Tag Archive | "EV"

Turning Over A New Leaf

The Nissan Leaf was launched in 2011 and to date the company have sold over fifty thousand cars worldwide. In many ways it is a very good car but with the drawbacks that afflict all electric cars. Potential owners remain concerned about range as the cars arrived long before the introduction of any meaningful electric infrastructure around the nation. Never mind – the Leaf has a market and is an ideal vehicle for urban lifestyles.

Nissan have been listening to customers and have announced a wide range of improvements to the next generation EV, which will be built, along with its batteries, at the successful Sunderland plant in the North of England. Production begins in the Spring. This seems like an admirably perfect time for a new Leaf.

Crucially, the range has been extended. The original car could manage 109 miles at best. The new maximum is 124 miles. It’s not a lot if we’re honest but that extra bit could just give buyers peace of mind in knowing that 100 miles should be reliably feasible. This is aided by a new heat pump which reduces electrical consumption in cold weather thus boosting range.

In addition to the standard eight hour charging arrangement, customers can now opt for a 6.6kW charger which halves charging time. Additionally, the charger has now been relocated under the bonnet which has freed up additional luggage space at the back. An amount of judicious re-engineering has bought the car up fully to European driving standards which means handling has been improved.

To further enhance performance Nissan have made some styling changes to the car which will improve aero efficiency. In keeping with the green credentials the new Leaf is more recyclable than its predecessor, not that owners are likely to be thinking that far ahead. The company has listened and they say that there are over one hundred improvements and enhancements on the new model.

Battery life is another concern expressed by customers. It would be a hugely expensive fix and nobody really seems to know how long they will last and how much capacity they will lose over time. To counter this Nissan have a new comprehensive warranty plan. There’s a five year / 100,000 mile guarantee for workmanship and defects and, because lithium-ion batteries lose capacity over time, they will be covered by a ‘State of Health’ clause to cover this. Thus, if the batteries wear out earlier than expected they will be repaired or replaced.

The interior has been improved too with new colours, more supportive seats with environmentally friendly fabrics and more equipment including the Around View Monitor. Overall, Nissan have paid attention to the reaction to the original Leaf and acted accordingly. The new Nissan Leaf is an attractive proposition for a large percentage of car users.

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Silent But Deadly

Over the English Channel at that bastion of frugality and common sense known as the European Parliament they have recently had an actual vote. Yes – that’s right. Amazingly, the members signed off their expenses, poured out of the nightclubs and bars and headed to work to cast their opinions on the noise electric cars should make. They didn’t come up with any viable ideas obviously but all agreed that a new rule was needed. This is likely to come into force by the end of next year.

It is a much belated victory for the various campaign groups who long ago realised that the new quiet cars coming onto the market were a threat to life, particularly at low speeds. The Guide Dogs For The Blind Association have been saying this for years so any legislation is not before time; after all, cyclists have been encouraged to fit and use a bell or warning device for a long time now and even the heftiest biker can’t compete with a tonne or so of car.

The USA and Japan already have laws in place to cover this issue. In Europe it was first thought that an artificial noise should be voluntary – like bikes – but it seems, quite rightly, that this policy needs to be strengthened in law. It makes sense that vulnerable others be protected -the blind and partially sighted who have to be acutely aware of noises, obviously, but also children and pedestrians on speed restricted streets, the elderly and the infirm.

Current statistics show that there are some 2700 electric cars and nearly one hundred and fifty thousand hybrids and plug-ins on UK roads. This number is expected to rapidly double within the next two years or so. Even the biggest of them is virtually silent when running on electric power alone. Research has apparently already shown that a pedestrian is more likely to be struck by an EV than a petrol-powered vehicle.

A couple of years ago some entitled wag in the House of Lords suggested a cow-bell as being appropriate. That’s the sort of blue-sky thinking that our Nation needs, isn’t it? Meanwhile car makers have got to come up with a solution, bearing in mind that the vulnerable need to be able to hear it over background noise and that different people hear at different decibel levels. It has also got to be non-aggravating for the driver. A graduated noise that sounds like a car might be a good idea.

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Car News Updates

Last year Motor Blogger reported on news from the motoring world and for some of these reports things have moved on. For instance, over the last couple of years there’s been a bit of a buzz (sorry) about electric cars. They were thought to be the coming thing but now they are not going anywhere. New car buyers are all very aware of the drawbacks of this technology and now it seems that this has begun to sink in with the car makers.

