Archive for electric cars

Save these other cars

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Desirable machines, Green Tech with tags , , , , , , , on 26/05/2015 by Alexander

Yesterday I linked a beautifully-written article on what cars are worth saving from their ICE. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth having a look because the fundamental premise is saving cars that had crap engines but were otherwise lovely.

And because I’m a bit of an unoriginal simpleton, here are some of my own picks:

Citroen DS

Credit: Boldride

Credit: Boldride

No-one in the automotive world can deny the Citroen DS was revolutionary. Materials, aerodynamics, technology, safety and comfort were all redefined by the iconic French car, but it’s Achilles heel was the engine. There was nothing revolutionary about it, in fact, it was quite the contrary. On release, it had a 1.9l petrol unit, derived from the old Traction Avant, a car from the 1930’s. Subsequent engines introduced electronic injection, but you probably won’t see it written down as part of the huge range of the DS’s groundbreaking innovations.

Such a legend deserves to live on, and a technological advance like electrification would suit it like a glove. How you’d get the complicated hydraulics to work is for boffins, but it can’t be beyond the ken of man.

DeLorean DMC-12

Credit: DeLorean

Credit: DeLorean

A no-brainer. The DeLorean had a 2.8-litre Peugeot V6, which was underpowered for such a heavy car. Solution: a torquey electric motor, that suits its subsequent sci-fi credentials perfectly. Back to the Future, indeed.

And the best thing is, someone’s done it!

Alpine A108/Willys Interlagos
I love old Alpines, so much that I put the A110 in my Dream Garage. This particular Alpine was the type of old car powered by one those tiny engines that are bang-slap on the fine line of being suitable for cars or only good for lawn-mowers. The largest put into one I believe was for the Brazilian version (with the lovely name “Interlagos”, and manufactured by Willys, and pictured above) and had 945cc. And as anyone who has had this sort of car knows, the racket these cars make can be unbearable, making it perfect for EV treatment. You’d reach your destination without your ears bleeding and head pounding from a constant thrum of a noisy engine.

And because the A108 is so small, aerodynamic and light, I reckon it would be rather efficient in its energy consumption.

Volvo 200 series
Because classic cars can’t all be sports cars or legends, here’s an example of a humdrum everyday car made famous for its safety and practicality. According to some motoring journalists, the only reason some models had large six-cylinder engines was to be able to lug so much weight around. So hey presto, there you have the perfect excuse to electrify it.

And that’s just the excuse, there are other good reasons to bring one up more to date. There are its fabulous lines that have aged unbelievably well, its comfort or that wonderful interior. Plus, since it was rather reliable, and always a contender for the Volvo High-Mileage Club, it’s probable that 200 series engines have so many miles on them that the pistons have worn down to nubs and all the wiring is flaky and brittle. So you might as well prepare it for even more miles by transforming it into an EV.

Another of the best reasons I can think of is to stop them being slammed by tastless modders.

I loved doing this. I’ll think I’ll do some more later


The Evils of Electric

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, General opinions with tags , , , , , on 30/05/2013 by Alexander

Last post, I delved into how the Tesla Model S might be too good for its own good, if that makes any sense at all. Electric cars have gained a lot of traction since I started writing this blog and offering up other possible modes of making cars go that might become dominant. But I’d like to focus once again on just electric cars, in particular non-hybrid, 100% battery-driven vehicles, and possible consequences of their adoption. I’ve no doubt their market share will grow, and at this point in time all we think about is how wonderful it will be with silent, no-emission environmentally-friendly vehicles that’ll cost peanuts to run, and not about downsides this might bring. Let me insert a small caveat here: that I’m in no way against electric cars, in fact it’s quite the opposite, I think they’ll probably be fantastic when they overcome current problems.

With the possible advent of a slew of super-batteries, such as the University of Illinois micro-battery or graphene batteries, it’s no longer solidly arguable that charge times and range will be a hindering issue in adopting EVs as a normal everyday transport. But at what cost?

