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Toyota RAV4 EV
Not as exciting a performer as the tzero or EV1, but solid and dependable, the RAV4 EV will be available to California consumers in the Spring.

California's Solarwarrior:EV Veteran Speaks Out

Ken Adelman shares his wealth of real-world experience with 4 production EVs.

By Josh Landess

EVW: I'm looking at the e-mail that you sent me giving your precise measured kilowatt-hours per mile for your RAV4. And I just wanted to go over that for a second.

First of all, good to you: it's nice to have these exact numbers. I'm looking at .389 kilowatt hours per mile for the RAV4 averaged over approximately one month of your normal driving mix. From what you wrote, I calculate that the RAV4 effectively gets about 85.9 miles per gallon equivalent (assuming approximately 113,500 BTU per gallon gasoline, a bit higher perhaps than what is often found at the pump). I'm assuming that you can take those numbers down a little by talking about the difference between measured at the charger or measured at the generation plant, which happens to be in your backyard in this case, or nearby.

KA: Yeah but even so, what's that difference, five per cent?

EVW: Sure, just trying to be meticulous because there will be critics.

KA: Well, is your calculation based on the amount of fuel consumed or on the cost to the consumer? Cause if someone on the street asks me what kind of mileage my car gets, I usually try to convert that into miles a gallon based on the dollars that come out of their wallet. And say that the cost equivalent of getting so many miles a gallon.

EVW: Do you have a figure for approximately how many dollars per week come out of your pocket to power your car?

KA: Zero. (general laughter) The calculation I've done for everyone else is that if you charge between midnight and 7am on an E-9A rate, when you're paying four to five cents a kilowatt hour, the RAV4 goes a hundred miles on a $1.80 of electricity. I made this calculation when gas was about a $1.80 a gallon, but it is a little lower now. So you could say it gets a hundred miles to a gallon, cost equivalent.

KA: I have more data since that email went out, on the (borrowed) Gen1 EV1 car.

EVW: That's with the Panasonic Lead-Acids or the Delco?

KA: Panasonic.

EVW: Okay.

KA: .269 kWh per mile.

EVW: So it's, let's see, .269, about 10 per cent worse mileage than the original number that you sent me but still over a hundred miles a gallon equivalent it looks like. (about 123.7)

KA: Yeah, the old EV1 number was one data point really. I was driving it home and it was all freeway and now I've got a pretty good mix in there. The RAV4 was about 800 miles of data, the EV1 number I just gave you was 300. I didn't have the car for long enough.

EVW: Okay so sort of like three tanks of gas or so, as it were.

KA: Yeah. I stopped the data gathering on the RAV4 cause I wanted to gather something else and I only have one meter. And I stopped the data gathering on the EV1 because I had to give the borrowed car back.

I've got some measurements on the Gen2 with NiMH batteries -- .543kwh/mile. This is worse than the RAV4! I think the extra power must be going into the extended equalizations of the battery and the air conditioning cooling the battery during charging.

(I later asked Mr. Adelman about this. He seemed fairly confident of his numbers, but they are preliminary and the explanation for them was somewhat complex.

First, he made clear that he intends to gather and chart more data from his Gen 2 EV1's going forward. Interested readers may visit his site for updates. Apparently understanding the reasons for mileage per unit energy on a Gen2 EV1 is slightly complicated.

To summarize a couple of the points he gave me:

The manufacturer (GM) apparently recommends that a couple of times per week one do "forced" or "equalized" charging, to go beyond the usual 90% charge and make sure that any weak parts of the pack are brought up to charge fully. This helps extend the life of the NiMH pack, and helps achieve good range, but is relatively energy-inefficient.

If one follows this advice, then a lot of energy is used in charging the vehicle. If one does not follow this advice, then battery pack life is shortened and optimal range is not carried, but one does not use so much energy out of the wall. Some understanding of the rationale for this is in the fact that the battery pack is somewhat expensive and a priority is placed not on efficient overall energy consumption but on range, which is affected by energy efficiency of onboard energy, but not of energy before it gets onboard. Energy efficiency of charging is not as prioritized, apparently, because it does not directly relate to range.

