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Fueling your Car

The Electric Highway.

One of the appeals of the Australian landscape is its huge gaps between the cities, allowing an almost uninterrupted view of the beautiful world we live on. That also means that using a car not powered by diesel or petrol may be limited in its ability to traverse the distances between them.Come the Electric Highway. Founded by the Tesla Owners Club of Australia, TOCA, they took up a joint initiative with the Australian Electric Vehicle Association to literally fill in the gaps. With a smattering of Tesla supercharger and destination charger points mainly spread along points of the east coast and largely between Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, a driver can now drive no more than 200 to 300 kilometres before seeing another charging point. The network is made up of 32 amp three-phase chargers which are about 200km apart on average, with the furthest distance between charge points being 400km. Most are capable of adding 110km of range in 30 minutes.

Tesla itself is looking at another eighteen superchargers around Australia by the end of 2019 which is complemented by the Australian Capital Territory’s decision to install fifty dual Electric Vehicle charging points at government sites in order to reach its zero emissions goal by 2022 for government cars.

Although most states have so far effectively failed to get on the electric car wagon, Queensland has bucked that trend by investing heavily in charger points.In that state, EV drivers can travel from Coolangatta to Cairns, and west from Brisbane to Toowoomba, using the government’s fast charger network, which is also vehicle agnostic. This means that the charger points are able to deal with the various car charging point designs, which does beg the question of why a global standard appears to not have been settled on. The rollout was completed in January of 2018.It’s also worth noting that the Western Australian government owned power company, Synergy, did assist the TOCA initiative. In WA alone, more than 70 charge points were installed in towns and roadhouses on all major roads in the south and east of the state, as well as some remote locations in the north.

The initiative, a team effort by Synergy and the WA branch of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association, is installing three-phase charge points in towns and roadhouses on all major roads in the south and east of the state, as well as some remote locations in the north.

WA’s regional utility, Horizon Power, also contributed to the roll-out, with installations of 3 phase outlets in the Kimberley area.

“We’re endeavouring to show that there is ‘people power’ behind the drive to EV’s, and hopefully governments can follow,” said Richard McNeall, a TOCA member and coordinator of the Round Australia Project.Currently most charger points are free, however there is a mooted change to this, but not at a huge impost. With pricing yet to be settled upon it’ll be worth looking out for press releases on this matter.

UK car maker Jaguar Land Rover has also announced plans to add a charging network in Australia, ahead of the release of its first EV, the I-PACE all-electric SUV, later this year. JLR Australia says the up to $4 million network would include 150 changing stations, using 100kW DC chargers provided by Jet Charge.

Plug Share is the site to go to to find out where the charge points are located.

BMW’s EV Wireless Charging

BMW’s Wireless Charging

The new BMW 5-Series iPerformance models boast some very cool ‘world-first’ technology.  Available factory-fitted with a fully integrated inductive charging facility means that you can arrive home, park over a ground pad (the inductive charging facility/station) and hey-presto your car charges up, ready for your next trip away.

BMW’s Wireless Charging consists of the GroundPad (an inductive charging station), that can be installed either in a garage or outdoors, and the CarPad, which is fixed to the underside of the vehicle will connect to the GroundPad once parked appropriately.  This technology is available as an option on the new BMW 530e iPerformance model.  The GroundPad generates a magnetic field that induces an electric current in the CarPad, which then charges the battery in the car.

BMW’s 530e iPerformance model has the parking systems that help the driver to manoeuvre into the correct parking position over the GroundPad using a WiFi connection between the charging station and the vehicle.  Once the connection has been made, an overhead view of the car and its surroundings then appears in the car’s display screen with coloured lines that help guide the driver into position.  An icon shows up on the screen when the correct parking position is reached for the process of inductive charging.  BMW say the position for parking over the top of the GroundPad isn’t difficult to locate as the position can deviate by up to 7 cm longitudinally and up to 14 cm laterally – so it has plenty of buffering for getting a good connection.  To easy!

We already are becoming familiar with the wireless charging systems inside many new cars from different manufacturers where mobile phones and electric toothbrushes can be wirelessly charged inside the car.  BMW says its wireless charging uses the same inductive charging technology already widely used for supplying power to devices such as these.

BMW has unveiled a wireless charging system that will be available in Germany, followed shortly by the UK, the US, Japan and China.  It’s nice to be able to boast this technology and do away with cords and manual contraptions for charging your hybrid.  Germany and Europe seem to be leading the way with cutting edge EV technology, and this inductive charging system, created by BMW, will set the ball rolling for other manufacturers to follow suit.

I can imagine, like BMW, a world where you just pull up to your car park in the city, and the wireless inductive charging facility that’s set in place, in the road, underneath your EV will charge up your car while you duck into the café for a coffee or buy the necessary office equipment for your business.  This is all pretty cool technology!

EV Ponderings

EV Networking

With all the fuss and excitement of electric vehicles paving the way of the future it’s worth pondering what sort of new electric-vehicle technology could be part of our automotive future.  Interesting current discussion regarding what sort of electric-vehicle (EV) fuel stations, networking and technology Australia might employ is necessary for keeping the Australian EV fleet ready for the road.  Plenty of excellent EV and EV-infrastructure planning and  management has to happen now for us to get the best EV product rolled out for our country.

