Sunday, April 30, 2017

Electric car conversions

Until very recently I've been a bit dismissive about electric car conversions, where a conventional fossil fueled vehicle is changed to battery electric power. I used to think cars converted to electric power ended up looking a bit like some sort of Heath Robinson contraption. I imagined loose wiring hanging from the dashboard, a boot full of batteries, extra gauges bolted on to the dashboard and holes where the defunct gauges for the petrol or diesel engine were, no doubt accompanied by the rattle of loose fitting parts. I also presumed without the cutting edge engineering of a firm like Tesla, the range of a converted EV would be pitiful.

Happily, the more I hear reports and see videos of EV conversions, the more I'm realising that the majority of conversion jobs are very professional and offer comparative range and performance to a new fully electric vehicle. An example of this is this recent video by James Cooke. A Porsche 911 Targa converted to electricity by Electric Classic Cars. It's an immaculate vehicle and conversion, a totally professional job. You can view the video below.
In South Africa there is a company called Freedom Won doing electric car conversions. I wrote an article about them last week. Among their conversions have been the conversion of game viewing Landrovers and boats in Chobe Game Reserve to electric.

Another conversion from Freedom Won is a Fiat 500 which has a 23kWh battery which gives it a 200km range. I found some images of it on their Twitter account. Again, the conversion appears to be a very professional and neat job. The price of the conversion of the Fiat 500 was R250,000. It is a lot of money but if you have a car that you're happy with but you want to drive an electric car, then it is still half the price of the cheapest electric vehicle on sale in South Africa to convert it.

Freedom Won have a inquiry form where you can request a quote for getting your own car converted. They mention that one of the potential markets for conversions is minibus taxis. I think this is a great idea. The biggest influence on taxi fares is the petrol price, electric power would cost less than a fifth of what petrol is costing to power the vehicles. Imagine if the running costs could be cut by 80%, the taxi owners would save a fortune. Charging points could be installed at taxi ranks and the taxis could charge while waiting to fill up with passengers and also during the off-peak periods when they're not so busy.

Electric conversions would probably be more popular in some regions over others. Most likely more popular inland than at the coast. At the coast car bodies tend to corrode more due to the humidity and salt in the air from the sea. On the Highveld the air is dry and body corrosion isn't a worry. It makes no sense to convert a car to electric if the body is already rotten.

The biggest market for electric conversions could be vintage or rare cars. Cars that their owners have become attached to but due to age, they are becoming harder to find parts for and maintain. With an electric conversion a classic car could carry on running cheaply and indefinitely, with no worrying of where to find replacement engine parts when it next breaks down. Also there must be plenty of vintage cars where the bodywork is fine but the motor isn't working. Electricity could get these vehicles back on the road. We could see many more classic and vintage cars back on the road, old cars given a new lease of life and more people able to afford to run an old classic.

As an example of what a classic conversion could be, one of my dream cars is a Porsche 928. They can be found relatively cheap, however maintenance of the big V8 motor is horrendously expensive. Just changing the timing belt requires the removal of the whole engine. Of course a 5 litre V8 also tends to be a bit costly at the petrol pump. With an electric conversion you could still have the same driving experience and the same, if not better acceleration. Once the conversion is done, I'd have a classic car that will cost next to nothing to run and need virtually no maintenance. As I write this there is a Porsche 928 for sale on Gumtree for R33,500, the body and interior are in sound condition but it's not running. A perfect candidate for an electric conversion. As for now,it will remain my dream.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Autonomous vehicles - my thoughts

The drive towards vehicle autonomy appears to be going hand in hand with the growing popularity of battery electric vehicles. Tesla in-particular are aggressively developing their Autopilot self driving system and many other auto manufacturers are introducing various levels of autonomy to their vehicles. It seems we are on the way to highways full of driver-less cars.

The potential benefits of fully autonomous vehicles are numerous. As the most common cause of traffic accidents is driver error or recklessness, taking the human element out of driving should make road use safer.

At the moment autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles just have information about the road and other road users that they gather themselves. Typically this information is gathered by an autonomous car using radar, cameras mounted on the car and GPS. It can only see as far as the vehicle mounted sensors will allow it to. As can be seen though from the video clip below, Tesla's are already able to 'see-through' the vehicle in front and detect an unseen hazard.
In the future, vehicles will also be able to garner information about the road from other vehicles in the vicinity and maybe cameras by the side of the road. Your vehicle will be talking with other cars on the road to find out what obstacles might lay ahead around the next corner and timeously take action to avoid them. Maybe all the vehicles on the road will be able to organise themselves so they take different routes to ease congestion but in doing so make the traffic flow smoother and quicker.

