As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Environment

So Much for Fuel Savings….

It’s no secret that a concerted effort has been made in many quarters of the automotive industry to push motorists towards more ‘sustainable’ cars that run leaner in terms of fuel consumption. Take a look at some of our favourite V8 models, which have slowly but surely been ‘downsized’ to a more efficient (turbo) four-cylinder or six-cylinder engine. Then, consider the prominence of hybrid or ‘eco-oriented’ vehicles, not necessarily here in Australia, but across the world.

However, what’s being overlooked from much of the discussion is the trend seeing more and more motorists step into SUVs all over the world. This is playing out in Australia as much as anywhere, with the segment now a clear frontrunner ahead of the once dependable passenger vehicle.

 

 

A closer look at the trend

On a global scale, it’s a trend the International Energy Agency (IEA) has taken aim at, citing the shift in buying preference as “the second-largest contributor to the increase in global CO2 emissions since 2010”. Surprisingly, that’s even more than ‘heavy’ industry, which is taken to include production of iron and steel, cement and aluminium.

The fact that SUVs, on average across all makes and models, consume more fuel than passenger cars will hardly surprise anyone. That’s long been a well-known consideration, even among many car buyers. But the broader picture, with such a shift towards ownership of SUVs, is not just offsetting ‘consumption reductions from increasingly efficient passenger cars and the growing eco fleet – it has wiped out those savings altogether.

In more specific terms, the IEA says “SUVs were responsible for all of the 3.3 million barrels a day growth in oil demand from passenger cars between 2010 and 2018, while oil use from other type of cars (excluding SUVs) declined slightly”. At their current rate of growth, SUVs could add another “2 million barrels a day in global oil demand by 2040, offsetting the savings from nearly 150 million electric cars”.

 

 

Where to from here?

These points make for an interesting outlook. On the one hand, many manufacturers are promoting their future vision for an electric and ‘efficient’ future, yet on the other hand, buying trends point to a picture where motorists are moving in a different direction. The clear absence of options in the electric SUV market further complicates the matter, with the majority of efforts to create efficient cars being angled at the passenger vehicle segment.

If we’re serious about addressing vehicle emissions, what’s the actual plan going forward? Sure, we each have our own ‘needs’ and preferences as far as the cars we drive, but what will be required to drive a collective effort to cut fuel consumption across the board?

2020 Nissan Leaf EV: Private Fleet Car Review

This Car Review Is About: The second iteration of Nissan’s electric powered passenger vehicle called Leaf. It’s a genuinely well thought out and engineered machine, with good city range, and a price point that should appeal. For the second generation it’s been facelifted (it’s now much prettier) and given a tickle to the driving range.How Much Does It Cost?: Nissan list it at $49,990 plus on road costs. The drive-away price will vary from state to state but figure on a something between $54 to $56K depending on your location.

Under The Bonnet Is: The battery can store up to 40kWh, which is good for 110kW of power and 320Nm. The dash display provides a clear look at current charge with expected range, plus output during driving on the fly. Depending on figures, there is an expected range of either 315km (based on NEDC ADR 81/02 combined cycle) but a more realistic figure is an a 270km indicative driving range (European WLTP combined cycle). This is a more useable figure and with studies showing most city based drivers in Australia clocking just under 40 kilometres per day, it’s user friendly in that respect.

The car has two charging ports in the restyled nose, one with a direct connection to a CHAdeMO rapid charger and get from alert to 80 per cent charge in around 60 minutes depending on charging conditions, with the other a Type 2. There is an adapter with which to connect to an Australian standard 240V socket with more information found here.
On The Outside It’s: More of a distinctively “normal” look compared to the first model, and a slick, sleek, five door hatchback shape with aero styling. There’s a 3D look to the blue plastic that sits directly under the charge panel cover and it’s amazing in the depth of the look. This is matched by a similarly coloured panel in the lower rear bumper. Headlights are full LED, bracketing the now signature Vee that Nissan has for family identification. In profile it’s clear there’s a teardrop look from the aero effect and some subtle aero aids built into the metal and plastic. A sharp kick in the rear door meets neutral black and leads the eyes to the elegantly tapered rear which houses a manually operated ‘gate. Rubber comes from Goodyear’s Efficient Grip range and sit at 215/60 on 17 inch dark grey machined alloys.

On The Inside It’s: Roomy enough for four adults, and looks largely like a normal car’s interior. The noticeable difference is the gear selector. It’s a standard foot on brake, press console mounted button, a faint series of clicks as the drive engages, then a move of the rounded knob across to the right and forward for reverse and reverse for forward. Got that? Good. There is a small diagram next to the selector just in case it’s not immediately obvious. The knob itself is of a deep metallic grey highlighted by an electric blue ring at the base.Another highlight, sort of, is the choice to fit sumptuous and comfortable leather and velour trimmed seats with a bit of extra height than normal. But…with no venting option. Yes, they’re heated, but on a couple of scorching summer days in Sydney, the old glutes got a hammering. At least the single zone aircon cools down quick enough and has a fan capable of blowing good and hard. That sits underneath an 8.0 inch display that is ergonomically laid out but has a fussy audio system in regards to selecting and tuning radio stations. The ones already stored were Melbourne based and naturally wouldn’t connect without a retune. Actually doing so wasn’t easy, intuitive, simple. A bit of a letdown, really.

It does have DAB, and changing stations wasn’t instantaneous, but took a few seconds. Bluetooth streaming is standard. An upside is the display’s look, as it’s far better than that found in other Nissan models, thankfully. It sits inside a very stylish dashboard complete with leather look material, carbon-fibre look and piano black plastics, and a soft look overall. The doors also have some piano black inserts and soft touch material.The dash display is as clean as a whistle. A simple analogue dial for the velocity, an LCD screen of 7.0 inches for the usage info, with the now ubiquitous steering wheel mounted buttons to access the info. The screen will show expected range, Eco usage, charge levels, battery temperature, kWh information and more. To access the charge ports is simple too; a small button above the driver’s right knee and that pops the hatch in the nose. Back down to the centre console and there is a drive mode that, admittedly, we didn’t test for the sake of being prudent.

