Toyota RAV4 EV Test Drive at Downtown Berkeley, Toyota

I just test drove the 2012 Toyota Rav4 EV and I was in for quite the treat! In case you are wondering why the 2012 model in 2013, the vehicles are pretty much identical except for price as the 2012 as some huge incentives to help them sell. From a distance it’s hard to tell that this is an EV. The vehicle is more aerodynamic than the previous Rav4 but still looks like a Rav4. Thanks to the battery placement under the vehicle cargo capacity remains just as generous — a rare feature for an EV!

Acceleration is quick thanks to the power train, a detuned version of that in the Tesla Model S. It handles that power very well for an SUV and the suspension is firm but forgiving. From a driving perspective there was nothing to complain about. While it was quick in regular mode it felt like a performance car in sport mode! These strengths more than compensated for weaknesses such as the absence of an easy way to route to charging stations using the built in Nav system.

With the current $9,300 rebate from Toyota, and the combined federal/CA credit/rebate of $10,000, it’s quite a good deal. So did I buy it? No. For two big reasons. While the range is generous for a current generation EV, it’s not enough to go on a long trip and with the excellent cargo capacity that’s exactly what my family would want to be able to do with it. Toyota also left out the option of DC fast charge support so charging in route is not realistic unless one has the time to stop overnight. Add to that the fact that the fastest supported charging is through a 10kw charger and these are rather uncommon. Using a 6.6kW charger would make this truly an all night affair.

Next EV I’m going to look at is the Ford CMax Energi

Back in the shop

My scooter is unfortunately back in the shop to have a cell in my battery pack replaced. Seems that the voltage must not have balanced with the other cells and that led to failure of the cell. This is the risk of not using a full BMS system and using a more primitive balancing solution instead.

The new cell is replaced and I will be picking up my Z6000 from Electric Motorsport tomorrow. This time I’ll be hyper-vigilant in checking the cell voltages and will baby the scooter for a while till things look good.

Electric Vehicles (EVs) Already Dead?

Have you read the new article published by Reuters today? They are claiming that electric vehicles are at a dead end and that hydrogen powered cars using fuel cells are the real answer. You can see the article here.

I’ve posted my response and am waiting for it to be approved. In the meantime you can read it here:
Even if using hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is feasible, this article makes some big false assumptions. As others have mentioned, creating an abundant supply of hydrogen along with the means to deliver it is quite difficult — unless of course you use readily available fossil fuels to produce that hydrogen. Existing gas stations could generate hydrogen from unleaded gas, diesel, biodiesel, or potentially natural gas. All of these methods miss the mark as they will result in emission of greenhouse gasses.

Take this a step further and lets be super optimistic and imagine that we have found a way to produce an abundance of hydrogen without polluting our atmosphere. Well, even then we have two new problems. Some hydrogen will be leaked either through production, distribution or from storage tanks inside and outside of vehicles. See this article from Science Magazine: http://www.caltech.edu/content/hydrogen-economy-might-impactearths-strat… which discusses the negative impact on our ozone layer from released hydrogen.

What about all the water vapor that will be created from these hydrogen powered wonder-cars? Not only is water produced, but very hot water vapor as steam. Whether the amount released will be enough to contribute to climate change is debated, it does warrant consideration.

Our biggest challenges seem to be cultural, not technical. People want to purchase a vehicle that offers the range that they rarely need. Most of our time is spent driving locally (for most of us, there are of course, exceptions). If we need to go further we can use an auto-train, take a bus, train, or plane. If we need one we can rent a car in our destination city or where available use a car sharing option.

Even with our existing culture (in America) EVs can assuage our needs and wants. Tesla has shown us that not only are EVs with 300 mile range possible, but they can be quickly charge in route — for free if you are lucky enough to be traveling in an area with Tesla solar charging stations. Battery technology will continue to evolve as will our ability to generate electricity from renewable sources. EVs are here to stay even if their acceptance takes a bit longer than many of us hope.

I want to also take a minute to clarify some things that other commenters have stated above. Firstly, the Boeing 787 uses a different battery technology than what is currently used in electric cars. The technology used allows for denser storage of energy but is less safe. I don’t believe anyone is questioning the fact that gasoline has a higher energy density then batteries.

