Category Archives: Electric Vehicles

Harman Kardon’s Bold Vision For The Future Of Autonomous Electric Vehicles

Originally published on CleanTechnica

Harman flew me out to New York City to hang out for the weekend so the company could give me a behind-the-scenes look at what it has been working on, all while we enjoyed the historic Formula E in Brooklyn. I spent the weekend with Harman’s top brass and grilled them about the company’s plans for the future. We dug into how Harman Kardon is positioning its brands and its strategic relationships with 34 automotive companies to succeed as the automotive industry undergoes the largest transition in its more than 100-year history.

Automobiles are transitioning from 19th century internal combustion engines to electric powertrains. In parallel, autonomous driving technology is progressing to the point where Level 2 autonomous driving systems are moving into production quickly. All major automotive companies are planning to produce fully autonomous vehicles in the next 5 years.

These two disruptive injections into the automotive industry promise to topple carefully constructed legacies as new companies arise from the wreckage. Companies that are truly in touch with market signals and emerging trends will pivot and, indeed, are already positioning themselves to capitalize on the transition. They will move aggressively into the new markets to shape the future of the automotive industry.

Automobiles will transition from personally owned vehicles to a market of largely fleet vehicles. The personal vehicle ownership experience will evolve into a personalized multimedia experience within the vehicle. This is a transformation from a physical experience to a digital experience that will follow passengers from vehicle to vehicle, from home to work, to the café, and beyond.

Autonomous driving will free humans from the task of driving and for the first time in human history, humans will be able to focus on the music, the quality of the sound, a movie in full 7.1 channel surround sound, an immersive 3-dimensional call with coworkers around the world, or any number of other experiences while being moved from place to place. Forward-thinking companies have recognized this opportunity and have started to move into various niches of this future environment.

With the average human not fully aware how fast the transition to electric vehicles and autonomous vehicle technology will happen, it is important to step back from the compelling vision of the future automotive experience to build a bridge to that future. Electric vehicles will become the standard for new vehicles over the next 10 years because of cost and cost alone. If we have learned nothing over the course of the climate change awareness movement, it is that most people are not motivated by the environment, as it is too large for our brains to comprehend and not immediate enough of a concern. Making climate-friendly technology like electric cars more affordable than more damaging technologies like internal combustion engines hits budgets, though, and creates a near-term, practically guaranteed, compelling incentive to switch to an electric vehicle.

The advantages of autonomous vehicle technology similarly speak to our near-term ambitions. The promise to free us from hours and hours of slavery behind the wheel each week is enticing. Giving back weeks or months worth of time to work more, to play more, or simply to sleep is a gift that the ultra-rich will pay a premium for, at first. As with all software-driven technologies, autonomous driving technology will scale quickly as the initial R&D costs are absorbed and it quickly becomes ubiquitous amongst high-end luxury vehicles. Then it will begin to trickle down into more affordable classes. Economics will be the death knell for human drivers as trucking companies, taxi companies, and delivery drivers are replaced by lower-cost, fully autonomous driving technologies.

To the visionaries and early adopters with fingers on the pulse of the automotive industry, these transitions are inevitable and, depending on their individual levels of confidence, will transpire over the next 2 to 10 years. The bridge built by these two technologies to the future of personal transportation specifically wipes the inside of the vehicle clean. It’s a blank slate for visionaries to draw upon as they mold the future that so many have been dreaming of and attempting to recreate in so many science-fiction movies over the last 4 decades. The difference is that now, today, we have the technology to truly build that future and bring it to life for the first time in human history.

I think Harman Kardon is one of the visionary companies boldly looking into the future and creating what it envisions to be the future of the human transportation experience. Over the course of two days in New York City, Harman brass laid out their vision for the future, and I have to say, I was impressed. More than that, I’m now even more excited about the future and about the opportunity to be able to share a bit of that vision here.

If you were to ask 100 people on the street what products Harman Kardon designs, builds, and sells, you would likely come back with a consensus that it is a consumer products company playing in the audio space. Harman Kardon has for decades designed and built audio products for home, for cars, and everywhere in between that dazzled the ears. The sound system my father owned as I grew up was a Harman Kardon system. It filled my childhood Saturday mornings with the musical creations of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, with the Grateful Dead and Jeff Beck. I have fond memories of those days and of the music brought to my ears by Harman Kardon and would have given the very same answer as those 100 hypothetical strangers off the street.

The truth is that Harman Kardon is very much an audio company but that the expertise Harman Kardon brings to the table is much deeper than just speakers. When an automaker comes to Harman Kardon to buy speakers for its vehicles, it is presented with a full suite of offerings. From unbranded OEM speakers to a 12 speaker Harman Kardon system all the way up to the fully customized, audiophile-quality Revel audio system that was custom tailored and tuned for the Lincoln MKX, Harman truly has products for every use case, at every tier.

Aside: I’ll divert here to mention that this is not an advertisement. This is not paid, I don’t have to write any of this … but just as I built the bridge from internal combustion vehicles to the fully autonomous future, it is important to set the stage for the massive attack on your senses that is just around the corner in those very same autonomous vehicles.

Harman Kardon parent company Harman’s suite of products goes beyond the sound system into active noise-cancelling technology that is already in use today in ultra-luxury vehicles to cancel out the last remnants of road noise that cannot be overcome by another layer of sound-deadening insulation. Looking forward a few years, that same technology will be used to transform the already quiet interiors of electric (autonomous) vehicles into silence more traditionally associated with movie theaters and audiophile listening rooms like the one buried in the basement of the Harman flagship store in Manhattan.

Electric vehicles also bring new challenges to the exterior of the vehicle, where regulators have mandated the production of artificial alerts to inform pedestrians of the approaching vehicle. On the flipside of the equation, some drivers may opt for artificial engine noise to emulate the sounds of a rumbling racing engine to trigger reactions forged over decades of wrenching on internal combustion engines. Record-breaking zero-to-sixty times earned by torquey electric motors will be masked by the artificial sound of a roaring V8 produced by audio companies like Harman.

But those technologies are incremental. They show breadth but are not in and of themselves disruptive. Let’s rewind to CES in January of this year. In Las Vegas, Harman unpacked its vision for the fully autonomous (electric) vehicle, which featured an immersive webchat technology that included directional voice tech that synced up the audio with the location of the video of whoever was speaking.

Harman tech stretches beyond just enabling more working time (because who really wants to work more anyway?) and enables rich multimedia experiences as well. Harman’s Life-Enhancing Intelligence Vehicle Solution demonstrated a multimedia-rich, immersive, integrated experience that seems a bit too futuristic … until autonomous vehicle technology enters the picture. Then it becomes brilliant. It becomes the vehicle we all wish we had driving us down the road to work, to our relative’s house or just to grab a bite to eat at your favorite restaurant down the street.

The awkward part of the rich experiences Harman is slinging is not that they aren’t cool — it is only that we can’t imagine them in our lives today because most people don’t realize how close autonomous (electric) vehicles are to being invaluable pieces of our day-to-day life. 10 years ago, we couldn’t have bothered to worry about having a computer in our pockets. Today, everyone has a smartphone. In my travels in India 5 years ago, I was blown away with how everyone seemed to have a smartphone, regardless of income. Software-based technologies drop in cost quickly as production volumes ramp up.

Here at CleanTechnica, we are excited about the future because of what electric vehicles promise to do for global emissions by eliminating tailpipe emissions. We are also increasingly excited about autonomous vehicle technologies because they promise to save lives, while at the same time giving back hours per week or per day. We admittedly don’t often delve into what happens after that in the vehicles and I was thankful to have been invited to attend Formula E in New York City by a company as innovative and forward thinking as Harman to catch a glimpse of what that future might look like … and it’s exciting.

Harman paid for travel and accommodations for me to attend the Formula E in New York City. As mentioned above, I was not required to write anything at all about the event or about Harman. These thoughts are all mine, and yes, I am genuinely excited about the future of personal transportation … for more reasons than just the batteries.

24 Hours With The New, Longer Range 2017 BMW i3

Originally published on CleanTechnica

This review summarizes my early learnings in my first day with the new longer range BMW i3. A comprehensive review will follow, but I have found that some of the most important and impactful learnings about a vehicle arise very early on in vehicle use, as that is generally the time in which prospective buyers will make their decisions.

My comments include the background of time I’ve spent with the vast majority of electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles available in the United States (including owning at various times the Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model S, and Mercedes B250e).