– Electricity will become more expensive
If everyone starts plugging in every night to recharge their cars, the electric grid will have to be upgraded to cope with the extra juice being extracted. That’ll cost money, and I don’t see governments picking up the bill in this economic climate. Also, markets function on the principle of supply and demand. A lot of demand will mean the suppliers will raise prices and increase their profit margin, and blame the aforementioned upgrades for the price hikes. Don’t believe me? That’s exactly what happened when oil prices spiked and the price of fuel went up, and oil companies registered record profits.

Might be avoided if…
… the march for the adoption of renewable energy sources continues. Solar and eolic (wind) generated electricity are the most obvious, but perhaps other solutions originally thought up as alternatives to petrol and diesel like algal-based fuels and second-generation biofuels can be put to good use if the internal combustion engine goes the way of the dodo.

– Gigantic changes in infrastructures
If I were to go out tomorrow and buy a Nissan Leaf, I’d be buggered to able to recharge it. Having an electric car today, in 2013 implies you’re fortunate enough to have a garage with your own mains. Most people have to park 3 streets away from where they live, or, like me, in a common garage beneath the block of flats where they live with no socket to plug their car into. Charging stations are a joke in this day and age. I only know of one at a petrol station near my house, and to my knowledge it’s probably the only one in a 10-mile radius. Most of the time some ignorant plonker in a BMW has parked it front of it, so it’s non-usable, or another EV has parked there and won’t be finished with the station for another four hours. Infrastructural support for EVs will need big investments, and in the case EVs replace ICE cars, there’ll be a lot of abandoned petrol stations. “Oh, just convert them into charging stations” you might say. Well, I can tell you from my own experience in real estate-related matters, that is scrotum-squashingly difficult. You need a bunch of legal mechanisms that don’t even exist at the moment to make it possible in the first place, and that’s just to make it possible. To make it easy will be herculean (if it’s even achievable) since every law-making entity always makes a hash of streamlining any sort of legal process. Top all this off with the prospect that charging points will be non-standardised at first as each brand will battle for its own proprietary solution, and the fact that the user-friendliness, quality and adaptability of charging stations will suck terribly before years of R&D, consumer consulting and simple trial and error will fix all the original mistakes.

Might be avoided if…
… there’s a lot of planning and understanding in advance. Governments and the big players in pushing EV recharging stations would have to come together and choose the best stuff on offer and come up with a harmonious solution. Doesn’t seem likely for a number of reasons, most of which have been stated above.

– It will ruin other forms of transport
This one’s close to my heart, since I’ve recently restarted using a bike as a mode of transport. In many cities, especially in uncivilised backwaters like the one I live in, bicycles are seen purely as an object of leisure, and only paupers use bikes to go to work. As a consequence, bike lanes are only practically found along the coastline and near universities, because local authority members only use cars and wouldn’t be seen dead on a bicycle, and think that if they build bike lanes no-one will use them (which shows up their stupidity, the only reason people don’t use bike lanes is because there aren’t any, but I digress). However, recently bike sales have climbed, and people cycling about is an increasingly visible sight. The rise in their use is mirrored by a current awareness campaign on TV aimed at making motorists and cyclists behave better around each other, and some councils converting disused railway lines into bike tracks (which is very stupid, but maybe one day I’ll get to that). Bikes are brilliant: they’re cheap, quick, healthy, easy to park, non-taxed and have practically little to no running costs. The problem here is that human beings are inherently lazy, and will only start riding bikes for financial reasons. That’s why bike use is rising, because we’re in the midst of a humungous economic depression. If people get access to electric vehicles that are cheap to run (if the price of electricity doesn’t go through the roof), that’s it for bicycles. And buses and trains, since it will probably be cheaper to run a near-maintenance-free EV than it will to buy a fricking bus-pass every month. We’ll be back to pre-recession levels of car use, if not higher.

Might be avoided if…
… people get used to bikes and start loving the freedom and the practicality and health they give. That and the subsequent total gridlock that will become rampant if everyone starts using a car.

– It will radically transform the economic dynamics of the materials necessary
Rare earth materials have been quite controversial in recent years. There’s China’s attempted market manipulation and terrible mining practices in the Congo surrounding these materials, and these are absolutely crucial for the electronics that our lives can’t function without today. Smartphones can’t be made without rare earth minerals, as well as a whole host of other consumer electronics. So imagine: in a few years, we’re going to need a whole lot of rare earth if we want to make battery-powered cars that are governed by complex techno-wizardy to make them work properly. As the name implies rare earth materials are, well… rare, and if today there are enough problems as it is for supply to meet demand, imagine what will happen if demand keeps rising!

