Tag archives for electric

Tesla Model S Controversy: Who's Really At Fault?

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The conflict between the New York Times and Tesla Motors over a stranded Tesla Model Sis getting complicated.

The row started after reporter John M. Broderreviewed the cold weather, long distance driving capabilities of the Model S. In his article on the Times’ Automobiles section, Broder remarks that the vehicle went dead after only 185 miles, 80 miles less than its EPA estimated range of 265 miles per battery charge. Broder went on to blame the lithium-ion battery, which are reported to have problems holding charges in lower temperatures. Coming from a prominent publication such as the Times, this mostly negative review was a significant blow for Tesla, causing the company’s stock to dip. Tesla CEO Elon Musk reacted with a scathing series of rebuttal tweets, providing screenshots of contrasting data logs from the reviewed Model S’ computer, and calling Broder’s review completely “fake.”

So, who is actually wrong here?

According to both Tesla and Broder, Tesla provided specific instructions on how to drive the Model S for 200 miles between supercharging stations; namely, to keep the speedometer at 55 mph and minimize use of the battery-draining climate control. Broder states that he complied with Tesla’s requirements — setting the cruise control at 54 mph and turning down the heat despite the chilly temps. However, 29 miles from the Norwich, Connecticut charging station, he claims the Model S was “limping along at 45 mph” before it came to a complete halt five miles short of the station.

However, Musk argues that the car’s logs prove a different story. According to Musk and Tesla, the data indicates that Broder drove between 65 to 81 mph, never reaching the 45 mph snail’s pace he claimed. Also, the cabin was kept at a comfortable 72 degrees, even increased to 74 degrees at a later point in the trip. Musk also remarks that Broder did not fully charge the vehicle during any of his three charging station visits, even disconnecting the Model S when it showed an expected range of 32 miles, when Broder planned to drive 61 miles.

Today, the Atlantic Wire is questioning the validity of the logs provided by Musk and Tesla Motors. In a blog post published this morning, Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan tried to reach Elon Musk for comment on these accusations, as well as a request to “open source the driving logs” and other data. Musk was unavailable at the time.

Wanting to be an alleviator of our gas guzzling ways, utilitarianism has been one of Tesla’s main goals. Wired contributor and EV1 engineer Chelsea Sexton remarks, “The day-to-day experience EVs offer is so much better than gas cars for 95% of driving. Long-distance road trips are among the last 5% of usage scenarios.”

Ironically, it was a little over a century ago that this circumstance was reversed. Steam and electric cars that appeared at the beginning of the automobile age outsold all petrol-powered vehicles, until combustion engines became more stable and gas became more abundant for long distance trips. Now, at its resurgence, the electric vehicle has to face a similar challenge as its early gas-fueled cousins.

Even if Broder’s review turns out to be false, Tesla Motors may have already shot itself in the foot. What perhaps is most intriguing about this fiasco was the amount of care required (not merely recommended) by Tesla in order to drive the Model S the 500 miles it initially logged. By just taking this into consideration, Broder correctly reports that Tesla billing the Model S as a “casual car” ready for a road trip is a bit of a stretch. If the typical road-tripping consumer needs as much detailed instruction as seen in both Tesla and Broder’s account, the extinction of the gas-powered car might be a little further off.

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By Jessica Matsumoto

Leases On 118 MPGe Honda Fit EV Available On West Coast This Friday

The electric Honda Fit EV will be available for lease in California and Oregon beginning this Friday, lining up the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt in its sights as Honda attempts to further their stake in the EV game.

“No other automaker on the planet is more deeply committed to produce and deliver more energy-efficient and sustainable transportation solutions than Honda,” said Steven Center, vice president of the American Honda Environmental Business Development Office, in a press release. “The 2013 Honda Fit EV is the latest example of this commitment.”

The Fit EV certainly has one thing going for it: In early June, the EPA handed it the highest fuel efficiency rating ever with a 118 MPGe (132/105) score.

