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The American Conservative Case for Electric Vehicles (5 Reasons That Are Not The Environment)

Given the recent election results, it's very likely that there will be sweeping legislative changes in the areas of energy and environme...

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 a 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 7PM till 7AM, 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.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Will You Get The $7500 Federal Incentive For Your Model 3?

The delivery of the 200,000th Tesla to a US buyer is an important milestone, not only because it will be a landmark event that no other automakers has ever achieved in the electric vehicle space, but also because it will trigger big changes to the US Federal Tax Incentive that Tesla buyers in the US currently enjoy.

With three more months of sales data, this is an update to our January 2017 article "When Will Tesla Hit 200,000 US Sales".

There's currently a $7500 US Federal tax incentive for plug-in cars with 16kWh or larger battery packs. The incentive starts to phase out soon after an automaker hits 200k US sales. Tesla appears to be the first automaker that will cross this threshold.

We've been tracking Tesla's sales for awhile here and attempting to estimate the sale of the 200,000th US vehicle. A $7500 incentive is a significant price reduction on a $35000 car. When the incentive is eventually reduced or exhausted, this could detour some buyers or send them to consider EVs by other manufacturers that have not yet used up their allotment under this incentive.

In the recent Tesla First Quarter 2017 Financial Results Q&A Call, we learned a few details that will help tune our estimate for this key delivery.

First, we heard Elon Musk say that reservations for the Model 3 continue to grow.

[Model 3] reservations continue to climb week after week. No advertising, anti-selling, nothing to test drive, still grows every week.
~Elon Musk, Tesla Q1'17 Earnings Call

Assuming that many of these reservations turn into orders, Tesla will be able to sell the cars as fast as they can make them.

Next, we learned that Tesla is on track to start production in July of this year and ramp up to more than 5000 per week by the end of this year.

There's plenty of things with uncertainty, but I don't know anything that would prevent us from starting production in July, and exceeding 5,000 units per week by the end of the year.
~Elon Musk, Tesla Q1'17 Earnings Call

Note that Musk calls out "plenty of uncertainty". Starting in July is not a guarantee, it's a goal. Also, note that "starting production" is not the same as "starting deliveries". We covered the force majeure issue in this article and this is one of the factors that makes this estimate difficult. If Model 3 manufacturing starts without a hitch and ramps quickly this will obviously be a different result than 3 to 4 months of problems and only Model S and X deliveries. For an objective viewpoint, let's look at the sales trend and see where that projects the 200,000th sale.

Sales for Q1 of 2017 have been added to our chart and the 200,000 mark moved out slightly. It now lands in Q2 of 2018. As far as the incentive is concerned only the quarter matters, not the exact date.

If the 200,000th car lands in Q2 of 2018, the incentive will play out like this:

Assuming Model 3 deliveries start in August of 2017 and the incentive is in full effect until the end of September of 2018, Tesla will have more than one year to deliver Model 3s that will be fully eligible for the US tax incentive. This should include the dual motor all-wheel drive and performance cars that that are expected to start delivery in early 2018.

So to answer the question "Will You Get The $7500 Federal Incentive For Your Model 3?". The current data says the answer is (if you qualify and you already have a reservation) "probably".

On the earnings call, Jeffrey Osborne from Cowen & Co. asked Elon Musk how many of the hundreds of thousands of people that have put their deposit on the Model 3 will receive the $7,500 tax credit? (Thank you, Mr. Osborne, for asking one of the few good questions on the call.) I will let Elon have the final word. Here's Musk's reply:

I think most people that have put down a deposit are going to get it. And the credit rolls off – it's not like a complete stop, it rolls off over time. And we are prioritizing US production, which also helps us to keep things simple because we're not making many versions of the car for different countries. Yeah, so I mean I think provided some of these – I don't know, I guess it's probably most people putting down a deposit would be able to get the full tax credit. 
~Elon Musk, Tesla Q1'17 Earnings Call

Monday, May 1, 2017

Why Tesla's Charging Network Should Become Everybody's

The fractured fast charging market: CHAdeMO, Tesla, SAE Combo (CCS) - image via chargedevs.com

Charging is an important part of the EV ownership experience. If you have a living situation that allows for it, charging up at home is very convenient. It only takes seconds to plug in and your car starts out each morning fully charged, ready to take on the day. When you're on a road trip, things are different. You have to use the public charging network to fill up and keep rolling. This could be charging overnight at a hotel or roadside fast charging.

