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Plug In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston

This is the Kodak Moment for the Auto Industry. Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance and growth will continue....

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Internal Combustion Engine Jumps The Shark

The Preußen, a German steel-hulled five-masted ship-rigged windjammer built in 1902
The internal combustion engine jumps the shark, or to put it into terms from another transportation field, it enters the "More Sails" phase.

The first successful steam-powered vessels were built for use on canals and rivers in the early 1800s. Not long after, there were ocean-going hybrid ships with sails and steam. The steam engine didn't have to wait for the wind, could sail in any weather, and didn't have to jibe and tack. With these ships, new trans-Atlantic crossing record times were being set and more ships began incorporating steam engines.

Not all ship makers embraced the new technology. Some responded to the threat by doubling down on the legacy that they knew and loved. To compete with the record-setting times, they added more sails. This is when sails jumped the shark. The effort prolonged the demise, but did not prevent it. During the late 1800s, large sailing ships almost completely disappeared as steam power took over. The bulk of the transition occurred during just one century.

Internal combustion engines (ICE)

Much like the ships that added more sails, there are automakers today turning the ICE engineering to eleven in an attempt to prolong its life. In late 2017 Mazda announced a 'Holy Grail' breakthrough in engine tech with their Skyactiv-G high-compression gasoline engine. Similarly, Toyota made claims in February of this year that they had created the world's most thermally efficient 2.0-liter gas engine. They are not the only ones, despite dieselgate (more on that below), just weeks ago, Volkswagen's leader announced a "Diesel Renaissance" is on the horizon and Nissan has been talking about HCCI as the next great thing in engines since 2013. Occasionally, you'll see a story about rotary engines posed to take over... These are all signs of "more sails".

Engines are a mature technology. It's highly unlikely that there will be a breakthrough that greatly changes their fuel economy. Internal combustion engine tech is over 100 years old and it has had a lot of R&D sunk into it. There are fundamental limitations to combustion.

The headlines often say something like "New Engine 30% More Efficient" but this is very misleading. First, the results that you get in the ideal conditions of the lab are, just that, ideal (in a warmed up engine at optimal RPM...). In the real-world, this will be reduced, but for the sake of argument, let's assume they really have a 30% improvement. Gasoline engines are about 20% efficient. So a 30% improvement would mean 50% efficiency, right? Wrong. That headline means 30% better than 20%. This is what I call "marketing math". If you were at a restaurant and the bill was $20 and you left a generous 30% tip, that would be $6. Appling this to engines, you could call a 26% efficient engine 30% better than an engine that is 20% efficient. A headline that reads "6% improvement" does not get as many clicks as "30% improvement". If they are comparing the improvement to a lower efficiency starting point, marketing math can make the improvement percentage even higher.

Even in the unlikely event that an engine with a 50% thermal efficiency were to be created, it still would not compete with the 80 to 95% efficiency of its new rival, the electric motor. Even an efficient gasoline engine is still burning gasoline and emitting pollutants into the air where we live and breathe.

Model T vs Today

The original 1908 Ford Model T had a fuel efficiency of 21 MPG. Not including hybrids, the average fuel efficiency of the gasoline-powered cars on the road today is not much better than the original Model T. More than 100 years later there was no big breakthrough that allowed 200+ miles per gallon.


Emissions cheating is yet another symptom of the engine apostles clinging to the old technology and pushing it beyond its capabilities. Either the emissions requirements could be met, or the performance requirements, but not both. The majority of this press coverage focused on Diesel, but some gasoline engines were found to be using defeat devices as well.

As a society, we no longer want the health impacts or the environmental impacts that fossil fuel engines cause. Emission standards increased to reduce these impacts, but engine technology is just not capable of being something other than what it is, a combustion machine.

Hybrids Are Transitional

Just as the earliest Atlantic crossing ships to use steam engines were hybrids, some of the cars available today are a mix of traditional internal combustion and electric motors. The Toyota Prius was a landmark hybrid car. It nearly doubled the fuel economy of other cars at the time of its US introduction. Today, there are plug-in hybrids from many automakers. You can plug them into a standard outlet in your garage overnight and the next day the battery will be full. This allows you to drive some limited number of miles on electricity. Then when the battery is drained, it just uses gas from the tank and you never have to worry about mid-day charging.

Driving a plug-in hybrid allows you to enjoy many of the benefits of an all-electric vehicle without ever worrying about where you could plug-in. If you are not already driving all-electric or not ready to jump in with both feet, I would recommend that you get a plug-in hybrid as your next vehicle. Depending on the electric range, you could cut your gasoline usage in half. You'd get to experience the smooth quiet acceleration of an electric motor and still have the safety net of using gasoline when you need it.

Sailing Into The Sunset

The introduction of the steam engine to ships has many parallels to the electric motor's entry into cars.

Just as the first steamships were used on canals and rivers, many of the early electric cars of this generation were urban runabout or commuter cars with less than 100 miles of range. This class of electric car filled these niches very well, but they were not a general purpose vehicle.

Just as the first steam engines to cross the Atlantic did so as part of a hybrid vehicle design, the first "transcontinental" vehicles to utilize electric motors were hybrid cars.

It took nearly 100 years for the engine to fully replace sails. However, just as everything else happens faster in our modern era, transitions are speeded up too. Today the Chevy Bolt EV and the Tesla Model 3 are for sale. These are just the first of many long-range affordable electric cars that will be coming to market. Over the next decade, things will change radically.

ICE has jumped the shark. It is not dead yet, but the writing is on the wall. Don't let it take you, your career, or your business down with it. I'm not sure if engines will be history by 2030, 2050, or 2070, but this is the century of their demise. It's time to consider electric cars rather than putting more sails on your internal combustion vehicle.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Off-Grid or Grid-Tied: Which Is Greener?

If you have solar panels or you are considering them, congratulations you are helping make the world a cleaner place. After deciding to jump in, there are a few questions that you'll need to consider.

One of those questions is "Grid-tied or Off-grid?". In some cases, such as a cabin in the woods, connecting to the grid is not an option. Assuming that you're already on the grid, then you do have a choice whether or not you'll stay on-grid or go off-grid.

There are several factors that you should consider such as your energy needs, how often you have power blackouts, local laws, the energy storage costs...

