Sunday, 30 January 2011

Does the VW XL1 spell the end for pure electric cars?

History will tell whether this week was a week that changed the future of cars.

Volkswagen showcased the XL1 concept, and according to media reports intend to put it into production in 2013. It is a diesel-electric hybrid. If you have read my blog previously then you will know that I am not a fan of hybrids: too many emissions involved in making a car with both ICE and electric components; delays the move away from polluting liquid fuels; maintains our dependency on foreign oil and leaves us economically vulnerable; delays the advent of the electron economy; and so on.

However. The VW XL1 ticks my boxes: it is lightweight with a carbon-fibre shell at only 795 kg (that's only 145 kg more than the all-electric G-Wiz and more than 500 kg less than the Golf); it is highly fuel efficient with a 27 kW motor and an 800 cc diesel engine that offers a range up to an astonishing 313 MPG and 22 miles in pure electric mode (enough for most urban trips); but the number that made me sit up and take notice is this: 24g CO2 / km - that's about 75% less than the cleanest diesels around today and crucially, gets us to the 80% average reduction in CO2 emissions necessary to combat climate change.

It does not end our oil addiction of course, but it makes it manageable and buys us time to develop the electron economy (energy from electricity generated by renewable and nuclear energy sources and the smart grid that will manage it). The XL1 allows motorists who need to frequently travel longer distances to do so without any form of range anxiety. Pure electric cars remain the correct technology for city dwellers and for second cars, but here, for the first time, is a car that offers both extended range and the 80% reduction in CO2 emissions that we require in order to breathe a bit more easily.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

UK twice as likely as US to purchase electric cars

Just in: a survey by Glass's indicates that 53% of motorists in the UK are currently 'considering' buying an electric car (pure electric, plug-in hybrid or range extended electric). This is a phenomenal increase from just six months ago, when the figure was a not-unreasonable 9%. A separate survey by GfK Automotive here in the UK indicated that 1.8%, or 300,000 people will buy an electric car in the next few years and a further 3% or 500,000 cars, by 2014.

Meanwhile from the US, a survey by Ramussen Reports indicates that 27% of Adults say it's at least 'somewhat likely' they'll buy an electric car within the decade, a figure that is down 13 points from August 2009. 

That contrasts with President Obama's call yesterday for the US to become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, and for 80% of America's electricity to come from clean energy sources by 2035.

It also contrasts with what the car makers are doing. GM says it is seeing a surge in showroom visits and as a result is accelerating the roll-out from the six states where the volt is currently available to all states by the year end and both GM and Nissan are planning to ramp up production.

My view remains the same that it has been for the past five years: by 2020 more electric cars will be sold worldwide each year than conventional ICE cars.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Prepare for energy rationing?

Still want to buy that big car?
So, the media debate about rationing has started (BBC 21.01.11, Sunday Times 23.01.11). Last week a cross-party group of UK MPs - the All Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil - published a 60 page report calling for the introduction of 'personal energy quotas' as the best way to 'radically and rapidly restructure our society' to deal with 'the reality of diminishing access to energy'.

The group believes that Peak Oil production has occurred and that an energy crisis is inevitable, so we should get a system in place this decade - and the sooner the better they say - so that when the crisis hits we are well down the road of shifting away from fossil fuels to low carbon alternatives. They are not alone in calling for such a scheme, which would also mean strict restrictions on travel within the European Union. Friends of the Earth launched Big Ask Europe, asking Brussels to put in place sweeping controls to reduce carbon emissions by 2020.

The concept proposed is Tradeable Energy Quotas (TEQs). Every adult would be allocated an annual TEQ, comprising energy units based on carbon intensity. One litre of petrol would be 2.3 units, one kWh of household electricity would be 0.2 units. 40% of the total allocation would be allocated to individuals free of charge, the remaining 60% would be sold to businesses, industry and government, with the proceeds being used to accelerate the transition to the electron economy. Individuals wanting additional TEQs would buy permits. Each year the total pool would shrink in line with the government's carbon emission targets, for the UK this is 80% reduction by 2050.

