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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Traveling Oregon in a Tesla - Photo Journal (Part 1 - Painted Hills)

This is the first summer that I've owned a Tesla. Our Model X 90D arrived in October and we've put about 12,000 miles on it since then. To put this into perspective, most years I only drive about 8,000 miles. This vehicle is a lot of fun and we've been using it.

Our first trip vacation trip was to eastern Oregon to see the Painted Hills. We found lodging in Prairie City that has Tesla destination charging (and charging for other EVs too). It was not too far from the Painted Hills, and it had nearby bike paths and hiking.

From Beaverton to Prairie City 
The trip planner said that we could make it to Prairie City with just a single charging stop in The Dallas. I was less certain. We had our CHAdeMO adapter and connectors to plug into RV campgrounds if things didn't go as planned. I decided to play it safe and head to Pendleton instead. This allowed us to arrive with more charge remaining. If there were any issues with the destination charging, we'd still have enough charge for our next day's plans. It added some time to the drive, but better safe than sorry.

The trip was an easy drive. We stopped in The Dallas for a late lunch while we charged. We headed to Pendleton and had a bathroom break and a drink while we charged. That evening, two thousand dead bugs and 360 miles later, we arrived in Prairie City. We checked in, plugged into the destination charger, and made our way to our room.

The next day we were charged up and after breakfast, we headed to the Painted Hills.
Tesla Model X w/ Bike Rack at The Painted Hills in Oregon

The hills were great, a part of nature that's a rare sight. I'll spare you the description of the cause, if you're interested, feel free to google it.

From here we went to the Little Pine Cafe in the town of Mitch. As we parked and my daughter opened the falcon wing door to get out, one of the locals asked if our car was a Dodge. I told him it was a Tesla, to which he replied, "That's the future right there."

Cowboy Boots in Mitchell Oregon

We stopped at the nearby fossil museum and learned a few things about the massive weather pattern changes to the region over the eons. The next day we explored Prairie City and John Day on foot and bike. The visitors center in John Day has level 2 charging with places to explore and eat nearby.

On day 3 we drove into the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness area.Traveling Oregon in a Tesla - Photo Journal (Part 1 - Painted Hills) https://buff.ly/2w88EVS

It was a dusty drive.

From the parking area, it's a hike to the lake.

The next day we packed up to head home, we were fully charged thanks to the destination charging at the hotel. This time, I was confident that the navigation system was correct and that we'd make it to The Dallas on a single charge. The bikes on the rack on the back mean that it is not accurate and I would just need to have a little buffer, but the nav system said that we'd have more than 30 miles left when we arrived. You can always stretch the range a little by slowing down a little if needed. So we headed north.

Going home we passed through the town of Fossil, Oregon. The town's name has nothing to do with fossil fuels, but I quipped that they'll need to change their name to Renewable, Oregon if they want to survive. Speaking of renewable energy, on the drive back we passed through the Biglow Canyon Wind Farm, as you can see below.

We made it to The Dallas with about 20 miles of range left. From there, after lunch and some charging, it was an easy drive home.

Look for parts two and three of southern Oregon and the Oregon coast coming soon.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Towing w/ A Tesla

Yesterday I moved my camper to a new storage facility. The trip was only about 45 miles and mostly on Interstate 5. This gave me a chance to see the range impact of towing on the Tesla Model X.

2016 Tesla Model X towing a Coleman Tacoma pop-up camper 
Before connecting the camper, I had to go buy a trailer ball mount and ball. The Tesla tow package only comes with a hitch receiver, not the complete tow kit. This is standard in the industry since they don't know what you may be towing and what type of tow kit you'd need. Perhaps you are just getting this for a bike rack and the receiver is all that you need.

Here is the installed tow ball.
Tow Kit Installed in a Tesla Tow Receiver
Now the part of the story that you've been waiting for: How much did this impact the range? Here is the energy data from the Tesla when we finished the trip.

Trip energy info from the binnacle display at the end of our towing trip 
Let's unpack this a little. I usually see around 335 Wh/mi, so 458 is a 27% increase in "fuel" consumption compared to my typical driving. Using just quick math, at 458 Wh/mile with a 90 kWh pack (85.8 usable in the 90D) results in 187 miles of range. Compared to the 257 miles of range rated by the EPA, this is a 27% reduction in range. A 27% reduction in rated range is not bad, I was expecting a ~40% reduction.

To be clear, this was not an EPA range test, it was one short drive on a mostly flat part of I-5. I may not even get the same results if I were to reverse the trip, but it is one example that can give you a good idea of the scope of the range impact.

187 miles is plenty of range for the places where I typically camp and if it is farther, there are Superchargers to extend the range (although this may be complicated with the camper attached). Also, assuming there is service where we're camping, I'll be able to use an RV outlet (NEMA 14-50) as a "destination charger" to recharge the car overnight.

Before signing off, here are three misc. things I learned on while towing for the first time in the X. One, the car automatically switches into tow mode when it detects something plugged into the 7-pin outlet used to control the trailer lights and braking. Two, when the X is in tow mode, Autopilot is not available to be enabled. You have to actually drive yourself when you are towing (#FWP). Third, our X has smart air suspension and it adjusts the suspension height as you drive and it also undoes this adjustment after you have been stopped for a few minutes. We were unhooking the trailer when the car decided to lift up a couple inches. This was annoying and a little dangerous as I was unhooking the camper at the time.

Stay safe, have fun, charge on.

UPDATE: I was informed by a reader that the tow kit shown above has a 2" drop and that is not recommended by Tesla. According to the reader, the ball can be straight or have up to a 3/4" rise. Luckily, the mount kit shown above is reversible and when reversed, it goes from a 2" drop to a 3/4" rise. I have now moved the ball and flipped it over. Next time I pull the camper, the trailer tongue will be 2 and 3/4" higher.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Tesla Semi Speculation

Battery swap, solar roof, conveyor floor, glass cab, and more. Tesla has an opportunity to reinvent the semi truck.

Tesla is known for their fast, luxury, long-distance EVs. This month they are shipping their mass production Model 3 and branching into a new market. This fall they will be showing off their new venture into semi trucks.

Tesla has scheduled the big reveal event for their all-electric heavy-duty long-haul semi truck in September of this year. Until this event, we are not likely to know much about the vehicle. Let's look at the market requirements and see if we can use this and what we know about Tesla's first principles approach to make some guesses about the Tesla Semi. Then, for fun, we'll round out the list with some things that would be cool to see.

Tesla Semi - What We Know

Elon Musk has said few things already, “It is a heavy duty, long range, semi-truck. So it has the highest weight capability and with long range. So essentially it’s meant to alleviate the heavy duty trucking loads.”

Musk says it will be heavy duty, how heavy? He said it will be long range, how long? Below we'll try to put bounds on these superlatives.

Musk continues, “And this is something which people do not, today, think is possible. They think the truck doesn’t have enough power or it doesn’t have enough range. And then with those with the Tesla semi we want to show that no, an electric truck actually can out-torque any diesel semi and if you had a tug-of-war competition, the Tesla semi what will tug the diesel semi uphill.”