Oilfield discoveries peaked in 1965 at approximately 55 billion barrels per year. The rate of discoveries of new sources of oil has fallen since down to 10 billion for each year from 2002-2007. The fact that we are getting better at exploiting past discoveries (the reason why production is increasing in the U.S.) is only good news in the short-term as it means that we are using it up faster. Add to this the global growth of vehicle sales, especially in China and we can see that more cars, more drives and less production of gasoline will cause a real problem. In our lifetimes the price of oil is likely to increase considerably as demand grows and supply wanes. In our children’s lifetime oil will not be a realistic alternative.

Some would say that future generations will deal with these problems and that technology will provide solutions. We say this in one conversation while discussing how to save money for our children’s college education in the next. Clearly we have concerns and responsibility for their future. Getting to the point where renewable alternatives to fossil fuels are as good or better will take a long time. This is why it’s so important for all of us to come together and support alternative technologies now.

We have been part of the problem for our entire lives (some less then others) as we depend on petroleum every day. Are you willing to be part of the solution?

-Rudi
http://www.evchronicles.com

New Tax Breaks for 2 and 3 Wheeled Vehicles including Electric Scooters, Motorcycles and eBikes.

By now most of us have heard about how the “Fiscal Cliff” was addressed in a new tax deal that raises some taxes and maintains some previous incentives.

The big news is that the minimum requirement is a 2.5kw battery back down from 4kw which makes this available to many more buyers. The incentive is 10% of cost up to a max of $2,500.

Unfortunately, the Electric Motorsports Native Z6000 falls a bit short of that. Finding a way to squeeze 60ah cells into its compact body would solve that problem and give an almost 50% range boost as well. The bigger capacity cells are similar in size but 4 inches taller which presents a big challenge. But the extra cost would be negligible after the rebate!

Read more about the new tax incentives for evs and other green purposes here.

4000 Miles on the Electric Scooter

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4000 Miles on the Electric Scooter

Four thousand miles in two and a half years in a car isn’t much but on a scooter it’s a bigger deal, especially when it’s all on local streets! I took this photo over a month ago but have been busy traveling so haven’t ridden much since. My scooter has also spent a week of the time in the shop trying to figure out why my performance has so severely dipped. My guesses had included the controller and the possibility of a need to replace the brushes in my motor but the problem turned out to be even simpler. One of the sixteen cells in my lithium ion battery pack had failed, presumably due to a defect. The cell is under warranty so I just paid a small sum for the labor to replace it and my scooter is super fast again! A three volt+ drop is a big deal for a lithium ion pack so no surprise that it would have had a huge affect. It’s now quicker to hit 40mph then it was to hit 30mph with the bad cell.

There remains a possibility that the battery balancer that connect this cell to the adjacent one is at fault and if so the problem may recur. I’ll be bringing it back into EMS so they can check the cell voltages in a week or so just in case that is the problem. In the meantime, it’s great to have the peppy performance that made this scooter the awesome ride it is.

How well as the Z6000 held up in its first 4000 miles?

That’s the big question and the answer is quite mixed. The motor has been rock solid. The rear tire needed replacement but that’s the downside of sticky tires and well worth the trade-off in my book. These tires perform great in both dry and in wet conditions. The batteries are hard to judge given the likely defect so I’ll leave them out of my assessment. Here are the problems I’ve had to date:

  • Two welds came loose inside the scooter. One was re-welded the other was secured using zip ties. Not as good as a weld should be but it’s holding fine.
  • The controller failed and needed to be replaced (under warranty)
  • Kickstand cutoff switch failed, needed replacement
  • Throttle failed, needed replacement
  • Brake reservoir leaked and needed to be replaced, fluid that leaked damaged paint (see picture below)

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Electric Motorsports has been good about all of the service and have been generous enough to only charge for a portion of the time they have spent working on my scooter. Fortunately, I’ve only needed to be towed once in those 4000 miles and with all of these issues. And it’s hard to find an electric scooter that would perform as well and be a better deal. The Vectrix Vx-2 for example would have cost me more and at that price would have come with silica-gel batteries rather than the Lithium ones I have now. The VX-1 is a completely different class of vehicle. The Zapino, imported by Zapworld, doesn’t perform as well (in terms of power and handling) and is known for it’s own quirks.

Until these scooters are made by major manufacturers who provide greater quality control I’m afraid dealing with some headaches will be inevitable. I still love my scooter and rely on it for my daily transportation, but if I didn’t have other options to fall back on including public transportation, zipcars parked just a block away, and the occasional chance to use the family car (which I my wife uses primarily), this wouldn’t be as practical an option.

 

 

 

Update on the Native Z6000 now 4000 Miles driven.

