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Electric Vehicles (EVs)

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 kg 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.

Tesla Confirms U.S. Model 3 Milestone

Elon Musk and Tesla have announced that the much talked about Model 3 (with a still as yet unknown Australian sale date) will now be available in the United States for a barrier breaking US$35,000. A change of name has been added, and Tesla offers the Standard range and Standard Range Plus. Deliveries will start within weeks.

Tesla preempted the announcement by stopping orders, before reopening the system with the two variants being listed. The Standard Range Plus will add an extra US$2,000 to the hip pocket hit. What a buyer will get is either 355 kilometres or 386 kilometres of range, 0 to 96 km/h (0 to 60mph) of either 5.6 seconds or 5.3 seconds, and either 210 km/h or 225km/h for top speeds.
It won’t be far off the same overall size as the Model S; it’s 4694mm in length, sits on a 2875mm wheelbase, and is 1933mm wide with the wing mirrors folded. Front and rear track is 1580mm.

As has already been seen, Tesla don’t skimp on equipment. satnav, Bluetooth, 4 USB charging points, and a skin friendly tinted glass roof are listed as standard. It’ll roll on 18 inch alloys, and they’ll come with battery saving aero coverings.The interior will feature a large touchscreen mounted up high on the dash, and this will be the only screen made available for the vehicle.
Tesla have made much of their semi-autonomous driving system or Autopilot. Tick that option box and you’ll need to find an extra $3,000 in American money. A work in progress is the next level system, which purportedly offers self parking and a “Summon” system. The latter needs a smartphone app in order to operate it.

However Tesla have made a change to their bottom line by announcing they’ll be closing their current dealership network, and the estimate is that prices should drop by six percent as a result of the expected savings. Any knock on to the Australian network isn’t currently known.
Tesla Australia can be reached via the link.

 

Hydrogen Fuel Cells – The Basic Facts

One of the more exciting vehicles that’s scheduled to come to Australia at some unspecified date in 2019 is the Hyundai Nexo – one of the vehicles recently awarded the Best in Class for all-round safety by Euro NCAP.  This vehicle combines regular batteries with hydrogen fuel cell technology. Three vehicles made by major marques have been designed to run on HFCs: the aforementioned Hyundai Nexo, the Toyota  Mirai and the Honda  Clarity.

Toyota Mirai concept car

Hydrogen fuel cell technology is another option for overcoming our addiction to fossil fuels (the other two are biofuels and electricity).  But what is hydrogen fuel cell technology and how does it work?  Is it really that sustainable and/or environmentally friendly?  Isn’t hydrogen explosive, so will a car running on hydrogen fuel cell technology really be safe?

OK, let’s start with the basics: how does it work?

Diagram of a hydrogen fuel cell

A hydrogen fuel cell (let’s call it an HFC for short) is designed to generate electricity, so a vehicle that’s powered by HFC technology is technically an EV.  A chemical reaction takes place in the cell and this gets a current going, thanks to the delicate balance between positive and negative ions (all chemistry is, ultimately, to do with electricity). How is this different from a battery?  Well, a battery uses what’s stored inside it but an HFC needs a continual supply of fuel.  Think of a battery as being like a lake, whereas the HFC is a stream or a river.  The other thing that an HFC needs is something for the hydrogen fuel to react with as it passes through the cell itself, which consists of an anode, cathode and an electrolyte solution – and I don’t mean a fancy sports drink.  One of the things that hydrogen reacts best with and is readily found in the atmosphere is good old oxygen.

Naturally, there’s always a waste product produced from the reaction that generates the charge. This waste product is dihydrogen monoxide.  For those of you who haven’t heard of this, dihydrogen monoxide is a colourless, odourless compound that’s liquid at room temperature.  In gas form, dihydrogen monoxide is a well-known and very common greenhouse gas, and it’s quite corrosive to a number of metals (it’s a major component of acid rain).  It’s vital to the operation of nuclear-powered submarines and is widely used in industry as a solvent and coolant.  Although it has been used as a form of torture, it’s highly addictive to humans and is responsible for hundreds of human deaths globally every year.  Prolonged contact with dihydrogen monoxide in solid form causes severe tissue damage.  You can find more information about this potentially dangerous substance here*: http://www.dhmo.org/facts.html

For the less alarmist of us, dihydrogen monoxide is, of course, H2O or good old water, like the stuff I’m sipping on right now on a hot summer day.  Yes – that’s the main waste product produced by HFCs, which is why these are a bit of a hot topic in the world of environmental motoring.

