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Jul 11

America’s Least Expensive Vehicles To Fuel

 

Depending on how you slice it – as in, in EV mode – the Volt could be on this list, but as you’ll see, other choices were made for good reason.

Hope everyone has a good weekend.

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Are you tired of spending significant dollars at the fuel pump and interested in ways to save on your next car?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – which actually suggested this topic to us – the cheapest cars to “fuel” don’t take liquid fuel at all, but rather, are all-electric.

How cheap is cheap? A 23-mpg combined 2014 Chrysler 300 with 3.6-liter V6 is one car representing an average efficiency rating and costs $2,400 per year to fill up – or, $1,900 more than one of a few $500-per-year electric cars on our list.

The EPA’s annual fuel cost estimates assume: average fuel/electricity prices and 15,000 miles driven comprised of 55 percent city and 45 percent highway driving. Under each car’s rating, the EPA has a “personalize” link to estimate your actual costs.

EVs are rated by miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) and most get over 100 MPGe.

But can’t you do just as well with a high-mpg car or hybrid? Not necessarily. The Toyota Prius gets 50 mpg but its gasoline still costs $1,100 per year, more than double the best EVs’ annual energy costs.

Even at double the 12-cents per kilowatt-hour the EPA figures, a Nissan Leaf’s annual electricity bill on 24 cents per kwh juice would just equal the Prius at $1,100 annually.

SEE ALSO: Should You Buy an Electric Car?

Of course an EV involves acquiring a home charger, and accepting range limitations, but there’s a growing contingent of people who’ve jumped in and say the EV waters are fine – some having purchased, and others leasing to avoid long-term commitment.

Unfortunately however, some of the cars on our list are what are called “compliance cars” to meet California mandates. Only four cars are sold in all 50 states, some are sold in several states from east-to-west, and others are quite limited indeed.

SEE ALSO: Is Electricity a Clean Energy Source?

For those who “get it” now, EVs are also gratifyingly zero emissions vehicles, and even factoring in “dirty coal” as the energy source, they wind up being cleaner in most cases. And, no soldier or civilian has ever been killed over the right to electricity extraction from the Middle East, nor do we need to transport electricity by tanker across the sea. Nope, we make it here, in the U.S., and the grid is getting cleaner year by year.

EVs also qualify for up to a $7,500 federal tax credit and state credits where applicable.

So, without further ado, here’s the list ranked by annual energy cost or MPGe in descending order:

10. Toyota RAV4 EV – $800 Annually; MPGe – 78 city / 74 highway / 76 combined

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A quintessential compliance car, with the lowest EPA rating, the $49,800 RAV4 is however the only electric SUV on the market until Tesla rolls out its Model X next year to the applause of EV fans everywhere.

Actually the RAV4 EV was jointly built under a partnership with Tesla as a follow-up to Toyota’s first RAV4 EV. Its powertrain is essentially by Tesla and has been called the cheapest way to get into a Tesla, albeit with Toyota body.

Certainly it’s less than the $79,900 85-kwh Tesla Model S which actually belongs in this #10 spot, but we’ll mention it along with number nine.

The electric RAV4 is available for sale or lease through select dealers in California’s regions of Los Angeles / Orange County, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Sacramento.

And it’s due to be canceled after 2,600 units are sold as Toyota focuses on fuel cell vehicles which it has said are the more viable technology at the moment.

9. 60-kwh Tesla Model S – $650 Annually; MPGe – 94 city /97 highway / 95 combined

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Tesla’s Model S with the 60-kwh battery ranks ninth and actually the 85-kwh Model S ranks tenth but we put the RAV4 EV in for perspective, and are mentioning both S Models anyway.

The 85-kwh version costs $700 annually to “fuel” according to the EPA, and MPGe is 88 city / 90 highway / 89 combined.

SEE ALSO: Tesla Model S Review

Nor does Tesla’s sedan need an introduction, having taken so many prizes, acknowledgements and awards they would have given it a Superbowl trophy if they could have figured a way to justify that.

Tesla, as you know, is exerting the EV agenda nationwide, and globally. Its 60-kwh cars however cost $69,000 to start when most consumers would rather pay less, but they’ll have to wait for its promised smaller sedan in the next couple of years or so.

The Model S delivers 208 miles range in 60-kwh form, or 265 miles in 85 kwh form.

8. Ford Focus Electric $600 Annually; MPGe – 110 city / 99 highway / 105 combined

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An electrified version of the Focus hatchback, the electric version is available in close to half the country.

Ford also recently chopped the price by $4,000 to $35,200 a fair sum above a base $28,800 Nissan Leaf, but the modestly rated Ford does give liquid cooling to preserve its battery, and is worth a look if sold in your market.

7. smart fortwo electric drive coupe/cabriolet, $600 Annually; MPGe – 122 city / 93 highway / 107 combined

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Owned by Mercedes-Benz, smart’s updated fortwo electric in both coupe and cabriolet form are evenly matched and available in selected markets across the country.

As electrified versions of the diminutive city car, prices start at
$12,490 for the coupe and $15,490 for the convertible with lease deals available, meaning while you may not be getting a lot of car, you’re not paying so much for it either.

6. Mitsubishi i-MiEV $550 Annually; MPGe – 126 city / 99 highway / 112 combined

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The venerable Mitsu i-MiEV – pronounced “I-MEEV” – originated in 2009 as an electrified version of a Japanese “kei” tiny city car.

Badged under a few name plates, it has sold in the tens of thousands globally, and was better equipped for 2014 while its price was cut to $22,995, or a $6,130 price reduction from the previous generation.

DC quick charging is available for those who can use that to extend the EPA-rated range of 62 miles.

Hats off to Mitsubishi for making this vehicle 50-state available.

5. Nissan Leaf – $550 Annually; MPGe – 126 city / 101 highway / 114 combined

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Also 50-state available, and the market leader is Nissan’s Leaf.

Launched in 2010 as a purpose-built EV, Nissan has also made it the global top seller, starting in the U.S. at $28,980, and low-priced lease deals have been offered.

Range is 84 miles, and DC quick charging is an option for recharging to 80 percent in under 30 minutes. Level 2 (240-volt) charging can take 4-7 hours depending on which on-board charger you get.

An overview is here and a full 2013 review with video is here.

