The Renault Zoe’s Importance


If you are from the United States, you may have just heard about the Renault Zoe in car shows or online discussions but this subcompact is being girded to be the most important European vehicle in the decade.

Why so? It is built by one of the largest European automakers, Renault, through partnerships with Nissan. Nissan’s flagship in the electric revolution is its iconic all-electric Leaf. How the market accepts the Zoe will determine the future of all electric cars in Europe in the long run. This is because there are quite a number of subcompacts as well as diesel compact cars in Europe. Many car owners live in multiple dwelling housing plans without their own garages, making the European car market a tougher sell for any carmaker let alone an all electric car maker.

Another factor is that France’s reliance on nuclear power creates a better option when looking at the greenhouse gas emissions coal fired electricity plants generated. France also has experience with electric vehicles, with the AutoLib electric car-sharing program placing nearly two thousand Bollore Blue Cars for use within the capital region. Thus electric cars are not new to the French public and there is a clear understanding on how carbon emissions impacts the environment.

The Zoe utilizes a 66 kWh electric motor able to generate 162 lb/ft of torque, with power coming from its 22 kWh lithium ion battery pack. According to the NEDC, Europe’s equivalent to the U.S. EPA, the vehicle has a range of 210 km on a single full charge. It has a top speed of 135 km/h and utilizes a fast charging ‘Cameleon’ system, allowing the car battery to be charged between thirty minutes to nine hours depending on the power input. This design is a five door hatchback and full blown production commenced in 2012.

With its very simple compact design and specifications, one of the major hurdles for its full acceptance is the infrastructure involved in making the Zoe the most used vehicle on French roads. One of the issues is the lack of public charging stations and there is still a conflict on whether volume dictates the infrastructure or the infrastructure would come before the volume of cars.

The simplest reason why the Zoe is of utmost importance is that there is no gasoline version. It’s either the Zoe or bust they say.

Nissan to Unveil 2013 Leaf


The Detroit Auto Show is the venue where the 2013 Nissan Leaf would be formally unveiled. A sneak peek though has been scheduled this weekend for the Bay Area Nissan Leaf Owners Association. The new version promises to provide better range, faster charging, and a lower starting price; specific areas that Nissan’s market research have identified as problem areas for the company.

Nissan is listening, according to Gary Lieber, co founder of the Bay Area Nissan Leaf Owners Association, who added, “I can point to half-dozen things on this 2013 car that directly resulted from meetings this group had with Nissan.”

That specific meeting was held at Luscious Garage, a service shop that specializes in hybrids and electrics located in San Francisco. Nearly sixty (60) owners or lessors of Nissan Leaf cars attended.

For its part, Nissan, through its spokesperson Tim Gallagher said, “The 2013 enhancements were simple, small changes, a nice generational move of the car.” The increase in content and the decrease in the sticker price became a possibility through the production of the 2013 Leafs from Japan to its assembly plant located in Smyrna, TN.

When inquired about the price change, Mr. Gallagher stated, “I was impressed. It’s a good number.” He did decline as to the exact figures before the official announcement. The process of decreasing the price was made possible through the stripped down S model, which comes without a navigation system or a Quick Charge port. These features were available only in the SL model and comes basic in the SV version, currently the cheapest model in the line.

The new features in the 2013 Leaf include LED headlamps, fog lighting, and 17 inch alloy wheels, as well as leather seating for the SL model. There are also optional premium upgrades including a seven speaker audio system from Bose and an ‘around view monitor’. This is a system has cameras upfront, back and side mirrors for parking assistance.

Another major area would be ‘improvements for range management’. Instead of installing bigger battery in the Leaf, the current eighty (80) mile range would be extended but Nissan would remained mum as to the farther range available on a single charge. One of the identified improvements include an aerodynamic change from the front fascia, a more power efficient heater and a B-mode that increases regenerative braking. There is also a display for the charge state of the battery by percentage.

The charging time for the 2013 Leaf when utilizing the 240 volt charger would have an upgrade to a 6.6 kilowatt onboard charger from the 2012’s 3.3 kilowatt charger. This would result an additional twenty (20) miles for charging, instead of just twelve (12) miles. The 2013 Leaf would be able to fully charge in just four (4) hours instead of the current seven (7) hours.

Simple improvements include a light for the charging port as well as the function to open the charging port door from within the car or through the key fob.

The Travel of the Electric Car

some cars at zero pollution
some cars at zero pollution

The electric car revolution is clearly at hand. Aside from the actions undertaken by the electric car manufacturers, the government is now taking a more active participation in the change that is approaching at the horizon.

One such move is the government requiring that electric and hybrid vehicles produce more noise when travelling at low speeds. The purpose of the noise is to warn pedestrians of the presence and passing of these vehicles.

The move is an application of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 as electrics and hybrid vehicles produce less noise compared to its conventional engine vehicles. This is most important when the electrics or hybrids are at low speed to warn pedestrians, bicycle riders and those that are visually disabled. The main agency proposing the changes is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and their main proposal is to have car makers produce more noise at speeds under eighteen (18) miles per hour. At higher speeds, these new vehicles are able to produce adequate noise.

