BMW ActivE Issues Come to Fore

BMWlogo
BMWlogo

It has become industry practice before a vehicle is made available in the market, that carmakers test drive their cars to a select few for a number of months. This process would allow the carmaker insight into the performance and use of the vehicle for eventual upgrade and tweaking.

One of the cars that have undertaken this process is the BMW ActivE, the German automaker’s electric conversion of a BMW 1 Series two-door sedan. As of late, there are 700 vehicles currently on the roads today.

Last January 17, 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a recall for BMW ActivE electric vehicles that were built between August 17 and December 19, 2011. The main reason for the recall is the inadequate gear lubrication. This is one of the reasons for the recall and may be a result from the inadequate sealing of the drivetrain housing assembly. When gear lubrication goes below a certain level, the electric drive motor and gear assembly can suddenly fail, causing the gear to grind on the output shaft of the electric motor that would cause splining failure.

When the electric motor splines, then a new motor needs to be fitted into the vehicle. There have been sixteen (16) reported failures for those with the new BMW ActivE. In response, the carmaker had modified the design of its electric motor alongside a new gasket to prevent the loss of gear lubrication. The recall is being done to address all the existing areas of concern, from the fitting of a new gasket between the motor and gear assembly as well as proper sealing of the two components. Since half of the cars produced had already been modified during its regular servicing, the recall would just cover the others either those who have already been serviced or would still be serviced in the future.

The recall was issued through a letter sent by BMW to those affected vehicle lessees.

Other concerns that have been aired include the reduced range of the vehicle during cold weather, down to seventy (70) from the hundred (100) mile BMW rating or the ninety four (94) EPA mileage rating. Also criticized is the limited trunk space of the vehicle, but overall many of the users of the ActivE are happy with their vehicles on the road.

The first production electric vehicle is set to reach showrooms in 2015, with the 2014 BMW i3 being unveiled in this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show.

Mitsubishi Faces New Recalls

mitsubishi-iMiev-side-left
mitsubishi-iMiev-side-left

Mitsubishi Motor Corporation in a recent announcement, said that they would be recalling 14,700 electric vehicles starting this year. The problem arose after a brake problem that is only present in electricity power cars, which would be a safety issue to its users and owners. This recalls is the biggest in the recent history of electric cars in the market today.

The announcement further stated that nearly 3,400 i-MiEV electric vehicles are located in Japan, as well as 2,400 minicab- MiEV vehicles currently on the road. Nearly 8,900 of the i-MiEVs are situated in Europe, sold as either the PSA Peugeot Citroen iOn and C-Zero.

The scale of this recall though is small compared to the normal recalls for conventional internal combustion engines. Unfortunately, the recall covers half of the production of the i-MiEV and MINICAB-MiEV line.

Despite the boost given by the Obama administration the electric car revolution is still undergoing growing pains, with much of the problem still about range anxiety and upfront costs of owning an electric car.

According to Tatsuo Yoshida, Senior Analyst at the Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities in Tokyo, “This is a matter of one part and it’s too much to apply the issue to say there is something wrong with electric vehicles. The cause of the problem is identified and there were no accidents. But the problematic part is the brake, an important part for safety and that means Mitsubishi Motors’ quality check procedure is too weak.”

The problem for the recalled vehicles is the improper shaping or damage to the electric pump that sends the air to the brake booster. The brake booster multiplies the force applied from the foot pedal, making braking much easier. Should the pump malfunction, the braking of the vehicle would require a greater distance before reaching a halt. This measure was to prevent any accidents or injuries to occur, as there have been no reported injuries or deaths as well as no risk to fire.

The spokesperson for the company declined to comment on the overall costs of the recall. The process of the recall would be to remove the problematic pump and replace it with the right sized one. This whole process would take about half an hour at the most. This pump cannot be used in gasoline powered cars as it pushes air into the brake booster.

Other previous recalls made in the industry include Fisker Automotive’s recall to repair a faulty cooling fan unit back in August 2012. General Motors also had a recall in January 2012 for the battery pack of the Volt plug-in hybrids. This current recall though is after charges of inappropriate reporting done by Mitsubishi Motors involving minicars.

Toyota Issues Prius Recall

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

In an unprecedented move, the biggest Japanese automaker Toyota is recalling 670,000 units of its Prius hybrids it produced between 2004 and 2009. The focus would be the U.S. market, where reports of loss of steering and hybrid powertrain issues have been reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This is just part of the total recall of 2.77 million units, which include not just the Prius but also the Corolla and the Wish worldwide. These vehicles distributed worldwide are being recalled because a specific metal in the steering mechanism is not able to withstand the stresses involved in its operation. According to a statement from the company, “the part could wear out of the steering wheel is frequently and forcefully turned to the full left or full right position while driving at low speeds and that could result in the loss of steering ability.”

The first reports on the metal failure came to the attention of the carmaker back in February 2010, but the results were inconclusive. This year, specifically last February, Toyota was first notified of the steering loss of a unit in the United States. After a thorough investigation, the Japanese automaker finally identified the cause of the issue and decided on issuing a recall to correct the mechanical problem.

A second recall would cover 350,000 units and would involve the replacement of an electric water pump that may fail and shut down the hybrid powertrain system. This though would not affect the gas engine’s operation, according to an email from Toyota spokesman Bryan Lyons.