How Long Is Long Range?

How far will Tesla's semi truck need to go on a single charge?

Eventually, Tesla's semi will be fully autonomous, but for now, let's assume that they will be human-piloted and they will need to conform to the national laws for semi driving. Here are some of the relevant US laws:
Legal drive time is 11 hours of driving with 10 hours of break thereafter. Additionally, drivers are restricted to 70 hours in an 8 day period.  via TruckersReport.com
Driving for 11 hours at 60 MPH is 660 miles of range. At first glance, this seems like an impossible range. It's more than double the range of Tesla's longest-range vehicle on the roads today. Is it possible? For comparison, consider that BYD has a 60-foot bus with a 270-mile range. To achieve this, they use a 547 kWh battery pack. Assuming Tesla's semi would have a similar efficiency as the bus, the semi would need about 1300 kWh in its battery pack to achieve a 660-mile range. That is the equivalent to 13 packs in a Tesla Model S 100. That is a massive battery pack, but not impossible.

How Heavy is "Heavy Duty"? 

In the trucking industry, heavy duty generally means Class 8. A Class 8 truck has a total weight limit of 80,000 pounds. Typically the load maxes out at 40,000 pounds with the truck itself weighing at ~35,000 pounds.

By this definition, a Tesla semi would need to be capable of carrying the same 40,000 pounds of payload.

Based on the few scraps of information that we have, to be considered long-range and heavy duty, our best guess is that this vehicle will be capable of 600+ miles range and 40,000 pounds of payload.

Tesla has reinvigorated the auto industry. The trucking industry is now on their radar. What other cool things might Tesla do in the semi truck space.

Trailer 2.0

The trailer that semis pull has been generally ignored by the industry. It is just something that the truck connects to. It has been an idle passenger. Tesla could change this.

What if the trailer had motors of its own. We know that the Tesla semi will be using “a bunch” of Model 3 electric motors. If these are placed on the trailer as well as the truck, there are a lot of cool things the trailer could do.

18-Wheel All-Wheel-Drive

If Tesla is going to use the Model 3 motors, it will need several of them. Putting them on the trailer as well as in the semi would allow for more power and control. This makes the trailer a vital part of the vehicle system. 

Once the trailer has its own motors, it makes sense for it to have its own batteries too. If they are going to put 13 cars worth of batteries someplace, the floor of the trailer seems like a place with ample room. 

Trailer Summons & Tank Turns

Now that the trailer has its own motors and batteries, there are many more cool things that could be done with the trailer. Imagine a yard where the trailers can be summoned. To do this, the trailer would need its own camera system, so let's put 8 or more cameras around the trailer. 

With the independent motors, the trailer would be able to move in ways that are impossible when they are being towed by a semi. For example, they could turn in place like a tank. This would allow for maneuverability that is important in crowded yards to move to loading docks and connection points. 

Trailer As Battery Swap

Tesla has tried battery swap before and some people have speculated that the idea will be resurrected for the semi truck. To me, it seems unlikely that they will retrace this ground, at least not in the same way.

Above we have two assumptions: one, the vehicle will have a ~1300kWh pack and, two, some (perhaps a majority) of these batteries will be in the trailer. If these assumptions (or something like them) turns out to be true, then here's an interesting possibility: What if a driver could pull into a loading dock, drop off a trailer with a depleted battery, hook up to a trailer with a fully charged battery and get back on the road. Depending on the split of the battery pack (say 350/950), this could restore a majority of the vehicle's charge in just a few minutes.

If the load needs to be transferred from the depleted trailer to the charged trailer, there are many options. With a flatbed, the cargo could be stored in a standard shipping container, then moved from trailer to trailer with a crane. Another option would be for the Tesla trailers position themselves next to each other and to have a conveyor floor on the trailer to slowly transfer the container from one trailer to the other.

Solar Roof (and sides)

On a car, you don't have a large roof and solar is just not that effective at adding significant range to the vehicle. You are far better off spending that money to put solar on your home, if you are interested in powering your commute with the sun. A semi truck is another story.

The conveyor floor mentioned above is an option for flatbeds, but there are other options for enclosed trailers (dry vans, and refrigerated trailers/reefers). An enclosed trailer is typically 45 to 53 feet long and the width is 92 to 98 inches wide. For a larger trailer, this is over 400 sq ft; that's a large roof, large enough to put about 8kW of solar panels on the roof.

Depending on the sun exposure, this could add 40 miles of range to the battery pack each day. For refrigerated trailers, these solar panels could be used to keep the contents cool without depleting the range of the truck.

They are less optimally angled to the sun, but solar panels on the side would add more energy. Would that make it a panel van? ☺

Semi 2.0 Misc.

I'm sure Tesla will have some surprises for us in September. Tesla is known for their glass roofs. The Model X has the largest windshield of any passenger vehicle currently in production. We are likely to see a plentiful use of glass on the semi too. The big screen that Tesla is known for will also likely be in the semi with a new utility. The cameras that surround the cab and trailer could also give the driver a view of the lane next to them or a view of blind-spots.

What other things could this trailer include:
  • Air suspension - this would raise and level the trailer to align it to loading dock platforms. This is a common feature in many trailers. Loading docks are typically anywhere from 48 to 52 inches high. Tesla has air suspension in the Model S & X, the semi and trailer will likely have it too. 
  • Ramp - Ramps and lift gates are common features in many trailers today. Tesla is likely to have these options too, but what innovation twist might they add? 

Market Size

About 250,000 semi truck cabs are sold in the US each year. And the US is just one of many markets of course. The average selling price for a cab is ~$155,000. Tesla's semi is likely to cost much more than this, but it will be far cheaper to fuel and there will be far less maintenance. Fleet owners are generally more concerned with the total cost of operation. Lower fuel and maintenance costs would give them headroom for a higher monthly vehicle payment. And after the vehicle is paid off, they will still enjoy the lower monthly fuel bill and increase their profit for moving goods. 

Wrap Up

This is highly speculative, but it's fun to guess. We'll learn more in September and there may be some more hints in the quarterly financial calls or Musk's tweets. We'll see if any of these guesses turn out to be accurate.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Ultimate Nerd Road Trip 2017

This summer I'll be taking the Model X on several road trips. One of them I've dubbed The Ultimate Nerd Road Trip 2017.

It's a road trip from Portland, OR to San Diego to attend Comic-Con. I've never been to Comic-Con. This should be fun. A friend and I are leaving from Portland. After a few charging stops, we'll arrive in San Jose to pick up our third amigo. After a night in San Jose, all three of us will continue south the next morning.

We'll spend several days at the con and in San Diego then head back north. While we're heading back, we have scheduled a tour of the Tesla factory in Fremont.

