Featured Post

This is the Kodak Moment for the Auto Industry

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

Monday, November 28, 2022

EVs On Brink of Mass Adoption

The electric vehicle adoption rate continues to climb. So far in 2022, nearly 7 million plug-in vehicles have been sold. This is more than 2019 and 2020 sales combined. EVs have now reached a 13% share of new car sales. Add plug-in hybrid sales to this and CarsWithCords have a 17% global share.

Source: Guinness Global Investors

A 17% share is significant. The upward curve signals that 2023 will likely exceed its predecessor by ~50%. Seventeen percent is important because it shows that EV sales have crossed the chasm of the technology adoption curve. The tipping point is at hand.


Technologies defuse into society in a predictable manner, following an adoption curve. As you can see above, the technology adoption curve splits the market up into 5 major groups based on their willingness to buy products in new categories. This curve applies to modern technologies such as smartphones, computers, and the internet but it also applies to older technologies such as telephones, electricity, and washing machines.

Early in a product's lifecycle, they are often cumbersome and difficult to use. This means only the most determined among us are willing to invest the time and mental energy needed to use these products. Slowly, improvements are made resulting in products that are easier to use and more affordable, so more people adopt them, moving further along the curve.

This generation of EVs started with the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf in December 2010. Back then EV ranges were short, prices were high, and charging infrastructure was scarce. Now, over a decade later and infrastructure has proliferated, ranges have increased, and prices have come down some. Increasing gasoline prices and government policies have also not hurt EV adoption. This has allowed EVs to move from the tech enthusiasts group into the early adopters group. 

Collectively, tech enthusiasts and early adopters form the early market. Sadly, many products never break out of the early market 16% segment. They remain niche products and never move into the mainstream. This gap between the early market and the mainstream market is known as The Chasm. Crossing the chasm is the difference between having a small enthusiastic following or changing the way that society functions. Consider the difference between ham radio and smartphones; you can communicate with either one, but they are at very different places on the adoption curve. 

Globally, EVs are on a course to cleanly jump the chasm with room to spare in 2023. This is something that hybrid vehicles have never been able to do. Entering the mainstream market means that economies of scale (see Wright's Law) begin to kick in, further reducing the costs and further increasing market adoption, creating positive feedback. 

Conversely, this means the legacy product lines that are being displaced suffer shrinking market share. This drives up their costs as lines are shut down and fixed costs are amortized over a smaller number of units. This further makes the choice of the newer product more practical; allowing the next segment of the late majority to follow the early majority. 

In 2014, we made the prediction that EVs would cross the chasm in the mid-2020s. It certainly appears that this will be the case for China next year and the rest of the world will soon be following. This will be fun to watch over the remainder of this decade and into the next.

fin


Saturday, November 12, 2022

Why Tesla's Charging Network Should Become Everybody's


Tesla has changed their charging platform from a proprietary system to a standard system. This is exactly what we asked for in the article below back in 2017. In the original story, we looked at the capabilities and networks of each of the North American charging systems. Based on this review, we concluded that Tesla's charging system was the most robust and functional and we made the seemingly implausible assertion that all automakers should adopt Tesla's charging system. Well, a major step towards that goal has just occurred: Tesla will allow other charging networks and other automakers to use Tesla's charging connectors, ports, and network. 

Below is the article from May 1st, 2017. 



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 enthusiastic 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 charging 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 with 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 to. Simply selecting a CHAdeMO or CCS port for the car and then saying "fueling infrastructure is someone else's problem" is a poor option. 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 or app is needed to initiate a session. 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 automaker's 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 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.

Competing?

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 vehicles.

Overcrowding

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, November 6, 2022

We Need 300 Mile EVs!


There are some people that say long-range EVs are a waste of resources and a selfish indulgence. Are they? Do you need a 300-mile EV? This is what we'll look at today. 

Over the years, we've owned 5 EVs in our household. Three short-range and two long-range. They each filled a need, we'll discuss the pros and cons and maybe help you figure out what's right for you.

Ed Says You Don't Need 300 Miles of Range

In an opinion piece in the NY Times, Ed Niedermeyer makes the case that short-range EVs are adequate for most drives and that almost no one should buy a long-range EV. The argument goes something like this: 

The average American drives about 40 miles per day and 95% of those trips is 30 miles or less. For the rare time that you do need to take a road trip, you can rent or borrow a gas car. The article goes on to say that you can further supplement your personal transportation with public transportation, micro-mobility, biking, walking, and the like. 

Culturally and from a policy perspective, the long-range car is a sledgehammer, the article asserts. Cars have too often been the default assumption and this has choked out the alternatives. Electric vehicles are headed down the same road as their internal combustion antecedents and we can do better this time.