Nissan had high hopes for its Leaf EV yet it has failed to achieve a planned sales figure worldwide of 20,000 Leafs (or should that be Leaves?). In the UK, less than 1500 electric cars were registered in 2012. Meanwhile Audi have had a bit of a think and have pulled the plug (sorry) on the A2 EV that was planned for 2015. Toyota, Peugeot and Citroen are all scaling back their electric plans. Renault – trying a slightly different approach whereby they lease batteries – are sticking with it for now and hope to turn on (sorry) buyers with the new Zoe (pictured), but even that has been delayed. Electric cars are a great idea but unfortunately the science isn’t there yet and the customers know it.

Another trend that is rather more worrying is the recent rise in accidents. Broadly speaking, statistics show that car accidents have been slowly reducing over the years as new car technology improves safety but now they are on the up again. Despite what you might hear officially this has at least got to be due in part to the drop in the policing of our roads as forces cut back. The number of traffic cops has dropped significantly.

The other reason for it as we have previously mentioned is that car owners are cutting back on servicing. The number of fatal road accidents caused by defective vehicles has risen for the first time in ten years. There were over 1600 accidents in 2011 that involved fatalities, of which some 52 were proven to have been caused by faults on cars. That’s only a small percentage now but the figure is going up. Worn tyres and bad brakes were predominately to blame.

The reason for this seems to be that motorists are cutting back on car costs without considering the ramifications. It’s a form of desperation caused by our dire national financial situation. As garage prices have risen so it appears that some cars never get serviced at all which means that defects are even less likely to be discovered until it is too late. A sorry state of affairs for which, right now, there doesn‘t seem to be an answer.

For sure new car buyers are increasingly looking at small inexpensive cars with low running costs in order to save money on motoring expense; but they aren‘t buying electric vehicles – preferring to go for frugal diesels and hybrids. We’ll have to wait and see how the industry responds.

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Tesla Perseverance Might Pay Off

Here we go again. Another electric car that is said to move the technology forward by another couple of notches. It’s from the American manufacturer Tesla who have, to be fair, persevered with electricity – even when most car makers worldwide are showing EV sales that are flatter than the West Siberian Plain – and are producing a new vehicle which goes on sale over the pond this year. The really irritating thing is that they might just have cracked the basic problem – a bit.

As ever, it’s range anxiety that puts British buyers off. That and the prices. Nevertheless, Tesla in America have received 13000 advance orders for their new Model S premium four door saloon. In the USA the asking price is expected to be priced from around $85000 (depending on the model) which in real money is about £54000, although you can bet your life that in the UK we will actually pay the dollar equivalent in pounds when the time comes.

The Model S is marketed to rival the BMW 5 Series or the Mercedes E-Class so it’s no shrinking violet. It certainly looks the part – it is a very nice design. The platform is laid out like a skateboard with a flat lithium-ion battery under the floor. In the top-of-the-range model this powers the 416bhp electric motor between the rear wheels.

Tesla reckon that this car will go for an impressive 300 miles between charges and shoots it to 60mph in a mere 4.4 seconds. It is probable though that those two figures aren’t really compatible and it is be expected that to achieve 300 miles will require some frugal driving without lights or air-con. We’ll see.

Because there is no proper engine there is masses of boot space front and rear. The principal feature inside is the massive 17-inch tablet style computer in the dash which drivers can use for the popular media functions as well as some car controls. There are few switches.

Early testers report that this physically big car handles well thanks to its low-slung ride on air suspension. The only drawback seems to be the amount of lateral grip provided by the seats. Apparently they could do with more bolstering when cornering. This oversight is probably because the Americans don’t really understand the concept of corners.

The overall impression is so far pretty favourable. To cater for all tastes the company will be produce a less powerful model that will have a more restricted range but it’s likely that the top version will be the one to buy. Does this car finally raise the EV bar or is it another false dawn of hope? No doubt all will become clear in the next couple of years.

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The Future Car Challenge

The first weekend in November sees the third annual running of the Future Car Challenge, organised by the RAC. It’s a sort of reverse version of the long established London to Brighton Vintage Car Run. It’s an opportunity for manufacturers to show their new automotive technologies, including fully electric, hybrids, hydrogen power and the very latest in ultra-frugal internal combustion engines. They can also put them through their paces on the 63 mile economy run to the Capital.

Clearly, the idea is, in the long term, to convince the buying public that these alternative methods of getting around are worth considering. The snag is that electric cars have hit the major stumbling block of range. Sales are flat and very disappointing. The cars are generally considered to be too expensive and it’s that initial outlay that puts buyers off.

Renault are countering this by offering to sell the cars more cheaply but lease the batteries. On the face of it this seems like a good idea but it raises the spectre of costing in this additional expense to the motorist, thereby eating into the savings made at the plug, as it were.