This will be my longest road trip in the Tesla Model X. I've made a page on facebook where I'll be posting photos and updates from the road, the con, and the factory (at least as much as the NDA allows). If you'd like to follow my trek, like the page here.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The 80-20 Rule of EV Driving

The Pareto Principle or as it's better know, the 80-20 Rule, has been applied to many things. The principle says that 80% of a business's sales come from 20% of their customers and that 80% of revenue is from only 20% of the products offered. The generalized version says 80% of results come from 20% of the causes. Among the things this rule of thumb has been applied to include wealth distribution, spending habits, and even infidelity.

80% of Driving Needs

Since this principle has such broad applications, I started wondering how this might apply to EV driving and charging. In the How Much Range Is Enough story<<Link TBD>>, we looked at how much range your EV would need. One of the big factors is will the EV be your only car? If so, how easy is it for you to make other arrangements if it will not work for you?... For most people, it is relatively easy to find an EV that will meet 80% of your driving needs. Almost no vehicle meets 100% of a person's transportation needs. So the question is, how much are you willing to pay for something that meets 90, 95, or 99% of your needs.

80% Charge

The first similarity is that 80% of a batteries capacity can quickly charge. Whereas the charging rate slows down for the last 20% of the charge. Technically, I don't think this is an application of the Pareto Principle, but it is an 80-20 rule for batteries.

Daily Drives

On any given day, about 80% of people drive less than 40 miles. For a long-range (200+ mile) EV, forty miles of driving will use about 20% of the capacity. There are multiple uses of the 80-20 rule here.

It's less wear and tear on lithium batteries to move energy in and out in the middle 60% of a batteries capacity. This is the reason that long range EVs have a trip mode and a daily driving mode. If the principle holds, 80% of the miles driven and kWh used, will come from the top of this daily drive region of the battery charge range.

Range Anxiety

When you have less than 20% charge left, you might start getting concerned that you could become stranded with a drained battery. This means that 80% of your battery is comfortably usable. Of course, this number is different for every person, but this is a good rule of thumb.

Home Charging / Public Charging

The Idaho National Lab studied 125 million miles of EV driving. The study included 6 million charging events. They found that 20% of drivers were responsible for 75% of public charging events. The other 80% of drivers charged primarily at home and rarely if ever used public charging.

What Can We Learn

There are many lessons to be learned from the patterns of charging and battery use. For example, the fact that most charging is done at home could teach us that efforts to pre-wire garages with high amperage 240 Volt outlets would encourage EV ownership better than deploying Level 2 public charging stations. Similarly, deploying charging infrastructure in multi-tenant dwellings may be the best way to allow apartment and condo dwellers to also become plug-in vehicle owners. This is just something that the data hints at and more study would be needed to confirm or reject this, but it seems intuitive that making home charging easy would make EV ownership simpler and more attractive.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

When Will Tesla Hit 200,000 Sales in the U.S.? [Q2 2017 Update]

We've been tracking Tesla's sales for some time now. Specifically, the sale of the 200,000th vehicle in the US is an important milestone since it will trigger the US Federal incentive to begin a phase out 3 to 6 months later.

There are hundreds of thousands of people with Model 3 reservations, the timing of the incentive phase out could impact many buyers, so it's an important question.

Earlier this month, Tesla released their Q2'17 sales numbers. They have now sold more than 130,000 vehicles in the US. The Q2 sales numbers were slightly lower than we predicted three months ago and lower than the Street expected and the stock price was punished accordingly. Although the Street was not happy with the Q2 sales, these lower than expected sales did not impact the 200,000th sale forecast significantly.

Here are the historical sales and our forecast.

Just as our forecast from 3 months ago, this new forecast predicts that the 200,000th US sale will occur in the second quarter of 2018. If that is the case, the incentive will phase out as shown in the below image.

Tesla Model 3 sales start with a token amount this month and depending on how fast they ramp, this forecast could change significantly. We'll have a much better idea where the 200,000th sale will likely fall by the end of this year.

Assuming that the above forecast is correct, the incentive would remain in full effect until the end of September of 2018. This would afford Tesla more than one year of Model 3 deliveries that would be fully eligible for the US tax incentive. This should include delivery of the dual motor all-wheel-drive and performance versions of the cars that are expected to start delivery in early 2018. So if you already have a reservation, there is a good chance that you could have your car in time to qualify for the $7500 federal tax credit.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Tesla Model 3 Countdown Begins

Thanks to a tweet from Elon Musk, we now have a date for the Model 3 event and it's the 28th of July. The first Model 3 owners will be handed their keys by Elon Musk on stage.

From the Tesla investor newsletter, we have even more details about the Model 3.
The first certified production Model 3 that meets all regulatory requirements will be completed this week...
Combining the above with Musk's statement that this is two weeks ahead of schedule and we can see that, so far, things appear to be on schedule for Model 3.

Other things we learned from Elon's tweets include, "looks like we can reach 20,000 Model 3 cars per month in Dec." Depending on how fast the ramp to 20,000 occurs, this likely puts the year's production in line with our earlier estimate.

My factory tour is scheduled for July 25th. I might be able to see some of the first full production Model 3s to be produced.

EV Range: How Much Is Enough?

With the Chevy Bolt EV hitting the sales floor, the affordable 200+ mile EV has arrived. The Tesla Model 3 will be arriving soon with two battery options that are greater than 200 miles. Nissan, BMW, and others are, at least for now, are sticking to EVs in the sub-200 miles of range category. Who is right? Which will customers choose?

How much range is enough?

I've owned three EVs with vastly different ranges. In an attempt to answer the 'how much range is enough' question, I'll compare my experience with these EVs. My first EV had 40 miles range and I drove it for 4 years. My second had 73 miles of range and it was my primary vehicle for 5 years. And my current EV has 257 miles of range. Each vehicle had cases where it worked well and cases where it didn't work well.

Before we get into this too far, I'd like to clarify that there is no "one right answer" for range. Everyone has different needs, so the trick is to understand your own needs. Try resetting your trip meter, then each morning noting how many miles you have from the day before, then zeroing it again for the days driving. This will give you a good idea of your needs for a typical day. You might find that you don't drive as much as you think.

A note about what's right for you. When I was first shopping for an EV in 2007, I found a little 3-wheeled Chinese import EV. I went for a test drive. I was not impressed. It was slow, it had a short range. I complained about the slow speed and low range on a local EV mailing list. I was gently informed that I should end all of my complaints with "for my needs." As in "It is too slow for my needs." The gentle soul responding to me went on to say that she had one of these EVs and it worked great for her needs. She lived in a gated retirement community and it had more than enough range to get her to the clubhouse, her friends, the corner store, and more. She ended it with "Mankind got around for many years on one-horse-power. It had four legs and was called a horse."

So with that in mind, I'll tell you about my experience with each of my various EVs I've owned and how the range impacted my ability to use (or not use) them. Your mileage may vary. The best EV for you is one that meets your personal needs, so spend some time understanding them, open a map app and chart out the places you drive regularly.

Infographic from Plugless shows how far you could drive in various EVs on the market today

Let's look at each of the ranges and the driving experience with them. 

