Event: Acterra Shows How to Go EV

Event: Acterra Shows How to Go EV

Earth Day Event Makes Personal Electric Vehicle Connections

On a beautiful Spring day in Palo Alto, Saturday, April 14, EV owners offered test drives and showcased their vehicles to attendees of the 2018 Earth Day Festival in Palo Alto. The event was put on by Acterra, a Palo Alto-based group that brings people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet. As an Acterra EV Ambassador, I brought my Kinetic Blue Bolt EV, and was joined by owners of Nissan Leafs, Volkswagen e-Golfs, BMW i3s, Fiat 500es, Teslas and other popular electric vehicles.

Acterra EV Event

The chance to drive an EV before you buy

I was one of the folks who left their car parked and had many interesting conversations, answering questions and demonstrating features of the car, while helping people understand how much fun it is to drive an EV, and how we deal with their few shortcomings.

My car (the Blue Bolt EV) was first in line of the staged vehicles, next to a VW e-Golf and Nissan Leaf–two direct competitors. We owners had fun chatting when no visitors were around. Everyone has a story. The VW e-Golf next to my car was a late ’16, so the lease deal was amazing; after a significant down payment, just $75/month! The white ’16 Leaf behind it, owned by my friend Greg, was purchased used, at a significant cost saving over a new one. That’s a good example of how to get into EV driving without a huge initial outlay.

A Chance to Get Behind the Wheel

Acterra EV Event

This event answered all of the questions

Not only were cars on display, but a number of them were also available for test drives, as seen by the orange Bolt, black BMW i3 and silver 2018 Leaf driving through the area in the photo. This gave attendees a chance to get behind the wheel and viscerally sense the smooth, quick, quiet EV benefits. There were three Bolts available, as well as the two stationary ones, so we were well-represented.

There were information booths, including Acterra, charger manufacturer ChargePoint and the City of Palo Alto. I spoke with Hiromi Kelty, City of Palo Alto utility program manager, who told me that 20 percent of Palo Altans drive EVs compared to three percent statewide. She also told me about the EV charger rebate that organizations in Palo Alto can receive when they install EV chargers–up to $30,000. For more information, go to cityofpaloalto.org/electricvehicle or call (650) 329-2241.

Toys Allowed

Some folks brought their toys

I showed my car to dozens of people and had some interesting conversations. I allowed one 6-foot-5 man to adjust my seat, steering wheel, and mirrors to see if he fit in the car and could see if he was driving. The good news is that he did fit! The bad news is that it took a while to get my driving position back to normal. But I was glad to do it.

One man, who was sharing rides in his new Tesla Model 3, brought along a battery-powered skateboard. At $1,500, it an expensive toy, but could be useful for traveling between mass transit and your workplace–or for good clean fun. I declined a test ride.

When the session was over, around 1:30, we put away our signs, folded our tents, and drove our EVs home. It felt like a worthwhile experience. I only hope that someone we spoke with will decide to get their own EV.

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen e-Golf

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen e-Golf

The Best Value EV available today?

In 2018 the battery electric vehicle (BEV) revolution is firmly in place, with BEVs here to stay. There is now a myriad of BEVs for the buyer to choose from, but now the question is—Which one is the best value today?

BEVs primarily fall into three categories:

2018 Volkswagen e-Golf

Outstanding in its field

  1. Short-range or “1st Generation” BEVs that have a range under 110 miles,
  2. Mid-range BEVs that have official ranges of 125 to 200 miles, and
  3. Long-range BEVs that have published mileage ranges more than 200 miles.

Pricing for short and mid-range BEVs start under $35K, and long-range cars start between $40K and $65K.

Add to this all BEVs are not sold nationally; with some only sold in the 16 states that have adopted California’s more stringent emission standards.

But if you live in one of these 16 states and are in the market for a best-in-class BEV, may I suggest that you consider the 2018 Volkswagen e-Golf.

A Golf Is a Golf

We’ve just spent the last week living with the 2018 Volkswagen e-Golf and came away very impressed.  Now we have to admit that we are a big fan of the VW Golf and the author has owned many Golfs over the years including his current daily driver a VW GTI.  But we are also a big proponent of BEVs and have a high bar to reach when it comes to five-door hatchbacks regardless if they are ICE or BEVs.

The MQB platform is the basis of e-Golf, which is Volkswagen’s first serious effort into BEVs.  It’s also the basis of all Golf vehicles as well as its newest SUVs like the Atlas and Tiguan. The e-Golf’s chassis has the battery under the car so that it does not take up any interior or cargo space.  It’s quite a feat of engineering that also keeps the Golf’s center of gravity right where it needs to be.

