Author Archives: Jamiegeek

The next chapter in the melting saga

If you’ve been reading this blog a while you may recall one of the stories of my coworker’s car when his charge plug melted. For a refresher here is a picture of the plug:
Melted Vehicle connector

After getting the vehicle side connector replaced twice he finally had Bosch come out and replace the vehicle side wiring of his Power Xpress EVSE. Since then we’ve both been contacted about a recall of the Power Xpress unit. Since then I’ve received a phone call from Bosch stating that parts are finally available and I’ll be contacted by an electrician to swap out the cables.

The funny thing is that last week I received an e-mail with a tracking number from Bosch. Today that package was delivered:
Power Xpress harness

A shiny new wiring harness for my Power Xpress unit (Note that I have not been charging my FFE with the Power Xpress since my coworkers problems with it and about the same time I had noticed that the handle was starting to get a little warm in the morning after a charge. I’ve been making due with either the Juicebox or the Clipper Creek EVSE’s that I have).

What is more interesting about this shipment is that it comes with very clear instructions on how to swap out the wiring harness. I may just do the swap myself and when the electrician calls just tell them that I’ve already performed the task. (The procedure is pretty simple: remove a panel, disconnect the old wires, unscrew the strain relief, remove the old wire, insert the new wire, connect wires, tighten strain relief, and replace the panel.)

Taking a close look at the plug:
Power Xpress plug
Oooh all shiny: These contacts are silver coated. Silver coated contacts don’t corrode. The old plug is all copper which can oxidize and introduce some resistance. Given that 240V at ~30A goes through there even a small amount of resistance here will generate some heat.

Now I’m awaiting a phone call…LOL.

 

EV’s losing their buzz?

If you know the general rule to headlines asking questions then you know the answer to the one I posted (hint: No). My headline question is from a Detroit News article of a similar title. Go read it and come back, I’ll wait (yeah ok its an often used blogging joke but it works).

Lets pick this one apart shall we: some points from the article:

Sales of new electric cars and hybrids, according to automotive research and shopping site Edmunds.com, are at their lowest level since 2011

According to Inside EVs total Plug-In sales for the first 3 months of 2015 are 23339 units, for the first 3 months of 2014 they are 22671, for 2013 they are 17963, for 2012 they are 6698 and finally for 2011 we get 1662 total units. I do see a trend here but it isn’t what the News article says it is…where did Edmunds get its numbers? (Now it is possible that plug-in sales in the first few weeks of April have taken a complete nose dive but that would have to be a huge nose-dive to see the results they are implying above.) I did search around the Edmunds website but found no news article that could have been the source for the News one. I did find this, however, interesting.

The above statement is qualified by talking about the Leaf and Volt. If we look at just the Leaf and Volt numbers we see a similar trend overall that we saw with the total yearly numbers: 5959 (2015), 8790 (2014), 7783 (2013), 5648 (2012). Note the lower number for 2015–perhaps this is the whole reason for the News article? Not stated at all in the news article is the fact that Chevrolet will be selling an all new version of the Volt later in 2015 and thus the current Volt’s sales are depressed due to people waiting for the new one (and hence there are a ton of sales going on for the old Volt to clear it off of dealer lots).

Lets continue on with deconstructing the article:

Furthermore, motorists who leased those first-generation cars, and have decided not to buy them, are turning them in. They’re on dealer lots with still relatively low mileage, and at prices considerably cheaper than the new ones.

Of course they have decided not to buy them..they leased the cars for a reason! Its well known in the EV industry that the residuals of the cars coming off lease are far more expensive than the used car market simply because EVs are becoming cheaper and cheaper. This is due to battery prices dropping (to which the article doesn’t mention). Less expensive batteries means the automakers can drop the car prices to more competitive levels which means people coming off leases are much more likely to lease another car at far less cost than it would be to purchase the lease. In addition they are getting newer technology.

Even with $7,500 federal tax credits and other incentives, automakers such as General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Nissan have dropped prices in an attempt to move their new hybrids and electrics. Cadillac became the most recent to reduce the sticker on an electric car, when it whacked $9,000 off its ELR plug-in hybrid last week.

Note how this is framed: That the manufacturers have to cut prices to make sales. As I mentioned above, though, costs to producing EVs are dropping and thus the manufacturers are reducing vehicle prices accordingly.