Up to this point in time EVs have been less than 1% of new vehicle sales. This means that they have been purchased by the portion of the market that is the most enthusiast about the technology. These early adopters have generally been content (perhaps even excited) to hunt for charging stations and to mold their drives around the available infrastructure. As EVs move to mass adoption, this tolerance quickly fades; it will be important to have a vast, easy to use, reliable, fast-charge network.

When considering public EV charging network infrastructure, you must look at several factors (speed, reliability, availability, access, usability...). Looking at the three fast charge networks (CHAdeMO, CCS, and Tesla), considering all of these factors, in our previous post we concluded that (although there is room for improvement) Tesla is the only charging provider that is currently offering a robust positive charging experience. Tesla has well positioned charging sites; no membership sign-in, apps, or cards are required to initiate a session; there are multiple stations per location; the stations are fast and operational; and there is usually no waiting (at most locations).

Tesla has offered to allow other automakers to use their network. In 2015, Elon Musk said, “Our Supercharger network is not intended to be a walled garden. It’s intended to be available to other manufacturers if they’d like to use it. The only requirements are that the cars must be able to take the power output of our Superchargers, and then just pay whatever their proportion their usage is of the system.” This statement from Musk is aligned to Tesla's goal to accelerate the advent of electric transport (not just Tesla's cars).

To date, no automakers (that I am aware of) have taken Musk up on this offer. Should they? Below we'll explore what this partnership might look like.

Porsche's proposed 800-Volt fast charger

Proprietary Versus Standard(s)

Which fast charging type to choose?

If you were the head of a new EV program at a car company (such as one of the many new EV startups or a conventional car company getting into the EV market), you would have to determine which of the fast charging solutions you would choose for your upcoming line of EVs. The options are:
  1. Design your own proprietary solution
  2. Select the Japanese standard (CHAdeMO)
  3. Select the SAE standard (CCS)
  4. Partner with Tesla

Proprietary Solution

Option 1 has several drawbacks. It has a large capital requirement. You would need to build out a vast network in all regions where you sell vehicles. It's a multi-year effort. Porsche has stated that they have engineered an 800 Volt fast charging system. If Porsche were to deploy yet another network, this would further splinter the industry. Porsche has a great record of innovation, they would be better off working with one of the groups in options 2, 3, or 4 to improve charging for all. Considering the cost and effort, let's consider this a DOA option, listed only for completeness.

Standards Based Fast Charging (CHAdeMO/CCS)

Option 2 or 3 utilize existing public networks. This is what most non-Tesla automakers are selecting. Here it is important that you consider the experience that your owners will be subjected too. Simply selecting a CHAdeMO or CCS port for the car and then saying "fueling infrastructure is someone else's problem" is a poor option. The automakers must become involved with the charging standard organizations. This should include investments into the infrastructure network, in the charging provider companies (AeroVironment, ChargePoint, ABB,...), and perhaps even a seat on their board promoting reliability and a positive driver experience.

Automakers cannot simply put a fast-charge port on their cars and call it done. The charging networks that support these vehicles and their customers are an important part of the ownership experience.

As we covered here, CHAdeMO seems to be losing steam. If you are considering this option, CCS looks like the better long-term choice. However, there is one more option to consider first.

The Tesla Network

Option 4 is to partner with Tesla. Let's continue with our analogy that you are in charge of a car company's new EV program. Should you partner with Tesla or select CCS? Let's assume you've decided to partner with Tesla. For the rest of this article, we'll explore this option.

