles and 35 miles in length, the Volt beats the Prius.  But after 35 miles, the Prius handily outscores the Volt.”

Unfortunately, Alex has failed to understand simple math. The actual cumulative fuel consumption of the plug-in Prius as compared to the Chevy Volt is shown below.  (I’ve used Taylor’s assumptions here, except for the 32/36 mpg that he cites for the Volt.  Although that’s what Popular Mechanics experienced, the EPA figure is 36/37 mpg, and since he uses the EPA figure for the Prius, we might as well be consistent.)

See, the Prius driver doesn’t suddenly overcome the Volt driver with respect to fuel saved at the 35 mile mark.  It takes quite a few miles of the Volt burning gasoline before the break-even point is reached.  In fact, one must drive 97 miles before any fuel-savings is realized by the Prius compared to the Volt.  Which is a lot more than most people drive each day.

But this isn’t even the full story.  I’ve driven both the Volt, and the plug-in Prius (in near-production form).  The architecture of the Volt lets you accelerate hard on electric-power alone.  It lets you reach triple-digit speeds with no help from the gasoline engine.  It has a true all-electric driving range of around 35 miles.  On the other hand, the plug-in Prius is largely the same as the conventional Prius, but with a larger battery.  The low power of its electric motor means that, if you press the accelerator more than just a little, the gasoline engine turns on.  Due to mechanical limitations of the motor-generator attached to the sun-gear of the planetary gearset in its power-split transmission, its electric-only speed is limited to 62 mph.  So if you’re on the freeway (and not stuck in D.C. traffic), the gasoline engine will turn on.  If you try to pass someone, the gasoline engine will turn on.  If you try to drive it at all like a normal person drives a normal car on a normal road, the gasoline engine will turn on.  The 13-mile “electric range” really isn’t.  This pushes the break-even mileage well beyond my generously calculated 97-mile mark.

Don’t get me wrong – the Prius (especially the plug-in version, which is not yet available) is a technically sophisticated, well-engineered vehicle that offers incredible fuel economy, with an internal combustion engine that is more advanced and efficient than that in the Volt.  And it’s true that the charge-sustaining MPG numbers for the Volt are somewhat disappointing (although that’s the penalty for lugging around a large 35-mile battery).  But Alex asserts – in Fortune Magazine – that the Prius is “a better idea” than the Volt, and that the numerous accolades the Volt has received are “an excess of praise in the wrong place.”

Which simply illustrates that he doesn’t know much about either car.

Education

April 29th, 2011 admin Comments off

Earth Day recently came – and went – and, given the push for green transportation these days, a lot of the major car magazines put forth issues devoted to fuel-efficient vehicles in honor of the event.  Autoweek was one of these, with an Earth Day Special Issue, containing a bevy of articles about hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, and clean diesels.  But the article that caught my eye devoted a third of its page layout to a photograph of a Nissan Leaf being loaded onto a tow truck, with the title, Riding the Flatbed of Shame.

The author of this article, Mark Vaughn, describes his 45-mile (one way) journey to a track to conduct testing of the new all-electric Leaf.  Track testing – as in 0-60 mph acceleration tests, pedal-to-the-floor quarter-mile runs, and skid-pad exercises.  (In other words, activities that won’t do much to preserve the state-of-charge of his Leaf’s battery.)  He began this journey with 73 miles of range showing on the dash – which should have made it obvious that he wouldn’t be returning home on the same set of electrons with which he began.  But rather than deal with that reality, Vaughn continued to test the car, even with visual and audio “low battery” warnings of increasing ferocity.  Eventually, our fair automotive journalist set out to an auto electric shop, to cobble together an adapter to connect the Level 1 charging cord that came with the Leaf (which allows for connection into any standard household socket) to a dryer plug. Which immediately ruined the charger.  And required the tow-truck.

If you had *this*, and needed electricity at the other end, what would *you* do?