EVs need a simple and accessible recharging station that’s always handy – whether it be at home or on the move.  If we have too few power-up stations available, then the incentive to buy an EV becomes less appealing to the public.  At present the best EV technology manages to get some of the EV cars travelling around 300-to-400 km in ideal conditions before they require a recharge of their batteries.  Many cars, in real life, can hardly make it to 200 km before they require a top-up.  This makes country folk who travel large distances unlikely to want to buy a new EV – particularly if there is no handy recharge stations on-route.

Is it feasible to place powering-up stations every 100 km – or so – along a main arterial route between cities?  The answer is yes, and it is happening in places like Germany where German carmakers hope a network of high-power charging stations they are rolling out with Ford will set an industry standard for plugs and protocols that will give them the edge over other electric car rivals and manufacturers.  This competition is encouraging EV charging stations to be put in quickly across some of their main roads, making it easier to top-up the batteries on longer drives.  EV station points are slowly growing inside Australia’s main cities, but little is being done with regards to connecting the main centres with additional intercity recharging stations.  The sooner this is done, then the sooner we’ll see a big growth in Australian EV sales.

Connecting the EV power stations to the main grid is relatively straight forward.  However, it would be even better to have isolated EV micro grids where each EV power station can generate its own power for recharging vehicles so that any looming main-grid power outages are isolated from the micro grids.  When everybody and every-business in Australia switches to buying themselves a new EV, then it would seem a great doorway to causing nationwide havoc if some unseemly group takes out the major power stations across Australia!  Having a micro-grid that sources Australia’s abundant solar and wind energy could also tick the right boxes.

An interesting EV progression in Sweden is the creation of an electrified road (the world’s first) that can charge EVs as they drive along, potentially helping to cut the high cost of electric cars.  An electrified rail embedded in the tarmac of the 2 km road charges an EV truck automatically as it travels above it.  A movable arm attached to the truck detects the rail’s location in the road, and charging stops when the vehicle is overtaking or coming to a halt.  The system also calculates the vehicle’s energy consumption, which enables electricity costs to be debited per vehicle and per user.  Could Australia embrace this type of innovation and join Sweden in leading the way forward, allowing electric cars to be even cheaper than fossil fuel ones?

The new BMW i3 and i3s, Hyundai IONIQ, Jaguar I-PACE, Nissan LEAF and Renault Kangoo ZE are some of the latest EVs arriving in Australia.  I would encourage Australia to think outside the square and get onto the EV and power station new wave of technology for powering our nations new fleet of EVs.  Australia could even create their own unique plug-in technology and high-output stations for the best environmentally-friendly Australian EV system.

Are you an EV driver?  If you are, or even if you are taken by this new breed of vehicle, are there any items and processes you would like to see put in place so as we can all enjoy a premium Australia EV network?

EV Networking

Private Fleet Car Review: Tesla Model S P100 D & Model X P100D

They’re potentially expensive. They’re controversial. They’re cracking good drives. And totally fully electric. The Tesla range consisting of the Model S variants and Model X variants has been with us in Australia for a few years now and the Model S remains the most visible. The P100D name means the car is an all wheel drive machine, with a pair (the D stands for dual) of electric motors powering each corner. The 100, by the way, means the kilowatt hours the engines produce and it’s through the range the numbers tell the output. Body wise the Model S rocks a five door coupe shape in a smooth and svelte design, the Model X a more pumped roof.Pricing structure within Australia varies state by state for the Tesla cars. Tesla Model S pricing and Tesla Model X pricing are the links for your location, however starting prices are $113,200 for the Model S 75D and $120, 200 for the Model X 75D. The top of the range gets the “P” designation, with Ludicrous mode, top end interior, and Premium Upgrade package standard. That’s the zero to goodbye license in 2.9 seconds for the Model S and 3.1 seconds for the Model X. Passing speeds are also eyeball smashing with the sprint from 75 to 105 km/h lasting a mere 1.2 seconds.Interior trim is full machine made leather or as Tesla calls it, an ecologocally sustainable material, alcantara roof and pillar lining, a massive 17 inch touchscreen that controls virtually every aspect of the Tesla, and a key fob shaped like a car that has to be on you if you want to get in. There is an app that can go on your smartphone that will open and close doors, start the car, and even pre-start air-conditioning. However the corresponding service has to be enabled via the touchscreen for the mobile app to work. Should the key fob be mislaid the app can also be used to get you underway.The powered and heated seats are comfortable to a fault, the steering column is easily adjusted via an electric toggle, and it’s a pretty simple office to be in and a good one to look at.There’s carbon fibre inlays to complement the black plastic, leather, and alcantara, and looks a treat. Cup holders are on board but no door has storage in the Model S. None. The Model X, being aimed more at the family, comes with a customisable seating configuration of five, six, or seven seats, and the doors do get holders. The doors, by the way on the Model X are powered and opened via buttons on the fob. Individual doors can be opened or closed or all of them, including the gull wing rear passenger doors at the same time. The car and fob communicate wirelessly so when walking to or away from the P100D Model S the door handles slide out or in. It’s secure and safe and it’s a switchable option from the touchscreen, meaning it can be deactivated.