It’s called the e-pedal and it takes the brake pedal out of the equation. It works as a normal accelerator pedal but when the foot is removed the sensors will have it act as a brake and slow the Leaf to a complete stop. Nifty is the fact it will apply on up-and downhill slopes.

Ancilliaries such as a USB and 3.5mm auxiliary port are easily accessed, but there is no smart phone charge pad, even with a nook that looks like it was designed to house one. Bose supply the audio system and there’s a small yet effective soundbar style bass unit in the boot. Auto headlights and wipers, a pair of bottle holders and a slot for a mobile phone in the console, and bottle holders in the doors aim for a family friendly package. A boot capacity of 405L with the 60/40 rear seats up is enough for most families.

On The Road It’s: Not a rocketship, but it’s quick enough. The pedal has an initially sticky feel, which leads to a feeling that the Leaf isn’t going to be rapid. Thankfully that sticking feeling is only at the beginning of the pedal’s travel and a little more pressure brings out the Leaf’s true ability. It’s gentle to start with but will get some true velocity and exhibit the nature of an electric power system. A 0-100 time of 7.9 seconds means it’ll hustle well enough but it’s the highway and freeway that can really take advantage of the torque the Leaf has.Sink the slipper whilst cruising and the Leaf will sprint away nicely. The energy recovery system can then be set to one of two modes, with the result being the brakes will harvest more energy or will back off enough to extend the range. In either case the Leaf is a superb city performer and fits in beautifully with the urban lifestyle.

Steering is of an artificial feel though, with a sense of isolation from the driver and what feel there is just doesn’t feel that it speaks human. It’s weighted well enough, but it doesn’t communicate what the front end is doing. To counterbalance that is a great ride and part of this is thanks to the Intelligent Ride Control. This adjusts the power and torque of the engine just enough to dampen or raise the delivery. Why? Nissan’s engineers worked out that by adjusting the delivery it acts as a counterweight to the pitching fore and aft a car experiences when hitting bumps and irregularities.

The suspension has a tighter than expected feel, but this is a good thing. The chassis dynamics are tuned to deal with the mass of the Leaf; at 1,594kg plus cargo it’s knocking on the slightly portly door for its size. Naturally that’s due to the battery pack but with the suspension tuned to be taut for the most part, it drastically reduces excess suspension travel. It softens up at the end enough to be comfortable and pliant for most people to be happy with.What About Safety?: No shortage at all. A very smart feature is the subtle but audible tone when the Leaf is reversing to alert pedestrians. There’s the Intelligent Around-View Monitor for 360 degrees worth of vision. Front and rear parking sensors make tight shopping centre situations easier to deal with. Intelligent Trace Control assists in keeping the Leaf on the centre line when driving with imperceptible brake applications. With NIssan placing their safety features under the umbrella name of Intelligent, there’s also Intelligent Driver Alert, Intelligent Forward Collision Warning, Intelligent Emergency Braking with pedestrian detection, and Intelligent Lane Intervention. Naturally there are Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Tyre Pressure Monitor System. Traffic sign recognition has the safety system audibly warn of speed zones and cameras too.

And The Warranty Is?: Five years, and unlimited kilometres. For the battery, Nissan advises:“The Nissan LEAF Lithium-Ion battery State of Health guarantee protects against battery capacity loss (less than 9 bars out of 12) as shown on the in vehicle capacity gauge for a period of 8 years or 160,000 kilometres, whichever comes first. The Warranty commences from the time the vehicle is first registered or put into service (whichever occurs first).” Roadside assist is included and is up to five years. Information on service costs is available here.
At The End Of The Drive.
Of the Japanese car makers, Nissan is the only one that currently offers a fully electric vehicle. Toyota has hybrids, Mazda has their SkyActiv engine tech, Mitsubishi has the Outlander PHEV. Suzuki and Subaru have yet to release hybrids, making the Leaf somewhat unique in this area. Bar some items such as no venting for the pews, and a fiddly audio interface, the Nissan Leaf makes its mark for being an electric car that looks like a normal hatch.

It drives, rides, and handles well enough, seats four very comfortably, but importantly has enough usable urban range to make daily range anxiety almost a thing of the past. As a family oriented car it succeeds admirably. And it’s priced almost perfectly given the current state of affairs for the electric car market in Australia.

Go here for detailed information on the 2020MY Nissan Leaf.

Are PHEVs Set for a Boost?

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEV for short, have been pushed to motorists as a more ‘sustainable’ driving option. Boasting an on-board engine and generator that can power a rechargeable battery, advocates have argued that they offer emissions benefits and potentially lower operating costs for drivers.

Not everyone remains convinced however. Popularity for PHEVs has largely meandered along in recent years, despite this growing push for ‘eco-friendly’ driving. Although the category is starting to account for a larger proportion of electric passenger cars, if you ask many motorists, one of the prominent concerns for the technology has been limited driving distances (range).

In what could be welcome news for some, one development may see an improvement in this area.

 

ZF EVplus concept

The ZF EVplus concept was unveiled at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, incorporated within a BMW 330e. Having stripped the existing 7.6kWh battery, ZF installed a 35kWh replacement unit to provide power to the vehicle.

As you might guess, this corresponds with a decent bump up in power, but also a marked increase in the vehicle’s driving range when placed in all-electric driving mode. The jump takes it from approximately 30km range to more than 100km, which is a sizeable improvement, particularly considering this incorporates real-world operating conditions.