I have a few problems with this article.  Although the message is really, “If you’re an idiot, an EV won’t work for you,” the visual of the Leaf on the flatbed is simply “EVs don’t work.”  Secondly, Vaughn declares that you have to lay out every mile of your trip and compare it with every kilowatt-hour of charge in your lithium-ion battery pack.  If the numbers don’t add up, don’t go, which is sort of an alarmist view of EV usage.  Thirdly, Vaughn didn’t think, for whatever reason, to plug the charge-cord-he-already-had into a plug for which it was intended – instead taking on the challenging task of putting a square peg in a round hole.  And finally, in describing the final outcome of his mistake of plugging the 110-volt, 12-amp cord into a 220-volt, 50-amp outlet, he explains, with 38 amps more than the cable was designed for, it immediately fried.  Although non-electrical-types can’t be blamed for not realizing that the 50-amp rating of the outlet had nothing to do with the charger failure (it was the 220 volts that got him), as an automotive journalist writing in a major magazine, Vaughn should get his technical information correct.

Put simply, consumers must be educated about new technologies, such as electric-drive vehicles.  And Vaughn’s article only serves to miseducate.  (At least he correctly asserts that “it was nobody’s fault but my own.”)

Recently, I watched an episode of Speedmakers on Speed TV, dealing with Electric Vehicles.  It was an interesting piece that highlighted the Chevy Volt, Tesla Roadster and Model S, and Jaguar C-X75.  Unfortunately, the narrator consistently referred to the 16-kilowatt battery pack in the Volt, and the 52-kilowatt battery pack in the Roadster.  Which is sort of like me saying my Audi has a 50 horsepower gas tank. What the gentleman means to say is kilowatt-HOUR, which is how battery capacity is measured.  Education…

Earlier this month, there was a garage fire in a Connecticut home.  The garage was completely destroyed, as were the two cars in it.  One of these cars was a brand new Chevy Volt, plugged in and charging overnight.  The other was a Suzuki Samurai that had been converted by the owner to an electric vehicle, also plugged in (to a home-made charging system) and charging overnight.  Although the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, that didn’t stop local news outlets (such as WFSB) from declaring that the Volt may have ignited the fire.  In the headlines… As for me, I’m suspicious of the home-made conversion and its charging system.  The Volt was almost certainly the victim here.

In any case, I sure am glad that gasoline doesn’t burn.

Education…

 .

Sexism

January 19th, 2011 admin Comments off

This morning, while standing at the bus-stop waiting for the public transit system to take me to work, a woman walked up to the newspaper vending machine next to me to purchase her copy of the Post.  As she turned to walk away (after retrieving her print edition of what everybody else read online yesterday), she asked me, “Sir, would you like the Sports section?”

Now, I’m sure this unexpected gesture was born out of genuine kindness, pure and simple.  But, should I have been offended? I mean, if our roles had been reversed, and had I offered her the Style & Beauty section, would she have been right to feel insulted?

Bottom-line:  there are many things in this world which are, rightly or wrongly, associated with either men or women.  This includes cars.

There are vehicles that are traditionally for guys. Four-wheel-drive trucks.  Jeeps.  Muscle cars.  Anything with a loud exhaust.  And then there are “chick cars”. The VW New Beetle.  The Mazda Miata (until guys figured out it was fun as hell to drive around a race track).  And minivans.  (OK, minivans may be more stay-at-home-mom-schlepping-the-kids-all-around-town car than chick car.  But still.)

Of course, the lines are now blurring – at least when it comes to minivans.  And auto companies (or at least their marketing firms) realize it.  Take for example the “Rock Van” ads about the latest Honda Odyssey, or the “Swagger Wagon” spots about the Toyota Sienna.  (Meanwhile, OEMs like Chevrolet – who doesn’t have a minivan offering – position vehicles like the Traverse as the less demeaning alternative to the minivan.)

I wonder which gender-bin electric-drive vehicles will fall into, now that they’re becoming more and more available. I’ve been told that the Prius is a chick car.  I suspect that the Leaf may fall into that category as well, though the Volt has a more masculine presence.

The Tesla Model S?  I’ll take mine along with the Sports section, thank you very much.