Justification: Why Automakers Should Take Up Tesla's Offer

Compared to CHAdeMO or CCS, Tesla's network is more complete, robust, and reliable. The network is better planned and positioned, there are multiple stations per site, and no membership card is needed. As an EV driver, it is a better experience.

Selecting Tesla would give your fledgling EV program an incredible jumpstart and your EV program an incredible innovation partner. This will keep your vehicle's charging technologies on the leading edge. Tesla has announced plans to vastly increase the charging rate of their network in 2017 with Supercharger V3. They also plan to install solar canopies and onsite energy storage. If you are hoping to attract environmentally conscious customers, these (soon to be solar powered) charging stations are a compelling story.

How Would A Partnership Work?

Since no automaker has yet taken Tesla up on this offer, we don't know exactly how it would work but Tesla has laid out some of the framework. Musk has stated that the contribution to the Supercharger network would need to be proportional to use of the network. So, if your company's cars make up 5% of the network's use, your company would need to pay Tesla for 5% of the network's operating cost.

Considering the recent changes Tesla has made for idling fees and limited free charging, I'm sure that Tesla would require similar fees for other automakers vehicles joining the network. These changes were not profit motivated, they were intended to improve network availability. Any car that is blocking a spot is a problem, regardless of the brand, so these rules would likely to apply to partner company vehicles too.

As a partner, fees above and beyond the Tesla minimums would be at your discretion. Tesla has said that they are not trying to make a profit from the charging network. However, other automakers would be free to try other models. The fees collected, if any, could be used to offset the payments for your company's portion of the network operating cost.

Additionally, if your company established charging stations and added them to the Tesla network, the Tesla owner attendance could additionally offset the use of your vehicles on the Tesla network. Having this as an option is nice. If the EV project at your company is small, the network use will also be small and the payments to support the network would be negligible. If, however, the fledgling EV program at your company flourishes, then establishing your own Tesla-compatible charging stations in high-use areas can offset the charging events by your cars at Tesla branded superchargers.


If your car company is using Tesla Supercharger stations, would your vehicles be seen as competing with Tesla vehicles? Yes. If you are building a long range electric vehicle, then your car is competing with Tesla, whether or not you are using their network.

Partnering with Tesla on charging standards puts you on equal grounds in this arena. This means you will need to make compelling vehicle.


There has been overcrowding at some Supercharger locations in California and Norway. Tesla is actively installing and expanding their network. More locations will only help if the network growth outpaces new vehicle sales. Tesla has a large number of Model 3 pre-orders. They plan to deliver a lot of cars in 2017 and 2018. Overcrowding is a risk. The changes Tesla has recently made to eliminate free supercharging and to add an idle fee are steps to ensure that the network is not abused and only used when it is needed. Additionally, doubling the network size in 2017 to alleviate congested areas. We'll see if these measures help.

The Choice Is Yours

Which "little monster" (as ChargePoint called them) will you choose? If you are a car buyer, this choice will impact where you can charge. If you are an automaker, this choice (among many others) can determine if your sales continue to grow, or if they flatline.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Honda Disses CHAdeMO

Honda's recent EV announcement could be a harbinger of doom for CHAdeMO.

Honda Clarity Electric

Honda is currently selling a fuel cell version of the Clarity in limited regions and quantities. At the New York Auto Show this year, Honda announced a pure electric and a plug-in hybrid version of the car would soon go on sale.

According to Automotive News, the upcoming electric Clarity will only have 25.5 kWh of battery capacity for about ~80 miles of range. If true, that’s a big nothingburger. In a world with the Chevy Bolt and the (coming soon) Tesla Model 3, an EV with less than 100 miles of range is not much to get excited about. This would have been noteworthy in 2011, but now, it's uninteresting.

To add insult to injury, Honda says its target price for the electric Clarity is $35,000. This is in the same price range as the Bolt and the Model 3 which each have more than double the range. You would have to really love Honda to buy an 80-mile EV when you could get a 215+ mile EV for the same price.