4. Fiat 500e $500 Annually; MPGe – 122 city / 108 highway / 116 combined

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Another “compliance car,” this one is an efficient little EV, but available in California only.

MSRP starts at $31,800 and a lease deal is available startiungf at $199 a month for 36 month with $999 due at signing.

We’re making it fourth place as it has slightly less MPGe than the next few cars, but it’s actually tied in the loosely rounded off to “$500″ figure.

3. Honda Fit EV $500 Annually, 132 city / 105 highway / 119 combined

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Honda says it does not think the term “compliance car” is fair, as it takes the burden from its lease customers, includes a charger, and has engineered a first class EV conversion.

However, this is a limited-market lease-only EV – although it was made available to the East Coast – and its tenure is due to end soon.

SEE ALSO: Lease Price Slashed By One-Third For New And Existing Honda Fit EV Customers

Honda introduced the Fit EV with an announced volume of 1,100 units over two model year and the 2014 model year will end early this fall, marking the end of production of the Fit EV.

Its EPA rating is the same $500 as others, but is here ranked by combined MPGe.

It was nice while it lasted. Like Toyota, Honda is refocusing on fuel cell electric vehicles and in the next year or two ought to have a follow-up to its FCX Clarity.

2. Chevrolet Spark EV $500 Annually; MPGe – 128 city / 109 highway / 119 combined

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The Spark EV is also rounded to $500 annual energy cost but its MPGe is incrementally better, and the EPA says it costs 84 cents per mile, a tad less than 87 cents per mile for the previous two estimated at $500 per year.

General Motors’ subcompact is a “compliance car” sold only in California and Oregon – but as of July 2014 we have noted rumors of central U.S. and East Coast dealers telling their customers it’s coming.

SEE ALSO: Spark EV Test Drive Review

GM flatly denies its nice little electric version of its subcompact Spark is due anywhere else, but you never know what news may come later.

Base MSRP is $27,495, it can come with optional DC quick charging, and interesting is the over-sized motor capable of a (traction controlled, so no burnouts possible) 400 pounds-feet to the front wheels.

1. BMW i3 – $500 Annually; MPGe – 138 city / 111 highway / 124 combined

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America’s most efficient car is 50-state available, and it comes from Germany.

It is available as a pure EV – which gets the higher EPA rating – and with a small range extending engine, rated at $650 annual fuel cost, and 117 MPGe combined.

For some reason people have made comparisons with the i3 to Tesla’s Model S but the two could not be any less alike.

Unless one counts that both brands are electric and targeting upscale shoppers, the innovative city car from BMW tops the efficiency chart, whereas Tesla’s larger, heavier, more powerful and longer running cars are at the end of the line.

That did not stop Tesla’s designer from panning BMW’s electric city car as being to automobiles what “Ikea” is to furniture.

BMW’s pure electric version starts in the low 40s, with range of 81 miles. The purpose built EV is lightweight due in part to advanced materials including carbon fiber reinforced plastic.

More info on BMW’s new sustainable i series can be found here.

 

Jun 12

VIA launches eREV shuttle van at Edison Electric Institute Annual Conference

 

This Monday I talked with VIA’s David West who sent info over for the following story.

Essentially, the eREV maker is up and running. They’d not launch this or another vehicle without having their order pipeline sufficiently full of reservations.

Won’t share off the record info, but imagine other possibilities VIA could maybe also come up with …

Also, note they are using “opportunity charging.” Here the driver hops out and plugs in a J1772 to let a 24-kwh battery do 100-plus daily miles. I asked if they’d thought of wireless charging as they “right size” the battery and use the eREV as a BEV, keeping the extender off. Wound up introducing VIA and Momentum Dynamics. Generally West agreed this is the direction VIA is going, so we shall see whether the two companies do business.

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Perhaps you’ve seen VIA Motors’ extended-range electric pickups and vans that are pending launch, and Monday the company announced it’s debuting a shuttle version of its van.

In an interview Monday, VIA’s Chief Marketing Officer David West said the Utah-based startup will announce the production van specially configured for airport/hotel duty at the ongoing Edison Electric Institute Annual Conference in Las Vegas Monday.

Featured speakers at the event include Warren Buffett and former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William Gates.

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Standard GM bench seats are removed by VIA Motors, and replaced with these.

 

West said VIA is already providing free to-and-from trips for industry executives in its vans between the McCarran Airport and the convention, and these are much like shuttle vans used in January at the Sundance Film Festival.

Inside the vehicle are upgraded seats more suitable for the duty, and the vans can be equipped with other amenities as needed.

All-Electric, 100 Miles/Day

These vans, by the way, are demonstrating the ideal usage scenario VIA envisions which is all-electric. How does a 24-kwh VIA van drive over 100 miles a day, round the clock on pure electricity?

The buzzword is “opportunity charging.”

VIA has contracted with Clipper Creek which provides a strategically located 240-volt, 14.4-kilowatt, 60-amp level 2 charger that replenishes the shuttle buses in between trips.

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This would normally be down time, waiting for the next load of passengers, with AC running in the 110-degree heat, and a big fuel waster for a conventional V8 vehicle.

In VIA’s case, the van stays in the e-zone, running AC and accessories from the battery while it’s recharging between runs.

While not naming specific customers, West said VIA has orders booked for its hotel/airport shuttle. The configuration is in line with the standard entry price of $79,000.

West noted California and five other states have incentives starting at $10,500 on the state level plus $7,500 on the federal level. Certain areas of California can go to as high as $18,000 in state incentives.

 

Jun 06

Phinergy’s range-extended battery committed to by Renault-Nissan

 

After midnight this morning my super expensive computer with SSD crashed, so it’s been a busy time this a.m. and I’m working on my backup after getting all the passwords, etc.

For those of you who say you are “from Missouri,” that is understandable, and more needs to be shown, but things look good at this point.

RE: the headline, I’ve received no confirmation from Renault-Nissan, but am going on what the head of the company said on video to the President of the United States, and Prime Minister of Israel – and what he confirmed in a phone interview late last night!

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While details are yet scarce, yesterday Phinergy CEO and Founder, Aviv Tzidon confirmed talks with Renault-Nissan are tentatively set for a proposed series production electric car due in 2017 using its range-extending aluminum-air battery.

This was first revealed in a video-recorded semi-private talk with President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Nethanyaho (see video @4:29).