That’s more than enough to best the Leaf (99 MPGe), Volt (98), Tesla Model S (89), Ford Focus Electric (105) and Mitsubishi MiEV (112).

But does that mean that customers will flock to the Fit EV? We’ve already seen a few zipping around the streets of Torrance, near Honda headquarters, and if the giant “EV” logo splashed across the side of the car doesn’t turn buyers away, the steep three-year lease price of $389 per month might. It adds up to a $36,625 MSRP – more than twice the cost of a base Fit ($15,325) and significantly more than a fully-equipped Fit Sport Navi ($19,690).

Honda is betting that customers are willing to shell out the extra money for a chance to be early adopters of the most fuel-efficient production car on the market; not to mention the most eco-friendly on their block. Plus, the Fit EV can fully recharge from a 240-volt outlet in just three hours and the Fit is well-known as one of the most versatile and practical cars available. The Fit EV will expand to six East Coast markets in early 2013.

As with all electric vehicles, the cost will level off as the technology improves and becomes cheaper to manufacture, and the important thing is that cars like the Fit EV are coming to market at all. Competition is certainly a good thing – now we’ll just have to see which EV the public responds to most.

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Does the Fit EV pique your electric interest? Let us know in the Comments below.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV: Test Drive Review

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If we aren’t yet past the old narrative that all electric cars are cheap and tiny egg-shaped golf carts, one trip in the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV should put that to bed.

The new generation of the RAV4 EV is one of the best examples yet of the viability of an electric future. It combines pleasing design, build quality, driving excitement, fuel economy and – here’s the kicker – utility like no other EV has. During a ride and drive event at the Los Angeles Auto Show, we had a chance to hop behind the wheel.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV boasts a strong physique that doesn’t differentiate much from the standard, gas-burning RAV4, expect for a few details that make it appear leaner and cleaner to the eye. The RAV4 EV is sprinkled with LED running lights, tail and headlights that mix technology and luxury.

The green push button start brings the RAV4 EV to life with a soft tune and warm glow. Like most modern day electrics, it’s a breeze to drive at a level that is still somewhat surprising; it will take a while for the public to grow accustomed to silence on the road. Set off in Normal mode to maximize efficiency, or Sport mode to take advantage of all the instant torque under your right foot.

A lithium-ion battery system with 129 kW powers the AC induction motor, which boasts 154 horsepower and 218 lb.-ft of torque (273 in Sport mode). A 0.30 drag coefficient – downright amazing for an SUV – helps the RAV4 EV achieve an estimated 78/74 eMPG with a 103-mile electric range. But how does it drive? With a welcoming battery whine, off you go.

In motion, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV moves quickly and directly. Reporters talk about the way that electric cars “dart” and “zip” all the time, but you don’t much expect that from a five-seater SUV.

And yet, the steering is direct and light – the RAV4 EV reacts instantly to your commands and feels confident on its feet. There is none of the uneasiness of past electrics, and none of the clumsiness of a typical SUV. It feels light – not the steering, the actual car. In fact, the RAV4 EV tips the scales at 4,032 lbs., about 100 lbs. lighter than the standard RAV4, which is astounding considering the li-ion batteries alone weigh 845.5 lbs.

Engineers skewed the system by using the heavy batteries to give the RAV4 EV a low center of gravity, which accounts for its impressive balance. They didn’t save weight everywhere, though – the hood is pretty heavy, bolstered to protect the batteries in case of low speed collisions.

With a new Sport mode and clever weight distribution, the 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV not only deals with the reality of driving an electric car, it uses it to its advantage. If you want more style and range, spring for the Tesla Model S. If you want the most efficiency, check out the Honda Fit EV.

But if you need utility and still like to have fun, the RAV4 EV is an electric that isn’t just good for its owner – it’s good for the future of the EV industry.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

Is Greater Range Around The Corner For Electric Cars?