2018 Volkswagen e-Golf

Motors in the e-Golf quietly motivate the EV

The current e-Golf came to market in 2014 with a range of only 80 miles, but for 2017 the car was upgraded with a larger motor and a more substantial battery that boasted an EPA rated range of 126 miles.  But does the revised e-Golf only have a real-world range of 126 miles?  Our experience and those of our colleagues would suggest that the real world range is an outstanding 177 or more miles.  We consistently enjoyed mileage more than the EPA rated miles and drove the e-Golf at least 150 miles several times! It looks like Volkswagen is sandbagging the range on the e-Golf.

The range of the e-Golf puts it squarely in the mid-range BEV category with the 2018 Nissan Leaf.  While the 2017-18 e-Golf and the 2018 Leaf are similar in many ways, the e-Golf has a more powerful 7.2 kW on-board charger, and an SAE DC fast-charger that is also more powerful than the Leaf’s and can do an 80 percent charge in an hour.  The e-Golf’s electric motor is 134 hp.

Ah, German Engineering

The German-built e-Golf build quality is typical of VW, rock solid with no rattles or creaks.  The Golf’s legendary chassis tuning provides a ride that is firm but compliant and soaks up the bumps with grace and style.  At speed, the e-Golf is eerily quiet, with no wind noise or road noise at all.  The 16-inch all-season Continental tires provided a very smooth and silent ride.

The 2018 Volkswagen e-Golf’s battery is rated at 35.8 kWh and is air-cooled like the Leaf’s, and seems to stand up to the heat generated by fast-charging very well.  Our e-Golf tester stood up to multiple fast-charges with no slowdown in charging speeds.

While Volkswagen’s MSRP pricing for the e-Golf is similar to the Leaf with a fully equipped e-Golf SEL model topping out at about $39,100 and a fully equipped Leaf SL MSRP coming in at about $38,200, incentives from both manufacturers make street pricing about the same.

The Inside Story

2018 Volkswagen e-Golf

Inside it’s classic Golf

The cockpit of the e-Golf is much like other Golf variants, but utilizes VWs top-tier configurable digital cockpit instrument cluster and an 8.0-inch glass touchscreen display.  Apple Carplay and Android Auto are standard.

The 2018 Volkswagen e-Golf is an excellent effort by Volkswagen for its first foray into the world of BEVs.  It bears serious consideration by anyone looking for a mid-range Battery Electric Vehicle.  After VW’s diesel scandal, they have seen the light, and are all-in on EVs.  They will be launching a dedicated EV platform called MEB for the next generation of BEVs expected to be available starting in the next two years. That makes us all the more excited to see what they have up their sleeve!

Highs

  • Solid nimble handling
  • Rock solid workmanship
  • Range that outperforms its ratings
  • Robust Charging

Lows

  • Available only in 16 states
  • Pricier than a regular Golf
  • Only EV that VW offers today

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

News: SF Motors Enters Electric Car Market

News: SF Motors Enters Electric Car Market

Chinese-backed Start-up Unveils Crossover EVs; Touts Technology

Silicon Valley witnessed yet another automotive coming out party last week as SF Motors unveiled an upscale crossover electric vehicle and showed off some of the company’s technology. While the car itself may be a bit of a me-too (high-power, connected, autonomous-capable in a conventional SUV coupe-like shape), the back story of the technology this well-funded formerly stealth start-up has developed tells a much more interesting story.

SF Motors

The story underneath

The most intriguing part of the SF Motors is the vertically integrated nature of the company. It showed off a modular home-grown electric motor (in nominal 100, 200 and 400 kW trim), proprietary battery cells and packs, gearboxes and controllers. It also announced an intent, perhaps with a little hubris, to not only put its components in its own cars, but sell them to other automakers.

SF Motors is affiliated with Chongqing Sokon Industry Group, one of many privately held car companies in China. Chongqing Sokon provides financial backing and a plant in China capable of producing 150,000 cars annually. Currently the company produces a variety of models in China.

T0 bolster the company’s move into electric vehicles, SF Motors has set up its headquarters in Santa Clara, California, in Silicon Valley. The company has R&D centers in China, the U.S., Germany and Japan. It acquired the old AM General plant in Indiana as a U.S. production site. The nominal annual production capacity of that plant is 50,000 vehicles. It plans to launch its cars in the U.S. market first and then migrate to China and other markets. 

The First Car

SF Motors showed off two of its expected three models to press and investors last week—the SF5 midsize crossover that it plans to have on the market in 2019 and the full-size SF7 crossover that will follow. Details were sketchy on the cars, which follow the styling trend being set by the BMW X4 and X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLE SUV coupes.