At Least It’s an Op-Ed Column

November 13th, 2010 admin Comments off

George F. Will is an idiot.

In his Washington Post Op-Ed, dated Sunday, November 14 (which is odd, since today’s only the 13th), Will pens a sarcastic piece trivializing the technology contained within the Chevy Volt, and ridiculing the U.S. government’s role in preventing General Motors’ complete collapse.  I’d like to correct a few of his statements.

Will writes that “the Volt is not quite an electric car, or not the sort GM deliberately misled Americans into expecting.”  He explains that it’s “just another hybrid,” and claims the public was duped when it was revealed that, under certain operating conditions, “the gas engine will power the wheels.”  It’s true that the Volt is a hybrid – effectively, a series hybrid – which everyone even remotely involved in the auto industry has acknowledged for quite some time now.  (Sure, GM describes it as an extended-range electric vehicle, to emphasize the fact that it is the electric motor that is responsible for making the car go.)

GM's Patent Application: Output-Split Electrically Variable Transmission with Electric Propulsion Using One or Two Motors

GM never deliberately misled anyone.  Will, like a few other folks, is making a big deal out of the fact that, when GM’s patent application for the Volt’s transmission was discovered recently, it was realized that there exists a potential mechanical path linking the engine with the wheels.  It doesn’t seem to matter that, the vast majority of the time, this path will not be engaged.  (Those of us who have seen the maps illustrating the operational controls of the Volt’s transmission understand this.)  Nor does it seem to matter that, when this path is engaged, it does so simply to increase the efficiency of the complete drivetrain as a whole – the engine can never provide motive force to the wheels on its own.  …Nope, Will has been duped.  And he is pissed.

Will goes on to complain that, in a recent Volt ad, the fine print explains that the car will only available in 6 states plus Washington DC at the end of 2010.  Of course, he fails to mention (or simply is ignorant of the fact) that, come March 2011, several more states will receive Volts.  By the end of 2011, the Volt will be available in most places around the country.  By mid 2012, the car will be available nationwide.  So don’t worry, Will – you’ll be able to get yours soon enough.

Next on Will’s gripe-list are the numbers:  $41,000 for a car that only seats four, before the $7,500 “bribe” that the feds will pay you to buy it, not to mention state-level subsidies for both the car and a Level 2 charger.  He adds that gasoline will have to cost $9 a gallon before these cars will make it “on their own merit.”  (He makes no mention of the subsidies that we already pay to keep gasoline from being $9 a gallon.)  He also dings GM for predicting they’d produce 60,000 Volts in the first year of production; however, the citation he gives is anything but a forecast.  Instead, it’s a news story from over three years ago – when the Volt prototype was first revealed, and well before the implosion of the North American auto industry – describing potential volume levels needed to drive the price of the car down.

Will also trivializes the environmental impact of the Volt, saying it simply stores electricity produced by coal- and gas-fired power plants.  Of course, only about half of our nation’s power plants are coal-powered.  A substantial portion is nuclear.  There’s also quite a bit of hydro power.  And while renewables such as wind and solar play only a small role now, their impact is certainly growing.  (It doesn’t take a lot of effort to predict what Will’s opinion of federal money going towards accelerating the market viability of these technologies would be…)  The point is, electric motors are much more efficient than gasoline engines, and on the balance, electric-drive powertrains are an environmental win.

Will concludes his obtuse argument by criticizing the financial position in which GM currently finds itself, having had its bankruptcy financed by the U.S. and Canadian governments.  The pitfalls and benefits of the government preventing the loss of tens and hundreds of thousands of jobs associated with The General and its supply-chain can be debated forever.  History will tell us whether it was the “right” decision or not.  We may not have to wait that long, however, as GM plans for its IPO.  Then again, it may be investors in Asia and the Middle East that end up laughing all the way to the bank.

I’m in no position – nor do I have any ammunition with which – to defend GM.  But I do understand automotive technology.  Obviously, George Will doesn’t.  OK, so maybe that doesn’t make him an idiot.  But it should give him pause before scripting an ill-informed Op-Ed about it.