Key Specs

  • Power: 125 kW (168 bhp) electric motor
  • Torque: 184 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Single-speed automatic
  • Configuration: Rear-wheel drive
  • 0-100 km/hr (0-62 mph): 8.1 seconds

First Impression

The BMW i3, released in 2014, was one of the first purpose-built production electric vehicles in the current generation of electric vehicles. BMW poured billions of dollars into electric powertrain technology, with the BMW i3 one of its first resulting products. The German company also invested heavily in a complete transformation of the core of its vehicle bodies, funneling factories worth of cash into the development of CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic).

We spent a week with the most recent iteration of the i3, which cranks up the capacity of the battery to an impressive 114 miles of all-electric range.

With the i3, BMW masterfully wove its passion for sporty luxury vehicles together with the torquey acceleration of electric vehicles. BMW took a leap into the future with the i3, which maps out the aesthetics of a vehicle that comes from the future, as if it travelled back in time from 2030 to today. The futuristic exterior leaves only the signature kidney grill and bold BMW logos, but upgraded seemingly everything else. The future of BMW shines inside the cabin as well, with the threads of carbon fiber exposed along the frames of its split doors.

Driving Experience

A gentle tap on the start button brings the vehicle to life — though, you wouldn’t know it, as no engine revs up to shake the driver awake. Easing onto the accelerator reveals a finely tuned electric powertrain that beautifully rounds off the sharp edges of the poor traction control and jerky acceleration that plagues many EVs. Instead, BMW replaces such shortcomings with a dreamlike, silent, yet sporty grace.

Following the seamless integration of classic BMW themes and the future of the brand, the interior has been leveled up thanks to the electric drivetrain — as a result, it is quieter than any BMW I have had the pleasure of riding in to date. The combination of the classic build quality of a luxury BMW and the electric powertrain make for an extremely peaceful experience in the cabin.

Don’t let all this talk of peace and quiet leave you under the impression that the i3 is a spineless economy box. If anything, it is quite the opposite. The accelerator pedal, while controlled, packs more than enough torque with its 184 ft/lb. The power behind the pedal all but guarantees an exhilarating ride around town when the time comes for a bit of speed. Its 168 bhp is further magnified by the lightweight build of the vehicle, which allows for quick moves that defy more traditional builds.

A New Breed of BMW

BMW invested heavily into its BMW i program with the design for the i3 similarly starting from a blank sheet of paper. Doing away with legacy combustion engines, transmissions, drive shafts and emission control equipment allowed for new design options like building in a crumple zone in the front of the vehicle and opening up the passenger cabin with the elimination of the transmission and drive shaft.

The BMW i team took the design to the next level with the introduction of lightweight carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). The wonder material is just as strong as steel at half the weight. CFRP can also be crafted into completely new form factors without the need for structurally compromised welds to hold it together.

Price

Due to the relatively high price of lithium-ion batteries, electric vehicles have historically commanded premium pricing for relatively spartan offerings. Tesla turned that game on its head with a luxury vehicle that boasted sufficient margins to absorb the incremental cost of the batteries with a ground-up design that reimagined the luxury sedan, and later, the luxury sport utility vehicle.

The i3 design similarly started with a blank sheet of paper and resulted in a vehicle that is years ahead of its oil-powered peers. It too relies on pricey lithium-ion batteries and rolls them into a luxury design flush with carbon fiber, sporty handling, and a high-tech driving experience that naturally comes at a cost. It retails for $42,400, with options that take the price all the way up to $52,600 for a fully optioned vehicle with custom paint and an integrated range extender (REx) that brings the total range up to 190 miles. Regional rebates can bring the price back down considerably, resulting in a luxury electric vehicle that costs about the same as a standard luxury internal combustion vehicle.

Rebates

The fully electric BMW i3 is eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit as well as the $2,500 California EV rebate, bringing the cost down a full $10,000. Certain California air districts, counties, and even electric utilities are now offering incremental rebates that stack on top, like the recently launched $450 Southern California Edison (SCE) rebate that brings the cost down even further. At a time when electric vehicles are taking off with longer ranges, faster charging times, and lower MSRP prices, they are now more affordable than ever.

For a full list of rebates in your area, head over to the Plug In America incentives page or the EV incentives page at Energy.gov — they have all the juicy details. I also highly encourage you to dig into what may be available in your local region, as these rebates tend to get less publicity and last for shorter periods of time.

The Ultimate Driving Machine, Redefined

The bottom-up design of the i3 is evident in just a single glance. The exterior screams loud and proud that it is the teenage rebel of the BMW family, intent charting a new course forward for the BMW family while still undeniably one of the family. It sports the signature kidney-shaped grill, bold BMW logos in all the right places, and the same classic climate control design queues as its ancestors.

BMW is not shy about its bold vision for the future of the brand, with dramatic and beautiful carbon fiber left exposed around the interior of each door.

Charging

The i3 comes standard with DC fast charging (DCFC) capability via its integrated CCS charging port. This allows for charging on the existing network of CCS chargers around the world. While the average driver will primarily charge at home, with fast charging reserved for the rare road trip, there are many drivers around Southern California who put DCFC capability to heavy use, as evidenced by the comments on charging station mapping service PlugShare. I mention this service in nearly every review I write not because we’re paid for it (we’re not) but because I use it so much in my day-to-day life.

The DCFC network is currently very minimally deployed as potential investors wait to see how the battle between charging standards plays out. As more and more EVs hit the roads around Southern California, the network will be hit hard — as is already being seen in some areas. Norway should be looked to as an example of what a robust public charging network should look like, as many innovative solutions and business models have already surfaced there that the rest of the world can learn from and reapply.

Supercharging speeds are still out of reach for the i3. Though, this is true of every other non-Tesla EV out there today. Look for capability to charge at 150 kW and faster as a key indicator for which EV manufacturers truly understand what a fully capable EV looks like.

The i3 makes very efficient use of every kWh that comes in, with a rating of 124 MPGe for the 60Ah model118 MPGe for the 94Ah model, or 111 MPGe for the 94Ah model with the gasoline range extender. Adding more weight to gain the extra range clearly comes at a penalty for all miles driven.

The i3’s high rating is largely attributable to its lightweight design and results in a lower cost to drive than its peers, and more effective mileage per hour charging than less efficient competitors.

Charging my wife’s Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive for 3 hours on a Level 2 charger (@6.6kW) with an efficiency of 2.9 miles per kWh, we would be able to drive about 57 miles. At the same charging rate and duration, the i3 would be able to travel an impressive 81 miles. That means less charge time to go the same distance … not to mention a lower cost.

Summary

The BMW i3 remains an impressive vehicle and the incremental boost in range makes it that much more formidable for commuters and families looking to go electric in stylish luxury.

With all its allure, though, the i3 will struggle to remain competitive when pitted up against EVs with double the range and with capability to charge up in half the time (like the Chevy Bolt and the Tesla Model 3).

I’ll share further details and commentary in a more in-depth review article in the coming days.

Tesla Service Is On Another Level and Continues to Improve

Originally published on CleanTechnica

The Model 3 is going to level up Tesla’s game in many ways, with the first and foremost being the lower price point. Bringing a Tesla to market that is on par with the average sales price of a new car in the US changes everything and truly opens up the brand to the mass market for the first time in its existence.

Ushering in hundreds of thousands of customers per year allows for a scale previously unseen for electric vehicles and comes with a suite of new challenges for the brand. One of the big challenges is related to service. Customers just learning about Tesla and perhaps just learning about electric vehicles will have their eyes opened to many benefits of EVs, and one that will surely be communicated to them at some point is the lack of service requirements of EVs. That said, there will still be service requirements for many Tesla drivers, and its service process is a key piece of the new customer education process.

Tesla launched a new video today that highlights the key differentiators with Tesla’s service compared to the service drivers are used to receiving. The video spotlights Tesla’s over-the-air software updates that are pushed down to Tesla’s vehicles remotely — enabling new functionality, fixing bugs, improving vehicle performance, and all while eliminating the need for customers to come into a service center for these updates.

The over-the-air (OTA) functionality also highlights the connected nature of Tesla’s vehicles, which unlocks perhaps the biggest feature — Tesla remotely monitors its vehicles, resulting in 90% of issues being identified remotely, proactively. I experienced this firsthand with my Model S when Tesla asked me if they could fix a switch in my vehicle’s battery pack without it ever causing an issue. To replace the switch, Tesla sent a driver out with a loaner Tesla, picked up my Tesla, and repaired the issue that same day. In total, it took all of 20 minutes of my time from the initial phone call to the swapping of vehicles (2 times). The ability to remotely identify, triage, and proactively repair vehicles is something I have never experienced and it was amazing.