It’s no mystery why these cars aren’t moving at a brisker pace. Stable gas prices, fuel-efficient internal combustion engines, continued uncertainty about electrics by some motorists and the availability of relatively cheap used electrics and hybrids make new ones a hard sell. Yet automakers offer them as part of their effort to meet fleet-wide fuel efficiency standards set by the U.S. government.

Really? Lower gas prices means less EV sales? Well given the sales charts above we already know: “No” but here is more information refuting that myth. The paragraph above (and pretty much the whole article) also simply lumps in EVs with plug-ins to provide a dim view of sales as a whole (the link I just provided separates them to point out that EV sales have been unaffected by low gas prices) but even looking at the sales charts on the first link of the article shows that EV sales have risen year over year.

The rest of the article is pretty much more of the same and then concludes with a discussion the used EV market and the fear of battery replacement costs (One funny aspect is discussing what to do with a 10 year old car and perhaps replacing the battery may not make sense because the car might not make it another 10 years! If any car is going to last 20 years–or longer–it will be an EV: Much less maintenance and less vibrations. The drive train alone will still be good 20 years on; the car body may not be there but the mechanicals will be good.).

Seems to be more of the same from a Detroit area newspaper and will likely just confirm to most of the gearheads in Detroit: “Why are we making EVs again??”

A few critical articles on the report from Edmunds:

Green Car Reports, Clean Technica

 

La La Land

You may have noticed that I’ve been absent this past week (well perhaps not as my postings haven’t been that regular lately and missing a week has happened a few times). This past week was, for us, spring break. For several years now our son has requested that our vacations take place in cities with MLB ball parks in them (and that they take place during baseball season). This years spring break was the greater Los Angeles area to catch Dodgers (his favorite team), Angels, and Padres games (which brings us up to 13 of the 30 MLB ball parks we’ve visited).

The three games constitutes 3 days of the 9 day vacation, what to do for some of the other days? Imagine my surprise when I find out that the Formula E race was going on the very Saturday after we arrive? (Yeah this post was going to get to EVs eventually.)

If you are not familiar with Formula E: The FIA guys (the ones responsible for the Grand Prix races world wide) started this year a shorter Grand Prix style race with electric race cars. They are going to introduce it in stages: This year each car is identical: Identical batteries, identical motors, etc. Next year the races can customize the motors all using the same batteries. In the third year its all custom: custom batteries and motors. The interesting thing is that during the race they limit the power from the batteries. On the website you can vote for your favorite car/driver. The top 3 drivers get a power boost for a minute or two.  Are you curious yet? What do these things look like?

Since they are electric cars you’re probably wondering what they sound like going around the track?

Well they sound like electric cars: Very quiet with only some gear noise/whine (they simply replaced the engine with an electric motor and thus they still have a transmission with a few speeds). No ear plugs are necessary for this race! Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t able to stay for the race itself–only for the time trials and for the school race.

They invited 10 local high schools to spend a few days building these racers and then had them race on the same track as “the big boys”. Unfortunately for them all of the cars went about as fast as someone can run. Watching this race was like watching paint dry. The electric go-karts they had setup in the infield for anyone to drive went at least twice as fast as these guys!

Watching the schools race was about all we could handle (and we had other things to do) so we left prior to “the big race”.

This was an interesting experience, though, watching the Formula E cars quietly zip by..those of you who really enjoy the sound (and the feel) of car racing will be very disappointed by Formula E. If, however, the thrill of the race and speed are your thing then you’ll love it: just another form of car racing.

 

 

What’s so special about a grill?

When Ford redesigned the Focus in 2012 to the current platform it had a rather unique face to it:

The car itself drew rave reviews not only with the styling but with its handling as well. Shortly thereafter Ford released the Focus Electric:

Interestingly this is the first Ford with the Astin Martin inspired front grill. Since that time Ford has also introduced the Fusion with the same design language in front:

and the new C-Max in Europe:

Beginning to see a pattern here?

