Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Plug into the Coming Electric Vehicle Revolution

Although gas prices have fallen dramatically since last summer, many automakers are still moving ahead with plans to introduce plug-in vehicles. As Wired put it in a review of the 2009 Detroit auto show "The future of the automobile was sealed at North America's biggest auto show, where all of the hottest new cars and concepts had extension cords."

Coming Soon?
The showroom floor is not the same as the dealership floor. They are not here yet. Will they make it this time? Henry Ford was fascinated with electric cars and collaborated with his close friend Thomas Edison on an ultimately unsuccessful plan to bring one to mass market. If you change the names above, that could be the story of many EV start-ups or even the major car company's today. They have dreams of bringing a practical, affordable, electrically powered, mass produced car to market.

So why is this time different? There are advances both technologically and politically. At the bottom of this post there are dozens of links to stories of auto makers' plug-in plans and municipalities installing plug-in infrastructure.

Electron Tipping Point
This time it looks like there is momentum that will not be quiesced by cheap gasoline. As Andy Grove, of Intel fame, put it "the drumbeat of electric transportation ...is like nothing I've ever seen in my life. It must be done. Everything else is secondary". Electron fueled transportation is domestic, cleaner, (and still) cheaper. This time it is over the tipping point. The links below tell of cities, states, and even entire countries deploying infrastructure for plug-in transportation. None of the auto companies want to miss out on this industry's 'inflection point'.

The big guys have to play in this new space to protect their position and the little guys are hoping that an early to market solution can help them move up in the rankings. No one can afford to ignore what might be the next big car market. 

Hydrogen War Over
It may not be over for good, but there is at least a 5 year truce. Politically, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has been used to defer the battery electric car. Only now are the automakers realizing that fuel cell cars are at least another decade away and they have been "a decade away" since the 1960's. No longer can automakers wait. The Toyota Prius has shown what is possible and every automaker wants to be the next one to have a big hit car. They can no longer wait for hydrogen. Even Iceland, where they were trying to build the "hydrogen economy" is looking for plug-in cars. They have a hydrogen infrastructure but the cars are currently just too expensive.  Tesla Roadsters are bashed for being expensive, well for the true cost of a hydrogen fuel cell car, you can buy 9 or 10 Roadsters. Fuel cells will get cheaper, call me back in about a decade. This political fight is over for now. Hydrogen has lost. 

Electric Car V3.0
Electric cars are not new, in the early 1900's most cars on the road were electric. Ford's wife even drove one. Then in the late 1990's, thanks to California's zero emission mandate, EVs made a brief comeback. See Who Killed the Electric Car? to find out how that ended. 

Technologically, several things have improved for plug-in cars since the GM EV1; batteries are lighter and cheaper, carbon fiber materials... However, the one thing that I think is the most important change since the 1990s is the range extender. If you have never driven an EV, to hear that it has a 50, 60, or even 90, or 100 mile range, sounds short. Most people drive less than 40 miles per day, but if you tell them that is ALL they could drive, well, they don't like it. We Americans love freedom and the ability to jump in your car and drive off to anywhere is a strong representation of that freedom. The extended range EV (E-REV or REEV) gives you this freedom, while having an electric range that meets most days driving needs.

E-REV now, EV later
For Joe (or Jane) American, after owning an E-REV it will become obvious how infrequently you need more range, then if it fits your driving needs, your next car could be a pure EV. Then for those few times you do need more range you can rent or borrow an E-REV car or have a "gasser" in your family fleet that you only use when you must. Battery technology continues to improve 6-8% per year. That is 6-8% more range, or cheaper per year. You will be able to buy a significant range EV at a reasonable price within a decade. E-REVs bridge the gap as affordable EV solutions can be developed and charging infrastructure can be rolled out. 

Driving an E-REV will change the way you look at fueling up at the pump. Say you forgot to plug-in, so now you have to stop for gas. You'll have to pay at the pump; all the time thinking "why didn't I plug it in? I could be driving now instead of sitting here and I could have paid one fourth the price." The best way to get better habits is by reward and punishment. Plugging in rewards you with the "EV grin" and filling up at the pump punishes your time and wallet.

E-REVs are a natural progression. It is going to take time to build up a charging network and to develop fast charging technology. We have a network of fueling stations now. E-REVs allow us to take advantage of it. Even if only for the peace of mind in knowing that you can pull-in and fuel up if your batteries drain.

Renewable Electron Economy
Don't get me wrong, to all my EV driving buddies out there, you are ahead of the curve. Eventually maybe people will come to see the "freedom" of gasoline as an illusion. Dependency on foreign oil is a ball and chain. We are borrowing money from China and sending it to the middle east. Let's kick off the renewable electron economy and move to a hometown powered, no war required, smart grid, EV transportation system that creates green collar jobs.

Enjoy the links below, here are a few of the more interesting quotes: 

“Investment banker Morgan Stanley forecasts 5,000 plug-in cars will be on the road in 2010, 30,000 in 2011 and 100,000 by 2012. Lowenthal describes those projections as conservative.”

“The company’s ambitious “low carbon” agenda calls for cranking out one million hybrids a year within the first half of the next decade and accelerating the development of small electric vehicles for mass production…”

“Our view is that oil production will peak in the near future. We need to develop power trains for alternative energy sources...”

"President Obama said he would like to see 1 million electric and plug-in cars on America's highways by 2015."

Links Galore
  Will Electric Vehicles Be the Next 'It' Cars?
Auto Companies


  1. The lead-acid batteries on the EV1 (after GM took its Delco out and replaced with PSB1260) drove it over 100 miles range; the NiMH batteries still in the Toyota RAV4-EV (last sold in Nov., 2002) still take that SUV over 100 oil-free miles.

    To do 1000 miles driving per month (the national average) takes no more than 250 kWh of electric energy (the energy equivalent of about 7 gallons of gas).

    The average home uses 500 to 1000 kWh per month; some homes use more than 250 kWh for running an old refrigerator or two.

    So to do the average person's driving, you would only need a fraction of your current electric usage.

    Moreover, the money you save NOT buying the average 50 gallons of gas it takes to go 1000 miles per month would more than pay the payments on a rooftop solar system large enough to make that much energy (1.3 kW, cost after rebate and tax about $6000).

    So what's the downside?? Well, the only loser is Chevron Oil, which, ironically enough, owns control of the patent rights for the NiMH batteries used on the only EV left, the Toyota RAV4-EV, and the standard EV battery.

    After Chevron's lawsuit, Toyota stopped making the RAV4-EV, stopped making the NiMH batteries a plug-in car needs, paid Chevron et al $30 million, and was given permission to make only NiMH batteries too small to use in a plug-in car.

    Chevron still owns, and restricts, use of NiMH on battery EVs.

  2. Doug,
    I am a fan of your blog and tube channel. You can be funny at times, as well as serious. I went to my local Toyota dealership and asked them where the plug-in cars are, as you did in one of your videos and recommended. It was fun to see the looks on their faces. I am unworthy of you reading my humble blog. Thank you very much for commenting.

    You are right on the money that PV powered driving is very possible. Although in the less sunny northwest corner of the USA you'll need a slightly bigger PV system. And I agree that the RAV4-EV is the best of the millennium era EVs, but it is not the only one left. There are a few Chevy S-10EVs (like mine) and some Ford Ranger EVs. The S-10EV requires a few more Wh/mile (like double or triple) than the REV4-EV, again requiring a bigger PV system.

    The RAV4-EV is a great example of what can be done and I hope we can all walk up buy something just it in 2011.

  3. Add Sweden to the list:

  4. Add Amsterdam to the list:


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