If you doubt that this will happen, get this: last week BP predicted that demand for oil will increase by 20% by 2030 to 102m barrels / day. Sure there is much uncertainty about remaining deposits of oil (and gas and coal are plentiful), but the price of a barrel of crude oil has again almost reached $100 a barrel even as western economists once again talk of a possible double dip recession. The warning signs are there, even if the timing cannot be forecast.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Two ways to drive the electron economy

Choice: always a good thing?
First the good news: the new generation of lithium-ion powered electric cars are here. Nearly all mainstream auto manufacturers now have a development programme for electric vehicles and many governments see electric vehicles as an important part of their economic (jobs) / energy security / climate change / city pollution strategies. Some governments and municipalities have already implemented grant and incentive programmes. The price of electric cars will decrease as volume increases (EVs are forecast to be cheaper than ICE by 2020)< whilst performance - particularly range - will increase as the technology matures.

Now the potentially bad news: spread betting by the auto manufacturers who are developing a range of drive train options from 'clean' diesel, to highly efficient petrol and dual fuel engines, to plug-in hybrids and range extenders, may delay the transition to the electron economy, delay the end of our addiction to oil, delay the achievement of energy security and clean air in our mega cities. Governments understandably have a reluctance to pick winning technologies, preferring to set targets (the 'what') and let the market decide the method (the 'how').

The issue we face here is time. We just don't know how long we have before things 'tip'. Whether it is an economically dangerous surge in oil prices (already happening with increasing speed and frequency), a series of climate events (2010 was the hottest year on record and we experienced some very extreme weather events around the globe), or an energy security crisis (such as a successful terrorist attack on oil supplies that send prices into orbit).

Caroline Lucas, UK Green Party Member of Parliament believes we need a government led programme similar to that experienced in the UK in the 1940's, when wartime rationing was introduced. This time, Ms Lucas argues, it is just as urgent and important, this time it would be carbon rationing. Every citizen would receive a free carbon allowance, those wishing to consume carbon above this universal level would pay for the privilege. This would be underpinned by a very focused government communication programme to explain the what and why.

Another  way of speeding up the shift to the electron economy is to increase the reward for good behaviour and simultaneously increase the penalty for bad behaviour. A powerful and cost neutral way to encourage the purchase of pure electric cars is to introduce a Feebate system such as that launched in France in 2008. Electric vehicles are incentivised with subsidies whilst more polluting cars are penalised with additional taxes.  The result in France was an immediate lowering of new car emissions by 7g CO2 / km. This type of programme sends out a very simple and strong signal to manufacturers and motorists and nothing is more effective at changing behaviour than purchase price signals.

Is it time for governments to up the ante with stronger measures?

Monday, 17 January 2011

The real reason why we must support electric cars

Here comes the electron economy.
There is a misleading debate going on in the UK media currently around electric cars. Some journalists, notably at the BBC and at some of the national newspapers are preoccupied with the issue of range in electric cars that are now coming to market. This could be putting off potential buyers when it is in all of our interests to be hastening the era of electric cars. Here's why:

Electric cars should not be judged in isolation as a mobility solution, but as the driver of the solution to the energy security problem, the economic problem and the climate change problem.

1. The Energy Security problem: western economies (I am excluding the Russian Federation) hold about 3% of the world's oil reserves and are dependent on foreign oil for 99% of transport (plus of course some of the energy required by industrial and domestic use for light, heat and power). Most of this oil comes from places that are politically unstable and/or potentially hostile to western interests. The cost of protecting this oil supply is vast. The US alone spends many tens of billions of dollars annually to patrol shipping lanes and defend infrastructure from terrorist attacks and has spent more than $1 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (That same money could have launched the renewable energy infrastructure to eliminate oil dependence, and /or subsidised the purchase of at least 50 million electric cars).

2. The Economic problem: western economies are struggling to generate economic growth (jobs and prosperity). In borrowing trillions of dollars to spend on foreign oil rather than spending the money on creating the electron economy (on electricity generated from renewable energy, electric vehicles and the smart grid) they are simply exporting wealth, which means exporting jobs. As James Billmaier reports in 'Jolt! The Impending Dominance of the Electric Car and Why America must Take Charge', the US, the world's biggest oil addict, also subsidises this addiction. Subsidies are taken as tax dollars and paid to the US military to secure the oil supplies, and as federal subsidies to oil companies as R&D and exploration grants. He quotes the US Department of Energy where every $1 billion of the US trade deficit as a result of purchasing imported oil equates to the loss of 27,000 jobs. Looked at another way, if these jobs were recaptured, US unemployment would fall to less than 2% and we would not all be so reliant on China and India in future to fuel the global economy.