After we questioned further, Tzidon said this would be under ideal circumstances, and unforeseen delays on the the French automaker’s side could conceivably push it back to maybe 2018 or 2019, he conjectured, although 2017 was by all appearances the date that is “on the table.”

In in any case, Phinergy is ready for this customer and all others, and initially, Tzidon divulged, he did not even expect an automaker would be first to adopt aluminum-air. Phinergy is “patient” and in it for the long term, he said.

Thus, if things go according to plan, Phinergy hopes its aluminum-air battery may prove to be the greatest thing for transportation – and other industries – since sliced bread.

But unlike bread slices you would eat, the company has developed a carbon-neutral electric car battery which slowly consumes slices of aluminum and yields several-times more energy density than the best lithium-ion batteries.


Every start-up CEO’s dream come true – President Obama and Prime Minister Nethanyaho visit with Phinergy’s CEO Aviv Tzidon.

Based on work begun in Israel in 2008, the company is collaborating with Alcoa on this cost-effective and safe energy source. It’s being proposed as a range extender – not a primary propulsion battery – to automakers, including Renault-Nissan.

As for the “slice” of aluminum analogy, that’s an oversimplification, but it is more accurate than other reports that have said Phinergy’s 1,100-plus-mile range range-extended electric car runs merely on “air” or water.

Almost that amazing, Phinergy’s aluminum-air battery combines de-ionized (drinkable) water into an alkaline electrolyte solution and breathes in air to create a chemical reaction that dissolves aluminum plates to produce electricity.

Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust and Phinergy’s durable technology reliably extracts 8.1 kilowatt-hours of energy – half of which is electricity, and half byproduct heat – per kilogram.

The notion of aluminum-air and other metal-air batteries is not new, but Phinergy has worked out the bugs and is ready to put it into production – not just for cars, but consumer electronics, stationary energy storage, defense, industrial – all sorts of applications.

While aluminum is normally thought of as a structural material, it contains much electrical potential. A lot of electricity goes into its smelting process and is effectively stored. Phinergy’s controlled reaction releases the electricity in a process with the reverse effect of smelting. Plans in Montreal are to use sustainable hydroelectric power in the aluminum’s smelting.

Additional markets that can use Phinergy's aluminum-air and zinc-air tech.

Additional markets that can use Phinergy’s aluminum-air and zinc-air tech.

What’s more, after the aluminum-air battery chemically extracts stored electrical energy from the ever-diminishing aluminum plates, it leaves a recyclable byproduct in liquid that can be easily processed back into fresh aluminum.

Technically, consumers would only be buying the energy stored in aluminum, not so much the aluminum itself which merely dissolves to a different form and is taken away as a valuable byproduct.

A Little Bit Different

If any of this sounds unclear, we’ll explain how it works further below, but the takeaway is the company is past the “proof of concept” stage.

This was shown this week by the Phinergy/Alcoa EV converted from a formerly gas-burning Citreon C1. In Montreal this week it covered a several-hour-long demonstration drive without recharging – and actually the car can go 1,850-2,500 miles on 100 kg of aluminum.

We were told very little about the 2017 European Renault-Nissan mentioned in a video not widely disseminated, but will explain the concept behind Phinergy's vision.

We were told very little about the 2017 European Renault-Nissan mentioned in a video not widely disseminated, but will explain the concept behind Phinergy’s vision for its technology.

Compare that to the 750 kg battery in a Tesla Model S. While this is a radical improvement over a 265-mile Tesla, as mentioned, Phinergy envisions the best use for its tech as a range extender – or actually an on-board recharging system.

In other words, its C1-based test mule operates a lot like an extended-range electric Chevy Volt, albeit without gas engine.

In a Volt, the engine maintains the battery charge and provides propulsion energy. In Phinergy’s case, the aluminum-air battery charges the lithium-ion battery and gives off heat that can be shed, or captured by a heat exchanger to warm the cabin as needed.

Thus, Phinergy’s prototype car is primarily powered by a rather ordinary lithium-ion battery and motor and its aluminum-air pack can recharge it on the go.

As its aluminum “cartridges” or plates slowly whittle away over months to eventually nothing, the plan is they’ll be replaced by service personnel.

The exact composition of the aluminum is proprietary, and Alcoa’s alliance with Phinergy puts it in line to profit from the exclusive arrangement.

Aviv Tzidon.

Aviv Tzidon.

According to Alcoa Project Manager Hasso Wieland, the well-to-wheel analysis is actually better than carbon neutral because of valuable byproducts of the battery’s process of oxidizing aluminum.

As great as it sounds, this means Phinergy is not proposing its new technology replace lithium-ion, but rather, says Aviv Tzidon, it’s a complement.

Why? Tzidon, said Phinergy’s approach is “humble” enough to see the strengths and weaknesses of the aluminum-air battery. Its strength is vastly improved energy storage to make range limitations no longer a concern.
However, lithium-ion battery packs are useful to create powerful, quick cars that recharge from plugging into the grid or by regenerative braking.

“Our aluminum system cannot do that,” he conceded, but this is not a problem given how most people use their cars.
Citing statistics once used to make a case for the Chevy Volt, Tzidon said that a driver who travels 12,000 miles per year on average only drives 33 miles per day.

A 30-50 mile-range EV – more or less – would meet the daily need, but what about when the driver wants to go farther on the odd occasion? Here is where the driver could tap into the on-board aluminum in the supplemental aluminum-air battery system.

Unlike other batteries, aluminum can be stored for decades without degradation or needing maintenance charging.

Phinergy’s ideal scenario is the driver use the regular lithium-ion batteries day to day, and when needed expend some aluminum and water.

A typical usage scenario would see the cartridges expended maybe once a year, more or less. Costs – while still fuzzy at this stage – are projected to be cheaper than present solutions.

“Energy from aluminum is cheaper than gasoline and close to grid electricity price,” says the company in an executive summary. “Battery systems, pre industrial scale-up, are already cheaper than forecasted li-on in 2020.”

How It Works

In simplified terms, the cross-section of the battery shows where a chemical reaction takes place to release electrons and thus generate electricity.

The air cathode uses Teflon (like Gore Tex) to keep water in, and let air pass through as well. It also has a nanoporous silver inner layer, and current collector.

The air cathode uses Teflon (like Gore Tex) to keep water in, and let air pass through as well. It also has a nanoporous silver inner layer, and current collector.