OK, so air goes in one bit of the HFC, hydrogen gas goes in the other, and water and electrical power come out of it.  The next question that one has to ask is where the hydrogen fuel comes from (this question always needs to be asked: what’s the source of the fossil fuel substitute?).  The cheapest source of hydrogen gas as used on HFCs is natural gas, which is, unfortunately, a fossil fuel.  So are some of the other sources of hydrogen gas.  However, you can get it out of methane, which is the simplest type of hydrocarbon.  Methane can be produced naturally by bacteria that live in the guts of certain animals, especially cows.  Not sure how you can catch the methane from burping and farting cows for use in making hydrogen gas for HFCs.  And, just in case you’re wondering, some humans (not all!) do produce methane when they fart.  It’s down to the particular breed of bacteria in the gut (archaea if you want to be picky – they’re known as methanogens).  They’re as common as muck – literally.  So yes, there’s potential for hydrogen gas to be produced from natural sources – including from sewage.  The other thing is that producing hydrogen gas from methane leaves carbon dioxide behind.  But this has way less effect as a greenhouse gas than methane, so that’s a plus.

If you’re currently feeling that HFCs might not be quite as environmentally friendly after all and we all ought to drive straight EVs, then I encourage you to do a thorough investigation of how the electricity used to charge EVs comes from. It’s not always that carbon-neutral either.  Heck, even a bicycle isn’t carbon-neutral because when you puff and pant more to push those pedals, you are breathing out more carbon dioxide than normal.  All in all, HFCs are pretty darn good.  The worst thing they chuck out as exhaust is water, and the hydrogen gas needed to power them can come from sustainable sources – very sustainable if you get it from animal manure and/or sewage, which also means that poop becomes a resource instead of a problem to get rid of.  They’re doing this in Japan – and they’ve also managed to get the carbon bits of the methane to become calcium carbonate, which sequesters carbon and has all sorts of fun uses from a dietary supplement through to agricultural lime.

Another plus about HFCs is that they are a lot more efficient than combustion engines.  A large chunk of the potential energy going in turns into the electrical energy that you want, which is then turned into kinetic (motion) energy by the motor so your car gets moving (or it turns into some other form, such as light energy for the headlights or sound energy for the stereo system).  Some comes out in the form of heat.  Combustion engines waste a lot of the potential energy in the form of heat (lots of it!) and noise (ditto).

The amount of electrical energy produced by a single HFC isn’t going to be very large, so inside any vehicle powered by hydrogen technology, there will be a stack of HFCs, which work together to produce the full amount of oomph you need. The fun part in designing a vehicle that runs on HFC technology involves ensuring that the stack has the oomph needed without being too heavy and working out where to put the tanks of hydrogen gas.  However, this isn’t too hard.

The other problem with manufacturing HFC vehicles is that the catalyst inside the cells is expensive – platinum is common.  This is probably one of the biggest barriers to the spread of the technology, along with the usual issue of nobody buying HFC vehicles because nobody’s got an easy place to get the gas from and nobody’s selling the gas because nobody’s buying HFC cars.  They had the same issue with plug-in EVs too, remember, and we all know how that’s changed.  However, last year, our very own CSIRO came up with some technology to get hydrogen fuel for HFC vehicles out of ammonia and they want to go crazy with this and use it all over the show.  This is exciting stuff and probably deserves a post of its very own, so I’ll tell you more about that another day.

I feel in the need for some 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine theine combined with dihydrogen monoxide in solution with β-D-galactopyranosyl-(1→4)-D-glucose and calcium phosphate, also known as a cup of coffee, so it’s time for me to stop and to wish you safe and happy driving – hopefully without too much methane inside the cabin of your car on long journeys!

*Some people in the world have far, far too much time on their hands.

Best In Class: Euro NCAP Releases The Safest Cars In Each Class For 2018

It’s that time of year when a lot of us are making like Chris Rea (driving home for Christmas) and thinking about the year that’s been.  The boys and girls in blue are also starting to ramp up the usual Christmas and New Year clampdown on drunk driving (fair enough) and speeding (sometimes getting a bit too picky). News announcers are going to dampen our festive mood by letting us know what the holiday road toll is for this year.  In keeping with this combination of wrapping up 2018 and keeping our minds on safety in a way that isn’t quite such a buzzkill, let’s take a look at the stars that Euro NCAP rated as being the safest new cars in each class for 2018.

Euro NCAP puts out its list of Best in Class vehicles (sounds like a dog show).  This list shows you who came out top out of the new vehicles in each vehicle class for that year.  It’s based on a bunch of different aspects of safety: protection of adult occupants, protection of child occupants, pedestrian safety and safety assistance.  These four factors have different weightings when they’re added together to get the final score.  Tests are carried out on the vehicles with standard safety equipment.

Some categories of vehicle don’t have a Best in Class for the year.  This happens when Euro NCAP hasn’t tested enough in that particular category to really make it a contest.  They only tested one in the Fleet category and none in the Vans category this year, for example.

And now (drum roll), here’s the winners for 2018:

Large Off-Road Vehicle: Hyundai Nexo

This one’s not currently available in Australia but it should come in a limited edition in 2019, according to Hyundai Australia.  This 5-door SUV (which isn’t exactly a big brute but was classed as a large off-roader by Euro NCAP) used hydrogen fuel cell technology plus electric, making it a hybrid among hybrids.  Looks pretty nice, too, so it’s going to be worth the wait! It scored 94% for Adult Occupant, 87% for Child Occupant, 97% for Pedestrian and 80% for Safety Assistance.

