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T.E.N. Electric Car News Feb 28, 2014: Gigafactory, FitEV Death, Range Anxiety, Wireless Charging

Welcome to episode twenty two of T.E.N! Short for Transport Evolved News, T.E.N. is recorded every Friday to help your weekend get off to a flying start by making sure you haven’t missed the big EV news stories of the week.

Weekly show about plug-in and electric vehicles. This week news about: Tesla’s planned Gigafactory, the end of production for the Honda Fit EV, driver-induced range anxiety, Nissan asks Tesla Model S drivers for help, Wireless Charging Toyota Prii, Better Place’s replacement, BMW i3 wins UK Car of the Year, why people buy electric cars, and living in the future.

Just ten minutes in length, T.E.N. delivers the EV news in a bite-sized format, and you’ll find links to all of the stories we cover in an accompanying article here on Transport Evolved.

As always, if you like your news delivered with a little more discussion and opinion thrown in, don’t forget to watch the original Transport Evolved show — live every Sunday at 7pm London time.

Enjoy the show, don’t forget to leave us feedback in the comments below, feel free to link to our video, and remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel!

T.E.N. Episode 23 Show Notes


After months of speculation, Tesla Motors finally released details of its long-promised GigaFactory this week, a Tesla-owned one-stop battery shop which will produce more lithium-ion battery cells in a single year than the combined total output of the lithium-ion cell production facilities currently operating in the world today.

In a press release yesterday, the Californian automaker said it is in the final stages of choosing a suitable site to build its monster factory from a short list of sites in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, and the factory itself would take up somewhere between five hundred and one thousands acres — and we think that’s before you account for all of the solar panels and wind turbines Tesla says it will install to power the factory from one hundred percent green energy.

As the largest battery manufacturing facility the world has ever known, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tesla’s decision to call its proposed factory the gigafactory in an attempt to emphasise its gargantuan size, or perhaps its estimated five billion dollar build cost.

But actually, the giga in gigafactory comes form the estimated fifty gigawatt-hours of lithium-ion battery packs Tesla says it will make each and every year by twenty twenty.

Fify gigawatt-hours, if you’re interested, equates to fifty million kilowatt-hours. or enough battery packs to build five hundred thousand Teslas.

Yeah. Big.

Power of Nightmares

We like the little Honda Fit — or Jazz — as it’s called in our part of the world. It’s fairly good-looking, combines the perfect mix of practicality and fuel efficiency, and is even available in electric only versions if you happen to live in certain U.S. states.

Except it soon won’t be.

Produced just to satisfy various zero emission mandates in California, the Fit EV will end production early this autumn after just eleven hundred have rolled off the production lines in two years, just as Honda promised when it launched the plug-in subcompact two years ago.

That’s despite massively long waiting lists for the remaining available cars and the admission from Honda itself that dealers are even keeping waiting lists of prospective owners just in case someone  changes their mind about buying one.

In short, Honda is killing a car it didn’t really want to make despite overwhelming customer demand, all because it famously doesn’t like electric cars all that much.

Oh, and it’s killing the Honda insight in both Europe and the U.S. too, citing poor sales.

The Power of Dreams seems to be all too quickly turning into the power of nightmares.

For shame, Honda.

Learning from the Best

It’s no secret that Nissan is desperate to learn from its own early-adopting LEAF drivers how best to build the electric cars that people want.  It even set up the LEAF Advisory Board — a collection of eminent LEAF drivers from around the world — to ensure both its communications and engineering endeavours met with customer expectations.

But this week, we learned that Nissan hasn’t just been asking its current and future EV customers for their advice. It’s been asking Tesla’s customers too.

According to Green Car Reports, Nissan arranged for an email to go out to a sub-set of Model S owners asking for them to take part in a small study. They were asked to complete a survey, keep a log of their driving and recharging habits and attend a 1 hour face-to-face interview.

We hear that many of the questions asked revolved around range and charging behavior, indicating that perhaps Nissan is keen to understand just how much in demand a longer-range Nissan LEAF — with perhaps a 150 mile per charge range — is.

You’re Limiting Your Car

We’re all familiar with the concept of Range Anxiety: the fear — often irrational in nature — that you won’t reach your destination because your electric car is going to run out of power.

Range Anxiety is typically worst in first-time EV drivers, diminishing with time and user experience, but German psychology doctoral candidate Thomas Franke suggests, Range Anxiety isn’t just an inconvenience: it can dramatically reduce your car’s real-world range.

As Franke detailed in his recently-released paper, the majority of EV drivers plan trips that are well within their car’s range, partly due to comfort issues. And while many will — at a push — go further, Franke says most don’t.

The challenge, Franke says, is to develop ways to help drivers learn and understand the real-world range of their car and use more of their car’s battery pack as a consequence.

Here at Transport Evolved,we think a ’reserve’ charge button to access extra capacity when required would be kind of neat, but as Franke hints, one thing is absolutely certain: EVs need a better way of helping drivers understand range and how far you really can go per charge.

Look Ma! No Wires!