In a bid to reduce motoring costs generally, drivers are pretty willing to try these alternative power sources which explain the current popularity of hybrids. These cars offer the best of both worlds and the science behind it is becoming established. Jaguar, for example, are showing three of their prestige saloons – the XJ-ePHEV – fitted with 2.0L turbo engines coupled with 69kW motors instead of the stonking great power-plants of old. The company reckon that 80+mpg is possible with emissions slashed by 70%.

Couple these developments with the massive strides forward made by the engine builders who now produce clean, green and very frugal internal combustion engines that are capable of 100mpg and it’s hard to see where – at the present time – fully electric cars can get a look in.

Nevertheless, the Future Car Challenge is an important and interesting event. It has become abundantly clear that the alternative power bandwagon is an unstoppable force and we might as well get on board. Even if electric car technology is not yet sufficiently developed to suit the mainstream buyer, there are plenty of other cars that are meeting the increasingly stringent regulations. Hybrids are rapidly gaining popularity and cash-strapped motorists are turning to the small, fuel-sipping motors now available. This RAC event is a great showcase opportunity for manufacturers. Next year you might even see a hybrid Ferrari!

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Electric Cars Not Ready?

No doubt all drivers have an opinion but it really doesn’t matter what we think. The industry decides what they want to give us and produce vehicles accordingly. The idea of electric cars, for example, has been around for almost as long as conventional cars have; the problem is that the technology hasn’t been available. Until now. Or so we thought.

Over the last couple of decades or so, the ecology minded amongst us have issued dire warnings about the plight of the earth and the fact that we are sucking all the goodness out of it, like an irresistibly juicy orange.

Never one’s to miss jumping on a bandwagon when they see it, politicians decided that the world would run out of oil in pretty short order and that something needed to be done about the greenhouse gases for which we were all responsible. It’s not for this blog to express an opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of this. We want the facts, M’am. Just the facts.

The onus was upon car makers to produce ultra-clean cars with some form of alternative propulsion. Electricity seemed the way forward. Much R&D went into producing a viable product. Meanwhile, manufacturers presumably decided to hedge their bets and continued to work on improving conventional internal combustion motors.

Now it may well appear to have been a sensible approach. Toyota have announced that they do not now intend to build their electric version of the iQ in any significant quantity. They had planned to produce thousands to meet the perceived need. In fact, they are only going to make about one hundred for specific markets, mostly their home country.

This is thought to be because they do not now believe that both the world and the technology is ready for EV’s. This is logical because of all the negative, but not unreasonable, publicity surrounding battery technology and range anxiety. They are listening to their customers.

There’s nothing wrong with the concept of electric cars. Hybrids, whilst not perfect and not quite as green as they appear to be, are still a viable alternative and this looks like the direction that the Japanese company will take for the foreseeable future. The snag is that desire has outstripped the ability to realise the dream.

It’s not all bad news for EV fans. Nissan has sold some thirty eight thousand Leaf’s (should that be Leaves?) and remain confident in their product. Nevertheless, you can bet your last litre of petrol that other manufacturers will watch this one closely. Which way will they turn?

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New Plug-in Updates The Prius Philosophy

The new Toyota Prius Plug-in is the latest evolution of the company’s popular hybrid range and sets a new benchmark for low-emission technology. Toyota claim that this new car – available to order now and in the showrooms from July – is capable of 108.6mpg whilst breathing out a health enhancing 59g/km of CO² . In full EV mode, the tailpipe emissions are zero.

The difference between this car and its older sibling is that it relies on lithium-ion batteries rather than the usual Toyota nickel-metal hydride units currently fitted to the Auris and standard Prius. Lithium-ion batteries can carry more energy and recharge to full in just 90 minutes. The downside, inevitably, is that the new units are heavier and more expensive to produce so it’s likely that this new iteration of the popular hybrid will be more expensive.

Although the Lithium-ion batteries add an extra 130kg to this already hefty car, the electric only range is extended from 2 miles to a much more useable 12.5 and the top speed in EV mode is now a creditable 62mph. Around the town the car should mostly be all electric, only choosing to rouse the sleeping engine if the throttle is floored. Otherwise the car has the same mechanicals as the standard Prius. There will be, for now, a single specification which will include high-tech features like a heads-up display, the Touch-and-Go multimedia centre, voice recognition and the more usual Bluetooth and satellite navigation options, amongst a welcome list of others. The car has economical 15” alloys and a selection of four exterior colours is offered. The main expense for additional options is the choice of black leather upholstery at £1500. How many people will go for that, given the car’s ethos?

