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18 comments

The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

Posted March 04, 2011 10:46 AM by Steve Melito

For the third consecutive month, sales of the Chevy Volt outpaced those of the Nissan Leaf. In February, Chevrolet delivered 281 range-extended electric cars, bringing the American carmaker's 2011 total to 602. For its part, Nissan delivered just 67 Leaf plug-ins in February. That's 20 less than in January, but 58 more than in December. If this news seems mixed, consider the bigger pictures for the Japanese carmaker. On U.S. roadways, Volts outnumber Leafs by more than 5 to 1.

Nissan admits that Leaf deliveries are behind schedule and blames the delay on a rigorous adherence to quality. Although some auto industry observers still expected a pile of Leaf deliveries this winter, there probably won't be many signs of life until spring. That's disappointing news for potential electric vehicle (EV) buyers who have been left out in the cold since before Christmas. San Francisco saw the first 2011 Nissan Leaf delivery back on December 12, and New Jersey claimed America's first 2011 Chevrolet Volt just three days later.

Is three months' worth of delivery data enough to draw any conclusions about the capabilities of Chevrolet and Nissan? Will the Chevy Volt continue to shock the Nissan Leaf in America's electric car wars?

Source: The Car Connection

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#1

Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/04/2011 2:10 PM

Let's celebrate! Oh, no wait...

Actually, that is pathetic. 928 Volts sold to date. That is it and after heavy subsidizing.

GM has sunk a lot into this car in an effort to not only get on the cutting edge, but to silence critics' cries about the way GM heartlessly killed the EV1.

The same thing that killed the EV1 may kill the Volt; apathy. That is a shame.

GM sold only 281 Volts in February out of a total sales of 207,028 for that same month, but let's spin it that the Volt triumphs over the Leaf.

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#6
In reply to #1

Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/05/2011 11:18 AM

GA - Sounds something like the Edsel Syndrome with politically correct spin. If this was a good technical and economic solution, they would be flying off the show room floors. It is always foolish to ignore true market demand and force a product to push a desired result. It is a disgrace to do it with taxpayer funding.

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#7
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Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/05/2011 2:02 PM

yeah that was my initial thought. Let's see them do that without subsidizing.

The fact is, most people don't want this crap!

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#2

Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/04/2011 2:53 PM

Speaking of 'green' cars, I thought this was an interesting look at the issue:

http://gas2.org/2011/02/25/porsche-panamera-emits-less-co2-per-horsepower-then-the-prius/

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#3
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Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/04/2011 11:06 PM

It cutesy, but completely meaningless and misleading in many ways.

1. Quoted CO2 emissions are based on test cycles which have low hp requirements. The Prius never uses even its 98 hp in these cycles, and even the heavier, bloated Porsche also never uses 98 hp in these cycles (let alone 333). The Porsche puts out almost twice the CO2 per kilometer, because it is heavier, less streamlined and its engine is less efficient -- it consumes more fuel per horsepower-hour.

2. The combining of electric hp and engine hp makes the CO2 per hp particularly bizarre. The total hp is a peak figure that has nothing at all to do with the actual operation of the car during which it emits the quoted CO2. Putting a 200 hp electric motor in the Porsche would make it even less efficient (due to the extra weight) but would "improve" the CO2 per hp number.

3. The physics of CO2 per hp is nonsensical. CO2 is an indirect measure of energy consumed (each gallon of gas produces 19 lb of CO2). Hp is a measure of power. For there to be any sense in this, they would have to compare "grams CO2 per hp-hour" or "grams-per-minute per hp" or something in which units of energy are compared with units of energy. (CO2 has nothing to do with an engine being "cleaner" in the conventional -- NOx, CO, HC, emissions sense. When the same fuel is burned, CO2 just becomes an analogue for energy consumption.)

4. This misuse of math suggests that the Porsche is more efficient in some way, and strongly suggests to the unaware reader that the Porsche emits less than 333/98 times as much CO2 as the Prius. This is wrong. The Prius emits less CO2 per hp-hour than the Porsche. In fuel efficiency terms, this figure is expressed as BSFC (brake specific fuel consumption) and this figure for the Prius is better than that for the Porsche. When each engine is producing 60 hp, the Prius advantage becomes even more pronounced, because at that hp the Prius is still highly efficient, and the Porsche is far below its efficiency peak (which is never seen in ordinary driving).