Electric vehicles are an important part of our transportation future. Currently, EVs are battery cell constrained. If short-range EVs are made, rather than long-range EVs, this has two benefits; one, you can make more EVs; two, the vehicles will be more affordable.

The above is a very short paraphrasing of the article. I've tried to steelman (not strawman) his arguments. If you've read the article and think I missed an important point, please let me know.

What Ed's Missing

Ed's article is factually accurate, logical, and completely wrong. Here are a few of the things Ed seems to not understand: 

1) Averages Don't Tell The Whole Story 

"The average American drives about 40 miles per day." 

Have you ever heard the phrase, "If your feet are in the oven and your head is in the freezer, then your average temperature is just right"? Looking at an average is far from seeing the complete picture that the dataset paints.

Maybe you drive the kids to school, then daycare, the gym, work, then grocery shopping and other errands, then back to school and daycare for pick-up time... each of these trips in itself is short, but let's say you don't have charging infrastructure at these interim locations. That means, from a battery/charging perspective, this is a single trip. In fact, it's worse than one long trip of equal distance; if the weather is hot or cold, you'll be cooling/heating the cabin from scratch for each trip rather than getting it to a comfortable temperature and then just maintaining it as you would on a single drive.

Another way an 'average' might hide data: Are there people that drive less than 5 miles (or even zero miles) most days? There certainly are some. How do they impact this average? For a simplified example, let's say you work from home and most weeks you only drive on Sunday when you shop for your elderly mother and take her groceries for the week. This is a 200-mile round-trip drive. Calculating an average, this could (incorrectly) be interpreted to say you drive 200 miles a week, 200 miles divided by 7 days in a week, that's less than 30 miles per day.

A trip average is not the complete picture of how someone uses personal transportation. It flattens the data and removes important nuances that really matter for practical considerations. It's far more important to look at your real-world needs, not just averages. 

2) Emergencies

The second case Ed seems to be overlooking is emergencies. If your only personal transportation is a short-range EV, this might not work well in an emergency. Let's go back to the parent running midday errands. If they only have a short-range EV and late in the afternoon most of the range has been consumed, they are about to head home and charge, then an emergency happens. Now they have to pick up a child or head to the hospital... depending on when this call arrives, they may not have the needed range.

Fast charging can fill in gaps, however, short-range EVs frequently do not support DC fast charging. This means for short-range EVs, quick charging is often not an option.

There are other emergency situations too. If you need to evacuate from an area due to an all too common natural disaster, a lack of range (and fast charging) can be a significant problem.

I'm also going to put Detours in this emergencies bucket. Occasionally, you encounter a downed tree, a crash on the highway, or something else and you have to take an unplanned detour. These can add miles to a route and can disrupt the charging plan you had at the start of a trip. Having extra range in this situation is reassuring.

3) HVAC Use

If you want to heat or cool the cabin in a car, this requires energy. In an EV, that energy comes from the battery pack; the same battery pack that's used to move the car around from point A to B.

EVs use things like heat pumps to efficiently heat or cool, but it doesn't come for free. Compared to an internal combustion engine, there's no "waste" heat that can be recovered to warm the cabin. In an EV, this heat has to be explicitly generated.

Cold temps can be a double whammy too. When it's cold, batteries don't perform as well and your range is reduced. A study by Consumer Reports showed that EVs only have about three-fourths of their range at 16F compared to 65F.

When you have a small battery packet, HVAC usage can quickly become a significant percentage of the energy consumed. Here's an example with our Spark EV: 


In the above drive, on a relatively mild summer day, more than a third of the energy used was for climate settings (3.6 kWh out of 10 kWh).

4) Geography

The rule of thumb is that every 1000 feet of elevation gain uses about 10 miles of range. This is more of an issue in some parts of the world than others. Driving around here, we have the Cascades and the coastal range, so elevation changes are common. To know if this will impact you, you'll need to know how hilly your area is. A drive that says it's X miles on Google maps might use more energy than you expect once elevation changes are taken into consideration.

5) Infrastructure 

EV infrastructure is not evenly distributed. If you live in southern California, you can likely find a place to plug in when necessary. That might not be as true in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. The ability to charge up mid-day, where your car is parked, makes a big difference. If you can plug in and leave every venue where your car is parked with a full battery, this makes a short-range EV much more viable.

6) Battery Degradation, Long-Range vs Short Range

Most Lithium-ion battery chemistries prefer shallow cycles; that is using less than a full charge. If you can use just the middle third of the battery (avoiding full charges and deep discharges), this will contribute to a much longer battery lifespan.