The Climate Change problem: the world is warming, caused by man and proven beyond reasonable doubt. The resulting climate shifts are evidenced by the increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events. We are talking about mitigation as much as prevention and whilst it is not too late to act, it is imperative that we do so now, led by the world's super powers. This affects every one of us, either directly through a threat to life, or indirectly, through higher food and other costs and shortages.

As you will see below, electric cars not only help to address all three of these macro challenges, they will also soon become cheaper to own than their conventional car equivalent. The killer question therefore, 'What's in it for me?' includes the promise of cheaper personal transport within a decade, increased employment and personal wealth, the maintenance of lifestyles and a safer world. If this sounds flaky to you, get over it. It's real and the stakes are high.

For the uninitiated, here's how it works:
  • Electric cars are powered by electrons (by electricity) instead of molecules. Electricity can be made from many sources, the cleanest and most sustainable of which are renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and tidal. Even when charged by 'dirty' electricity mixes which include coal, electric cars are cleaner than the cleanest conventional cars, (typically by 50% here in the UK); and as the grid becomes cleaner through increased use of renewables, so electric cars will become cleaner still.
  • Electric cars can be charged off-grid as well as from the grid e.g. directly by solar and wind power, which makes their use less vulnerable to terrorist attacks or grid supply issues; and not at all vulnerable to rising oil prices or supply threats.
  •  Electric cars can be used to store energy and soon, to return energy back to the emerging smart grid. This form of distributed power generation, storage and supply, where electric cars can be charged and energy withdrawals made at times to optimise use of available energy for all and also to reduce the cost to the customer, is the key driver to solving the energy security, economic and environmental problems.
  • Electric cars produce no emissions at the point of use and so offer the potential to remove the unpleasantness and health impacts of city pollution forever.
  • Electric cars are much quieter than conventional cars. Again, imagine a more peaceful and relaxing urban environment.
  • Electric cars are more efficient than conventional cars (in an EV up to 90% of the energy in gasoline is wasted, whereas up to 90% of the energy in electricity is captured).
  • Electric cars are cheaper to run than ICE cars. As the price of liquid fuel escalates once again the difference is something like 8 to 9 times as much per mile to run a conventional car. If you could estimate the real cost, including shipping, refining and transporting the crude and refined oil, then the figure is perhaps double this amount. The amount of electricity used to refine crude oil at refineries alone is enough to run electric cars!
  • Electric cars are cheaper to maintain than ICE cars. With around 70% fewer parts and less servicing, the electric cars wins hands down. The most expensive item, the battery, will be leased or warranted, thereby protecting the customer.
  • Electric cars will come down in purchase price to below that of conventional cars before the end of the decade as volume increases and economies of scale kick in.
  • Electric cars are more fun to drive. The power is instantly available, there are no gears and as I mentioned above, they are much quieter.
Now, the problem with electric cars as currently reported is that they have a range of only 100 milers per charge and are therefore not suitable to motorists' needs. But this is misleading. As I have written previously, a range of 100 miles [update: according to Professor Julia King in her report for the UK government] is sufficient for 97% of all journeys in the UK i.e. suitable for everyday commuting, the school run, shopping and local leisure. As the majority of households have two or more cars, [correction: that should state a quarter of UK households] then it is easy to utilise the ICE car when rare long journeys are required. If the EV is your only car, then unless your job requires frequent long distance travel, a tiny number of train journeys, or use of a car club or rental car will provide a solution to the other 3% of journeys.

In conclusion, whilst it is valid to point out the temporary shortcomings of electric cars, it is also prudent for all of us to do so in the context of the greater challenges we collectively face and the current and future advantages of the electric car. The future is electric. Let's embrace this, not delay it.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Electric cars - embrace the limitations

I recently read a post by social media blogger Dino Dogan that reminded me that if in 2005 someone had pitched me with the idea of a Short Message Service for phones that would revolutionise the way people meet and interact that limited the number of words you could use to 140 characters, I would not have been interested. I would have seen only the limitations and not the opportunity.