Whatever your views on the subject, using inductive rather than conductive charging stations to refill an electric car’s battery pack is generally considered something of an inevitability for at least some parts of the electrified vehicle industry.

Now there’s a new test fleet of wirelessly-charging electric vehicles being tested as part of a pilot project being ran by Toyota. What’s more, the system is being tested on the smallest capacity plug-in vehicle on the market today: the 2014 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.

The pilot project will run a test fleet of Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrids fitted with inductive charging receivers located on the rear underside of the vehicle. Like other inductive charging test programs we’ve seen around the world, parking over a specially-designated parking space fitted with an inductive charging station will cause the car to automatically start charging the moment you turn it off.

Toyota’s prototype vehicles make use of the autonomous parking feature that has been part of the Toyota Prius lineup for more than seven years. Instead of simply identifying and reversing into a parking space however, the modified software ensures that the car is parked precisely over the inductive charging station, allowing for optimal efficiency and power transfer.  From the end-user’s perspective however, the additional functionality of inductive charging alignment operates seamlessly with Toyota’s already long-proven technology.

We’re interested to see just how this technology performs — and if it’ll catch on.

A Better Placed Solution?

It was about 9 months ago that Better Place – the company who brought real-world battery swapping to electric cars in Israel – filed for bankruptcy. Since then, electric car owners in Isreal have seen the company fail to be acquired twice and make do with charging when and where they can.

The situation may be looking up, though, as it was announced this week that Carasso Motors, an importer for Nissan and Renault cars —  along with Paz Oil Company —  have reached an agreement to bring rapid charging to Israel. The rapid charging stations are being described as ‘universal’ which leads us to believe they are dual headed AC/DC rapid charge stations capable of providing CHAdeMO and 44kW AC power.

By the end of Better Place less than 1000 cars were on the road in Israel that could make use of the battery swap stations they had installed. This is after Better Place ordered 100,000 cars from Renault in a non-binding agreement. Each battery swap station was fully automated and could swap a battery in a car in around 3 minutes. The only car which could use the stations was the now discontinued Renault Fluence ZE – which was built with this battery swap technology in mind… but sadly not with rapid charging capabilities.

In fact, the Nissan LEAF and the Renault ZOE historically never took off in Israel because of Better Place and a lack of rapid charging provision. But with Better Place gone and rapid charging being installed, expect that to change in the near future.

In some ways, the bankruptcy of Better Place may have had a positive effect on the uptake of electric cars in Israel by opening up the market.

It’s strange how things work out, eh?

UK car of the year

The BMW i3 might be getting a fair bit of stick in the U.S. right now for its agonisingly slow rollout, expensive lease plans and weird ordering process, but over in the UK love for BMW’s first mass-produced electric car is as strong as ever.

So it’s no surprise that the BMW i3 has just been awarded the first ever UK car of the year award, beating other finalists including the Porsche Cayman, Range Rover Sport, BMW 5 Series, Citroen C4 Grand Picasso and Audi A3 to the title.

While we’re pleased the BMW i3 won the overall title, showing yet again that electric cars have what it takes to beat the best gas-guzzlers out there, we’re a little disappointed to see that unlike the European Car of the Year award which tends towards a wide swathe of cars covering many different price points and markets, the UK car of the year list was almost exclusively made up of luxury and high-end brands.

Still, it’s good to see an EV winning, right?  Congratulations BMW!

Why’d You Buy?

A californian study into EV buying practices in the state has revealed this week that while we all have different reasons for dumping the pump, our principal reasons for making the switch to electric may influence the car we end up buying.

Nissan LEAF owners, for example, are most likely to cite environmental concerns as the main reason they switched to electric, while Chevy Volt owners are most likely to cite gas savings at the top of their priorities list.

An overwhelming majority of Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid drivers pick neither, saying their principal reason for buying the limited-range plug-in was to gain single-occupant access to California’s HOV lanes in rush hour, presumably saving them a lot of time in the process.

Here at Transport Evolved, we’ve got several different motivating factors to buying our EVs, including the fact that EVs are fun and exciting to drive, cost very little to run, and have bucket loads of torque. Oh, and they don’t smell.

But why have or will you dump the pump for a plug? We’re keen to find out.

Living in the Future

If you’re a child of the 1970s or 1980s, the chances are you spent a lot of time watching television shows in which the hero or heroine wore a wrist watch that also doubled up as a communication device, allowing them to place calls, find the baddies, or in the case of “The Hoff” in Knight Rider, communicate directly with his super-intelligent self-driving car KITT.

Thirty years later at the dawn of the smart watch era, we’re just starting to see watches clever enough to interact with us and the world around us, so it comes to no surprise to us that an open-source advocate and programmer has just pushed an app to the Pebble watch store that lets you control a Tesla Model S with the $150 smart watch.

Enter Erik de Bruijn from the Netherlands and founder of 3D printing business Ultimake. A keen EV advocate and Model S owner, de Bruijn uses open-source solutions wherever they present themselves, and wanted to develop a way of interfacing his Model S with the Pebble smartwatch.

I have a pebble, and I’ve duly downloaded the Tesla app… sadly I don’t have a Tesla to try it on.

But it’ still cool, right?


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