Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Successful National Plug-In Day 2013

Here are a few photos I took from National Plug-In Day 2013 in Dallas, Texas. (I’m having some technical difficulties posting more than 4 pictures. I may have to break this into multiple posts. Stay tuned…)

Even with the threat of a downpour, and a few small showers, the show must go on! Not only did we have EV enthusiasts there, but we also had many curious people. As the only customer-owned i-MiEV there (one i-MiEV was there from EvGO), I had a LOT of people approach me with questions.

I also got to take a ride in a Tesla Model S, P85 model (the highest performance model) with a driver willing to really take off. O-M-G! That car is FAST!

Click on the thumbnails to see the full-sized picture:

My i-MiEV next to a Ford Focus Electric

My i-MiEV next to a Ford Focus Electric

One of more than a dozen Nissan LEAFs

One of more than a dozen Nissan LEAFs

Volkswagen Golf electric conversion -- took 4 years!

Volkswagen Golf electric conversion — took 4 years!

Teslas as far as the eye can see!

Teslas as far as the eye can see!

See ya next year!

National Plug-In Day

As I live in Dallas, I’ll be attending the National Plug-In Day in Dallas. In fact, it’s only a few miles from my home, not that range anxiety has any part of my life.

So far, there are 16 (!) Tesla Model S cars scheduled to be there. I’ve seen 2 on Dallas roads, including one who gave me a thumbs-up for recognizing his vehicle. It should be amazing to see so many Teslas in one place. Two Tesla Roadsters are scheduled to be there too. I wonder if the id Software employee who owns one will be there.

There are also scheduled to be 14 Nissan LEAFs. (Leaves?) This is a good showing, especially since Nissan is one of the sponsors of National Plug-In Day, and the fact that we have a Nissan company building not too far away in Irving.

Guess how many Mitsubishi i-MiEVs there will be? No, guess. Got your guess? Yep. One. Mine. That’s okay. I’ve printed out a spec sheet and some other documents for people to look over. I plan to have the rear engine bay open for inspection too. There’s really not much to see — an inverter, a motor, a reduction gear, a brake pump, a coolant pump, and that’s about it.

My i-MiEV's "engine room"... loving the direct Japanese translation

My i-MiEV’s “engine room”… loving the direct Japanese translation

The part I’m most excited about? Hopefully getting to sit in, or possible ride along, in a Tesla Model S. I wish I could afford one of those cars. Guess I’ll have to wait for the Model E in 2015 or so.

Race Car?

When I told my dad what kind of car I have, I didn’t come right out and say it. Instead, I gave him hints and made him guess. On paper, you can make the i-MiEV sound like a race car!

Mitsubishi-i-MiEV

  • Wider tires in the back than in the front
  • Rear-engine (motor!)
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • De-Dion rear suspension
  • 9,900 RPM redline
  • Does 81 MPH in first gear

My dad, a long-time car nut, did a very good job of guessing. He thought of the Mazda RX-8. Although it doesn’t have a De-Dion rear suspension or a rear-mounted engine, the Rotary engine does have a 9,000 RPM redline. Good guess!

What is Regenerative Braking?

Since there is a very small cache of electrons in the battery, we have to squeeze out every possible efficiency. There are several ways we can do this:

  • Better aerodynamics — wind resistance of the car moving through the air is energy lost. There is no way to retrieve this energy. What’s worse, the amount of power required to move a car through the air goes up as a square (power of 2) of the speed!
  • Lighter weight — the less mass we have to get moving, the less power it will take. This is somewhat of a battle, since batteries used in EVs are relatively heavy.
  • Regenerative braking

The last point, regenerative braking, is one of the easiest ways to get back a portion of the energy you’ve expended getting your vehicle to move. How does this work?

In regular vehicles, friction brakes are used to slow the car down. The energy of the car moving (inertia) is disbursed as heat in the friction brakes. That heat cannot be captured and therefore is lost.