A friend of mine has an off-grid system and he made the claim that it was "greener" than my on-grid system.

I wanted to examine this claim (heavily biased towards proving him wrong). The particulars of his system and mine are not that important; I'll try to focus on the bigger picture.

System Size and Backup Power

For a grid-tied system, you can install a PV system that accounts for only a portion of your energy needs. Any energy needs your home has when the sun is not shining will be provided by the grid. How green your local grid is, depends on where you live, but most of them are slowly improving. Many utilities have a green power option that supports their solar, wind, or geothermal projects.

For off-grid systems, the solar panels and batteries have to supply 100% of your energy needs unless you have a backup such as a generator. Backup generators are usually diesel or natural gas based. If these were being used, then an off-grid system would be less green than a grid-tied system.

To remove this drawback, let's assume that each of these systems are capable of powering your home 100%.

Which is greener? A minor advantage for grid-tied here since the backup could be cleaner.

Grid or Battery 

With a grid-tied system, during the day surplus energy is feed into the grid and runs your meter backward. This energy is then used by nearby demands (AKA, your neighbors). After the sun has set, a grid-tied system draws energy from the grid, unwinding some of the backspin from the meter.

With an off-grid system, when there is surplus generation, this is used to charge the batteries. The energy from the batteries is then used to power your home overnight. There is some minor loss of energy during the store and retrieve process.

Which is greener? A minor advantage for grid-tied here because it does not have the storage loss.

Seasonal Considerations

I live near the 47th parallel. We have a winter season here. We don't get a lot of snow, but there are many cloudy rainy days in the winter that don't generate much energy. On these days, even with a very large PV system, we would not be able to generate enough energy for our needs.

With an off-grid system, we'd be running generators on these days.

With a grid-tied system, we are able to use those summertime credits in the winter. Our state requires utilities to support annual net metering. This metering starts each year on April 1st. When the meter runs backward in the summer, you have all winter to use these stored kilowatt-hours. Additionally, there is less demand on the grid in the winter (air conditioners are not running) and the utility's wind turbines in the Columbia Gorge spin frantically during the winter months.

Which is greener? Again a minor advantage for grid-tied here.


An off-grid system requires batteries. These batteries have to be manufactured and transported. There are some environmental impacts for these activities. It is far less than connecting to a coal-plant, so it is worth it if you need them for a viable PV system.

If you don't need the batteries, because you are connected to the grid, you can avoid these (albeit minor) impacts and you can avoid the cost. You can used the saving to buy a larger PV system.

Which is greener? Again a minor advantage for grid-tied here.


Solar is great whether you are on-grid or off-grid, you are generating renewable energy from the sun.

There are reasons such as grid availability or reliability that you might consider including batteries in your PV system. However, if your reason to include batteries is that you think that makes it greener, then I disagree. You could even say that you want to have a Tesla Powerwall because you think they're cool, that's great. Feel free to get one (or two, or three). But don't claim that it somehow makes your PV system even greener.

As I said at the start, I might be biased since we don't have batteries in our system, but in every metric I've looked here, grid-tied systems have a slight advantage. The energy that they generate is always used immediately. The summer to winter delta is covered by net metering. And finally, on the cloudy days that don't supply enough solar energy, no generators need to be fired up.

While both systems are "green", grid-tied systems have a slightly darker tint of green.
(Take that Terry! 😄)

All that said, we might just add a Powerwall or two just for the fun tech of it. How cool would it be to have the only house on the block with power during the next winter storm.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Preparing to Tow With A Tesla Model X

One of the reasons that we bought a Model X rather than a Model S was so that we could tow our camper. Spring is coming and we'll be getting the camper out soon to prep it for our summer fun.

In addition to pulling the camper, the tow package has other advantages too. We can mount the bike rack there and we can rent a trailer if we need to move large items or hardscape. I had been driving a Honda Passport to pull the camper. I traded it in for the Model X. There were a few things I had to learn when we switched to towing with the Model X.

The optional tow package comes with a proprietary hitch receiver. I suggest installing the receiver and hitch before you need it so you can take your time and learn how to do it. The unit has a twist lock system that installs vertically, this is different than any that I've used previously. Here's a video that explains the twist lock system. Once you figure out how it works, it's nice, but here is a small learning curve.

At the rear of the car, there's a cover underneath that removes to expose the dock for the hitch receiver. This dock is attached to the frame. This is where you insert the hitch receiver. Once it is installed, you have to lock it into the dock.

There are three main parts to this process:
  1. Hitch Receiver - This is the part that Tesla supplies when you buy the tow package. It comes in a zip case; sometimes referred to as a hitch box
  2. Ball Mount - This is the bar that goes into the Hitch Receiver; sometimes called ball mount shank or hitch bar. Sold separately.  
  3. Hitch ball - This is what the trailer attaches to. Sold separately
The Tesla Hitch Receiver (US) installed in the dock, ready to accept a 2" ball mount/hitch bar.
Tesla Hitch Receiver Installed, photo by David Pullen
In the US, there are three common sizes of trailer hitch balls, 1 7/8", 2", and 2 5/16". The 2" ball is the most common for light trailers and the size we used with our Model X. In addition to the ball, you will need a mount which fits in the 2" receiver which holds the ball at the correct height for the trailer to be level, and pins to secure the mount. You can buy the ball mount and ball separately and assemble them, or you can buy a kit like this one that comes preassembled with both of them plus the pull pin and cotter pin. I recommend a kit.

2" Hitch Ball, Ball Mount, and Reciever 

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just installing the ball mount. The bumper of the Model X is lower than it is on most trucks, so to put the ball at the right height, you have to flip the ball mount over and remount the ball such that it is raised, rather than dropped.