The End?

November 7th, 2010 admin Comments off

In music, a coda is a movement that brings a work to a conclusion.  In other words, it’s the end.

So, when it comes to naming your new start-up electric car company, why would you choose the name “Coda”? Would it be to signify the end of the internal combustion engine?  Maybe the end of transportation as we know it?  Or perhaps it might even be a subconscious decision which turns out to be foretelling of the ultimate fate of your company itself.

In the case of Coda Automotive, I’m leaning towards that last, prophetic choice.  Turns out, Kevin Czinger has just resigned as the company’s CEO, just a few days after the Senior VP of Global Sales announced his departure.  And although the company is still theoretically a going concern, one must wonder how the orchestra will continue once the maestro exits.

Coda Automotive spun off from Miles Electric Vehicles – makers of smaller, slower neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) – a few years ago, with the charge of producing highway-capable, full-size EVs for the American consumer.  Although Miles EVs aren’t bad (for what they are), my own opinion is that Coda’s aim is slightly off target.  Their upcoming (?) EV appears reasonably capable, though its styling is more like that of a mid-1990s Toyota Corolla than the “effortless blend of style and function … with a classic profile and sleek lines [and an] aesthetic rival[ing] the coolest cars on the road” described on the company’s slick website.

Even less harmonic is the price, at over $37k after the $7,500 tax incentive! This is about $4k more than the much more attractive Chevy Volt extended range electric vehicle, and about $13k more than the also much more attractive Nissan Leaf EV (with similar specs to, albeit with a significantly smaller battery than, the Coda) – both due out in about a month’s time.

I’m excited about the new electrified cars we’re about to see on our nation’s roads.  But as for Coda – well, the next song on their program might just be Requiem for an EV.

Anniversary

June 25th, 2010 admin Comments off

Time flies. It was just about a year ago that ThatCarBlog kicked off with my inaugural post.  A lot has happened since then:  Cash For Clunkers came and went; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act doled out several billion dollars to help improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, primarily through electrification; automobile manufacturers introduced a few new interesting vehicles; a few Toyota Priuses got Christined and took their drivers on a wild ride; oh, and BP broke something that they don’t know how to fix…

Unfortunately, I’ve been busy the past month, and haven’t had time for a single update.  To my recollection though, not much has happened during the past few weeks, automotively speaking.  We’re still waiting for the public release of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf later this year – signifying the mass-market introduction of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles in the U.S.  (One thing that has happened is that a few automotive journalists have had the chance to drive the Leaf, and were quite impressed!)  Mercedes did reveal the first prototype of the all-electric version of their SLS AMG, which is drop-dead gorgeous, although the color-scheme for the prototype is questionable…  Tesla Motors’ initial public offering of stock is right around the corner, with much speculation as to whether it’ll be a success or a flop.  …Oh, and BP has done basically nothing to stop the oil-geyser that they created in the Gulf of Mexico, despite spending over $2.3 billion.

…OK, so maybe a lot has been going on in the last month. The automotive world doesn’t stop just because I don’t have time to think about it.  (Or because the World Cup is happening.  …Hhhmmm, maybe that’s why I haven’t had time for ThatCarBlog in the last couple of weeks!)

Anyway, Happy Birthday to ThatCarBlog.  Thanks for reading!  Now, it’s time for Brazil v. Portugal!

Peeks, Leafs, and Curves

April 25th, 2010 admin 2 comments

Just over a week ago, I opened my mouth about V-Vehicle Company, and the fact that they appeared to be dead in the water.  Apparently, the folks at VVC read my post, and thus decided to give a few journalists a sneak PEEK of their affordable, efficient, composite-bodied compact.  According to Autobloggreen, it looks like a cross between a VW Golf and a Dodge Neon. …Who knew ThatCarBlog had such an effect on the automotive start-ups?