A talking point about Tesla vehicles is the autonomous driving factor. In a basic form it’s here however there’s some caveats and they’re pretty strong ones. Hidden in the B pillar and front guards are tiny cameras that link to software on board. If these cameras can see white roadside markings then the full LCD dash will display a grey steering wheel icon. This tells the driver that autonomous mode can be used. A small lever on the bottom left of the steering column needs to be pulled twice and this engages the software. BUT it also warns you to have your hands on the wheel and if there’s no lines, no auto steer. So what this means is that as a fully autonomous driving system, no, it’s not. As an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) yes but the human factor is crucially important, still.

The main screen covers everything from driving modes, to a swipe to open or close the sunroof fitted to the review car. Battery usage, air-conditioning, radio apps like TuneIn and Spotify (no DAB, as a result) are all accessed at a touch, even down to an onboard user manual. The driver’s screen has information accessed via two roller switches on the steering wheel itself, such as navigation, fan speed, battery discharge rates, and more. The audio itself is wonderful and comes with Dolby Surround. The dash of the Model X has something akin to a soundbar mounted directly at the base of the windscreen too.The centre console is spacious, comes with one 12V and USB port, and prefitted with a charge point for Apple phones that have a Lightning port. If you’re an Android user, you have to make do with the USB port and cable. Having said that, the cars use Google maps for their mapping system. The rear camera provides a high resolution image which is great as the rear vision mirror wouldn’t look out of place in a 1960s car. There’s even a bio-weapons style defense mode, says Tesla, when it comes to the air-conditioning system, blocking pollen, viruses, and bacteria. A cold weather package is also available as an option for non P cars, which give touchscreen access to heating seats and steering wheel. Updates? Over the air with wifi.Outside the Model S is slinky, lit with LED at either end with a neon look, and at around the five metre mark in length covers some real estate. The Model X looks like it’s slightly shorter however the higher roof-line may have something to do with that visually as both cars share the same chassis. There’s no grille on either, an optional carbon fibre spoiler for the Model S and a fixed wing on the Model X (fitted on the test car), and with an engine up front, storage is restricted to a small “frunk” in the S, a slightly larger version in the X. That’s Tesla speak for a front trunk. And yes, you can only open this via the touchscreen. The charge port is on the left rear quarter and will open at a push or via the touchscreen as well.The rear cargo section in both is huge (up to 2492 litres for Model X in five seater configuration) and there’s a hidden compartment under the rearmost section to add even more space. And for all but the tallest of people, the front and rear seat space is more than adequate. There’s even a bio-weapons defense mode, says Tesla, when it comes to the air-conditioning system, blocking pollen, viruses, and bacteria.To say the pair are quick is a massive understatement. There genuinely is nothing like it on four wheels. That all wheel drive system and the nature of electrical motors where max torque is at zero means eyeballs become pancakes at the back of the brain pan. Ludicrous mode is simply unbelievable if you’ve never experienced it. Overtaking is a doddle and slowing not only is super quick, it feeds energy back into the batteries. That recharge energy is also a switchable option as to how “hard” the braking system hauls down off acceleration. With a time of three seconds to 100 km/h a driver needs to be ready to deal with that acceletation otherwise issues, politely, could arise. And it all happens with no engine noise at all.

Getting underway is simple. As long as the key fob is with you, it’s a matter of foot on the brake, pull a small (and cheapish looking) lever on the right of the steering column down, and go. The onboard GPS has a memory where it can raise and lower the car’s airbag suspension as you travel a previously driven and stored route. Parking is a press of a button at the end and that engages a parking brake. Around thirty seconds after exit, the door handles retract on the Model S and the car goes to sleep.Ride quality is superb if using the standard suspension setting. It will go lower and hunkers down at speed by itself, but raise the car and it crashes and bangs. The bedamned speed restrictors in shopping centres are ignored, there’s simply no body movement yet it never once feels like it’s going to shake, rattle, and roll. Considering the massive 20, 21, or 22 inch turbine style wheels and rubber, the overall ride is very enjoyable.

The steering is precise and that’s crucial with such an astounding drivetrain. There’s no freeplay, no wasted turning, although the turning circle itself would be shamed by an American aircraft carrier. It’s superbly weighted too, with the standard mode almost indiscernible from the Sports mode.Range is, naturally, dependent on how the P100D is driven. In day to day traffic usage a good 600+ kilometres should be expected and with the charging network in Australia expanding, finding a place to plug in shouldn’t be too hard. The Google maps included allow a listing of charging points to be easily located. An online version of Tesla recharge points helps too. Naturally, just like a petrol or diesel vehicle, that expected range is subject to driving habits and conditions.

On that point, Tesla include a charging cable system that allows the cars to hook into your home energy system. If you have a solar/battery combination that will ease the small load on the normal home setup however Tesla do offer a supercharger style package that works directly from a three phase output, meaning quicker charging.