When you have a large battery, it's easy to keep the battery charge level within that middle third zone for daily driving. However, with a short-range EV, you'll likely be charging to full, daily (or nightly) and deep discharges are far more likely with a small battery pack than with a large pack. So small battery packs lead a harder life. 

As long-term readers will know, I tracked the battery degradation of our Nissan LEAF and our Tesla Model X. I (very unfairly) compared the battery degradation here. The thermal management of the LEAF was an obvious contributor to this.

For another comparison (both with liquid cooling), let's look at two cars in our driveway today, a Tesla Model X and a Chevy Spark EV. Both are model-year 2016 vehicles, so they've seen a few years and miles, so we can see how the degradation has progressed. 

When new, the Chevy Spark EV had a pack with 19 kWh of capacity. Today that car has 17.2 kWh available. That's a 9% degradation in 6 years.

The Model X on the other hand started with 85.4 kWh and today it has 77.5 kWh.  That too is 9% degradation over the same time period. The Model X has also been driven about 20 thousand more miles during this time and it has been Supercharged dozens of times, whereas our Spark EV has no DC fast charging capability.

Smaller battery packs are more often deep cycled, as a result they often degrade faster. If the Spark EV had a similar number of miles as the X, it would be further degraded.

Even in this best-case example of only 9% degradation, the impact is more significant to the shorter-range vehicle. The Spark EV started out with an 82-mile range. Losing 9% brings the range down to 74.4 miles. If your daily usage, including HVAC use and hill climbs, needed 80 miles of range, this degradation could mean the difference between a successful trip or not. Whereas, if you had a long-range EV, with more range than you typically use, you generally have range to spare. 


There's A Place For Short-Range EVs

I've painted a pretty bleak picture of short-range EVs. If you have a 10-year-old EV, with 12% degradation and you are driving it in a cold, hilly, region with little-to-no charging infrastructure, you might not have a great EV ownership experience. However, I don't want to say that short-range EVs don't have an important role to play, I just want to clarify that they are not the vehicle for all situations. If you have the right expectations for them (more on this later) they can be great.


The Case For Big Batteries

Nearly all the shortcomings of a small pack are not an issue with a large pack. Having more range than you need, means you have capacity when you need it. This extra capacity means the car is still usable in the winter when the range is reduced and the heater has to work overtime. This means you can take an unexpected detour or drive when an expected event pops up. It also means the vehicle will still have a viable range even when the pack is a dozen years old. 

If you live in an apartment building, you might not be able to plug in overnight, this could mean that you have to go to a charging station to charge up. A large battery could mean you only have to go to this charging station once a week instead of nightly. This means less congestion at the (in some regions) all too rare charging infrastructure. That big battery also means that you'll be able to charge at a higher rate (more cells allow the charging load to be more distributed).

Next on our list of big battery benefits is futureproofing. A long-range EV also gives you futureproofing. What if you get a great job offer tomorrow, it's your dream job with more pay, but the commute is 50% longer. So even if a short-range EV is a good fit today, you don't know what twists life will throw at you tomorrow. 

Big batteries are not without downsides; they cost more and they weigh more. So what's the right size pack for you? It's the one that fits your needs and expectations (I promised to get back to expectations, so let's do that now). 

The Rock Ballet

Let's say you have tickets to a rock concert. The night of the event is here, you have your black band t-shirt on and you're excited to rock out. Then you arrive at the venue; the band you are looking forward to seeing is not there. Instead of a rock concert, they put on a ballet. This would be a huge disappointment and you'd want your money back.

The same can be said in the other direction, if you paid for and expected a ballet, but they put on a rock concert, you are likely going to be disappointed. Knowing what you are buying and having it meet your expectations is as important as the event and product.

How does this lesson apply to EVs? You have to get what you're expecting, in this case, range. If you want an affordable EV that you use for commuting and errands, a short-range EV can work great. However, if you try to take this on a road trip, you might be highly disappointed. 

A short-range EV might be a great addition to your home fleet (as it is in ours), if you have long-range EVs (as we do), PHEV, or a gas car as a backup; but this only works if you have realistic expectations about its capabilities. You have to know the drives you expect it to take: are there hills, how will it handle the winters in your area, is charging available, do you have a backup plan for emergencies... 

What Does Ed Know?

One of Ed's points in his article is that EVs are not like gas cars. He's right about that, but his response to this difference is to relegate EVs to a niche market of "grocery-getters". This is not the right answer. To really understand EVs, you need to drive one and see how it fits your transportation needs, how they age, how they respond to your driving, regional weather, and more. You need to drive one day in and day out for a significant period of time. These are not the sort of lessons you can learn from a test drive. 