This new driving range is said to exceed the sort of performance milestones achieved by some of the latest competitors, including the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, as well as other electric models from the Mercedes-Benz and BMW stables.

 

 

Will it make driving more practical?

This is ultimately the million dollar question. Although 100km might not sound like an extensive driving range, let’s not forget this is when the car operates as an electric vehicle. PHEVs still have an internal combustion engine that can work as required, which is not the case for fully battery electric vehicles (BEVs). On top of that, most drivers don’t actually commute these sort of distances each and every day, or at least without an opportunity that they might be able to plug in the vehicle to top up its range.

So with either option to fall back on, for most motorists, some would say the concerns are overblown, and driven by behavioural conditioning. That is, we’ve become accustomed to driving the way we do, so we’re reluctant to change that to other methods.

This sort of development opens the way for a new era of PHEVs to enter the market in the not too distant future. However, the key obstacle for manufacturers’ lies with breaking through perceptions, and creating affordable PHEVs. If motorists cannot understand nor appreciate the appeal and attractiveness of PHEVs, then it is naïve to think that such cars can command the price premium they currently do.

Things You Need To Know About Hydrogen As A Fuel

In the quest to achieve more sustainable motoring, there are three main players: biofuels (i.e. producing petrol and diesel that will run in conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels), electric vehicles (we’ve heard heaps about these) and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV).  Electrical vehicles seem to be the hottest of the hot at the moment and they grab quite a lot of the attention from the media and from the government.  To take one hot off the press example, they’ve just given the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this year to the guys who invented the rechargeable lithium-ion battery, even though this tech has been around for a fair few years now and first got onto the market in 1991.

However, let’s not completely overlook the other two members of the sustainability team. If you asked me to take my pick of the three, I’d go for HFCVs. This is because it gives the best of both worlds: the zero-exhaust factor of EVs and the ease of refuelling of ICE vehicles.

Hydrogen is the lightest element on the periodic table and it’s one of the most common elements on earth – actually, make that THE most abundant element in the universe.   As we all learned in school, good old water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. In fact, you could say that all energy is, technically speaking, hydrogen powered.  Our sun is one great big ball of hydrogen undergoing a massive nuclear reaction (fusion rather than fission), and it’s the energy given off by this that is ultimately the source of all energy on Earth – even the fossil fuels, which are ancient forests that once trapped sunlight through photosynthesis.

If we could somehow replicate this process on Earth at a smaller scale, most of the world’s energy problems would be solved and it would generate all the electricity to meet our needs and more. However, the problem would be to stop it getting out of hand or an H-bomb would be the result. Cold fusion is the dream of many a scientist…

The first thing you need to understand about HFCVs is that when you put hydrogen fuel into the vehicle, the fuel isn’t burned the way that the fuel in an ICE burns. NASA uses this tech in rockets but it’s far, far too explosive for more down to earth uses. Instead, the hydrogen is used to generate electricity, which is released when hydrogen combines with oxygen to produce (you guessed it) water. This takes place in fuel cells, which do the job of converting good old oxygen and hydrogen to water.

Quite a lot of vehicles around the world use hydrogen fuel cell tech already. These are mostly forklifts and buses; however, cars are coming onto the scene and they’re beginning to get a fair bit of interest.

The big question about any sustainable energy source is to ask where it comes from and how one gets it – a question that people aren’t quite asking enough in the case of EVs, if you ask me.  In the case of hydrogen, there are two main sources. One is from electrolysis of water and the other is from steam reformation of methane. Of the two methods, electrolysis of water (where the water molecule is split into H2 and O by a current of electricity) is the cleaner of the two – as long as the electricity used comes from a sustainable source, such as wind, solar or hydro (using hydro to produce hydrogen seems appropriate). The other method uses methane – thus busting up and reducing something that is both a waste product and a greenhouse gas – but it also produces a bit of carbon monoxide during the production stage.  There are quite a few other methods out there but these are the most common.

Hydrogen is produced for commercial use already on quite a large scale. It’s used quite extensively in, of all things, the petrochemical industry during the process of refining petrol. You could therefore think of a switch to hydrogen fuel cell tech as cutting out the middleman.  The other major commercial use of hydrogen gas is in electrical power stations, where it acts as a coolant.

The biggest issue with hydrogen fuel is storage and transport, as hydrogen is a slippery customer that can explode and burn with the ferocity of rocket fuel simply because it is rocket fuel. On the other hand, liquid hydrogen is super-cold (even colder than the liquid nitrogen the doctor uses to remove warts and low-grade skin cancers) and needs to be kept that way. It’s the storage and transport issue that our very own CSIRO is working on.  Nevertheless, the potential is out there and is being used in many parts of the world. In the US, for example, there are already 40 retail outlets for refuelling hydrogen cars just in a single state (California), with more in other states and more to come.

Over here, we’ve already got one public hydrogen fuel station in Canberra, with more being planned. As renewable hydrogen is a hot topic (or maybe a cool topic, given that liquid hydrogen has a temperature of about –250°C), there are a ton of hydrogen projects going on at the moment, and there are hopes that renewable hydrogen fuel will become one of Australia’s biggest exports.  Just a couple of days ago, there was news out that Siemens was launching a big plant in Western Australia to produce hydrogen fuel, and that’s just the latest one. We’re going to be producing it ourselves, so it makes sense that we should put it on our cars as well.

The Perfect Form of Transport???

Here at Private Fleet, we keep an eye on trends in car design and the way things are shaping up.  At the moment, I reckon there are three biggies: fuelling systems, autonomous vehicles and sensors.

Let’s start with fuel.  We all know that the supplies of crude oil aren’t as big as they used to be and the ones that are left are frequently in places that are very hard to get at or are located in politically volatile countries.  This means that if we can cut down our dependence on non-renewable fuels, we’ll be able to keep on trucking the way we’re accustomed to.  We’ll also help cut down on greenhouse gases, which is supposed to stop global warming or climate change.