The 10mm-thick aluminum plate is the battery’s anode, and the cathode is a semi-permeable membrane using the same technology as Gore Tex.

These plates can be added as needed, and each plate provides about enough energy for 20 miles. So, 50 plates – or aluminum-air battery cells – would offer 1,000 miles of extended-range driving.

In general terms, one kilogram of aluminum requires one kilogram of oxygen and one liter of water for the reaction to take place.

Sandwiched between the aluminum and air cathode is the water-based alkaline electrolyte containing potassium hydroxide.

Several technologies make this long-known lab concept commercially viable, and Phinergy and its PhD-laden staff has applied for or received over 22 patents.

The aluminum, as mentioned, is an alloy that oxidizes at a controlled rate. The fluid electrolyte in contact with it serves as a conductive layer, a solvent, and temperature evacuator as it extracts oxygen from the air cathode.

The air cathode uses a Teflon-based material that lets ambient air (thus oxygen) through from the environment, but it prevents the water-based electrode from seeping out.

On the cathode side, three elements laminated into a thin layer are used to make the cathode effective.

Immediately in contact with the electrolyte is a nanoporous silver structure patented by Phinergy, and based on work done at Bar Ilan University in Israel.

Laminated to the nanoporous layer is a current collector to gather electrons – electrical energy – liberated in the chemical reaction between the alkaline electrolyte and bare aluminum.

Laminated beyond that is the gore-tex like material sourced from a major manufacturer.

Cross-section aluminum-air battery. Air freely flows in, while aqueous alkaline electrolyte is retained despite pressure and heat.

Cross-section aluminum-air battery. Air freely flows in, while aqueous alkaline electrolyte is retained despite pressure and heat.

The chemical reaction involves oxidizing the bare aluminum which forms a layer of aluminum hydroxide – kind of like an aluminum rust.

The novelty of the system is it is all microprocessor controlled. The electrolyte bath can be flushed as needed by a pump, and in doing so, it wipes clean the oxidation exposing again a fresh surface of aluminum. Phinergy’s microcontroller and battery management system monitor temperature, chemical composition, and oxidation rate.

Here we see aluminum hydroxide (Al(OH)3 – oxidation – building on the aluminum's surface. OH- is also suspended in the electrolyte. Electricity is being produced as the aluminum undergoes this catalyzed reaction. Ambient air flows in freely, it is not pumped. It is like breathing.

Here we see aluminum hydroxide (Al(OH)3 – oxidation – building on the aluminum’s surface. OH- is also suspended in the electrolyte. Electricity is being produced as the aluminum undergoes this catalyzed reaction. Ambient air flows in freely, it is not pumped. It is like breathing.

The trick is to oxidize the aluminum enough that electricity is given off but no so badly that the entire reaction stops. So, the system can flush through the electrolyte solution as required at a rate that exposes aluminum just enough to repeat the oxidation, and not so aggressively as to prematurely erode the aluminum.

This incredible difficulty of this process – and contamination of the air cathode in previous experimental attempts by carbon dioxide – has been what relegated aluminum-air batteries to a lab experiment until now.

Here we see a fresh surface of aluminum exposed. The system's electrolyte bath flushes upwards taking away the oxidized surface and exposing new to repeat the process. This continues until the aluminum is gone, and the system is ready for a new cartridge.

Here we see a fresh surface of aluminum exposed. The system’s electrolyte bath flushes upwards taking away the oxidized surface and exposing new to repeat the process. This continues until the aluminum is gone, and the system is ready for a new cartridge.

The controlled whittling away of the aluminum is what makes the system viable, not to mention the recyclability of the electrolyte.

Maintenance would involve car owners needing to periodically refill the battery with tap water that’s been run through a simple de-ionizing process. This would be as required – perhaps every month or two depending on usage – and the electrolyte would enable the chemical reaction.

The aluminum plates that erode away would be swapped with new ones during a “quick operation” at a local service station.

Since releasing formerly confidential info last month, the company is gaining the attention of the public, as it has behind-the-scenes talks underway with European automakers.

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The aluminum-air’s liquid has been tested for extreme temperatures. It freezes at -30 degrees C and boils at 130 degrees C.

President Obama asked Tzidon whether Phinergy was talking with American companies and Tzidon asked in turn with a smile whether the president had any connection with GM or Ford?

At this, Obama laughed, saying he thought he did, as Phinergy continues to work toward further proving its tech, and bringing it toward production.

 

May 23

Test Drive: 2014 Chevy Spark EV

 

I’d wanted to test this car a while back, but GM would not truck one to me from the New York area, nor would it let me trailer one back.

So, I jumped at the chance at Indianapolis.

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The Chevrolet Spark EV is General Motors’ first all-electric car since the EV1 was discontinued in 1999, and more’s the pity it’s only available in California and Oregon.

In the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” GM was implicated, and if the Spark EV helps redeem it, one could still say GM has given birth to a new electric car, only to leave it confined under curfew.

If however you do reside in the two states where the zero-emission car has staked out a small claim on the electric car market, count yourself fortunate. It’s a fun little car that gets the job done, but GM is not as bold as Nissan with its 50-state Leaf, or even underdog Mitsubishi with its similarly-positioned i-MiEV also available nationwide.

For now, GM says only it is reviewing other markets, but has made no announcements for other states.

That said, we got a chance to briefly drive one in Indiana. The stint behind the wheel was offered in Indianapolis as part of a Ride, Drive & Charge event put on by the Electric Drive Transportation Association.

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The subcompact five-door hatchback based on a gas-powered version is positioned as a city car, but this 82-mile range EV that starts at $27,495 including $810 destination fee – and before subsidies – could do just fine as a suburban commuter as well.

Overkill

 

Despite GM’s present conservative stance, it’s apparent the company intends to build more electric cars. How do we know that? This little car that’s sized comparably to a Mitsubishi i-MiEV has an electric motor that could push a large sedan.

GM has equipped the single-speed Spark EV with a 140-horsepower, 402-pound-feet electric motor that propels it to 60 in an estimated 7.6 seconds and to a top speed of 90 mph.

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Traction control keeps it from laying block-long strips of front-tire rubber but suffice to say, the under-worked powertrain is accruing usage data for GM to keep its future model options open.

The vehicle has both a default Normal Mode for maximum economy, or quicker response can be had via a Sport Mode.