For many years now I have been asking people (including the media) to embrace the two primary limitations of the electric vehicle:

1. EVs don't go very far. Most EVs have a range of 100 miles. Well guess what, most people drive less than 20 miles per day most of the time. Here in the UK it is estimated that 97% of all journeys are doable in an EV. Just like most messages can be communicated in 140 characters once you give Twitter a go.

2. EVs don't go very fast. The new EVs typically have a top speed of 70 mph to 90 mph, instead of the 90 mph to 120 mph of the average modern conventionally powered vehicle. So what! Most road deaths occur as a result of driving too fast and in any case, the national speed limit is achievable in all of these new EVs. Instead of pushing for faster speeds, responsible journalists and pundits and those tasked with reducing auto-related deaths should perhaps be nudging us towards a different mindset and expectation of what our vehicles should do. Not only that, the environmental impact of slower speeds is enormous as well.

I have no doubt that by 2015 the average range will have increased to 250 or 300 miles and that available top speeds will also increase towards conventional car levels. My point is that with a little ingenuity they don't need to increase beyond this and we can focus on cost reduction and roll-out. Not only that, with just a little thought and practice you would no longer drive like a lunatic at dangerously high speeds to make that appointment; and you could enjoy the scenery and lack of stress as you take the train twice per year for that long journey to your great aunt who lives the other side of the country.

It is exactly the limitation of Twitter that gives it its uniqueness and the same (if not more) is true of electric vehicles, the mobility-communication-energy hubs of the future.

Postnote: an hour after writing this piece I read an article about a BBC journalist driving a prototype MINI EV from London to Edinburgh (a journey of more than four hundred miles) and complaining that it took four days to do it. Apart from being  a pointless article (highlighting a problem that the vehicle is not designed to address) it does show how even the BBC are caught up in some pretty daft reporting on EVs currently.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Electric cars charging forward

wireless charging concept
Time for a brief update on where we are with regard to electric vehicle charging and range anxiety. Be prepared for some mind boggling numbers from China.

First of all, did you know that a range of 100 miles (typical of today's electric cars) is sufficient for about 97% of all journeys? If your EV is your second car however (and most EVs will initially be part of multi-car personal fleets), then in practice it is useful for 100% of journeys, because you would use your conventional car if you need to travel further. As Better Place's Shai Aggassi puts it: 'If you want a range extended vehicle, drive your other car'. Better still and probably much quicker, why not get the train? OK, I know, too radical.

To ease range anxiety and make charging less of a hassle, electric car manufacturers are introducing clever new technologies that use the latest telematics and 3G technologies to make life more stress free when driving an EV. Range available map displays (Nissan leaf) and smart phone apps that tell you time-to-charge and distance available (Ford Focus electric) are the two most notable examples, whilst OnStar have an exciting development programme and Mahindra Reva demonstrated an SMS emergency charge prototype called REVive at the Frankfurt International Auto Show as far back as September 2009.

What about charging stations? Well, most people, most of the time, will charge from home (something like 80% to 95%). Plug in when you get home at night using off peak electricity and the car will be fully charged the next morning. (By the way, the new Ford Focus has a claimed charge time of just 4 hours, half that of the Nissan Leaf). Clipper Creek in the US has shipped 4,000 home charging units to date, many for the Tesla, but it also works with GM, Ford, Mercedes, Nissan, Mitsubishi and BMW Mini. Ford has partnered with Best Buy in the US, and your $1,499 home charging unit will be installed from one of Best Buy's 1200 stores - and notably not by Ford's dealers. Mitsubishi have a similar programme in Japan, where they are trialling home charging kit purchase and installation via 17 Yamada-Denki stores in the main cities. 

Charging top-ups will be available increasingly at public places - in car parks and at roadside parking and charging spaces. Whilst this is more of a convenience than a necessity, it will increase the visibility of EVs and give motorists confidence that they will never be far from a top-up. Today there are no more than a few thousand public charging stations in any country - China for example has approximately 6000 installed units, the US about 2,000, the UK and France a few hundred each. 