40 Miles Range

My first EV was a Chevy S10 Electric truck. This was not a conversion. It's the little-known cousin of the GM EV1. General Motor had leased most of these truck, just as they had the EV1, but these trucks were intended as fleet vehicles. Some fleet managers refused to lease. They wanted to buy the trucks. GM reluctantly sold them. The Air Force bought some, a Georgia utility bought some, and mine came to me after it retired from service at Disneyland.

I drove this truck from 2007 until 2011. The S10e was only built in 1997 and 1998. There was a lead acid battery pack option with 16.2 kilowatt-hours of capacity or a nickel–metal hydride pack with 29 kilowatt-hours. By the time I owned the truck, the 19-year old nickel–metal batteries had severely degraded. The 40 miles of range they had remaining allowed me to drive to work and back (20 miles round trip) and run errands, but little else. Although similar batteries were being used in many hybrid cars, the restrictions put in place by the patent holder (Chevron) did not allow anyone to sell me batteries for a BEV, or so I was told repeatedly as I called dealerships and attempted to order batteries.

Given the 40 miles of range, the truck was relegated to my commuter vehicle. This was a fixed, well-known route. It worked well for the 20-mile round trip with a little extra to spare for errands on the way home. The truck bed was nice for jaunts to Home Depot (15-mile round trip). This was not a vehicle that I could drive someplace on the spur of the moment. I had to know where I was going and make sure that I could make it back.

40 Miles Is Good For: short commutes, errands, well-defined short trips.

73 Miles Range

In 2011, I sold the electric truck and bought a Nissan Leaf. Our Leaf had an EPA-rated range of 73 miles. This was nearly double the range of the truck. And the Leaf had a DC fast charge port. This opened up many more destinations for electric driving. With the charging spots of the West Coast Electric Highway, this was range was enough for trips within ~120-mile radius.

You might wonder if the car can fast charge, why I would limit it a fixed radius. At freeway speeds, the range is reduced, so you have to charge every 40 or 50 miles and too many back-to-back fast charges heats up the batteries and slows down the charging rate. Longer trips certainly are possible and have been done, but I would call a ~120 miles the practical limit.

There are those that would argue the above paragraph. But for me, it's what I've found to be true. Here is a story of one of our ~100-mile trips. We drove our Leaf 110 miles to Great Wolf Lodge. The EPA rated range does not hold true at freeway speeds. This meant that we had to stop three times to drive our "73-mile" vehicle just 110 miles. We might have been able to skip one of the chargers, but we didn't know if each station would be online or available. So until the final leg, we didn't let the charge get too low so we could keep going if one of the stations was down or blocked. This added about an hour to our otherwise 2-hour drive. Adding 30% time to the trip is not how I would want to take to take a 500 mile+ trek.

There should be a metric for charging overhead. E.g. for every 10 hours of 65MPH driving you need X hours of charging (at the vehicle's fastest rate).

73 Miles Is Good For: longer commutes (60 miles round trip or less), urban driving, short treks (120-mile or less) if you have DC fast charging available.

257 Miles Range

Six months ago, I began driving my third and longest range EV, a Tesla Model X. Ours is a 90D and it has an EPA rated range of 257 miles. This is by far the best (and most expensive) vehicle that I've ever owned. Rather than becoming distracted by some of the many great features, I'll stick to the range topic.

This is the vehicle that I drive to and from work. It can handle with no trouble and if I forget to plug in, even for several days, it is still ready to go and I don't have to worry about running out of charge.

We have made three treks in this vehicle. Two of them were from Portland, OR to Grants Pass and back. This is ~250 miles one-way, a four-hour drive. Again, with freeway speeds and the Cascade mountains, the EPA range does not hold true. This is solved by using the Tesla Supercharger network. We made one stop in Springfield for 25 minutes. This charging stop only added 10% to drive time. This is much better than the 30% addition to our trip time with the Leaf.

Our third trek was to the Oregon coast. This was a two-hour, 80-mile drive. We left the house with a full charge and arrived with more than a 40% charge. There was no need to stop and charge during the drive. This was nice. Again high speeds and mountain climbing (this time the coast range) meant that we did not meet the EPA rated distance. There are Tesla Superchargers on the Oregon coast, so one of the mornings that we drove into town for breakfast, we stopped at one of the Superchargers for 15 minutes to grab a few watt-hours.

This summer, when we are pulling our trailer, I might be hoping for another 20 or 30 kWh. But that is a story for another day.

Wrap Up 

More range makes everything easier. You don't have to budget the kWhs as carefully. Using 5 kWh for heat or AC is not a big deal from a 90 kWh pack like it is from a 24 kWh pack. If a charging station is down or blocked, you can likely continue down the road and charge at the next opportunity.

Of course, the drawback is the price. There is a big price difference between 30, 50, or 70+ kWh vehicles. Given this, it is important that you know what range you really need and how much you are willing to pay for the convenience and utility of more batteries.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Arcimoto Kicks-off $10M Initial Public Offering

Arcimoto is a Eugene, Oregon-based 3-wheeler EV maker. They refer to their vehicle as an FUV “Fun Utility Vehicle.” They have filed an SEC Form 1-A to start selling common stock shares under Regulation A. This rule allows the startup to raise capital and sets the stage for a future listing on the NASDAQ.

Regulation A is a relatively new way for startup companies, like Arcimoto, to offer equity to the general public. If you are interested in funding a startup, this is a much better option than something like Kickstarter. With Kickstarter you don't have any equity in the company. For example, Oculus had a very successful round on Kickstarter and was subsequently bought out by Facebook for $2B, but backers didn't receive any share of the windfall. They just received the rewards for their backing level. Many Oculus backers were bitter about being left out. IPO shares, like Arcimoto is offering, on the other hand, make you a partial owner of the company and are a better way for crowdfunding backers to join in the companies success.

Arcimoto was founded in 2007 to "catalyze the shift to a sustainable transportation system." The company's name means “Future I Drive.” They aspire to invent new patterns of mobility that are more efficient, environmentally-friendly, and affordable.

Arcimoto plans to replace the 4,000+ pound internal combustion engine vehicles that clog our urban and suburban roads with their FUV, the Arcimoto SRK. The SRK is a pure electric ride that's one-quarter of the weight, one-third the cost, and ten times as efficient as the average US passenger vehicle.

The Arcimoto SRK delivers an estimated 230 MPGe and has a target base model price of $11,900.

Arcimoto has taken the SRK from a napkin sketch, through eight generations of product development, to a refined design that is nearly ready for production and product launch.

“We inherently recognize that it is no longer sustainable for our wallets, our communities, or our environment to commute five miles to work alone or drive to the store to pick up a gallon of milk in a three ton, $50,000 SUV,” said Mark Frohnmayer, CEO and founder of Arcimoto. “At Arcimoto, we’re out to rightsize transportation. The SRK platform is exhilarating to drive, affordable for virtually everyone, hyper-efficient, and eco-friendly for our communities and our planet. We are delighted to bring this opportunity to everyday investors around the world via today’s filing.”

The Arcimoto investment web page and introduction video are here.

Much of the above was sourced from Arcimoto.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tesla Model 3 Test Drives Are Coming

Telsa will hold test drive events for prospective Model 3 customers later this year. This is your chance to test drive Tesla's newest electric car. But unfortunately, there’s a catch.