At least they used "than" correctly in the actual article, unlike the "then" in the URL.

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#4

Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/05/2011 6:59 AM

No wonder the volume of sales of electrical vehicles (passenger cars) are ridiculous: the price is very high although subsidized, and the savings in terms of contamination and money, very controversial.

The only reasonable electrical vehicle is a extended range plug in at home urban vehicle, of low cost, as the one I am designing for an industrial group. It is only a transition to other types of energy for vehicle traction.

The chemical accumulators of electricity are improving a lot, but not enough to be the equivalent of the fuel tank of a car, in terms of range (energy accumulation capability), fiability, weight and price, although the price of the electrical energy is lower than the petrol and gas oil ones, for the time being.

I personally think the chemical electrical accumulators will never reach such a development. Therefore, let us continue improving the efficiency of the Internal Combustion Engines, to use the liquid fuels for the automotive vehicles.

At the same time, let us increase the nuclear production of electricity, to decrease the CO2 contamination produced by the coal and oil combustion plants, and let us increase the production of H2 to combine it with the CO2 to produce liquid fuels.

The sequestering procedures of the CO2, currently in use and investigation, are very problematic and illusory, and subsidized.

The current trend of subsidizing the impossible should be stopped, if we wish to survive.

Arturo Pérez Rodríguez

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#5

Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/05/2011 9:18 AM

Trust me a "shock" is coming. When the batteries give out after 4-5 years of real world driving and they go back to the dealer for a new battery, they'll be shocked. A $10,000 battery has that effect.

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#8
In reply to #5

Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/05/2011 4:03 PM

Your point is well taken, although in practice the manufacturers have side-stepped the issue, with 8 year, 100,000 mile battery warranties and attractive leases. I talked with a friend who is by no means an electric vehicle guy about a Volt that I'd perused, and whose owner has it on $350 lease. The lease means the user gives the car back before battery replacement becomes an issue. While I think it is crazy to pay $350 a month for a car, many people pay that and more. This guy thought that the Volt would be a good bet for him, for pragmatic reasons... and to stop using petroleum, for mainly security reasons.

But even with these incentives, and trendiness factors, and attractive leases, etc,... still sales are abysmal. I did not expect sales to be up to projections, but when you consider how huge the market is, and how "trendy" many people want to be, the low sales numbers are surprising. In the auto market, 5000 units a month is not even enough to be considered a niche. I remember when Saturn got down to 160,000 units per year on the Ion; they decided it was time for a replacement.

The LEAF is a very nice car that drives very well. (To me its ugly, but some people seem to like its looks). Either me or my wife could use one for everyday driving, and never come close to exceeding its range -- and like most people, we have more than one car (one of which we use as our "trip" car, even though any of our three cars works fine on trips). I don't worry about the batteries (partly because I have some experience with them and feel that the cycle life reported by the battery manufacturers is about right). But still, I am not buying a LEAF, even though in my state it costs $21,000 after rebates. That is substantially below the average new car transaction price.

There has been so much greenwashing that I wonder if all the "green" advertising has backfired. Certainly Nissan's 357 MPGe early claim has backfired, making them seem like snake oil salesmen.

Maybe if they started with something like a Mazda Miata... something made to be fun to drive... a mini Tesla. Such a car would cost less than the LEAF to produce, because the overall weight is lower and the battery pack could be a bit smaller. (Maybe people are asking, "Why have a five-passenger commuter car?) Even without rebates, it could be close to Miata cost.

Maybe supply really is low, as Nissan claims. A few more months will tell. They cannot be that stunningly bad at getting a product out, and even this early in the game, is strains credulity that they can't produce them -- they are not new to the car biz, and they are not new to electric vehicles.

