Am I serious? Yes. Very.
I spent a lot of time working with engine companies, in getting their engines certified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. I designed a range of 3-Way Catalytic Converters, worked to get a retrofit kit verified (you can read a copy of the interim verification here). I’ve worked with emission control systems for Diesel, Gasoline (Also called Petrol), Natural Gas, and Propane fueled internal combustion engines, used on a wide variety of machines. I’ve even done some work on automobiles. During this time I also worked with staff at both major U.S. agencies, and several of the minor ones (each state has it’s own environmental regulator) as well as Environment Canada.
The above is basic background. I know a lot about vehicle emissions, fuel costs, engine costs, vehicle operating costs, vehicle design, etc., from a sales point of view. While I’m not an engineer, to effectively sell this sort of product, you need to know more than the science and engineering basics. In fact many sales representatives in the business are engineers, because of the complexity of the systems.
So when I predict the death of the Fossil Fuel Companies, I have good solid reasons for doing so. Everyone has heard of Climate Change, and that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a major contributor. Some of you don’t believe that Climate Change is real, others do. Even those who don’t believe in Climate Change do understand basic economics though, so let’s look at some of them.
My 2003 model year Chrysler minivan has a 3.3L V6 gasoline engine, and with gasoline at about $1.00 Canadian per liter, costs about $80.00 per week to operate if I’m driving to work. Since there’s 52 weeks in a year, the cost of fuel would be about $4160.00. This assumes that I don’t go to visit my wife’s mother, who lives six hours north of us. If we do that, it costs us $160.00 for a round trip, so say we do that twice per year, and the fuel cost is now $4480.00. Add in oil changes, and other scheduled maintenance, and the total per year is about $5500.00.
Nissan is going to start shipping their Leaf compact car in December. The Leaf is an electric vehicle, with a round trip range of 160 kilometers (100 miles). It seats five, and has gotten excellent reviews from the automotive press. Here’s a review by the London Sun that was posted by the Sun on YouTube.
I hope you watched the video all of the way through – isn’t fueling simple? It’s no harder than putting gasoline into your current car, and you wouldn’t have to worry about fumes from the fill up igniting, since there aren’t any fumes. And yes, I saw the Mythbusters episode where they had a hard time igniting gasoline. I also know that gas stations have caught fire and exploded in the past, that’s why the current ones have all of the safety features that are installed on the pumps, and the warnings about smoking while you are filling up your car.
But let’s get back to the Leaf. First, instead of visiting a gas station, you plug it in every night at home. The cost in electricity will be about $2.25 per charge (information from Nissan Canada). This compares very favorably with a cost of $11.42 per day in gasoline with the Chrysler. Another issue is maintenance – the Leaf has electric drive, it doesn’t have an engine. There’s no need to change the engine lubricating oil. There’s no air filter, oil filter, or gasoline filter. In the calculations above I allowed $1020.00 for maintenance. Electric vehicles require very little maintenance, but to be fair we’ll cut the cost to $500.00 per year. So let’s add it up. $2.25 * 365 days =$821.25, plus $500.00 for maintenance, and the yearly total is $1321.25, for a $4178.75 saving per year. This is a huge saving – just think of what you could do with $4000.00 to spend!
While the range is limited, it would suffice for all of our needs, except our twice yearly trips to visit Mom. For most families, it would cover all of their needs, period. And if you do need to travel a longer distance on a weekend, rentals are available, and fast charge stations (25-30 minute charge) are going to be installed in many places. We could make the trip to Mom’s with three stops to charge. Since I never drive for five hours straight, three stops to recharge, and walk about an stretch is feasible.
Another thing to consider is that many jurisdictions have government rebate programs for electric car buyers, in Ontario a rebate of between $4000.00 to $10,000.00 is available starting july 1, 2010 (Government of Ontario Press Release).
How reliable will an electric car be? I don’t know about the ‘average electric car’, but Nissan has been building electric vehicles for over thirty years. You might have even driven one, if you are a forklift operator. While there are a lot of differences between an electric forklift and an electric car (forklifts for instance operate at slow speeds), the basic technologies are very similar, in fact Nissan’s gasoline powered forklifts use Nissan automotive engines, modified for off-road use.
Nissan hasn’t sold an electric car before this, because the technology that would work in a forklift, wasn’t practical in an automobile. Forklifts use cumbersome lead acid batteries. A standard 4000 pound capacity forklift has a battery that weighs between 3500 and 4000 pounds, more than many cars weigh. In a forklift the weight is an advantage, it is part of the counterbalance effect that keeps the rear wheels on the ground when you are lifting a load. In a car the extra weight would cause massive problems – the braking system, the frame, and the body of the car would need to be significantly strengthened. Lead Acid batteries use Sulfuric Acid, and it is nasty stuff. The small lead-acid battery that powers the starter motor in your car doesn’t hold a lot of it. A 4000 pound battery does. Cleaning up sulfuric acid spills isn’t fun. While Baking Soda will neutralize the acid, you’d need to carry a lot of it!
Also until recently forklifts used Direct Current (DC) motors, it’s only been recently that forklifts have switched to more efficient Alternating Current (AC) motors. AC Motors produce far more torque than DC motors due, which is useful, because when you need the most power is starting the car from a stop. Anyone who has learned to drive a car with a manual transmission has experienced this – you need to feed enough gas to the engine to get moving, but not enough to spin the tires. With an AC motor you don’t need to worry, it produces so much torque all you need to do is put it in gear.
So I expect this to be a real success for Nissan. While other companies are producing electric vehicles, Nissan is the only one that has long term electric vehicle experience, and a look at the Leaf shows the amount of work that they have done. This car is going to be the hottest car of 2011, with the Chevy Volt coming a close second (the Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid)
This car will really hit the fossil fuel companies hard. You don’t have to believe in Climate Change to see the advantages of a Leaf. The monetary savings are real, and huge. Nissan has hit a home run with it. The Premier of Ontario wants 5% of cars in Ontario to be electric by 2020. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that nearly 50% of cars will be electric by 2020. Yes, I expect electric car adoption to occur that quickly.
Oh, and as for Prime Minister Harper, and his government’s support of the Oil Sands project? He’s just wasted a whole pile of taxpayers money for nothing.
Sunday May 30, 2010
Disclosure: I used to work for a Nissan forklift dealership, and later called on Nissan when I was selling catalytic converters. I have worked with General Motors (Chevrolet) on several projects. My personal liking for those two companies may have affected my view. But I don’t think so. WB.
Nissan Leaf on Wikipedia – Wired Article on the Leaf
The Eliica – a 230 MPH Electric Limosine
Currently Available Electric Cars (from Wikipedia)
Renault Fluence ZE – from Nissan’s sister company
Chevy Volt Plug In Hybrid – shorter range batteries, range extender gasoline engine
Wikipedia Category – Battery Electric Vehicles – lists a lot of other battery vehicles
Wikipedia Category – Plug In Hybrid Vehicles
Wikipedia – Electric Motorcycles and Scooters
Wikipedia – Electric Boats
Wikipedia – Electric Bus
Society for Sustainable Mobility
Electric Car Dreams from PBS