Large Family Car: Lexus ES

Euro NCAP is talking about a large car for families, not a car for large families, and this luxury hybrid sedan will certainly carry your family in style.  It got a score of 91% for Adult Occupant, 87% for Child Occupant, 90% for Pedestrian and 77% for Safety Assistance.

Small Family Car: Mercedes-Benz A-Class

This snappy little 5-door hatch scored 96% for Adult Occupant, 91% for Child Occupant, 92% for Pedestrian and 75% for Safety Assistance.  Its automatic brake assistance scooped it a whopping 11.8 out of a possible 12 in the safety features category.

Euro NCAP also has a separate class for electric and hybrid vehicles.  This year, the Best in Class in this category was the Lexus ES.  Something tells me that as Europe phases out straight ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles and brings in more and more hybrids and EVs, this category is going to be scrapped, as they’re all going to fit into it.

According to the official Euro NCAP press release, this year, the safety tests had a particular focus on “vulnerable road users”, namely pedestrians and cyclists.  And yes, they use crash test dummy pedestrians and cyclists for these tests, especially for the AEB (automatic emergency braking) systems.  (Can some bright psychologist tell me why the walking pedestrian dummies they use in the AEB tests always make me want to laugh?).

Here’s the A-Class going through its paces at the Euro NCAP facility so you can see exactly what they do to these cars.  Part of me thinks that these tests waste a nice car but then, to ensure great safety, you need to make some sacrifices, and it’s better to waste a machine than a human being.

Euro NCAP also puts out lists of the top vehicles in each of the categories.  Not all of the ones listed in these rankings are available in Australia yet, but we’ll certainly let you know all about them when they get here.  Here’s the ranking for family vehicles (i.e. small and large family vehicles and MPVS), ranked by overall score:

  1. Mercedes-Benz A-Class
  2. Lexus ES
  3. Audi Q3
  4. Volvo S60
  5. Volvo V60
  6. Peugeot 508
  7. Mazda 6
  8. Nissan LEAF
  9. Ford Focus
  10. Ford Tourneo Connect
  11. Opel Combo
  12. Citroën Berlingo
  13. Peugeot Rifter

Safe and happy driving not only over the Christmas and New Year period but also all through 2019, whether you score yourself one of these super-safe new cars or whether you prefer something else.

Porsche On A Mission E

Porsche Mission E

Porsche Mission E Interior

So what have Porsche been up to really recently – and I mean currently working on?  They are right into creating a new breed of E-Performance cars: exciting cars that have supercar performance, electric power and boundless attraction.  Who’s not going to like a car with the name Porsche Mission E.

The Mission E models are made up of one very quick 4-seater sedan with a height of only 1.3 m and a very special E Cross Turismo – which is basically a Mission E on steroids to tackle a range of terrain and road surfaces you’d come in contact with on any given adventure.

Porsche E Cross Tourismo

Porsche E Cross Turismo Interior

Porsche’s Mission E is a superbly light car with an architecture that’s very distinctive.  The all-electric drive gives the car absence of a transmission tunnel, and this feature opens up cabin space and imparts a lighter, more generously proportioned ambient feeling inside the car.  You get four individual seats that are inspired by bucket-type racing seats.  So strap yourself inside, and whether you’re driving or an occupant in the back you’ll enjoy all the appropriate lateral support you’ll need to match the driving dynamics of the car.

So they are both go fast cars.  Both Mission E vehicles offer a 0-100 km/h sprint time of around the 3.5 second mark.  With a range of over 500 km, you can then recharge to a range of 400 km in a mere 15 minutes – thanks to Porsche’s innovative 800-volt technology.

Take a look at the exterior and interior pics.  They really are an exciting new breed from Porsche!  Looking forward to when we can experience them over here in Australia.

Here are some other special Electric supercars that will be around shortly, all bidding for attention.

Do you know of any other supercar electric models?  Of course, there’s already the very cool BMW i8.

And, here are some of the others to be seen shortly.  Still a little hazy on the Nissan IDS but it looks cool!  Hopefully not too far away:

BMW i8

Jaguar XJ

Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3 Interior

Nissan IDS

Nissan IDS Interior

Household Appliances And Cars From The Same Maker?

Don’t worry – Dyson’s proposed EV probably won’t look like this.

I heard the other day that a household appliance manufacturer is going to have a go at the electric car game.  Although my first reaction (and possibly yours) was to snigger, I then realised that it’s possibly not all that loopy after all.  For one thing, it’s not the first time that a company has had a go at making household gadgets and motor cars:  Toyota  makes sewing machines as well as their very popular cars and they’re not bad (the cars or the sewing machines – and I can vouch for the sewing machines, as I’ve got one).  Peugeot also started out making coffee grinders, umbrellas and crinolines.

