Fiat offers a new color combo for the 500e!

I just found out today that Fiat has responded to customer demand and is going to be offering the color combo some of us wanted all along! They will now offer the black interior option, complete with orange striping along with the electric orange exterior color. For those who weren’t excited about having to try to keep a white interior clean, this is great news!

This information is courtesy of McKevitt Fiat in Berkeley, CA who called me today to ask me my final color choice for my Fiat 500e which should arrive in 4-6 weeks! the timing is hard to predict as they are still arriving on a rather haphazard schedule as Fiat struggles to meet the far great than expected demand for there first electric vehicle.

The only remaining mystery is whether or not the front fascia will be colored orange or white. It usually is colored to match the cars interior color but based on one sample my dealer has seen, it is likely to be white rather than black. This maybe due to the fact that orange cars were all planned with white interiors in mind. Hopefully this will have changed by the time I receive my car as the black and orange contrast is striking!

 

The Fiat 500e Recall is Complete — They are shipping now!

If you’ve been reading my blog and noticed the new header image from a few months ago it might not be any surprise to hear that we ordered our very own Fiat 500e some months ago. Like everyone else, we’ve been waiting as patiently as we can, to hear news from Fiat that they are releasing them for sale to buyers.

For those who haven’t been following this story as closely as I have, in mid-August Fiat announced a recall on all of the 274 Fiat 500e electric cars that had been delivered in California to date. The problem was due to two bolts that attached the “half-shaft” of the vehicle and which could separate rendering the power-train inoperable (translation, sudden and complete loss of power while driving). The half-shaft is the shaft that connects the two front wheels to the gearbox. The 500e doesn’t have a traditional transmission so in this case it is the connection to the gear reduction system that is involved. The problem was discovered when a Fiat 500e owner’s car lost power. According to, Green Car Congress, the problem was caused by two steps in the vehicle assembly process that had not been completed properly. It’s not clear what those steps were and if the wrong bolts were used. According to Kristean von der Heiden, Brand Manager of Berkeley’s McKevitt Fiat, who I spoke with in detail earlier today, the reason the recall process took as long as it did was that the bolts had to be delivered from Germany.

According to Kristean von der Heiden, 600 Fiat 500e’s will be arriving at California Fiat dealerships this month. A large percentage of those electric cars will be heading to the Berkeley dealership given the huge waiting list they have amassed for the vehicles. And this waiting list is full of people who are serious; each one of them put down a $1,000 deposit to hold their place in the queue.

Kristean told me about his experience driving a production 500e. This was a car that in his words “will never be sold to a customer,” so he decided to try pushing it to its limit. He and a colleague were heading to an event in San Francisco. Kristean was driving the 500e the other person a 500 Abarth (the gas engine based performance version of the 500). They raced the two vehicles and the 500e left the Abarth in the dust as its high torque electric motor took off! The car had reached a quarter-mile when the Abarth passed it at over 60mph. In short, the 500e is faster than an Abarth at all but top highway speeds.It also performs better in ways thanks to the more even weight distribution afforded by the battery pack.

Are you waiting for your 500e? Well, there may be a way to skip ahead in the line. According to Kristean von der Heiden, the most popular color is orange but most of the vehicles shipping are black or white. So if you are willing to pick the less popular colors you will get your car a lot sooner. Personally, I’m holding out for orange, or as Fiat calls it “Electric Orange.” With less than 7% of the cars the Berkeley dealership expects to receive this month coming in orange, that may be a long wait.

Silicon Valley Driving Charged and Connected

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I’m attending this symposium at SAP in Palo Alto, bringing together leaders in our effort to move towards clean energy powered vehicles.

From the Keynote by Geoffrey Moore: There is little question about whether the ev is here to stay. This is different from previous attempts, the unknown is what the pace of adoption will look like. When will fossil fuel powered vehicles be in the minority?

Easiest to have successful adoption in niche markets such as fleets. Overall positive for the future.

I will be test driving the Fiat 500e, Tesla Model S, and Honda Fit EV today. So hard to pick. love the style of the Fiat but will it fit a child seat?

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.

Plug-In 2010 Opens in San Jose – Announcements Await!

Chevy Volt Hybrid Electric Car

The Chevy Volt Series Electric Hybrid Car on Display at Plug-in 2010

I arrived at Plug-in 2010 minutes before the doors were swung open revealing a large exhibition space with large representation of electric vehicles charging equipment and firms like BetterPlace and Evatran who promise to do it all better and differently from the rest.

My request to pop the hood of the Volt to see the magic were firmly denied. I did get a description of the components and there location. Remember, that unlike in the Prius the engine is elecric only and uses a gas generator to power the vehicle when the charge is depleted. That gas generator DOES NOT charge the battery. So, whenever you are driving more than 40 miles range you need  to fire up the ICG (internal combustion generator).

If I purchased a Leaf, at a very reasonable price post tax incentives, it would work great for commutes and short hops, but what happens when I want to drive 110 miles? Do I try to go gentle on the accelerator and hope for the best, meanwhile counting on AAA to tow me to the nearest outlet, providing I found on in the case that drive a few one steeper hills than I anticipated and don’t make it the whole way back?

If, instead I purchase the Chevy Volt, I’ve taken care of my biggest fear — range anxiety, such what would come from the fear that  Can you imagine being on a hot date in your snazzy new Nissan Leaf and so worry about having enough power to make it that you forget to ask for your date’s phone number!

Ok, seriously, let’s say that you have to drive 82 miles round trip each day. Well we can’t even make it one way without burning fossil fuel. High tech and all but it doesn’t even have the combined range to go from SF to LA in one fueling. Couldn’t they have found a vehicle that gets better range than a traditional car even if it fell short of a hybrid?

So what do I recommend? Frankly if you are mostly commuting on local streets, I don’t see a need for either. Just ride your far less expensive, way more fun, and cheaper in every way electric scooter. You can even carry oodles of stuff on it. But if you are set on a electric car, either buy a smaller local rated vehicle, or go for the Leaf — it’s real, available and pure electric plus a great incentive program. And for the long drives use your other car, the Hybrid or even rent a car for the day or weekend.

Trade-off Completed, Power for Range

Today I rode for the first time after reprogramming the controller in my scooter. I had lowered the maximum power from 80% to 70% and reduced the maximum speed as well. Making the change was relatively easy once I properly configured my windows xp installation running on Parallels on my Macbook Pro. The application itself was a free download.

Most important, was testing the range, the issue which has been most difficult for me. I’ve previously attempted a 16 mile round trip only to complete the last couple of miles in “limp mode” when the maximum speed is only a few miles an hour. This time I fared much better, riding 22 miles before I limped the last few feet home. Twenty miles is enough for pretty much any ride I would undertake without having the opportunity to charge in the middle. i can now easily visit friends in Alameda without a problem, though the furthest points of Richmond might be pushing my luck, especially if steep hills are involved. For those who may be reading this and who are located in a less hilly region than Northern California, note that I had some serious hill climbing in these 22 miles. The most noteworthy was the steep climb up Pleasant Valley Road from Broadway up to Piedmont Avenue. In a less hilly region, it might be possible to squeeze a few extra miles. When time allows, I may try a flatter ride to see what difference it makes. In the meantime I’m grateful to have the extra range.

But how much did I give up in terms of power? My maximum speed at 80% power was 50mph which I only hit a couple of times. 45mph was a more realistic max. Now that has been reduced by 10mph to just 35. Fast enough to maintain the legal urban speed limit, but occasionally a bit slow to keep up with traffic. It’s a compromise for sure and I can always tweak the power setting a bit to 73 or 75% if I decide its necessary.