Honda has not been enthusiastic about EVs, so a lackluster offering is not surprising. The big surprise, for me, was something in the details of the press release. It was that the DC fast charging port on the Clarity was a CCS port. Honda's previous EV the Fit EV didn't have a DC fast charge port.

Honda's Japanese brethren (Nissan and Mitsubishi), as well as South Korea's Kia, have selected the CHAdeMO port for their plug-in vehicles. The market does need to eventually converge on a single charging standard. And if Japan's automakers cannot stand together to support CHAdeMO, this might be the crack in CHAdeMO armor that causes its eventual fall.

If the EV market continues to grow, as I believe it will, Honda will continue to offer more EVs. Eventually, they may make something beyond a mere compliance car. If they do make an EV that people are actually interested in buying, and it has a CCS port instead of CHAdeMO, this would add significantly weight to the CCS camp.

Continuing with Beta and VHS is not a long term solution.

If the market did converge on CCS over CHAdeMO. Then Nissan and others in the CHAdeMO camp would need a migration strategy. To transition to CCS, it would not be easy. They would need to switch after a large CCS network had been deployed. Perhaps by the VW settlement funds. Next, they would need to wait for a major product refresh, the next gen Leaf for example in Nissan's case. The last piece of the puzzle would be an adapter. Adapters would allow cars with CCS ports to use CHAdeMO stations and vice-versa. This would allow customers to use the DC fast charging regardless of the infrastructure deployed in their area.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Model 3: One Battery Pack Justification

Tesla 2170 Battery Cells
The "final" unveiling of the Tesla Model 3 is planned for July of this year. We will finally get to see all the details. This is when the design studio is likely to open too. When it does open, there will be many decisions to make. What color paint, cloth or leather... We'll get to see all the prices for upgrades. Do you want dual motor all-wheel drive? If so, you'll have to wait an additional 6 to 9 months to get your car as all the initial vehicles will be rear wheel drive only. 

Making only rear wheel drive initially is one of many things that Tesla is doing to streamline the introduction of the Model 3. Tesla is trying to make the cars as fast as they possibly can to meet the huge number of pre-orders. They are going for the "keep it simple" method; this means there will be fewer options initially.

As part of this, there will not be a performance version of the car initially. This will come later, soon after or with the dual motor option.

Another step that Tesla is taking to speed up Model 3 production is making inventory cars. These are not built to any one person's specifications. Instead, they will select the popular options and colors and build these cars for their stock. If you select an inventory car, instead of placing a custom order, you may be able to receive your car sooner.

How will these efforts to speed up production impact the battery pack?

The battery pack options are not specifically known, but we have some clues. There are likely to be two capacity options. Elon Musk tweeted that 75 kWh was the largest size that will currently fit in the Model 3. Additionally, Tesla’s Vice-President of Investor Relations, Jeff Evanson, has said that the small pack size will be less than 60 kWh. Taken together, these two statements have led many to believe that the large pack will be 70 or 75 kWh and the smaller pack will be 55 or 60 kWh.

Considering that Tesla is trying to accelerate production as much as they possibly can, it might make sense to only produce the larger pack. We have seen several examples of Tesla selling software limited battery packs in the past. They did this for the 40 kWh Model S at its launch and more recently with the 60 kWh Model S. It is possible that they do it again with the initial roll-out of the Model 3. 

A software limited pack will simplify Model 3 assembly and give Tesla a future revenue stream.

Not only would a single physical pack simplify assembly, it would give Tesla a future "in app purchase" revenue stream. Many first time EV buyers will be taking delivery of these Model 3s. One thing that we know is that once people start driving an EV, many of them fall irrationally in love with the experience. And that will mean they will be driving these cars on road trips and vacations. And eventually, many of them will want more range. If the pack is software limited, they'll be able to login to their Tesla account, pay for the upgrade, and bingo - they can drive farther. Plus, the next time they are in the service center, their car gets rebadged.