For another thing, the makers of household appliances are already used to working with electric motors for – well, just about anything.  Household appliances just about all run on electricity and a lot of them use electrical motors – so why not scale up from teeny electric motors in electric shavers to motorcars? We’re used to other things that can run on either electricity or internal combustion engines, such as lawnmowers, so it might be just a matter of scale.

The household appliance manufacturer in question is Dyson, who also makes vacuum cleaners.  Cue jokes about “My car sucks.”  At the moment, they’ve managed to get a nice big factory space and the plan is to put a car out by 2020.  Or 2021, depending on which press release you get your hands on.  Details are still being kept secret but here’s what we know so far:

  • They’re going to convert a bunch of old World War 2 era aircraft hangars in the UK to use as factories.
  • They’re doing the research and development in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia as well as the UK.
  • One of the former hangars has at least 15 km of vehicle testing tracks. Presumably they don’t test the vacuum cleaners on these.

OK, the idea of producing vacuum cleaners and EVs seems ludicrous.  However, I’ve often noticed that advertising for vacuum cleaners has a lot in common with quite a few car ads, ranting and raving about the power of the motor and how many kilowatts it can do.  In fact, I think that cars (OK, boats and motorbikes as well if you’re picky) and vacuum cleaners are the only things that use engine power as a selling point.  Dyson’s experience with filters and air flow will probably also come in handy for designing a car.  Maybe we’ll also see some interesting styling, given the way that Dyson produced a completely new style of vacuum cleaner when they put out their Dual Cyclone.

However, we need to hope that the Dyson EVs have better handling ability than the typical vacuum cleaner.  I don’t know about you, but I always have much more trouble getting a vacuum cleaner to go where I want it to, and they’re probably worse than supermarket shopping trolleys for bad handling.  Work to be done here, Dyson!

We also need to hope that Dyson learns a thing or three about pricing if they want to be really competitive.  Dyson may be the luxury marque for vacuums (and hair dryers, fans and hand dryers) but is there really room in the luxury EV market for somebody other than Tesla?  Especially now that more widely known makers, especially the European ones, are turning more and more to EVs and hybrids.  Your typical Dyson vacuum costs about 10 times as much as the bog-standard vacuum, after all.

My one humble suggestion to Dyson would also be to change the name for the vehicle line.  Toyota may be able to get away with producing sewing machines but they’re better known for their cars.  Not everybody does home sewing but most people except total slobs use vacuum cleaners.  Dyson, however, is a big name in the household appliance world, so that is going to be what people think of first when somebody announces that they’ve just bought a new Dyson with a powerful motor.  It doesn’t quite have the same kudos or cachet as, say, Lexus or Mercedes.  Perhaps Cyclone, in honour of the Dual Cyclone, or JD Motors for James Dyson would do the job.

It will be interesting to see if this venture comes off.  If it does, would you drive a Dyson car?  Would you prefer them to use a different brand name?  Does the idea suck or does it clean up?  Tell us what you think!

Oh yes – if Dyson could add in an in-car vacuum cleaner so we can clean up mess straight away, that would be grand!

Fossil Fuel, EVs or Bio Fuels?

Fossil Fuels

Is petroleum diesel still a fuel that is going to be around to power our cars in the future?  On the surface, it might look like the era of the diesel engine might be drawing to a close, especially when we hear that some manufacturers are pulling the pin on building new diesel engines.  The truth is that non-renewable resources, which include fossil fuels such as oil, coal, petroleum and natural gas, are all finite in their quantity available in nature for the future.  Diesel fuel is a petroleum product, and so is considered to be a finite non-renewable resource.  Certainly it would seem that petroleum-based diesel has a limited window of opportunity for powering motor vehicles around the globe.  But is this actually the case?

Added to the seemingly limited supply of our fossil fuels, we also hear that some car manufacturers are deciding to avoid building new diesel engines all together.  Volvo was one of the first to announce boldly that by 2019 there would be no more diesel powered Volvo cars and SUVs in their line-up.  Volkswagen Group’s diesel emissions cheating scandal has meant that they have decided to stop selling diesel models, as well.  Volkswagen Group is pretty big when you consider that VW, Audi and Porsche are all under the same banner.

Because our global economy relies on so many diesel engines for performing many mechanical tasks we can’t drive the world’s diesel fleet over the cliff and forget about them just yet.  The reality is that even America’s economy would grind to a halt immediately if they decided to go without diesel power overnight.  Diesel engines are used in so many commercial applications – trucking, construction, shipping, farming, buses and much, much more.  Diesel motors are still far more energy frugal (assuming proper and legal emissions treatment is followed) compared with gasoline equivalents.  For any sort of heavy-duty transportation work or for towing purposes, the low-end torque of a diesel engine simply cannot be matched by gasoline motors which have to be worked much harder for the same amount of work – and therefore pump out more emissions.

EVs

EVs are getting plenty of press at the moment, but in reality they have a very long way to go before they can truly be considered as a true logistical alternative to the diesel motor.  There just simply isn’t the network in place to produce so many EVs nor power so many EVs for our global economy to continue growing at the pace it is.