Warranty wise Tesla offer a comprehensive 8 year, infinite battery and drive-train warranty plus a standard 8 year limited warranty for all other components.

At The End Of The Drive.
The Tesla Model X as tested was $290,310 on road, with a starting price of $205,700. The metallic silver paint was a $1400 option, the 22 inch Black Onyx wheels $7600. The Enhanced Autopilot system was a further $6900 and the six seater configuration with centre console came to $8300. That’s before GST, luxury car tax and other government charges. Included are items such as the Premium Interior, Subzero Heating package, and Smart Air Suspension. The Model S starting point was $198,100. On top apart from the aforementioned government charges were $2100 for the frankly gorgeous metallic red paint, $6200 for the 21 inch turbine style wheels, $6900 for the autopilot system, which took the sedan to $267,650.

These put the pair up in the high end Mercedes-Benz/Audi/BMW/Jaguar price point…BUT, no more fuel costs, fast charging at selected sites to give around 400 kilometres of range in around a half hour (time to pause and enjoy that coffee and cake)…and then there’s that breathtaking acceleration and virtually incomparable ride quality, huge touchscreen, and that eerie cabin silence as you quietly whoosh away.

Are they worth it? The old saying that goes something like “you get what you pay for” says yes. Compared to those high end cars the cabin does lack ambience, appeal, cachet even. If wood trim or rocker gear selectors are your thing, that’s fine. If you’re a driver and technologically inclined, there’s still plenty of options. None of those options currently offer the sheer driving exhilaration of a Tesla. And for the driver, that’s enough.

Why We Shouldn’t Phase Out ICE Vehicles Yet

 

Hello, I’m a mule – the very first hybrid form of transport.

In certain parts of the world – Europe, to be specific – governments have pledge to stop the sales of new cars that are powered by internal combustion engines only (aka ICE vehicles, where ICE stands for internal combustion engine).  This means that any new cars sold in these countries will be hybrids or pure electrics.

First, before we all panic and start stockpiling petrol and diesel because we aren’t ready to ditch our favourite sets of wheels yet, let’s clarify a few things.   Firstly, Australia hasn’t made any such pledge yet, although certain political parties are starting to talk about it.  Secondly, what will be phased out is the sale of NEW cars only.  Presumably, second-hand car dealers will still have ICE vehicles sitting out in the yards (possibly quite a few of them if all the ones that have been kicked off UK roads make it over here).  And they’ll still have to sell petrol and diesel to run (a) the older cars, (b) the diesel or petrol parts of the hybrids and (c) things like motorbikes that haven’t really caught onto the whole electric thing yet.

Nevertheless, I don’t really want to jump on the “let’s phase out ICE cars” bandwagon.  I don’t think we’re quite ready for that yet.

First of all, there’s the issue of range in pure EVs.  Mercifully, we now have enough charging points along the A1 highway so you won’t get stranded in the middle of the Nullabor, but even so, it takes at least half an hour to fully charge an EV.  This means that your Great Australian Road Trip is going to take even longer than it would otherwise.  Plan accordingly.  However, although the main highways around the perimeter are pretty well provided with charging points, there are bits of the country where the charging points are spaced out further than the typical range of an EV.  This is not good news for, say, park rangers, farmers and rural nurses.  The developers are going to have to really, really work hard to get better range for EVs before these groups are going to even think about buying one.  I keep getting this mental picture of some rural midwife trying to head out to some rural woman going into labour but being held up by (a) detouring to the nearest charging point and (b) waiting for half an hour to charge her vehicle.  Don’t even think about what would happen with emergency service vehicles.

I kind of hope that the Powers That Be who are going to make the decisions about our national vehicle fleet go out and spend a day riding shotgun with some of the folk in our rural communities to get an idea of the distances they drive… and at least put in a few more charging points before they decide to kit out all the nurses with EVs.  Not sure what they’ll be able to do for the park rangers.  Carrying about a diesel generator to power up a vehicle in the middle of nowhere kind of seems to defeat the purpose of promoting EVs in the first place.

Anyway, there’s another issue, and it’s one that affect those in cities as well.  Now, the majority of EVs and hybrids are smaller vehicles.  When it comes to practical commercial vehicles that your typical tradie can use, it’s a different story.  Yes, there are some great hybrid SUVs available, such as the Volvo XC90  and the BMW X5 , but these aren’t your typical choice for a tradie.  As for the Tesla X SUV…  I, for one, would start wondering how much my plumber or electrician charges per hour if I saw him/her driving around in a high-end SUV.  At least Mitsubishi and Nissan have some offerings, including a 2WD version of the Nissan Pathfinder  and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV  (which is reported to be the most popular hybrid/EV in Australia).

Your typical electrician, plumber, builder or landscape gardener usually prefers to drive a ute or van, preferably one with lots of torque to tow a massive trailer as well as lots of load space.  I know this all too well, as the other half is a landscape gardener and I’ve seen the amount of gear he carries in the trailer and carts around in various bits of the trusty dual-cab Navara ute.  Given what your typical tradie charges per hour – which has to be affordable in order to be competitive – new cars aren’t usually on the cards.  A phase-out of ICE vehicles would mean that second-hand vehicles would still be an option for your tradies… but what happens further down the track?  If nobody’s bought brand new hybrid/EV utes and vans then there won’t be any second-hand ones for your small-scale tradies to purchase.  Let’s hope that if the phase-out happens, larger operators will get themselves a fleet of hybrid utes and vans that can then go on down the line.  Either that or the banks are going to have to be nicer to owner-operator tradies so they can finance something brand new.