To get the ball loose from the receiver and to remount it, you are going to need a really big wrench.
Reese Towpower 74342 Hitch Ball Wrench
After you have the ball mounted in the raised position, I suggest that you lock the threads with Loctite Red or a similar product. This will be rattling around for miles and miles, a little loctite is a good idea.
Loctite 262 Red Threadlocker

Now that you have the receiver installed and the ball at the right height. It's time to look at the electrical connection. The Model X only has one type of trailer electrical hookup, the 7-way round electrical connection. If your camper or trailer uses the same type, you're ready to go. If, however, your trailer uses a 4-pin electrical connector, then you'll need an adapter like this one.
Reese Towpower 7-Way to 4-Way Wiring Adapter

Next on the list are the safety chains. One thing that I didn't like about the Model X tow setup, was the location of the safety chain connectors. They are very hard to reach. This made hooking and unhooking the camper a difficult job. You can see where they are located in this photo:
Photo by Dan Patrick via ‎Tesla Model X Towing Club
To avoid sliding under the car every time I wanted to connect or disconnect the safety chains, I installed a pair of safety chain extensions. These are rated for 8000 lbs, while the X is only rated for 5000 lbs, so I feel safe using them and it makes the connect/disconnect process much easier.
Safety Chain Extensions

That's it for the basics. You are ready to hook up and roll.

For the pro-towers, here's one bonus tip. If you expect to tow for more than 1000 miles each year, I'd consider adding a Hitch Tightener like this one. It will stabilize the ball mount and stop it from wobbling in the receiver. This will make it smoother, quieter, and reduce wear. Live the adventure!
Hitch Tightener for 2" Hitch
Special thanks to the Tesla Towing Facebook page. I learned much of this from them.


Friday, February 23, 2018

10 Years of EV Driving (Part 8 - Goodbye Prius, Hello Tesla)

Our gradual path to a 100% EV household.

This is the story of our home fleet slowly electrifying. It all began in 1999 when my wife's Subaru was hit by a driver that ran a red light and we replaced that car with a Prius. This chapter has some parallels to that first one.

One afternoon in February of 2016, my wife and I were headed to pick up our daughter after school. On the way there, a rideshare driver, apparently rushing to pick up a fare, ran a stop sign and struck my wife's car. She was driving her Prius. The airbags deployed and the car was totaled. Long story short, lawyers became involved and the case was settled.

With the Prius gone, we still needed two cars to get around. My wife took over the keys to the Leaf and I was relegated to the old Honda Passport SUV. After driving electric cars for years it was strange to be driving a gas vehicle again. This could not stand. I needed a plug-in vehicle.

The Prius was gone and now it was obvious that the Passport had to go too. The Leaf worked great for commuting and errands, but it could not pull our pop-up camper, nor was it suited to long-distance treks. To replace these two, we need something that can tow and had long range.

The vehicle that I had in mind was the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid. With 30 miles of electric range and then 40 MPG in hybrid mode, the specs for this vehicle looked great on paper. However, I had been watching and waiting for this vehicle since 2013 and it was yet to make its US debut.

Next for our consideration was the Volvo XC90 T8 Plug-In Hybrid. This vehicle had an all-electric range of 17 miles and an MPG of 53 in hybrid mode. The electric range was too short for my round trip work commute and the price tag was nearly $70k. If I were going to spend $70k, I might as well get the vehicle that I really wanted, a Tesla Model X.

After a couple weeks of research, later in that same month that the Prius was destroyed, we placed a reservation for a Tesla Model X. The car could tow 5,000 lbs and it had a 257-mile range. In Sept of 2016, I drove the Passport for the last time and with a gas tank as empty as my desire to buy the gasoline needed to fill it, I handed the keys over as a trade for my new Tesla.

This was it, we were now an EV-only family. No more trips to the gas station. No more oil changes.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tesla's Clever Plan to Time The 200k US Delivery

We've been tracking Tesla's 200,000th US vehicle delivery here for over a year. This is an important delivery since it will trigger the countdown to the phaseout of the federal EV tax credit.

Our latest estimate is that Tesla will cross the 200k mark in June of this year. Since the incentive operates on 3-month increments (quarters of a year), it is much more beneficial to EV buyers if the 200k mark is crossed in the beginning of a quarter than at the end of a quarter. If our estimate is correct and Tesla would cross the mark in June, it would be much better for their US customers if they delayed this event a few weeks and waited until July to cross the 200k mark. This will give their customers nearly 3 more months of the full $7500 federal tax incentive.

Elon Musk has commented that Tesla would do the right thing for their customers in this regards. Here's his tweet from 2016:

Now that the day is approaching, how will Tesla "beget loyalty"? The answer is to delay the 200k delivery into early Q3. This would mean that the full $7500 tax credit would last until the end of 2018. This will allow many more buyers to enjoy the full incentive as their production will be in much higher gear by the end of the year.

Additionally, I like the poetry of delivering the milestone car on July 4th; making it an "End Dependence" day. Perhaps Tesla could hold an event and deliver dozens of Red, White, & Blue cars that day. Topped off with a big evening flying droneworks (rather than fireworks) show (after all drones are electric vehicles).

Red, White, & Blue Teslas
Specifically, how would Tesla bump the milestone delivery into July? There are two things that have recently happened that potentially hint at Tesla's plan.

1) Some Canadian Model 3 reservation holders are reporting that their delivery estimation dates have changed from Late 2018 to Mid 2018. Diverting a couple weeks worth of Model 3 production to our neighbor to the North would allow Tesla to move the US milestone delivery out.

2) Tesla has delayed the Model X deliveries. Earlier this month (Feb 2018), many people began to notice that the delivery estimate for new Model X orders had moved from the typical 6 weeks to "June 2018". There is a speculation that this is for a Model X refresh. This speculation may be right, Tesla could be using this time when they need to temporarily slow down deliveries to refresh their high-end vehicle. The Model 3 has, for example, a much more responsive touchscreen and a better sound system. This feature "inversion" has to be resolved soon. A vehicle that costs ~twice as much should have at least as good of a touchscreen. Putting a gap between the current Model X and the refreshed X does two things: one, it allows the current inventory to sell before the refresh is announced, this avoids the need to discount the current stock and second, it helps delay the 200k vehicle by a couple months of Model X deliveries.

These are the two things that Tesla could be doing to time the golden ticket. If this is their plan, I say bravo and congratulations to the lucky Canadians that will be getting their cars sooner and (if the rumors are true) to the soon to be Model X owners that will be receiving an upgraded car in July of this year. And most importantly, to everyone that takes delivery of a Model 3 in October, November, and December of this year and qualifies for the entire $7500 incentive instead of just $3750.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Tesla Competition: Culture Eats Strategy!

Tesla Roadster 2020
If you read traditional auto press, you'll frequently see stories along the lines of "big automakers are going to start making EVs in a couple years and when they do, Tesla is doomed."