Biofuels

What I haven’t heard so much of lately is the advancements made in biofuels.  Biofuels seem to me to be the much more sensible replacement option for petroleum diesel, as biodiesel fuels are a renewable resource.  Biofuels are derived from biological materials such as food crops, crop residues, forest residues, animal wastes, and landfills.  Major biofuels are biodiesel, ethanol, and methane; and biofuels, by their very nature, are renewable over a period of less than one year for those based on crop rotation, crop residues, and animal wastes or about 35 years for those based on forest residues.

Emissions from burning biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine have significantly lower levels of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter, sulphur oxides, odour, and noxious “smoke” compared to emissions from the conventional petroleum diesel motor that we are more familiar with.  Also, carbon dioxide emissions from combustion of biodiesel are reduced by about 10% when compared to petroleum diesel, but there is a more significant carbon dioxide benefit with biodiesel made from plant oils.  During the photosynthesis process, as the plants are growing and developing, carbon dioxide is drawn from the environment into the plant, while the plants release beneficial oxygen into the environment.

How are EV batteries made?  Are they as clean as renewable biofuels?  If EVs are running on electricity produced by burning dirty fossil fuels, the climate benefits are limited.  Because of the complex batteries that EVs use, it currently takes more energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one.  While fewer emissions are produced by the cars themselves while driving on the streets, CO2 is still being emitted by power plants needed to charge the EVs.  And, disposing of those complex EV batteries creates an environmental hazard in itself.  EV batteries also need to be made from non-renewable minerals such as copper and cobalt, and rare earths like neodymium.

Some other negatives for EVs are that the mining activities for the minerals in countries like China or the Democratic Republic of Congo often cause human rights violations and vast ecological devastation which include: deforestation, polluted rivers and contaminated soil.  Not so great!  And, in addition, many automakers use aluminium to build the bodies of EVs, and a tremendous amount of energy is required to process bauxite ore into the lightweight metal.

Trucks, ships and tractors still think diesel power rules!  Even though some car manufacturers have abandoned petroleum diesel fuelled cars, there are other automotive manufacturers that have actually ramped up their diesel vehicle production.  General Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, Mazda, Kia, Jeep, Ford, Nissan and Chevrolet are all manufacturing plenty of new diesel motors.

Hmmm?!  Biofuels then?

Electric Vehicles: What Will Happen With The Fuel Taxes?

I think we all know by now that electric cars and hybrids are much more common on the roads than they used to be.  It’s 20 years since the original Toyota Prius  – the groundbreaking first hybrid vehicle – hit the roads, which means that if you’ve got your eyes open, you can score a second-hand hybrid.  They’re getting better and better with extended range and more body types coming with hybrid and even all-electric versions.

One of the reasons put forward for why you should switch to an electric or hybrid vehicle – and you hear this one more often with pure electrics – is that electricity is cheaper than petrol or diesel, so it’s cheaper to fill up.  You’re not paying all that tax.

Ah yes – the tax.  Can anyone else spot the potential problem here?  What will happen if a large proportion of us switched to purely electric vehicles?  This means that one particular source of government income is going to drop dramatically.  Can we see the government smiling happily about this and how we’re polluting so much less, etc. and just carrying on without the tax coming from fuel?  Maybe they could take a cut in their salaries or spend less on frivolous projects and fancy-pants conferences.  Ooh look – a flying pig.  Better get out your manure-proof umbrella.

OK, if we take a less cynical view and make the charitable assumption that the fuel taxes get used to keep the roads in good order.  If we don’t want our roads to deteriorate if loads of people switch to electric vehicles, that money has got to come from somewhere.  But where?  What are the options?

The first option would be to hike up the fuel tax to cover the shortfall.  There are two problems with this one.  The first is that even though there are some second-hand hybrids knocking about and even though we do our best here at Private Fleet to get you the best deals on a new car, pure electric vehicles still tend to be at the newer end of the spectrum and are beyond the budget of a low-income family (especially if said family needs a larger vehicle than the little hatchbacks that early examples of hybrids tended to be).  This leads to a vicious cycle: they can’t afford to upgrade to an electric with the higher petrol prices, which means they have to keep on using the expensive fuel, etc. or switch to using public transport if they live in towns.

The other people who will get hit hard by this hypothetical hike in fuel taxes are those in rural communities.  Although range of electrics is getting better, it’s not quite where it needs to be for those out the back of beyond: the park rangers, the tour guides in the Outback and the district nurses and midwives.  Going electric isn’t really an option for them – and the sort of vehicles needed by your park rangers and tour guides (i.e. big 4 x4s) don’t usually come in electric (although that’s starting to change).  What’s more, the big rigs and farm tractors don’t come in electric versions either (electric tractors exist but they’re puny), so they’ll keep on needing diesel.  This means that their costs will go up with a hypothetical fuel tax hike, which probably means that farmers and trucking companies will go out of business or else they’ll pass the costs along and we’ll all have higher food prices.  It’s like the old army wisdom about not pissing off the person who cooks: you don’t ever brush off the farming community as unimportant, because they are the ones who produce your food and most of us like to eat.