In our quest to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, we’re trying a bunch of different things, all of which are getting a lot of attention in the automotive world.  Electricity is the hottest one at the moment, with a major push towards EVs and hybrids that use both electricity and petrol.  However, that’s only one of the three.  Just as well, as one has to ask where the electricity is coming from and how it’s being generated.  If it’s being pumped out by coal- or gas-fuelled power stations, then EVs aren’t the perfect green solution.  The other hot topic in fuel is to look for other things that can be used to make diesel and petrol that are renewable – biofuels.  The trick here is to find something that can be grown without taking land and water resources away from what we need to feed a hungry world.  Lastly, there’s the hydrogen fuel cell option, which doesn’t produce much in the way of waste but is a little on the fiddly side to produce and transport, although they’re working on that.

All in all, this suggests that the perfect transport of the future should be able to run on something sustainable that’s easy to get hold of, and that it should produce minimal waste, or at least waste that can be useful for another purpose.

The second hot topic is the all the innovations being added as active safety features and driver aids.  There seems to be a new one out every time I turn around.  Temperature sensors for automatic climate control, 360° vision and reverse parking sensors are old hat. Now we’ve got side impact detection and avoidance, lane change assistance, autonomous braking, even systems that detect when the driver is getting tired or annoyed.  They’re working on getting the car to listen to you, with voice activated commands for all sorts of things.

This suggests that the perfect transport of the future should have a ton of sensors for all sorts of things, should be able to react according to the input of those sensors without the driver having to do anything, and should be able to interface with the moods of the driver.

Lastly, we’ve got the topic of autonomous cars: ones that will steer themselves, pick the right speed, pick the right part of the road and all the rest of it all by themselves.  This is closely related to the improvements in sensors and driver aids.  If autonomous cars reached their full perfection, you’d be able to hop in when well and truly under the influence, tell it to go home and then nod off until you find yourself parked outside the front door.

If we all of these factors together, we can get an idea of what the designers are trying to come up with.  Let’s imagine what it would look like: something that runs on plant-sourced fuels and produces biodegradable waste that can be converted to fertilizer; has ultra-sensitive sensors for temperature, mood and upcoming hazards in practically a full circle; is voice activated and even does voice-activated acceleration and parking; and can think for itself even when the driver is exhausted or drunk.  Natural materials for the upholstery and a cheap production method would be an advantage as well.  It already exists: when I was a child in a rural town, we called this a HORSE.

EV Vs HV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s time for the big showdown between the two rivals hoping to knock internal combustion engines off the top spot in the world of automotive power. (cue drumrolls, flashing lights blaring heavy metal music and a hyperventilating commentator).  In the green corner, we have… Electricity!  In the other green corner, we have… Hydrogen!  Which of these two mighty rivals will win the title for best engine type and come out champion and win the Green Energy title?

OK, settle down.  Deep breath and time for me to stop channelling the pro wrestling I watched the other night when I was in need of a good laugh.  Right, that’s better.  Now to continue with a discussion of whether hydrogen-powered vehicles or EVs are the best.

Of course, one has to look at all aspects of motoring to decide what’s best. What’s more, when it comes to individual decisions as to what car you want to buy and drive, your personal priorities will come into play. So, without further ado, let the contest begin…

Environmental impact and emissions: On the road from the end-user perspective, it’s a draw.  Running EVs and hydrogen doesn’t pump out pollution or greenhouse gases.  However, the way that the electricity is generated or the hydrogen gas is produced may have to be taken into account. If the widespread uptake of EVs means that power companies have to fire up otherwise disused old coal- or gas-fired generators, EVs might not be all that green.  If the power comes from hydro, wind or solar, then it’s all good.  Similarly with hydrogen: if the process of getting said hydrogen into a fuel form can be done without chewing through non-renewables or pumping out nasties, then it’s all good – and we’re working on that, as we’ve discussed in an earlier post.

Maintenance: Assuming that you can find a mechanic that can deal with EVs (there are more of these knocking around these days) and/or hydrogen vehicles (we need a nice little abbreviation for these: what about HVs?), this is another draw.  Both types of vehicle have fewer moving parts than what’s needed in an ICE (internal combustion engine) – both involve electric motors that create rotational motion directly rather than relying on a controlled explosion to push a piston that turns into rotational motion.  Fewer moving parts means less friction, which means less wear and tear.  However, to be fair, EVs and HVs haven’t been around quite as long, so we will have to wait a bit and see what happens as they get older.

Accessibility: OK, here EVs win hands down.  Charging points can be found in all sorts of places and every time I go to my favourite holiday spot, I come across a new charger where there wasn’t one before.  You can also get charging points for your home so you can charge an EV overnight.  Although our very own CSIRO are working on ways to make transportation and storage of hydrogen easier, we still don’t have very many hydrogen bowsers out there… or at least not yet.

Cost: At the moment, electricity is cheaper to get than hydrogen fuel, so this is another win for EVs.

Time: As a lot of you have already discovered, it can take quite a while to charge the battery of an EV up to full, kind of like it does with your phone or laptop. Even the very fastest superchargers take half an hour to get a battery to 100%. However, hydrogen pumps as easily as petrol or diesel, and you all know how quick that is, so HVs win here.

Range: Another very clear win for hydrogen. In 2017, the Toyota Mirai clocked up 502 km, while a test version of a Tesla picked up somewhere between 397 and 506 km.  In practice and with everyday people driving, the range of HVs tends to be a lot longer than that of EVs.