Clearly fully autonomous driving is coming, I think though that until every car on the road is autonomous and is able to talk and work with other vehicles on the road, there has to still be some degree of human supervision of the vehicles AI. I think fully autonomous is maybe 15-20 years away and until then we will see more and more autonomous features introduced into cars, like lane guidance and automatic emergency braking.

My main concern with autonomous vehicles is pedestrians. Recently I was driving down a city street and I noticed the pavement ahead was blocked by building rubble which had been piled up. I also saw there was a gentleman the other side of the pile of rubble, walking in the opposite direction that I was going towards the obstacle. I could see he would reach the obstacle in the pavement at about the same time I would pass it. I also realised he was going to step out in the road to walk around it at exactly the same time as I would be passing it. He was just presuming I would predict his behaviour and leave him some room to get past the obstacle, which of course I did. I just wonder if an autonomous car's AI would deduce the same thing. Would it expect the person to wait until it's passed to step into the road? Would it predict, like myself, the movements of the pedestrian and take avoiding action ahead of time?

Obviously pretty much all the research and testing of autonomous vehicles is happening in places which don't have the same anarchistic road culture we have here in South Africa. If the human road users, motorists and pedestrians, are obeying the road rules then it's going to make things more predictable for an autonomous vehicles AI. It'll be interesting to see when Tesla finally gets to this country, how their Autopilot reacts in the bedlam that are South African roads.

Another worry was brought about by an incident I heard about the other day. A driver (driving a conventional vehicle) had to swerve to avoid someone in the road and in doing so ran over and killed several people on the pavement. Obviously the human driver reacted to the immediate obstacle, the man in the middle of the road, and took avoiding action without probably even realising they were going to drive into innocent bystanders. An unfortunate accident. It got me thinking though. If that had been an autonomous vehicle and presume the vehicle was already aware through it's various sensors that there were several people by the side of the road before the incident. Now, suddenly someone steps out in front of the vehicle and there's not enough space to stop in time. The autonomous vehicle has two choices, it can carry on straight and hit (and probably kill) the person who stepped in the road, or it can take evasive action but in doing so it knows it almost certainly won't be able to avoid a group of people on the side of the road. Does it carry on straight killing one person or does it avoid the immediate danger but in doing so ends up killing two or three people?

I'm sure these are only some of the problems the brains behind the various autonomous driving systems are busy trying to solve. However, when a human driver makes an error it's an accident. When an autonomous vehicle has an incident, the blame will fly in all directions. Even if traffic accidents are reduced by 99%, when one happens the manufacturer will be blamed for selling a faulty vehicle. Regardless that the same type of vehicle may have had millions of incident free miles up to that point.

I'm sure one day all these issue will be solved and all cars will be fully autonomous and the roads will be completely safe and nobody will ever have to touch a steering wheel again.

I hope that's not the case.

Sure, it might be nice to have your car drive itself in the morning traffic on your way to work, but an autonomous vehicle will never give you the thrill of actually driving a car. I hope that they'll still be the opportunity for manual control. To feel thrill of putting your foot down on the accelerator and getting pushed back in your seat. The thrill of buzzing along a winding country road. The thrill of holding a steering wheel and having the freedom to point it in whatever direction you like and going there!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

E-Mobility in Motion

E-Mobility in Motion
Freedom Won  is a South African company specialising in renewable energy solutions. They provide solar and battery packages to power your home as well as offering electric vehicle conversions.

In March I wrote about how Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana are using converted electric powered Land Rovers for game viewing. These conversions were done by Freedom Won.

