An electric pickup anyone?

Last month Tesla announced that they will be building an electric pickup in a couple of years (give or take right?). Now we have an announcement from a different company making their own electric pickup.

Workhorse (who?), and Ohio based company, has thrown their hat into the EP (electric pickup) ring. This is interesting, an electric pickup with about 80 miles of electric only range (and 310 using the built in range extending gas engine). Can we really call this an EP or is it just a hybrid pickup?

Its the same argument as you would have with the Chevy Volt (or any other PHEV: C-Max Energi, Fusion Energi, Plugin-Prius, etc.). One distinction people frequently use is the question: “Can the gas engine directly drive the wheels?” In all the cases for passenger cars these days that answer is yes (The Volt has a way via some clutches, on the other cars the gas engine is directly coupled to the wheels via a planetary gear set). For this pickup it would appear the answer is no (it has two electric motors; one for each axle). That would make this qualify as an “EREV” (Extended Range Electric Vehicle).

The above is splitting hairs, though. I would purchase an EP if the opportunity allowed (provided it had the specs I’d like: 300 mile EV range, no gas engine, and “small” like an old Ranger–don’t really have a need for a full-size pickup).

This will be interesting to follow as well. The EP wars LOL.


An electric pickup anyone?

The Heat Problem

Its not even winter and here I am discussing heat, or rather how to get heat into the car. For ICE vehicles its easy: the ICE produces so much extra heat that they just funnel some of that into the car. Even when its -40F out the ICE still produces plenty of heat to warm up a car (funny how using fire to propel the vehicle has this affect?).

Most of the EVs to date have used the same thing that the Focus (and C-Max use): glow plugs or resistive heating. Much like an electric stove these are simply coils of wire that heat up when enough current is run through them. Which is the problem: You have to run a lot of current through them to produce enough heat to keep the humans happy inside.

With all the short-range EVs using this method curtails the range of the car by a significant amount (in my Focus’ case excessive heat usage could drop the range down to 30 miles or so if you weren’t careful). This is huge, and the reason many people in Northern climes didn’t even try out any of the short range EVs.

If you regularly read this blog (yeah that one guy) you already know most of this. Many many people complain about the heating and are hoping that the OEMs are doing active research to come up with a better solution. One solution is already available: A heat pump. The Leaf has a heat pump to warm the car up. The heat pump works well for chilly temps from near freezing to 60ish or so (F). Below freezing it also switches back to the resistor.

So we’re still left with resistive heating for those really cold days, and it seems like no one is working on alternatives (Ford’s chemical heating with MIT not withstanding).

What if all the OEM’s were waiting for something instead of working on better heat? Think about it: With all the battery research going on do they really need to come up with better heat? When your battery can hold enough electricity to go 200 miles (or 300?) the amount used by the heater (even the bad ones) won’t matter so much. Sure people will complain that by using the heater their 200 mile car will only go 100 miles…but that still beats the range of most of the short range EVs. When the batteries get even bigger/more dense it will matter even less.

Even going for a long distance drive: If you are taking a long distance drive you’ll warm up the cabin then just keep it there. Maintaining the temp isn’t as much of an issue as the initial warm up (which can be done when plugged in).

Perhaps this is why no one has come up with a novel new heating approach…they think they don’t have to?


The Heat Problem

They are everywhere…

Due to confirmation bias you typically will notice other people driving the same car as you than any other car–they stand out; make you feel like some kind of brotherhood or kinship as they chose the same car that you drive.

This affect can be quite powerful, especially if you drive a not very popular car–like a Focus Electric. Ford has sold ~100 and change Focus Electrics a month since it was introduced in the 2012 model year. This means that, nationwide, there are only something like 2500 or so copies out in the wild. Making it a very rare beast to see on the road.

In the 3 years that I drove around the FFE I think I saw others on the road about 6 times (this doesn’t count the one a coworker drove as I’d see that one daily). Most of the time the realization that what I was looking at was another FFE was such a shock that it would be gone before it sunk in.

Fast forward to now: Driving the C-Max is completely different especially since Ford makes the C-Max in hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions. Ford sells around 25,000 C-Maxes in the US per year a good 10 times as many FFE’s. Thus I should be seeing about 10x more on the road.