2011 Nissan Leaf

In other news, this week Nissan revealed that 6,635 people in the U.S. have paid $99 to reserve a Leaf … in only 3 days.  This is notable for several reasons.  First, lack of customer demand was one of the reasons GM cited in the early ’90s for the limited availability (and eventual cancellation) of the EV1 program.  (Of course, when customers … demanded … the EV1, GM’s stance was, “Oh, they’re not really serious.”)  Demand for the Leaf, which won’t be available until the end of the year, is already stronger than expected – a very good sign for Nissan (and EVs in general).  Secondly, compared to the expectations and media chatter surrounding Chevrolet’s Volt, hype surrounding the Leaf has been relatively limited.  This deserves mention, considering the Leaf will arrive at around the same time as the Volt, and it’s an all-electric vehicle (compared to the Volt’s plug-in-hybrid … er, extended-range-electric propulsion architecture).  Many folks still consider pure EVs to not quite be ready for mass-market consumption.  …And finally, the 100-mile range Leaf will cost $25,280 after tax incentives, about $7k less than the Volt.

2011 Audi RS5

And on a final note … I just can’t stop staring at Audi’s new RS5.  This is one sexy car, with subtly striking CURVES and amazing performance potential.  OK, so the 450 hp, 4.2 liter V8 underneath its hood may not be the most efficient power plant imaginable, but with an average fuel economy of 22 mpg, it’s not nearly as thirsty as most cars of this caliber.  And with such visual appeal on the outside, it’s hard to pay attention to what’s on the inside…

A Battery of Questions

November 24th, 2009 admin Comments off

cell photoI often think I know more about things than I really do. And one thing I think I know a lot about is batteries – the kind that goes in your Prius, and the kind that will go in your Volt.  As most car-folks know, the battery industry is currently transitioning from nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries (i.e., what’s in your Prius) to lithium-ion (Li-ion; i.e., what’s in your Volt.  Or Leaf.  Or Tesla.).  And, it turns out, a battery isn’t just a battery – different types of batteries require significantly different control mechanisms to manage how much and how quickly they are charged and discharged, and how they behave while in operation, so that lifetime, safety, and performance are maximized.

But it’s even more complicated than that.  There are dozens of different Li-ion battery chemistries.  Every battery manufacturer has their own idea of the right combination of chemistry and manufacturing process that will result in the winning formula.  But each of these batteries has very unique characteristics that require very specific controls once it’s embedded in an automobile.  Auto manufacturers, on the other hand, would like to be chemistry-agnostic.  (They just want a battery that meets their requirements.)  But, given that the battery dictates the control software, it’s not so easy for a car maker to just pick a battery off the shelf.  Substantial development effort must take place between the auto maker and the battery maker, so that the car and the battery work together as a system.  (Just look at all the effort that has gone into the Volt’s development, in conjunction with Compact Power / LG Chem.)  Once a vehicle has been developed with a particular battery in place, changing battery suppliers would be a major hurdle.  As a result, there have been a lot of joint-ventures formed between auto manufacturers and battery companies, effectively tying their efforts together.

In the end, we’ll likely see each electrified automobile maker tied to one particular type of battery.  But there’s also the issue of standardization in the industry.  I wonder, if each auto/battery manufacturer takes a different path, will this complicate standardization?  How will this effect business models like Better Place – will their entire infrastructure be wedded to one type of battery and one manufacturer?

Misinformation

September 20th, 2009 admin Comments off

In the Street Talk section of the September issue of Panorama (the official magazine of the Porsche Club of America), there’s a blurb about the upcoming Chevy Volt.  To quote, in part:  “The retail price of the car now would be approximately $40,000, as compared to the initial target price of $25,000 or thereabouts.  …  The current configuration of the Volt shows that this car is a plug-in, not a hybrid, with lithium-ion batteries which give the car a range of about 40 miles.  There is a small gasoline engine that can recharge the battery, but not run the car.  Let’s see, $40,000, 40 miles, that’s a grand a mile, by our slide rule. … The car has too limited a range and way too high a price to be a success, so GM is working hard to try to trim the cost.