Traditional automakers have the resources, factories, and engineers to design electric cars and they are very good at manufacturing, so, on the surface, this "Tesla's doomed" statement seems logical, but it is completely wrong. I'll explain why.

For the legacy automakers, there is a phrase that applies: Culture Eats Strategy!

For over a decade now, many automakers have been announcing EVs "coming soon." Like “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie, it's always a day away, or in this case 3 to 4 years away. As I write this in Feb 2018, you can find multiple press releases for EVs coming in 2021.

Toyota has announced plans for EVs multiple times that have resulted in half-hearted low volume offerings at best. If they really jumped into EVs with both feet, they could be a significant threat to Tesla's future. But they can't turn the ship. Toyota's revenue sources are gas and hybrid cars and trucks. And Toyota has years of R&D sunk into fuel cells. They have a culture of designing, manufacturing, and selling these gas and hybrid cars. They have been very successful doing this. Success detours change.

If you are in a failing company, it is obvious that you need to pivot. If you're on a path to failure, nearly any alternative looks like a better option. If, however, you are on top and things are going well, it is far more difficult to see the need to change course. The Kodak view of ignoring upstarts is far more common when things are going well. Find a few flaws with the current generation of competitive technology and you can erroneously use them to dismiss the entire category, present and future.

The world has changed. Millennials will not live or drive like boomers. Emission standards are higher than ever. Many cities will have emission-free zones and many countries have announced plans to become fossil fuel free. Strategies that were successful in the last five or more decades are not likely to be successful in the next decade. To borrow from Marshall Goldsmith’s book, what got you here won't get you there.

Toyota is just one example but this could apply to most legacy automakers. If they cannot adapt to the sea change that is happening, the market will pass them by. Their past success is their biggest hurdle to taking the company in a new strategic direction.

Success can blind a company to the need to change for market factors that will impact the bottom line in the long run.
A senior executive can say, "We're making EVs and they will be out in 3 years!", but if no one in the company believes in the vision because they have built their careers on hybrid technologies or optimizing combustion engines, then there will be little or no progress on the announced strategic direction. Culture Eats Strategy.

You might argue that this applies to Toyota or Honda, but what about companies like GM and Nissan that have put EVs on the market in a big way?

GM has the Volt and the Bolt EV on the market. Both are great plug-in cars. In the race to an affordable long-range EV, the Bolt even beat the Model 3 to market by a year. Yet 400,000 stood in line to wait for the Model 3. Whereas GM sold about 23,000 Bolts in 2017. GM has the capability to produce hundreds of thousands of cars. Why don't they have people standing in long lines for their EV? GM is not a pure play. Their dealerships often divert people to other cars when they come in and ask about a Volt or Bolt. They cannot market the environmental benefits of their plug-in cars without making every other car that they sell look bad. And finally, GM has refused to invest in EV infrastructure. They are car makers, not a fueling company. They participate in the standard, but infrastructure deployment is someone else's problem. Culture Eats Strategy.

If you want to launch an entirely new way to drive, you have to consider the entire user experience. That might mean doing somethings that are different than what you've done in the past. Despite their resources and the fact they are selling EVs, they have been unable to adapt. They don't have a culture of providing fueling solutions, so it is not even on the table for these new vehicles.

Fiat's CEO has time and time again said that no one wants to buy an EV and that they lose money on every car that the California zero-emission mandate requires them to sell. They are making only a de minimis effort. Rather, they should have taken this "requirement" and turned it into an opportunity. Fiat owns the Ferrari and Alpha Romeo brands. If they would have made a high performance, long-range sporty or luxuries (or both) EV, it could have commanded a high enough price to offset the battery cost. It might have been a car that excited people. Instead, they made an EV version of the tiny Fiat 500 and only sold it in ZEV states. This is known as a "compliance car." Here culture actively fought against a new strategy.

Talking about Tesla, Ford's CEO, Mark Fields (ousted in 2017) said, "We have driven the Model S, torn it down, put it back together, and driven it again. We’re very familiar with that product." Yet Ford does not make anything like the Tesla Model S. The Model S was Car of the Year in 2013. That's five years ago. Where is the proof that Ford learned anything from the disassembled Tesla? Where are the over-the-air updates? Where are the big touchscreens? Where are the long-range electric cars? Where are the coast-to-coast charging networks?

BMW, Ford, Mercedes, and Volkswagen have all reverse engineered Tesla's vehicles. They know the technology, Tesla's patents are open source, there is nothing that these legacy automakers could not produce. Yet they don't. It is not in their culture to take risks. For the legacy automakers, what's past is prologue.

So when I hear statements like, Tesla is doomed as soon as <insert legacy automaker> gets serious about EVs. I know that they will not "get serious" about EVs while they are still making money on the gas cars that they are currently selling. Only after they are no longer profitable with combustion engines will they have the epiphany that they need to "get serious". While they dwell on the status quo and attempt to delay the arrival of the future, Tesla continues to position themselves for that future.

This fret and delay by the legacy automakers grants Tesla a lot of runway. It gives Tesla time to build out their battery and vehicle production capacity, time to build out their charging network, time to bring more product lines to market, time to build customer brand loyalty, and time to establish themselves as the leaders in the electric vehicle space. I am long Tesla.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

10 Years of EV Driving (Part 7 - GL-LEAF-FULL)

In part 6, I met with executives and engineers from Nissan and told them what was important to me in an EV. In the summer of 2009, I found out more about what they were planning. Nissan announced the Nissan LEAF with many of the things that we'd asked for. In December of that year, we got to see the Leaf in person. They had a static display at OMSI. This event was similar to the one that we'd attended there for the Toyota Prius eight years before. After seeing the car, I put down my $99 reservation and picked out my color (red).

Almost a year later, in November of 2010, I was finally able to drive one. Nissan had a ride & drive event touring around the country. The one near us was in the parking lot of the massive Solar World factory in Hillsboro, OR. We took the car for a spin, it was peppy, quiet, and fun. I was sold. This was going to be my next car. The only thing I was not sure of was my color choice.

At the event, we got to see all the colors they offered. I still like the red car but the chrome accents on the car had a blue tint and, to me, it didn't go well with the red paint. If I had a "chrome delete" done to the car, I think the red would have looked great, but with the "blue chrome", I liked the look of the black and the blue cars.