Tradies also clock up quite a few kilometres just around town, which means that even if pure EV commercial vehicles were available yet, your tradies would have to spend ages charging up possibly at least once a day. This means that you could be left waiting for the plumber (assuming he or she does emergency call-outs) for that little bit longer while your toilet refuses to flush and/or overflows.  Half an hour can be a long time when you’re waiting for the dunny…

At the moment, there aren’t a whole lot of hybrid or electric vans and utes out there on the roads – at least not yet.  Renault  has one electric van that’s going to arrive very soon, Haval has plans for a hybrid ute and there’s even talk about a hybrid version of my favourite tradie’s beloved Nissan Navara.  But they’re still in the future (we’ll let you know when they arrive). Even if a big construction company wanted to kit all of its builders out with hybrid or electric commercial vehicles as soon as they hit these shores, this would still be some way off.

There’s also the issue of all the investment and research into biofuels, but that’s worth taking another whole post to discuss.

In short, it’s too soon to talk seriously about phasing out ICE vehicles in Australia simply because we don’t have enough suitable new replacements for the current vehicle fleet that have the range and the practical ability of the petrol and diesel units currently available.  Although your Green Party members living in the city could probably make the switch to purely electric vehicles tomorrow and not be affected (and I hope they’ve already made the switch and put their money where their mouth is), there’s a significant proportion of typical Aussies who can’t make the switch yet and will have to stick with ICE vehicles for a while yet.  Be patient, folks.  Although there may come a day when hybrid vehicles and EVs triumph, today is not that day.

The Race To Zero Emissions

Once upon a time, we were all whispering about a possible conspiracy that someone had invented a car that ran on something that wasn’t fossil fuel but the Big Oil companies resorted to various forms of skulduggery ranging from buying out the patents or technology through to murder to ensure that petrol and diesel continued to reign supreme in the motoring world.  Fast forward to nearly 2020 (i.e. today) and there’s a new rumour on the block: the rumour that petrol and diesel powered cars are going to be phased out.

In fact, this is more than just a rumour.  They’re starting to do it already in the UK.  The famous university city of Oxford is going to ban fossil fuel powered cars from the city centre by 2020, meaning that only electric vehicles (and probably hydrogen powered vehicles) will be allowed to buzz around in the heart of the city.  Looks like the complaint made by JRR Tolkien back in the day about “the roar of self-obstructive mechanical traffic” in the streets of inner Oxford is going to be dealt with… well, at least the roaring bit.  The idea is to make the city centre the world’s first Zero Emissions Zone.  (OK, to be picky, it will be Zero Emissions as far as car exhausts go – there will still be carbon dioxide and methane emissions as long as human beings breathe, burp and fart.)

This move to ban petrol-based cars is not unique to places as notoriously academic and ivory-towerish as Oxford.  In fact, the Government of Scotland has announced that it will phase out petrol and diesel vehicles by 2023.  Ms Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has acknowledged in her statement (which covers other topics – the bit in question is about one-third of a way down if you want to find it) that it’s an ambitious project and is going to need a lot of infrastructure established.

This move by Scotland to be the first to phase out new petrol and diesel cars is ambitious, but it looks as though it’s part of a race between the old rivals England and Scotland to be the greenest.  Apparently, the UK government has announced  that it wants all new vans and cars on the roads to be zero emission vehicles (which is not a bad term for lumping electric, hydrogen and ethanol vehicles together – although it probably doesn’t include biodiesel vehicles). Because the UK has rules about the age of cars that they allow on the roads, this means that all their vehicles are slated to be zero-emissions vehicles by 2050.

What this means for the owners of vintage and classic vehicles, I don’t know.  I guess they’ll have some sort of exemption or they’ll only be allowed out on special occasions.  Or maybe they’ll have to be retrofitted to take biodiesel or ethanol.  I suspect that even the royal Rolls-Royces and Daimlers aren’t going to be exempt.

Naturally, if there’s rivalry between England and Scotland to do something first, you can bet like anything that the other ancient rivalry will flame up and indeed it has: France has also announced that it won’t be selling any new petrol or diesel cars after 2040.  Happily, the French government has also said that it will provide some sort of subsidy for poorer households so they can get an upgrade.  And yes, this puts the pressure on all those French marques like Citroën , Renault and Peugeot  to up their game and make sure that they’re only making hydrogen and electric vehicles by this stage.