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Ordinarily, we don’t accept electric cars for test-drives on our home ground. For good reason, too: Living in an apartment, we have no way to charge a battery-powered vehicle. Neither is there any provision for charging at my office. As a result, only at Preview Drives for new models, and during special media events, have I been able to experience the growing crop of electrics.

Therefore, when offered an opportunity to drive a fully-charged Mitsubishi I (formerly named i-MiEV), delivered in that condition by truck, we immediately said “yes.” Even better, we learned that there’s now a public charging station at a Walgreens drugstore, barely more than a block from home. Even though I’d driven the “I” for several hours at a media program a year earlier, this would be a most helpful trial of real-world electric-car use.

Mitsubishi’s electric car, certified by the Environmental Protection Agency, promises an estimated range of 62 miles – not all that much, but sufficient to get most drivers to work and back without concern. That’s the theme used in electric-car advertising, pointing out that most commuters can easily make a round trip without recharging.

Yet, after starting off with a fully-charged battery pack and driving just 22 miles through light suburban traffic, the indicator showed that only half of the battery’s capacity remained. Had we continued onward, then, we may well have run out of electricity after only about 45 miles – far short of the published range.

Sorry, that just won’t do. Even a confirmed electric-car advocate, such as myself, began to worry as that indicator dropped to the halfway mark, threatening to keep sinking fast. Furthermore, after connecting the Mitsubishi to that 220-volt charger at Walgreens, I ambled across the street for a leisurely coffee. Returning after about 1.3 hours, the charge indicator had risen from the halfway mark to less than three-quarters. Even at 220 volts, it’s a slow process.

Most EVs claim driving ranges well below a hundred miles; and that’s only if driven under light-load conditions. Of the subcompact electrics now on the market, Mitsubishi has the shortest range estimate, but the competitors aren’t much better. The NissanLeaf gets an estimate of 73 miles (Ed. Note: but should improve drastically, soon). The FordFocus Electric promises 76 miles. The new Honda Fit EV manages an 82-mpg estimate.

Heading that small-electric pack is the less-known CODA, with a claimed potential range of up to 125 miles. At the recent Plug-In 2012 Conference, experts determined that a range of at least 120 miles is needed to eliminate “range anxiety” for most people.

The far bigger, costly Tesla S, somewhat surprisingly named Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine, is the only electric passenger car on the market with a range that reaches well into triple digits. Specifically, Tesla claims a range near 300 miles (at a steady 55 miles per hour) for its top-end model, priced at $77,400. Two less-pricey Tesla S sedans, with reduced battery capacity, have claimed ranges of 160 and 230 miles.

Electric cars have been around for more than a century, but all along, range has been the big trouble spot. In order to boost electrics into serious contenders, a big breakthrough has been needed. So far, it hasn’t emerged. Instead, electric-car batteries have been tapping at the window of potential range, when they should have been shattering that barrier and roaring forward.

At least one prominent antique-car collector has suggested that big, early electrics – such as the Baker – could go nearly as far as today’s lightweights.

Digital Trends reports that Toyota is developing a sodium battery with a potential range up to 600 miles. Sounds exciting, but claims of vast battery improvements have been made over and over. In reality, most have resulted in far more modest increases, if they came into existence at all. So, it would be prudent not to get too worked up about Toyota’s research until a lot more data has been acquired.

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By James M. Flammang

RAV4 EV: Toyota and Tesla Partner To Make User-Friendly Electric

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The Toyota RAV4 EV – a joint partnership between Toyota and Tesla – will be available for eco-minded customers in California this summer, fully loaded with up to 100 miles of electric range and a starting price of $49,800.

The project aimed to provide a more user-friendly experience for EV owners, and also further the relationship between Toyota and Tesla. In less than two years, Tesla produced specialized battery and electric powertrain to fit the existing RAV4, and Toyota says the RAV4 EV will equal or best its gas-powered brother in nearly all performance tests. In Sport mode, Toyota expects it to reach 0-60mph in 7.0 seconds.