Toyota reported to the NHTSA the water pump issue back in 2009 and was redesigned for 2010. However, pump failures continued and Toyota was finally able to identify the problem as a coil wire that once scratched would corrode and break leading to the water pump failure. This is the second time that the Prius hybrid system had a problem with its cooling system. Back in 2010, the company undertook a customer satisfaction campaign that covered 390,000 model 2004 to 2007 Priuses sold in North America. The company promised to replace the coolant pump as it could result in malfunction leading to stoppage in the operation of the hybrid system.

Also covered in the email from Mr. Lyons, the service campaign dealt with a “different problem than the new recall.” It reiterated that the customer satisfaction program was sufficient as the vehicle can still run on the gasoline engine alone. It further reiterated that there have been no reports on any accidents in the United States related to the recall issued. The recalls though is deemed voluntary but once a safety problem has been identified, the company is required to inform the NHTSA within five (5) business days its recall plan and failure would result in fines and penalties.

Battery Breakthroughs and Issues

firesign
firesign

In a breakthrough discovery, German scientists have developed a new fluid that can assist in cooling the large and expensive batteries of electric cars. The benefit the discovery provides is the extension of their service life and one more step in the improvement of the cost efficiency of electric vehicle transport.

The fluid has been named as CryoSolplus and has the capability of greater heat absorption compared to air or water. This would allow for tighter packing of batteries according to the research team of Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology located at Oberhausen, Germany. 

The battery pack would generate nearly 45 degrees Celsius of heat on a regular day. Its best working ambient temperature is between 20 and 35 degrees and under those conditions, the battery would only be able survive half of its actual service life. With the cost of the battery pack nearly half the total price of the vehicle, finding ways to extend its service life has become imperative for many research and development teams.

Current technologies only use air to cool battery arrays or there are no cooling systems at all. Air is not a very efficient heat absorber and requires space in order to travel in between heat generating battery arrays. Water on the other hand, is a heat conductor but requires a storage tank to be effective.

CryoSolplus consists of water, paraffin, anti-freeze and a stabilization agent, according to the research team. It has three times as much ability to absorb heat compared to water, thus requiring a smaller storage tank, creating more space and weight savings for the electric car manufacturer. The research team says that the solution and the cooling system would cost just a little over 100 euros in the manufacturing process. When heat is absorbed, the solid paraffin droplets melt and store the heat. When the solution cools, the paraffin droplets solidify.

This technology may be too late for Fisker Automobiles Karma, as it issued its second recall when two mysterious fires again hit the government subsidized electric vehicle. According to Fisker spokesperson Roger Ormisher, “Fisker engineers and an independent fire expert had identified the root cause of a fire that engulfed a Karma parked outside a Woodside, California grocery store last August 10.” He added, “The investigation located the ignition source to the left front of the Karma, forward of the wheel, where the low-temperature cooling fan is located. The final conclusion was that this sealed component had an internal fault that caused to fail, overheat and start a slow burning fire.”

Fisker has since announced a voluntary recall “with respect to this cooling fan unit” and stated it has already coordinated with its retailer. Unfortunately, the cooling system development may have come too late for Fisker.

Fisker Karma Blamed for Home Fire

FiskerKarma
FiskerKarma

According to unofficial reports from the Fort Bend County Texas Fire Department, an unplugged Fisker Karma sedan had caused a fire in a home in the area resulting in about U.S.$100,000 structural damage costs.

The photos from the fire scene showed that the electric vehicle was almost consumed by the fire but the lithium ion battery pack remained intact. While the fire investigators have already identified the cause of the blaze, the investigation continues on the full extent of the fire.

According to Chief Fire Investigator Robert Baker, “Yes, the Karma was the origin of the fire but what exactly caused that, we don’t know at this time.” He further related that the driver arrived home riding the Fisker. He pulled into the garage and about three minutes later, the car was up in flames. The electric vehicle was not plugged in when the car was engulfed in flames, but the Karma battery remained intact. The owner related that right before the fire, there was a smell of burning rubber in the vehicle.

Baker further added, “The car was brand-new. He still had paper tags on it, so it was sixty days old at most.” It was later found that this particular Karma was a post-recall vehicle bought back in April.

The resulting damage to the garage was assessed as substantial, which spread to the second floor of the home. No injuries resulted from the incident and the home was apparently new, with the owner just moving into the residence. The damage was estimated at about U.S.$100,000, without the cost of the two other vehicles damaged in the garage which were a Mercedes Benz SUV and an Acura NSX.

The investigator quipped, “This looks just like golf cart fires we have down here.” He was referring to the extent of the fifty or so golf cart fires this suburban Houston area experiences annually.

He did observe that the fire scene was crawling with about fifteen engineers from the company finding the cause of the fire in the Karma.  The official statement of Fisker Automotive is as follows:

Last week, Fisker Automotive was made aware of a garage fire involving three vehicles, including a Karma sedan, that were parked at a newly-constructed residence in Sugar Land, Texas. There were no injuries.

There are conflicting reports and uncertainty surrounding this particular incident. The cause of the fire is not yet known and is being investigated.

We have not yet seen any written report form the Fort Bend fire department and believe that their investigation is continuing. As of now, multiple insurance investigators are involved, and we have not ruled out possible fraud or malicious intent. We are aware that fireworks were found in the garage in or around the vehicles. Also, an electrical panel located in the garage next to the vehicles is also being examined by the investigators as well as fire department officials. Based on initial observations and inspections, the Karma's lithium ion battery pack was not being charged at the time and is still intact and does not appear to have been a contributing factor in this incident.

Fisker will continue to participate fully in the investigation but will not be commenting further until all the facts are established.

Is this Karma or what?