I’m actually seeing a bit more than that: daily I see at least two or three and at least one of them is an Energi (the plug-in version). In addition at least one or two of them is the same color as mine..guess I picked the right one LOL. I chalk all the C-Max’s I’m seeing up to the fact that I live within about 5 miles from the plant and that most people are more inclined to pick up a hybrid or plug-in hybrid over a limited range pure EV (and that Ford didn’t really push the FFE that much).

Doesn’t feel as much of a kinship when you see one on every corner (almost).


They are everywhere…

C-Max battery life vs FFE

Now that I’ve been driving the C-Max Energi around for a while and have established, more or less, a routine with it I’m figuring that I’ll notice more degradation in the C-Max’s battery over the course of the lease than I did with the FFE.

The batteries degrade with usage: The more charge cycles you have and the more deeper charge cycles the quicker a battery will lose some capacity.

For the FFE with its 23kWh battery I would pretty much only charge it up to full overnight and rarely use more than about 50%-60% of the battery. Even on those days where I had to run some errands with it I’d still only use at most another 10% of the battery. When I returned it at lease end with 30,000 miles on it there was no noticeable battery loss.

The C-Max Energi, on the other hand, only has a 7.6kWh battery. This means that I’m depleting the battery daily, sometimes more than once. On the weekends I’m finding that I’ll fully charge it 2 or 3 times per day on both Saturday and Sunday. Thus it is getting cycled more than the FFE battery ever was, and I’m using more of the battery for each cycle.

It is also possible that Ford built in larger margins into the system in the C-Max. The FFE would only charge up to about 90%, and only discharge down to about 10% to protect the battery. Now if Ford designed the C-Max with more room at the top and bottom (like up to 85% and down to 15%, for example) then the battery may be somewhat protected against all the extra cycling.

The C-Max Energi does have a way to preventing it from going too deep into the battery: The EV Later mode. Putting it into EV Later attempts to hold the amount of charge currently in the battery (charge sustain mode). This can be used to prevent deep discharging of the battery–indeed I’ve been using it to prevent the car from going into hybrid mode. When the battery gets down to 1 or 0 miles remaining I’ll put it into EV Later. So far so good but I’m only at about 2000 miles on the clock….


C-Max battery life vs FFE

Cost difference?

Now that I’ve had my C-Max Energi for over a month I can do a rough comparison. My daily commute hasn’t changed and my driving hasn’t changed–the only thing that has changed is the vehicle.

Thus I should be able to make a rough cost comparison: How much different does it cost to drive a Focus Electric around vs the C-Max Energi.

Looking at my January electric bill the Focus Electric used 500 kWh of electricity costing me $74–by far the most expensive electric bill for the FFE I’ve ever had (sanity check lets look at December: 369 kWh for $43). Typically my winter bills for the FFE ranged around $50.

Now how much did the C-Max Energi cost? Well for the bill I just got (which fortunately starts about two days after I picked up the C-Max) it used 250 kWh costing a mere $37. But wait, there’s more: The C-Max also burns gas. How much gas did I go through in that same month? One tank..that’s it. About 8 gallons of gas costing $12. For a grand total of $49..about the same as the average FFE cost (note that the C-Max monthly charge will vary due to gas prices, my electricity costs for the EV plug are contractually fixed).

Very interesting, if gas prices were to double (like the have been in the more recent past) my C-Max cost would only rise by another $12. Still pretty inexpensive though.

I’ll have to re-do this calculation in the summer–it is likely the figures will be a bit more different (ave summer FFE cost was about $30/month and gas prices are sure to go up although the C-Max will probably use less gas in the summer as well…stay tuned).


Cost difference?

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone. So far we’ve had a pretty mild winter with the temps only recently descending below freezing. This would explain the lack of “hey its cold outside” posts…

First up in the year, as always, is the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) or simply The Detroit Auto Show. Hopefully we’ll see something from Ford after their surprise announcement late last year. Perhaps we’ll see whats under the tarp in this tweet:

Interesting; I had thought this was simply the next generation Fusion but with the end of that video showing the FFE, a Fusion and a C-Max (both Energie’s I presume) I wonder if it will be a different electrified car…? (Although the headlights really say “Fusion” to me). We’ll find out in about a week…


Happy New Year

More thoughts on Ford’s minimal announcement

Now that I’ve had some time to noodle on Ford’s minimal announcement yesterday..