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#9
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Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/05/2011 5:24 PM

I'm not so sure. I do believe the electric car will supplant the internal combustion engine. I also think it will do it sooner rather than later. I just don't think lithium ion will last the test of time. Battery technology is a favorite topic of mine and I also invest in the field through stocks. The current type of batteries in these EV cars is very nice but are really weak contenders. Leaf claims around 100 mile range. Studies show in the real world they get around 70. So if you like the heater on cold rides or the A/C on hot days or you climb a hill or two the range is really limited. Many things work against battery life. Time, cycle life, DOD and abuse destroy batteries. Most lithium ion batteries will lose 20% or more of their capacity long before they reach 2000 cycles. So if you used the car to drive 30+ miles to work (ran a few errands, went out to lunch, etc), charged it there, then drove home you'd have two charges. In a year that would be 500 charges. Within 2 years your range is diminishing.

I envision people returning to the dealer in 3 or 4 years and complaining that the 100 mile range they were sold on is only good for 50 miles in the real world. Sure Nissan might say leave the car a couple of days and we'll prorate the battery or even replace it for free. I don't think these cars are ready for prime time for the average commuter.

A company called A123 has a great battery with some nanotech science that really works. Their batteries have much better cycle life. I expect to see their batteries showing up in Detroit cars soon. But even that technology will get blown away if the research being done on air/metal batteries pans out. Their kg/kw (power to weight) ratio is fantastic. Ranges are expected to be 400-500 miles on a single charge. These are the batteries I expect to see in the future. They too have cycle lives of 2500+ charges.

I think a realistic EV is coming, we just don't have it yet. Did I mention it will have ultra capacitors for braking that return energy for accelerating?

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/08/2011 11:59 AM

So if you used the car to drive 30+ miles to work (ran a few errands, went out to lunch, etc), charged it there, then drove home you'd have two charges. In a year that would be 500 charges. Within 2 years your range is diminishing.

In fact, 2 small charges are much better than 1 larger charge. (In other words, the two small charges count less against cycle life than the one charge.) For Thundersky batteries, for example, life is 3000 80% discharges, but 5000 70% discharges. So with smaller charges you get 3500 Ah out of a 1 Ah battery, but with larger charges you get 2400 Ah.

Did I mention it will have ultra capacitors for braking that return energy for accelerating?

I doubt that supercaps will be used in production EVs, because of complexity and cost issues. Regen with batteries is no-brainer, and works very well with any reasonably-sized battery pack. (Even in my proof-of-concept vehicle, which has a tiny pack providing just 7-mile range before the engine must kick in, the regen works very well, with the friction brakes always cold after normal driving.) Being able to store energy from the rare panic stop is not worth the cost of the super caps and the non-production controllers required to deal with the wide voltage swings.

Re A 123 and misc:

All the car manufacturers have tested A 123 batteries but none (other than Tesla) is using them. I have them in my Milwaukee right angle drill, and they work extremely well. But I think they may have missed the boat with large format cells. Although Tesla is OK with 6000 cells to make up a battery pack, few manufacturers will accept that level of complexity and number of potential failure points. The Volt would have been a better opportunity for A 123 than the LEAF, (because it could benefit from the higher power density of A 123 cells) but GM went with Korean cells and took a very conservative route with battery pack size, to minimize DOD. Unfortunate for A123, and the US in general. Chu is right, we need to be thinking in "Sputnik" terms.

(In my proof of concept, the controllers, the batteries, the motors/generators are all items that are, at minimum, twice as expensive from US manufacturers, if they are even available [on a production basis] at all. I get unsolicited calls and emails from battery suppliers in the far east, but none from US-based companies.)

It will be interesting to see how metal-air (especially lithium-air) batteries go. Chu thinks five years to a production version for an EV. I doubt that I will be able to afford them that soon, but it certainly would be a great thing.

Large range means large charging requirements. So we will still have infrastructure issues. For a car the size of a Prius, 500 mile range would mean a 125kWh battery pack. A home charger at 220 V 30 A (SAE level 2) would take take 19 hours. For such a car to be practical, we need fast charge stations in places like gas stations and Starbucks. (The last thing we need is a home-charge-only commuter car with 500 mile range.) But there is the chicken/egg problem. A few companies have stepped up to the plate, but will feel burned it LEAF and Volt sales remain so low. Even the home charging stations (which are not "chargers" but glorified AC outlets) are $2000, installed. Level 3 units at 480 V/600 A (which could recharge a 125,000 kWh pack in half an hour) will be very expensive, even for a successful Starbucks. (There are utility issues that crop up with these large units. There are plenty of places where 125kWh is is $25 of electricity during the day. Starbucks will not absorb this to sell $8.00 worth of food and coffee. So then they get into the power business, which is heavily regulated.)