In London you pay a £100 annual fee to access the  'free' parking and charging stations under the Source London brand, which is rolling out a further 1300 stations in London over the next two years and has an unlikely target of 25,000 stations by 2015. UK charging pioneer Elektromotive has now logged more than 1 million hours of charging history from its Elektrobay public charging points.

Ireland also has an aggressive target, where the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) has committed to installing 1500 public charging stations and 30 fast charging units by the end of this year. Looking to the heavy hitters, the State Grid Corporation of China has announced plans to build 10,000 charging stations and produce 500,000 charging outlets, part of a state plan to create 10 million EV park and charge spaces by 2020 (that's right, TEN MILLION PARK AND CHARGE SPACES BY 2020). Beijing alone has already announced a programme to build 36,000 charging stations including 100 fast charging stations in the city by 2015. In the US, Coulomb Technologies $37m ChargePoint America programme partners with Chevrolet, Ford and smart and will provide 4,600 charging stations to nine regions by September this year (Austin Texas, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando Florida, Sacramento California, San Jose/San Francisco Bay Area, Redmond Washington and Washington D.C.). Nissan meanwhile is working with Ecototality to bring 11,210 chargers to five states (Arizona, Califormia, Oregon, Washington and Tennessee) assisted by a $99.8m grant to underwrite The Electric Vehicle Project. Ecotality calls it “the largest deployment of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure in history.”

The big omission that I see currently is any firm programmes for charging at work. If you live in a flat (as most city folk do) and do not have reserved parking, then today you cannot own an EV. However, if parking and charging was available at the workplace then this would help to change this situation. This is where the CSR programmes of the larger corporations should facilitate such projects and I am sure that as employees call for this then the facility will gradually be introduced.

And the future? Researchers at New York State's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) have developed a new type of material made from “nanoscoops”, which could increase the charging speed of small lithium-ion batteries by 40-60 times. At the same time, wireless inductive charging was proof of concept demonstrated at the recent 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by Fulton Innovation. A couple of decades from now the current state of EV technology is going to look very dated indeed.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Don't buy an EV: use one

From ownership to usership.
If you are a Mayor, Governor, Member of Parliament, Senator (you get my drift) in one of the world's megacities then here is one idea that you should be pursuing relentlessly: EV Autolib.

Mayor Bertrand Delanoe is one step ahead of you and showing great leadership by announcing that in 2012 Paris will launch a fleet of 3,000 electric cars available for hire from 1,0000 docking stations. He should know what he is doing, he was the pioneer of the bike hire scheme in Paris in 2007, now copied by other cities such as London.

Delanoe awarded the contract to the French conglomerate Bollore, a newcomer to automotive, who will be introducing their four seat Bluecar with a range of 250 km / 155 miles and a four hour charge time.

The annual subscription will cost just 12 euro per month and 5 euros for the first 30 minutes use.

A study by Paris consultancy APUR showed that a car spends 95% of its time parked. Other studies have shown that one hire car takes approximately 6 owned cars off the road. The future is clear to see, we just need to find a way and will to get there. Here is a short film from BMW as they position themselves as a visionary company in this area.

I cannot think of a more appropriate use for electric vehicles: short, frequent, urban trips. I cannot think of a more high profile way to trial electric cars: in capital cities. I cannot think of a better way to show support to your country's electric car manufacturers: facilitate the first few thousand cars on the road.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

'Peak Travel' - we hate commuting

Hey, why don't you take the bus!
For many years I was a car commuter. I would get up at 6.15 and crawl to work around London's M25 motorway system for an hour and 15 minutes. And then do the same thing in the evening.

Fortunately Blackberry, Apple and Skype have transformed my workstyle. I am not alone, but I am one of the fortunate few.

Or so I thought. Chuck Squatriglia at Wired's Autopia reports that a study of eight industrialized countries shows passenger travel appears to have peaked in 2003.