Stacked on top of proactive monitoring is Tesla’s ranger service. Tesla Rangers are a team of remote technicians who come out to your location – home, work, Starbucks, whatever – and repair your vehicle there. Tesla sent one of its Rangers out to my house to repair the door handles on my Tesla Model S when a few of them were having intermittent issues. The repair happened in my garage after I returned from work and took about an hour while I sat in the comfort of my living room on my laptop.

→ Related: Tesla Model S Service Screens Exposed

It was a breeze and took far less time than it would have if I would have had to book an appointment to come into a dealership or service center and wait for the repair, not to mention the coffee wasn’t burned and the WiFi was much better.

Tesla is also scaling up its service operations in preparation for Model 3, much as it is doing with its Supercharging network. Having visibility into the exact geographic locations where its customers will be (from the massive stack of Model 3 reservations) gives Tesla the data it needs to proactively build out Supercharging and Service Centers exactly where the most customers will be. It’s another brilliant component of the strategy of taking reservations for the vehicle in advance of the move to production.

Tesla is specifically adding 100+ new service centers, 350 mobile service vehicles, and 1,400 service technicians, which all told represents a tripling of its global service capacity. Check out the video below, which was posted to Tesla’s official Facebook and YouTube channels earlier today.

Photos by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

The Chevy Bolt & The Tesla Model 3: The Solar-Powered Restoration of American Energy Independence

Originally published on CleanTechnica

July 4th is Independence Day in the United States, and as with similar holidays in countless countries around the world, it is the perfect occasion to reflect on what it means to be independent. One key aspect of independence today is intimately tied into energy. How many countries around the world have found themselves economically enslaved to the energy economics inherited from past generations?

The US is the largest consumer of oil on the planet by a long margin, consuming more oil than any other country, regardless of population. While the US is also the largest “producer” of oil, it does not produce enough oil to satiate its seemingly endless thirst for it.

The capitalist country is embattled with modern-day oil barons fighting for lower fuel efficiency standards while climate change believers fight to raise fuel efficiency standards, enact a universal carbon tax, and work to create incentives for battery electric vehicles. The gridlock of the past took a turn for the worse with the Trump administration, which continues to plod forward in the mindless push to unshackle the American capitalist machine from the trio of perceived anchors that are the Clean Air Act (of 1970), the Clean Water Act (of 1972), and the much more recently added Clean Power Plan (of 2014).

In the face of this political uncertainty, a few beacons of hope have emerged, shining out of the dust of the recently fallen environmental protections. They give us hope for a future where our children and grandchildren can breath clean air, can drink water that is free of heavy metals and toxins. A future where the vehicles that move us from place to place move silently around, powered by clean technologies and whirring electric motors.

The Chevrolet Bolt, which launched in December 2016, and the Tesla Model 3, which will be delivered to its first customers later this month, are the first vehicles of a new generation of long-range, affordable electric cars that carry the keys to unlocking the most American of all values — true energy independence. For the first time in many, many decades, America has within its grasp the ability to harvest electricity from the wind and sun that will not run dry — using power systems that emit no pollution into the air and require minimal emissions to manufacture.

The shift from fossil fuel–fired vehicles to electric vehicles presents a rare opportunity for any country in the world to catalyze a paradigm shift in energy generation. The opportunity to convert to locally produced energy brings along with it the possibility to keep millions and billions of dollars of energy spending inside the country. For the United States, this means weaning itself off of the ill-adopted relationships with countries around the world that have failed to move forward adopting minimum standards for human rights. For many nations in Eastern Europe, the opportunity to throw off the shackles from oppressive regimes that have for too long throttled the supply of energy as a means of controlling the economies of those less endowed with natural resources has the potential to reinvigorate the people and catalyze a positive change in these countries.

Clearly, these changes are not being led solely by two vehicles, but these vehicles embody the broader movement that is only now reaching its climactic moment in history. Affordable electric vehicles let the average person purchase a vehicle that has the range to make 99% or more of all trips possible with an electric vehicle. When combined with the fact that electric vehicles are also cheaper to drive on a cost of fuel per mile basis, it starts to get interesting — my wife and I have saved nearly $2,000 in 2½ years of owning our first electric vehicles versus the cost of gasoline.

Electric vehicles also require significantly less maintenance, with thousands of fewer moving parts than their fossil fuel–fired counterparts, resulting in even more savings. Electric vehicles are much quieter to drive, and without the controlled explosions of a fossil fuel engine under the hood, don’t vibrate their passengers to death. Removing that combustion engine from the vehicle and replacing it with an electric motor also allows for completely new vehicle designs that have resulted in the Tesla Model S being rated the safest vehicle to ever be tested by the NHTSA, with the Tesla Model X coming in at number two — a ranking unheard of for a sport utility vehicle. The Chevy Bolt received top honors for its safety results as well, recently being selected as an IIHS Top Safety Pick.

Roll that all together with extreme performance and supercar 0 to 60 times and electric cars start to look appealing to people from all walks of life. Until these two cars rolled onto the scene, these benefits were only accessible to those who were willing to compromise on range with a ~100 mile electric vehicle or those with the finances to throw down $60,000 or more for a Tesla.

Driving an electric vehicle is great, but here’s where it gets interesting: Electric vehicles unlock much more than that. A core American value — and if we’re honest, a core human value — is the desire to not be dependent. Electric vehicles tap directly into that with the ability for homeowners, property owners, and many people around the world to install solar or wind on their residence to generate all the power their homes, businesses, and vehicles will use. The solar installation on my rooftop generated enough power last year to completely power our home and one of our electric vehicles. Another couple of panels and we will be generating the vast majority of the power we use in our lives on our roof. That is straight out of a science fiction novel but it is a true possibility for billions of people around the world today … and it gets even better than that.

With the massive improvements in production and scale that have been made over just the last 10 years, solar and wind are now extremely cost competitive — even beating out the competition in many areas of the world … today … right now. That’s right, you can create this utopian lifestyle today … and save money while you’re doing it.

That is the beauty of the paradigm shift that is occurring right now. We are living through an historic transition that our grandchildren will read about as the turning point in energy economics, globally. Entrenched trillion-dollar industries will crumble in decades along with the household-name companies that operate within them. Amidst the rubble, new companies, new individuals, and new nations are rising to the forefront of the discussion as leaders in never-before-seen industries that bring with them new possibilities for economic freedom and energy independence.

Transitions of this magnitude are apparent from the early birthing pains that manifest themselves in the form of federal policy debates, vicious catfights over government incentives, kickbacks, and tax breaks. The transitions are rarely fair, but with so much at stake, bloodshed on both sides is to be expected.

Rolling back to where we started, what seems like a domino effect of toppling regulations led by industry insiders that have been put in charge of the agencies that formerly regulated their industries have left many dumbfounded. The foundations of American environmental protections have been stripped bare in a matter of weeks. But all is not lost. The brazen disregard for the charter on which the Environmental Protection Agency was founded has woken millions from the enchanted slumber, just as Rip van Winkle awoke after many years of sleep into a frenzy.

The people of this great nation and many more around the world demand that the governments they voted into place protect their most fundamental rights to clean air and clean water. The catalyst could not have come at a better time, as affordable electric vehicles and cost-saving solar and wind generation allow individuals to cut the cord from the very capitalists who now move to enslave the population.

It is time to rise up and regain the independence that our ancestors fought for in years past, but this time we fight against those in charge in our own nation. The time is now to go test drive an electric vehicle. If that’s not enough time to get a feel for life with an electric vehicle, rent or borrow one. Services like Turo and Maven are lowering the bar to get into an electric vehicle just as the Chevy Bolt has and the Tesla Model 3 soon will for hundreds of thousands more people around the world.

If renting isn’t an option, it may be time to step up the game and steal one … or, rather, get a steal of a deal on one at a local dealership. While you’re at it, don’t forget that to really, truly cut the cord takes a little more work to ensure that the power you’re pumping into your vehicle every night comes from renewable sources as well, preferably from a solar installation or wind turbine on your property.

That, my friends, is what it truly means to be independent. Celebrate yours by taking action today. The future is electric. The future is now!

eMotorwerks Chargers Bring Intelligence To Home EV Charging

Originally published on CleanTechnica

EV charging supplier eMotorWerks has announced that it has increased sales year over year by 100% for the third year in a row. We spoke with eMotorWerks Chief Operating Officer and Chief Marketing Officer Preston Roper about what is fueling its growth and what the company has planned for the next few years.