Specs:

The Telsa Roadster (due for release in 2020) boasts some specs that make all the other supercars, muscle cars and hypercars look like Granny’s little runabout: 0–62 mph (that’s about the same as 100 km/h)) in 1.9 seconds, a top speed of 250 MILES per hour and a reputed 10,000 Nm of torque according to Elon Musk.  Yes, I’m counting those zeroes as well and wondering if that’s for real.  A nice nerd has explained how this figure might be a wee bit misleading, as Tesla’s talking about wheel torque, not engine torque:

On the HV front, the Pininfarina H2 Speed racing machine claims to do the 0–62 mph sprint in 3.4 seconds and has a top speed of 300 km/h and a maximum power output (from four engines combined) of 480 kW; torque figures are hard to come by.

Actually, I would quite like to see a real head-to-head race between the Pininfarina H2 Speed and the Tesla Roadster, and not just because it would be cool to see the Tesla’s acceleration in action.  One of the things that puts me off traditional motor racing a bit is the engine noise and the smell of the fumes, but when electricity and hydrogen compete, these would be totally gone and that’s the whole point of EVs and HVs.  We can probably say now that the Tesla would win the sprint, but over a longer race, the quicker refuelling time of the H2 Speed might make up for this.

 

* Credit where credit is due.  Some of these stats and comparisons have been taken from a 2017 issue of How It Works magazine (issue 105); there have been some developments in both corners since then!

Car Review: 2019 Tesla Model X 100D

This Car Review Is About:
One of the two vehicles currently available from Tesla. The Model S and Model X are very closely related and come with a choice of drive combinations. A new model, a smaller car called Model 3 is scheduled for Australian release from July 2019. The vehicle tested is the non-P 100D. P for Performance, 100 for the kiloWatt hour drive, D for Dual motor (or, if you will, all wheel drive). The Model X can be specified with different seating configurations and the test vehicle was fitted out as a six seater. What About The Dollars?
Cost for the car tested started at $129,500. Metallic paint is $2,100, with the big black wheels $7,800. The seating colour scheme was $2,100 with the dash trim, a dark ash wood look, a standard no-cost fitment. It’s the electronic bits that add on, with the full self driving option and auto-pilot $7,100 and $4,300 each. With options fitted, Luxury Car Tax, and GST, plus charges such as government taxes, the car as tested came to $186,305.

Under The Bonnet Is:
Empty space. Yup, the Tesla Model X has a “frunk”, a front trunk, or in Aussie speak, a front boot. It’s big enough for a travel case of hiding the home charge cable that Tesla supplies. The engines for the 100D are located underneath at the front and rear, and engage via a single speed transmission. It’s this combination that gives the Tesla Model X startling acceleration, and in Ludicrous mode, a drive option available in the “P” designated cars, it’s quicker again. Call it three seconds to 100kph and you’d be on the money.On The Inside Is:
A choice of seating options. The test car came fitted with a white leather covered set of six seats. The three pairs all have their own form of power adjustment. Up front the driver has fore and aft movement, seat back adjustment, and lumbar support. The middle row are also adjustable for fore and aft, allowing access to the rear seats. However they do not have seat back adjustment. The third row are powered in a slightly different way, with a button locking or releasing them for raising or lowering.

Tesla fit a massive, vertically oriented, 17 inch touchscreen that houses virtually all of the functions. Audio, navigation, music access, air-conditioning, doors, car features, settings, online user manual, and some special features are all here. The map system is from Google and rendered in superb high definition on the screen. Drive orientation is in the upper right corner and can be set to swivel in direction or North as a permanent upper orientation.The overall front section presence is clean, uncluttered, traditional even. The driver’s binnacle has a full colour LCD screen that shows information such as energy usage, map, radio, and more. The steering column is perhaps the weakest part ergonomically. A left hand side indicator sits above the cruise control lever and both can be easily confused for the other as they’re very close together. The drive engage lever is on the right and is simple in operation.The centre row seats move forward and as they close towards the front seats gradually nose downwards to allow access to the rear. The rears are not adjustable for anything other than folded or not. Behind them is another storage locker with a lift away cover that otherwise provides a flat floor.The touchscreen itself houses “easter eggs”. At the top centre of the screen is a “T” symbol. Hold that for a second or two and a graphic that describes the individual car shows. A second or two later a screen appears above that and has an Atari games symbol, a Mars map symbol, a reindeer, a Christmas tree ornament and others. The Atari symbol brings up five games including Asteroids and Missile Command. The reindeer has the car’s driver display show a Father Christmas and sleigh, and rings Christmas bells on the indicator stalk. There is also an “emissions testing” icon that brings a grin to every ten year old boy when a sub-menu of different farts comes up.

On The Outside Is:
The extended roof version of the Model S. Extended as in the Model S formed the basis for the Model X. A higher roof line houses the famous folding gull wing doors, and there’s another part of the delight. When the Christmas ornament is pressed from the easter egg list, it invites the passengers to exit, and close the doors. A few seconds later if it works, as it’s sometimes hit or miss, the front windows roll down, the superb sound system pumps up, and the exterior LED lights up front flash in synchronisation. The doors themselves open and flap in unison and it is one unbelievably entrancing sight to see.The rear view sees an embedded airfoil otherwise the same looking tail lights at Model S. The nose is slightly different but unmistakeably Model S. The footprint is huge, with fan shaped alloys painted in black spanning 22 inches in diameter. Rubber is Goodyear Eagle and are 285/35.

The doors are normally hinged at the front, gull winged for the rear, and the driver’s door can be set to open on the approach of a person carrying the Tesla key fob. Unlike the Model S the door handles don’t extend out from the body, and require a firm press on the handle or via the key fob individually. A tap or two on the top can open or close all doors.

On The Road It’s:
A mix of elation and mild levels of meh. The meh is the steering feel. Although there are three drive modes that change the weight of the steering, it feels artificial and isolated. That’s not unexpected in such a technologically oriented vehicle. But that’s the worst of the on-road feels.