Also, when we discussed regen braking (below), he introduced the issue of the strengths and weaknesses of the NiMH (Gen 2 EV1's, RAV4) vs. the Lead-Acid batteries (tzero) in charging and discharging power quickly. The Lead-Acids are generally thought to be somewhat better or more energy-efficient at doing this, and so are thought to be somewhat more efficient at it for such purposes as regen braking. But we did not have time or data or knowledge to discuss this at great length or to arrive at firm conclusions.)

Comparing Four EVs:

EVW: Do you have any pros or cons you want to give us about the cars that you've driven? For example what's it actually like to own or lease a RAV4?

KA: The RAV4, one might say, is as dull as the gasoline car. It's just a practical car. I'm in many ways a sports car enthusiast. It doesn't grab my heart like getting into a sports car does. But when needing an electric car that's seating more than two people, the RAV4 was just a perfect choice. The configuration of the rear seats folding into a cargo area has saved us from having to borrow cars and trailers to transport things. It's just an extremely practical car. I don't know much else to say about it.

EVW: What about the AC Propulsion car, any pros and cons to offer about it?

KA: The big pro of their charging scheme is that you can literally charge the car off any type of power you can get to it. When we first got the car, our thought was to take advantage of the fast charging. At 18 kW we could charge the tzero completely in one hour.

(Apparently, Mr. Adelman later clarified, charging on other cars is often done at only a rate of around 6 kW.)

We went to the trouble to get the special connector that we needed to do this, but we've never used it. Matter of fact, at home, I rarely even charge it on 220 volts. When I get home from a drive, I'm typically putting the car away for the night and I don't want to be bothered with bringing the 220V cord over to it; I usually just plug it into a 110V outlet. When I'm on the road and need a faster charge, I can use 220V. There are a lot of times when nothing is available except an ordinary 110V outlet, and being able to use that is a big plus.

EVW: What is the range on that, if the batteries were good?

KA: If the batteries were good about 95 and we're seeing about 85. Now the big positive of it is it's a raw sports car. I like to think of it as the Lotus 7 of electric vehicles. There's nothing extra, very rare or very minimal creature comforts. And it's even a hard car to climb into. And it's not the kind of thing you hop into to go to get a bottle of catsup at the grocery store.

I think of the EV1 as the Miata of electric cars. And if I can add a footnote here, I've owned a Miata before. It's a sports car at heart but it's also a practical car. It's air-conditioned. It's a comfortable car to sit in. The negatives of the EV1 (we have nickel metal hydride packs) are the charging scheme, in that I can't use the convenience charger with them. So I can only charge it on 220. And it's got that blasted air conditioning that cools the batteries as they charge. The car drips water and adds substantially to the energy use.

EVW: So you just keep that off?

KA: You don't get a choice; the computer manages it for you. The battery management software in the EV1 Generation 2 NiMH is a big negative. The Generation 1 cars were great because you could charge them off 110V and they were much more energy efficient. I think the best of the EV1s are those with the Panasonic Lead Acid batteries.

What the NiMH car needs is a way of charging slowly without running the air conditioning. The car could instead control the battery temperature by regulating the charge rate. This might permit the use of the 110V convenience charger, but would also drastically reduce the energy use of the car when charging speed wasn't an issue.

EVW: So you really had a good opportunity to compare and contrast.

KA: Yeah and we also had a Delco Gen1 back years ago.

EVW: Well, how does it stack up? I mean any precise aspects of the pros and cons of nickel metal hydride versus the Panasonic?

KA: The pro is the range. And I haven't found that it's range I need. The Panasonic in this car I'm seeing a range just shy of a hundred although I've heard people do numbers well in excess of a hundred, like 110, 120. I'm not quite sure if this particular car has a problem or weak pack. I'm surprised I wasn't able to get up there. In the Gen2 with nickel metal, I have driven one of my cars 155 miles and put it away with it saying it had seven left. More typically it ranges around 120, 130.

So the difference between the two is not enormous. If it happens to be the last ten miles that you need to get home then it matters. And what's relevant is that from where I live, there are very few trips I make to the Silicon Valley but most that I do end up being around 120 miles.