OK, so the knock-on consequences to rural communities and a lot of Australia’s industries would throw our economy into chaos (just think of all the diesel-powered machines involved in the mining industry, for example – although there are some rugged electric utes that have been specifically designed for the mining industry).  The Powers That Be hopefully aren’t that stupid and they are more likely to find a fairer way of getting the tax money than simply increasing the existing tax.  What’s much more likely is that they’ll create a new tax.  Any guesses as to what that new tax is likely to be?  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if people are using electricity instead of using petrol and diesel and thus avoiding the fuel tax, the obvious thing to slap a tax on is the electricity…

You read it here first, folks.  Although at the moment, using electric vehicles will save you at the plug (rather than the pump), it’s only going to be a matter of time until a tax appears, especially as electric vehicles become more common.  Yes, there are other advantages to using electric vehicles such as the reduced pollution and how they don’t depend on a finite resource (biofuels aside), but the advantage of not paying a fuel tax won’t last forever.

Enjoy it while you can!

2019 Toyota Corolla ZR & SX Hybrid.

Toyota has given its evergreen Corolla a substantial makeover. Inside and out it’s a new car and there’s also been a slight change to the way the range is structured. There’s three hatches: Ascent Sport, SX, and ZR, with hybrid technology featuring strongly. Private Fleet drives the 2019 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid and 2019 Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid with the Ascent Sport to come.The cars come with either a 2.0L petrol engine, or in the hybrid’s case, a 1.8L petrol engine. Sole transmission choice is a 10-step CVT in the SX and ZR, the Ascent Sport does offer a six speed manual alongside the CVT. Pricing is competitive, with the range starting at $22,870 + ORC for the Ascent Sport manual and finishing at $31,870 + ORC for the ZR Hybrid. Premium paint is a $450 option and the Ascent Sport offers privacy glass and satnav at $1000. Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000 kilometres with a new capped price service program at just $175 per service.Toyota says the economy of the cars is improved; the ZR Hybrid is quoted as 4.2L/100km for the combined cycle, a figure not reached by AWT but nor far off it at 5.0L/100km overall. A 1400kg dry weight is a good starting point. The engine itself is an Atkinson Cycle design and produces 72Kw & 142Nm by itself. Alongside the battery system that has a 6.5Ah output, the combined power is 90kW and 163Nm. The transmission features a three mode choice: Eco, Sport, and Normal. The CVT itself when fitted to the 2.0L has an innovative feature and one that Toyota claims is a world first. A “launch gear mechanism” Direct Shift is engineered in, allowing the engine and gearbox to work together and provide a fixed first gear ratio. Once the car has reached a preprogrammed speed it reverts back to the steel belt CVT mechanism. It does sound noisy but isn’t a thrashy note, rather a sound of refinement and “I’m working here!” Underway it works seamlessly and silently in the background, with the only time it reappears being when the accelerator is given the hoof.