Model 3 is one of the most feverishly anticipated cars in automotive history. Public interest in Model 3 has not relented since people stood in line to reserve them last year. Today, more than 400,000 people have put down a $1,000 reservation deposit to hold a place in line to buy the car. That’s a staggering number, especially since very few of these potential customers have seen the car in person, let alone sat behind the wheel.

This is an unprecedented way to buy a new car. And it is a big part of the appeal of Tesla, like Apple they "Think Different" and they also generate an Apple-level cult following. High tech features, online ordering, mall stores, no "dealerships"; Tesla is not like your grampa's car company.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the Californian car maker was ‘anti-selling’ Model 3, yet reservations have continued to grow. “We anti-sell the Model 3. But our net reservations continue to climb week after week. No advertising, anti-selling, nothing to test drive, still goes up every week,” said Musk.

The speculation is that the number of reservation holders is now over 500,000. However, Tesla no longer publishes the number of people in the queue as they said that the media will misinterpret changes in either direction of the queue's length. Tesla has lowered the price of many of their used car offerings in an attempt to attract buyers to the Model S or Model X vehicles that they can purchase today.

The upcoming Model 3 test drives are an apparent change in the company's tactics. This event could drive interest in the car, but the event is only for people who have a Model 3 reservation. Since the test drives start at the end of the year, Tesla should have several months of deliveries on the books by then and production will have ramped up and will be near full-swing. This could be the perfect time to start driving demand again.

Depending on where you live, the features you want, and when you placed your reservation, you could be waiting for up to 18 months to own your own Model 3. This test drive will hopefully temporarily satisfy those of the loyal Tesla fanbase that want AWD and performance features and are willing to wait for them.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Who Killed the Fuel Cell Vehicle?

There's a chalk outline on the ground. As you walk past the Police tape you hear "Nothing to see here; move along."

As we discussed here, Toyota is following consumer demand and has turned its attention away from fuel cell vehicles to battery electric vehicles. Similarly, the oil companies walked away from Hydrogen filling stations in 2014. And in 2016, several parts suppliers have shut down their hydrogen fuel cell programs. Given this, you might say that FCVs are dead, and if you do, then that begs the question, Who Killed the FCV?

Just as the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? listed the suspects and the evidence against them. Let's run down the suspects for the "killing of the FCV."

Our list of suspects are:
  • Consumers
  • The US Government
  • The California Air Resources Board
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology
  • Hydrogen Generation Energy Efficiency
  • Hydrogen Infrastructure Cost
  • Battery Technology
  • Tesla Motors
  • Automakers 
  • Hydrogen Safety 
There's our suspect list. Is there anyone else that should be there? Let me know below along with the case against them. 

Suspect Consumers [Updated]
The two FCVs that are available today are the Toyota Mirai and the Hyundai Tucson FCV. Fewer than 2000 Mirai have been delivered and Hyundai has about half that number of Tucson FCVs on the road. It is not clear if these small sales numbers are due to low demand or low production volumes. Many of the customers that are interested in alternative fuel vehicles have moved to battery electric vehicles. The marketing of BEVs and FCVs have often pitted these two technologies as rivals. Even if the supply is limited, I have not seen consumers lining up demanding more fuel cell vehicles. 
Guilt: guilty
Suspect The US Government
The US Government kickstarted fuel cell development during the space race of the 1960s and supported FCVs with more than $1B during the G.W. Bush administration. This support was yanked away under Secretary Chu's tenure in the DOE.
Guilt: undetermined
Suspect California Air Resources Board (CARB)
The ZEV mandate gave credits to both battery electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles. Many of the rules were written to favor fast refueling times and favored FCVs over BEVs. Meaning that a FCV sold in California could receive twice as many credits as a comparable BEV. This may have been unfair to battery electric vehicles, but it did not contribute to the death of FCVs.
Guilt: not guilty
Suspect Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology
Fuel cell stacks made great technological strides from the 1960 to the 1990 and again from the 1990 to the introduction of the Mirai in 2015. When coupled with a small battery pack (as they usually are) these stacks have the power output to deliver a satisfying driving experience.
Guilt: not guilty 
Suspect Hydrogen Energy Efficiency
If you read more than one FCV detractor article, you'll hear the efficiency argument. One version of it is shown in the image below.
Battery electric cars can be charged directly by renewable energy. If that same energy were put into Hydrogen production you would get far fewer resulting miles. The Hydrogen has to be split from water, compressed, stored, transported, pumped into the vehicle and finally processed by the vehicles fuel stack.
This argument is true. Electric cars are more efficient, but the inefficiencies of H2 don't matter if the Hydrogen could be delivered profitably. The well-to-tank process for crude oil is complex, but it can be done profitably with an affordable resulting product. The simplest system is not always the one that wins, its the one that best meets the customers needs. 
Guilt: Contributing factor (cost additions)
Suspect Hydrogen Infrastructure
Hydrogen filling stations take about 3 years to build and have a cost of about $1 million. When Shell or Exxon had the option to open a new gas station that would profitably sell gasoline to thousands of cars or to spend significantly more to build an H2 filling station that might have 3 cars in a week. Building a H2 filling station did not make financial sense unless the station were highly subsidized. 

Guilt: guilty 
Suspect Batteries
Battery technology has advanced far faster than fuel cells. Batteries were a primary technology to making smaller longer lived smartphones and nearly every high-tech hardware company is committing part of their R&D budget to improving battery energy density, lifespan, thermal profile, packaging, and/or management. These improvements along with the ubiquity of electrical outlets for recharging gives batteries a big advantage in performance improvement rate and refueling infrastructure. 
Guilt: guilty 
Suspect Tesla Motors
Tesla made EVs cool. Guilty, case closed. Actually, it is a more nuanced than that. Tesla rode the wave of advancing battery technology. This was being driven by Panasonic, BYD, LG Chem, and others. The EV revolution was coming with or without Tesla. Tesla just (greatly) accelerated it.
Guilt: Contributor 
Suspect Legacy Automakers
Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota were three of the biggest FCV supporters, but nearly all of big automakers had POC vehicles. Brad Pitt showed up to the premiere of “Ocean’s Thirteen” in a BMW Hydrogen 7. The car companies have spent billions trying to bring FCVs to market. They have chased the unicorn long and hard. 
Guilt: Not guilty 

Suspect Hydrogen Safety
Like Godwin's Law, if you talk about FCVs long enough, some one will mention the Hindenburg. There have been no FCV fires that I am aware of. Vehicles need a lot of energy to move. This is inherently dangerous regardless of fuel choice. There are more than 100,000 gasoline car fires each year. I have not seen any data that shows FCVs would be more dangerous than the current status quo. 

 Guilt: Not guilty

There's a chalk outline on the ground. As you walk past the Police tape you hear "Nothing to see here; move along."