In electric vehicles, we have an electric motor that gets us moving. What some people don’t realize, is that the motor can also be used as an electrical generator. If there is an electrical load on a generator, it takes more effort to turn the generator. With regenerative braking, a load is put on the motor/generator to charge the batteries. This creates more effort to turn the motor/generator, creating a braking effect. This would be similar to us being able to capture the heat energy in friction brakes and using that to power the car.

batavia-regen

Tests with regenerative braking put the maximum braking power at around 1G of stopping power. That’s very good. However, most regenerative braking systems aren’t that aggressive with the recharge. It would make the car very difficult to drive smoothly. Instead, the vehicle manufacturers add friction brakes to supplant the regenerative capabilities of the motor/generator. Additionally, regenerative braking is not nearly as effective as friction brakes at low speeds.

Many electric vehicles now have different levels of regenerative braking that can be user-set. For example in my Mitsubishi, the shifter has “D”, “Eco”, and “B” settings.

2012-Mitubishi-i-MiEV-shifter

  • D is for drive, where the car behaves very much like a regular, gas-powered car. This mode has the least amount of regenerative braking.
  • Eco slows the accelerator to help reduce power to get the car moving, and slightly increases the regenerative braking effect.
  • B is for braking, which gives you full power like D mode, but gives aggressive regenerative braking effect. This is great for stop-and-go traffic, because you can virtually drive the vehicle using only the accelerator, rarely touching the brake.

This graph shows the regenerative braking strength for the three modes:

Regenerative braking modes in the i-MiEV.

Regenerative braking modes in the i-MiEV.

You can clearly see that D has the least amount of regenerative braking, Eco has a bit more, and B has the most amount of regenerative braking.

Why wouldn’t you want to drive in B mode all the time? Well, it’s difficult to control the car. In a gas-powered car, when you release the accelerator, the car coasts for quite a distance. In B mode in the Mitsubishi, it’s like the brake is being pressed with light pressure. It takes some practice to drive in B mode all the time and be smooth about it.

That being said, I drive my i-MiEV in B mode all the time. I love a challenge.

i-MiEV: The Car of Contradictions

I have owned many cars in the past, each with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies, but none of them have been such a mix of high-end features and low-end cost cutting as the i-MiEV.

Very much like my i-MiEV...

Very much like my i-MiEV…

To be fair, Mitsubishi started off with their Japanese kei car — a very low-cost, small-engined car designed to stay under specific parameters to get cheap insurance rates. Kei cars must have 660cc (0.6 liters!) or smaller gasoline engines, for example. While these tiny, relatively underpowered vehicles seem odd to North Americans, they are incredibly popular in Japan. Since the cities are densely packed, you don’t need to go far or fast in Japan.

The Mitsubishi i was then converted to the electric i-MiEV in Japan in 2009. (The gas-powered model is still sold.) Since much of the rest of the world wanted an electric vehicle, Mitsubishi started selling the i-MiEV in other countries. To sell the car legally in the US, Mitsubishi had to make some significant modifications, including increasing the width, length, and height of the car. The major benefit was being able to sell the vehicle in California, allowing Mitsubishi to collect emissions credits and sell their other vehicles in that state.

When I received my i-MiEV, I was surprised with it, especially since I got the cheapest model there is. The sheer lack of noise while driving makes the car seem like a higher-class vehicle. In truth, only the Smart ForTwo is smaller. The car was painted in a beautiful, pearlescent white that, on other cars is an extra-cost option. It features a heated driver’s seat, power windows, power locks with remote, motorized side mirrors, and a specialized remote control that allows you to pre-heat or pre-cool your car. It even has automatic climate control. Fancy!

On the other hand, the rear-view mirror doesn’t have a dimming function. The passenger’s side sun visor has no mirror, though the driver’s does. There are front speakers with separate tweeters in the dash, but no rear speakers. The wires are there and functional, but no speakers.

Although the i-MiEV started off life as a gas-powered vehicle, it doesn’t have the problems many conversions have. The Ford Focus EV loses about 2/3rds of its cargo space for the battery. The Honda Fit EV loses its “magic seats”. The i-Miev has none of those problems. Cargo space is unaffected, which is impressive given that its motor and reduction gear are under the rear cargo area. The seats fold completely flat, leaving a very large, flat load floor. Impressive, Mitsubishi!