Now, the waiting began. Every week or so (I admit, occasionally daily), I would log in to the Nissan ordering page and check on my car's status and I would usually change the color. I was still not sure if I wanted red, black, or blue. This went on for months; then one day in early 2011, I was doing my usual routine of logging in, checking the status changing the color and I was surprised to see that the color was now locked down. I could no longer change the paint color. My (blue) car was going into production!

On March 10th, 2011, six hundred Nissan LEAFs which left port in Japan on their way to the US and my car was one of them. This was the day before the island country that built my car was rocked by a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

On May 18th of 2011, after arriving in port in California and being trucked up the west coast, it was time to pick up my car.
Delivery day for a brand new 2011 Nissan Leaf
This car was great. With 72 miles of range, this was nearly double the range of the 40-mile range truck that I had been driving. This was the first new car that I'd ever bought. Previously, I bought used cars. The Prius from Part 1 new, but that was my wife's car. This one was mine. It had keyless entry, a backup camera, and an app that let me pre-heat or cool the car. It was great.

As for the Leaf's place in automotive history, this car was monumental. Today the Leaf is often overshadowed in the press by the likes of the Tesla Model 3 or the Chevy Bolt, but it is important to point out the historical achievement that the Leaf represented when it was delivered in 2011. This was not a low volume car that was only available for lease by "influencers" in California. It was being delivered to all 50 states and around the world. It was an affordable, all-electric, practical car. It was not a strange 3-wheeler, it was not 100 thousand dollars. It held the promise of replacing a significant number of gas cars that were on the road at that time. It was not the car for everyone, but for a large number of commuters, this car would be perfect.

I drove this car up and down the West Coast Electric Highway in the northwest. Oregon and Washington state were installing DC fast charging stations that worked with the Leaf. This allowed me to drive to Great Wolf Lodge and to Spirit Mountain. I wrote 35, and 6-year reviews of the car.

As monumental as the Leaf was, it was not perfect. Their batteries suffered from degradation, especially in hot regions. Nissan had the early mover advantage in the affordable, all-electric market, but they did not maintain a fast pace of innovation. They made only small incremental changes. Even after the battery degradation problems became apparent, Nissan did not redesign the car to use an active liquid cooling system. They made only small incremental improvements to the range, with the 2017 model having a 107-mile range.

Today, we still have our 2011 Leaf, and I'll be writing my 7-year review soon, but we plan to trade it in on a new 200+ mile EV later in 2018.

Going back to 2011, with the Leaf added to our home fleet, we now had a spectrum of vehicles. There was the all-electric Leaf, the hybrid Prius, and a gas powered Honda Passport SUV. We could use whichever vehicle met our needs for a given trip. The Leaf for commuting, the Prius for treks, and the SUV for ski trips or pulling our pop-up camper.

But this entire saga is how our garage became all-electric. For the conclusion, you'll have to read part 8 where the Prius gets a Passport to the wrecking yard in the sky.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Battery Delayed

Just two days ago, I posted a story about Model 3 estimated delivery dates for the Standard Range battery and Dual Motor versions of the car coming soon.

Things are always dynamic with Tesla. Today, I and many other reservation holders received notice that delivery estimates are being recalculated and in most cases delayed. Here is my current recalculated estimate:

There are a few things in this estimate to note:
  1. The First Production delivery window has changed from 4 weeks to 3-6 weeks. This seems like a good, minor clarification. 
  2. Standard Battery vehicle has changed from Early 2018 to Late 2018. That is a big change for people waiting for the most affordable version of this car.
  3. Dual Motor has changed from July - Sept '18 to Mid 2018. This is not much of a change. But it does mean that the dual motor version of the car will be available before the $35k version of the car. That is a change, but not a surprising one. Tesla has a history of making it a priority to manufacture and deliver the high-revenue versions of their vehicles before the lower margin variants. They are a for-profit business, so it makes sense to sell the more expensive vehicles sooner if they can.
These estimates could continue to shift around depending on how the testing goes for these variants of the car. If they move significantly, I'll share it here.


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Tesla Model 3 Variants Coming: Standard Range, AWD

The Tesla Model 3 is a game-changing car. There is no other electric car available that checks all of these boxes:
  • Affordable
  • Long Range
  • Nationwide Fast Charge Network
  • Beautiful Styling 
  • Awesome Performance  
You can find 2 or 3, maybe even 4, on other offerings, but the Model 3 is the only EV out there that ticks all 5 of these boxes. Tesla had their first employee deliveries in July os 2017 and they have been in "Production Hell" ever since trying to ramp up the volume of cars that they can crank out each week. There are now signs that they may have emerged from the bottleneck phase of early production.

I am a Day-1 reservation holder for the Tesla Model 3. As a currently Tesla owner on the west coast of the US, I'm near the front of the line for delivery (behind employees and owners in the Fremont zipcode). According to Tesla's website, I could configure my car today and have it in less than 4 weeks. I, however, have not configured my car because I would like the all-wheel-drive (AWD) dual motor version of the car which is not yet available.

You can see below, for my place in line, Tesla's estimate has been that I'll receive my car in the July to September timeframe of this year.

Periodically, I've been checking the website to see if this estimate has changed or if I could configure my AWD car. This week, I was surprised to see that my estimate had changed. Here (below) is my new estimate.

It's possible that this new estimate is not specific to me, but more of a general statement of when they will start delivering these vehicles, but I am optimistic. A spring delivery would guarantee that I'd receive the full federal EV incentive. Add the state incentive to that and that is $10,000 off the price of my new ride; not a bad deal for an awesome car.


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Solar Carport

If you drive an EV, one of the objections that you'll eventually hear is that EVs just move the pollution from the tailpipe to the coal plant. This is the long tailpipe argument. It has been disproven many times over, yet it continues to come up.

You can argue this point by citing sources that show how the grid is more efficient and that the amount of renewable energy on the grid is increasing... and these are important valid points, but it is a bit abstract. I find it is far more effective to say "My car is solar powered".

Our roof is covered with 12kW of solar panels. This is enough to power our EVs for about 48,000 miles annually. That is a much more powerful statement than saying "the grid is only 50% coal."

There are many homes where solar won't work for various shading or angle reasons. If you have these issues (or you just want more solar than your roof can provide), one thing that you might consider is a solar carport.

iSun makes solar covers that can be used with carports, gazebo, and patios. Here's a link to the company.