The time with the Model X coincided with a trip from the Blue Mountains to Bega via Canberra. Door to door it’s just on 500 kilometres. The full charge range of the Model X is knocking on 480km. An app that can be installed into your smartphone shows, once the car is linked to your account, the range expected, and when charging, the charge rate and charge distance. The AMOUNT of charge can also be adjusted, from zero through to 100%, with 80% being the default.

All Tesla cars come with a charge cable to hook the car up to a home’s electric network and Tesla themselves provide a higher output charge station to their buyers. These charge at 7 to 8 kilometres of range per hour. The first stop was at the supercharger portal in Goulburn. That’s a two hour drive with a supercharger near Canberra airport approximately another hour away. Superchargers will add in somewhere between 350km to 400km of range in an hour according to the app.Cooma is the next supercharger stop, another hour or so from Canberra, and this one is in an off the main road and not entirely welcoming location. It’s a set of six in a carpark entrance for a shopping complex, and on our visit half of the supercharger bays were taken up by non electric cars. The drives gave us a chance to properly evaluate, in a real world, family usage situation, and although the range expectations were one thing, proper usage delivers another.

Cargo was two adults, two children, a small dog, and a few overnight bags. Then there is the weight of the car and the topography to consider. Autopilot and cruise control were engaged and a small point on the autopilot. The lever needs to be pulled toward the driver twice to engage, and the cameras strategically embedded around the car will then “read” the roadsides in order to keep the Model X as centred as possible. The autopilot function itself was in “Beta” testing mode and again accessed via the touchscreen.The biggest appeal of the the Model X, and Model S, for that matter, is the sheer driveability of the chassis and drivetrain. Electric motors deliver torque constantly, as per this and acceleration across any driving condition is stupendous. The “P” designation adds in “Ludicrous” mode, which amps up the “get up and go” even further. Engage the drive, and it’s a double pull to bring the car out of hibernation mode, and plant the foot. That mountain you could see on the horizon is suddenly there before you.

The braking system can be set for two energy harvest levels and on the ten kilometres worth of downhill running at Brown Mountain, some forty kilometres west of Bega, added an effective twenty kilometres of range. It’s the uphill runs that pull the range expectations downwards, and severely at that. The ever-growing network of destination chargers alleviate range anxiety and a visit to the beautiful coastal town of Merimbula found a destination charger at a bayside motel. The navigation system can provide locations of chargers and when a destination charger shows, a tap of the screen advises the usage, as in in this case, passing through holiday makers. A big thanks to the good people at the Albacore Apartments, by the way. There are two Tesla destination chargers and these add range at 75 to 80 kilometres per hour.

The return trip was via Cooma without stopping and heading to Canberra’s Madura Parkway charge stop. Handily located next to a major fast food store and a number of other shops, an hour’s break saw the Model X arrive back at its Blue Mountains lair with perhaps 70km worth of range left.

Actual ride quality is on the high side of decent considering the size of the wheels and low profile rubber. Ride height can be ajusted via the touchscreen but a high ride setting lowers the car back to its standard height once a preset speed is reached. The Model X is stiff but not bone-shakingly so, taut, but not uncomfortably so. It’s flat, exhibits minimal body roll, and is surprisingly compliant on unsettled and rough surfaces. And although the steering lacks “humanity” it also points the Model X exactly where the wheel tells it to. Naturally, brake feel is spot on too.

The Safety Systems Are:
A solid list of 360 degree cameras, parking sensors that measure in millimetres and show on the driver’s screen, distance sensing radar cruise control, AEB, overhead and knee airbags, plus the usual electronic driver aids. The cruise control can be set to one to seven seconds of distance between the Model X and the car ahead. It’s worth noting that the braking can be on the hard side so driver involvement is still required to watch the road ahead. The same goes with the autonomous steering. Hands on the tiller are recommended at all times.

And The Warranty Is:
Four years for the body and structure. The drive systems and battery get eight years. Extra information is here.

At The End Of The Drive.
The timing of the drive came just after the leader of the Australian Opposition party put forward a proposition that by 2030 fifty percent of cars to be made available for sale be electric. Naturally this sparked the conversation about costs, range, and the time taken to recharge versus refueling a petrol or diesel car.

There’s an undeniable time factor in regards to recharging. But there is a welcome upside. The Goulburn stop provided an opportunity to visit a street mall, the Cooma break a visit to a park with historic significance. The Merimbula stop provided a chance to sample the local lifestyle and the Canberra stop a welcome half way point, lunch, and a leg stretch. The Model X itself is not a tiring car to drive meaning driver fatigue is minimised.

Therein, as the saying goes, lies the rub. The return trip from Bega took as much time as a normal petrol/diesel powered trip, even allowing for the hour or so to recharge. The upside was the break allowing a safe, straight through, return drive and the lack of fatigue from driving a comfortable vehicle. The downside was the evidence that range expectations versus the real world have some way to go before the two meet with a lesser margin in between.

And yes, the cost is significant, especially with the extra Australian government charges involved. However there are plenty of cars that start at the same price and offer an extensive option list. And there is the fluctuating cost of fuel. Depending on location it is theoretically possible to not pay a cent in recharge costs with an electric car.

Tesla will be releasing a lower cost version, effectively, of the Model S, and a new, smaller, SUV called the Model Y is in development. With battery technology improving and the uptake of solar power and batteries for home usage also on the upswing, plus the promise of further electric cars as standard from makers, they all mean that for the Australian market our driving future is in for an undeniable change.

Model X information and more on the other cars from Tesla can be found here.

The EV From Down Under

We were all very sad when we got the news that those iconic Australian cars – Ford and Holden – were no longer going to be manufactured here and that the factories were closing their doors. However, we can all smile again for the sake of the Australian automotive industry: a new company in Queensland is going to manufacture a car from scratch.  Great!