If Tesla were to do this, there is a risk. If people don't upgrade, then they have put 15 or 20kWh of batteries in thousands of cars that could have otherwise been used to sell more cars (or PowerWalls), but Tesla has never been afraid of risk. This move will make the buyers happy because they will have an upgrade path and it will potentially make Tesla more money when people upgrade. It's a win-win and I hope that Tesla does it.

Model S battery capacity upgrade

If Tesla goes this direction, how much would it cost to upgrade from a 60 to a 75 (assuming those are the pack size options)? Upgrading the Model S 60 to 75 was initially $9,500; soon after the price reduced to $6500, and on the day this article was published (April 17th, 2017), Tesla reduced the price to a mere $2000. And this was before Tesla started using the more affordable 2170 cells. This further supports the idea that they are considering a single pack for the Model 3 and they are bringing the Model S upgrade prices in line. This is $133 per kWh and would make the price of a 15kWh upgrade about $2000 and a 20 kWh upgrade about $2500. This is an affordable upgrade for many. And it would be the perfect way to spend the 7500 additional dollars in your tax return. I hope we'll all find out in July (or sooner).

Monday, April 3, 2017

EV Charging Experience - Only Tesla Has It Right

EV Advocate Chelsea Sexton plugs in a Nissan Leaf
Photo via Otago Daily Time by: Linda Robertson

If you drive an electric car for your everyday get-around-needs, then plugging in and charging up is a necessary part of your daily ritual. This means the experience you have while charging is an important part of your EV ownership satisfaction. When and where you charge, how long it takes, and the amenities available to you, while you wait are all vital components of this experience. The EV charging network membership, availability, and reliability are additional important factors in the satisfaction of the experience.

The Ideal State of Charge

Most EV charging is done at home, in your own garage, overnight. With this type of charging, there is no hurry, the car will be there for hours. This is the most convenient type of charging. There is no membership card. It's your personal parking spot with a dedicated charger. And you have all the amenities of hearth and home.

Other than the charging rate, this is the perfect charging experience; as good as it gets. When you are on an EV road trip, things are different. Unless you are stopping for the night, you don't want to wait for hours while you recharge. Fast charging is a requirement. The faster, the better; especially as battery pack sizes increase, charging rates must also increase.

Other than charging speed, the mid-trek EV charging experience should be as much like home charging as possible.

Entr'acte Charging 

When you're traveling and you need to charge, you want a parking spot without waiting, you want to plug-in and charge without hassles, you want amenities. And you want this all without dealing with a membership card, fob, or app (especially if it's cold and/or rainy).

You want to pull-in, plug-in, charge up, and drive on. You want all this with minimal waiting, minimal hassle. WiFi, a cup of coffee, and a meal option would be nice too.

Membership Has Its Privileges Pains
Cardless is Priceless, For Everything Else, There's A Fob

With most EV charging networks you need to have a membership card, a fob, or an app to sign into the network before you can charge. This is at best a minor inconvenience and at worst a hurdle or point of failure. The card reader may not be working, your phone might not have a signal for a network connection that the app needs. These can prevent you from charging or at least slow you down while you swipe, tap, or scan QR codes to initiate a charging session.

Your Car Is You Card (the better way)

With Tesla's Supercharger network, the car is your membership card. When you plug in, the vehicle and the station communicate and authorize (or not authorize) the charging event. There's no membership card to swipe, no RFID to tap, nor QR code to scan. It just works and you can avoid the jungle of charging cards. This is how all the networks (fast charge or Level 2) should operate.

Today, Tesla is the only EV charge-provider that has the "It Just Works" formula for a great charging experience.

To implement a "your-car-is-your-card" system for other networks it would require the charging stations and vehicles to have an agreed communications protocol to exchange the car's unique id (such as a salted hash of the VIN) from the vehicle. The communication would need to be secure. You would not want someone to use a forged id and have their charging fees sent to another account. As far as I know, none of the standard charging standards (J1772, CHAdeMO, or CCS) support any such communication option.

Rather than revamping the existing standards, another option is for the automakers to adopt Tesla's charging scheme. This sounds like a good topic to cover in our next article.