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Plug-In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance is currently small but growing...

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