Let's recap our suspects:

Level of Guilt
Consumers Guilty
The US Government Partial Guilt
California Air Resources Board Not Guilty
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology Not Guilty
Hydrogen Generation Efficiency    Contributing Factor
Hydrogen Infrastructure Cost Guilty
Battery Technology Guilty
Tesla Motors Contributor
Automakers Not Guilty
Hydrogen Safety Not Guilty

As you can see there are multiple guilty parties and multiple contributing factors. There is no single magic bullet that ended fuel cells. Whatever the obstacles or excuses, after decades of research and development FCVs have been unable to produce vehicles that consumers demand in droves or the infrastructure needed to fuel them.

Consumers have grown weary of walking toward the hydrogen Mirai mirage. In the battle to determine the successor to gasoline, H2 is the Betamax to battery's VHS or it is the HD-DVD to battery's Blu-ray.

FCVs may have a chalk outline around them or they may just be in critical condition on life-support. Just as EVs were killed in the 1990s and revived in the twenty-teens, FCVs could have their day again if the right breakthroughs occur. We'll be watching.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Vote on Tesla's Project Loveday

A ten-year-old girl named Bria Loveday wrote a letter to Elon Musk and suggested that he hold a contest for fan-made Tesla ads. Musk accepted and "Project Loveday" was born.

The challenge was issued to Tesla fans to create a 90 second or shorter homemade ad for Tesla. The top ten entries will be featured on the Tesla’s social media channels and perhaps on in-store displays. Additionally, the winners will receive an invitation to a future Tesla Product Launch event.

The entry deadline has now past and the videos that are under consideration are posted on YouTube. Certainly, one of the things that the judges will be considering is the popularity of each video. Below is a playlist with more than 100 of the videos. Thumbs-up your favorites and share them to help them get noticed.

If your favorite Project Loveday video is not on the list, leave a comment below and I'll add it.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Path of Lease Resistance - To buy or lease your Tesla Model 3?

The Tesla Model 3 will be coming later this year. Thousands of people will be taking delivery of their new car (maybe you are one, I'll assume so). Before you do, you'll need to figure out how you are going to finance it.

The ancient wisdom of car buying was buy used, pay cash, and drive the car until the wheels fall off. If you could not pay cash, the next best option was a short term (2 or 3 years) car loan. The last bit of the ancient wisdom was "Never, ever lease a car!"

This advice applied to gas cars, things are different now, does the ancient wisdom still apply? Let's look at the pros and cons.

Why Not To Lease? 

Leasing locks you into a payment. You don't own the vehicle. There can be mileage limitations or dents and dings that come back to haunt you when the vehicle is turned in. When the lease is up, you can turn the car in, but then you don't have a car and you have the same question for your next ride; should you lease or buy. This can lock you into a perpetual cycle of car payments. That said, I am still considering a lease for my Model 3 when I get the email to start financing.

Why To Lease

Automobile technology is advancing faster than is has since steam engines were on the roads of New York City. This means that the Model 3 that is sold later this year could be leapfrogged by better technologies in just a few years. Elon Musk has made it clear that this generation of Model 3 will not have a heads up display (HUD). But in 2019, Tesla could roll out an advanced 3D augmented reality windshield that takes driving to a whole new level. This is an absurd unrealistic example just to make a point, Tesla will continue to innovate.

If you are locked into 5 years of car payments, you won't be able to easily upgrade. With a two or three year lease, on the other hand, you'll be turning in your 2017 car in 2019 or 2020 and then you will know if the Model 3 is the car for you and if you should buy the next one.

Battery technology currently has more research dollars being poured into it than ever before. Advances will happen. How much will a ~250 mile range EV be worth when 400 mile EVs are on the showroom floor? If you have a lease, you can just turn it in at the end of the lease term. You are not stuck with yesterday's battery technology. The cutting edge car can cut both ways.

Being on the cutting edge of new technology can be just what you wanted, or leave you wanting more. A lease gives you easy options to upgrade to the next big thing or keep the car you love.

Here's an example of the pace of change. I recently took my Model X to the service center for a minor issue. They gave me a loaner 2013 Tesla Model S to drive while they worked on my car. This loaner is the car model that won Car & Driver Car of the Year. It was a great car when it came out, but compared to a 2017 Tesla, it was primitive. It had 3G instead of 4G LTE, it didn't have autopilot, just to name a couple. First world problems, I know, but the rate of change seems to be increasing, so it is likely that the 2020 Model 3 will be radically better than the initial cars off the line in 2017.

By 2020 what improvements do you think Tesla will make to the Model 3? Here are a few that I think we're likely to see (eventually):
  • HUD
  • Solar roof
  • Autopilot Hardware 3.0 (faster processor)
  • 5G 
  • 90 kWh battery pack option
  • 360-degree bird's eye parking view
  • Factory installed dash cam that can be viewed remotely in real-time from Tesla's app
Okay, perhaps that last one on that list is just wishful thinking, but several owners have asked for it. The above list is in addition to the dual motor and performance features that are likely coming in early 2018. And who know what other surprises Tesla has up their sleeve for 2019.

If any of these are must-have features for you, then a lease is likely a better option.
I've never leased a car before, but this time I might.

Electricity follows the path of least resistance. In this case, my electric car purchase might follow the path of lease resistance.

A lease will likely cost more than just buying the car, but the additional money is an insurance payment for future-proofing for new features and battery tech. The Model 3 is a new car, maybe I won't like it (unlikely but possible). If that's the case, then I turn in the car when the lease is up and maybe I put in a reservation for the Tesla Pickup Truck.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bigger Battery Allows Slower Charging

Tesla Model X slowly charging from a standard US wall outlet 

Daniel Gross has written an article at Slate titled The Bolt Still Needs a Jolt. In the article, he makes the point that GM and other EV makers need to invest in charging infrastructure. Although I agree with most of his points (many of them are things that we've said here before) there are two things that he gets wrong IMHO.

First, he overlooks DC fast charging and the need for standardization. Just stating that the OEMs need to get involved is not enough. There are already three fast charge methods on US roads today. If Porsche follows up on their announcement to make their own, there will be a fourth. That is being "involved" but I don't think it helps the EV community. We don't need VW, BMW, and others to do the same. Today, you can drive a gas-powered car into any gas station and fill up. You don't need to look for stations that accept Fords or Toyotas... EVs need to strive for the same universal goal.

The second (and bigger) thing that I think Gross gets wrong is when he bemoans the slow charging speed that you get from a standard 120V US outlet. I have been driving a 250-mile range EV for 6 months now and I'll spend the rest of this post explaining how the meager 120V outlet is great for many people, most of the time, and how a bigger battery makes it more useful, not less.

Here is the quote from Gross: “You just plug the cord that comes with the car into a three-pronged outlet. But unless you install special equipment, the batteries sip their juice very slowly, just a few miles of charge per hour. Plug in at night and you’ll return in the morning to find that the car’s range has expanded by only about 30 miles.

He is right the charge is slow, but that does not mean it's not useful. Here are the specifics for how I've been using a 120V outlet for my long range EV. Seven months ago we purchased a Tesla Model X. The car has 257 miles of range and a 90 kWh battery pack. Our range is similar to the 238-mile range of the Chevy Bolt that Gross was talking about.