EV Charging as a Flexible, Dynamic Load

The big news out of eMotorWerks is related to the products the company has built — and I’m not talking about electric vehicle chargers. eMotorWerks has built a software platform that taps into the massive potential of electric vehicle charging to serve as a “flexible, dynamic load” for utility operators to use to balance the production and consumption of grid power. The hardware is important but, ultimately, the platform that eMotorWerks has built is more important and impactful. That is the company’s core expertise.

The concept is similar to the idea of a “virtual power plant” that combines users with small to medium loads, users with storage capability, and users with large energy demands — like a massive number of electric vehicles charging at the same time — which predictably consume copious amounts of power at night. eMotorWerks’ intelligent platform taps into the connectivity of its Juicebox chargers to determine charging needs and customer preferences, as and then to throttle charging up and down to maximize the benefits to the grid.

“We self-funded this company because we’ve been able to sell a very good product with a nice gross margin that solves people’s immediate need, which is to have level 2 smart connected charging time of use alerts, notification, all the kind of cool stuff we built into the platform.”

The integrated smart charger that eMotorWerks has built and the cloud-based software platform that supports it is the first to truly leverage EV chargers as smart devices — something that eMotorWerks has been building since day 1.

Preston shared that the nature of home EV charging and the intelligent network eMotorWerks has built allows the team to throttle charging down to very specific geographies or regions depending on the need of the utility. As more and more smart meters are brought onto the grid, this granular control becomes that much more valuable to utilities as they continue to adapt to more renewables, more storage, and more EVs on the grid.

JuicePoints

Customers are rewarded for their flexibility through the JuicePoints system, which aims to reduce the emissions generated by electric vehicle charging by throttling charging down when grid demand spikes (which causes peaker plants to come online). Conversely, charging is throttled up when grid power is low and cleanest.

Users can select how long the vehicle will charge and how full they need it to be, which provides the system with a window of opportunity over which it can then automagically throttle charging up and down to minimize the impact to the grid, maximize the charge over the time horizon, and reward EV drivers with JuicePoints.

Drivers are rewarded with direct cash payouts through PayPal or they can opt to direct their credits towards an environmental nonprofit like the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club is similarly putting a massive effort towards eliminating coal-fired electricity generation via its Beyond Coal campaign, so you can have twice the impact on cutting grid emissions by using smart charging and directing the money to the Sierra Club.

The JuicePoints system is currently only available in select zip codes.

Vehicle To Grid

The addition of intelligence to the EV charging equation naturally brings up the question — what about vehicle to grid? The reality is pretty bleak even though it seems to makes sense. The risks with vehicle to grid (V2G) schemes can be high with a customer, potentially feeding power back to the grid during an outage, exposing workers to energized lines (which creates a dangerous situation), and degrading their EV batteries. Beyond that, there isn’t strong demand from customers for V2G-capable vehicles.

I talked about this with Preston and he shared that there are 3 primary reasons he doesn’t think we are seeing much progress with V2G:

  1. Car companies are not interested in this, so they are not developing for this.
  2. Required hardware is much more expensive to do this.
  3. Getting interconnection agreements from utilities for V2G is difficult and an extra hurdle.

Having said that, the eMotorWerks Juicebox has the capability to work with V2G systems if market signals change, but Preston doesn’t see that happening anytime soon. He noted that “just scaling the charging at a macro level provides the same net effect without the extra hassles of vehicle to grid.”

eMotorWerks is Growing

The eMotorWerks JuiceBox EV charging station is the highest rated EV charger on Amazon, which is a testament to the innovation it packs. The smart charger has brought intelligence to an appliance most drivers had just assumed was dumb. It has proven to add value to the charging experience.

emotorwerks

As noted at the top, the preference of customers is showing in its sales as well, with eMotorWerks doubling revenues year over year in 2016 for the third consecutive year in a row. It has locked in agreements with suppliers across the spectrum, including EVSE provider AeroVironment, OEM supplier Webasto, and the cashless payment provider Nayax. These partnerships leverage the strength of the JuiceNet cloud software the team has built and expands the positive environmental impact the system can have through its integration with utilities.

“Our smart grid charging solutions continue to gain significant growth because we solve problems that directly affect EV drivers, charging station equipment manufacturers as well as utility operators,” said eMotorWerks CEO, Val Miftakhov. “Beyond the well publicized growth the EV industry will enjoy during the next five years, a massive challenge lies ahead: the ability for electricity providers to charge EVs while maintaining a reliable grid for everyone, while at the same time taking advantage of the abundant and less expensive solar and wind energy available on our grid.”

Stuttgart: A City Caught Between Two Worlds Part 2

Originally published on CleanTechnica

The City of Stuttgart in Germany is a case study in the clash between the old world & industries that humans have developed over the centuries and the new realities resulting from the very same industries that have elevated humanity: air pollution, hazardous waste, and soot-covered buildings. Traffic clogging its streets that resonate with the static emanating from thousands of autos idling in traffic.

But not all is lost. This is not a story of defeat but rather, of a city boldly reimagining its future. Stuttgart is a city that is plowing a path forward to an electrified future powered by renewable wind and solar energy. Its leaders envision citizens zooming around on electric bikes that can be loaded onto silent electric trains headed to destinations near and far.

In part one of the story, we mapped out the history of Stuttgart which is intertwined with the evolution of the internal combustion engine and the automobile over the last 100 years. That has resulted in a city that benefits from the innovative lifeblood of the industry and is, at the same time, mired in the worst particulate pollution in Germany.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

The citizens of Stuttgart take an immense amount of pride in the innovative, dynamic history of the region and are not content to let that rich history go by abandoning their automobiles for public transit, nor are they willing to concede to the otherwise imminent fate of going down in history as the most polluted city in Germany. With such entrenched forces brought to bear against each other, and with the 2.3 million member strong union IG Metall also aligned against any change so radical that it might disrupt the stability of the petrol-centric German automotive industry, the city of Stuttgart and the state of Baden-Württemberg as a whole are at a historic crossroads.

In spite of the tension, local citizens and a handful of the leaders of Stuttgart are banding together to map out a path towards a clean air future for the city. The plan is a smorgasbord of solutions that all center around the controversial Stuttgart 21 that aims to modernize Stuttgart’s Central Train Station,  more efficient buses, an intentional effort to maximize the walkability of the city and even a push towards ebikes.

Stuttgart 21: A Massive Transit Upgrade

The tip of the spear in the effort to modernize Stuttgart’s transportation centers around the 4.5 billion euro ($5 billion USD) project to upgrade Stuttgart’s central train station known as Stuttgart 21.

Stuttgart Central Station

Stuttgart 21 aims to transform the central station from a terminus station — where trains must pull up to a dead end stop and then back out again to continue — to an underground pass-through station that even with half the number of lines, will allow for more trains to flow through with fewer delays.

The controversial project was originally announced in 1994 with work starting in 2010 against an estimated budget of 4.5 billion euros ($5 billion USD). It was originally scheduled to be completed in 2019, but that timing has slipped to 2021 which has come with an increase in the estimated cost to 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion USD) (via Wikipedia).

Local activist groups have rallied in opposition to Stuttgart 21 on the grounds that it is too expensive, will provide diminished access to the neighboring “Green U” park that surrounds central Stuttgart, and that it does not respect the historic nature of the Stuttgart central station. With the funding being provided by the German national rail system Deutschbahn, the federal government, the state of Baden-Württemberg, and the City of Stuttgart, the decision is out of the control of just the city and thus, more complicated to oppose. Even with the fierce opposition, the majority of the Stuttgart residents have continued to support the undertaking over the years.

Vehicle sharing

To ensure citizens who embrace life without a personal vehicle retain the means for longer road trips, Stuttgart has also encouraged vehicle sharing services like Daimler’s Car2Go and Deutsche Bahn’s Flinkster to come into the city. Car2Go has the added benefit of getting the population familiar with electric vehicles without the commitment of a purchase or lease. The system acts as a safety net for those unsure of whether or not a new form of transportation will work and enables flexible travel options.

The vehicles, like this Smart forTwo electric, are scattered about the city at predetermined charging locations that can be found with the easy to use smartphone app.

Public Bike Sharing

Stuttgart has partnered with Deutsche Bahn and its ‘Call a Bike’ rental scheme which was designed to give train riders an easy way to get from train station to and from their final destination. Users simply have to set up a single account that can be used in cities all around Germany to rent bikes.