Having an EV parked under a solar carport is a clear and simple to understand statement about both emissions and energy independence.

iSun has a flat cover called the Palm and a new curved cover called the Oasis that comes out in February 2018.

If you're interested in a solar carport or pergola, here's iSun's link.
If you want solar panels on your house, here's Tesla SolarCity's referral code.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


Galileo Russell is the host of the HyperChange TV YouTube channel. Galileo is a young visionary.

On his channel, he covers how new tech will change the world for his generation. The sharing economy, everything as a service, blockchain tech that allows trust on the internet in ways that have never existed before and how you can participate and invest in this new future.

He breaks down company strategies to see how they square up to in this the quickly coming future.

His Moonshot Monday videos are radical ideas that could change the landscape for the target companies. For example, he discussed Amazon buying a grocery chain long before Amazon's Whole Foods purchase. Now he's advocating for them to install rooftop gardens on all their stories to sell the freshest possible fruits and vegetables. With drone delivery, you could have fresh-picked produce at your door just minutes after it was picked from the garden. Is it practical today? Maybe not, but it's a great example of his out-of-the-box thinking.

One of his favorite companies to discuss is Tesla. He's been covering them since 2012 and recommended the stock when it was priced at $29. He is a fan and gives astute breakdowns of Tesla news and the company's future direction.

Other stocks he frequently covers includes NetFlix and Chipotle. He also covers cryptocurrencies Bitcoin and Ethereum as well as investing basics education.

His latest project is a "scheme of conscience" book, titled after his channel. The book has minimal structure and, as the title suggests, is a conversational stream of conscience. If you'd like a raw look into the mind of a young excited visionary that sees a whole new world coming for his generation, I suggest you give this a read.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Oregon Has Electric Aspirations

Oregon Gov Kate Brown at EV Roadmap 10 in 2017
Oregon Governor Kate Brown has set a goal to have 50,000 plug-in cars on the state’s roads by the end of 2020.

On the Thursday morning of the Portland International Auto Show, Charlie Allcock from Portland General Electric spoke to an informal gathering of EV policymakers and advocates. Charlie had done some math and said by his reckoning, Oregon needs to register around 35 plug-in electric vehicles per day to reach that goal.

Charlie Allcock behind the wheel of PGE's electric service van
“There’s no question we’re making progress,” Allcock said. “But there is so far to go, and we need to be moving faster.”

For comparison, in 2017 Oregon added an average of 10.6 plug-ins per day. That was a modest increase over 2016's rate of 9.4 per day.

So how do you more than triple the number of EVs sold in the sale? 

EV sales have been slowly increasing, but there are changes that EV advocates hope will boost the rate of EV adoption to hit the state's goal: 
  • Two state EV-rebate programs: As of the start of 2018, Oregon has a $2500 EV incentive for vehicles that qualify. Additionally, there is a second $2500 incentive for low-income households that can be combined with the first incentive for a total of $5000 off the price of an EV. Combine this with the $7500 federal incentive and the fuel saves and EVs become affordable to many more people.
  • Electricfy America plans to install charging infrastructure within the state - Portland was named as one of the 11 metropolitan areas for priority investment
  • $10 Million from the state's Volkswagen dieselgate settlement fund will be used for EV infrastructure "with a focus on connecting rural communities, low-income communities, and Oregonians living in multi-family homes"
  • Portland General Electric has plans to install EV infrastructure around the state 
  • EV sales have increased each year as more options come to market. Among the new cars coming to market is the Tesla Model 3. This car has a large back order list that will be significantly fulfilled over the next few years with many of these coming to Oregon

Saturday, January 27, 2018

2018 Tesla Model 3 Production: 80,000 or 264,000?

We've had an ongoing series to track the number of cars that Tesla delivers. In the US, there's a very good reason to be concerned with deliveries. That reason is the federal EV incentive that begins a phase-out countdown after the 200,000th vehicle is delivered.

The effort of tracking the deliveries has led us to monitoring Tesla's manufacturing results. With that in mind, we'll look at Tesla's most recent production guidance and we'll look at the model we've built based on their historic delivery results and see how closely they align.

Tesla's 2018 Production Guidance 

From Tesla's January 3rd letter:

In Q4, Tesla delivered 29,870 vehicles, of which 15,200 were Model S, 13,120 were Model X, and 1,550 were Model 3...
In the last few days [of the 4th quarter], we hit a production rate ... that extrapolates to over 1,000 Model 3's per week.
As we continue to focus on quality and efficiency rather than simply pushing for the highest possible volume in the shortest period of time, we expect to have a slightly more gradual ramp through Q1, likely ending the quarter at a weekly rate of about 2,500 Model 3 vehicles. We intend to achieve the 5,000 per week milestone by the end of Q2.

These tells us a few things: They are making about 30,00 Model S & X per quarter, they are currently capable of 1,000 Model 3s per week as of the end of 2017. They plan a slow, quality-focused ramp up to 2,500 per week by the end of Q1, and finally, they plan to be at 5,000 per week by the end of Q2.

This update didn't mention anything beyond Q2, but we know from previous statements that Tesla plans to get to 10,000 Model 3s per week. In August of 2017 Musk said:

What people should absolutely have zero concern about, and I mean zero, is that Tesla will achieve a 10,000 unit production week by the end of next year… I think people should really not have any concerns that we won’t reach that outcome from a production rate.

Using these statements, we'll try to set an upper and lower bound on Tesla's guidance. Since the latest guidance didn't mention anything beyond 5,000 per week, for the low end, we'll just keep it at this level. That seems unlikely given the "zero concern" comment, but it gives us a bigger delta between the high and low guidance ranges. Considering the uncertainty of forecasting, wide error bars seems like a good idea.