Why am I mentioning this? Up until this model year the Focus Electric’s only unique styling on the Focus line was really the front end and some miscellaneous badging that said “Electric”. Indeed many reviewers pointed out that the Focus Electric is a “stealth” EV in that it is really difficult to discern the Focus Electric from the conventional Focus. This year Ford has made it even more difficult to pick out a Focus Electric from a crowd of Focuses:

For those people who are looking to drive green without screaming to the world that they are driving green this is even better news. Now your average Focus could be an ICE or an EV–you’ll never notice given a passing glance. (Personally I like the new look: it makes the ICE Focus look more “grown up” from the previous incarnation.) The only real issue is that people will be even more surprised than ever to discover that Ford sells an EV–although I can’t imagine people being more surprised given that the vast majority of people don’t know that the FFE exists at all but that is a different rant for a different day LOL.

 

 

EVs and the “heat island” effect?

This report is making its rounds on the internet lately. It basically says that since EVs don’t run as hot as ICE vehicles they don’t contribute to the urban heat island effect (which is that cities tend to be a few degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside).

The interesting thing is that, if you read the report, you can see very detailed figures, references, etc. basically they did their homework. Note that there is no evidence though, the report just does a lot of math to come to the conclusion that EVs would reduce the heat island effect. Thus its basically a hypothesis waiting to be tested. Given that I’ve seen more than a few comments on the articles relating to the report where people state “I just can’t believe that cars driving around can contribute that much heat to raise an entire cities temperature” (this actually sounds very familiar to another argument about greater atmospheric conditions). The reasoning goes: “My car does so little how can it possibly do that much damage?” What if you were to add up all the cars? Your car, your neighbor’s car, that one from the goofy guy down the street? The barber’s car? The butcher’s car? All of them… Then you end up with a very large number (like the 9.85 × 1014 J daily value in the report–or 11 gigawatts). Now it makes more sense! That is a lot of heat.

I’ve often wondered about that from a different perspective. Think of your morning routine: You get up, wash, shave, etc. How about all that hot water going down the drain? What about everyone’s hot water? Is the sewage system running a lot warmer due to everyone’s daily routines? (just asking)

On top of the heat generated by vehicles, now that it is hotter people will run their air conditioning more. This will also add heat. Thus if you can reduce the outside temp a bit you’ll also reduce A/C use.

How would someone go about testing this in a controlled fashion? What kind of scale would be required to verify the effect? e.g. would a small scale test work: put a small ICE inside a large room and let it run for a while and compare that to an electric motor running for the same length of time? Which room is warmer? Would you want to do the test at an even larger scale? Setup a “fake city” and run that city for a few weeks with ICE vehicles monitoring the temperatures and then follow that up with a few weeks of EV? (In that case it would be really hard to match the weather conditions.)

Interesting stuff, and also reasons why this stuff is so difficult: Its very hard to make controls with identical conditions in order to come to hard conclusions.

 

What is Ford up to?

This blog post is just a bunch of speculation thus you can take it with a very large grain of salt but here goes:

What exactly is going on at Ford about EVs these days? We don’t know: Ford has said nothing about any of its future EV plans even when competitors make huge announcements…crickets…

Even more maddening is that recently there was a rumor floating around about Ford also working on a 200 mile EV (started by a speculative article on one website) and Ford’s only comment about it was:

“We do not comment on speculation but can confirm these reports are not accurate”- Ford spokesperson

Which is nuts: “Not accurate” could mean anything from: “We aren’t working on any future EV projects at this time” to “well 200 miles isn’t correct but everything else is”. Add to that Ford’s focus lately on performance leads one to believe the “Not working on any EV at this point of time” meaning of “not accurate”.

Included in that frame of mind was a comment to one other Inside EVs article by a member of that site who lives in the greater Detroit area to the affect of: “Nobody in the Detroit area thinks EVs should be any part of the automotive market” (living in Southeast Michigan myself I can concur that this is the general opinion of the people/engineers that I talk with).

Think about all these negative EV thoughts then look at this:

That is the plugshare map of Dearborn. All those grey charge spots? Yes Ford employee charge locations. Does this imply Ford is up to something in the EV world or just providing spots for all of their employee’s for the cars they already have? (I presume these were all added as part of an announced partnership.) Who can say (except Ford and they aren’t as of yet.)

For myself all this speculation is part of my “What is next after the FFE lease is up?” question which I still have over a year to answer but given automotive production cycles such as they are; the cars available to me at that time will pretty much be the cars available right now….