However I continue to have a slight beef with the EV, Electric Vehicle, mode that the Hybrid tech has in Toyota cars. Select EV, hit the accelerator, and it almost immediately switches into both EV and petrol assisted mode. Move away gently and it stays in EV mode until the lowly speed of 20km/h is reached and again the petrol engine kicks in. Having driven purely electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and normal (non plug-in) hybrids, I would prefer the battery system to be more gainfully employed and have the petrol engine’s assistance lessened. It does assist in charging the battery as the levels drop but in a free-flowing drive environment is should be doing this, not driving the front wheels along with the battery system. As a result the mooted fuel economy should be further improved. However the centre console located gear selector is PRNDB, with the B being a stronger regenerative braking assistance. This means that the kinetic energy from braking is also harnessed and returned to the battery.The three drive modes work well enough in the real world, with Sport providing a crisper throttle response, faster acceleration and better high speed response. The ten speeds can be accessed via steering column mounted paddle shifts in the non-hybrid cars. The hybrid system itself in the ZR and SX is displayed in regards to its interaction via LCD screens in the driver’s binnacle. The SX has a small full colour screen mounted to the right hand side with the ZR’s seven inch screen a full colour display that shows a bigger version of that available in the SX. This includes a drive mode display showing the battery driving the front wheels, the petrol engine driving and charging as well. These are access via a simple four way toggle switch on the left hand spoke of the tiller which itself has been redesigned and is a new three spoke look. The look of the bigger screen though is busy and perhaps somewhat overloaded with info. It then points the ZR towards a younger, more tech-savvy, audience, and moves it away from the traditional mature aged buying base of the Corolla. Even the SX, perhaps?Toyota have followed the Euro route with a high centre mounted touchscreen for audio, apps (including ToyotaLink), and navigation. It’s smart and logical with a higher eyeline not distracting the driver from what’s ahead. The ZR amps this up by offering a HUD or Head Up Display with plenty of info such as speed zones, and soothes the ears with DAB via a well balanced JBL sound system. A voice activation system has been added, as has Siri Eyes Free. There’s leather accented seats in the ZR, cloth in the SX and Ascent Sport, but no electrical adjustment across the range, an odd omission in the ZR. However the ZR does have heated front pews and a wireless smartphone charging pad (as does SX), albeit hidden away under a dash section that perhaps protrudes too far into the cabin, counterpointed by a 24mm lower line. The dash itself is less busy and angular than before, with a more integrated and smoother look. Although not powered the front seats are comfortable and have plenty of under-knee support. Keyless start and dual zone climate control are standard in the SX and ZR. There’s also a higher grade feel and look to the textiles inside the ZR.There’s ample rear leg room and shoulder/head room is more than adequate. Boot space is just about right for a weekly family shop, As usual Toyota’s ergonomics are well thought out in where a natural hand movement would go, except in the case of the door grips. They’re forward of where a natural reach would go and in AWT’s opinion too close to the door’s pivot point. Safety is high in the ZR, indeed across the range, with seven airbags as standard as is a rear view camera. Adaptive Cruise Control is on board for all three, with a minimum speed of 30km/h and operates across a range of three preset distances to the car ahead. PCS or Pre-Collision Safety is here and works in a day & night environment range. AEB or Autonomous Emergency Braking is part of this and the ZR also has Blind Sport Alert and Lane Keep Assist or, in Toyota speak, Lane Tracing. Cameras around the car measure the car’s position in relation to roadside markings and gently tug the car into position, along with uttering audible chirps to alert the driver. There’s also an active voice guidance safety system that’s integrated with the satnav, providing warnings such as school crossings and speed cameras.Underneath there’s been plenty of changes. It’s part of the Toyota New Generation Architecture, TNGA, with a 40mm lower, 30mm wider, and 40mm longer body that looks more assertive and confident. A 40mm longer wheelbase gives the 225/40/18 rubber on the ZR (205/55/16 for Ascent sport and SX) a more planted feel however there’s a lot of road noise from the Dunlop tyres on the ZR. The SX’s rear is far quieter. Ride quality has been improved by ditching the torsion beam rear and building in a multi-link system. McPherson struts have been a staple of the automotive industry for decades and Toyota have stayed with a tried and true setup here. Springs, dampers, mounting points, die-cast aluminuim frames and more have transformed the handling of the Corolla. Although the rear is a touch soft in AWT’s opinion the overall ride and handling is near nigh spot on. In low speed turns there is no understeer at all, the steering response at speed on the freeway and urban road system is intuitive, and the whole chassis is worthy of applause. There’s negligible float at any speed, turn in is assisted by an electronic “active cornering assist” system, and even the dreaded bump-thump from the shopping centre speed reducing devices is minimalised.The exterior has been well massaged, with the metal between the hatch and rear passenger doors changed to a more, for the want of a better word, natural look, for a hatch back, moving away from the previous triangular motif. The tail lights are freshened and sit underneath a fourteen degree sharper window. The window-line itself draws the eye to either end, and especially to the redesigned front end. There’s a lower cowl and a cropped front by fifteen millimetres that lend a more assertive look. Being a Hybrid the Toyota logo is limned in a cobalt blue, bracketed by even more slimline looking headlights and LED driving lights in a sharp, linear, look. There’s no spare tyre in the Hybrid, but there is in the standard petrol engined version. A tyre repair kit is added for the ZR Hybrid. The Ascent Sport gets either a full sized or space saver (Hybrid) and the SX is a space saver only. The rear also has an X subtly embedded into the design, with a line from each lower corner curving upwards and inwards, as are lines from the top edge of the rear lights.Eight colours are on offer to highlight the fresh, new, look to the world’s biggest selling car. There are solid, pearl, metallic and mica colours headlined by four new hues of metallic Volcanic Red and Peacock Black. In mica there are Eclectic Blue and Oxide Bronze. As well as the three new colours, Corolla hatch is also available in a premium Crystal Pearl along with Glacier White, Silver Pearl and Eclipse Black.At The End Of The Drive.
Spanning fifty years and more, the Corolla is a mainstay of markets around the world and continues to be a top ten and top five seller here in Australia. With the Hybrid tech making its way into the mainstream model range for Toyota, in this case Corolla, it opens it up to a new market but begs the question of what will happen to Prius…As a driving package the 2019 Toyota Corolla ZR Hybrid is trim, taut, and terrific. It’s responsive to minor steering inputs without going overboard, it’s composed and unflustered across a broad range of environments, and is “let down” by excessive road noise, a couple of design quibbles, and a slightly softer than expected rear end. However it’s a very competitive price range and price point for the ZR Hybrid, and if the bells and whistles of the ZR don’t appeal, the 2019 Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid, at $28,370 + ORCs may be a better and lighter wallet biter. All information can be found here for the 2019 Toyota Corolla range

How Long Does It Take To Charge An EV?