The range anxiety problem suffered by fully electric cars can be safely ignored here because the Plug-in will switch seamlessly to hybrid mode automatically if the electric charge is drained. Recharging is both simple and fast using a power point linked to a standard domestic supply or an on-street charging point. The car comes with the charging kit in the price, including five metres of cabling that can be stored beneath the boot floor. The price is expected to be an eye-watering £32,895 but the government will refund £5000 once you’ve purchased. No doubt over time the price of these cars will come down as economies of scale come into action and the technology becomes ever more efficient. In the meantime, if you’re serious about doing your bit to save the planet you could do worse than invest in a Prius Plug-in.

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Electric Evolution

The general feeling seems to be that motorists want a revolution, but not yet. As you’ve heard often enough before, the principal gripe is the issue of range. Electric cars simply can’t go far enough and even if they did there’s not, as yet, anywhere to charge them away from home. Yet things have to change. Even the most hardened petrol head is beginning to understand that there is an unstoppable driving force behind the evolution of electric vehicles.

In a recent American report it is reckoned that the cost of lithium-ion batteries will fall by about a third in the next four to five years as battery production technology improves, lithium supplies increase and battery packs are sold in greater volume. The report states that “ the market for Li-ion batteries will be driven primarily by plug-in hybrids. Battery electric vehicles require much larger packs than hybrids.”

It is the cost of the fuel cells that governs the industry’s current anomaly. Lithium-ion batteries present a classic ‘what comes first’ scenario. Battery costs need to decrease in order to yield a lower price on the forecourt to encourage the punters. Conversely, the power packs need to be produced in high volumes in order to get costs to fall.

Regardless, the demand for electric drive cars, especially amongst city dwellers, is expected to rise over the coming years; especially as the cost of conventional fuels continues to rise and car makers offer a greater range. The report estimates that the global sales of  plug-ins will rise to a figure in excess of 5 million by 2017.

Lithium is a mineral, the 31st most abundant element on Earth and is the lightest metal. Most of it is found in South America which has more than half of the world’s deposits. It can also be obtained from sea water in same quantities. Herein lies the problem. No car can be considered green. Powering a vehicle on a daily basis is always going to use some sort of resource. We stop extracting oil and start extracting lithium instead. When we’ve got all the lithium, then what? The answer is perhaps not to rush at any one power source but take time to investigate everything that is available to us. Right now the best thing to do is compromise. That is what ‘greener’ should be about. The Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive and other systems seem the best way forward right now. One million Toyota Prius owners can’t be wrong.

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Battery Powered Cars – Is it worth it?

You could be forgiven for thinking that the battery powered car is a new creation, however it has actually been with us for many decades and the concept of a car powered by an electrical battery has been with us for even longer.

It is only recently though since battery power has become a more viable option for powering a car.  Previous downfalls were the simple fact that battery technology simply wasn’t capable of providing enough power for long enough to make it a worthy contender to petrol. Batteries were often incredibly heavy and cumbersome and gave very poor performance, meaning cars that were incredibly slow.  Think of a milk float for example!

The other downfall of battery powered cars was the range.  Battery powered cars sometimes had a range of as low as 12 miles meaning that it was totally impractical for most car owners.

However, battery technology has advanced in leaps and bounds and now batteries are smaller, lighter and more powerful.  As well as this, designers have found ways of making the use of that power more efficient, meaning that the range of a battery powered car has drastically increased.

There is now also the infrastructure for battery powered cars beginning to pop up in major cities.  Take London for example, many of the car parks in central London now have battery charging points for people driving battery-powered vehicles.  This makes owning a battery powered car even more viable.

However, battery powered cars still do have a very limited range when compared to petrol vehicles and this can mean that long journeys are practically impossible.  Unfortunately the infrastructure simply does not exist outside of major cities and that means that on a journey from London to Manchester, for example, there would be nowhere to “refuel” a battery powered car.  This is where an electric car still falls short.

So, is it worth it?  Well, investing in a battery powered car means no petrol costs which straight away makes for some huge savings.  It also makes your car exempt from paying road tax, and if you are in London you are also exempt from the congestion charge.  These all combine to make some pretty significant savings.  Therefore, if you live in London and only ever really drive in London then the answer is most certainly yes, it is well worth it.  The range on an electric car nowadays is easily enough to get you around the city and to and from work with ease.  The savings will be absolutely huge and will make ownership well worthwhile.

If you live outside of a major city though then the benefits of ownership of a battery powered car can quickly be outweighed by the negatives.  The lack of charging points and infrastructure will make it practically impossible to leave your town or village or residence and means that you will always be keeping a beady eye on your battery meter as you panic that you won’t make it home.  Also, outside of the slow-crawling traffic of London and other cities you will quickly notice the lack of performance and speed.

In short, if you live in a built up and congested city that has charging points and infrastructure then you are on to a sure winner.  If you live outside of these areas then it is probably waiting a few more years for things to improve a bit more.

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