So since Ed is recommending that everyone drive a short-range EV as part of their transportation smorgasbord, he must drive one, right? Luckily, someone asked him:   

Twitter exchange with Ed Niedermeyer

As you can see from the Tweet reply above, Ed does not have an EV in his garage (short-range or otherwise). Despite owning a Toyota Tacoma (MPG 19 city / 24 highway) and a BMW (MGP 19 city / 26 highway), he thinks you should not buy a long-range EV. Ed is burning gas on weekends and on road trips, but if you are driving a solar-powered long-range EV, you're the problem. Yeah, right. 

Ed's Bias 

The list above of things Ed seems to be unaware of is rather long. Certainly, in his years of covering the cars beat, he's learned about the impacts of weather, age, and inclines on EV range, so why ignore them in his NY Times piece? 

Ed's the author of “Ludicrous: The Unvarnished Story of Tesla Motors.” This book is critical of Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Tesla community. When Tesla's primary products are long-range EVs, I don't think it's a coincidence that Ed is writing an article that condemns long-range EVs and the people who drive them (while wrapping himself in the noble cause of reducing EV prices).

Ed's NY Times publication is among the worst type of specious anti-EV FUD. It claims to support EVs, yet what it's doing is attempting to relegate them to a niche. A niche that guarantees that gas-powered vehicles will remain as the primary choice for most personal transportation. Limiting EVs to just short-range vehicles (as Ed suggests) will make sure that EVs cannot meet a wide swath of transportation needs and it ensures that many people will not be comfortable driving them due to range anxiety.

Wrap-Up :: It's Up To You

Above, I made the case for big batteries, but I'm not saying that you should buy a long-range EV. Rather, the point is that there are use cases for which long-range EVs fit very well and others where short-range EVs fit very well. 

No one knows your transportation needs better than you do (not me, not Ed). You are the best person to decide what would work best for you. Do you live in an area where public transportation is available? Do you have a commute where an e-bike would work? Do you have easy access to a long-range car that could fill in if you need it?... All of these are big factors in making a choice that best meets your needs and no one, not an (uninformed) opinion piece in the NY Times or some blog on the internet should tell you what you should do to meet your personal transportation needs.

Disclosure: I am long Tesla

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Can You Hate Musk and Love Tesla?


I recently posted a story called "No Good Choices" about a friend who's shopping for an EV and he has dismissed Tesla as an option because he "does not like Musk's shenanigans on Twitter." During the discussion, I started defending Musk and it seemed like this was just causing a backfire effect, making him to further entrench in his disdain for the man. Clearly, a different tactic was needed. 

This got me wondering, how many other companies does he apply this "do I like the CEO" metric to? Does he research the CEO of Coke or Pepsi before having a cola? Does he look into the actions of Frito-Lay's president before eating Doritos? Probably not, but he's not required to do so.

Musk has leveraged his position to achieve a level of fame that few CEOs have achieved. This public image is, however, a two-edged sword. Combine this notoriety with Musk's unapologetic insolent Twitter persona and he is going to rub some people the wrong way.

So how did we get here?

I would argue that a personality like Musk's is the only type of leader that could have pulled off taking Tesla from zero to the big success that it is currently. A decade ago, Tesla's success was far from assured. It takes someone as stubborn and insolent as Musk to keep moving forward with a vision while the majority of the experts are saying that it is impossible and it's doomed to fail. When the experts repeatedly say there's no demand, when suppliers won't return your calls, when you have to risk your entire fortune to make payroll and build parts in-house because there's no other way to get completed cars out the door, you have to be obstinate to your core. When this was a requirement for success, to now expect Musk to be a "chill normal dude" is unrealistic. The trials that Tesla has faced nearly guarantee that the person at the head of the company will be obdurate.

This is not to excuse his behavior or to dismiss how some people may feel about his tweets. So what to do about the people that are triggered by Musk's online persona? Just give up on them? No. Anyone shopping for a car (or anything else), should buy a product that will meet their needs and bring them joy. If buying a Tesla would make someone feel like they are endorsing things that Musk has said that they don't agree with, then a Tesla would not bring them joy and they should buy something else. There are plenty of other people willing to buy Tesla's vehicles and there are EVs out there from other car companies that need customers too. However... 

I'd like to present the case that anyone shopping for an EV should buy the product that best fits their personal needs. Regardless of the company's history or the leadership. It is perfectly fine to buy a Tesla and disagree with Musk. Despite what you may have heard (and the behavior of some owners), it is not. a. cult.

When you are shopping for an EV, look at your budget, your requirements for range, passenger room, cargo space, recharging time, charging locations/network, performance, style...  and then buy the car that best fits your needs and budget; Tesla or not.