Providing power for the Spark EV is a 21-kwh A123 Systems battery that is due to be replaced for 2015 with a 19-kwh battery constructed from 192 li-ion cells at GM’s Brownstown assembly plant.

The new battery sheds 86 pounds – and an untold degree of production costs – and GM says range, efficiency, and performance will be unchanged, in a case not of less is more, but rather, less is the same.

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Unlike the mid-sized Nissan Leaf and subcompact Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Spark’s battery receives a liquid thermal management system. The battery is cooled or heated as needed to ensure long life. Before it was launched, GM proof tested it for 200,000 hours.

Aside from on-the-go regenerative braking which adds some juice back to the pack, full recharging is possible via 120 volt house current but owners will want the 240-volt charger which requires around 7 hours for a depleted battery.

A DC quick charge option is available. Here an SAE combo charger can zap 80 percent power back in 20 minutes from one of these public chargers.

Neater Than the Gas Version

 

Inside and out, the converted Spark EV resembles the regular gas-powered Spark, but adds touches rounded out by the best touch of all – the peppier electric drive.

Dimensions of the 2,989-pound car make it roomy enough in front – if not relatively tight in back-seat space – and its urban styling is functional and kind of cool.

Passenger volume is 86.3 cubic feet (2,444 l) and cargo space is 9.6 cubic feet (272 l).

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The digital instrument and info displays are of course purposed for an electric car, while seats are suitably comfortable.

In the center stack is a seven-inch color touch-screen that displays MyLink infotainment.

Also in the center stack are audio and climate controls, heated seat controls, USB, power outlet, defogger button and StabiliTrak/traction control on/off button. Knobs are illuminated by LED to make finding them no worries after dark.

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MyLink-equipped cars can use Siri in Eyes Free mode to do all sorts of connected functions, including voice-activated hands free iPhone calls, playing songs from iTunes, and more.

In the center console is an open storage area to stash small items.

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The author, Jeff Cobb, is 6-feet-tall with 34-inch inseam, and squeezed in the back seat to demonstrate limited space. Front seat is adjusted to where he had it while driving.
 

The car is aerodynamic enough with a coefficient of drag of 0.326, and the electric version is set off by minor stylistic changes and functional exterior changes – some apparent, others hidden.

These are:

• Chrome upper two-tier grille, closed to reduce airflow
• Charge port door over the driver’s side front wheel well
• Underbody panels, tire air deflectors and aero-optimized exterior mirrors
• Rear diffusers optimize airflow under the vehicle
• 15-inch aluminum wheels and low rolling resistance tires
• Airflow is controlled through the lower intake opening via active shutter system
• Rockers are lower and wider, increasing tire coverage, improving aerodynamics
• Roof-extending rear spoiler.

Peppy, Fun, Quick

 

A lot has been said of the big torque and relative zippiness, and true enough the Spark EV is pretty feisty, but really, a Camry Hybrid will beat it in a sprint, so don’t mistake it as a shrunken Model S for those on a budget.

It actually feels quicker than it is because there’s no gear shifting for the one-speed reduction-gear drivetrain, and no grinding engine sound. Instead there’s a bit of electric whine and tire noise, and it just goes.

Parked_Spark_EV
 

The low rolling resistance 15-inch tires will scuff on hard launch and the car builds speed to 60 in a way that most drivers will not feel like they are making a sacrifice to go electric.

Dipping deep into the juice on a regular basis will reduce range though, which could be OK assuming your charge and distance to travel are in line with one another.

The car feels poised well enough on its feet, making direction change and cornering a no issues affair. Being so small, parking is simplified, particularly in tighter confines.

2014-Chevrolet-SparkEV
 

We would have liked more time with it to test range, but reports say the Spark EV may provide a bit more real-world range than the Leaf.

Where it comes up short is in recharge time, as the Leaf can be equipped with a doubly fast 6.6-kw charger that fully replenishes the battery in around 4 hours at 240 volts.

The Leaf is also dimensionally larger, with more interior volume, but it costs around $2,500 more to start – and not with the quicker charger at that price.

2014-Chevrolet-SparkEV_1
 

Compared to a more closely matched competitor, the Mitsu i-MiEV, the Spark EV offers more range, comfort, styling and features, and its battery is larger, thermally managed, and not worked as hard, but the i-MiEV is priced cheap.

And next to the “minicompact” Fiat 500e, the limited market Fiat offers 5 miles more rated range and recharge time of four hours, but costs around $4,000 more.

Limited Market

 

Automakers do not particularly like the term “compliance car,” but Plug In America categorizes the Spark EV as a classic example given it’s available in only two states.

GM is deriving zero emission credits and probably just as importantly gathering data from a limited pool of drivers with which it will be better informed to produce more EVs later.

Spark_EV_comparo

Meanwhile Nissan has been pushing EVs in 50 states for three years. Last year and this, it reported growing markets scattered around the country, not least of which being Atlanta which has at times out-purchased even California markets, but GM has yet to say whether it would offer the Spark EV there.

Spark_EV_line
 

All this said, the Spark EV is well designed, does the job well-to-very-well in most key criteria.

If GM offers a test drive somewhere in your neck of the woods, we’d recommend trying it.

And, if you reside in California or Oregon where servicing dealers and solo HOV-lane access make it a viable option, its potentially sub-$18,000 price after federal and state subsidies or $199/ month lease could put it in the running as a best bang for the buck.

 

Apr 21

BMW to show its Concept X5 PHEV in New York

 

Note – Some have already compared this to the Volt. That’s a bit of a stretch, but as a PHEV with 19-20 miles AER or so, and the performance of an X5, the vehicle will fill a gap as we all wait for the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, and if or when GM builds an SUV.

The BMW is said to be likely to go on sale in 2015. Pricing is of course not known, but figure maybe a $10k or so premium over the X5′s $55k. Its weight will be increased by 400-600 pounds pushing it to over 2.5 tons.

By Phillippe Crowe

 

BMW is showcasing the BMW Concept X5 eDrive at the New York International Auto Show 2014, a concept it sees as the logical next step towards bringing a radical reduction in fuel consumption and emissions in the SUV segment.