I guess we’ve all noticed by now that EVs (either hybrids or full-time electric vehicles) are getting common on the roads.  Maybe you’re considering getting one for your next car.  Charging stations for EVs are popping up left, right and centre.  This is because the battery in an EV, just like the battery in any other device powered by electricity, needs to be recharged.  It’s kind of like charging your phone or your laptop.

Most, if not all, of us have had some experience with charging up things with batteries and know that it can take some time.  This raises a rather important question about EVs: how long does it take to charge one?  We’ve mostly become familiar with how to fuel up an internal combustion engine (ICE) car: you pull up to the bowser, you open the fuel cap, you fill up with the liquid fuel of your choice, then you nip in and pay for it, possibly picking up a packet of peanuts or a coffee while you’re at it.  It doesn’t take too long – maybe 10 mins max, depending on how long the queue at the checkout is, how big your fuel tank is and how empty it was when you started.  But what about an EV?  There’s nothing physical going into the tank and we all know that it can take a while for a battery to recharge (I usually give my rechargeable AA batteries about 4 hours, the laptop takes 2 hours and the amount of time for the phone varies depending on who else needs the charger and whether I need the phone!).

The good news is that on average, it takes 20–30 mins to get to 80% when charging an EV, especially if you’re using one of the public charge points around town.  This means that most of us might have to plan a charging session into our days – during lunchtime, maybe, or while picking up groceries.

There’s a certain strategy to ensuring that your EV has the charge it needs to keep ticking on around town.  I’m assuming here that you are based in the city and do most of your driving in the city.  If you’re in a rural area and do a lot of open road running, things will be a bit different and given the range of what’s currently on the EV market, you might either consider sticking with an ICE vehicle or at least a hybrid, or you’ll have to try another strategy.  Anyway, for the typical suburban driver, the best strategy is to use the public charging points around town for top-up charging, and you do the full charge to 100% overnight at home if possible.

The reason why it might not be best to try charging your EV to 100% charge at one of the public points is because charging an EV isn’t like filling up a petrol or diesel vehicle. With the ICE, you pump in the fuel at a steady constant rate and if you graphed it, it would make a straight line – as long as your grip on the pump is nice and steady.  However, the graph for charging time is more like one of those curved lines related to quadratic equations – you know, the ones we all struggled through at high school and couldn’t see the point of.  Charging starts with a hiss and a roar and you can get to 80% charge pretty quickly.  It’s the final 20% needed to get to full charge that seems to take forever.  It’s more like pumping iron at the gym than pumping gas – you do the first round of sets and reps quickly, but those last few when you’re getting tired tend to be a bit slower.  This is why charging to 100% is best left for overnight charging sessions at home.

The good news about overnight charging is that night rates for electricity are often lower than daytime rates.  This is because all the commercial users of electricity – factories, shops, heavy industry – don’t put as much demand on the power grid outside working hours, so there is plenty of power for everybody else.  Whether this will remain the case when EVs are adopted more widely is uncertain – let’s hope that lower overnight rates remain a thing.

Of course, the exact time of charging will depend on the individual EV and it also depends on the type of charger that you’re connecting your car up to.  Chargers come in three types: Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3.  Levels 1 and 2 use AC current but Level 3 uses DC current.  Level 3 DC chargers generally are only compatible with Tesla models, which is ironic, given that Nikola Tesla specialised in AC current.  Level 1 chargers just plug into a typical 10-V socket and are best kept for emergency top-ups, as they charge pretty slowly.  What you will generally come across both at home (if you install one) or around town are Level 2 chargers.  Level 2 chargers have a charging rate of 15–100 km/hr, meaning that in one hour they give your vehicle enough charge to take it 15–100 km.  The low-power Level 2s installed at home tend to be towards the 15 km/hr end and the public ones are at the other end.

The different levels are not the same as the plug types, which are known as (predictably) Types.  There are four types: Type 1 (J1772), Type 2 (Mennekes), Type 3 (Scame) and Type 4 (CHAdeMO).  Tesla, being a posh marque, has its very own type of charging plug, rather like Apple, although it’s based on the Type 2 Mennekes.  Type 3 is also pretty rare in Australia.  There’s also a combo plug (known as a Combined Charge System or CCS) that combines either the Type 1 or Type 2 (it varies depending on the marque) with a pair of DC connectors.  Charging stations generally have CHAdeMO and CCS to make thing simpler.  The different plug types are quite a lot to wrap your head, so I might have to explain all this in another post.

Anyway, in a nutshell, here’s the basics you need to know:

  • The average time needed to charge to 80% is half an hour although this depends on the level of charger.
  • Charge time isn’t linear – the first 80% is fairly quick but the final 20% is slower.
  • Full charging to 100% is best done at home overnight.
  • Around-town chargers are best kept for topping up to 80%
  • Slower chargers (Level 1 and Level 2) use AC current but the fast ones use DC.
  • Nikola Tesla, who was the pioneer of AC electricity, would be spitting mad that the cars with his name use DC current. Just as well he never got around to inventing that death ray…