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In Search of the Energy-Efficient Family Car

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wbswenberg   9/10/2013 11:56:33 PM
Well, you have probably failed the test before you have started.  It is very rarely that leasing makes financial sense.

Charles Murray
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Re: Energy harvesting suspension
Charles Murray   9/10/2013 7:20:52 PM
I agree with you that the battery is still a limitation, Karen. For me, it's insufficient. With one child still in college, I often drive 350 miles on a saturday. There's no EV that can adequately address that problem yet, and EVs are still too costly for me to keep one as an "around-the-town" car.  

Karen Lightman
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Re: Energy harvesting suspension
Karen Lightman   9/10/2013 3:24:22 PM
Hello! I am so glad that this blog is sparking even more discussion. Someone on Twitter just pointed me in the direction of the group "Better Place" and their founder, Shai Agassi who recently wrote an article in his LinkedIn Group on how "Tesla a Threat to the auto industry but Detroit is reacting all wrong"


Great fodder for this discussion, don't you think? 

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Re: Don't count the ICE out
btlbcc   9/9/2013 10:37:39 PM
I am somewhat skeptical about 3X efficiency for EV vs ICE.  If one looks at 1) the charging system (the utility grid) and 2) the currently additional cost of the battery pack, there's a big question in my mind regarding supposed improved afficiency of EVs.  To the efficiency of the battery/mnotor/regen braking system, one needs to add (subtract) the efficiency of the grid generating system, etc.  In addition, there is a serious convenience (and possibly safety) factor with a pure EV:  What if you are away from home and the battery runs out of charge?  Can you get to a charging station?  What if you need to get someone to the hospital...on a dead battery.  And how long will a charge take - without harming the very expensive-to-replace battery pack?  We hear talk of "driving up to a service station, plugging in and getting a full charge in 10 minutes."  Really?  Or wishful thinking?

To veer a bit away from the EV/Hybrid/ICE question, one might want to also want to consider just what a family car entails.  Obviously, there are many answers to this question, but for people living in the northern half of the USA, here's a possible answer: a moderately (without a windshield that turns into a greenhouse/oven in the sun) streamlined "box on wheels" with sufficient room for family members - say 2 adults and 2 kid -  plus baggage/groceries/soccer gear/whatever.  It would be nice if the car had some reasonable ground clearance so it wouldn't bog down if you had to drive through 6 inches of unplowed snow, and 4-wheel or all-wheel drive with antilock brakes, traction control, etc. would be nice.  If that sounds a bit like a small SUV, you are correct.  For a single or couple, a subcompact car is fine - the one-person commute to work, although the typical road-hugging, low ground clearance car is definitely a fair-weather vehicle.  Spending a snowy night sleeping on the rug in your office because you know that you won't be able to make it home may be good for war stories, but it's not a way to live, in my book...

As for what sort of engine or motor would power such a car, I think the ICE is still the way to go.  I have a 2011 Subaru Forester (a small SUV) which typically exceeds 30 MPG; such a car with a diesel engine would probably exceed 40 MPG.  If one is trying to make a social statement, then by all means, go with an EV or Hybrid, or a small "bullet on wheels" that will get 50 MPG or better.  But be prepared to give up a lot of convenience if you do. 

When we buy a car, we have to make a number of not necessarily complementary choices, and ultimately, the indiviual decision is based on economics and convenience: are we willing to make a compromise; to pay a bit more in fuel costs in order to more closely meet our transportation needs?  I'm not too worried about using ICE power; I think the global warming thing is vastly overstated, and we don't seem to be running out of oil and natural gas in any great hurry.  In the meantime, cars (of all sizes) are becoming more efficient and research on truly practical (and affordable) batteries for EVs is ongoing.  I suspect that practical EVs will be available long before there is a shortage of fossil fuels.

Brooks Lyman

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Don't count the ICE out
Rob Spiegel   9/9/2013 8:27:04 PM
Hey ChriSharek, I understand your concern about burning fossil fules. Yet I still believe the ICE will end up winning the CAFE standard race. When it comes down to it, at this point EVs and hybrids are also powered by fossil fules -- except in rare instances.

William K.
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Re: Don't count the ICE out
William K.   9/9/2013 8:00:11 PM
A while back power steering was an uncommon extra price option, and those cars were quite a bit heavier than many of today's very light vehicles. So how about adding a tax on power steering as an un-needed luxury item. That would serve as a start in removing the obstacles toward really good stop-start systems. An added benefit would be reduced weight and improved reliability, as well as getting better milage.

Charles Murray
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Energy harvesting suspension
Charles Murray   9/9/2013 7:51:18 PM
Good point about energy-harvesting technology, Karen. Elizabeth Montalbano of Design News recently did a story about automotive suspension that gathers energy from road impacts.


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This article is dead wrong
dbg   9/9/2013 2:59:34 PM
This was a most disappointing article.  So many gross inaccuracies, where to start?

The weight of the car is of minor importance; what matters is the overall energy efficiency of the vehicle. EVs are at least 3X more efficient than internal combustion cars, even if they weigh more.

"A few hundred miles" is plenty of range for daily use.  For road trips Tesla is building a Supercharger network.

Even running on 100% coal EVs are still a little better environmentally than comparably sized gasoline vehicles. Your state gets only 48% of its electricity from coal, so you're already doing better than twice as good.  The coal numbers are declining rapidly as utilities switch to far cleaner natural gas.

Lithium batteries do NOT contain lead.  They are NOT a disposal problem - they are nontoxic and readily recycled.  No EV manufacturer makes a car that requires new batteries every three years.  Tesla warranties their batteries for eight years, so they must expect them to last rather longer than that.

Battery powered cars are NOT inefficient.  In fact they are far more efficient than gasoline vehicles - by at least a factor of three.


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Re: Don't count the ICE out
Hank-4   9/9/2013 12:07:34 PM
William K. brings up a good point re the lightweight vehicle. The Toyota Prius just automatically comes to mind. The Prius has something like a 1.5L engine with a 13:1 compression ratio to increase engine efficiency. Does anyone know if Toyota (or anyone else, for that matter) has ever set up a Prius to run pure gasoline-electric (i.e. none of the "hybrid" stuff that requires the battery pack)? I can't help but believe that if you just lose the weight of the battery pack, you might get better highway milage than the hybrid. An automatic engine start/stop feature would go a long way toward improving milage in the city. An electric/hydraulic PS system might replace an engine-driven PS pump. I know a lot of researh has be done on an electric servo type PS system ... and I'm not really sure that this hasn't already been implemented on some vehicles.

Like William K, I think that we're probably stuck with the ICE for the foreseeable future. There are still a number of improvements that can be made to this  component. Can we say, "REAL variable diplacement"?

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Re: Weight is a problem
ChriSharek   9/9/2013 11:22:18 AM
naperlou, can you provide a link to the article?  I would be very interested in reading it. 

Also,  considering the significant reduction in costs and improvements in technology, I would be willing to bet (yes, guarantee) that the grid will get only cleaner from here on out. 

The EPA has a great site that allows you to compare the ICE tailpipe emissions and the pollution of YOUR electricity (by zip code). 


Thanks, cs

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