Monday, September 12, 2016

Tales of conversion—electric cars

Germany has set a goal to have 1-1.5 million electric cars on the road by 2020.  DW sets out to discover just how realistic such a goal is.
  • Part One: DW crew of two leaves Berlin in a VW electric car. Discovers the problems of using recharging stations.  Meets up with a convention of hard-core electric-car enthusiasts in Leipzig.
  • Part Two: Getting around 100 km per charge, the crew make a four-stop drive to Munich where they swap their ride for a BMW i3.  BMW has sold 25,000 of these—20,000 in USA.  33 kWh configuration starting at $44k.
  • Part Three: The possibility is explored that progress towards an electric fleet may hinge on outside actors.  The DW crew visits a promising but flawed effort by the technology students in Munich, a conversion shop swapping electric drivetrains for original IC power-plants, and perhaps amusingly, a shop that electrifies old Citroen 2CVs (last produced in 1990) for around 16,000 Euros.
  • Part Four: Stuttgart has a shared fleet of 500 electric Smart cars.  The experience is sampled before a visit to the Bosch battery works.  90% of lithium batteries are already made in Asia.  Bosch isn't going to change much—a typical German auto supplier tied to long-cycle development times.  Daimler has promised to convert their entire line to optional electric.  Actually, they don't have much hardware yet.
  • Part Five: The electric Mercedes b-type proves amazingly frustrating.  Short range combined with crazy recharge times made this leg an ordeal.
  • Part Six: The DW crew discovers the recharging problems are being caused by the undersized cable provided by the Benz PR department.  One final car swap brings another VW—an electric Golf.
  • Discussion of why German efforts at e-mobility are so lame.
Watching this series of short video clips was great fun but it highlights all sorts of problems associated with any serious effort to convert the transportation system to electric power.
  • The German automobile industry is not taking the problem seriously.  When your company has been building Bahn-Burners for over 100 years, it requires a huge intellectual leap to start building e-cars.  It shows.  With the possible exception of the BMW i3, all the e-cars provided by the big producers were battery powered conversions of their current IC lines (i.e. the VW e-Golf.) None had a ground up design.
  • The charging infrastructure is completely disorganized—to use all 6500 charging stations in Germany requires over 250 different smart cards.  Electric cars are considered urban runabouts—intercity travel has barely registered on anyone's radar.
  • The Germans still consider electric cars a low-grade torture device—certainly the trip by the DW crew qualifies as an ordeal.  Cars are a big expense—no one wants theirs to make them miserable.
On the other hand, Tesla...

If it were not for Elon Musk and Tesla, those pathetic German efforts would probably seem like progress.  But they don't because Tesla is:
  • Building imaginative and superbly engineered cars that were designed from the ground up to be electric cars.  Before Tesla, no one knew that electric cars could have all sorts of meaningful advantages.  Now anyone interested knows what they are.
  • Not building hairshirt cars.  The S and X models can be configured to have supercar performance.  And when not driven at license-losing speeds, this available energy translates into respectable range. 
  • Building its own recharging infrastructure.
Like all true Producer Class superstars, Musk is a man of vision.  He clearly sees a possible future where his efforts actually result in a better world.  Below are his comments on the occasion of the opening of phase one of his giga-battery factory.  What is so charming about his remarks is that he has discovered that the facilities to make spectacular products are more difficult to design and execute than the products themselves.  He understands the rationale for vertical integration on the molecular level.  At one point (13:00) he actually babbles about his love for manufacturing.  It's very cute!

If you have watched part five above and cowered with our intrepid DW crew as they toddle along at 80 kph in the right lane of the autobahn in order to conserve battery range, you might enjoy this Tesla's blast down an unrestricted stretch of autobahn in Northern Germany.  As the driver touches 250 kph he is heard to say, "please don't blow a tire—I love my wife."

Just remember, 250 kph is 155 mph.  This is faster than I have ever driven.  Because of Musk, we know that electric cars are the future.  We also know that any meaningful effort to change the atmospheric CO2 levels will only be accomplished with the efforts of such Producer Class superstars.

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