The BMW Concept X5 eDrive integrates, as the name implies, a plug-in hybrid drive system. A conventional combustion engine works with the BMW eDrive technology to produce the brand’s hallmark sporty drive coupled with a significant reduction in fuel consumption, said BMW. As a result, the car is able to drive on electric power alone at speeds of up to 120 kph (75 mph) and for a distance of up to 30 kilometers (approx. 20 miles), while recording average fuel consumption figures of less than 3.8 l/100 kilometers (more than 74.3 mpg imp) in the EU test cycle.

BMW explained the concept study underwent a series of detailed refinements in preparation for its appearance at the New York International Auto Show and is equipped with a drive system comprising a 180 kilowatt (245 horsepower) four-cylinder gasoline engine with BMW TwinPower Turbo technology and a 70 kilowatt (95 horsepower) electric motor, also developed by the BMW Group.

The motor is supplied with power from a 9-kwh lithium-ion battery that can be charged from any domestic plug. BMW uses 6 kwh of the battery.

To ensure a particularly high level of crash safety, the high-voltage battery developed for the BMW Concept X5 eDrive is housed underneath the luggage compartment, whose everyday usability remains virtually uncompromised, said BMW, thanks to the 40:20:40 split-folding rear backrest and an almost level loading floor.

Per the Bavarian company, in addition to the settings that can be activated using the characteristic BMW Driving Experience Control switch, three driving modes can be selected according to requirements and the situation at hand: intelligent hybrid drive with an optimal relationship between sportiness and efficiency (AUTO eDrive), pure electric and thus local emission-free driving (MAX eDrive) and SAVE Battery to maintain the current charge level.

BMW_Concept_X5_eDrive_Trunk-668

Electrification of the powertrain is a key component of BMW EfficientDynamics technology, declared the company, and allows BMW to unlock potential for reducing fuel consumption and emissions. The BMW eDrive technology developed for this purpose comes in various versions, each precisely tailored to the particular vehicle concept. Both the BMW i3, the first all-electric production vehicle from the BMW Group, and the soon-to-be-launched BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car are powered by BMW eDrive technology.

BMW said its Concept X5 eDrive follows the BMW Concept Active Tourer unveiled in 2012 by demonstrating how model-specific BMW eDrive technology can be employed in plug-in hybrid models from the BMW core brand.

This concept is the first time that BMW eDrive technology has been hooked up with the BMW xDrive intelligent all-wheel-drive system.

Regardless of the selected driving mode, the drive power generated by the electric motor, the combustion engine or the two units acting in unison is channeled to wherever it can be converted into forward propulsion most effectively. BMW added this allows the concept study to deliver all the qualities that SUVs are renowned for – superb traction and optimized handling stability in all weather and road conditions coupled with enhanced agility when taking corners at speed – in remarkably efficient fashion.

The BMW Concept X5 eDrive is able to complete the standard sprint from rest to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under 7.0 seconds, according to BMW.

As a plug-in hybrid, it can recharge its battery from any domestic power socket, or a special Wallbox that can handle higher currents, or at a public high-speed charging station.

BMW_Concept_X5_eDrive_Plug-668

BMW said the Wallbox Pro is designed for installation in the customer’s garage and offers complete ease of use as well as exceptionally short battery recharging times, thanks to a maximum charging rate of 7.4 kilowatts per hour.

It is controlled by means of a high-resolution touchscreen including proximity sensor, while LED light strips provide an additional indication of the charge status. The built-in load management facility governs the charging current in accordance with the current draw on the household electricity supply. The Wallbox Pro even makes it possible to use home-generated electricity, such as that obtained from solar panels.

 

Apr 04

Tesla Versus The Auto Franchising System, Part 5, Car Sellers’ Interests

 

And for today’s post, we have a definition first to consider: “Intellectual Honesty.”

See opposite: “fan” (a.k.a “fanboy”)

There’s tons of stuff on the topic of intellectual honesty, but here’s Wikipedia:

Intellectual honesty

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Intellectual honesty is an applied method of problem solving in academia, characterized by an unbiased, honest attitude, which can be demonstrated in a number of different ways, including but not limited to:

  • One’s personal beliefs do not interfere with the pursuit of truth;
  • Relevant facts and information are not purposefully omitted even when such things may contradict one’s hypothesis;
  • Facts are presented in an unbiased manner, and not twisted to give misleading impressions or to support one view over another;
  • References, or earlier work, are acknowledged where possible, and plagiarism is avoided.

Harvard ethicist Louis M. Guenin describes the “kernel” of intellectual honesty to be “a virtuous disposition to eschew deception when given an incentive for deception.”[1]

Intentionally committed fallacies in debates and reasoning are sometimes called intellectual dishonesty.

And now, today’s story:

 

Model_S_gray_blue
 

Beyond consumers, other stakeholders in Tesla’s challenge to state franchise laws are the car sellers – car dealers, automakers, and Tesla. This is the first of a second set of articles in this series examining what various interests stand to gain or lose. See also the Introduction, Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

 

 

Classified as a “fallacy of ambiguity,” a “straw man” is like a dummy stuffed with hay – it is easy to knock over.

More specifically, a “straw man” fallacy is when someone misrepresents an opponent’s argument making it appear weak or flawed, then overcomes it with a seemingly reasonable argument, and this is what Tesla allegedly perpetrates against car dealers.

Presently Tesla has roused great sympathies for a number of reasons, but underlying its appeal is an often-repeated argument it even used in New Jersey court this week.

However, two attorneys and others familiar with franchise laws have said Tesla paints an inaccurate picture of pitfalls it would face if forced to rely on franchised dealers. Tesla, it’s said, fabricates worse-case assumptions and omits critical information to represent it’s doing what it has to in order to survive.

On the contrary, say those who’ve personally confronted Tesla with alternatives, Tesla could under franchise law stack the deck to leverage capital, enabling it to grow faster.

What is Tesla’s core argument? Tesla CEO Elon Musk repeated it in a March 14 blog post decrying alleged wrongdoings against it in New Jersey, and linked to an earlier post from October 2012.

“Existing franchise dealers have a fundamental conflict of interest between selling gasoline cars, which constitute the vast majority of their business, and selling the new technology of electric cars,” said Musk. “It is impossible for them to explain the advantages of going electric without simultaneously undermining their traditional business. This would leave the electric car without a fair opportunity to make its case to an unfamiliar public.”

customers1

Musk has been forthcoming enough to admit he’s been told he’s making it harder on himself.