2018 Week Weekly Low Weekly High Cumulative Low Cumulative High Notes
1 500 1500 500 1500 Since Tesla ended 2017 at a rate of 1000 per week, this seems like a good starting point (plus or minus 500)
2 572 1565 1072 3065 Slow ramp to 2500 in week 13 starts
3 654 1633 1726 4699
4 748 1705 2474 6403
5 855 1779 3329 8182
6 978 1865 4307 10038
7 1118 1937 5425 11975
8 1278 2021 6703 13997
9 1462 2109 8165 16106
10 1671 2297 9836 18308
11 1911 2297 11747 20605
12 2186 2397 13933 23002
13 2500 2500 16433 25502 End of Q1 at 2500 per week guidance
14 2550 2637 18983 28139
15 2601 2782 21584 30920
16 2653 2934 24237 36949
17 2706 3095 26943 36949
18 2774 3264 29717 40213
19 2846 3443 32563 43656
20 2931 3632 35494 47288
21 3107 3831 38601 51119
22 3325 4041 41926 55160
23 3591 4262 45517 59422
24 3914 4496 49431 63918
25 4305 4742 53736 68660
26 5000 5000 58736 73660 5000 per week at the end of Q2
27 5000 5136 63736 78796
28 5000 5275 68736 84071
29 5000 5418 73736 89488
30 5000 5564 78736 95053
31 5000 5715 83736 100768
32 5000 5870 88736 106638
33 5000 6029 93736 112667
34 5000 6193 98736 118860
35 5000 6360 103736 125220
36 5000 6533 108736 131753
37 5000 6710 113736 138463
38 5000 6892 118736 145354
39 5000 7078 123736 152433
40 5000 7270 128736 159703
41 5000 7467 133736 167170
42 5000 7670 138736 174840
43 5000 7877 143736 182717
44 5000 8091 148736 190808
45 5000 8310 153736 199119
46 5000 8535 158736 207654
47 5000 8767 163736 216421
48 5000 9004 168736 225425
49 5000 9248 173736 234673
50 5000 9499 178736 244172
51 5000 9756 183736 253929
52 5,000 10,000 188,736 263,929 10,000 per week at the end of 2018 in the high guidance

Following Tesla's guidance, if they meet their 2,500 and 5,000 targets, they'll produce ~189,000 Model 3s in 2018. If they hit the high end of guidance and continue to ramp up to 10,000 per week by the end of the year, they would have ~264,000 Model 3s produced in 2018. Add about 100,000 Model S and X and Tesla could have their first 300,000+ year.

Back in its NUMMI days, the Fremont factory had the capacity to produce about ~500,000 cars per year, so this is not an impossibility for this location. However, going from ~50,000 in 2017 to ~300,000 in 2018 is a big jump; it is not just a doubling, but a 6X.

Our Model

Rather than just going by Tesla's guidance, let's look at the historical data from Tesla's deliveries and see how that projects forward. This is "driving by the rearview mirror", but it can provide a sanity check.

The mathematical model that we're using looks at Tesla's prior US deliveries and simply projects a best-fit growth. Since Model 3 deliveries are currently only going to the US, this seems reasonable. This math model does not have any targets, goals, or shareholders. It's just an equation, not an undeniable fate. It doesn't account for innovation or step functions. The majority of the data that feeds this model is based 5 and a half years of Model S and X deliveries. Model 3 is being made with an entirely new manufacturing line and new processes, so this model is of limited value. That said, if the model agrees with Tesla's guidance, this will allow for increased confidence in the guidance.

Compared Side By Side

Many types of exponential growth charts have a hockey-stick curve. When they hit the "elbow" and "go exponential" the values grow drastically. As you can see, Tesla's guidance, even their low guidance, anticipates going exponential in Q2 of this year.

Our model (the green line) is much more pessimistic.  It does have growth in Tesla's production, it even predicts a record year for Tesla, but not to the level of Tesla's guidance. Let's zoom in on 2018 for a little closer look.

There's a big difference between these three lines. There are a lot of unknowns for 2018. The chart shows that 2018 Model 3 production could be anywhere from 80,000 to 264,000 Model 3s. Tesla's Model 3 guidance throughout all of 2017 has been highly optimistic and production has fallen short, but they will resolve the bottlenecks (perhaps they already have), they will turn the corner of the elbow,  production will make a big jump and "go exponential". Our model has this occurring in 2019. I hope Tesla's guidance for 2018 is more accurate and we see it this year.

The optimistic estimates for Model 3 production in 2017 predicted about 80,000 vehicles. Tesla delivered a couple thousand. Ironically, for this year, our model predicts this same number (80,000), yet it is considered pessimistic, in light of Tesla's guidance and the optimistic projections by others. As we've covered here, setting very aggressive goals (and often falling short, while still achieving great things) is a part of Musk's leadership style. It would not be a surprise if one or more suppliers stumbles in 2018 as Tesla attempts to go from 1,000 Model 3 units per week to 5,000 per week. Given these logistics, the 80,000 units for the year estimate seems realistic. All while Tesla also delivers more Model S and X cars than they ever have before too.


Monday, January 22, 2018

10 Years of EV Driving (Part 6 - The Bud Of A New Leaf)

Our slow path to a 100% EV household.

In 2007, (part 4) I became an EV driver and an EV advocate. Later that year (part 5), we installed solar panels. This had turned me into an advocate. I joined the Electric Auto Association, Plug In America, and Solar Oregon. I blogged and wrote for Plugincars.com and All Cars Electric (now part of Green Car  Reports) and I advocated for automakers to make EVs.

In 2008, I meet several designers, engineers, and a program manager from Nissan. They were working on their new EV and they wanted to hear what EV drivers loved about there cars (or truck in my case). I would learn later that this is what would become the Nissan Leaf.

We were in a large conference room. There were several EV drivers and several people from Nissan. They had several questions for us. My first statement to them was cautionary. Remembering my disappointing Xebra test drive, I explained how they should not over-commit and under-deliver. If they said the car would go 100 miles. Then it needed to be able to go 100 miles at freeway speeds while managing the hills that are common here. Unfortunately, Nissan didn't listen to this. When the Leaf came out, it was EPA rated for 72 miles, but much of their marketing emphasized that you could get up to 100 miles.

I suggested that they have a simple way to show the current range on the navigation map. Then I could look and see if my destination is within the "you-can-make-it" zone without taking the time to type in an address. This made it into the final vehicle.

The format was a small group interview, two of the other interviewees, started arguing about regen levels. One wanted heavy regen to maximize energy recapture. The other wanted light regen to allow gliding for hypermiling and range maximization. I interrupted their argument, to point out to the Nissan folks that this was a "religious war" within the EV community. Their best option was to offer two modes; otherwise, they would immediately alienate whichever portion of the community they didn't select. This made it into the final vehicle.