Is the Chevy Volt a EREV or a PHEV?

Mac versus PC. Console gaming versus Windows gaming. Mayonnaise versus Miracle Whip. Imperial versus Metric. Toilet paper over or under the roll. Squeezing toothpaste from the bottom or middle.

All these things have polarized people, up to and including divorce. The latest debate — at least on the Internet — is whether the Chevy Volt is an extended-range electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid.

Chevy Volt: EREV or PHEV?

Chevy Volt: EREV or PHEV?

For some background, let’s talk about car types that we aren’t polarized on:

  • Gas powered cars have an engine that runs through a transmission via a clutch to run the wheels. Many EV enthusiasts call gas-powered cars “ICE” (internal combustion engine) vehicles.
  • Purely electric vehicles have a battery and an electric motor that, through a simple reduction gear, runs the wheels.
  • Hybrid vehicles, like the Toyota Prius, have an ICE with a small electric motor on the same drivetrain which goes through a transmission and clutch to drive the wheels. While the ICE can be turned off allowing for low-speed EV driving, that’s not typical of how the Prius works.
  • Plug-in hybrid vehicles are like regular hybrids, but with a larger battery and the ability to charge from an external electrical source. This allows them to drive farther in electric-only mode than their hybrid cousins.

Now, let’s talk about the Chevy Volt. When the vehicle was first introduced, Chevrolet said it would be an extended-range electric vehicle (EREV), where the ICE has no direct connection to the drivetrain. Wonderful! That is the definition of an EREV. This is exactly how the BMW i3 and the Fisker Karma works. Only the electric motor runs the wheels.

However, after doing efficiency testing, Chevrolet found that certain conditions — especially during high-speed driving — that it was more efficient to have the electric motor and the ICE powering the drivetrain. To facilitate this, Chevy designed a clever 3-clutch system.

Illustration of the drive motor, charging motor, and the ICE.

Illustration of the drive motor, charging motor, and the ICE.

The Volt can be powered directly from the drive motor, like an EV, when all the clutches are opened. However, when all the clutches are closed, there is a direct connection between the two motors and the ICE to the drivetrain. This fits the definition of a plug-in hybrid, or a “parallel hybrid” system.

See how the three clutches work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80E1fOp95rA

In conclusion, the Volt is a wonderful vehicle, making electric driving available to the masses. Only a slight technicality makes the Volt a PHEV instead of an EREV.

National Plug-In Day 2013

Interested in electric vehicles? Want to know what makes them tick (or stay nearly silent)? Want to talk with others who are passionate about EVs? Participate in National Plug-In Day. Even if you don’t own an EV, you can still go.

From the 2012 meeting.

From the 2012 meeting.

They have ride-along events so you can experience the smooth, quiet ride that you get in an electric vehicle. Best of all? It’s FREE for everyone.

To find out more, visit the official National Plug-In Day website here: http://pluginday.org/index.php

What to Expect When Buying an EV

As mentioned on a previous post, I moved from a gas-powered Mazda 3 to a Mitsubishi i-MiEV. What should you expect when considering purchasing an EV for yourself?

The first thing you need to consider is if your lifestyle is suitable for an electric vehicle. Because of range limitations of electric vehicles, along with relatively long charging times, most EV owners do not travel farther than a single charge distance from their homes.

The i-MiEV has the shortest range of all the EVs on the market currently, meaning 62 miles of EPA estimated range. That means I could travel 31 miles from my house and return on a single charge. Does this sound short to you? Then maybe an EV isn’t for you.

Do you have more than one car? An electric car is a wonderful second car. This way, if you do need to travel farther distances, you have another vehicle to rely on. You can also consider renting a car. I am fortunate to have a car rental agency within walking distance of my home.