These types of systems are perfect for cities and nations with well developed mass transit, as they provide a solution for the “last mile” which is a generalized figure for the distance from the end of a mass transit route to the traveler’s ultimate destination. At the handful of stations we visited in Stuttgart, we found the bike rental stations to be consistently well used, even empty at times, indicating that the system is seeing heavy use.

Hybrid buses

For trips around the more popular routes in town, Stuttgart has a healthy bus system that has received an injection of electrification in recent years in the form of Mercedes-Benz hybrid electric buses.

Electric Scooter Sharing

Stuttgart has also become home to an electric scooter sharing service that offers all the mobility of a vehicle at a lower cost. The deployment of scooters is also much easier as they can be parked on curbs as compared to hard-to-find street parking. Over the last few months, 75 of the iconic blue electric scooters from Emco have appeared all around the city.

As anyone who has ridden a scooter or motorcycle knows, they are great for getting around the inner city and allow riders to stay much more connected to the city without having to stay in the cocoon of a car.

Importantly, the e-scooter program was not incentivized by the city but evolved out of the natural demand from the market which lined up perfectly with the only recently available electric scooters. This trend is happening in cities like Berlin and Paris as well with the COUP scooter sharing program.

eBikes

Stuttgart is also looking to ebikes as a key piece of the solution to the transportation puzzle. As residents get increasingly frustrated with the traffic in Stuttgart, they have started turning to alternatives like ebikes to fill in the gaps of their commutes. To stimulate this trend, the city of Stuttgart holds education sessions for ebikes to give residents the inside scoop on the new technology and to showcase the ways electrified bikes can help with their commutes.

In travelling around the city for a few days, ebikes were everywhere. Residents zoomed around on the many bike paths, stores featured them, and city officials were familiar with them as a key component of the solution to the city’s mobility challenge. For those that have not ridden an ebike, they are leaps and bounds easier to ride than a traditional bike as they do not require any sort of strength or endurance from the rider. They simply have to get on, select how much assist the motor will provide and off they go. Configurations and price points vary significantly so it’s worth reading up on them before diving in.

The Control Center – Stuttgart’s Transportation Hub

The City of Stuttgart manages the entire transportation system for the city from a new, high tech control center that is shared with the city Police Department and Fire Department. This ensures that the city resources are positioned to respond from anything from a minor traffic collision up to a major disruption of city services.

The hub brings together all of the sensors, cameras and data collected from the transportation system staffed by a team of skilled first responders that are trained to react quickly and appropriately to any need, big or small.

What does the future hold?

The leaders of Stuttgart have no plans to let up in their efforts to reduce sources of pollution in and around the city on the path leading to clean air in Stuttgart for the residents, workers, and for future generations. While their passion and drive to create the Stuttgart they envision is driving near term results, the outcome is all but certain.

Opposition from the entrenched industry threatens to stifle progress. Fearful unions threaten to delay the transition to electric vehicles in the city and around the world. Companies with holdings and future business tied to legacy business models are resisting the transition. Not everyone in the city is on board with the multi-billion dollar plan to gut the city’s historic train station in favor of a modern train station that will be better suited for the hub Stuttgart has become.

What is certain is that the seeds of the future Stuttgart have been planted and they are taking root. The future is coming. and I for one am hopeful that Stuttgart will indeed pivot past these struggles to become the city its residents want to live in. To become the city known not for diesel engines and particulate, for traffic congestion and feinstaubalarms but for its parks, for the innovative spirit of its residents. It will take immense amounts of effort and many years but it is possible. The future is now.

How Does The Chevy Bolt Compare To The Tesla Model 3?

Originally published on CleanTechnica

The reality of electric vehicles is that there are many more people who would love to drive an electric vehicle (EV) but aren’t doing so today for a number of reasons. Cost and range are the top 2 reasons, with charging being an issue for some buyers as well. The Chevy Bolt was the first mass-produced, widely available, affordable, long-range EV in the US that also happened to offer fast charging. Right on its heels is the Model 3.

Having owned a Tesla Model S for a few years and having spent some quality time with a 2017 Chevy Bolt loaner, I spent some time to compare the two in the categories I felt were most impactful based on my years as an EV driver (owning or having owned a Mercedes B250e, Nissan LEAF, and Tesla Model S).

compare

Charging

Drivers are split into two categories — those who have owned and lived with an electric vehicle and those who have not. To those who have not owned an EV, they may appreciate the benefits of driving one and have an idea what charging might look like if they were to buy an EV, but it is a different thing altogether to own an electric vehicle. Living with an EV with fewer than 100 miles of range forces the owner to work the kinks out of the system where the rubber meets the road.

Those who have taken a journey that is longer than the range of their EV understand what it is like to really, truly have to rely on public charging in their area. The Chevy Bolt is a big step for electric vehicles with regards to charging, as it has an option for a DC Fast Charging CCS port that enables much faster charge rates. While CCS chargers are not as prevalent as Tesla Superchargers, there are not as many vehicles looking to use a CCS charger to refill.

[Editor’s note: It’s important to understand that Tesla’s Superchargers allow a driver to add about 170 miles of range in ~30 minutes, whereas the Bolt is more likely to max out at about 90 miles in ~30 minutes. However, again, the faster charging stations the Bolt would need to charge this fast can probably be counted on one hand. They will be increasing in number, but not nearly as fast as Tesla’s Superchargers.]

compare

Chevy Bolt DCFC @ 21 kW. Image Credit: Kyle Field

Here in progressive Southern California, there are generally one or maybe two 50 amp DC Fast Charging stations in each city. They are typically bundled with a CCS and CHAdeMO port, which makes it easier for the stations to charge up a DCFC-capable vehicle but can also further restrict the charging station’s ability to deliver a charge to more than one vehicle at a time. In my time with the Bolt, I fast charged via DCFC stations several times and found the experience better than I expected, but I also realized that range anxiety came back. With just one station, it was all too easy for the station to be ICE’d with a gasmobile parked in the charging spot or found to be non-functional, which would have left me stranded.

Tesla’s foresight and upfront investment in building multi-station Level 4 Supercharging stations serves the company well in this regard. Most stations include 8 or 10 stalls, and (almost) no station has fewer than 4 stalls. Tesla is also adding stalls to high-traffic stations in advance of the flood of Model 3s that are expected to hit the road in the next 12 months.

compare

Oxnard Supercharger expansion from 10 to 18 stations. June 6th, 2017. Photo Credit: Kyle Field

On my 2,600 mile road trip across most of the United States in my Tesla Model S, I never worried about whether a Supercharger would be available when I arrived or even where it was, as they are built in as stops by Tesla’s integrated navigation by default. This highlights the difference between Tesla and Chevrolet. Tesla is run by people who drive electric. They understand the real barriers and benefits of electric vehicles and operate with that in mind. No other automotive manufacturer has had the foresight into electric vehicles to invest in a charging network like Tesla has … and no, VW’s dieselgate-mandated Electrify America initiative does not count.

In my mind, the first major automotive company that forces all of its executives to drive electric cars will be the first one to truly make an intelligent push into the electric vehicle market.

The Tesla Model 3 wins the charging wars with its massive network of ~130 kW Tesla Superchargers boasting multiple charging stations in an intentionally deployed, integrated charging network that spans most of the US, Europe, and several other regions around the globe. Yes, any other manufacturer could do this, and it’s just a matter of a few billion dollars … but they have not done it to date and suffer because of this inaction.

Price

Affordability of a long-range electric car was, until recently, a major constraint for those wanting to drive electric. The new $30,000 Chevy Bolt (after the US federal tax credit for ZEVs) is a major accomplishment and evidence that Tesla has indeed scared mainstream manufacturers into bringing long-range, affordable electric vehicles to market. It was clearly a response by GM to the threat of Tesla’s Model 3 and I’m sure Tesla is excited about its existence.

Before rebates, the price of the Bolt at $37,500 is slightly higher than the Model 3 at $35,000. Federal tax credits for Tesla vehicles are expected to run out in the next 12 months, meaning that anyone who is not already in the reservation queue for the Model 3 will likely not get a tax credit for it. Chevrolet has similarly produced numerous plug-in vehicles over the years and is thought to be nearing the end of the 200,000 plug-in vehicles that are eligible for the $7,500 US federal tax credit. Though, with lower demand for the Bolt (available in showrooms today), a tax credit is all but guaranteed for buyers.

compare

Chevrolet Bolt specs at CES reveal. Image Courtesy: Chevrolet

The base Tesla Model 3 does not include important add-ons like the current Autopilot suite and full self-driving software, features expected to add thousands to the price of the vehicle. Based on data gathered by the Model 3 Owners Group, the average selling price of the Model 3 is expected to be around $50,000. That’s not to say that you have to spend that much, but most buyers will add options. Bolt does not have as many options in this regard and many buyers are comfortable with the base model with the exception of the missing DC fast charging option at $750.