What?  First of all, I’m aware of no initial price target of $25k for the Volt (though I may just be unaware).  And, it’s a “plug-in, not a hybrid”?  Of course it’s a hybrid – it has an electric motor and an internal combustion engine.  It’s a serial hybrid, meaning that the wheels are driven only by the electric motor.  And to imply that the car only has a 40-mile range?  Uh, that’s a 40-mile all-electric range, and you’ll get about 360 more miles once the internal combustion engine kicks in…  (It’s sort of like me saying, “The new Porsche Panamera has a top speed of 50 mph!” and then leaving off the “in 1st gear” qualifier.  …And by the way, I made up that statistic…)

GM is actually working hard to reduce costs, so there’s one point they got right.  But, why the misinformation?  In print, in a magazine?!  …Granted, this is a small, member-only car-club publication – not one of the major auto-rags that generally get their facts straight.  But, I’m a believer that one should know what one is talking about before one starts talking.  Shouldn’t one?

Do You Hear What I Hear?

September 10th, 2009 admin Comments off

Eberspächer, a German-based company focused on automotive exhaust systems, heaters, and electronics, has recently demonstrated a new product:  a speaker integrated into a vehicle’s muffler, with the capability of significantly affecting the exhaust sound.  ”So what?” you might ask.  Well, as described in Automotive Engineering International, there are numerous applications for this technology.

First of all, it could be used to enhance the sound of the tiny little 4-banger – or the quiet rattle of the diesel engine – in our cars.  Conversely, where noise limits are enforced, it could be used to subdue the scream from the high-strung V8 in your Ferrari F430 with the flick of a switch.  (This is done by generating antiphase sound waves – basically, the inverse of the sound being produced from the engine.  The waves cancel each other out – a phenomenon I played around with when I did digital signal processing research in college.  But I’m getting off-topic, and you’re getting bored…)  Furthermore, with talk of the dangers of electric vehicles quietly roaming our city streets, plowing down unsuspecting pedestrians who fail to hear them approaching, the Eberspächer system could be used to produce an exhaust note of any sort to upcoming EVs.

Le Mans PosterHhhmmm.  I’m a bigger fan of a properly tuned exhaust note than most anyone I know.  (To get a sense of what I’m talking about, watch the movie Le Mans in Dolby Digital.  Tell the kids to hush when the Porsche 917 screams down the Mulsanne Straight.  That, to me, is the greatest sound ever made.)  But the automotive purist in me appreciates the fact that these sounds come from the mechanical process that’s moving the car!  Auto OEMs, as well as the aftermarket, have devoted a lot of resources into improving and enhancing the sound coming from our vehicles’ engines.  (Respective examples are the Motor Sound Package offered on various Porsche models in the past, and the fart-can exhausts that people tend to affix to their souped-up Hondas – though any “improvement” from the latter is agruable.)  But they’ve always relied on the engine itself – not some artificial audio source.

Applications making EVs audible might be a more worthy cause, though I tend to think the safety issue there is overblown.  (In cities, where pedestrians are used to crossing the street, people tend to use their eyes as well as their ears to give them an indication of when it’s best to step off the curb.  And at higher, high-way speeds, noise from the tires and air flowing around the car tend to equal that of the engine anyway.)  To me, the most ideal use of this technology might be in PHEVs/EREVs once they’re traveling in charge-sustaining mode (i.e., when the engine comes on to keep the battery charged).  It seems to me that, say, once the engine turns on in the Chevy Volt or Fisker Karma, it would most optimally run at a constant rpm to generate electricity – maintaining this speed whether the car is traveling at a steady speed, accelerating, or even (in some cases) sitting at a stop-light.  That would be a bit unnerving to the driver, who’s used to the engine sound having some sort of relationship with what the car’s doing.  (As an aside – Constantly Variable Transmissions have specific gear-ratios programmed into their software in part for this exact reason.)  Perhaps the Eberspächer system could be used to help recreate the aural experience to which the consumer is accustomed – one more tool to help smooth the transition to electrified vehicles.

Now, go watch Le Mans!