Should you avoid buying an EV from Volkswagen today because of the company's role in WWII or because of Diesel-gate? I'm sure there are people that avoid VW for these reasons and others. However, I would argue that buying an EV from VW is encouraging them to do the right thing going forward. It helps them put their Diesel products into their past. Look closely into any large company and you'll certainly find blemishes.

The real problem, IMHO, is not what someone tweeted yesterday, but our worldwide use of fossil fuels. Any EV placed in service today is one gas car off the road. As more and more renewable energy sources are added to the grid, these EVs become powered by those renewable sources. The transition of the world's vehicle fleet will take decades. We need to move quickly to a future free from fossil fuels. The transition of the world's electrical grids to 100% renewable will take decades. These decades-long transitions are time that we may not have to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. I find the fretting about who tweeted what about who to be rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic as it's sinking. 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Electric Vehicles "No Good Choices"


A friend of mine is a longtime Saturn car fan. He's currently in the market for an EV. The Saturn badge has been defunct for over a decade, so that's not an option for him. I pointed out that Saturn was a GM brand and asked if he had considered other GM EVs. He said Saturn was not just another GM brand, it was special and his love for Saturn doesn't extend to Chevy or the other GM badges.

Since he's shopping for an EV, we noted that Saturn has a special place in the history of electric vehicles; in the late 1990s, Saturn dealerships sold leased and delivered the GM EV1.


The GM EV1 was the vanguard of the 1990s EV generation (but that ended poorly).

Given this history and his love for the Saturn brand, his wish is that GM would bring Saturn back as an electric-only brand. This is an interesting idea, but unfortunately for him, it seems very unlikely.

Since he wants an EV soon (and a Saturn EV is not an option), I asked him, "What car are you going to buy?" His response surprised me. 

He said something to the effect of: 

There are no good choices. 

I don't like Musk's shenanigans, so Tesla is off the table. I don't want a Ford or a Chevy; they are truck companies that occasionally make cars. I considered VW but I have ethical concerns supporting the perpetrators of diesel-gate and monkey killing.

There are start-ups making EVs, but I want a company that I know will be around in 5 years for service and parts. 

I interjected that there's no guarantee that any company will still be around in 5 years. He agreed but said the bigger companies are more likely to get a bailout if they are in hot water.

I told him that I think he's letting the perfect be the enemy of the good and that any of the above EV choices would be better than continuing to drive a gas car. He agreed, but that didn't help him land on a choice.

A lot of my friends, family, and coworkers know that I'm into EVs and they often consult with me when they are considering an EV. Usually, the questions are about range, charging at home or on the go... He had researched all of that and understood it well. This was a different sort of ideological EV-hesitancy that I haven't encountered before.

His quest for a 'good choice' continues. We'll see which of the "imperfect" vehicles he eventually buys and I'll be sure to let you know here.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Will Tesla Hit 2 Million Cars in 2022?



2 Million in 2022 has a nice ring to it, but is it possible?

Tesla just released the Q3 production and sales numbers. Sales rose 35% compared to Q2. Giga Shanghai has moved past COVID restrictions and supply chain issues. Even with the significant sales increase, the numbers fell short of some Wall Street estimates. 

Year-to-date Tesla has manufactured 929,910 vehicles; nearly matching 2021's 930,422 (with 3 months still left to go). Tesla has given guidance of 50% annual growth. They will need a strong finish to the year to hit this forecast. 

A 50% increase over 2021's production is 1.4 million vehicles. To reach this mark, Tesla will need to manufacture 466 thousand vehicles in the remainder of the year. That would be 100 thousand more vehicles than they have ever produced in a single quarter; challenging, but not impossible.


As you can see in the chart above, Tesla's production has been growing exponentially. Q1 and Q2 of this year are outliers in that they are flat and down respectively. Q3'22 brings production back inline with the trend. However, Q1 & 2 will still be a drag on the annual production that will be difficult for Q4 to overcome. 

The titular question of this article is "Will Tesla produce 2 million vehicles in 2022?" To achieve this, they would need to produce 1 million cars in Q4. That's more than Q1, 2, and 3 of this year combined. I have no doubt that Tesla will (at some point) be producing one million vehicles per quarter, but that will not be this year. So the answer to the titular question is sadly 'no.' 

On the positive side, Giga Austin and Giga Berlin are both ramping production and should be able to contribute more than 60 thousand vehicles in Q4. Adding this to ~400 thousand that Fremont and Shanghai will produce and Tesla's goal of 1.4 million vehicles this year is within grasp, barring any force majeure events. 

