Category Archives: Technology

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.

 

 

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….

 

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.

 

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.

Enhanced Trip Meter

Nearing the end of my series on the dashboard (maybe one or two more) we come to the “Enhanced Trip Meter”:

You turn this on by using the left arrow pad on the steering wheel, select “trip 1 & 2” then press the right arrow. From the menu that appears select “Enhanced”.

Ford has a brief video on the trip meters:

Its a good idea to use one of the trip meters to watch the battery: Reset it every time you charge to full. The total kWh value shown will give you a good idea of how much you have left (more than just the % value shown everywhere). The FFE has about 18.5 kWh of usable battery charge thus comparing that with the kWh value in the trip meter is another decent estimate of power remaining (the kWh value in the trip meter will actually count down during brake regeneration).

The Wh/mi value shows the average Wh/mi consumption since you reset the meter and is a good way to judge how efficient you’re driving. In the above image 240 Wh/mi is really good for my FFE in the dead of winter. Typically when I have to use the heat the value will be 300 Wh/mi or higher (in one instance it was really cold out and I was driving on the highway into the wind it read over 400 Wh/mi). In the summer months it is not uncommon to see values in the 220s range or lower depending on the roads driven.

For those people who like hard numbers and not pretty graphs the enhanced trip meter provides plenty of engineering eye candy.

 

Budget + Avg

By far the most used and popular dash view/configuration (at least within the myfocuselectric forums) is using MyView showing the climate and “other” current power consumption combined with the Budget + Avg item on the right. I’ve mentioned this display in my “What your dashboard can tell you” post.
The view looks like this:

Ford has a video about how to configure MyView:

 

(This is the same video I posted in the Range View post.)

This view gives you the most information available about power consumption in the car. The climate graph shows how much power (kW) that the HVAC is currently using (on a cold winter day running the heat will frequently peg this graph). “Other” shows everything else: rear defroster, headlights, radio, seat heat, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “other” go above a tick or two.

Below the two graphs is the usual budget and status values showing the range at start (budget) and the difference between the current calculated range and range at start (status). More explanation of budget/status can be found here.

To the right of those is the infamous “blue cup” (discussed at length here). This gauge is showing three values simultaneously: Budget, instant consumption, and average consumption all in Wh/mile x100. The budget is represented by the blue cup. Instant consumption is the white line and finally average consumption is the two white tick marks. The basics of this display: If you can keep the two white tick marks (average consumption) at or below the top of the blue cup then you will make the budgeted range. If the tick marks fall significantly below the top of the cup you’ll go much farther than the budgeted range. If you’re really driving bad/aggressively and the tick marks are above the blue cup you will not be able to go as far as the budgeted range.

I can easily say that this display stays on my left side dash for a good 95% of my driving if not more (other than the past few weeks when I’ve been experimenting with different displays for these series of posts).

 

Energy History

Next up, the Energy History view:

I had wrote about this view earlier. Note that in that post I had about 5000 miles on the car, and in the above image I’m quickly approaching 20000 miles. Time flies when you’re having fun (although I don’t think my skills at capturing images from the dash have improved at all).

Ford even has a helpful video on the Energy History view:

Although their car is brand spanky new with only 147 miles on it!

The item that this view misses is the white tick marks on the “budget cup” at left showing your average power consumption. Those are the most useful of all the dash displays and are only available on one setting. Another thing I’d change to this view would be to add your average for the time period as its being calculated (shade inside the leftmost graph just like the 5 others but the height is the current minutes average) that way when they shift to the right you already know what the value is going to be.

I will frequently use this display with it set to 1 minute intervals as party of the configurable “MyView” shown in the image above. I find that the longer intervals are only useful if your trip is substantially longer than the total. With 1 minute intervals the display shows your power consumption over the past 5 minutes (2 minute intervals shows 10 minutes, etc.). The funny thing is that the white line shows you your “instant” power consumption: You can spend the whole minute keeping the white line below the blue cup and then see a yellow bar when it scrolls to the right–you could have a small instance of great power consumption that completely overrides the conservative driving for the rest of the minute.

A quick glance at this display shows how you’ve been doing for the past few minutes: If you see a lot of yellow you’re over budget, blue you’re good.

 

2015 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)

Known locally as “The Detroit Auto Show”. For this years show I was only really interested in 3 cars: The new Volt, the Bolt concept car, and what kind of treatment would my beloved FFE get? There wasn’t anything else “new” that I was interested in (or that I haven’t seen before)–at least with respect to plug in cars.
The new Volt: This car is really sharp compared to the old Volt. To my eyes it looks a bit sleeker and more modern. In addition there is sort of room for 3 in the back seat:
2016 Chevy Volt
2016 Chevy Volt
2016 Chevy Volt
2016 Chevy Volt
The Bolt concept car: This is GM’s 200 mile concept EV. I like the looks of it–to me it has a very similar form factor to the Ford Escape, or C-Max (although it is a bit smaller than either):
Chevy Bolt
Chevy Bolt
Chevy Bolt
The Focus Electric: Last year Ford had all their plugin cars off to the corner of the display, almost as an afterthought. This year the plugin section was a little more prominent in with the cars. As for the FFE: It was smack dab right in the center of the Ford display!
Focus Electric
Focus Electric
Unfortunately we decided to go to the show at the same time as everyone else from Southeastern Michigan and thus I wasn’t able to get many clear shots of any other cars of interest (not that there were many more of interest than mentioned above). Tesla only had Model S’s on display of which all of them were packed with people.
Tesla Model S
A few other items to note: Aside from GM having the Volt/Bolt up on a prominent display and VW mixing the eGolf with the other Golf’s most other manufacturer’s plugin cars were off to the corner, almost as an afterthought. Even Nissan had their only Leaf way in the back of their display.
Nissan Leaf
The other observation was the demographic of people taking pictures: Those taking pictures of plugins tended to be younger college age (especially around the less expensive plugins like the Leaf or the Smart car). Those taking pictures of your typical ICE vehicle were more middle aged (except for Tesla–everyone was taking pictures of Tesla’s).

GM Takes a big step forward, Ford a few steps backwards

Today and tomorrow are the press preview days at the North American International Auto Show. First up on the block was GM/Chevy with a big announcement: the new Volt 2.0 and a “Bolt” concept car:
Bolt
This is huge: Chevy showing a 200 mile BEV for around $30,000. If GM can get this guy to production before Tesla’s Model 3 then GM will own the BEV market (and before the Leaf 2.0 which is also rumored to have at least 150 miles of range). Announcing these new vehicles at a time of record low gas prices does show that GM, at least, does get it. GM does understand that EVs are the future (or at least that the future is going to include all sorts of alternatively powered cars, not just ICE).

In contrast, what did Ford show off today? Performance vehicles: The new F-150 Raptor, a race ready Mustang GT350R, and it reintroduced the GT halo car. Granted both the GT and the F-150 will be powered by an Ecoboost V6 instead of a V8 (much to many gear-heads disappointment). Also granted that Ford does have a full stable of vehicles and customers (probably more ICE customers than BEV customers anyway! LOL) but its been a long time since the Blue Oval has released any encouraging electrification news (There have been no substantial changes to any of their plugins for a good 3 years now–FFE, C-Max Energie, and Fusion Energie).

Realistically, looking at the timing of my lease, if I were to hope to get anything new it would have to be announced this winter as anything announced next winter would go into production long after my lease is up. I can still hope Ford will announce something EV related at the Geneva auto show in March. That show, however, is for the global market and anything announced there would not be sold in North America within the lease time period either. Which leaves me with a huge question mark come next year: What will my next car be (reasonably sure it will be a plugin)?