“In many respects, it would be easier to pursue the traditional franchise dealership model, as we could save a lot of money on construction and gain widespread distribution overnight,” wrote Musk. “Many smart people have argued over the years that we should do this, just like every other manufacturer in the United States, so why have I insisted that we take a unique path?”

But this is as far as he goes in his October 2012 post, before weaving the narrative back to the “conflict of interest” argument and other alleged threats posed by franchise laws.

“Moreover, it is much harder to sell a new technology car from a new company when people are so used to the old,” wrote Musk Mar. 14. “Inevitably, they revert to selling what’s easy and it is game over for the new company.”

This does sound like a dire situation. And it could be “impossible” for franchised dealers to properly represent Tesla’s electric cars if this were actually the situation with which it was faced. But it isn’t.

A Road Not Taken?

According to those defending franchise laws, Tesla is not being asked to commit corporate suicide as it has said. Actually Tesla may have much more to gain than lose under the system, they contend, and therefore its core argument is a fallacious rebuttal and false plea to a demand never made.

Even in New Jersey, where Tesla has just filed an appeal against motor vehicle commission regulations, “it has options” to at least closely emulate its model of choice.

This would include no-haggle pricing, non-commissioned sales associates, and a Tesla-only store with zero competition from gas-powered cars, said New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers President, James Appleton.

snowy

And in Texas, which grosses $60 billion in annual sales, franchise laws would let Tesla match everything it wants, but instead it chooses to operate only two non-sales galleries rather than participate under franchise law.

This is the view of Texas Automobile President, Bill Wolters who personally proposed a solution to Musk.

Under Texas franchise law – where Musk very publicly fought and lost trying to change laws last year – Tesla could replicate its existing no-pressure sales retail store, and remote service center model down to a “T” for Texas.

The National Automobile Dealers Association says Wolters’ plan would work for most, if not all other states where Tesla now faces restrictions.

“If Tesla adopted the franchised dealer model throughout the country, their opportunity for sales success would be greatly enhanced,” wrote Wolters in a position paper repeating things he said to Musk, and last fall in Baltimore to Tesla’s Legislative Affairs Director, James Chen.

“Franchised dealers follow strict factory guidelines for dealership operations,” said Wolters.

In Tesla’s case, said Wolters, it could require:
1. A mall showroom
2. Non-commissioned technical advisors rather than salespeople
3. One price for the vehicle with no negotiation
4. Off-site service facilities that operate at next to zero profit

What’s The Catch?

“The only change would be to have an investor handpicked by Tesla who would have the opportunity to eventually own the outlet and who would be required to follow the Tesla sales agreement,” Wolters continued.

Bill_Wolters

“By having an investor stand the cost of the retail outlet, Tesla could have many more stores in as many markets as they wanted to reach,” he wrote. “The sales and service opportunities for Americans would multiply along with the number of EVs on the road and as increased infrastructure for recharging those vehicles that would follow.”

In Baltimore, Wolters presented Chen with a list of elite dealers who’d said they would jump through hoops and hurdles if needed to develop a Tesla-only store where no other new or used gas-powered cars would need be on site to “undermine” the product.

According to Ted Stockton, an economist for the Fontana Group, and automotive consulting firm in Tucson, Arizona, it’s likely these investors could be asked to sign a contract that gives Tesla plenty of leverage and control.

“The contracts are extremely one-sided; they’re contracts of adhesion, and Tesla may have the juice right now to put out aggressive take-it-or-leave-it contracts,” said Stockton. “They probably do, and yes, I think Bill’s point is good.”

Elon_Musk

Wolters said this contract could stipulate franchised Tesla stores could not send prospects to any other competitive dealer owned by another or themselves.

Or they could be obligated to own only the Tesla store(s) and service centers, so electric technology would be exclusively represented by non-commissioned sales people.

What’s more, Wolters said, this could ultimately save Tesla millions on a growing network as Musk essentially conceded without explanation.

Each Tesla franchise would save Tesla Motors from having to pay rent, payroll, insurances, and utilities. It could stock as little or as much inventory as required, and be on the hook for local, state, and federal taxes, any future advertising if desired, and all other liabilities and expenses incurred by local retailers.

Nation-Wide Possibilities

Most if not all of the 32 or more states with some form of laws against factory ownership could instead welcome Tesla with open arms, said Wolters. His premise was further validated by James A. Moors, Senior Counsel and Director, Franchising and State Law, for the National Automobile Dealers Association.

“The basic point is that Tesla could write its own franchise agreement stipulating the way vehicles are marketed, serviced and sold. It could also hand pick the retailers or investors. I don’t think this is in dispute,” said Moors. ”I can’t tell you that there might not be a state law out there that might be applicable, but Tesla can clearly design a selling arrangement like the one Bill describes.”

S-row

Bruce Gould, executive director of the Motor Vehicle Dealer Board in Virginia – where Tesla is now restricted with one gallery in Tyson’s Corner – said Wolters’ plan sounds feasible in that state.

As we reported in the last installment, Moors added his voice to those who cite Tesla saying the factory direct push is only temporary anyway.

“I believe Tesla spokespersons have been quoted as saying they might move to the franchise system when they reach a certain volume,” said Moors.

Truly Desperate Or Playing A Game?

Wolters contends by sharing the load Tesla could expand its number of dealers as it anticipates higher production volumes and Gen 3, but Tesla never mentions these possibilities, and routinely acts like it is backed into a corner by the powers that be.

“The evidence is clear: when has an American startup auto company ever succeeded by selling through auto dealers? The last successful American car company was Chrysler, which was founded almost a century ago, and even they went bankrupt a few years ago, along with General Motors,” wrote Musk, March 14. “Since the founding of Chrysler, there have been dozens of failures, Tucker and DeLorean being simply the most well-known. In recent years, electric car startups, such as Fisker, Coda, and many others, attempted to use auto dealers and all failed.”

NJ CAR President James Appleton observed Fisker and Coda, if not also other startups, failed for reasons beyond dealers relied upon.

“Saying Fisker and Coda failed because of franchised dealers is like saying, ‘Because people wore heavy coats, the temperature went down to 32 degrees,” Appleton said. “It confuses cause with effect.”

Appleton said Tesla could avoid pitfalls and is in a position to play within the system instead of fighting against it.