I’m calling the price category a wash. Though, technically, Model 3 beats the Bolt at the base price.

Availability

For drivers who are just done driving a gasmobile, the Bolt can be purchased today, and as some of our single-car readers are aware, it meets the vast majority (if not all) of the needs of the average driver. (More on that later, though, when some of our Bolt-driving readers publish their own reviews of the car.) Deliveries of the Bolt started in December, while Model 3 will not be delivered to the first people in the reservation queue until July. Having said that, if you are not in the reservation queue for Model 3, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that you should expect to wait until late 2018 to get your Model 3.

This gives the Bolt a sizeable advantage with the average consumer, as it can literally be driven off the lot today, whereas that same luxury for Model 3 is around 18 months away for most prospective buyers — and even then, we don’t know how long demand will outstrip production capacity and force consumers to wait a bit for their cars.

Autonomous Driving

While not specifically cleantech focused, autonomous driving technology has become synonymous with Tesla. Its Autopilot suite of technology changes the driving experience for drivers today, with nearly hands-free freeway driving in most regions and Elon Musk committing the company to performing a fully autonomous hands-free cross-country road trip by the end of this year.

compare

Zach testing Autopilot in a Tesla Model X. Image Credit: Kyle Field

Chevrolet, on the other hand, has developed a healthy suite of autonomous driving technology that it has demonstrated in San Francisco but with none of the features included in the production version of the Chevy Bolt EV. In response to Tesla, Chevrolet has escalated the pace of its development of autonomous vehicle technology — but, again, the technology is absent in the production version nor has Chevrolet committed to bringing it to market in any future vehicles.

Model 3 will have all the hardware necessary for full self-driving functionality and clearly comes out on top for autonomous driving technology.

Performance

The Chevy Bolt is no slacker when it comes to performance. Stomp the pedal and even with its impressive traction control it is possible to chirp the tires. It boasts an impressive 0–60 mph time of 6.5 seconds and is a blast to drive. Most people do not care about a 0–60 time, and in my 7 years of owning my Prius, I had and still have no idea what it was. Performance for most is about the day-to-day driving experience, and in that regard, the Bolt delivers a peppy pedal with all the torque one could want.

compare

Matte Black Tesla Model 3. Image Courtesy: Tesla

The Tesla Model 3, on the other hand, will have a 0–60 time of around 6.0 seconds, with Tesla’s famous Ludicrous mode being available as an (expensive) option farther down the line. The addition of a second motor also promises to offer an incremental performance boost for those who want a faster vehicle but want to retain the ability to breathe during acceleration. Tesla has always had a sweet tooth for performance, clearly claiming it as one of the top selling points of its vehicles (example: the Tesla Model S boasts the fastest 0–60 time of any production sedan at just over 2.2 seconds!!!).

For the average driver, these two cars will feel about the same in terms of acceleration, but with Model 3 offering extra options to step it up, Tesla takes the cake for performance.

Dealership Experience

When I bought my Model S, I was very impressed by the “dealership experience” Tesla provided. It had been a few years since I had visited a dealership, as I bought my Nissan LEAF online (which was also a very satisfying, low-stress purchase). Unrelated, unsolicited, and unpaid aside: we bought our LEAF from John Dibella at Wayzata Nissan. They had (have?) LEAFs from the factory that had/have not been titled but do have a few miles on them at great discounts. I highly recommend them.

Tesla is known for its all-out customer service and held up to that high standard in spades. I was VERY impressed and enjoyed every aspect of it. Knowing that prices are not negotiable at any Tesla store anywhere in the world at any time is nice. Tesla vehicles can also be configured and purchased online, which is handy in states where Tesla still cannot operate a physical sales center.

Tesla Santa Barbara. Image Credit: Kyle Field

And then we have … Chevrolet dealerships. I went into a few to test drive the Bolt before I took possession of the loaner Chevrolet that provided to me to review for CleanTechnica, and it was an eye-opening experience. To be fair, this is not a Chevy thing — it’s a dealership thing for all major automakers with very few exceptions. The salesmen were high-pressure sales people, were uneducated on the product, and left me feeling gross. I was pressured with follow-up phone calls to the point that I had to threaten to escalate to the manager to get him to stop calling (harassing) me. This is an issue with all dealerships, not just Chevrolet, but it is a HUGE disadvantage. (Editor’s note: Automakers would do well to understand and try to solve this sooner rather than later. And, no, fighting Tesla in the courts regarding its right to sell directly to customers is not the solution.)

Similar to how conventional vehicle manufacturers should force executives to drive electric, they should also be forced to buy a car from a handful of their dealerships … and from Tesla. The contrast is stark. I like going to the Tesla dealership even though I have no reason to go there. Granted, I’m a fan, but it goes beyond that. The experience was so positive and the approach is so different. (Editor’s note: I’ve heard of other Tesla stores being places for Tesla enthusiasts to hang out as well, almost like clubhouses.)

Tesla has redefined the car-buying experience in a way that makes it a competitive advantage. If I had to choose between buying another Tesla from a dealership or having to negotiate at a Chevrolet dealership for a car … even if it were free in the end, I would be hard-pressed to not choose Tesla.

Safety

The foundation of the autonomous driving technology is a base of sensors and cameras that, even on the base Model 3, provide a brilliant array of active safety features that will enable Model 3 to perform feats like “Automatic Emergency Braking,” swerving and dodging — and even accelerating — to avoid incoming vehicles. These features truly raise the bar for what it is to be a safe vehicle. Model S and Model X are the safest vehicles in their respective classes, and with safety as the #1 priority for Tesla, all signs point to Model 3 being an extremely safe vehicle as well.

compare

Bolt Airbags. Image Courtesy: Chevrolet

While Chevrolet offers many of these active safety features, they are only included on higher-optioned vehicles, meaning most buyers will not benefit from them. Chevrolet has high hopes for a favorable safety rating for the Bolt, and based on the performance of the Volt with its Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Pick rating, I am hopeful that the Bolt will earn high marks.

Because of Tesla’s proven track record of delivering safe vehicles, the inclusion of active safety features in all current Tesla vehicles, and its safety-first focus, I’m going with Model 3 for the safety category.

Summary

The Tesla Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt EV are neck and neck in just about every area, and everyone will weight each of the categories differently, which makes it difficult to compare the two. With the massive advantage of the Tesla Supercharging network and the autonomous vehicle technology the Tesla Model 3 will arrive with next month, I’d say the Model 3 takes the cake. Buying a car is often an emotional decision not driven by categories or data, so take this comparison for what it is — my perspective — and do your own research. Become an expert and, most importantly, Drive Electric!

Stuttgart: A City Caught Between Two Worlds, Part 1

Originally published on CleanTechnica

The City of Stuttgart in Germany is a case study in the clash between the old world & industries that humans have developed over the centuries and the new realities resulting from the very same industries that have elevated humanity: air pollution, hazardous waste, and soot-covered buildings. Traffic clogging its streets that resonate with the static emanating from thousands of autos idling in traffic.

stuttgart

Downtown Stuttgart

But not all is lost. This is not a story of defeat but rather, of a city boldly reimagining its future. Stuttgart is a city that is plowing a path forward to an electrified future powered by renewable wind and solar energy. Its leaders envision citizens zooming around on electric bikes that can be loaded onto silent electric trains headed to destinations near and far.

Stuttgart’s History of Innovation

Stuttgart’s story starts with the birth of the automobile. The first 3-wheel and the first 4-wheel internal combustion powered automobiles were invented in the greater Stuttgart area. The diesel engine was also invented in the region, which builds a strong case as to why the people of Stuttgart hold the automobile so close to their hearts. It is a legacy, a passion, their history.