The study suggests demand for travel and automobile ownership has reached a saturation point despite predictions, by the International Energy Agency, of 1.5 percent annual growth through 2030. The researchers concede the findings are not conclusive but say they could mean projections of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions will be lower than previously believed.
Schipper is a researcher at Global Metro Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University. He was joined in the research by Adam Millard-Ball, a doctoral candidate at Stanford. They analyzed travel trends between 1970 and 2008 in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia. They found a correlation between rising prosperity and passenger travel from 1970 to 2003. But passenger travel stopped growing after 2003 even as GDP per capita continued to rise. Motorized travel has plateaued at about 16,155 miles per year per person in the United States, 6,213 miles in Japan and between 8,077 and 10,563 miles in the other countries.
“Since 2003, travel in private vehicles has declined,” the authors wrote in their study. “Car ownership has continued to rise, but these cars are being driven less.”
More than rising fuel prices are at work here, as the researchers say. They did not delve too deeply into the reasons why motorized travel has plateaued, but they speculate on several factors:
  • Saturation in vehicle ownership. There are about 700 cars per 1,000 people in the United States, which is more cars than licensed drivers. The figure is about 500 cars per 1,000 people in most of the other countries. Car ownership in the U.S. has declined since 2007 due to the recession.
  • Rising fuel costs.
  • An aging population that doesn’t commute as often or as far.
  • Traffic congestion. People spend an average of 1.1 hours per day traveling. Schipper told Miller-McCune, “My basic thesis is, ‘There ain’t room on the road.’”
The authors note that if passenger travel remains the same even as automobiles become more fuel efficient, reducing transportation emissions may not be as daunting as previously believed. Encouraging news for western economies and commuters who think their daily drive is getting worse - now we need to find solutions for the exponential growth in China and India.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Electric vehicles: why diesel days are over.

No not that Diesel....
Like many people I drive a diesel car rather than a petrol car on the basis that of the two it is a cleaner car. I drive a diesel estate in fact, justified on the grounds that we are a one car family, do not drive far and take the train when possible, yet with three children and lots of 'stuff' to transport, it is necessary until EV estates hit the market.

My diesel estate car is average when judged by the standard g CO2 / km measurement. But therein lies the problem. As Richard Yarrow writes in The Telegraph, 'carbon dioxide is a bad thing because it is understood to contribute to global warming. But it's not the only bad thing. To conform to the European Union legislation, the car industry has got tough on just one element of air pollution and studiously ignored the other nasties belching invisibly from your car. Oxides of nitrogen (NOx), hydrocarbons, diesel particulates and carbon monoxide all are linked to breathing ailments, notably asthma. Bizarrely, you'll find no mention of these on the windscreen sticker.

Environmental Protection UK, formerly the National Society for Clean Air, works to promote innovation and awareness of pollution issues. Its policy officer Ed Dearnley explained public knowledge of the truth about car exhaust emissions was low. "It's not so much that the car industry has backed the wrong horse, but it's looking at one emission in isolation rather than taking account of all of them. CO2 might affect our children's children, but the NOx and particulates are affecting us all now."
He's right. Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee reported earlier this year that there will be 50,000 premature UK deaths this year, and every other year, because of poor air quality.

In terms of CO2, a very clean vehicle emits 100g/km or less while a dirty planet-killer is 300g/km. In short, there's not much range between good and bad [Keith - yes there is, 300%!]. Yet calculations using data from the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) reveal a vast difference on toxic emissions. The maths is as crude as "hydrocarbons + NOx" and some experts argue it's too simplistic, but it's based on manufacturer-supplied data and treats all cars the same.
It shows that the cleanest for toxic emissions is a Skoda Yeti 1.2 with 49 microgrammes per kilometre (mg/km). At the other end of the scale is a Nissan Pathfinder diesel, more than 20 times worse at 1,150mg/km.

Historically, there have been bigger offenders. The Cadillac Escalade, a 6.2-litre US sports utility vehicle once loved by Premiership footballers, pumps outs an eye-watering 2,080mg/km. Ironically, American consumer laws are held up as the beacon of best practice in this area, with all relevant emissions data readily available to the public.

Size of vehicle and engine are irrelevant. A Volvo V70 2.5-litre petrol – one the largest estate cars – rates at 201mg/km. But a 1.3-litre Fiat 500, a tiny city runabout with eco-friendly start/stop engine technology, puts out 484mg/km. It's half the size of the Volvo, but the emissions are more than twice as high.
Even cars marketed with specific eco-friendly badging aren't that green for NOx and hydrocarbons. A Mercedes B160 BlueEfficiency – that's the name for the German firm's "pioneering approach to optimising our vehicles for lower emissions… to provide you with cleaner motoring" – is rated by the VCA at 994mg/km.