The Tesla now parks next to our Nissan Leaf. We have a 100% electric home fleet. The Leaf has a degraded 24 kWh battery pack. We have one charging station in the garage. We were considering buying a second charging station for the Tesla, but we wanted to see how it would fit in the garage and how we'd arrange things before we placed a charging station on the wall.

Each of the cars came with a trickle charger. So we can use the charging station for one of the cars and the trickle charger for the other. Initially, I assumed that the Tesla, with its bigger battery, would be the one that needs faster charging. To my surprise, it has not turned out that way.

On most days, both cars are driven. My wife drives one of them and I drive the other. They are used for commuting and errands; typically 20 to 40 miles per day, not a lot of miles. With its short range, the Leaf needs to be recharged frequently. When the Leaf is the kid-duty car, after the morning school drop off it's plugged in and charged up for an afternoon of errands and the school pick-up run. Being able to recharge at Level 2 is important when adding range mid-day.

For the Tesla, on the other hand, it has plenty in reserve. It does not need mid-day charging for normal daily use. This means that it will be charging overnight. If it is plugged in from 7 PM till 7 AM, that is 24 miles of range. This is enough to for my 20-mile commute and to run the heater and still break even. However, it is not really important to break even. If I used 30 miles of energy on a given day but only replenish 20 miles, then the next morning the car is a few miles short of full when it is unplugged, but there is still plenty of range in reserve.

Any accumulated mid-week deficit is made up for on the weekend when the vehicle is usually in the garage for 20 hours.

We also bought the CHAdeMO adapter for the Tesla. This allows us to charge up at any of the West Coast Electric Highway spots. We have not had to use it yet, but there are several CHAdeMO stations in our region.

Now that we've had the Model X for awhile and I know that backing in on the left side is where/how we're parking the X, I'll likely get a Tesla wall connector. But before I do, I thought I'd share this unexpected (but retrospectively obvious) learning that 120V charging actually works very well on a long range EV.

Final thought: this bigger battery enables slower charging comment only applies to at home charging where the car is generally being used for short trips such as less than 40 miles per day. This applies to about 80% of people but certainly not everyone. And this certainly does not apply to EV road trips.

Charge on!

EV Road Trip

Friday, May 26, 2017

2017: A New Age For EVs

The modern electric vehicle (EV) launched in December of 2010 when the first Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf owners were handed the keys to their new cars. Tesla launched the Model S in June of 2012 and the modern EV movement was off the the races. These three were the vanguards of the new technology.

Since the starting flag was waved, many other automakers have joined in the race (at least tepidly). Worldwide to-date, approximately 2 million plug-in vehicles have been sold.

Even with ~2 million EVs sold, plug-in cars are just a small percentage of vehicles on the roads. That's because EVs are not yet for everyone.

Battery technology is currently the Achilles' heel of EVs. Batteries are expensive, they have a low energy density compared to gasoline, they degrade when not thermally managed properly, and they charge slowly. These are all engineering problems. Year by year batteries will improve and, eventually, each of these issues will be solved.

More R&D money is currently being invested in battery tech than ever before. Here is a sampling of things that are underway since the launch of the modern EV:
  • South Korea's LG Chem fired up a new battery factory in Holland, Michigan in 2012. 
  • Renault-Nissan broke ground on a European battery plant in 2013. 
  • Bosch acquired the startup Seeo Inc. for their breakthrough battery technology in 2015.
  • Similarly, Samsung acquired the EV Battery division of Magna International in 2015.
  • Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) started construction of a battery factory in Germany in 2016. 
  • In 2016 LG Chem broke ground on their fourth battery factory. This Poland factory is five times the size of a soccer field and will be Europe’s largest electric car battery factory. By 2018, it is expected to produce over 100,000 high-performance lithium batteries each year.
  • BYD broke ground on a factory in Brazil. Globally, by 2020 BYD is expected to have about 34 GWh of annual production capacity. 
  • Tesla's Gigafactory is in operation today and planned to ramp up to 35 GWh of production by 2020. And Tesla plans four more battery factory locations to be announced this year.  
All of these and other activities have driven (or will drive) the price of batteries down and the energy storage capacity up. This has enabled the affordable 200+ mile EV to hit the roads in 2017.

Just as December of 2010 saw the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf to kick off the modern generation of EVs, 2017 will have the Chevy Bolt EV and the Tesla Model 3. With the introduction of these two cars, 2017 will be a major inflection point in electric vehicle adoption.

2017 will be an inflection point for electric vehicles. 200+ miles of range with an affordable price tag allows EVs to move beyond the enthusiasts and into the mass market. 

With more range, EVs will reach a new audience. They can be used by people with longer commutes and in places with less charging infrastructure. When you have longer range, your need for mid-day top up is greatly reduced.

Just as two cars kicked things off in 2010, we have two cars that are upping the game in 2017. And just as these two were joined by many others in the years that followed, so too will the 200+ mile club soon have several new members.

Multiple automakers have announced plans for 200+ mile EVs by 2020. Mercedes-Benz says by 2025, their passenger car product portfolio will contain more than ten fully electric vehicles.

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

In his book "Thank You for Being Late," Thomas Friedman pointed out that 2007 was a major year in technology, but at the time, no one noticed. It was the year Apple launched the iPhone, Facebook and Twitter went global, Kindle and Android were released, Airbnb was founded, Google bought YouTube, and IBM created Watson. These all eventually took the tech world by storm, and no one saw them coming.

In this case, we have the advantage of knowing what's coming and being witness to it. The world of personal transportation is undergoing more change than it has in over 100 years. These are interesting times and we are living in them.

We've been waiting for this day.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Want Free Unlimited Supercharging For Your New Tesla, Use A Referral Code

In a surprise move, Tesla has reinstated free unlimited Supercharging. This applies retroactively to Model S and X vehicle owners that were previously under the 400 kWh annual limit.

Vehicles ordered after May 19, 2017 will still be under the 400 kWh limit, unless you order it with a referral code. Using a referral code will get you $1000 off and free unlimited lifetime Supercharging. However, each referral code can only be used for 5 vehicles.

Today, the popular YouTubers and podcasters can have 3 or 4 times this limit of people using their referral code. Under this new program, once they hit their limit of 5, you would be better off using someone else's code. You can still get $1000 off if you are the 6th+ person to use a given code, but why not find another code and get free Supercharging too?

I don't share my code often and no one to date has used it. This referral program runs through the end of 2017. I'll update this post, to let you know how many slots are left if anyone uses the code below.

Here is the code you can use to get free Supercharging: http://ts.la/patrick7819

You can read the full details of the program here.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

6 Years of Nissan Leaf Ownership

When I first received my Leaf on May 18th, 2011, I loved it. Six years later, the new car smell is long gone.

Happy new car owner in 2011
This was the first new car I had ever purchased. I had only bought used cars prior to this one. I was not a "car guy" and spending money on a depreciating asset is not generally a smart financial move. This was different though, it was new technology. There was no significant used EV market in 2011.