Disclosure: I am long Tesla

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Smart Thermostat vs Smart Battery


Our local electric utility has two programs with similar intentions to reduce grid load during times of high demand. We are participating in both and, sometimes, the two don't really work well together. 

Program 1: Energy Rush Hour

Our utility, Portland General, offers a program they call "Energy Rush Hour." This program attempts to alleviate the strain that air conditioning places on the grid during hot summer days. 

When people arrive home from work, they typically turn on the AC and with everyone turning on their AC around the same time, the grid load is very high during these hours (4 to 7 PM). Energy Rush Hour reduces this strain by pre-cooling participating homes. Pre-cooling typically starts at 3PM. This means that by 4PM when other homes are turning on their AC, the pre-cooled homes can shut off their AC. This spreads out the load. 

If the load wasn't spread out, then the utility might need to use peaker plants to supply the excessive short term energy need. Spreading out the load allows the existing generation infrastructure to fulfill the cooling power demand. Avoiding peaker use is good for the customers, the utility, and the environment. Peaker plants are among the most polluting energy sources and the most expensive source to operate. The cost to run these peakers is certainly passed on to customers in one form or another.

Any month that you participate in an Energy Rush Hour, you receive a $25 incentive bonus on your electricity bill. This more than makes up for an extra electricity use that you may have for having the AC kick on an hour or two early. 

So far, so good; let's look at the second program. 


Program 2: Home Battery w/ Time-of-Use

By default, residential PGE customers are on a flat rate fee structure. With a flat rate, it does not matter what time of day you use electricity; it's the same cost at 3PM as it is at 3AM. This is convenient since you can run your appliances at anytime of day or night and not get hit with higher fees. However, this default flat rate schedule is blind to the ebb and flow of grid demands.  

If you want people to understand something, put a price on it. This is what a Time-of-Use (TOU) rate schedule does. When there's typically surplus supply on the grid (such as overnight), you make the price cheaper to encourage use. And when demand is expected to be high (when hordes of people come home from work and turn on their AC), you make prices higher. PGE's TOU schedule has three rates: peak, mid-peak, and off-peak.

TOU nudges people to push loads into non-peak times. Much like the Energy Rush Hour program, this reduces the demand during peak hours and can avoid or reduce the need for peaker generation. 

We signed up for the TOU program because the off-peak rate is less than half of the flat rate fee. Our solar panels are able to offset most of our usage that's not off-peak and with the home batteries, we can time-shift our solar to make sure that we are effectively off grid during peak times. So we're reducing grid strain and saving on our electricity bill.

Where it Goes Wrong - The Interaction - 

Now you understand the two programs. On their own they work great, but mixing the two doesn't always provide the desired result. Since we're using our home battery to effectively go off-grid during peak hours (3PM till 8PM), tweaking our AC settings to reduce energy use from 4PM till 7PM has absolutely no impact on the grid. In fact the pre-cooling could result in over-all more energy use. This is fine when the power is coming from the grid. Using a little more during mid-peak to reduce the peak usage is certainly worth it. However, when our home battery is the energy source, optimal operation is more important than when it's used.

This is a subtle, second-order effect and I'm sure there are very few people in the PGE service region with batteries, on TOU, and enrolled in the Energy Rush Hour; so I'm not suggesting any immediate changes to either of the programs, but as more homes install battery systems, it will be something for the folks at PGE to consider. Perhaps the next generation Energy Rush Hour program will be aware of customers that have home batteries and have slightly different behaviors when homes that are battery-powered rather than grid-powered. If both the battery and the AC were managed under the same program, the coordination of the two could work much better. 

Ω

Sunday, September 25, 2022

My Virtual Summer

Event Notification From Portland General Electric(PGE) Smart Battery Program

We joined our local utility's Virtual Power Plant (VPP). If you want to know more about what a VPP is, we've covered that here. In short, the utility can turn on (discharge) hundreds of home batteries like mine when needed to supply additional power to the grid. It's a dispatchable distributed (cloud) energy storage system. 

A VPP is like Energy from The Cloud

This is a list of all the times this year (so far), that PGE has tapped our battery to support the grid.

2022 PGE VPP Events To-Date
Date       Time            Rate        Energy    
Jan 275PM-8PM   2kW   6kWh  
Jan 285PM-8PM 2kW6kWh
March 18  5PM-6PM 2kW2kWh
April 138PM-9PM 2kW2kWh
April 258PM-9PM 2kW2kWh
July 115PM-8PM 3kW9kWh
July 265PM-8PM 3kW9kWh
July 285PM-8PM 3kW9kWh
Aug 84PM-7PM 3kW9kWh
Aug 174PM-7PM 3kW9kWh
Aug 184PM-7PM 3kW9kWh
Aug 304PM-7PM 3kW9kWh
Sept 64PM-7PM 3kW9kWh
Totals33 Hours90kWh

That's 13 events this year. The early events seemed to be testing out the system. These events were lower power and shorter events. The real use cases started in July. There were 8 of these hot summer day events, where our batteries worked in cooperation with all the other home batteries in VPP to provide energy and frequency stabilization.