Freedom Won's prototype electric conversion vehicle is a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Since Friday, 9 December 2011 @ 20h05, Team-Freedom Won© has been driving our prototype electric car conversion to work, shops, restaurants, friends and family! We are thrilled to report that after almost four years all systems are performing according to our high standards for reliability, safety and operability.
The vehicle selected for our first electric conversion was a Jeep Grand Cherokee with uprated suspension, which easily handles the 200kg net weight increase of the conversion - enter Freedom1©. Our electric conversion is a five seater SUV with a motor capable of delivering 80kW continuously, with 600Nm of torque available, a practical 170km range between charges and is comfortable with a 120km/h highway driving.
The motor is a robust air cooled six pole three phase magnet motor, designed for heavy duty applications and ultimate efficiency. It is driven by a sophisticated microprocessor controlled variable speed inverter drive, capable of efficiently providing strong but smooth torque delivery through the motor speed range. The system includes regenerative braking for maximum efficiency and range.
The Freedom1 drive design consists of the motor connected directly to the transfer case via a short drive shaft, driving the front (optional) and rear wheels through the original axle differentials. The 600V DC battery pack design is made up from a number of large format high performance lithium ion cells, produced by one of the world's leading lithium cell manufacturers.
The vehicle is fitted with an on-board charger that connects at home or office to a simple custom installed high power charging supply, capable of charging a fully discharged battery pack within 6 hours. For everywhere else the vehicle can also be charged in 6-8 hours using an ordinary 16A 230V household socket.
EVs (electric vehicles) require almost zero maintenance andFreedom1©'s operating costs amount to a fraction of its ICE (internal combustion engine) counterparts.
The full specs of the Freedom 1 are on their web page. The web page also notes that the cost per km for the Freedom 1 is 12c. That is probably 10% of the cost of fuel for a similar ICE (Internal combustion engine) vehicle and about the sixth of the cost of a small fuel efficient petrol or diesel car. That's not accounting for the cost of servicing and maintaining an ICE vehicle.

Click here to take a look at details of Freedom Won's other electric vehicle conversions and even request a quote to convert your own vehicle to electric power.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Plug-in Hybrid's (PHEV's) in South Africa

Plug-in Hybrid's combine an electric motor and battery with either a petrol or diesel internal combustion engine (ICE). As the name suggests, and what differentiates them from conventional hybrids, is that they have a plug to charge the battery that powers the electric motor. Typically a PHEV vehicle will be charged overnight (or like an all electric vehicle it can be charged at a charging point) and when turned on first uses the electric motor for propulsion, when the battery runs out of charge the car will automatically switch to the internal combustion engine. In some instances, depending on the model, both power sources may be used at the same time.

Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid
The electric range of PHEV's range from about 20km to, in the case of the Chevy Volt, over 80km. If  your usual daily mileage is less than the range of the battery in your PHEV then you might find you rarely use the ICE component in day to day driving and just use the car as a pure electric vehicle. However if you're planning a longer journey, you do have the longer range of an ICE motor and the easy and quick availability of petrol or diesel to power it. Unlike a pure battery electric vehicle you don't need to try and find a charging point and wait for the batteries to charge.

The downside of having the ICE motor in a Hybrid is like conventional gas powered cars, it needs regular servicing and fluid/filter changes. With battery electric vehicles there is relatively little maintenance required and usually extends to rotating the wheels and topping up the windscreen washer fluid. Obviously a PHEV is still better than an ICE vehicle, especially if you mainly use the electric motor, because you'll be saving on fuel costs.

Though I'd like to see South African roads full of fully electric vehicles, it's an unavoidable fact that as yet there are few charging points in the country and none out of the major metropolitan centres. Add to that, the maximum range of electric vehicles currently on sale in the country is 160km (BMW i3) and it's obvious that with our long inter-city distances, anything other than urban travel in an electric vehicle is sadly not possible in South Africa as yet.

Plug-in Hybrids could be the way to introduce the benefits of electromobility to South Africans without the worry of running out of battery power and having to find somewhere to charge. At the moment there are very few PHEV's available in South Africa and they're all a bit pricey. Here's a list of the ones I'm aware of and the battery range of each one. I've left out the Mercedes S500 e and BMW i8 as they use gasoline combined with electric and don't appear to exclusively use battery power for any set distance.
  • Mercedes Benz C350 e R804,900
    30km all electric range
  • BMW X5 xDrive40eR1.188.600
    22km all electric range
  • BMW 740eR1,496,500
    22km all electric range
There is also the BMW i3 REX which isn't a true PHEV, it has a small motor that charges the batteries to give it extended range. The motor doesn't however directly drive the wheels.

There are several more affordable PHEV's available in other markets. Unfortunately none of them are available locally at the moment. Prices are just an approximate conversion from dollars or pounds.
  • Toyota Prius PrimeR356,692
    40km all electric range
  • Chevrolet VoltR448,761
    84km all electric range
  • Hyundai Ioniq Plug-inPrice n/a
    43km all electric range
  • Chrysler Pacifica HybridR552,742
    52km all electric range
I can't really understand why these manufacturers with a presence in South Africa don't bring their plug-in hybrid vehicles into the country. Prices are quite comparable to equivalent ICE vehicles and there is no pressure or obligation on the manufacturers part to provide a charging network. Indeed a PHEV still has the benefits of an ICE to a motor dealer. Like an ICE it still will require regular after sales servicing and maintenance. There really isn't any reason why these vehicles shouldn't be available to South African consumers.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What current electric cars should come to South Africa?