Naturally, Scandinavia is already in on the game (and, incidentally, they’re old rivals of Scotland’s as well – which is why the north of Scotland likes to keeps up a few Viking traditions).  Norway is already smugly announcing that half of its new vehicle registrations are electric or at least hybrid, and it says the Norwegian target is to end sales of fossil-fuel-only cars by 2025.  Norway has been handing out tax breaks and concession for electrics and hybrids for ages, and it’s got the geography and rainfall needed to sustain the hydroelectric plants that are necessary to charge all those batteries.  The Netherlands and Germany are also in on the act. This means, of course, that all the German and Swedish car marques we love are going to concentrate on electrics and hybrids.  My beloved Volvo announced  that every new Volvo car and SUV from 2019 onwards will be electric in some way: full-time electric, plug-in hybrid or at least a little bit hybrid.

However, if governments can live up to their promises (IF!!!), then it looks as though Scotland wants to win the zero-emissions race.  I feel a song coming on, to be sung to the tune of Loch Lomond:

Oh ye’ll take the low road, and I’ll take the high road

And I’ll phase out petrol cars before ye

And me and my diesel will never drive again

On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.

In fact, it seems as though Australia is a little bit behind here, as we’ve been slower to embrace electrics, although they are becoming more and more common.  I’ve seen a few new charging points popping up near where I live, so people are starting to get on board.  The Green Party has asked the Australian government to jump on board, but the Powers That Be are hesitant.

And I think they’re right to be hesitant.  I’ve still got a ton of questions about the whole thing, though, as I guess many of us do.  What happens to old classics and collectors’ items?  Do electric vehicles and hybrids have the range to tackle our long Outback roads without stranding people in the middle of nowhere?  What if we can’t afford a new car?  How are we going to charge all those vehicles – are we going to just burn petrol and diesel in electric power plants instead of car engines (which seems pretty pointless)?  Where do ethanol (which we’re already using in Australia) and biodiesel fit into this picture?  Do we have enough charging points and can our electricity system handle all the new demand?  What will happen to all those old vehicles internal combustion engines?  Do they go to the landfill?  Is there a way to recycle the metal and plastics used to make them?  And what if we LIKE the cars we’ve got and what they can do??? Does the average Aussie driver get a say in all this?

However, we can certainly expect to be including a lot more electric vehicles in our car reviews, and it’s certainly an exciting time of change for the motoring industry, so we’ll do our best to keep you updated.

What Did People Use Petroleum For Before The Internal Combustion Engine?

Vintage advertisement for benzine-based stain remover.

Petroleum is currently the backbone of the motoring industry, despite the push for alternate fuel sources such as biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, etc.  Ever since Karl Benz first invented the internal combustion engine and fitted it to the horseless carriage, vehicles have run on petroleum of some type – apart from a brief period where Diesel engines ran on vegetable oil.

On Bertha Benz’s legendary first long-distance drive in her husband’s new invention, she ran out of fuel and had to stop and pick up more from the nearest pharmacy.  It’s easy to just take in that sentence and think what a funny place a pharmacy is to pick up petrol until you stop and think about it: why was a chemist’s shop selling petrol?  What on earth were people using it for before we had cars to put it in?

Petroleum has certainly been known for at least four millennia. The name comes from Ancient Greek: petra elaion, meaning “rock oil”, which distinguished it from other sorts of oil such as olive oil, sunflower seed oil and the like.  The stuff was coming out of the ground all around the world, and quite a few ancient societies found a use for it.

The most useful form of petroleum back in the days BC (as in Before Cars as well as Before Christ) was bitumen, the sticky variety that we now use for making asphalt for road surfacing.  Bitumen (also called pitch or tar) didn’t just stick to things; it was also waterproof. As it was a nice waterproof adhesive, it came in handy for all sorts of things, from sticking barbed heads onto harpoons through to use as mortar – the famously tough walls of the ancient city of Babylon (modern-day Iraq, 2which is still oil-rich) used bitumen as mortar.  The Egyptians sometimes used it in the process of mummification, using it as a waterproofing agent.  In fact, the word “mummy” is thought to derive from the Persian word for bitumen or petroleum, making mummies the very first petrolheads.

For the next thousand years, petroleum in the form of bitumen was mostly used for waterproofing ships, to the extent that sailors became known as “tars” because they tended to get covered with the stuff.  In the 1800s, it was used to make road surface – before there were cars to run on them.

It was probably the Chinese who first had the idea of using petroleum as fuel.  “Burning water” was used in the form of natural gas for lighting and heating in homes, and in about 340 AD, they had a rather sophisticated oil well drilling and piping system in place.

The bright idea of refining bitumen to something less sticky and messy first occurred in the Middle East (why are we not surprised?) at some point during the Middle Ages.  A Persian alchemist and doctor called Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi (aka Rhazes) wrote a description of how to distil rock oil using the same equipment the alchemists used for distilling essential oils.  The end result was what we know today as kerosene, and it was a lot more flammable.  Kerosene was used for lamps and in heaters, especially as it was a lot cleaner than coal.  It was also used in military applications.  Naphtha (one of the other early names for petroleum products) was possibly one of the mystery ingredients in Greek fire.

Kerosene and the like really took off during the Age of Coal and the Industrial Revolution, as they were by-products of the coke-refining industry.  About this time, scientists started tinkering around with various ways to refine crude oil into products like paraffin and benzene and benzine.  Benzene and benzine are not named after Karl and Bertha Benz the way that diesel fuel is named after Rudolf Diesel.  These words are actually derived from “benzoin” and benzene was given its official name by yet another German scientist in the early 1800s.  The similarity between the surname Benz and the name of the petrol product is pure coincidence – really!