I suggested that the car has its own data connection and that it included charging locations in the navigation system. It was important that the car had its own data connection so it could get over-the-air (OTA) updates because new charging stations were going to be getting installed every week. The old process of taking your car into the dealership for a map update would not work. This too made it into the final vehicle.

Today, these seem obvious, but remember this was 2008. It would be 4 years before the Tesla Model S came out and took OTA updates and other aspects to the next level.

This was a great experience. It was so cool to be able to meet with people at a company that were working on an EV program and to shares ideas with them. I had never owned a Nissan vehicle before, but I was now very curious about their plans and wanted to know what they'd do with all of this research that they were collecting from EV drivers. I'd have to wait more than a year before I learned more about Nissan's plans.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

10 Years of EV Driving (Part 5 - Running On Sunshine)

Our slow path to a 100% EV household.

Part 4 concluded in 2007, I'd just became an EV driver. This was such a better driving experience than anything I'd ever driven before. For me, owning an EV turned me into an advocate. I started a blog, I participated in newsgroups and forums, I drove my EV in parades, showed it whenever I had a chance. I became a passionate advocate for the technology.

Anytime you are advocating for something (especially online), you are going to run into haters. One of the retorts to the environmental claims of EVs is that they are grid powered and that means fossil fuel powered in many regions (although declining). Detractors say that EVs are "coal cars" or have a "long tailpipe" all the way back to the smokestack...

There have been studies that show that even when EVs are powered from a fossil fuel powered grid, that they are more efficient and have less CO2 per mile than gas cars when the entire well-to-wheel analysis is done. While it is true that EVs are better than gas cars even when grid-powered, that is a long story to tell. It is much easier to just say when they are solar powered, there is no CO2. Before we had an electric car, I didn't really think about where my electricity came from. The fact that I was plugging in my personal transportation each night and feeling it surge when I pressed on the accelerator, changed things. Somehow EV driving suddenly made the source of my electricity matter more to me than flipping a light switch ever did. So we started shopping for a solar photovoltaic (PV) system to put on our roof.

In late 2007, we had a 4kW PV installed on our roof; twenty panels, 200W each. This was enough to power about 16,000 miles of EV driving each year. I drove less than half that amount. The rest would help power our refrigerator and air conditioner.

Solar panel installation
Now we had solar panels to "fuel" up our EV and we had a lower electricity bill than we did before we bought the EV. We were running on sunshine.


Friday, January 12, 2018

When Will Tesla Hit 200,000 Sales in the U.S.? [Q4 2017 Update]

2017 was an exciting year for electric vehicles. Among the many milestones, there are two
(or three) relevant to this discussion: one, the US Federal Tax Credit survived the political budget process; two, the Tesla Model 3 began shipping to Tesla employees in July and (3) to non-employees in December.

Now that Model 3 is shipping, I (and thousands of others) are patiently (or not so patiently) awaiting our delivery and (if we're in the US) we want to know if we'll get the EV tax credit for our new Tesla!

Tesla released their 2017 delivery numbers, so we can update our prediction model and see where it forecasts the incentive phase out to begin and how many more Tesla vehicles can qualify for the full $7500 amount.

Tesla's 2017 Deliveries

Tesla delivered just over 50,000 cars to the US market in 2017 with ~15,000 of those in Q4. This brings the total US delivery number up to ~160,000 cars. Remember the incentive starts its phase out 3 to 6 months after a manufacturer hits 200,000 deliveries. So Tesla only has ~40,000 cars to go before the trigger number is hit and the countdown starts to reduce the incentive.

Tesla Model 3 Options

If you want to get your Model 3 sooner, you can get the First Production version. This is rear-wheel drive with the long-range battery and premium upgrades. If you want the cheaper standard range version or the all-wheel drive, you can see an example of how this will impact your potential delivery below:

For the example schedule above the First Production vehicle could be delivered in just four weeks from the time the configure button is clicked. The more affordable $35,000 car could be delivered a few months later, and finally, the Dual Motor All-Wheel Drive in seven to nine months after the First Production would be in your driveway. There is still no official word on the white interior or the performance version of Model 3 yet. If those are on your desired feature list, keep your fingers crossed that they roll out with the model variants above.

If your car were on this example schedule and you waited for the Dual Motor AWD car, would you receive the full $7500 tax credit?

Tax Credit Cut Off

We've been tracking Tesla's US sales for over a year now. About a year, back then we predicted that Tesla would cross the 200,000 mark in Q2 of 2018. The Tesla superfans thought this was crazy late because Tesla would be making 5.000 Model 3s per week by the end of 2017. While I hoped they were right, the data said otherwise. Rather, we looked at all the hurdles that needed to be overcome and said that Tesla would ship a few thousand Model 3s in 2017. Musk's own warning statements (not his bold predictions) were used to support this forecast. As the 2017 production numbers rolled in each quarter, our prediction continued to come into focus as you can see here, here, and here.

With 160,000 Tesla's on US roads and a current delivery rate of 15,000 per quarter (and increasing), unless there is a major disruption, Tesla certainly will hit the 200,000 number at some point this year. So, let's look at the data:

Just as it has for more than a year, our model predicts the 200,000th US Tesla car will be delivered in Q2 of 2018. This is not the hyped expectation nor the pessimistic one; each of which have their following, but a realistic prediction that, so far, has proven to hold up over one year's worth of additional car deliveries.

If this model is correct and the 200,000th car is delivered in Q2 of 2018, here's how the incentive would phase out.

That means the example delivery schedule given at the beginning of this article, could wait for the standard battery in "Early 2018" or the dual motor AWD in Q3 and still receive the full incentive.

Maximize The Incentive

Looking at the prediction model in more detail, since it shows 200,000th delivery in June (late in Q2), Tesla may opt to stockpile some and/or divert some Model S and X deliveries to Norway or China so that the 200,000 mark is crossed in July rather than June. Delivering the milestone vehicle early in the 3rd quarter would allow Tesla to maximize the number of deliveries that fall under the full incentive. This is likely to be a decision that is made as late as possible so they will have the most certainty possible.

If Tesla cannot deliver the 200,000th car in April of 2018, they will likely delay the delivery if that milestone vehicle until July.