I can't help but notice that the energy use total for this year is 90kWhs. Our Tesla Model X is a 90D, which means that the battery capacity is about 90kWhs. So these events used the same amount of energy as one fully charged Tesla Model S/X 90D.

Opt-out 

One final note, each of these event notifications comes with a simple opt-out link that you can click if you don't want your home battery to participate. I'm not sure why you'd opt-out if you're signed up for the program, but if you do have a reason to want your battery all to yourself, they make it easy to keep your stored energy for your own purposes.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

6 Years of Tesla Model X Ownership


UPDATED (2022 Sept 21) Corrected unlimited mileage warranty. Hat tip to David Michel. 


Hard to believe it's been six years since taking deliver of a Model X. I still think of it as a 'new car.'

In September of 2016, I took ownership of the best (and most expensive) vehicle that I've ever owned. A Tesla Model X 90D. It's been a fun time even though there were a couple of bumps in the road. 

As early as 2014, I knew a plug-in SUV was going to be one of the vehicles in our home fleet. I assumed it was going to be a plug-in hybrid until I went for a ride along in a friends Model X test drive. This changed my mind. Hybrids (plug-in or not) were no longer on the table. 

I shudder to think about how much money I'd have right now if, in 2016, I had invested those funds into Tesla stock instead of buying a Tesla with it. To be clear, I did some Tesla investing too and it has done well, so I can't complain loudly. In fact, owning a Tesla vehicle made me understand the company, how far ahead they were, and then invest even more into the company stock. I call this self-reinforcing feedback loop The Tesla Cycle; but this is not a post about stock investing. Back to the six-year story.

Quick Stats 

Here are a few stats for my 6th year: 

My 2016 Model X
Miles Driven This Year 5,598
Lifetime Miles Driven   47,789
Lifetime kWh used 30,622
Lifetime Electricity Cost $1,254
Lifetime Fuel Saving (see below)   $10,300
Wh per Mile 603
Miles per kWh 1.7
Cost Per Mile 2.6¢
Trips to Service Center This Year   2

 

'Fueling' Cost 

Primarily I charge in my garage, overnight, using an off-peak electricity rate of 4.1¢ per kWh. This is the value used in the table above, however, when we travel, we generally use Tesla Superchargers. I'm lucky to have free Supercharging for life (something Tesla no longer offers), so my actual total cost for charging is less than the $1254 amount shown above.

$1,254 is a lot of money, but this powered nearly 48 thousand miles of driving. How much would it have cost me to drive a similar sized and model-year gas vehicle? Let's compare my Model X results to a 2016 BMW X5 M AWD 4DR. The BMW X5 gets 14 city /19 hwy MPG. This means it would have burned about 2,900 gallons of gasoline over these 6 years. At $4 per gallon, fueling the BMW X5 would have cost more than $11,500. So a BWM X5 would have cost over 9 times more than 'fueling' a Tesla Model X. 


Year 6 Adventure Recap

Over the last year, most of our vacation travel has been by road rather than by air, so our Model X has been our primary vacation transportation. We enjoy traveling around the Pacific Northwest. In the last year, we've visited Seattle, Arch Cape and Hug Point Park, Mount Hood, Eugene, and Corvallis. Here are a few photos from this last year's journeys.

 
 



I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine where each photo above was taken. 

Service Center Visits

Tesla's New Service Center in Tualatin, OR

First, Tesla has opened a new service center in the west Portland suburbs! This is great. When I first received my vehicle in 2016, the regional service center was in a rental space in Tualatin. Then they opened the South Waterfront Service Center in downtown Portland and closed the (convenient to me) rental location. The South Waterfront site was a much nicer, a larger building, but it is a pain to get to. It was farther away and there's always traffic in downtown Portland. 

This new service center solves that problem. The majority of Tesla vehicles in the region are on the west side suburbs in the Silicon Forest high-tech area and this location is perfectly positioned to service these vehicles. 

Both of my service center visits this year were related to the battery coolant system. I guess that's just something that starts having trouble at this age. 