The petrol product (ligroin) that Bertha Benz picked up at the pharmacy was probably sold as a solvent, like the ad in the picture up the top. This was one of the most common household uses of bottled refined petroleum.  Petrol is still very good as a solvent and can bust grease like few other things, so it was popular as a stain remover and a laundry product.  It might have ponged a bit and you had to be careful with matches, but it was nice and handy, and meant you could get that candle-grease off your suit without putting the whole thing through the wash.  Other uses for benzene that sound downright bizarre to us today included getting the caffeine out of coffee to make decaf and aftershave.  REALLY don’t try this one at home, even if you love the smell of petrol, as we now know that petrol products are carcinogenic and you should keep them well away from your skin, etc.

It was the widespread use of petroleum-based products such as paraffin in the 1800s that made the demand for whale oil drop dramatically.  This happened just in time to stop whales being hunted to extinction.  Using petrol was the green thing to do and helped to Save The Whales.  Now that whales have been saved and are thriving, cutting down on the use of fossil fuels is the main focus of a lot of environmental groups.  Irony just doesn’t seem to cover it.

The Story Of Diesel

It’s something we hear about our think about just about every day, whether we drive a diesel-powered vehicle or a petrol-powered one.  There you are, pulling up at the local bowser and you have to stop and do a quick check to make sure that you get the right one, diesel rather than petrol or vice versa.  You probably don’t stop to think about the word diesel much or the history behind it.

Most of us think that diesel engines are called diesel engines because they run on diesel. After all, a petrol engine runs on petrol (which, for you word boffins out there, is short for petroleum, which is derived from the Latin petra oleum, translated “rock oil”).  However, this isn’t the case.  We call the fuel diesel because it was what went in a diesel engine, i.e. the sort of internal combustion engine invented by Herr Rudolf Diesel back in 1893.  If you want to be picky, what we use is “diesel fuel” which we put into a diesel.

The story of the diesel engine starts back in the days of steam.  Steam power, though a major breakthrough that transformed the world and took us into the era of machines rather than relying on muscle power, was pretty inefficient.  You needed a lot of solid fuel to burn and you needed water that could be boiled to produce the steam, and you needed to build up a good head of steam to get the pressure needed to drive the locomotives, paddle steamers and machines.  Steam was really inefficient – up to 90% of the potential energy was wasted – and it was pretty bulky (think about steam trains, which need a caboose or a built-in tender to carry the fuel and water).  The hunt was on for something that could provide the same type of oomph and grunt but with less waste (and possibly less space).

In the 1890s, a young engineer named Rudolf Diesel came into the scene and started work on developing a more efficient engine. One of his earlier experiments involving a machine that used ammonia vapour caused a major explosion that nearly killed him and put him in hospital for several months. Nevertheless, in spite of the risks, Diesel carried on, and began investigating how best to use the Carnot Cycle. His interest was also sparked by the development of the internal combustion engine and the use of petroleum by fellow-German Karl Benz.

The Carnot Cycle is based on the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, which more or less state that heat is work and work is heat, and that heat won’t pass of its own accord from a cold object to a hotter object. This video gives a very catchy explanation of these laws:

The Carnot Cycle is a theoretical concept that involves heat energy coming from a furnace in one chamber to the working chamber, where the heat turns into work because heat causes gases and liquids to expand (it also causes solids to expand but not so dramatically). The remaining heat energy is soaked up by a cooling chamber.  The principle is also used in refrigerators to get the cooling effect.

Diesel’s engine was based on the work of a few other inventors before him, as is the case with a lot of handy inventions.  Diesel’s engine was the one that became most widespread and proved most popular, which is why we aren’t putting Niepce, Brayton, Stuart or Barton in our cars and trucks.  In fact, we came very close to putting Stuart in our engines, as Herbert Ackroyd Stuart patented a compression ignition engine using similar principles a couple of years before Rudolph Diesel did.

The general principle of a Diesel engine is that it uses compressed hot air (air gets hotter when it’s compressed, which is why a bicycle pump feels hot when you’ve been using it for a while) to get the fuel in the internal combustion engine going.  This is in contrast to a petrol engine (which we really ought to call an Otto engine, as it operates on the Otto Cycle rather than the Diesel Cycle), which used sparks of electricity to get the fuel and air mix going. Petrol engines compress the air-fuel mix a little bit – down to about 10% of its original size, but a diesel engine, the air is compressed a lot more tightly. More details of how it works would probably be better described in a post of its own, so we’ll save the complicated explanation for later.

Diesel fuel doesn’t need to be as refined as what goes into petrol engines, which is what makes diesel engines a bit more efficient than their equivalents that run on more refined petrol (makes you wonder why “petrolheads” are considered to be coarse and crude).  The fuel is more energy-dense and it burns more completely – and it needs less lubrication, which means less friction, which is also more efficient.