As I've mentioned many times before on this blog there are at present on two fully electric cars on sale in South Africa. The Nissan Leaf and BMW i3. Other car manufacturers with a significant presence in the country also produce electric vehicles but choose not to sell them in SA. I thought I'd make a list of electric vehicles that could be available in the country if the local distributors and manufacturers chose to import them or assemble them here.
  1. Chevy Bolt
    Released late in 2016 the Bolt is the first non-Tesla electric car to have a range of over 200 miles on a single charge. At $37,500 (R518,966) it's also substantially cheaper than the base Model S70 which at the moment is Tesla's entry model at R71,200 (R985,343). The Bolt has a 60kWh battery and a maximum range of 238 miles (383km). More than enough to drive from Durban to Johannesburg with only one charging stop. Unfortunately though there are no plans at the present to bring the Chevy Bolt to South Africa
  2. Hyundai Ioniq
    The Ioniq comes in three guises, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric. Of course we are interested in the latter which with a 28kWh battery can achieve 200km on a single charge. This makes the Ioniq one of the most efficient electric cars around. The price of the Ioniq is also very competitive at £24,995 (R431,475).

  3.  Kia Soul EV
    The Kia Soul EV is the electric version of Kia's crossover vehicle. It has a 27kWh battery which is good for 150km on a single charge. The price in the UK is £29,995 (R504,699).

  4.  Smart Fortwo Electric Drive
    I can't think of a car that looks more like it should be an electric car than the Smart Fortwo. This small city car has a 17.6kWH battery that will get you 160km before you need to recharge. That's further than many bigger EV's on the market right now. It's also one of the more affordable EV's at this time. In the US it's selling for $25,750 (R338,545)
  5. Volkswagen e-Golf
    The electric version of the perennially popular VW Golf.  The e-Golf utilizes a 134-hp 100-kWh electric motor powered by a 35.8-kWh lithium-ion battery. The EPA estimates 200km of range on a single charge. Prices start in the UK at £31,680 (R532,933)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Love Affair with Land Rover - Londolozi TV

A Love Affair with Land Rover - Londolozi TV  
Londolozi Game Reserve converted one of their game viewing Land Rovers to electric and developed it to the point where it got the attention of Land Rover themselves who then built their own electric Land Rover concept vehicle which they then developed further at Londolozi.

Here is the story of the electric Land Rover from the Londolozi web site. The video of how they developed the vehicle is below.
Londolozi Game Reserve is announcing the first ever Zero Emissions Safari Vehicle…Out of Africa!
Renowned for its pioneering work in conservation development and the creation of the Londolozi Conservation and People Development model, Londolozi now introduces to the Safari industry a vehicle which moves guests silently through the wilderness with a lower carbon footprint than the conventional 4×4.
The Zero Emissions Safari Vehicle is a project that Londolozi has been pioneering for the last 18 months. Starting with 6 months of planning and testing, a test vehicle was imported to complete phase one of the project.
Phase two involved converting an existing Londolozi Land Rover into a prototype electric vehicle with more environmentally friendly batteries. This is currently where Londolozi is at present. We have a fully functional prototype electric Land Rover that is charged by connecting it to a wall plug socket.
The third phase of the project is about further progression towards lighter, longer lasting, eco friendly batteries. This step of the project is also about moving away from the earth’s resources and moving towards solar energy. We are exploring the possibilities of putting up solar panels on the roof of the garages to charge the electric vehicle. This is part of the long term goal of lowering Londolozi’s carbon footprint without affecting the current luxury safari experience.
We are also fortunate to be testing the first Electric Land Rover produced by Land Rover UK and Barkers Performance Products.
Londolozi prides itself on being a constant innovator in the safari industry – always wishing to provide our guests with a fresh experience filled with a warm spirit of hospitality and a deeper purpose to life. You are invited to join us as one of the first safari adventurers to enter the African wilderness in silent observation, enabling a greater connection with sound and silence.
Chobe game reserve in Botswana are also using electric Land Rovers for game viewing. Their vehicles have been converted to electric, I believe without any official involvement from Land Rover.