The car was great. It was quick off the line, smooth, quiet, and fun. I loved it. We took it on road trip adventures to Great Wolf, Enchanted Forrest, and Spirit Mountain to name a few.
To Great Wolf Lodge by EV

The 10 Year Plan Is Gone

"Ten years gone, holdin' on, ten years gone." Jimmy Page, Robert Plant

Before I purchased the car, battery degradation was one of my biggest concerns. I wanted to drive this car for 10 years and the batteries needed to last that long for my plan. My daughter was 6 years old when I bought the car, she'd be 16 when the car turned 10. If the range was degraded at that point, that'd be OK. I wouldn't want her driving too far away anyway. 😊

When the Leaf Tour came to Portland in 2010, I was lucky enough to meet the man who was the face for the Nissan Leaf in the US, Mark Perry, Director Advanced Technology for Nissan USA. I specifically asked him about battery degradation. He assured me that the Leaf was designed to handle the demanding needs of EV driving in all 50 US states, hot or cold. This put my mind at ease, even when Elon Musk openly mocked Nissan for their "primitive" thermal management system, I was not worried. I'd be driving in Oregon, where it's far from the hottest or the coldest state and generally a great environment for battery longevity. It might be an issue in the hot Southwest or the cold Upper Midwest, but surely, I'd be fine, thought I.

As the first couple years of Leaf sales rolled by people in hot climates started to complain about battery degradation. This was labeled the Leaf Arizona Range Debacle and Nissan handled it poorly. Customers were rightfully unhappy with a car that had rapidly decreasing range. This event was the swan song of Perry's career at Nissan. After years of enthusiastically advocating for Nissan's electric car, his career ended on this stone sour note.

Nissan had a new leader for the Leaf and he was addressing the hot state debacle head-on. This was Andy Palmer, the #2 person in the company. He clarified the warranty condition, bought back cars from many unhappy owners, and replaced batteries for others. This got the company through the PR disaster but did nothing to solve the underlying engineering issue with Nissan's design.

After 3 years of ownership, in 2014, with ~25,000 miles, we lost our first capacity bar. At this point the car had lost 11 miles (or 15%) of its original range. Oregon's mild weather had not inoculated my car as much as I had hoped. Coincidentally, this was about the same time that Andy Palmer then left Nissan too.

Now we're celebrating 6 years of Leaf ownership. Maybe 'celebrating' is not the right word. Soon after the year 5 mark, the second battery capacity bar disappeared. As we now hit the 6-year milestone the battery capacity is at 74% of the original battery, or 26% degraded. This puts the current range at 54 miles according to the EPA rating and at 60 miles according to the GOM in the Leaf.

Degrading 2011 Nissan Leaf Range

So now we have about half the range we did when it was new (according to the GOM). Most Leaf owners are familiar with the battery health meter. They are the little ticks to the right of the battery charge gauge let you know how much of the original capacity remains in the battery pack. We've been losing one about every three years.

The GOM rating changes based on how light-footed or lead-footed you've been driving recently. So rather than just look at that, let's look at the stats from the battery pack. With the app LeafSpy (for Android or iPhone), you can see a lot of information about the car and batteries. I have been collecting information monthly since I found the app in 2012. Here's a chart of the range with some smoothing for clarity (and using the battery capacity mapped to the EPA efficiency of the Leaf).

Looking at this range chart, you can see that the 118 miles predicted when the car was new, is nowhere near what the EPA rating estimated. According to these, more accurate measurements, the range has dropped from an initial 73 miles to the current 54 miles. The car has lost 19 miles of range. This is not too much if the car had 200+ miles of range, but it only started with 73 miles. It has lost 26% of its range in 6 years. This is putting a kink in my 10-year plan for the car. A range of just 54 miles greatly reduces the utility of the car. The road trips that we once took in our Leaf are now in the rearview mirror. Our Leaf is strictly an errand car, if we need to drive more than 25 miles from the house (50+ miles round trip), this is not the car that we take.

My initial concern about degradation was well placed and Musk has been proven right. As I said at the opening, the new car smell is gone.

And even if all of this degradation had happened in the first five years, I still would not qualify for the warranty battery replacement until our third capacity bar blinked out of existence.

Telematics Gone

"It's not like wings have fallen cannot stay." Long Road by Eddie Vedder

To add insult to injury, the telematics stopped working this year.

The telematics system in the Leaf is called NissanConnectEV (formerly known as CarWings). It allows an app to connect to the car. You can (or in my case "you could") check the state-of-charge and turn on the HVAC. It was cool to be able to access your car with an app. If you were charging, you could find out how charged up it was without running out to the garage (or where ever the car was charging). Being able to turn on the HVAC was handy too. In the winter, I could turn on the heater while I was sitting at my desk. Then pack up my stuff and head out, by the time I arrived at the car, it was warm and it would quickly defrost.

When Nissan designed the 2011 Leaf, they used AT&T's 2G wireless. By 2007, 3G was widely deployed and in 2009, 4G-LTE had its first few deployments. So when Nissan was designing the Leaf, it was clear that 2G was on the way out. Yet 2G is what they selected. Knowing that 2G was on the way out, they could have at least included a 3G modem that they could have opted to turn on at a later date via an over-the-air update, but they didn't.

2G service turned off in January of 2017. Without this service, all the CarWings services mentioned above are lost and the list of charging stations in the car's nav system is no longer updated. Not having a list of charging locations for an errand car is not a big deal. We are not driving it very far and on the off chance that we need to charge out in the wild, PlugShare works fine.

Nissan's solution is to offer a 3G modem for $199. So today, when 4G-LTE is the dominate connectivity solution and 5G is on the horizon, they are again going with the oldest possible solution and again with no futureproofing. Making sure that Leaf owners will need to upgrade once again when 3G is sunset.

I am not feeling appreciated as an early adopter by this move.

No More Long Roads

"It's a short road to love. But you're taking me the long way around." ~Eddie Rabbitt

The range is decreasing faster than I'd like. It does not appear that the Leaf will make it to my 10-year plan or be my daughter's first car. Not even Oregon's battery-friendly weather could get us to the goal.

Nissan has not recalled the cars due to the faulty battery thermal management system nor made efforts to ensure long-term Leaf owner satisfaction.

Nissan had the first-mover advantage in the affordable full EV space, but their pace of innovation was too slow. They have not significantly increased the range of the car and they have been leapfrogged by the Chevy Bolt EV and soon by the Tesla Model 3. Nissan had added a 30 kWh option in the 2017 car giving it a 107-mile range, but they have not improved the thermal management and I have read reports that the larger battery heats up faster and takes longer to cool down.

Nissan will have another shot to stay competitive when their 200-mile+ next gen Leaf comes out but they have lost their leadership position in EVs IMHO. Nissan has released a few details about the 2018 Leaf, among these preview tidbits is the statement that it will have active thermal management. It's about time.

I was an enthusiastic Leaf owner, those days are sadly gone. I expect to trade this car in on a new EV before its seventh birthday.