Might be avoided if…
… scientists or manufacturers manage to get round the need for rare earth minerals by making complex electronics work with more abundant elements. For example, a Chicago-based company has come up with an electric motor that doesn’t need rare earth materials.

– It will create perverse new ways for governments to put their hands in our pockets and monitor our habits
Yes, this one is the biggie. Governments should be like those money kitties at work, where everyone chips in and it’s all eventually and evenly used for a common benefit. But unfortunately, most of them work more like Mafia bosses, demanding a cut on every single piece of income you could possibly have, then squandering most of it on expensive habits, but leaving a few crumbs for the less fortunate to give the impression they care. A huge slice of government money comes from taxing fossil fuels (where I live, it represents 20% of indirect tax, second only to VAT, which is a whopping 50%). So if fuel consumption goes down, it only stands to reason that the government will implement something like a perverse “pay-by-mile” scheme, which will in turn imply monitoring where you go so they can collect their precious lolly. I can only guess they’ll make it mandatory to have some sort of GPS-tracking system you can’t switch off, which will then be hacked by criminal syndicates who will use it to see when you’re away from home and sell the info to burglars, so when you get home you’ll have four walls and nothing inside them. The Dark side of electric power comes hither.

Might be avoided if…
… governments had wise people within them. Which they don’t.

The Model S

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Desirable machines, General opinions with tags , , , , on 26/12/2012 by Alexander

Electric cars. Ah, the debate they inspire, whether it’s fuming outrage or bleating fanboy-ism, will be ongoing for years to come. Personally, I never bought the whole current electric car malarkey, for reasons I’ll note down once again in a minute, but first I’d like to speak a little about the current poster-child for the all-electric automobile. It’s not the Mitsubishi i-Miev, not the Renault Fluance Z.E. or the Twizy, nor even the Nissan Leaf. The epitome of electric motoring is without doubt the Tesla Model S.

Tesla Model SI’m starting off with something that’s indisputable here: it just looks the part, doesn’t it? Beautiful, striking lines that make it look as contemporary and as gorgeous as the best of current conventionally-propelled offerings with a little je-ne-sais-quoi hinting its futuristic character. The more I read and find out about the Model S, the more backward, redundant, obsolete and plain silly regular ICE’s look and feel. The absence of maintenance costs, the low running costs, the quietness, the smoothness, the performance and the space! With the battery pack doubling as the floor and thus, offering more rigidity to the chassis, it also frees up stowage space that allows for the two extra seats in the back.Tesla S Interior The rear boot, though huge, can be done without with because there’s another one up front. It just sounds so obvious and clever. This also allows for a completely flat floor in the front and rear, and a very spacious-feeling cabin.

The Tesla also has astonishing performance figures, with a sub-six second acceleration and the range of 300+ miles, that beats everything else electric out there by far. I have no doubt in saying that if you’re going electric, this is what to go for. Unless of course, you live outside the US and it isn’t available and is also as expensive as hell.

And that’s one of the downsides of the car. I do understand its price tag, but damn, that stings. Another problem is how long will the batteries last and how much it’ll cost to replace them. It’s all very well having little to no maintenance costs for five or so years, but then having to shell out a big ton of cash after that time for a car that cost a six-figure amount can be quite a slap in the face.

Another downside, which I’m sorry to insist on, is still the range and charging time. 300 miles is fine for daily commuting but it’s utter crap for a road trip. And the hefty buying tag and charging conditions (i.e., you have to have your own mains socket next to the car, ergo, you have to own your own house that has to have its own garage) means this will be a toy for the well-off, who will buy this as a guilt-ridding tool so they don’t feel so bad about their other car, a V8 or V12 that gets a single-figure mpg count. And don’t forget, charging away from home will be difficult and lengthy.