There’s a slight difference with this newcomer, though. Unlike the gas-guzzling Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores (OK, they were a bit better when driven on the open road but that’s another story altogether), this new company, ACE EV, is turning its eyes to the hot new sector of the automotive industry: electric cars.

Well, to be more specific, it’s going in for electric vans and commercial vehicles as well as cars.  And, to be fair, the factory is going to be using some parts that were manufactured overseas as well as a few made here.  The idea is to keep the costs down.  They’re not out to produce Tesla clones at Tesla prices.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Tesla per se and it’s neat to see electric vehicles that have bust out of the boring, crunchy-granola, wimpy image and become supercool.  However, a brand new Tesla probably costs more than what I paid for my house.  ACE EV, however, wants to make EVs more affordable for the typical tradie or suburban family.

ACE EV stands for “Australian Clean Energy Electric Vehicles”.  Proudly Australian, their logo features a kangaroo on the move.  This year (2019), they are launching three vehicles, targeting tradies as well as your typical urban motorist, although they’re only selling them to companies as fleet vehicles at this stage.  These are the ACE Cargo, the ACE Yewt and the ACE Urban.

ACE Cargo

The Cargo is designed to, um, carry cargo.  It’s a van that’s capable of carrying a payload of 500 kg and has a range of 200 km if it’s not carrying the full load. The Cargo is designed to be suitable for couriers and anybody who has to carry gear or people from one side of town to the other: florists, caterers, cleaners, nurses and the people who carry blood samples from the medical centre to the lab for analysis. Looks-wise, it’s broken out of the square box mould of traditional vans, probably for aerodynamic reasons, and resembles a single-cab ute with a hefty canopy.

Ace Yewt

Which brings us neatly to the Yewt.  The Yewt is what it sounds like (say Yewt out loud if you haven’t got it yet). It’s a flat-deck single-cab ute and as it’s got more or less the same specs as the Cargo regarding load, charge time and acceleration. You’d be forgiven for thinking that t it’s the same thing as the Cargo but with the cover on the cargo area taken off.  It’s something of a cute ute – and the contrasting colour roof is a nice touch.

Last but not least, there’s the Urban, which is no relation to the Mitsubishi with the notoriously weird name (Active Urban Sandal).  This one’s still in the pipeline and they haven’t given us the full specs brochure yet (it’s due for release later this year), but this is a classic four-seater compact three-door hatch that looks a bit like a classic Mini but edgier.

It’s certainly nice to see some new vehicles made in Australia for Australians, especially given that in a recent poll, about half of all Australians in an official survey by the Australia Institute would support a law that all new cars sold after 2025 should be EVs.  However, let’s not rush things too much yet.  For one thing, EVs are only one of the Big Three when it comes sustainable motoring (biofuels and hydrogen are the others).  The other thing is that all energy has to come from somewhere, even electricity, as stated by the First Law of Thermodynamics.  This means that in order to charge your EV, you’re going to have to generate the electricity somehow and get it to the charging points.  Before we go over lock, stock and barrel to EVs, we will need better infrastructure, and I don’t just mean more EV charging points around town and in our homes.  We’ll need some more generators.  Otherwise, it would be like setting up a bowser but having no petrol to put in it.  If everybody were to try charging their EVs at home overnight, there would be a massive drain on the national grid and we’d be getting brownouts and blackouts all over the show –which means that watching TV, catching up on your emails, having a hot shower and cooking dinner would get rather difficult – and you wouldn’t be able to charge your EV either.  Guess where the power companies will have to get the money from in order to build new power plants – that’s right: your power bill.

May I humbly suggest that before you invest in an EV for your commute that you also consider installing a solar panel or three on your home?  Or a wind generator?  Not one of those petrol or diesel-powered generators – swapping an internal combustion engine in your car for one in the back yard isn’t better for the environment now, is it?  Unless you run it on biofuel or hydrogen.

Has Steam Gone Walkabout?

What about a steam powered car?  In recent times people’s consciences and attention has turned to more environmentally friendly ways of commuting.  So with electric, hydrogen, hybrid and bio-fuel vehicles all available on the current automotive market, why not give steam another go?

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for a steam powered comeback is the grip that the oil companies have on automotive power.  However the winds seem to be changing, with more-and-more people reflecting on how their lifestyle and decisions impact on the environment.  Internal combustion engines produce a lot of pollution and tend to be rather noisy.  Without a doubt cleaner burning engines are resonating with buyers who have cash to spend.  EVs and hybrids are expensive but there are people very happy to buy them.

Difficulties that drove steam powered cars to become museum pieces were:

  • The external combustion steam engines could not be manufactured as cheaply as Henry Ford’s internal combustion engines.
  • Steam engines were also much heavier engines.
  • It took several minutes before the boiler was hot enough for the steam motor to generate power for take-off.

These difficulties created the “Warehouse and Kmart” phenomenon of today, where people flock to where the cheap buys are regardless of the impact.  But with today’s modern materials, steam cars could be as light as their internal combustion engine alternatives.  With a new advanced condenser and a fast heating boiler, the possibility of a modern-day steam car with decent efficiency and a warm-up time that’s measured in seconds rather than minutes could provide the comeback punch that steam needs to become an attractive and viable option for new-car buyers.

Just ponder on this for a moment – a new modern motorcar running on steam that has powerful seamless acceleration instantly, is clean burning, very quiet and, unlike combustion engines, can run on almost any fuel that produces heat.

Steam engines don’t need any gears or transmissions.  They are much more in the same vein as EV cars that have all their torque available at any rpm.  Due to the fact that steam provides constant pressure, unlike the piston strokes of an internal combustion engine, steam-powered cars require no clutch and no gearbox – making them extremely easy to drive.  By virtue of their design, steam engines provide maximum torque and acceleration instantly like electric motors, and particularly for urban driving where there’s lots of stopping and starting, clean-burning steam would be great!

