Transport Evolved News Panel Talk Show 217: A Matter of Quality

On today’s Transport Evolved: The Tesla Model S aces another crash test, Toyota says no-one wants plug-in cars, and the U.S. DoE tries to find a way of making hydrogen more cheaply.

These stories and more on today’s Transport Evolved, with Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield, Jim Motavalli and Matt Stevens.

Welcome to today’s show. This week, Nikki is joined by Jim Motavalli and Mat Stevens.

Contributor to the New York Times, Plug-in, Mother Nature Network and regular on NPR’s Car Talk, Jim Motavalli is a specialist in everything green. During his long career as a freelance journalist, Jim has written on a number of important topics surrounding clean energy and transportation, covering everything from the birth of the modern electric car through to environmental policy and greenwashing.

He is also an accomplished author, with four books to his name and a further three which he has edited.

Canadian engineer and businessman Matt Stevens is possibly the only person we’ve ever had on the show who can claim to have worked on the design of an extra-terrestrial vehicle, having worked on everything from lunar rovers to a stealth snowmobile. He also happens to hold a doctorate in Chemical Engineering, which explains why his video on electric car battery degradation is required viewing.

These days, he works on making personal fuel economy labels for fleets and individuals looking to pick the best vehicle for their own circumstances. His company, CrossChasm, also happens to be behind the recent successful MyEV data logger app IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign. Matt is also an Adjunct Processor at the University of Waterloo, past-chairman of Electric Mobility Canada, and a Chevrolet Volt driver.

You can reach Jim via his website, or touch base with Matt via the CEO corner on the FleetCarma website.

Part One

We chat to Jim and Matt about what they’ve been up to recently, including the tragic loss of Jim’s former colleague Tom Magliozzi of NPR’s CarTalk and an update from Matt on the latest news from the MyEV project.

We also ask Jim to talk about the political challenges faced by the current administration with Senator Ted Cruz and James Inhofe set to take key roles in the Senate Science committee and Environment and Public Works Committee respectively.

Also (because we liked it so much last time,) we’re going to ask Matt to give us a 101 on battery degradation: why, how it works, and how electric car owners can understand it better.

Also in part one

Craig Scott, Toyota’s U.S. manager of Advanced Technologies, made a bit of a stir this week in an LA Times article when he claimed that no-one wanted Toyota to build electric cars. Using it as justification for Toyota’s focus on Hydrogen Fuel Cell technologies, Scott has made a little bit of a wave in the electric car world, and has even prompted an online petition demanding Toyota continue making plug-ins. But is the plug-in world wasting its time by demanding Toyota spend time and money building plug-ins when the company has no interest whatsoever in plug-in car adoption?

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Part Two

This week, Tesla Motors held its official Q3 earnings call for 2014, detailing its profits and losses for Q3 2014.  Among the news was a third-quarter profit of $3 million using non-GAAP methods, and a $74.4 million loss using GAAP methods, a widening of previous losses driven mostly by high R&D costs.

The Tesla Model X is delayed.

The Tesla Model X is delayed.

But among the generally good news — the same week that the Model S received a 5-star EuroNCAP review — came the confirmation that Tesla has made the decision to yet again delay the launch of its Model X crossover SUV, something that Tesla CEO Elon Musk attributed to Tesla’s wish to deliver a high-quality car with no flaws. The third big delay in the Model X production, we ask if the car will really debut in Q3 2015 as now promised, or if we’ll have to wait even longer. And has Tesla swallowed more than it should have with a stylish yet mechanically-challenging in the design of those falcon-wing doors?

Do hydrogen-fuelled vehicles have a future?

Do hydrogen-fuelled vehicles have a future?

Determined to help spread the growth of the currently expensive, carbon-intensive hydrogen fuel economy, the U.S. Department of Energy has launched a $1 million H2 Refuel H-Prize to develop home-based hydrogen refuelling, designed to find a way of making hydrogen on a smaller scale using either hydrolysis or gas reforming.

But does hydrogen fuel really have a future? Is there something missing about a possible future application that we’ve missed? Or are other forces coming into play that are designed to make hydrogen something it isn’t?

The EPA is responsible for many things, including officially approving gas mileage figures for cars sold in the U.S. But this week, Hyundai and Kia have been the topic of a $300 million fine for misstating various fuel economy figures for their cars, figures which make their cars look more environmentally friendly than they really are.


