Electric Vehicles: Forward To The Past!

We can’t ignore it anymore, alternative fueled cars are in desperate needs in the not so distant future. With mother earth’s limited oil supply, we are going to  see a steep oil price increase again once the economy has recover. Honda and Toyota effort of introducing hybrid technology in cars are still wayward in term of reception by the consumers… Mostly because of the price, but mostly because it’s still uses fuel. Logically speaking, rather than spending a US$20K  (in the United States) to buy a Honda Insight, most people can just do purchasing a Fit for US$5K less, and use that US$5K to fuel the car for years to come.

Let’s look back home here in Indonesia. Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius can be had for… Prepare… Rp. 500 Million or roughly US$50K!!! That’s more than twice the price of Yaris or Fit/Jazz! The Yaris can be had for Rp. 200 Million (US$20K), and the Fit/Jazz can be had for 220 Million (US$22K)… Let’s all relax and make a very simple calculation here…

You want me? Pay me…

My SX4 consumes around 1 Liter for 9 Kilometer (21 US MPG) of full inner city driving. With fuel price (grade 92) is hovering steady at Rp. 6500 (US$ 0.65) per Liter, I pay around Rp 300.000,00 (US$30) per week, and totaling Rp. 1.2 Million (US$ 120) per month. Considering that fuel prices might gone up in the next months because of recovering world economy, I might just bloat the number to 1.5 or Rp 1.8 Million (US$ 180) per month. Then, considering people uses a car up to 4 years (or until their lease is up), I’m  going to multiply my monthly fuel costs by 4 years (given I work somewhere near my old office, even then, 1:9 is already astronomically low)… And voila! I have to pay around Rp 108 Million (US$1008). Do mind I got the car for Rp 169 Million (US$16900), combined with 4 years of fuel, my operational and initial cost of ownership of my car is a measly Rp 277 Million (US$27700), still far less than buying a hybrid in Indonesia. So it goes to say, it’s silly to buy a hybrid, at least in Indonesia. Most people didn’t know this, they just arrogantly purchase the car to say they help the environment or crap… They certainly help made Honda and Toyota wallet grew thicker along the process.

Cheaper to own and fuel for 4 years than a hybrid… Figure it out yourself

Still though, price aside, Hybrids do return insane amount of fuel economy. Then again, it still rely on fuel… So it cannot have the “car of the future” title. One of the most hype alternative energy nowadays is the revival of electric vehicles. You take a hybrid, and lop off the internal combustion engine. Make the car plugable to any existing electrical terminal and voila! Electric cars.

Chevrolet Volt leads the way in this field. Volt is the first full electric vehicle with the biggest twist in the story as any M. Night Shyamalan movies. It is through and through an electric vehicle… But wait! It also has an internal combustion engine… Err… What’s an internal combustion engine doing in an electric vehicle? Ha! Told you it has a twist. The internal combustion engine is not called an engine because it doesn’t the drive the car, instead, it’s a generator that burns fuel to recharge the battery that propels the Volt electric engine. Crazy science! Thus, the car’s battery can be recharged through traditional home outlet, or it can be recharge along the way with its fuel burning generator.

Chevrolet claims 230 MPG or 1 Liter for 97 Kilometers for the car using US EPA estimate. Obscenely fantastic figure. But then, the Internet and automotive in general came with an uproar for the claim. Frankly I find it misleading too. Volt electric engine uses electricity (d’oh) which doesn’t equal to EPA measurement which measures a car’s fuel consumption using fuel. When the Volt is fully charged, it uses no fuel whatsoever, until the battery charge is at 30%, then the generator kicks in and recharge the battery. With that said, Chevrolet should just mention the range of the car using fully charged battery and full tank not the fuel consumption. But still, Chevrolet has the right to call the 230 MPG claim because the car after all consumes fuel (if needed), at least not as preposterous as our next subject…

A smirk of truth

Enter Nissan Leaf, a fully deck through and through electric car. It doesn’t have a generator built in like the Volt… And you know what? Nissan claims 367 MPG or 1 Liter for 156 Kilometers… Atrociously misleading for me. The car is an electric car and doesn’t use any fuel whatsoever, so why does there’s a fuel consumption estimate there? It’s just wrong. Some people (probably a Nissan fan) argue that the claim is right. You take into account the KwH to charge the car, convert it into energy equivalent of fuel and other miscellaneous number crunching few knew. Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford motor company even had a say on this fiasco. He say that the rating is meaningless and “this question devolves into madness”. Madness…

Blue madness

I call this whole Electric Vehicle phenomenon as silly. Because before the Internet was a hit in the late 90s, Honda, Toyota , Ford and even GM already had Electric Cars back in 1997 in the States. Honda EV+, Toyota Rav4-EV, Ford Ranger EV and GM EV1 was at that time the pinnacle of electric cars breakthrough. The cars wasn’t made public, rather it’s available as a special lease for very special people (and rich people) in America. The cost of lease ranged from US$399 to US$599 monthly, a very pricey lease indeed. However, like Nissan Leaf, the cars have an average of 100 Miles of range… And that’s 12 years ago (does Nissan improves anything except adding another set of door on the Leaf?).

This dinky car served as Honda advanced future projects

However, America was only graced by the might of electric cars for just a short while… Shorter still than even Honda lease plan of three years. Introduced in 1997, Honda EV+ was canceled by 1999 to be replaced by first generation Insight. But the true story behind it was far more darker.

