Tag Archives: Electrification

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.



Drive Electric Week–Ann Arbor

This year the National Plug In Day event, er sorry Drive Electric Week, for Southeastern Michigan took place in Ann Arbor at Briarwood mall. This is a very popular mall with a lot of traffic–a much better location than behind a parking structure at a community college where last year’s event took place.

In addition, this year the timing worked out for me: The event was originally planned for Saturday but there is a U of M football game on Saturday (many people attending the game park at the mall and take the shuttle and traffic near Ann Arbor on game days is a nightmare). I would not have been able to attend the Saturday event with my son’s sports schedule.

Now on to the event; I loaded up the FFE with some EVSE’s and a table to display them all:
Loaded up
Arriving just prior to the official start I setup my display:
All set up
The EVSE table
On display I had the Juicebox, a Clipper Creek LCS-25P, and the Ford Level 1 charger. I was surprised to learn that many of the EV drivers haven’t heard of the Juicebox. This was most likely due to the fact that the majority of cars that showed up were Volts which doesn’t need much more than what came with the car (in fact many of the Volt drivers just used the included Level 1 charger).

The car tally for the event was:

  • 1 C-Max Energi
  • 1 Jet Electrica
  • 3 Tesla Model S
  • 2 Focus Electrics
  • Half dozen or so Volts
  • 3 Battery Scooters
  • Many battery bicycles

Shortly after setting up I was asked to assist with placing the signs around the mall. I only mention this small detail because we used a Tesla Model S to drive around and place the signs–my first and only ride in a Model S. What struck me the most about the Model S was how similar an experience it was to riding around in the Focus Electric. Now before anyone gets all bent out of shape, think about it a little bit. They are both EVs and they both exhibit all the common qualities that makes everyone love an EV: the smooth and quiet ride. As far as acceleration: Yeah the Model S has that in spades (and this was only a 60) over the FFE.

During the show/event I noticed that when people would show up to see the cars they tended to gravitate to my small display first. I’m not sure if that was because I had a lot of stuff to look at with the EVSE’s on display, that I was always by the car, or simply because of my car’s color. I did get a few comments on the color and how striking it looked compared to the other cars on display (most of the other colors: The Ford’s were their Ice Storm color, the Volts and Model S’ were various colors of: Silver, Black, White, etc.).

I would estimate that throughout the day I spoke with about a dozen people. Some happened to be driving by the mall and noticed the cars, some were already going to the mall for other reasons and noticed the cars, the remaining few (about 3 or so) actually looked up the event online and came specifically for the show. All of the discussions were positive–I may have even sold an EV or two (perhaps even an FFE–there was a gentleman and his friend who were really interested in everything about the FFE).

If you’re still reading this far, you’re probably thinking: Enough blabbing already! More pictures. Ok here is the Jet Electrica:
Jet Electrica
Jet Electrica

Here are the converted electric bicycles: (These were very popular with everyone taking at least one for a spin.)
Electric Bicycles

Finally, some wide shots:
That's it
In the lot near Sears
Model S

On the whole everyone seemed to agree that it was a good turnout (given the fact that the date changed only two days ago) and it was much more visible being at a popular mall right by the busiest entrance.


Ford’s director of electrification

Here is an interesting interview with Ford’s director of electrification.

The tag mentions that he was talking the future of electric vehicles, but there really isn’t much of that in the article. It is more about him, his personality, etc. than it is about anything specific with Ford (which of course makes sense: any announcements come from the press office, not some exec even if they do let things slip now and then).

Heck its probably a good thing that Ford has such a position to begin with–it would indicate that some thought was put into plugins instead of just making a bunch of “one offs” to check the boxes.


What would it take??

Now that I drive an EV around whenever I’m driving one of our ICE vehicles I like to think about what would it take to make this vehicle an EV?

Lets start with our new car: a 2014 Ford Escape. This exercise should be pretty easy as the Escape is based on the same platform as the Focus and thus shouldn’t require much more than the Focus. Looking at some of the specs for the Escape:

  • 1.6L Ecoboost engine making 178 HP, 184 lb-ft of torque
  • 3500 lbs curb weight

These numbers aren’t too much off from the ICE Focus (2.0L 160 HP, 146 lb-ft, 2950 lbs) thus to electrify the Escape: a slightly larger electric motor (just 20% larger) and more battery for the larger engine (about 30 kWh or so). The challenge with the Escape is that its footprint is about the same as the Focus which wouldn’t leave a lot of room for the Focus battery let alone a 30 kWh battery. It does sit higher being a CUV so there may be some room in the floor which isn’t available in the Focus. Note that using these numbers the converted EV Escape would still only manage about 75 miles on a charge since I’ve only extrapolated the numbers from the existing Focus Electric.

The next contemplation is a bit more, um, serious! Our RV:

  • 6.8L V-10 engine cranking out 305 HP and 420 lb-ft of torque
  • Weighing in at a hefty 12,000lbs

Now we’re talking large multiples (at least 2X engine size and 4X weight). Just taking that into account we’d need a 2X electric motor producing roughly 200 kW–or would the implementation be easier by just using two 100 kW motors: one driving each rear wheel. The real trick to electrifying the RV, though, is battery: This is due to the fact that for an RV to be useful you’ll want a ton of range (our RV has a 55 gallon gas tank giving it an effective range of about 600 miles). Simply doubling the battery size from the FFE won’t be enough, we’ll need something more like 10 times the battery size (due to the range requirements, and the additional weight of the RV). So now we’re talking about a battery around 250 kWh. How big would that be? Is it practical?

The best EV batteries today are about 240 Wh/kg (Tesla Model S). The translates our monster 250 kWh battery to be around 2300 lbs. That is a heavy battery enough so that our RV would have to bump up the chassis from the E-350 its based on to the E-450–it may also necessitate an increase in electric motor size simply to compensate for the additional weight (ok so lets put the motor at 250 kW from 200 kW).

Is there enough room in the RV for such a large battery? My initial thought would be yes: The electric motor can simply be bolted to the rear axle freeing up the engine bay, drive shaft tunnel, and exhaust pipe routing for battery usage. Again using the numbers from the Model S (about 700 Wh/L of volume) results in a battery that is: about 12 cubic feet in size. If we flatten that to a 1 foot high slab we get a battery that is roughly 3 feet by 4 feet by 1 foot high–easily tolerable in the RV.

If this appears all feasible how come we aren’t seeing ERV’s? Well something I haven’t mentioned, but also needs to be calculated, how much would a 250 kWh battery cost? A reasonable estimate for battery costs today is around $250/kWh thus a 250 kWh would cost $62,500 just about doubling the price of the RV–not including all the R&D that would be required for building something entirely new. Would someone pay that? If you were looking at two brand new RVs sitting on the dealer’s lot both identical to each other on the outside with identical floorplans inside but the left one had an electrical powertrain with a price 2X the one on the right with a gas engine would you purchase the electric one? (It should be noted that if there was a 3rd one with a Diesel engine its price premium over the gas engine one would be about 10% – 15%.)

Note that the numbers I came up with here are really just guesses (battery size and motor size) from scaling up the FFE’s motor–doing the real math to figure it out may come to significantly different values.