Next, do you live in a home or apartment? Finding a place to charge your electric vehicle is easy when you have a home. Most garages have electrical plugs inside. Many homes have outside-accessible sockets, too. Apartments? Not so much. You need to consider how you are going to charge your EV. While all EVs have the ability to charge from 120V sockets, the time to charge is very long — up to 22 hours! Adding a high-voltage charging point helps reduce that time significantly, but is usually only something you can install if you own your home. Most people charge at home rather than a public charging point.

At this point, you’re certain that your life fits well with an EV. Time to visit the dealership.

Your first choice: Buy or lease? Buying your EV will allow you to break even against a similarly-equipped gas-powered car in about 5-6 years. Keep your car for that long and you’ll be saving money. Leasing means you pay for only the portion of the car you use. It also means that you don’t have any principal value built up.

With those negatives, why do most people lease their EVs? Because the technologies are improving so quickly that yesterday’s EVs are already outdated. Leasing allows you to have the latest and greatest technology. In electric vehicles, most of the time this means additional range or features, even a lower price.

Your salesperson may or may not have any knowledge in electric vehicles. Fortunately, when I visited the Mitsubishi dealer, they had a single salesperson certified to sell the i-MiEV. If he wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have been able to go home with my new car. Really.

Next, be prepared to be sold away from an electric vehicle. Why? Because the general public really doesn’t know about or even understand electric vehicles. The salesperson is trying to keep you from making a big mistake. Once they know you understand the limitations, they will happily sell you an EV.

Leave a bit of time for the dealership to fully charge your new EV and to teach you how to drive it. The i-MiEV is about as similar to a gas-powered car as you can get, but some cars, like the Nissan LEAF, have some different controls. Learn all you can and even take notes. When you get home, read your owner’s manual. Really.

Note: Having compared notes with other EV owners, I see that — for the most part — my experience is typical. 

An Electric Vehicle History Lesson

Interestingly enough, the whole idea of electric vehicles isn’t a new phenomenon. At the turn of the 20th century, there were three predominate types of vehicles on the road: Steam powered, electric powered, and gas powered. Guess which one was the most popular? Yeah, electric.

In the early 1900s, cars like this EV were popular.

In the early 1900s, cars like this EV were popular.

In the early 1900s, steam-powered cars did well with the general public. A little wood or coal, some water, and you’re off… after some warm-up time, of course. Gas-powered cars were relatively new, quite noisy, and stinky. At this time in history, gas stations were few and far between, making gas-powered cars less practical.

Electric cars were marketed mostly toward women. They didn’t require the long start-up times of steam, and wouldn’t break your arm (!) when you attempted to crank-start them. Instead, the quiet elegance of the electric vehicle made driving accessible to anyone. Like today’s EVs, yesteryear’s EVs also had range issues, which ultimately lead to their demise. With advancements in gas-powered cars and the propagation of gas stations on nearly every corner, gas-powered cars could just go farther.

Fast-forward back to today: Electric vehicles are having their renaissance because of many concerns: The environment, problems with oil-producing countries in the Middle East, rising gas prices… and the advancement of electric vehicle technology, making EVs a practical solution again.

Thanks to ultra-dense cities, most people drive fewer than 40 miles per day. My round-trip to and from work is 18 miles. Although EVs still have shorter range than gas-powered vehicles (Tesla Model S excluded), they are practical for a vast majority of people.

About me…

There are literally millions of blogs on the Internet. Why read this one? Because I will give you a very unique perspective. I am an electric car driver who doesn’t drive it to “save the Earth”. I drive it because it’s very inexpensive.

Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t care about the environment. I have a newborn girl, and I want there to be less pollution than there was when I was a child. I very clearly remember taking car rides and liking the “gas smell” of the huge land barges of the 70’s. Little did I know the fumes from the leaded gas those behemoths were burning was toxic.

Other than being a new parent, I’m a graphic designer and website programmer. Yeah, kind of a techie kind of guy. Since you’re reading this blog, you might be a techie kind of person like me. If so, maybe my experiences with an electric vehicle will be similar to yours if you get an electric car too.