Monthly Archives: October 2013

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Next-Gen Batteries

Are we on the verge of having new battery technology? Well, yes and no. Yes, there are laboratories that are experimenting with some very interesting chemistries and technologies, and no, they aren’t ready yet.

One of the more promising “coming soon” battery technologies is Lithium-Sulphur (Li-S) batteries. Thanks ironically to oil production, we have a glut of sulphur available. In addition to its conductivity and high-temperature tolerance, Li-S batteries may be what is powering your next EV.

Currently, a company called Sion Power has the limited ability to produce Li-S batteries with a power storage capacity of 350Wh/Kg. For a comparison, the Lithium-Ion batteries in the Tesla Model S have a power storage capacity of 207Wh/Kg. If used in a Tesla Model S, the batter would weigh approximately 60% of the original, saving 217Kg (~480 lbs.).

Sion Power's estimated battery capacity and ranges

Sion Power’s estimated battery capacity and ranges

Notice in this graphic that the module volume remains the same at 6.7 cubic feet (19 cubic centimeters). The Li-S technology works well with small, light form factors (as used in the Zephyr solar-powered long distance aircraft) and at lower temperatures that Li-S don’t historically work well with.

This is just the beginning. Sion also has some cells at 450Wh/Kg. Their target is 600Wh/Kg by 2016. A battery with that power capacity could easily go 300 miles on a single charge. Is this the technology that Tesla is betting on for its $30,000/300 mile range vehicle for 2016?

VW – Serious or Not?

Recently, VW has given several statements about how they want to be the leader in electric vehicles. Wait, no… wait… stifle that laugh! Let’s hear them out:

VW CEO Martin Winterkorn said that 14 models from several VW Group brands will be offered worldwide as EVs — pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids — or as conventional hybrids by 2014. If there is sufficient demand, as many as 40 new models could be EVs or hybrids. He vowed to be the industry’s electric-vehicle leader by 2018.

Source — The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20130911/AUTO04/309100065#ixzz2h2sGukk1

Emphasis mine. Now, this is not just another hat in the ring. VW has been experimenting with EVs since the 1980s. Then again, Mitsubishi produced an EV in the 70s; Nissan produced their first EV in 1947!

Now, let’s look at the EVs that VW is going to produce starting in 2015.

The 2015 VW e-Go and e-Golf

The 2015 VW e-Up and e-Golf

On the left is the VW e-Up. On paper, this vehicle is nearly identical to the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Same top speed, similar acceleration, similar battery capacity, similar range. The e-Up won’t be sold in the US, leaving it to the market where the i-MiEV is doing its best: Europe. So, why get an e-Up instead of the i-MiEV? It’s gonna have to come down to price — an area where VW doesn’t exactly compete well.

On the right is the VW e-Golf. On paper, this vehicle is nearly identical to the Nissan LEAF. Similar top speed, acceleration, battery, and range. The LEAF is sold everywhere, so I expect the e-Golf to be sold everywhere as well. So, why get an e-Golf instead of a LEAF? Price? Not likely.

Are we seeing a pattern here?

For VW to become a leader in EVs, they need leading-edge vehicles, neither of which the e-Up or e-Golf are. How will they complete? Price? We’ll see if VW can do it.

Conversions vs. Purpose-Built EVs

Electric vehicle purists love to argue, as does anyone with a strong belief in something. One of many arguments EV enthusiasts engage in is whether or not a car needs to have a purpose-built chassis or can it use a “glider” from a gas-powered car. Let’s look at the positives and negatives.

Purpose-built chassis

  • + Typically doesn’t have any odd intrusions into the cabin for the battery, motor, etc.
  • + Can have a more compact overall dimension because EV components take up less space than an ICE.
  • – For lower-volume vehicles (as EVs are currently), the price of making a new chassis is not cost-effective.

Conversion

  • + Costs less because you can modify an existing chassis to fit your needs.
  • + Can use body panels and parts from the high-volume gas-powered car, saving money.
  • – Many times, conversions have intrusions into the cabin for the battery.

At the current time, there are only a handful of manufacturers making purpose-built chassis for their EVs: Nissan (LEAF), Tesla (Model S), and BMW (i3). Even the i3 has a negative for the EV version — the space allocated for the range-extending ICE is left empty! (They should have put an auxiliary battery pack in that space, IMHO.)

These manufacturers are seen as committed to electric vehicle technology because of their use of a purpose-built chassis. The other manufacturers are seen as going into the EV field as an afterthought.  Maybe that’s why conversions aren’t seen or rated as positively as purpose-built cars.

What Will the Future Bring?

The lease on my i-MiEV ends in January, 2015. Due to my dirt-cheap lease offer, my lease residual (the amount of money I would have to pay to buy the car at the end of the lease) is already $10,000 north of what its Blue Book value is. From what I’ve read, Ally Bank doesn’t negotiate on residual amounts, so my car is most definitely going to be returned.

This presents an interesting problem for Ally: They are going to have a flood of i-MiEVs being returned in January, 2015. What will they do with them? They’ll probably be sold at a loss, meaning some very inexpensive i-MiEVs may be available. Another person suggested that Mitsubishi will take them back and resell them as fleet vehicles. Who knows?

So what options will be available in 2015?

  • Nissan LEAF — the long-standing king of electric cars will definitely still be around in 2015. It’s the no-brainer choice.
  • Honda Fit EV — as I don’t live in California or New York, this vehicle isn’t currently available to me. However, if Honda does get around to selling them in Texas, it’s a contender. I’ve always liked the design of the Fit.
  • Fiat 500e — another “compliance car”, it’s not sold outside of California. The Fiat is a little too small for my tastes. I like a 4-door car, especially since I have a child.
  • Chevy Spark EV — although fast, it’s ugly. And tiny. This would require another i-MiEV-like lease deal for me to drive it. It’s also a compliance car.
  • Ford Focus EV — this car always felt like a half-assed attempt at an EV by Ford. Take an existing ICE car, slap a huge battery into the trunk, taking away most of the storage space and pass-through capability, and call it a day. Between that and their “stop safely now” problems have taken the FFE completely out of the running, barring an insane lease rate like the i-MiEV. Hell, I’ll drive an electric Trabant for $69/month.
  • Tesla Model S — I freakin’ wish.
  • Tesla Model E — this car is slated for a 2016 introduction, so the likelihood of this car being available in January is nearly nil. Shame.
  • Tesla Model X — again, a pipe dream.
  • Toyota RAV4 EV — another compliance car, the likelihood of this car coming to Texas is nil.
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV/CA-MiEV — if they’re available, I will definitely consider them. There is a laundry list of things I would improve on the i-MiEV, but it’s still a good car. If they come out with the CA-MiEV show car, I’ll be even happier.
  • Kia Soul EV — this is the wildcard. I like the Soul. It’s funky, but has plenty of usable space without being too large. An EV version would have the same aerodynamic penalty as the ICE version, but I mostly drive in the city. Could be a contender. Could also be a compliance car. Ugh.
  • BMW i3 — I don’t expect this car to be within my budget. Not to mention it’s only nominally larger than the i-MiEV with a MUCH larger price tag. Sorry, probably not.

You may have noticed I didn’t list any hybrid or plug-in hybrids like the Volt. Sorry, guys, I want to stick with an all-electric vehicle. Any other suggestions?

Edit: Talk about a timely post. Kia has confirmed that the Soul EV will be launched in 2014.