The solution doesn't seem to be wildly complex. It would just mean every new car having another sticker to highlight the level of pollutants other than CO2 contained in the exhaust emissions. Better still, a single label with all necessary data to name and shame the worst offenders.
In the meantime, Volvo has come up with a temporary fix. In association with CleanGreenCars, the car maker has launched a free iPhone/iPad App which makes the simple calculation. Called "Emissions Equality", the user taps in the make and model of vehicle to get the VCA data.
Peter Rask, president of Volvo Car UK, said it wasn't just about Volvo promoting its range. "We do okay with this calculation – we've got one or two cars that top their class – but we're not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. This is us putting our head over the parapet and saying this is an issue that needs to be discussed and acted on.
"People think they're making an environmental statement simply by buying a green car because it has low CO2. In fact they could be making a big mistake."

TOXIC EMISSIONS (Hydrocarbons + NOx)
UK's best performers:
Skoda Yeti 1.2 105PS 49mg/km
Nissan Qashqai+2 2.0 71mg/km
Honda Insight 1.3 IMA S/SE 73mg/km
Porsche Cayman S 3.4 79mg/km
Honda Insight 1.3IMA ES-T 5dr 82mg/km

UK's worst offenders (mg/km)
Nissan Pathfinder 2.5 dCi 190 1,150mg/km
Seat Ibiza SC 1.2 12v 70PS 1,026mg/km
Citroën C5 1.6i THP 1,010mg/km
Audi A4 3.2 FSi Multitronic 999mg/km
Mercedes B-Class B160 BlueEfficiency 994mg/km
*Source: VCA

Looks like I need to take another look at that Nissan Leaf after all.

Electric car residual value forecast improves

A Nissan leaves.
This from Electric Vehicle News: Strong residual values are set to boost interest in Nissan’s Leaf electric car, which is now on sale in the UK.

The Leaf will begin arriving with customers in March, is valued at 40% of its original £28,990 cost on October’s CAP monitor ( at three years/30,000 miles.
However, for customers receiving the £5,000 discount on electric vehicles currently being offered by the Government, it will result in a residual value of 46% over the same period. This is in contrast to UK based Glass’s Guide who in June 2010 published that in their 'opinion' the Nissan Leaf would only retain 12.8% of it's value after 5 years.

The cost of charging an electric vehicle to drive its maximum potential range of 100 miles is usually six to ten times less expensive than travelling 100 miles in a petrol or diesel powered vehicle.

CAP's Mark Norman said: "The Leaf should have a shallower depreciation curve than conventional cars; the electric motor has fewer moving parts than an internal combustion engine so when mechanical issues and wear and tear begin to affect other cars, the Leaf should still be running well." He added that companies using the Leaf and other electric vehicles will gain more from the running costs equation the longer they keep them on the fleet.

(This is more in line with RVs for the G-Wiz EV in London, where its exemption from the London Congestion Charge and free / discounted parking and charging and exemption from Road fund licence helps to maintain higher resale values. This is in spite of the G-Wiz's lead acid batteries which have to be changed more frequently than li-ion batteries in the Leaf).

Monday, 3 January 2011

EVs: a reminder why.

I am rarely chilled by what I read in the media. This edited article written by Andrew Simms at, did exactly that and reminded me why I promote EVs and write this blog. Read on...

"You are not stuck in traffic," says the advert for a satnav system, "You are traffic."

The doors of perception often hang heavy on rusty hinges. Regardless of motivation, though, good advertising can work like good art. It issues an irresistible invitation to see the world differently. Here we leap from the familiar grumble about congestion, to the unsettling realisation that we are the thing we grumble about.

Behind the advert is a familiar irony, that the solution proffered merely relocates the problem, or creates a new one. We are not hapless victims of circumstances, we are deeply complicit in creating them. At the heart of our complicity is how we allow ourselves, actively or passively, to accept versions of reality. These may be offered, or emerge as unintended consequences of what we do. Sometimes we are so biddable that we allow our perception of reality to bend to breaking point. It is not merely the fault of weak self-awareness: are we stuck in traffic or are we the traffic? It is also due to our poor judgement of risk and what will give us the world we really want.