The automobile grew from a series of inventions into companies. Those companies grew into legacies now known by iconic names like Daimler, Benz, Maybach, Diesel, Porsche, and many more that harken back to the days of fervent innovation as the creative juices of brilliant minds unleashed wave after wave of petrol-fired innovation that led humanity into the industrial age by way of the internal combustion engine. From wikipedia:

  • 1860 — Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir produced a gas-fired internal combustion engine
  • 1864 — Nikolaus Otto patented the first atmospheric gas engine
  • 1876 — Nikolaus Otto, working with Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, patented the compressed charge, four-cycle engine.
  • 1879 — Karl Benz patented a reliable two-stroke gas engine
  • 1885 — Karl Benz built the first 3 wheeled horseless carriage which he named the Benz Patent Motorwagen. In 1889, Benz revealed the world’s first Model 3 (Sorry, Elon)
  • 1890 — Daimler Motor Company was founded by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart and produced motors and later, automobiles
  • 1892 — Rudolf Diesel developed the first compressed charge, compression ignition engine
  • 1931 — Porsche was born out of the factories of Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart which still maintains center stage on its emblem.
  • 1936 — the Mercedes-Benz 260 D in the W 138 series was the world’s first series-production diesel passenger car.

stuttgart

These early days of automotive innovation drove the automotive roots of Stuttgart deep into the foundational industry and innovation that helped forge modern Stuttgart.

In an attempt to summarize what he was looking for from a cutting-edge race vehicle, Emil Jellinek — one of the original designers of the first Mercedes-Benz vehicle — said simply, “I don’t want a car for today or tomorrow, it will be the car of the day after tomorrow.” In many ways, we are back at the same intersection of the end of an era of old technology as it is faced with the dawning of a new era.

stuttgart

Entrenched Industries & Powerful Unions

The blossoming automotive industry launched Stuttgart into an age of prosperity as automakers developed models for the masses, as widespread electricity distribution and assembly lines came together to usher in a new age of industry in Stuttgart with loads of money following close behind.

What started out as a single innovation grew into powerful companies and industries. To keep these powers in check, unions like powerhouse IG Metall in Germany rose up to ensure the voice of the worker was not lost amongst the drive for production and profitability. As with the companies they work in, IG Metall continues to represent workers’ rights to this day, even posing a challenge for Tesla with a threat to unionize its new German engineering unit, Tesla Grohmann Automation.

What’s a little feinstaub between friends?

Along with the industry, jobs, and money that came to Stuttgart in the early days, the natural bowl shape of the geography in the region kept many of the emissions coming from the manufacturing plants in the region from dissipating. Feinstaub is German for “fine dust” or “particulates” and has become a part of the local language as modern sensors have revealed that the beautiful city of Stuttgart is home to the worst PM10 concentrations in the country.

stuttgart

You wouldn’t know it from a walk in the park or along one of the many walking paths in the city, but the data tell a different tale. Local officials have taken to the offensive to tackle the problem, focusing efforts on a campaign geared towards raising awareness and driving behavioral changes on days where particulate and nitrous oxide (NOx) levels are especially high. A “feinstaubalarm” has been created to notify local residents and commuters of days when particulate and/or nitrous oxide levels rise above designated trigger levels.

On feinstaubalarm days, mass transit is half price, with all the locals clued in on the fact that they are able to buy a child’s ticket (kinder) on feinstaubalarm days. When travelling around the city, I was told by several locals about the phenomenon — though, I did not realize why it was okay to buy a child’s ticket at the time.

stuttgart

The rollout of the feinstaubalarm program has been an all-out blitz on the town, with the alarm status posted for the next calendar day on a central website and radio spots announcing the status as a way to not only mitigate short-term emissions but also to raise awareness of the environmental impact of commuting in general.

The town is not just asking for help from the public. Stuttgart has developed a holistic approach to combating the pernicious particulate and nitrous oxide emissions, with the approach spanning all sources and solutions. The focus of all the programs is on the Umweltzone, which is the defined environmental zone or low emission zone that is the key area in which NOx and particulate emissions must be reduced on feinstaubalarm days.

The city has identified that motor vehicle traffic is a key contributor to the high particulate and NOx emissions and is considering banning diesel vehicles from the city on feinstaubalarm days as a result. Combined with reductions in fares on public transportation, the city hopes that its citizens will, out of obligation, cut their travel by car and achieve the required reductions in emissions, but environmentalists are not so keen on the voluntary nature of the proposal. Even if it were to go into effect, the fine for violating the ban is so low as to be trivial and the local police have already declared that they are not staffed to enforce such a massive ban across the city.

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

The citizens of Stuttgart take an immense amount of pride in the innovative, dynamic history of the region and are not content to let that rich history go by abandoning their automobiles for public transit, nor are they willing to concede to the otherwise imminent fate of going down in history as the most polluted city in Germany. With such entrenched forces brought to bear against each other and with the 2.3 million member strong union IG Metall also aligned against any change so radical that it might disrupt the stability of the petrol-centric German automotive industry, the city of Stuttgart and the state of Baden-Württemberg as a whole are at a historic crossroads.

Stay tuned for part two where we will dive into the transportation solutions being explored and implemented across Stuttgart.

Disclaimer: Travel to and around Stuttgart provided by the Clean Energy Wire to showcase the clean energy transformation currently underway in the Stuttgart.

New App “Co-pilot for Tesla” Adds Much Needed Alerts To Tesla’s Autopilot

Originally published on CleanTechnica

New smartphone app Co-pilot for Tesla* aims to leverage crowdsourced data to fill in the safety gaps in Tesla’s current autopilot solution.

Where did the idea for Tesla Co-pilot come from?

The idea for Co-pilot for Tesla app came about as a result of founder Jeff’s experiences using Autopilot in his Tesla. He loved the convenience of using Autopilot / auto-steer and was hooked on using it. A few weeks into using Autopilot, however, he had a few close calls with it around town where it responded inappropriately to temporary traffic flow changes that could have ended terribly. The near misses with Autopilot scared him to the point where he was not comfortable using it for quite a few months which kickstarted an innovative period for him.

Jeff’s experiences are not isolated, with many users in the Tesla Motors Club forums posting similar experiences with Autopilot. Consumer Reports even went so far as to demand that Tesla make sweeping changes to Autopilot in response to a fatality that occurred while a driver was using the system.

While taking time away from Autopilot, Jeff started thinking about what could be done to fix the times when Autopilot misreads, misinterprets or fails to react to a situation in such a way that it results in a dangerous situation. Autopilot asking a driver to take the wheel on very short notice in the middle of a complicated traffic situation does not ensure that the situation will end well.

Jeff saw the potential in Autopilot and had an idea about how he could take it to the next level. After months of working through a few options, he created the solution in the form of a smartphone app he called “Co-pilot for Tesla.”

What is the Co-pilot app?

Co-pilot for Tesla is a crowdsourced, GPS-powered app that allows users to flag areas where the Tesla Autopilot system has failed for them. These alerts allow users to take control of the vehicle or at least closely monitor the situation to confirm their vehicle handles the potentially risky situation appropriately. With the downside of an Autopilot fail having the potential to be a life-altering event, advance warning of the locations where the system has failed can literally be a lifesaver.

Users can opt to simply sit on the receiving end of the app and take advantage of the alerts or to actively contribute to the app and enter the instances where autopilot has failed for them. Importantly, the ability for the solution to gather vast amounts of user-generated, real-life data about Autopilot system bugs has the potential to drive improvements in the system with Tesla as well as just provide data to Autopilot users.

How does the Co-pilot app work?

The fundamentals of the app, predictably, make use of the crowdsourced user data combined with the GPS location from the smartphone, but it does much more than that to achieve a higher degree of accuracy and functionality.

The app starts with a solid underpinning of map layers that it merges with crowdsourced insights as the foundational components of the app’s intelligence. To intelligently create Autopilot events, the app utilizes the mic on the smartphone to detect when Autopilot is turned on or off by recognizing the engage/disengage chimes.

It is worth mentioning that the audio from the mic is not sent to the cloud nor is it stored. It simply listens for the Autopilot on/off tones and triggers the start and end of Autopilot events accordingly. In the event that the start or end of a trip is missed, Co-pilot intelligently determines which portions of the trip are valid, if any.

Co-pilot kicks that up to the next level by connecting to the user’s myTesla account, which enables it to pull vehicle data directly from the Tesla Application Program Interface (API). The Tesla API is essentially a way for the app to listen to and talk back to the car using specific predetermined commands.

What can Co-pilot do today?

Today, Co-pilot provides alerts to users for known risky areas based on crowdsourced data from other users. The alerts are overlaid on a map showing the roads in the area where other users are using Autopilot to help users see which routes have fewer issues than others.

Users can also enter their own alerts to contribute to the pool, making the app function better for everyone. It works like unpaid Amazon reviews where the more alerts a single area gets, the higher the likelihood that all users will experience issues in the area. Conversely, one-off alerts can then also be identified and dismissed.