EVW: So you're taking the nickel metal hydride at that point?

KA: Yes. I'm taking the nickel metal high hydride and I'm running it all the way down.

EVW: Any big differences in recharge times and/or 0-60 acceleration?

KA: I've not measured and haven't been able to feel the difference in acceleration. I've heard that the lead acid is a little better but it's not something I've noticed. The recharge time on the Panasonics is lower for two reasons. One is that it holds less power. The other is that it doesn't have the air conditioner to run, absorbing the power going in as it recharges the battery. The nickel metal has the air conditioner.

The lead acid batteries... I seem to recall some rough numbers. I think the lead acid batteries recover like seventy per cent to two-thirds of the energy put into them. And I think the nickels are closer to half. I seem to recall somewhere there being an almost two-thirds difference in energy efficiency in the cars, from one car to the other.

EVW: I'm sorry. I'm getting confused.

KA: Well the seventy percent is from power plug to use.

EVW: Okay so the rest should go away as waste heat or something?

KA: Presumably that. I'm not a chemistry expert on batteries but I suspect some it's also electrolyzing the water. But I guess in these sealed batteries that would effectively become waste heat.

EV1 owners satisfied with the vehicle

EVW: I haven't heard acceleration complaints from any of these EV owners, precisely, maybe Ford Ranger owners, I'm not sure. I have very seldom run into any EV1 owner that was actually really unhappy with their vehicle.

KA: Until they lost it...

EVW: ....until they lost it. I don't want to get on GM's case in this discussion but do you think they'll ever consider coming out with another EV along these lines? Because I know that most of the people that have leased it have been happy with it, you know?

KA: Well I think that all depends on the outcome of their lawsuit against the ARB. If they're forced build zero emission vehicles, I think the EV1 is the best car they have.

EVW: I'm skeptical of their being able to reproduce a lot of the infrastructure they had in place to build that car. But it's a pity because, like I said, everybody seems happy with it.

KA: Well you know I'm skeptical, yes, but to make a comment about the auto industry in general and not General Motors: You're talking about an industry that in just a time period measured in months converted from building cars to building airplanes and tanks during World War II.

The "can't-do" attitude has only to do with electrical vehicles. If the law holds and indeed in 2003 they are required to build zero emission vehicles, the EV1 is really their only option. I don't see them coming out with anything else. And if they don't build it they'll subject themselves to shareholder lawsuit.

EVW: You're somewhat involved in the ARB lawsuits in some way?

KA: I am now a Party as an Intervener.

(Note: Since the interview took place, the status of the lawsuit has chnaged. GM has recently dismissed their remaining complaint and re-filed their lawuit in both Federal and State Courts in Fresno, with Chryslter as coplaintiff.)

EVW: Last we talked, we were wondering aloud to each other, trying to figure out why GM seems to have built this wonderful car but doesn't seem to want to pursue it much further. And I wondered it you had any further thoughts on that? I can't figure it out.

KA: I can't figure it out either. There's been a change of management in the company since they built the car. They went through a period of a financial crisis that caused them to belt-tighten in general, and I can see the EV1 program was one of the things that got belt-tightened. The sad thing about it is that in 1997 when they built the car, the car that they were trying to build was a Panasonic Gen1 and ended up with the Delco Gen1 that just did not have the promised range. It had a range of 60-65; that's about what we were seeing on ours. The car met some needs. It didn't meet all the needs we had for a car.

They introduced this car at a point when the market wasn't ready for it. And the car wasn't really ready for the market. I think the electric vehicle curve is an exponential one and they stuck it out through the very flat part of this curve. And I give them credit for that. And just when the car started taking off then they bagged it, and that was the really sad thing.

If they had stuck it out over the past two years and continued to manufacture these cars they could have three or four thousand of them on the road now. They'd have all the quirks worked out. And I think they'd be in a position where, with the lead acid powered car, that it would have been profitable.

EVW: Not only that but they'd have unbelievably happy customers with a lot of cache because when people see it I know they tend to point at it and want to buy one. Some people do, I should say.