Herr Diesel’s original idea was to have his engine run on something that wasn’t this fancy petroleum stuff, which was mostly used medicinally to treat headlice at that stage.  The first prototype used petrol as we know it.  Later models used the cheap fraction that now bears his name.  Even later refinements ran on vegetable oil, with the grand idea that people could grow a source of fuel rather than mine or drill for it.  One of the great mysteries of the story of diesel is why they switched to fossil fuels when the peanut oil that Diesel raved about worked so well.  Now we’re all excited about biofuels and especially biodiesel once again…  Was there some conspiracy at work?

However, how diesel engines came to run on fossil fuels rather than plant oil is not the only mystery about Rudolf Diesel.  His death was also unexpected and mysterious.  In late 1913, this German inventor was on his way by ship to the UK for a conference.  One night, he headed off to his cabin and asked the stewards to wake him early in the morning.  However, he vanished during the night, leaving his coat neatly folded beneath a railing.  Ten days later, his body, recognisable only from the items in his pockets, was pulled from the sea.

How his body came to be found floating in the English Channel is a mystery.  Perhaps the problems with his eyesight left over from his accident with the ammonia vapour explosion and a rough sea led to an accident. Perhaps he committed suicide, as a lot of the fortune his invention had earned him had gone into shares that devalued.  Or perhaps foul play was at work. After all, in 1913, tensions were building between Diesel’s native Germany and the UK, where Diesel had planned to meet with engineers and designers for the Royal Navy.  This was the era of the Anglo-German Naval Race, where the German and British navies were in an all-out arms race to get control of the economically important North Sea.  When Diesel was making his ill-fated crossing, the Germans had the use of the more efficient diesel technology but the British had the formidable Dreadnought class of steam-powered battleships.  The arms race was officially over, as Germany had agreed to tone things down in order to placate the British – who had alliances with the two other political powers that were at loggerheads with Germany.  It’s perfectly possible that in spite of this and because of the political tension of the time, the idea of the firepower of the Dreadnought combined with the efficiency of the diesel engine was just too much for Kaiser Bill’s government…

Tesla Gets A Semi And Updated Roadster.

It’s been hinted at, guessed about, and now it’s for real. Tesla has given us a semi. 2019 is the year that is currently scheduled for first delivery and reservations are currently being taken in the US for just five thousand American dollars.Tesla has unveiled the new truck at a lavish event and simply stated, the design and specifications are stunning.

  • Zero to 60 mph in five seconds, unladen,
  • Zero to 60 mph in twenty seconds with an 80000 pound (over 36200 kilos) load,
  • Will climb a five degree slope at a steady 65 mph,
  • No shifting and clutching mechanism, regenerative braking recovers 98% of energy and no moving engine parts reduces maintenance, costs, and wear,
  • New megachargers add 400 miles range in thirty minutes,
  • Enhanced Autopilot, the Tesla Semi features Automatic Emergency Braking, Automatic Lane Keeping, Lane Departure Warning, and event recording,
  • Has an autonomous convoy mode, where a lead truck can control following trucks. Tesla has also changed the way we view a semi, with the cabin designed to be driver-centric, and with stairs to allow better entry and exit from the cabin. The cabin itself will allow standing room and for the driver two touchscreens for ease of use and providing extra information at a glance.

Tesla has also revealed a throwback to their origins, with a revamped Roadster. It’s also some numbers that, if proven, are truly startling. Consider a 0-100 kph time of 1.9 seconds, a standing 400 metre time of 8.8 seconds, 0 – 160 kph of just 4.2 seconds, over 250 miles per hour top speed and a range of over 600 miles. It’ll be all wheel drive, a four seater, have a removable glass roof, and will start at a current mooted price of US$200000.

More information can be found via The Tesla website

Information provided courtesy of Tesla.

 

Nissan Leaf Wins Award.

Nissan‘s small electric car, Leaf, has won, at the hugely prestigious Consumer Electronics Show, CES Best of Innovation award winner for Vehicle Intelligence and Self-Driving Technology.
Each year, the Consumer Technology Association announces its CES Best of Innovation award winners as part of the buildup to the January CES in Las Vegas. Nissan and the association will put on a special display of the new Nissan LEAF at the 2018 show. As confirmation of Nissan’s leading investment in innovation, the Nissan LEAF 100 per cent electric vehicle with ProPILOT (and e-Pedal technologies also won the following honour: CES honoree for Tech for a Better World.

Daniele Schillaci, Nissan’s executive vice president for global marketing and sales, zero-emission vehicles and the battery business, and chairman of the management committee for the Japan/A&O region says: “It is a great honour to have this early and important recognition for the new Nissan LEAF. This award recognises products and technologies that benefit people and the planet, so it is fitting that the new LEAF has been honoured. It is more than just a car. It is the icon of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, our vision to move people to a better world.”

The new Nissan LEAF brings a compelling package of everyday-useful innovations and technologies to more people worldwide than any electric vehicle has done before. The car is helping make the world a better place not only through innovation, but also through accessibility to more people.
Additional capabilities such as vehicle-to-home and vehicle-to-grid integration (availability depending on market) help owners know they can waste less and give back more.

Head to The Nissan website for more information.