To finalise, there’s that stupid touchscreen centre console. It’s pathetic. Everything is controlled from there, whether it’s the AC, the sunroof or the radio, and I bet it’s invisible in sunlight, clunky at best since you’ll probably have to navigate through a plethora of sub-menus to get where you want, and downright f**king dangerous since this demands a lot of eyes-off-the-road time for this. Utter bilge.

But these downsides are niggles that have to be brought into the real world for there to be a concerted effort for development (except for the touchscreen, that’s just s**t). The current model for electric car ownership is crap (it requires ownership of a second ICE car), and as I’ve said before, it’ll fail if it stays the way it is. But infrastructures for charging away from home will pop up eventually if there’s a demand for it. Charging times, battery life and costs will definitely go down over time, and there have been all sorts of news of battery packs that are cheaper, lighter and more efficient, and are just waiting some more R&D and testing to be made commercially available.

So thumbs up for the Model S. Let’s root for it’s success.

Renault Fluence Z.E. (probably stands for “Zero Economizing”)

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Green Tech, Upcoming cars with tags , , , , , , , , , on 10/11/2011 by Alexander

Renault’s latest addition to its all-electric family, the Fluence Z.E., reintroduces problems that came with the Twizy I’ve already written about.

For €21,000 (that already carries a €5,000 tax discount), one of these EVs can be yours. But then you have to pay €82 a month for battery pack rental, for a maximum of 10,000km a year. That’s not counting electricity. Which makes this car a jolly expensive vehicle to run, even in the long term. Doing the corresponding maths, each year you’ll pay €984 alone for the battery rental, plus electricity (which Renault say will cost around €2 per 200km), for a measly 6,000 miles. I do more than double that a year and my fuel bill is around €800. Even counting maintenance costs, my ten-year old Volvo is still a better deal.

OK, then there’s the usual drawbacks of it being a fuss to recharge, the range, etc. I once read (I don’t remember where) about an entrepreneur who wanted to create a network of battery-recharging stations where you’d take your EV and simply switch a depleted battery for a fully charged one. This implies a certain standardization of batteries I don’t think car manufacturers are ready for, but it would be a clever way to go. Either way, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the current model of EV usage is way, way too inefficient to appeal to a wide-ranging market. The cleverest bet thus far is an EV with a range-extender, best exemplified by the stunning Fisker Karma. This isn’t to say the Electric Car itself will fail, just that the current concept of it will.

Where the hell is it?

Posted in Alt-Fuel, Car conception, Green Tech with tags , , , , , , on 26/05/2011 by Alexander

Two years ago, Popular Science and Autoblog Green ran pieces on a former IBM engineer, Dr. Charles Perry, that won an award and subsequent funding for an idea that would make it feasible for everyone to drive a hybrid. I wrote about it on my other blog (before I created this one specifically for cars, because I was droning on far too much about them there), and again here in the series on alternative fuels.

It’s been two years, and nothing more has surfaced. The PopSci article said there’d be an experimental phase involving fleets of government vehicles, and the system would be commercially available by next year. Shouldn’t some sort of inkling on progress have come out by now? Have they hit a massive snag? What’s going on? The hybrid retrofitting concept, along with the algal fuel production idea, were my two favourite alt-fuel short/mid-term solutions for the fuel crisis. The long-term solutions will probably involve the shockwave generator and/or the split-cycle engine, but as I kept insisting in the alt-fuel series, intermediate solutions are needed, so that we don’t mass-trash our current vehicles and create unnecessary problems in the process.

And another thing that makes new breakthroughs urgent is the current madness that surrounds electric cars. Read this carefully, people: EV’s are not the future. I don’t care what a stupid German who did 100,000km in a Tesla Roadster says (if he can sit around and wait for his car to recharge various times on a 800km-trip, he has far too much spare time on his hands), autonomy is shit and makes the things impractical. They attract spiders and rats, and you have to have a garage with your own private mains to recharge one. Plus, too many electric cars recharging will overtax the electricity grid, driving up fossil fuel consumption at the power station, throwing any environmental advantages EV’s might have had to shit.