SF Motors

The SF5 midsize crossover will be SF Motors’ first vehicle

The cars looked good as concept cars usually do (well, maybe Faraday Future’s FF91 is the exception that proves the rule). SF Motors plans to start taking orders for the SF5 later this year. Media reports put its price at about $60,000 while the SF7 may hit $95,000. Of course, getting the 1000-horsepower version that will do 0-60 in under three seconds could be a little more. And that kind of performance may keep you under the 300-mile range the company said the cars will be capable of. 

The specs released last week by Dr. Yifan Tang, SF Motors’ CTO, were that the motors would deliver 5.5 kW and 10 Newton-meters of torque per kilogram of weight, which would put it in the top end of electric motors for that metric, Tang said the battery packs would delivery 280 kWh per kilogram.

Future Tech

Of course, it’s not just about automobiles in Silicon Valley so SF Motors also laid down some markers for its technology. By 2020 they will be introducing “protective autonomy with connectivity,” according to Tang. The company reported it is already testing systems with computer vision, deep neural networks and Lidar.

SF Motors

SF Motors showed its AV tech on a Lincoln

SF Motors will also be building on existing relationships with suppliers, including Bosch, Dürr, Siemens, Samsung SDI, Infineon Technologies, LGC and AFT. The company has also purchased Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard’s battery start-up, and made Eberhard chief innovation officer of SF Motors.  

In its technology display, the company also showed off its 21700 cells for a solid state cylindrical battery. The company also intends to get into the battery recycling business, creating energy storage products that would allow second use in homes and offices for batteries no longer functional for automotive use.

SF Motors

SF Motors is making its own battery cells

It’s an ambitious plan, but SF Motors believes it is well on its way toward becoming a producer of high-end and affordable electric cars and potentially an industry supplier. As is the case with other recent EV introductions, such as Lucid Motors and Faraday Future, the proof will be not only delivering the first or the 100,000th car to paying customers, but doing so at a profit. That’s something first-mover Tesla is still struggling with after 10 years. We’ll be keeping an eye on their progress.

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News: 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric Coming with BIG Battery

News: 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric Coming with BIG Battery

Driving Range Edges Out the Chevrolet Bolt, Tesla Model 3

When Hyundai took the cover off the Kona Electric at the Geneva Motor Show three weeks ago, it was questionable when, or even if, the electric hatchback would show up in the U.S.  The questions were answered at this week’s New York Auto Show when the Korean automaker presented the U.S. production model of the 2019 Kona Electric with an estimated 250-mile driving range on EPA test cycle.

The version launched for the European market in Geneva includes a model with a smaller battery pack and lower rated range, but the U.S. will get only the model with a higher-capacity battery.

 Range-Topping Electric Powertrain

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

The Kona may offer the most range range for the price

The Kona Electric swaps out the internal combustion engine and all the associated plumbing from the standard Kona and replaces it with a liquid-cooled 64-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and a 201 horsepower permanent-magnet electric motor producing 291 pounds-feet of torque that drive the front wheels.

The powertrain will enable the Kona EV to get an estimated driving range of 250 miles and an estimate of 117 miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe), greater than the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S and Model X. The 250-mile range is greater than that of the 238-mile Chevrolet Bolt as well as the 220-mile rated range of the base Tesla Model 3.

Kona EV can be fully charged at Level 2, 240-volt in a little less than 10 hours, and can be fully charged in just 54 minutes using a Level 3 charger. To make things easy, the Kona EV will come with standard DC fast-charging capability.

Looks Like Gas-Powered Kona

Hyundai didn’t make sweeping changes to the look of the standard Kona in its conversion into an electric vehicle. From the front, the closed grille is what most distinguishes the Electric from the rest of the small hatchback’s lineup. The helmet-shaped grille of the standard car gives way to a more aerodynamically efficient design with a light cross-hatch design. The door covering the charging port is also housed in the grille.

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

The interior mimics the gas Kona

The front view is flanked by aero-tuned flared fenders that enhance its road presence. It’s further differentiated by a separated-headlight design signature, with LED daytime running lights above and high-efficiency LED headlights below. Taillights are also unique.

Just as with other Konas, the Electric is being offered in a palette of extroverted colors, and a contrasting black, gray, or white roof is available for models without the sunroof. It doesn’t scream “electric vehicle” like the Toyota Prius, but differs sufficiently from the gas-powered Kona to make it easy to spot on the road.

Like All Hyundais, Lots of Features

The interior hasn’t changed in any discernable way from the gas-powered Kona. That means the Kona Electric’s 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and offers HD and satellite radio as well as BlueLink data connectivity. A step-up system with an 8.0-inch screen adds navigation, traffic data, an eight-speaker Infinity audio system, and the next-generation BlueLink suite of features, which in this case includes some EV-exclusive helpers such as app-based remote charge management and charge scheduling. Other available features include a flip-up head-up display and wireless inductive charging for personal electronics.