2014 Kia Soul

Kia and Hyundai have been fined for misstating the fuel economy of their cars.

Does this yet again reiterate a problem for the current EPA tests? Who is really to blame, and how did these errors come to be in the first place? Further, with plug-in cars and other alternative-fuelled vehicles on the market, isn’t it time we redefine how fuel economy figures are derived?

European company Continental is probably known best for its car tyres, but alongside its tyre production, the firm is actually the second-biggest manufacturer of car components in Europe, providing many of Europe’s biggest automakers with parts for their cars.

Continental und SK Innovation

But this week, Continental admitted that a program it first launched in 2012 with South-Korean SK Innovation to develop, produce and distribute lithium-ion battery packs for electric cars is in jeopardy. Originally intended to last for five years, the program would have seen the duo operate as a tier one automotive supplier of lithium-ion battery packs for electric cars, but now Continental says that there’s no money to be made, primarily due to slow uptake of plug-in cars. But with the battery industry soon set to be dominated by Tesla Motors, Panasonic and LG Chem, we wonder if Continental’s real worry is its own abilities to compete in an ever-competitive marketplace.

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Part Three

The battle between plug-in car owners and landlords of condos and multi-family dwellings is a long and well-known one: as well as making it difficult for plug-in car owners to plug in, many condo owners have banned plug-in cars from charging anywhere on site. In California, where a change in law mandates all new multi-family dwellings have plug-in car charging offered, things are on the change, but in other parts of the U.S., there’s still a battle for access to the plug.

Should HOAs be allowed to charge a premium on electricity used to charge electric cars from shared supplies?

Should HOAs be allowed to charge a premium on electricity used to charge electric cars from shared supplies?

This week, we covered a story from Detroit, where a Chevrolet Volt owner was asked by her local homeowners association to pay a 300% markup on the cost of charging her Chevrolet Volt in the detached garage of her condo, which unlike her condo has a shared power supply with the rest of the garages. Despite her offering to pay $50 for the electricity — the amount she says she’s used — her local HOA wanted her to pay $200 and cut her off when she refused to pay.

What lessons can be learned, and how could HOAs work with plug-in car owners to ensure they have a chance to charge at home?

The European Country of Norway is unarguably the most electric-car friendly country in the world, offering generous incentives designed to get people behind the wheel and plugging in.

In Norway, plug-in cars are no-longer niche.

In Norway, plug-in cars are no-longer niche.

This week, we heard news that details for the first time the fact that Norway’s electric car market share is now far from niche, with more than 15 percent of all new cars sold in Norway having a plug. For reference, that’s more than three times the market share held by Ford’s F-series pickup trucks in the U.S.

Admittedly, the Norwegian car market isn’t exactly big: in fact its population is just a little larger than that of the greater Atlanta area in Georgia. But what kind of lessons can we learn from Norway? What will Norway do now that it is approaching its 50,000 electric car target? And will consumers keep buying electric if and when incentives die?

This week, the first VW e-Golf in the U.S. was delivered to Bruce Oberg in Oregon. Winner of a special online charity auction, Mr. Oberg paied $41,000 for the privilege of being the first e-Golf customer in the U.S., paying well over the $36,265 list price for the car.


But the e-Golf auction — which attracted plenty of attention, did far better than Toyota’s recent green-car sweepstake for the chance to win its first U.S. market Hydrogen Fuel Cell Sedan. Despite being focused in LA — the FCV’s prime marketplace — only 148 of the $100 tickets were sold, representing a faction of the vehicle’s actual cost. Are we to conclude that there really isn’t a market for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the U.S.? Are consumers put off by high prices, uncertain refuelling, or something else?

And finally…

When it launches next spring, the Tesla Model S P85D will be the fastest production sedan on sale in the world. It will also be the fastest electric car on sale, managing the 0-60 sprint in just 3.1 seconds.

But this week, we heard from Swizerland where a team of students have broken a new electric car record, travelling 0-100 kph in 1.785 seconds in a tiny one-seat Formula Student car they built. Called Grimsel, the tiny electric car has been wowing spectators all through the Formula Student season, and no doubt will return next year in an even faster, even crazier guise.  We want one.


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