Here are my two visits: 
  1. In Feb, the coolant heater died (a bit of an oxymoron that coolant needs to occasionally be heated) - This was by far the biggest component failure that we've had during our ownership experience. The vehicle was out of action for 44 days, but they gave us a loaner. We were back on the road in early April.

  2. In June of 2022, we went back into the service center for low coolant levels. Despite just having the coolant completely refilled just 2 months before, it was now reading low. The technician claimed the leak was completely unrelated to the work done in Feb/April. A quick three-way-value replacement and we were back on the road. Service was completed much more quickly this time; I dropped it off at 4PM on a Tuesday and picked it up at 3:30PM the next day. 

Software Updates

One of the coolest features of owning a Tesla is getting software updates. They bring improvements and fun extras. As an older model year, I don't expect (and don't have the required hardware) for all the bells and whistles. However, I'm surprised Tesla still updates vehicles as old as mine. They have long ago collected their payment for the vehicle. Yet, I received three updates this year. 

v10.2 2021.24.28
v11.0 2022.8.10.1 
v11.0 2022.8.10.5 

A few of the features that these updates added: 
  • Stay connected to Wi-Fi while driving - a great feature if you are using your phone as a hotspot
  • Improved Bioweapon Defense Mode - turn it on via the app and purify the air before you enter the vehicle
  • Better driver profiles allows each driver to have their own home and work locations
  • Customizable in-vehicle app launcher - put your favorite app (Spotify) in an easy to access spot in the toolbar 
  • New app features to adjust charging current, scheduled charging from the Tesla app
  • Better Autopark
  • Dark Mode!
  • Several cold weather improvements:
    1. Improved cold weather preconditioning en route to Supercharger
    2. Maintain front defrost climate settings when clearing ice and snow
    3. Precondition cabin via the Tesla app even if the battery is low

Battery Degradation

I've been tracking the battery degradation since the vehicle was about 1 year old. After my poor experience with a 2011 Nissan LEAF, I was concerned about this with any EV I'd be purchasing next.

From Tesla: 

The Battery degradation coverage was clarified in a later version of the warranty:

Model S
Model X
8 years or 150,000 miles, whichever comes first, with minimum 70% retention of Battery capacity over the warranty period.


Now entering year 7, the 8-year warranty terminal date is within sight. Other than the original Tesla Roadster and some really old Model S cars, not too many of Tesla's vehicles are outside of this coverage. With less than 50k miles on the odometer at this point, the 8-year mark is very likely to come before the "unlimited" mile mark (lol). But how close are we to the 70% battery pack retention level? Let's figure it out.

We began this year with 237 miles of range* and we are ending the year with 233 miles of range. We started with an EPA rating of 257 miles of range, and now in year 6 with 233 miles, that's 24 miles (or 9%) of lifetime degradation to-date. This is all easier to see in a graph. 
As you can see the degradation rate is slowing. In the first 3 years, it averaged a little over 2% per year and in the last 3 years, it averaged about 1% per year. We are still under 10% total degradation, so it seems unlikely that we'll have below 70% capacity in time for a warranty claim before the 8-year mark. A free battery pack replacement for me seems very unlikely.  
 
For completeness, here's the graph that I've shown in previous years, now with a view out the the end of warranty.


Another way to get an estimate of the vehicle range is to charge it to 100% full. I generally don't do this, but before one of our road trips this summer, I did just that. When fully charged, the display reported that we had 242 miles of range on July 22nd, 2022. This is a little more than the 237 mile estimate from the battery monitor, but in the same general area.

Solar

Our Model X parked in front of a solar array

For me, fueling our vehicle with energy generated on our own roof is an important and satisfying part of EV ownership. Technically, we usually charge overnight, with off-peak electricity rates, but this allows us to charge our home batteries and feed energy into the grid during mid-peak and peak times, reducing mid-day and peak grid load. As well as making our home batteries available for our local utility to dispatch when the grid needs it most. 

Over the last year our rooftop has generated 11,525 kWhs of energy. This would be enough drive our Model X nearly 20,000 miles. That's three and a half times more than we drove the X during this time.

Wrap Up

Another fun year of Tesla ownership. Our chariot took us on great adventures. Tesla has kept the ownership experience fresh with continued software updates bringing improvements and new features. This is likely one of the reasons our 6 year old vehicle still feels like new.  

We did have to replace parts for the battery coolant heater system, but these things happen. Tesla gave me a loaner vehicle, so I was not without a Tesla in the driveway, there waiting when a get-around was needed. 


Related Links

This is our 16th year driving electric. You can read more of that history here.

If you enjoy this post, you can see our other annual reviews and Model X milestone reports below:

Year 1
Year 2
Year 3
Year 4
Year 5

fin

Disclosure: I am long Tesla