In case you missed it: Yesterday Ford announced a large investment in EVs including some details on the next Focus Electric (2017). I was pretty shocked that Ford had done something! Really they have been mum on plugins and EVs since the launch of the Energi products (Fusion and C-Max).

I’m guessing that their fly-by night drop of a press release isn’t exactly what you we’re expecting (let me see if I can find the press release…yup here it is). Lets take a look at the bullet points from that release:

  • Ford is investing an additional $4.5 billion in electrified vehicle solutions by 2020, including the new Focus Electric with all-new DC fast-charge capability, which delivers 80 percent charge in an estimated 30 minutes and projected 100-mile range
  • The company is adding 13 new electrified vehicles to its product portfolio by 2020; more than 40 percent of Ford’s nameplates globally will be electrified by the decade’s end
  • Ford also redefining how future vehicles are created, moving from a features-based product development to a customer-experience-led process, applying insights from social scientists

$4.5 B over ~5 years (so just under $1B/year) not too shabby. (Digging around I can find evidence that they’ve spent more than that on Ecoboost engines since 2009–unfortunately I don’t have a reference though.)

13 New electrified vehicles (“electrified” in Ford terms means hybrid, plugin-hybrid, or EV thus they could still only be selling 1 EV).

Not sure exactly what the third bullet point really means; its kind of a word-salad that seems to sound good but could actually mean nothing LOL.

Instead I’m sure many FFE owners (and EV enthusiasts) would have liked a huge production showcasing at least one new (or upgraded) vehicle either at or like an auto show event. I don’t think something like that would ever happen with Ford and EVs and I think I know why…

Look at what Ford has done to date with “electrified vehicles”: All of them have been built in existing vehicle lines (Focus, C-Max–existing in Europe, Fusion, Escape). There are many who proclaim that it can’t be a really good EV unless it was built from scratch as an EV. They use the Leaf, BMW i3 and the Teslas as examples (ignoring the fact that the Tesla Roadster was a conversion; and I don’t think the Leaf was a clean slate..I’m sure someone within Nissan did a “Save As” from a previous vehicle’s blue prints). The counter point to that, however, is the great VW eGolf.

Now the eGolf is the kind of model I think Ford is going for: an EV is just a powertrain choice, not a vehicle platform. Thus the release yesterday makes sense. Ford was describing their investment in a new line of powertrains–not vehicles. I bet the “13 new electrified vehicles” being added will simply be existing Ford vehicles with an added powertrain option.

Thus instead of a Chevy Bolt, you’ll be able to order a Fusion Energi, Fusion EV, Focus EV, Focus Energi, and perhaps even an F-150 Energi, or F-150 EV. Just like you can order an Ecoboost Escape or an Ecoboost Taurus (Taurus SHO) today.

In that light the announcement makes sense: “Here we are making an investment in a new powertrain”.

Now onto the specs of that 2017 Focus Electric:

  • ~100 mile range
  • CCS fast charge (80% in 30 minutes)

Not much else different and slated to start production in late 2016. Interestingly the Chevy Bolt (200 mile range) is also due for production in the same time frame. The next generation Leaf is due around the same time and has also been projected to have ~200 miles of range. It will be hard to compete against those two with a meager 100 miles of range.

Here is the thing though: I don’t think Ford really cares about sales for the FFE. Take note of its current sales: approximately 100 per month +/- a few since it first went on sale back in 2012. Many pundits call that a failure. I don’t think Ford thinks it a failure–if it was they wouldn’t keep selling them and wouldn’t announce this updated Focus. By that measure I bet Ford will continue to sell 100 or so 2017 Focus Electrics a month and be perfectly happy with that. Now with the announcement of the 2017’s enhancements will sales plummet? to 90 a month? LOL

Update: The Detroit News also has a report about Ford’s announcement. Much of it is the same, but the last quote from a Ford employee says everything about Ford’s intent with EVs:

“About 200 miles seems to be the rule of thumb, but that doesn’t mean 100 can’t satisfy people,” Brinley said. “That can propel sales.”


More thoughts on Ford’s minimal announcement