The RAV4 EV can charge in Standard or Extended mode, the former yielding 92 miles of range and the latter providing more than 113. Leviton offers a standard 120V charging cable or an optional 240V for a six-hour charge. Toyota and Tesla developed ECO LO and ECO HI driving modes, pre-cooling and pre-heating systems under charging and a unique regenerative braking technique to make the RAV4 EV easier to own than other electric vehicles.

What’s certainly not user-friendly is that price. Nearly $50 grand is quite steep for a small SUV that carries a Toyota badge instead of Lexus. Federal and state rebates could combine for up to $10,000 in savings, but the cost is enough to keep out everyone but the hardcore EV enthusiasts. Toyota expects to sell about 2,600 models through 2014.

Then again, sales of the RAV4 EV aren’t really what the project is about. It’s about developing and innovating electric technology, in order to bring it to market and eventually make it mass-produced and more affordable. In that respect, partnering with Tesla is proving to be the best move Toyota could have made; the two can share technology costs and existing vehicle platforms to keep costs down.

So don’t think of the RAV4 EV as a $50,000 electric SUV. Think of it as the father of a future generation of affordable technology.

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Toyota RAV4 EV – Official Website

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By Ryan ZumMallen

Tesla Unveils New Leasing Program For Model S

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In an attempt to diversify purchasing options for potential customers, Tesla Motors yesterday unveiled a new 36-month leasing program for the popular Model S electric sedan that partners with banks and includes several key promises in the hopes of easing public fears about the cost of ownership.

So, how much? For the 60kWh Model S, only about $500 per month. Oh, excuse me. That’s if you factor in down payments, federal incentives, a guaranteed resale value, business write-offs, and gas savings. If that sounds like a lot of qualifiers, it is. The true out-of-pocket monthly payment is over $1,000 per month ($1,097 when I input figures that would relate to my hypothetical purchase — try it yourself here). Tesla shouldn’t be faulted for offering an alternative ownership method, but they do deserve scrutiny for skewing the numbers a bit. Then again, maybe this does turn out to be quite the deal. Does it make you more interested in buying a Model S?

After all, the Tesla Model S is not an affordable car. Nor should it be. The five seater is bloody gorgeous, blasts from 0-60 mph in about five seconds and has an all-electric range of more than 230 miles (up to 300 miles in some trims). It isn’t the car of the future, but it will probably lead to the car of the future, and that shouldn’t come cheap.

The problem is that Tesla wants to build the everyman electric car, but you can’t do that by making an expensive car appear affordable. They’ve already killed plans for the cheaper 40 kWh Model S, citing low interest, so why not just embrace that the Model S is an expensive car for people with the means?

Instead, Tesla is trying to put a price on things like gas savings and time savings and factor them into your monthly payment. Those benefits of owning a Tesla Model S are all well and good, but if I’m on the fence about buying one, they aren’t going to open my eyes and lead me down a new path. I already know about the benefits of a Model S or I wouldn’t be considering one in the first place. The Model S is a great choice for people who can afford one, but asking them to consider hypothetical pennies saved doesn’t seem like a great marketing strategy.

Which is a shame, because the lease offer is attractive. US Bank and Wells Fargo put up 10% for a down payment, which depending on your state is likely covered by tax credits anyway, and after the 36-month term your Model S will have the guaranteed resale value of a Mercedes-Benz S Class.

It’s not a bad deal. It’s just not the deal Tesla wants you to think it is.

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By Ryan ZumMallen

Tesla Model X Production Delayed Until 2014

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Hold onto your Amex Centurion cards, Tesla freaks. Tesla Motors confirms it will push back production of its upcoming Model X until the end of 2014. The news went out a little earlier than Tesla had planned, when the Los Angeles Times leaked Tesla’s 10-K form.