 

Can’t catch a break

On any given day at my work you can find two FFE’s. It is rather unusual that we park next to each other like above, though. On that day my coworker’s FFE had just returned from its latest hardship–his FFE has led a much tougher life than mine:

Ironically, in the picture above his is on the left: the cleaner one as it had just returned from being repaired from the accident.

The story gets even more sordid: On the day he picked it up from the dealer after getting the body work repaired he discovered that the 12V battery was dead (for the 2nd time). When he managed to get the car back to the dealership they were out of power: Their transformer had blew. It took a couple of days before the dealer was back up and running before he could get his car back. (On that 12V battery: When we measure the charging voltages between our two FFEs; mine is consistently between 1/2 volt to 1 volt higher.)

Nonetheless he still is pretty happy with his FFE and continues to drive it (when it isn’t being repaired). The funny thing is: When we were both putting our orders in for the car I had warned him about some possible issues (like the Stop Safely Now issue, etc.) and his reply was: “I’m fully aware of what I’m getting into.”!

* During the record rains we got in August of 2014 his area was one of the hardest hit. He said there were several instances when he was driving around where the water level was just below his rear view mirrors. Yet his car never leaked inside and it continued to function normally.

The bad part of preconditioning

Preconditioning: Where you can setup the car to be ready to go at a specific time every day (like during the week and you want the car nice and toasty warm for your commute in to work)–what can be bad about that? The car is warm. The battery is conditioned (heated or cooled for best performance). What could possibly be a negative?

Well its spring; when the mild weather returns, the snow melts, and some of the critters return. In our area one of the harbingers of spring is skunks. Typically we’ll see three or four on the road dead. Each dead one on the road produces that lovely skunky odor for a good mile in radius. What is worse is when the neighbors let their dog out in the morning who gets immediately sprayed and then your car starts to precondition. Yup…that is the bad part: My car was even closed up in a garage but still found a way to grab some of that lovely skunk musk.

Fortunately the car itself didn’t get sprayed and a few minutes with the windows open took care of any lingering essence. Even so this is a minor drawback to the car automatically preconditioning itself (granted any neighbors with their ICE cars outside remote starting them would also subject their cars to the same treatment). Our neighbors got it much worse and were still doing damage control as I left for work–they are a bit experienced at this as their dog has been sprayed a few times now.

 

20,000 leagues under the….er miles under the wheels

This afternoon my FFE will roll over the 20,000 mile mark. This milestone also means I’m approaching the 2/3 point of my lease. My thoughts are more frequently considering what will be the next car (I’ve mentioned before on the blog that the next car will more than likely be a plugin). Given the timing of things I doubt my Ford choices for another plugin will be much different than what they are now (FFE, or one of the two Energi products).

Just today there is a new rumor about Ford producing a 200+ mile car. Even if this rumor is remotely true, it is very unlikely that the 200+ mile EV will be in production before my lease is up. Even the rumored timing of the Chevy Bolt places its sale well after my lease end date. The only new plugins to be available for me in the time frame are cars like the VW Golf or the new Volt. Both of which I may consider if only briefly.

All of these considerations are still more than a year off though. Today I’ll just silently observe the changeover from 19,999 to 20,000 (if I happen to be looking at the odometer) in a bittersweet moment as the novelty hasn’t really worn off about driving a BEV around..

Which reminds me…have to take it in for that $10 20,000 mile service (rotate the tires).

 

Cars traded up for like phones

Now this is an interesting article:

Upgrade envy has helped Apple Inc. sell millions of pricey iPhones. Now, it’s the auto industry’s turn, thanks to a raft of new technologies that make cars safer and easier to drive. Must-have features like parking assist and wireless Web access have helped automakers recover from the 2009 bust and charge record prices for their vehicles.

I can see this happening more with EVs than with ICE vehicles especially because over the next few years battery technology should be increasing. As an example several manufacturers have already announced plans for low cost longer range EVs (Nissan, Chevy, and Tesla).

As pointed out in the article vehicle technology is increasing at a more rapid pace but it still takes a good 2-3 years to move a vehicle into production. This makes a 3 year lease a good option for people who want to stay on the cutting edge of vehicle technology.

Of course not everyone can afford to continuously have a $300+ car payment. There still are quite a few people that purchase there cars with the intention of driving them well past the last payment–EVs should be good for that as there is less maintenance and less wear & tear on the drivetrain.