What developments in steam have occurred since it rudely got forgotten and laid aside?  Some good news is that in 2009, a British team set a new steam-powered land speed record of 148 mph (237 km/h), finally breaking the Stanley Rocket’s record which had stood for more than 100 years.  In the 1990s, a Volkswagen Enginion (a model for research and development) boasted a steam engine that had comparable efficiency to internal combustion engines, but with lower emissions.  And, in recent years, Cyclone Technologies claims it has developed a steam engine that’s twice as efficient.

It might have preceded the internal combustion engine by around 200 years, but as the world is finally starting to take a serious look at the future viability of personal transport, perhaps the wonder of gliding by steam power will once again be seen on our modern roads.  In an age of touchscreen infotainment systems, EV cars that can do 400 km on a charge and driverless cars, surely there is room for new, clean-and-efficient steam cars.

Currently the increased focus on environmental responsibility could be weakening the link between the oil industry and modern motorcars.  Wouldn’t you just love to be able to fill your car up with rainwater and head off on your work commute!

Thoughts?

Home-Grown Zero-Carbon Hydrogen Technology

CSIRO’s Toyota Mirai HFC vehicle (image from CSIRO)

There are three possibilities when it comes to finding an alternative to the standard fossil fuels used in the majority of vehicles on the road.  The first is a switch to biofuels (biodiesel, ethanol, etc.), the second is to go electric (the sexy new technology that’s mushrooming) and the third is hydrogen fuel cells or HFCs.

I discussed the basics of HFCs in my previous post.  If you can’t remember or if you can’t be bothered hopping over to have a look, one of the points I raised was that most of the hydrogen gas used to power HFCs comes from natural gas, with methane (from sewage and effluent) coming in as the more sustainable second possibility.  However, there’s another possible source of the hydrogen fuel that’s being worked on by our very own CSIRO researchers right here in Australia: ammonia.

Most of us are familiar with ammonia as the thing that makes floor cleaners (a) really cut through grease and (b) smell horrible.  However, ammonia is also produced as a waste product by living cells and in humans, it quickly turns into urea and is excreted as urine.  In fact, some of the pong associated with old-school long-drop dunnies comes from the urea in urine breaking back down into ammonia again (the rest of the smell comes from methane and some sulphur-based compounds, depending on what you’ve been eating).

Ammonia is chemically rendered as NH3, which should tell you straight away that there are three nice little hydrogen atoms just waiting to be turned into hydrogen gas; the leftover nitrogen is also a gas –and that’s one of the most common elements in the atmosphere (it makes up three-quarters of the earth’s atmosphere, in fact).  Yes, ammonia in its pure form is a gas (the liquid stuff in household products is in the form of ammonium hydroxide or ammonia mixed with water).  The fun here from the perspective of HFC technology consists of splitting the ammonia gas up into nitrogen gas and hydrogen gas, and then separating the two.

And this is precisely what the ammonia-to-hydrogen team at CSIRO have been working on.  In August year, they made the big breakthrough by developing a membrane-based technology that will convert ammonia into hydrogen gas.  The hydrogen gas can then be used by vehicles powered by HFC technology.  The bit they’re all rubbing their hands with glee about is because up until now, one of the obstacles with getting HFC-powered motoring off the ground is that it’s hard to transport hydrogen gas from wherever it’s produced to the hydrogen equivalent of a bowser.  However, ammonia is a lot easier to get from A to B.  This means that with this home-grown technology, Australia will be able to export hydrogen (in the form of ammonia during transport) to the markets that want it.

Asia seems to be the hot spot for vehicles using HFC technology, with Toyota and Hyundai really getting behind the tech; European marques, on the other hand, seem to be concentrating on electric vehicles.  In fact, Japan is eyeing up hydrogen as a source of energy for generating power for homes as well.

The question has to be asked where they’re going to get all this ammonia from.  However, it’s possible to take nitrogen gas and water, then zap it with electrical current and turn it into ammonia – and it was an Australian researcher who came up with the tech to do this. It’s kind of like a fuel cell – which breaks down gas to produce electricity – but in reverse: using electricity to produce ammonia.  The new Australian technology is considered to be an improvement over the traditional method of producing ammonia (which is needed for making the fertilizer that grows the food you eat), which takes hydrogen gas from fossil fuels and reacts it, spitting out a good deal of CO2 in the process.  The new Aussie tech skips the bits involving carbon in any form, as it takes nitrogen from the atmosphere (N2) and water (H2O) and puts out NH3 and O2.  O2 is oxygen – what we breathe.

The idea is that in the future, they’ll set up a plant or two in the middle of the outback where there’s lots of solar and wind energy available for generating electricity, pump in some H2O and get ammonia for export AND use in hydrogen cars thanks to the new membrane tech out the other end with zero carbon emissions.  It could be asked where they’re going to get the water from in the middle of the Outback but I suppose that it’s not essential to use clean, fresh drinking water for the process, as it’s pretty easy to distil pure water out of wastewater.  In fact, one has the very happy vision of a process that takes sewage from cities, whips out the ammonia, urea and methane already in there (bonus!), distils out the water for making more ammonia and exporting the lot; any solids can probably also be used for fertilizer.

It’s going to take a little while for all the systems to get into place.  It’s still very early days for HFC vehicles but a start has been made and some of the hurdles have been overcome.  A few HFC vehicles have made it onto these shores.  The analysts say that it will probably take another decade or so until HFC cars become common on our roads but it’s likely to happen.  Look what happened with electric vehicles, after all.  Once they were really rare but now there’s charging points just about everywhere you look.

You can find more information here , here  and here .