In a statement released by Tesla, the high-end electric vehicle company decided to hold back on the Model X to focus on its wildly popular Model S. Click through to read the official statement.

“Tesla has been intensely focused on Model S, its production and product enhancements and believe there is increased volume potential for Model S. As a result, Tesla has decided to slightly push back the development and timing of Model X to 2014. We do not expect a material impact on our profitability in 2013 or 2014.”

The third model in the successful Tesla lineup, the Model X is the heftier crossover with the face of its sportier sister, the Model S. The Model X was first unveiled at Tesla Studios in February 2012, causing hundreds of Tesla devotees for fork over $5,000 deposits.

The Model X features seating for seven, falcon-winged rear doors, a front and rear trunk, and two touchscreens on the steering wheel. The all-wheel drive version of the Model X also has two motors powering the front and rear.

The wait for this innovative, all-electric crossover will be a little longer, probably 2015 at the earliest. Hopefully, the wait will be worth it.

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By Jessica Matsumoto

Are Battery Buggies The Answer To Electric Vehicle Range Anxiety?

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Plenty of thought has gone into developing the current crop of electric vehicles, from the Tesla Model S to the Chevrolet Spark EV. Now, it’s time to concentrate more on the power infrastructure and on realistic needs of likely EV owners.

Because the driving range of nearly all EVs remains limited, they’re being consigned largely to commuter duty. That’s fine, but having a short-range EV then means owning an additional car for longer trips. For millions of cash-strapped families, buying and operating a single vehicle is tough enough. Budgets for the non-affluent simply won’t stretch that far.

Innovation is definitely needed, at least until true long-range EVs are developed and can be produced at affordable prices.

This year’s winner of the European Satellite Navigation Competition, the ebuggy mobility project, promises to be a “long-distance traffic solution for e-vehicles.” The competition was sponsored by the European Space Agency, European GNSS Agency, German Aerospace Centre, Nokia, and others.

The idea could hardly be simpler. An EV owner wishing to take a trip could start out with a full charge, but stop at one or more relay stations along the way. At the first one, the owner could hitch a battery trailer, fully charged, to the car and drive on. Trailers could be exchanged at regular intervals, dropping off the one with the depleted battery and then driving off towing one that’s fully charged.

When approaching one’s destination, the last ebuggy that was used may be dropped off at the final relay station. While at that destination, the EV can be driven using its own battery, charged in the customary way at local charging stations.

A satellite navigation system has been developed to manage such a trailer fleet of the future, monitoring and controlling movement of the battery trailers in “real time.”

Prototypes were constructed with the support of Germany’s Ministry of Economics and Technology and various partners, including Stuttgart University. At some point, ebuggy GmbH plans to develop the ebuggy battery trailer and relay-station network for series production. An international ebuggy network also is planned.

Practical? Perhaps. But a tiny bit tacky, too. Pulling a series of ebuggies would be rather like towing a little U-Haul trailer containing all your stuff.

Though feasible in Europe, this idea might not sell well in the U.S., with its longer distances between cities and points of interest. Yes, the network of public charging stations in the U.S. has been growing impressively, now thought to be topping 5,000 (Ed: The new Tesla Supercharging stations are particularly intriguing). But that leaves an awful lot of road miles across the country with no possible source for recharging.

Several trouble spots come to mind. If your EV has a range no greater than 75 miles or so, how do you arrange a trip if relay stations are, say, 50 miles apart? You’d have to stop at every single one and make an exchange. What if no ebuggies are available at a given station? You can’t just keep on driving. Such issues aren’t so crucial now, when only small numbers of EVs are in operation. But if and when that total grows appreciably, plenty of logistics questions pop into mind.

Still, ebuggy demonstrates the kind of thinking that just might make a difference, even if this particular proposal doesn’t really pan out on a widespread scale–or at all.

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By James M. Flammang