Recent Moves Sign of EV Death Knell Again?

electric motor
electric motor

Many pundits of the electric car revolution are singing the blues again as major moves from supporters seem to undertake measures to back away from fully realizing the revolution.

In similar moves, two of the largest electric car makers are taking what is called pragmatic decisions regarding the future of their respective electric car fleets. These carmakers are Nissan and Toyota respectively and their recent moves are being describes as the death knell again for the electric car.

Nissan, through its chairperson Charles Ghosn has invested billions of dollars into the electric car revolution. These include providing models such as the Altra and the Hypermini and its flagship vehicle the Nissan Leaf, which is fully battery powered. Now, the Japanese car giant is shifting its gears towards the model followed by Toyota, which is the promotion of gasoline powered hybrid cars. Toyota for its part, shunned developing fully electric vehicles for a variety of reasons and this has proven very successful for them, retaining the market lead with its powerhouse Prius line.

Part of the disenchantment with electric cars is range anxiety. At its peak, the best electric cars can only run just a fraction of an internal combustion engine’s ability. This is compounded by the fact that it takes five times longer to fully charge an electric vehicle and the lack of infrastructure to support electric cars, such as repair shops, charging stations and other services. Another major factor is the higher front end cost of the electric vehicle compared to a regular gasoline powered vehicle, even with the benefits and other incentives, still makes it an expensive option.

All these put together has created a very lukewarm response by the buying market. For Nissan, 9,819 Leaf electric cars were sold in the market, with under 50,000 already on the road now. Since its unveiling, the Leaf has successively failed to meet its sales projections, even with all the add-ons and improvements added on to the vehicle.

Toyota on the other hand with its hybrid formula, already has twelve models under its wing, four of them just for the Prius line alone. In 2012, a total of 327,413 hybrids were sold in the United States alone, while 1.2 million were sold worldwide. Total worldwide sales have reached five million for the Prius.

As Nissan cuts back on its EV investments and Toyota refuses to go all electric, it is clear that the electric car is having issues with the market. Does this mean that the electric car revolution is in its death throes again?

The Coda Electric Review

Electric car made from batteries
Electric car made from batteries

While the electric car market is still dominated by known brands such as Ford and Nissan, the prices for these vehicles and similar electric vehicles are pegged near the similar amounts. The power to define the market though is not limited to the Leaf and Focus Electric, as newer and cheaper electric models come to play in the electric car superhighway.

Here comes the Coda. While the average electric vehicle is able to travel a full range between seventy to eighty miles on a single full charge, depending on road conditions and driving habits, a vehicle that is able to travel to one hundred miles is a significant leap above the competition. The Coda is able to achieve it, with its newer models. The first model from the carmaker was already able to travel eighty-eight miles, a tad above the industry standard and the newer versions easily surpassed that milestone.

The Coda’s 134 horsepower motor provides ample power on the highway where it draws juice from an 870-pound battery pack. The battery array is built under the floor, enabling the vehicle to lower its center of gravity allowing for greater control on twists and turns. The lithium-iron-phosphate battery is recharged by its onboard 6.6-kilowatt charger at about twenty miles of range per hour from a 240-volt power source.

This is achieved by Coda through its frugal management of all the aspects of the vehicle. It outsourced the body and battery cells to China while other components were sourced in the United States. The car’s design is adopted from a gasoline-powered vehicle manufactured in Harbin, China for ChangAn Hafei Car Company. The knocked down parts are finally assembled in Benicia California.

The Chinese car design though was put through rigorous testing in order to comply with United States highway safety standards. Aside from this success, such compliance may open the door for Chinese made cars finding their way into the American car market in the long run.

Coda’s CEO, Philip Murtaugh has been at the helm of the company since 2011, coming from executive positions in the China market for Detroit giants General Motors and Chrysler. His initial concerns though were ventilated during the 2011 Los Angeles car show, where he said that the car’s styling may not be up to par with the American car market. He did say, “The vehicle was chosen three years ago. I came in nine months ago. We couldn’t change it.”

There are several amenities thought that are not found in the Coda that are standard in other electric car models. There’s no keyless entry, push button start, or Sport and Eco driving modes. Such sacrifices had to be made to fit a bigger battery array into the vehicle. Other amenities such as a techno start up sound or back up camera or mobile smart phone app or one touch window control is not in the Coda. It does not even have cruise control, for a vehicle with a price starting at U.S. $38,145.

Compared to the Focus Electric, which starts at U.S. $39,995 and the Leaf at U.S. $36,050, the Coda is very competitive, especially after applying the U.S. $7,500 tax credit and California rebate of U.S. $2,500.

All this was done in order to extend battery range capacity for the Coda. Its battery capacity of thirty one kilowatt hours is greater than the Leaf’s 24 Kwh or Focus Electric’s 23 Kwh. There are even plans for a 36 Kwh battery. The additional feature of the Coda is its active thermal management system that preserves range in hot or cold weather, using air to do the work in regulating temperature. There is also a program that conserves battery power when the reserves are low, allowing for slower movement to extend range efficiency.

There have been issues though, such as noise and vibration for the vehicle when driving. These include a high-pitched whine at full speed and a low deep spasmic groaning when the electric motor speeds up. The brake and accelerator pedals are built a tad too close to one another and are pushed far to the right. Legroom in the back seat is an issue, as it is sacrificed for more trunk space.

Despite the lack of frills, bells, and whistles, as well as acceptance of low ride quality, the 100-mile range capacity and dependability in consistent achievement of that range may find a market yet in the ever-expanding electric car market.

The Issues On Battery Encasement Safety Continues

Electric car made from batteries
Electric car made from batteries

The recent tsunami disaster in Japan has not only brought adversity to the Land of the Rising Sun, but it has also provided insight into one of the brightest spots in the car industry today, Nissan’s all-electric Leaf.

Nearly two dozen Leafs were caught in the tsunami wave that devastated the region after the earthquake. The electric cars were recovered and the observations gleaned have provided Nissan a distinct advantage in the safety of their Leaf. Not a single one of the cars caught fire as their batteries remained intact, encased in an airtight steel exoskeleton. Aside from this, the battery array was surrounded by two more layers of protection to keep the 660 lbs battery array completely safe even in disaster situations.

According to Bob Yakushi, Director of Product Safety at Nissan North America, “Considering how they were tossed around and crushed, we think that is a very good indication of the safety performance of that vehicle.”

This design decision of encasing the battery pack of the Nissan Leaf in steel may be the reason why federal investigators are not as keen on investigating post crash fire risks in the Leaf as compared to the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt’s battery array is placed on a T-shaped tray with a plastic cover.

This design has been much criticized after batteries from the Volt used in crash tests caught fire under the auspices of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. This has lead to a formal investigation as to the safety of the Volt and defects are now being scrutinized.

The Leaf though was not spared the inquiry as the Volt did. For its part, the NHTSA said that the Leaf and other electric vehicles “had not raised safety concerns about other vehicles other than the Chevy Volt.”

The reason for such design, according to a spokesperson from GM, Robert D. Peterson, was to use a cover that did not conduct electricity, hence the choice of a plastic cover. Other carmakers though have taken Nissan’s lead in putting a steel structure around the batteries, such as Ford with its Focus electric compact car version. This decision for the Focus though was made long before the safety issues with the Volt were known to the public.

The Leaf also does not have a liquid cooling system, which the Volt has. According to Nissan, laminated circuitry reduced the heat produced in the batter array. The Focus and the Tesla Roadster have liquid cooling systems for their batteries. Tesla for its part though has enclosed each battery pack’s cells in steel for protection and heat dissipation purposes.