For manufacturers, a wide range of options are available but the sounds need to be uniform in order that other road users can distinguish between ambient noise and the oncoming vehicle. The government agency has opened commentaries from concerned citizens on the proposal and would use the recommendations for the final rules to be implemented. It is projected that the new noise regulations would save future accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists on the road.

This is but another sign that the electric revolution is here. The figures from 2012 clearly show the increasing market share of electrics and hybrids on the road. Amongst the biggest gainers is the Chevrolet Volt, which tripled its share in the United States this year alone. A total of 23,461 Volts were sold but this represents only one third of a percent of total sales of passenger cars in the country.

Experts are projecting an annual sales figure of 3.8 million electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by the year 2020. Other vehicle sales include the Nissan Leaf or non plug in hybrids such as the Toyota Prius would continue to climb in sales in the coming years.

Just wait and see.

First Responders Beware when Approaching Electrics and Hybrids


Electric cars, as well as hybrids, are very different from how conventional cars are built and operate. Thus, as more and more of these vehicles are introduced into the market and are used on the roadways, the higher the possibility of having an accident that may need emergency team assistance.

In many areas in the United States and in Europe, specialized training is now being undertaken by police, fire and emergency service personnel in dealing with high voltage systems for crashed electric and hybrid vehicles. The next stumbling block would be differentiating conventional from alternative vehicles when they are in a road mishap and their passengers need immediate attention.

One of the ways to assist first responders is the SAE International suggestion that electric and hybrid vehicles should have large stickers to inform the many of their electric fuel design. These would be inch high letters or badges on both sides and the rear of the vehicle to help first responders to identify and warn of their electrically charged nature. Another way would be to place lettering at the dashboard area, so that emergency personnel would see through the windshield.

This though, would not be a problem for high profile vehicles such as the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. This can help tremendously in differentiating an electric from a conventional for a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry, as there isn’t much of a difference between the two.

These recommendations are enumerated in SAE’s report entitled Hybrid and EV First and Second Responder Recommended Practice. The report provides references as to electrics and hybrids, as well as guidance for tow truck operators and other post accident handlers to avoid further mishaps and injuries.

According to Todd Mackintosh, Chairman of the SAE Technical Committee, “As electric vehicles enter the marketplace in greater numbers, it’s an appropriate time to recognize best practices that facilitate a safe response when these vehicles are in an accident.” He added that a ‘cheat sheet for first responders’ would be most helpful, not just in terms of safety of the passengers in the vehicle, but most especially for those first responders.

One of the more adamant recommendations is a ‘kill switch’ mechanism that would turn off battery power in the event of an accident. It also recommends standardization of the location of these switches in order to have easy access in times of emergencies.

The electric carmakers themselves are installing safety features. The Nissan Leaf’s battery pack is in an all steel case, designing it to sense a crash and disable its electrical charge. Ford for its part, has published ‘Electric Badges’ which are clearly marked logos on the doors and trunk lid to warn of possible electric shock. Cables are wrapped in orange high voltage warning sleeves under the hood of the vehicle.  GM’s Chevy Volt has helped create training modules for first responders.

Electric Car Sales Buoyed for November

Electric cars
Electric cars

The month of November is a high point in the electric car revolution, as this month is the fourth consecutive month where sales records have continued to increase. The increase for this month was attributed to the introduction of the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in electric hybrid into the market.

The steady upsurge was observed by Aaron Chew of the Maxim Group, as he counted 7,600 electric cars sold in November. This makes the total count for 2012 at 47,500 and the experts predict that the year would close at about 56,000 electric and plug in hybrid electric vehicles sold.

Other incentives have helped buoy sales for the electric car. These include Nissan’s U.S. $199 leases and U.S. 5,000 price breaks on the Leaf, jumpstarting sales for the year. There have also been a number of new models that have widened the selections of buyers for electric cars. Ford for its part sold 1,259 units of the C-Max Energi just in November, a month after it was introduced into the market. The highest seller was the Toyota Prius plug in at1,766 units followed by the Chevrolet Volt, which posted 1,519 units sold. Tesla, despite its secretive sales records, was said to have sold 1,150 of its Model S sports sedans in the same period.

Despite the sales, there are still some major issues that electric cars face in the coming years, some of which are as follows:

a)      The Cost. While electricity is much cheaper compared to gasoline, the cost of amortizing an EV is still way above the standard costs for an internal combustion engine vehicle. The prices though are steadily decreasing, making it more affordable to purchase an electric vehicle in both the short term and long term.

b)      The Source. While the main issue with gas guzzlers is the emission of pollutive greenhouse gases from the vehicle, electric cars do not have this problem. The main issue is the generator of electricity, which is still the coal fired electric generator. Even with natural gas generators, there are still emissions created and thus allocation of this pollutant factors must still be addressed.

c)       The Technology. The main drawback is still the power source of electric vehicles as the range and effectivity is still determined by the amount of electrical power stored in the battery packs. While many of these battery developers are bellying up because of the prohibitive costs and limited market scale, the improvements in the technology are around the corner to make the electric car as dependable as it is affordable as the standard gasoline powered car.