John Lanchester's brief but magisterial account of the banking collapse provides a perfect example.

The financial system is the (shaky) foundation upon which the economy rests. In recent decades money became not just the medium, but the message, and excuse for all sorts of antisocial behaviour. In turn, the financial system rested upon assessments of risk. To say that these, too, were shaky, doesn't quite capture the full picture. It mattered so enormously because – as we learned to our vast, incalculable cost – the foundations of our own livelihoods rested on this deeper foundation, understanding risk.

Here's what reality looked like down there. The edifice of modern, financial capitalism bet trillions of dollars and our collective economic future on the fact that people with often no income, job or assets were unlikely to default on large, relatively expensive mortgages.

To simplify, massively, after these debts had been chopped-up, sold-on and insured, the "masters of the universe" convinced themselves, using very impressive mathematics, that the chance of something going badly wrong (having lent lots of money to people with no obvious means of paying it back) would be, in Lanchester's words, "literally the most unlikely thing to have happened in the history of the universe".

The risks were, according to the CEO of Goldman Sachs, so-called "25 sigma" events. What's that? It's a number, a really big one, and worth quoting to demonstrate just how wrong the very influential and self-confident people who are running things can be. Imagine, says Lanchester, a number equal to 10 times all the particles in the known universe, and then move the decimal point 52 places to the right. Bang. We live with the consequences of a quite extraordinary collective delusion.

There were bad smells everywhere that should have alerted people in positions whose job it was to avoid collapse. But they hunkered down, ignored the signs. It was easier to go with the flow. Just like what we are doing now on the cusp of triggering potentially irreversible climatic upheaval.

What does it say when amid the global economic gloom a company like Control Risks, is handsomely in profit because it makes money by providing protection to oil companies in war zones?

Or, when measurements from the Mauna Loa observatory continue to show an inexorable rise of levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? Bad smells, all.

Stick with those numbers. First, take the mega bank crisis, meant to be an unimaginably remote risk, but which happened. Second, roll the dice of potentially runaway global warming. Roughly, when this blog counts down to zero, the odds of getting "locked-in" to crossing the global warming danger line of temperatures rising by 2C becomes worse than 50/50. Not a number so large that only a savant could imagine it, but something more likely than coming up "heads" on the toss of a coin. With odds like that you might expect a flurry of activity, a rush to save energy, a great crushing of urban 4x4s, a drive to change the nations infrastructure. What we've had is a secretary of state for energy and climate change, reportedly suggesting that deficit reduction should come before financing a green investment bank.

For decades the financial sector demanded and received deference from virtually every government in the western world. It got its own way. In the UK we rolled out the red carpet. Yet their perception of risk and reality was so wrong that they wrecked the thing they were left in charge of.

If that is allowed to happen again with climate change, and the odds are looking a lot worse, there will be no way back. What can words do this new year? Perhaps, aid a simple shift of perception that may allow for change.

We are not stuck with global warming. We are global warming.

71 months and counting …

More EV predictions for 2011

Pike Research just published - 'Electric Vehicles: 10 predictions for 2011'. Here are the most relevant / interesting conclusions:
  • “Range anxiety” will prove to be more fiction than fact'. (I agree)
  • 'Automakers will get pushback from EV owners regarding the length of time it takes to fully charge a vehicle'. (I agree, but it is only relevant for extended range driving and distress recharging)
  • 'Many EV charging stations will spend the majority of their time idle' (I agree, but that does not make their presence any less necessary to kickstart the market).
  • 'The landscape for charging equipment will undergo a seismic shift as the category swiftly moves toward becoming a commodity market.' (Maybe. We will see new business models which may off-set this to a degree, together with a focus on the back-end).
  • 'The majority of people who drive a plug-in vehicle won’t own it'. (i.e. they will hire or rent an EV first. Try before you buy - makes sense to me)
Have you noticed the number of conflicting articles around about electric vehicles at the moment? Some are predicting disappointing sales, others a golden age. The truth is nobody really knows...