According to HondaEV website, there’s political force in play shutting down all oil independent cars in production. Back then, the amount of battery needed to solely power electric cars are a lot, and there’s only one specific battery that is capable to power these cars, and it’s called Toyota-Panasonic EV95. General Motors, back in 1994 bought the patent rights to these batteries, and with single low blow in 2000 sell the rights to Texaco, that’s right A FREAKING OIL COMPANYGM sell alternative energy technology to a company that sells mainstream energy… Good work GM. The next move by Texaco for these oil free cars are to off course, SUE Toyota-Panasonic for the batteries, and Honda EV+ is floating around without a battery. A quote from HondaEV site couldn’t be more heartbreaking for electric car fans…

On Oct. 10, 2000, GM sold control of the patent rights needed for the EV-95 batteries to Texaco. On Oct. 16, Texaco announced it would merge into Chevron (Standard Oil). The next year, Chevron funded a lawsuit against Toyota-Panasonic et al., and the battery production line for the EV-95 batteries was halted.

Toyota paid $30,000,000 and received the right to make small batteries for the Prius, too small to plug in. Toyota shamefully made a virtue of its defeat by bragging that the Prius could not be plugged in. In reality, it was a great disgrace for Toyota to have to bow and scrape to Chevron’s unit that controlled the patents.

The HondaEV suddenly had no battery, no more could be made or sold.

Honda EV+ was left without any battery, and Toyota bows down to the pressure, making the Prius without any ability to be powered by the battery alone even after US$30 Million settlement. So folks, this is why your beloved Prius cannot operate in full battery mode, politics, not technological limit.

There’s also another barrier for entry on these electric cars, and that’s price. Back in 1997, Honda EV+ was unofficially priced at US$53900 (based on calculation of lease). Probably because it was a limited production model, as only 300 or so models produced. Still, it’s 1997 and US$53900 is nothing to sneezed at, times inflation, today the EV+ would costs around US$72000 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator). Now, Nissan hasn’t disclosed any price yet for its Leaf electric car… But do they have the technology to mass produce cheap electric technology? The thing is, battery and  high output reliable electric motors are expensive because both didn’t had its spot on the stage yet, so mass production (economy of scale) hasn’t been achieved. Electric cars will be expensive that’s for sure. At the very very very very very very very least, Nissan will have to heavily subsidize the car, and even so, personally I think Nissan would have to sell the car at US$30000… And that’s quite a lot.

Still though, does electric car is our future? If anything goes by… Yes, you can just plug it in at your home and you drive it the next morning… But it does have its own drawbacks. What do you think current electrical power plant uses as fuel? Hydro? Wind? Geo thermal? Anything renewable? Not quite. Developed countries power plants uses nuclear which produces toxic waste, and most developing countries still relies on old fashioned fossil fuel and coal. If your community is powered using renewable power source then it’s fine and dandy if you use electric cars. But what happens when your community is still powered using fossil fuel? You just hide behind all those fancy electric car gimmick and behind that all, you are still contributing to the use of fossil fuel. Nissan account this notion, that’s why they put MPG rating on the Leaf… But how they come it with the number is between Nissan, the fans, mother earth, the hippies and God.

One proposed alternative energy is to use Hydrogen, as Honda, Mercedes Benz and countless automotive company has proven with their concept cars, it is the fuel of the future. Yes, hydrogen is converted to electricity, making it somewhat an electric car allover again but still, it’s hydrogen. Any 5th grader would know, hydrogen is two part of molecule that forms water (H2O), that’s right folks, hydrogen can be extracted from water (and the last time I waddled through flooded local roads, we have lots of it). However, producing hydrogen is not easy, and in regular cases it takes more energy to produce usable amount of hydrogen through the act of electrolysis. Advance research is underway to extract hydrogen from water with the help of algae, but still usable amount extracted using this method is still a long way down.

Blue Efficiency? The car is green, get it, green because it emits water vapor exhaust…

Honda, Mercedes Benz and leading automotive makers has interest on hydrogen powered economy. Honda already even made FCX Clarity, world’s first dedicated-designed-commercially available (although only through lease) vehicle to be powered using hydrogen. Dedicated because they built a car specific to the engine, with fancy aerodynamics. Unlike Mercedes Benz ‘s F-Cell line of cars, which is an engine option on top of existing line of cars, primarily the A-Class and the B-Class (future dedicated model is coming based upon the B-Class though).

Honda FCX Clarity named 2009 Green World Car

So electric vehicles… Why forward to the past? Because technically, every known electric vehicle technology is just recycled or just improved upon from its predecessors. Nissan Leaf bull crap MPG comment aside, it has a range of 100 Miles, the same like Honda EV+ 12 years ago. The same technology can be found on FCX Clarity electric motor, taken straight from Honda EV+, although modified.

All in all, fancy terms and whatever, it’s nothing when real world driving experience falls short of the claims. Worse still, claims that are mind boggling to begin with. Nissan, stick to your GoTziRa.


Nissan unveils zero emission “Leaf”

Chevrolet “Volt” & Nissan “Leaf”  MPG claim under fire from Bill Ford

Honda EV+ complete history

US Bureau of Labor Statistic inflation calculator

Honda FCX Clarity Japanese website

Honda FCX Clarity named 2009 World Green Car

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