Because Co-pilot has access to data from the car through the Tesla API, it is also able to compile statistics for all trips in the vehicle. From these trips, the app automagically creates detailed charts with all the data for each including route information (distance, time, route), autosteer info, energy consumption, and battery charge. Additional graphs are displayed when swiped for battery range level, a graph showing speed, and a graph showing elevation.

How can I get my hands on Co-pilot?

Co-pilot for Tesla is available for iOS devices today for free. Just click the App Store Download button below to pull it up. The Co-pilot team is working on an Android version for release in the near future. For more information about the app and to stay apprised of its progress, head over to the Co-pilot website or email your questions, concerns, or excitement to Jeff directly.

*This post was featured on CleanTechnica as a sponsored article.

24 Hours With The 2017 Chevy Bolt (CleanTechnica Review)

Originally published on CleanTechnica

Many electric vehicle designers felt the need to stand out, to create a design that flies a bold flag to everyone around that proclaims “I’m modern and different!” While this is great for individuals or businesses looking to make a bold proclamation, most people are looking for a car that looks normal, that drives like a normal car with cool features inside that make day-to-day life just a little bit easier.

Being an electric vehicle advocate, I find myself in the first group, wanting my vehicle to scream out that it is different and that it doesn’t use any gasoline, which is why I paid just a bit extra to get a custom license plate that reads “NOGAAAS”. Having said that, I fully realize that for electric vehicles to achieve mainstream adoption and to usurp petroleum-fueled vehicles, we need vehicles that appeal to the masses to replace the Chevy S10 trucks and Toyota Corollas that sell by the millions.

It’s clear that this is what the team that designed the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt had in mind. On the outside, it looks very much like many modern subcompact cars on the market today. It features styling cues that place it right in line with the current Chevrolet brand identity. It looks and feels just like a “normal” car, a great feat.

The shiny exterior, the normal look and feel, and maybe even the new car smell are all part of an elaborate ruse to camouflage what is in all likelihood the most technologically advanced vehicle ever to set rubber on the floor of a Chevrolet showroom. The hard work done by the Chevy team in such a short period of time to develop the Bolt and move it to production shines through, and that work set the new high bar for what it means to be an affordable, long-range electric vehicle. Nothing on the market today comes close to the Bolt.

Range

The Bolt is a breakthrough first and foremost because of its range. With an estimated range of 238 miles per charge, it gives drivers more all-electric miles per charge than any vehicle in its class by a large margin. To put that range to the test, I took the Bolt out from the sunny beach town of Ventura, California, to the hilly wine country of Central California to see how it would handle long jaunts of freeway driving paired with a serious climb up the coastal range.

Over nearly 200 miles, the Bolt maintained an impressive efficiency of 3.9 miles per kilowatt-hour. This is an impressive achievement considering its official rating is 3.6 miles per kilowatt-hour. I attribute this to the efficient regeneration capability of the car. Given my initial results, I plan to put this to a more scientific test later in the week.

The efficiency is a noticeable improvement over the 3.0 miles per kilowatt-hour my Tesla Model S achieves on normal roads. Higher efficiency translates into faster effective charging rates that allow the vehicle to absorb more “range per hour” of charging than the Model S.

Interior Space

The Bolt is not a big car but the interior does not feel cramped. The cab-forward design enabled by the electric drivetrain puts the driver and passengers farther forward and in higher seating positions to allow for great visibility from any seat. The absence of a drive shaft and tunnel open up the center of the interior, which Chevrolet fitted with a number of roomy compartments that give drivers plenty of options for smartphones, chargers, and hand sanitizers to be stashed.

Asking my kids what they thought about the car from the back seat, they said they liked that the ride was smoother than our Model S and that it left a lot more room in the garage. I have to agree and both are nice features. For those who don’t want a large vehicle, the Bolt offers the interior features of a large car without leaving the passengers feeling cramped. I’m 6 foot 2 inches tall and fit in the car very comfortably.

Throttle Response

The first thing one notices when driving the Bolt is that the throttle response is extremely impressive. For those who have driven an electric car before, they are blown away with the snappy pedal that immediately throws your head back when punched. The EV smile comes out quickly as drivers realize that the Bolt accelerates with the speed and finesse of the famous Roadrunner from childhood cartoons, just without the “meep, meep” sound.

With the car weighing just 3,500 pounds (1,590 kilograms), mashing the pedal off the line throws you back into your seat and makes you question whether pounding the pedal was a good idea or not. The tires will squeal if you’re not careful, as the power overcomes the otherwise well tuned traction control. The torque from the motor also has the unhealthy tendency to pull the car to the right as it takes off, which is something to watch out for and potentially unsafe.

After slamming the pedal to the floor off the line a few times, it became clear that the steering is a bit squirrely after launch in general. Granted, I am not talking about the usual pace of driving around the neighborhood or on the way to get groceries, but it is worth noting. The design of the vehicle leaves the front wheels surprisingly light on the ground, and thus jittery through the acceleration of a launch. Having said that, it is a ton of fun to drive and that same 266 foot-pounds of torque all ready and waiting at zero RPMs makes this the most sporty subcompact I’ve driven — electric or not.

One-Pedal Driving

The Bolt diverges from the EVs of times gone past because of how it uses regeneration. First, the Bolt has the addition of a regeneration paddle that allows the driver to turn heavy regen on at the pull of a paddle. This paddle serves as another way to brake and can bring the vehicle to a complete stop but slows the vehicle at a more moderated rate than the actual brake pedal. On the downside, the regen paddle is either on or off. There’s no easing into it, which can make braking with the paddle nauseating if not used carefully.

The Bolt also has a “Low Drive” setting that allows for the famed one-pedal/single-pedal driving style. For drivers familiar with a Tesla, this is similar to driving with regeneration set to standard except that, in the Bolt, it can bring the vehicle all the way to a stop when the accelerator pedal is released — no need for the brake at all. Low Drive mode essentially activates aggressive regeneration when the accelerator pedal is let up.

In contrast with the regen paddle, single pedal driving in Low Drive allows the driver to throttle how much acceleration or regeneration they want based on how far the pedal is depressed. This mode admittedly takes some getting used to and can then enable mostly single pedal driving all the time. In my time with the vehicle so far, I’m a recent convert to the world of single-pedal driving and plan to use it exclusively moving forward. In summary, push pedal down = go, go, go. Release pedal = slow, slow, slow.

Traction Control

The Bolt packs a traction control system that is comparable to the system in Tesla’s Model S and X. Under normal driving conditions, it maintains solid traction and keeps the power going to the ground instead of to squealing the tires as many other EVs are prone to do.

Taking off around a right turn at full throttle or attempting what could have been interpreted as a drift slide around broad turn brought the system into question as the tires screamed in opposition, but those cases were extreme and not representative of normal driving conditions. My Tesla Model S was also able to be convinced to break traction with the ground but far less frequently. Having said that, the Bolt is the only other EV I have driven that even comes close to the traction control system in the Tesla … and at half the price.

Infotainment System

The infotainment system in the Bolt is a huge step beyond just about every other car on the road today, with a few exceptions. The 10.2″ color touch screen is beautiful and relatively intuitive to use. Users are able to customize it to their liking, but not so much as to confuse users who aren’t too tech savvy. For example, it allows users to change the color scheme, but only has 3 options. The panels on the home screen display can be rearranged, but only with a preselected set of panels.

On the awkward side, the angle of the screen is a bit strange. It is almost as though the screen were laid down at an angle to make it seem like more of a tablet, but it results in the screen looking and feeling a bit counterintuitive, just based on its physical placement.

Navigation in the Bolt is similarly awkward. I wasn’t able to find the map on the infotainment system so called the integrated On Star service to help find it. The representative I spoke with confirmed that the Bolt does not have a built-in map-based navigation system but that it was able to offer turn-by-turn directions through On Star. I gave my representative my destination and he was able to download the turn by turn directions to the vehicle.

After years of using integrated map-based navigation systems, it felt strange navigating to a destination with just the arrows and instructions. It was as if I were only driving with one eye open or with earplugs in. Something was missing. A bit of digging revealed that the integration of Apple Play and Android Auto were meant to solve this, giving connected drivers the ability to display maps from their phones on the infotainment screen.

This approach ensures that the maps being used are always current. Though, it requires the user to have a smartphone and a data connection. I see where they’re going with that … but for me, it’s a bummer. Perhaps that’s something Chevy will fix with an over-the-air update sometime in the (near) future.

Stay tuned here on CleanTechnica for more details on the 2017 Chevy Bolt as our exclusive in-depth review continues next week.

Images Credit: Kyle Field | CleanTechnica