So if EV’s continue to cement an undeserved reputation as eco and green, practical, and the next conventional type of automotive propulsion, we are in some deep shit. This’ll mean that research and development of other alternatives, such as the ones I’ve mentioned, will wind down and perhaps eventually peter out. And let’s face it, it was the lack of alternatives to fossil fuel-driven vehicles that led to our current situation, where people fight wars over oil, that then gets turned into exaggeratedly-priced fuel.

And this is when I wish I was a so-called A-list blogger, with a gazillion daily views. No-one’s going to read this swill, and it’s a shame because even though I can’t write silken prose to save my life, I wish I could help diffuse these pro-alt-fuel, don’t-get-too-carried-away-with-EV’s ideas properly.

Renault Twizy – another wasted chance?

Posted in Car conception, Green Tech, Upcoming cars with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 26/04/2011 by Alexander

Electric cars aren’t a novelty. In the late to nineteenth and early twentieth century, they battled it out with internal combustion engines as the solution to powering the horseless carriage, and even though they were smoother and more efficient than early petrol-drinkers, they eventually lost to ICEs due to the longer range and easiness of refuelling with petrol, as well as the eventual drop in price of a new gasoline-powered car because of mass production. Until the 21st century, it was downhill from then on, with no convincing solution for electric propulsion amid many tries, some more infamous than others. Everyone knows what a stupid blunder General Motors committed with their EV1, and it’s been an example of how not to go about things. Had GM stuck with the electric vehicle concept, they might have developed better related technology and become the role model for the surge in interest in EVs that’s been witnessed during the past few years, thanks to the realisation that oil is expensive, polluting and is running out. Instead GM decided to moronically destroy all their EV1s, and become known as the “Company that Killed the Electric Car”. With that kind of vision, small wonder they nearly went bankrupt! But I digress.

The problem is that it would seem car manufacturers aren’t exactly hell-bent on repeating and/or avoiding previous mistakes. And where should I start? Perhaps at the beginning, years ago, when auto-makers started making a big hullabaloo about upcoming electric vehicles: the Chevy Volt/Opel Ampera and the Nissan Leaf, to name a couple. The hype gave way to an expectation-killing wait, and the announcement of prices that would make even the most die-hard electric vehicle fan baulk.

Renault has proverbially jumped on the bandwagon with their Zero-Emissions concepts, utilising their partnership with Nissan for the underlying technology. And the first model to roll off the production line is the Twizy, a two-seater quadricycle that Renault says will revolutionise the market. And forgive me for sounding pedantic, but if that’s not completely over-hyped bollocks, then I don’t know what is. If there was a revolution to be had, then the G-Wiz would’ve got there first. And that’s really all this Twizy is, really. A more stylish G-Wiz with no doors and a lower price tag. But of course that may be they key to the thing, what with other electric vehicles costing staggering amounts of money. The Twizy will cost (here in Portugal) €7000, which is nice, but then Renault slap an extra €45-per-month charge to rent the battery, for a 3-year period and for no more than 7500km a year. And that’s not counting the cost of the electricity needed to recharge it (probably every day, given its crappy range). So if you do exactly 7500km in a year (goodness knows what Renault will charge you if you go over this), that works out at €0.072 per kilometre, which sounds great. But a diesel car that does 5 litres per 100km on average will cost (at current fuel prices) €0.075 per km. Yes, it’s slightly more expensive, but only slightly more, and with considerable advantages. You aren’t limited to only 20.5km per day (7500km max limit divided by 365 days), you can go on a motorway, you can refill quickly and easily and you have doors on the sides of your car, meaning you won’t have to smell and hear everything around you, and can use your car in the rain and cold.

So let’s be honest, what sort of person will this Twizy appeal to? First off said person has to have their own garage, since they can’t park it outside (it has no doors and needs to be plugged in safely). They can live no further than 10km from their workplace and must have an enclosed parking spot there (because it HAS NO F**KING DOORS, and stray dogs can get in and have a snooze, not counting all sorts of unsavoury humans who won’t think twice to vandalise/burglarise/mistreat the innards of your car). Doesn’t sound like much of a market.

Anyway, like most electric cars, it’s been announced with a lot of fanfare, and tested by moto-journos, even though it’s only available next year. Nothing like a good, long, stupid wait to wane desires for a car that, conceptually speaking, won’t work.