2019 Hyundai Kona Electric

The Kona will have fast-charging capability standard

A full suite of active and passive safety systems come standard as part of the Hyundai Smart Sense package, including forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, blind-spot warning, and lane-keeping assist.

The Kona Electric will start reaching dealerships in California by the end of the year. Hyundai plans to make it available somewhat later in the other states that adopt California’s ZEV mandate. No word from Hyundai yet on pricing, but we’d expect it to be competitive with other budget-EVs, starting in the mid-30,000-dollar range, before any tax incentives.  

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Flash Drive: 2018 Nissan Leaf

Flash Drive: 2018 Nissan Leaf

New Tech, Styling, More Range Added to the World-Leading EV

The Nissan Leaf is the first and most successful mass market all-electric car, with more than 300,000 sold worldwide. Introduced in 2010 as a 2011 model, it was a pioneer, won the 2011 World Green Car award, and just repeated that feat for 2018. However, with much more competition today, it needed a major update. The 2018 model is the result, as validated by the World Green Car award and our early drive.

2019 Nissan leaf A Pair of Aces

2019 Nissan leaf

I sampled two models of the new Leaf at the recent Western Automotive Journalists Media Days event. I grabbed it for the first drive of the day, 23+ miles that included some freeway, some in-town, and some open road travel, including the climbing the winding Laureles Grade in Monterey County.

The car is all new, but contains some remnants of the old model, including its hatchback shape. However, all the rounded shapes of the original Leaf are tightened up and the nose wears a much more conventional grill and headlamps, in Nissan’s corporate V shape. The rear pillar is partially blacked out to give the impression of a floating roof panel, just like the competing BMW i3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV (and several other models like the Lexus RX).

New Inside & Out

The new interior, like the outside, is more restrained than the exuberantly flowing original. The steering wheel looks very traditional and the instruments ahead are clear and easy to understand. The rectangular center panel gives you access to the entertainment, information, apps and provides knobs for volume and tuning. The shapes are gently curved, but overall sensible and familiar. Nearly all surfaces are at least slightly padded, creating a comfortable and slightly more upscale feel.

2019 Nissan leaf

The room inside the Leaf is great

I dropped into the seat and was pleased at how comfortable it felt. The Chevrolet Bolt EV, a leader in the category now, has firm, narrow chairs that work for me, but have generated complaints from some drivers.

On the road, the Leaf starts out smartly, with a 147-horsepower motor pulling smoothly and silently. While no rocket, it feels completely, well, normal. Handling is predictable and pleasant. The ride is firm, but not harsh.

The new Leaf offers e-Pedal, which provides stronger regenerative braking. Much like the L setting in a Bolt EV or the default setting in a Tesla, this means you can use one-pedal driving, pressing your right foot down to move forward and lifting it to slow down. Like the Bolt EV, the Leaf can come to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal (the Tesla cuts the regen at a few mph). You can drive the Leaf like a regular car by turning e-Pedal off.

The New Tech

The new ProPilot Assist feature allows you to choose one of three following distances and set a speed on the highway. Your Leaf will follow the car in front at the set distance, and brake and accelerate to retain that distance—as you’d expect with adaptive cruise control. But it also gently stations you in the center of the lane. You must keep your hands on the wheel—this is low-level autonomy—but it is more relaxing when traveling on the freeway and busy roads. It worked perfectly when I tested it on Monterey County highways in the second Leaf.

2019 Nissan leaf

The gauge support is there to tell you what’s happening 

The new Leaf has significantly improved battery range. It’s up to 150 miles now, much better than the 2017 model’s 107, but still well below the Chevy Bolt EV’s 238 miles. Nissan says a 200+ mile range battery is coming, but for now, is 150 miles enough for most drivers’ needs?

Why did Nissan go with the 40-kWh lithium-ion battery instead of a 60 kWh one like the Bolt EV uses? It’s about value, says Paul Minahan, Jr., Sr. Manager, Electric Vehicle Fleet Operations. Leaf customers wanted a lower price—and batteries are still expensive. The new Leaf starts at $29,999 for the S model, before federal and state rebates and tax breaks. The SV and SL add more to the price, but also to the features list. I tested the better-equipped SV and SL. The SL’s price of $36,200 still undercuts the $37,500 base price of the Bolt LT, while offering more features, including leather seats. Other EVs, such as the Tesla Model 3 and BMW i3, are simply more expensive.

Nissan has a huge base of existing customers; some will trade up for this significantly better car. More people may be willing to consider the new Leaf with its less controversial styling and overall improvement in everything it is and does.

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.