KA: Well now that we have four cars and have an extra one we can loan out to people and because we have two EV1's, it's usually an EV1 that goes out. And what I'll do is set up a charger at someone's house and give them the car for a week. And at the end of the week I do the cruelest thing in the world. I give them a phone call and say I'm going to pick it up and take it to the next guy.

EVW: So it has been in your experience that they're really happy with it when you do this loan-project?

KA: I have not had anyone I've loaned the car to for a week that did not want the car. And many have likened me to a heroin dealer who gives them the first dose and then won't sell them more.

The Costs of Making An EV1?

EVW: I know GM has talked about the very extreme cost of making these cars. Neither one of us is an industry expert but with mass production couldn't a lot of the cost of these components come down?

KA: Well I'm a computer person so computers is where my cost-expertise lies and, yeah, when you produce more, costs come down. But also as technology improves costs come down, and the two go hand in hand. Obviously, the Generation 1 car was a first revision of a production customer-driven car. There was enormous room for improvement and GM has admitted that. Robert Stempel, the former Chairman of GM, said that by 2001 the cost of the electric vehicle drive train used in the EV1 would cost no more than a gasoline engine. If we can't believe the chairman of GM saying something like that, who are we to believe?

EVW: Yeah it's so easy to get on their case, they're one of the big companies. But I heard one of their officers speak recently. And he seemed to present a certain amount of resentment that they had actually gone out there and built this car a little before other people were doing it and they sort of felt left out, out their on their own.

KA: And they stuck it out through that period.

EVW: So maybe you're right about that curve thing.

KA: Yeah and just when it was ready to take off. See, the thing about the car is they've done no marketing on it. Period. People who heard about the car went to the dealer, stuck out the screening process, were able to get one. So effectively the only marketing they had on this one is word of mouth. And that's the situation where everybody has a car has contact with people. Friends, people on the street, and that's their marketing, that curve that's produced by that is naturally exponential.

EVW: Well, trying to see their point of view a little bit, you and I and a lot of the readers of EV World are extremely enthusiastic about these types of vehicles. Do you think we could be exaggerating the numbers of people that would, in the real world, be interested in leasing one of these.... or not?

KA: The biggest objection that I've heard that people, when it comes down to leasing them, is one of cost.

EVW: So if the manufacturing economies-of-scale could be realized as they are with other cars then that objection might be mitigated.

KA: I think that for example my nickel metal hydride Gen2 cars, the lease payment is $571 a month. There's little market for them at that price. But for the Gen1 lease refurbs that are coming out, I think it's $230 a month after the subsidies? Remember now the Lowenthal subsidy is here. It wasn't there on the early lease.

EVW: How much for these re-leases?

KA: I think it's a little over two hundred a month.

EVW: Do you think any are still available right now in California, cause I certainly now people who might be interested.

KA: The cars are out there. General Motors announced that they're not releasing them, but I know people who've gotten them. I'm not sure what their criteria is.

EVW: That's a pity (that they've announced that they're not releasing them).

KA: Yeah. At two, three hundred a month I think there's an enormous market for these cars. But I'm not convinced that Joe consumer, your average public, is willing to pay more for an electric car than a gas car. He's willing to get less. He doesn't need a three hundred-mile range.

EVW: I wonder if they could build a modified version of it as a taxi in New York because of all the stop and go. It might be suitable for inter-city type driving like that.

KA: I think the problem with an application of a Taxicab, or for example a bus, is one of duty cycle. For every hour the car's on the road, it needs to spend one on the charger. So if you have a big fleet of vehicles, you know, delivery vans or whatever, unless the charge meets a whole day's usage, you have a 50% duty cycle. 50% minus the consumption of the first charge, cause your charge at night is free. I think that's a problem for fleets that are seeing utilizations closer to 90%. If you have a taxicab you don't want that cab ever to be doing anything but driving.

EVW: Yeah those are driving all the time.

KA: But for your average private individual, if you're spending more than 50% of your time in your car then I think you need to get a life and a gasoline car, cause an electric car's not going to meet your needs.

CONTINUED NEXT WEEK...

Times Article Viewed: 9971
Published: 25-Jan-2002

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