Tesla has published related objections:

“We strongly believe it is vital to introduce our own vehicles to the market because electric cars are still a relatively new technology,” said Tesla. “This model is not just a matter of selling more cars and providing optimum consumer choice for Americans, but it is also about educating consumers about the benefits of going electric, which is central to our mission to accelerate the shift to sustainable transportation, a new paradigm in automotive technology.”

showroom

Mike Charapp, an attorney in Tyson’s Corner Virginia said Tesla’s “new technology” argument is “a red herring,” and salespeople will sell anything with wheels on it, if put in the right environment.

Wolters reiterated Tesla’s environment of choice could be done legally now, and instead of fighting battles all over the country, it would get the help of dealer associations that would be relieved to end the contention, and work to help Tesla succeed.

“Yeah, I mean he has no argument, that’s what I went to tell him, said Wolters. “I said ‘have it your way,’ eliminate the competition, just bring in an investor who has the opportunity for a 100-percent buyout in a period of time and they would have to comply with your sales agreement or you could terminate them just as any manufacturer can do today if the dealer does not comply.’

“We can overcome every one of his arguments. Our franchise law is extremely friendly to a company that wants to do exactly what he does. But he doesn’t care. He just wants it to be his way, whether it’s the better way or not.”

Consumers who’ve seen mixed success by Chevrolet dealers with a love-it-or-not-so-much attitude toward the Volt can readily grasp the “conflict of interest” and related objections Tesla makes.

Many customer accounts tell of disinterested or misinformed salespeople who may steer would-be Volt buyers to the Cruze or another car easier to sell. Nissan, which is having more success of late, also does not compensate its dealers extra to sell the Leaf.

Sometimes major brand dealers may have a designated plug-in car salesperson willing to talk about things like charging, and walk people through with more hand holding.

Certainly Tesla would be handicapped under such conditions, but those are not the conditions it would need to work under, not even in New Jersey, said Appleton.

New Jersey Is Iffy

Presently, New Jersey has provision to suspend rules against factory direct ownership for two years if a minority investor is brought in with intent to ultimately take over.

The state did throw a wrench into Tesla’s ideal by mandating a minimum of 1,000 square feet with adjoined service but Appleton said they are talking compromise these days.

Model_S_showroom

“NJ CAR is committed to working with members of the legislature who are seriously exploring options that would allow a startup electric carmaker, like Tesla, a reasonable period of time to ramp up operations before they conform their operations to the franchise business model,” said Appleton.

Questions remain in New Jersey because the idea of a mall store may still be a problem at this point, but when told of Wolters’ plan, he said a number of ways to work around existing rules could be found.

‘Free’ and Low-Cost Service?

Tesla’s business model also includes unusual qualifiers regarding service, and this is another “conflict of interest,” according to Musk.

“An even bigger conflict of interest with auto dealers is that they make most of their profit from service, but electric cars require much less service than gasoline cars,” said Musk. “Going a step further, I have made it a principle within Tesla that we should never attempt to make servicing a profit center. It does not seem right to me that companies try to make a profit off customers when their product breaks.“

Electric cars may need less service in theory, but the Model S is highly engineered and a standard automobile aside from the powertrain. Further, no one has seen a high-mileage 8-year-old Model S, or the condition of its battery pack and other standard automotive components.

And according to Stockton, Tesla’s no profit service model is what economists would term a bundling of products and services.

genericservice_large_40_0

That is, Tesla’s optional service plan is an insurance policy over and above the warranty. In either case, the price of the car has enough profit built in to cover the service.

Stockton said this indicates Tesla believes its customers want peace of mind in knowing all will be taken care of, even if Tesla does aim to charge as little as possible, if at all.

But these conditions are also no problem, said Wolters.

“Under Texas law they can have off site service in any configuration or no service facility at all with fly in technicians,” said Wolters and pricing could be according to Tesla’s contract, “Whatever suits their business strategy or model. As long as they have an investor.”

Tesla has also avoided being a full service dealer and the sticky proposition of taking in, fixing up, and re-selling trade-ins. If that’s the way Tesla wants it, Wolters said this objection could be dealt with too.

“Tesla’s sales agreement [with its franchisee/dealer] could also require that trade-ins be wholesaled or sent to another location for retail,” Wolters said, “So they wouldn’t compete with the sale of a new Tesla.”

So What Is This Really About?

Tesla says it’s about survival, but car dealers, who make their living sizing people up, and others close to the issues, are not buying it.

Wolters observed TSLA stock has bloated Tesla’s market capitalization to half of General Motors and Tesla has not needed to advertise by keeping controversy in the news about a “technology” many do not grasp.

He said the public is lapping it up like a kitten drinking warm milk – or in cases, like a mob ready for blood against already perceived foes.

In a long November 2012 feature in Esquire titled “Triumph of his will,” writer Tom Junod outlines Elon Musk’s career with the lead-out sentence: “For his entire life, Elon Musk has bent people to his insatiable will.”

Is there method to Tesla’s purported madness? Tesla in other ways is actually costing itself money, but Wolters also thinks Musk wants full control, and does not want to share profits, an assessment several others have made as well.

Stockton added Tesla is now enjoying a seller’s market with a waiting list of grateful early adopters and no meaningful competition.

It’s like having the first HD flat screen TV a few years ahead of everyone else, and Tesla is positioned to scoop profits in an economic theater writ large of its own masterful creation.

When Musk was pursuing a legislative change in Texas, Wolters said he flew to Tesla’s Palo Alto offices and sought to plea with Musk.

sun

What else could be behind Musk’s stance?

“It is total ego. When I sat across the table from him, it was just, it was just awful because I went with my hat in my hand,” said Wolters with a tone of dismay and amazement. “I offered him our support. I said you know, you are like Thomas Edison, I mean it’s amazing what you have done here; this is such a unique enterprise that you have created and it’s great for America, it’s great for the industry.’ He just glared at me.”

To this, we interjected, “He didn’t believe you. He thought you were just flattering him.”

“Well, I wasn’t I truly admire what he has done, but we will never give in to something that is bad for the industry and is bad for our state,” Wolters said. “And all across America if he adopted the franchise dealer system he would have a much greater opportunity for growth and success.”

We will have more on what the car sellers stand to gain or lose in our next installment.

This article is based on info and interviews provided by Tesla proponents and opponents and also those with no direct stake. Tesla did not reply to repeated requests for an interview or commentary. It’s dedicated to Noel TS Park.

 

 

 

 
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