I’ve now been driving my Z6000 for over two years. It’s still a great way to get around town but has had its share of problems. One brake fluid reservoir corroded and had to be replaced. I’ve had one tire replaced — the stock tires are sticky which results in great performance and not so great tread life.

I also had the seat replaced which wasn’t expensive but really didn’t last long in part because it was parked outside for extended periods. Some of the plastic cracked when they were servicing it and they replaced it (EMS) without charging me for what was quite a bit of labor.

In summary, I like the scooter but it’s been a bit of a headache to keep up with the issues that have arisen.

Electric Scooter Picks-Up Model MBAs

Just a week and a half ago my scooter got some well overdue attention at the semi-annual Capstone Showcase event for Presidio Graduate School. I brought the scooter with me to class and to the showcase event since my final project, Social Outlet, is a solution that provides all of the needed infrastructure to support widespread adoption of two-wheeled electric vehicles, including scooters, motorcycles and bicycles with the ability to charge whenever and wherever needed.

I took the Z6000 with me on BART that morning having received reassurance from the BART Police that taking a near 300lb vehicle on BART is perfectly ok as long as it’s not powered by a volatile fuel or a Segway. This was my second time taking my scooter on BART and it went without a hitch, save some shocked looks from fellow passengers. I didn’t have as much luck at the evening Capstone Showcase event, where shortly after taking this picture I was told I had to remove it due to a potential fire hazard. I tried to explain that it was safer than an incandescent light bulb but failed to make a dent in their official policy. Good thing the ability to take EVs into buildings isn’t a requirement for their adoption!

Given the relative ease of taking one of these vehicles on BART I can’t see why anyone would want to buy a gasoline powered one in San Francisco or the East Bay. It is awesome having a scooter in either urban area and so easy to park and not hard to find places to charge up either!

Native Z6000 and Zero MX Share Same ETEK Motor, Who would have known?

In the very cool news for a Z6000 scooter owner, department, it turns out that the ETEK EMC-R motor used in the Zero MX Electric Motorcycle is identical to the one used in the Z6000, the only difference — the controller in the Zero MX is not programmable, the one in the Z6000 is and I’ve used that to my advantage to decide on my personal trade off between power and range. The other difference is that my Z6000 has a 300amp controller while the Zero has one that maxes out at 400amps. Of course with my comparably tiny battery pack — bigger would not be better.

I hear from the guys at EMS that the 2012 version of their Z6000 has an updated motor that is silky smooth and brushless. It does away with hall effect sensors and gives smoother power delivery. I’d guess it would also provide longer battery life and better range. The upgraded motors will make it into the 2012 Zero line-up.

Electric Motorsport Z6000 AKA Z6 Quality and Service Problems

I new that I was taking a risk purchasing my scooter from a small local business that was importing from overseas. Still I felt better about purchasing from a local business that was at least doing final assembly in the United States and I felt a good connection with the CEO, TK. The fact that I could drive the scooter home from the shop rather than having it shipped was a big plus as well.

Unfortunately, while the scooter in many ways has been great, in others it’s been a bit of a headache. The biggest problem I’m running into now is interrmittant making it hard to diagnose. Sometimes, without warning, the motor simply fails to respond and I find myself without any power at all. At a minimum this is frustrating and inconvenient, at worst its downright dangerous. Sometimes I’ve riding along at 40mph with traffic on all sides, rapidly slowing isn’t comforting.

I’ve already brought my scooter in and EMS failed to find the cause of the problem. The problem hadn’t recurred for a while until the cooler and wetter weather of autumn arrived and now it can happen several times in a short ride.

I’ve also had some headaches when trying to change the brake light and turn signals. The assembly for the turn signals is poorly and cheaply designed. Pushing a new light into the socket caused the socket to sink into the body of the scooter. Ultimately, I needed to carefully hold the socket in place with needle nosed pliers while gently placing the replacement bulb into it. This was tedious and more of an art than a science. Also, unlike most scooters sold in the United States, the turn signals are not mounted on a stalk making them more visible but are flush with the rear of the scooter. I’m not sure if this is really DOT compliant but it’s definitely not as safe or easy to service.

The range of my scooter has deteriorated over the 18 months or so that I’ve been riding it and I have been considering spending the big bucks to upgrade to lithium ion (LiPo) batteries. It’s hard however to commit more funds to this with such more reliability. I’ve written to Todd to try to address this issue and if the problems can be addressed will go forward with the upgrade.

I’ll keep you all posted!