Unfortunately I can't find any indication that the electric Land Rover is even close to full production. Hopefully this will change soon. I wrote here of the huge benefits of electric game viewing vehicles.

Morocco Reveals the World’s First Electric Pickup Truck

Morocco Reveals the World’s First Electric Pickup Truck
Story on Morocco World News I found from late last year.
National Transportation and Logistic Company (SNTL) in Morocco revealed on Tuesday the world’s latest and newest innovation of the first electric pickup truck ever made. The innovation, which is 100% electric, is also a 100% of Moroccan origin in terms of concept and assembly.

This Moroccan creation can carry up to an 800kg load and has a range of 180-200km and a top speed of 129kmh. It takes seven hours to fully charge using a 220v wall socket or one hour using a supercharger.

The article also talks about a modular design which allows upgrades of a particular component while leaving the rest of the vehicle unchanged. It doesn't mention which components though. Maybe their is provision for the battery to be upgraded at a later stage or perhaps you'll be able to convert from a bakkie to a panel van? The article also mentions that the vehicle has temperature control to keep goods at a constant temperature, this makes me think that a refrigerated compartment instead of the load bed might be one option they'll make available.

The article says initially the truck will initially be available in Europe. Hopefully they'll also look at making it available on their own continent. Small pick-up trucks are ubiquitous in Africa and an electric one with it's low fuel and maintenance costs will surely be a success on the continent.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hydrogen-powered cars to flood the streets by 2020 [Hi-Tech]

Hydrogen-powered cars to flood the streets by 2020 [Hi-Tech]
An article full of misinformation from Africa News
Soon, driving cars will not be the same again as car manufacturers are developing hydrogen-powered vehicles to flood the streets by 2020.
So far the evidence suggests this will not be the case. As of 2016 there were only 23 hydrogen filling stations in the US for fuel cell vehicles, mostly in California as opposed to 15,774 electric charging stations. Of course this doesn't include home charging units or indeed every plug socket that can also be used to charge an electric vehicle.
Big name car manufacturers like Honda, Toyota and Hyundai among others, are investing in hydrogen-powered vehicles because they are more environmentally friendly compared to the electric-powered vehicles.
Actually only Honda, Toyota and Hyundai are producing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles at present. Indeed Mercedes Benz are decreasing their investment in fuel cell technology in favour of fully electric vehicles. They are not more environmentally friendly than electric cars, in fact they use roughly 2.4 times more energy than a fully electric vehicle.
They take just three minutes to refuel, making them cheaper; and they can go up-to 350 miles at a top speed of 186 miles-per-hour. 
The longest range fuel cell vehicle is the Toyota Mirai which has a range of 312 miles. Of course with only 23 hydrogen filling stations in the US and 20 of them in California, the chances of driving from California to anywhere else are about nil. The top speed of the Mirai is also only 108mph.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Tesla Model 3 Caught Completely Undisguised, Showing Interior

Tesla Model 3 Caught Completely Undisguised, Showing Interior
Spy shots from of the forthcoming Tesla Model 3, which will be coming to South Africa sometime after the middle of 2018. Click here to see all the images.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tesla boss promises more of the same thing

Tesla boss promises more of the same thing
Article from Fudzilla analyzing the recent tweets from Tesla boss Elon Musk regarding the upcoming Model 3. Among the countries due to get the most affordable Tesla is South Africa. The Model 3 will reportedly have at least a 335km battery range and the base model will cost about $35,000 (just under R500,000).

Of interest to South Africans were the tweets regarding the right hand drive version of the Model 3.
Two of Musk’s more notable details when discussing Model 3 characteristics on Twitter were the implementation of a right-hand drive model for British, South African, Indian, East Asian, Australian and Japanese customers, and the possibility of Performance models after the initial release. When the first Model S vehicles were released just over four years ago, they all featured rear-wheel drive and standard left-hand drive. The right-hand option was released two years later in 2014, though Tesla says the wait will only be until next summer for the Model 3.
Next summer will presumably be Summer 2018 (northern hemisphere edition) as it will only be July 2017 at the earliest before the left hand drive variant of the Model 3 starts populating the roads of North America. Sometime from June next year then, one can presume that the right hand drive Model 3's will appear in the appropriate markets. I'd guess they will be released in the territories where Tesla is already established first before they release to the new markets such as South Africa and India, so it could well be 2019 or 2020 before we see the Model 3 in South Africa.