I'd like to see Volt variations (from all the manufacturers), and would like to see photosynthesis-to-gasoline efforts (like Chu mentioned in his Sputnik speech). A long-range battery is just one issue in long range electric cars. 40 mile range (15,000 miles per year) would serve all the needs of a very large population segment, but having the ability to go outside this range is viewed as essential by most people. There is the very expensive way to provide trip range (huge batteries and new infrastructure) and the cheap way (plug-in hybrids). New tech battery packs are not likely to be dramatically less costly than current packs. Even at $200/ kilowatt hour (half the current going rate), a 125kWh pack is $25,000. The early lithium-air batteries will almost certainly be more expensive than current tech batteries, so at $500/kWh, the pack could be $62,500.

Good comments, by the way. The next 5 years will be very interesting ones.

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#11
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Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/08/2011 5:31 PM

I'm not sure how current your information is on A123. Late last year they opened a new plant. 291,000-square-foot lithium ion battery manufacturing facility in Livonia, MI. You said only Tesla has been interested so far (I have a quote from a Detroit newspaper) "Big customers like China's SAIC Motor Corp., BAE Systems, Navistar, and GM will be present too."

I'd say Navistar and GM count as big. I'm not sure at what level you'll see their usage but I don't think it's an accident that A123 which Boston based built a multi-million dollar facility in Detroit.

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#14
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Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/08/2011 11:58 PM

I'm not sure at what level you'll see their usage but I don't think it's an accident that A123 which Boston based built a multi-million dollar facility in Detroit.

Not an accident at all. They received a $249 million grant from the DOE, $125 million in tax credits from Michigan, and have a $233 million DOE loan application underway. They would like to give the impression that they are the go to automotive battery company, but the only current production and near production EVs with mass production potential (The Volt, the LEAF, the Focus EV and the Mitsubishi) use batteries from other vendors.

Toyota and Nissan will no doubt continue to use Panasonic, GM is wired into LG Chem, and Ford is using LG Chem lithium polymer in the Focus. I haven't looked into what the Mitsubishi is using, but I would think something from Asia. Other than the Tesla, there is no EV in the near term pipeline with A123 batteries. The Tesla is not a realistically a mass market car.

I don't know what A123 can offer to get the Detroit customers back. Remember when Altair Nano was hot?

BYD may be the only company that can bring an inexpensive EV to the US market (and they would, of course, use BYD batteries). I hope that the Volt and LEAF sales start to pick up, because those two and the Focus are the three that have mass market potential. I hope we don't need to wait until lithium air becomes viable for EVs to take off. If we do, then all these lithium ion plants in Detroit will be obsolete before they ever get into real production numbers.

Maybe next month's numbers will be better.

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#15
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Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/09/2011 10:47 AM

You might want to look at Envia Systems.

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Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/09/2011 11:10 PM

Thanks. They seem to have some potential.

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#12
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Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/08/2011 6:05 PM

"In fact, 2 small charges are much better than 1 larger charge. (In other words, the two small charges count less against cycle life than the one charge.) For Thundersky batteries, for example, life is 3000 80% discharges, but 5000 70% discharges."

I'm not sure if I'm understanding you right. Charges and DOD are not the same thing. I looked in their manual to see their specs. They claim at 80% DOD you can expect 2000 cycles. For 70% DOD (drawing the battery down less than 80%) you can get 3000 cycles. I don't understand your logic. Are you saying its better to take 2 charges for a given distance instead of one large charge that will cover the entire distance?

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#13
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Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

03/08/2011 11:19 PM

Are you saying its better to take 2 charges for a given distance instead of one large charge that will cover the entire distance?

Yes. 2000 80% DOD cycles of a 100 AH battery is 100 x .8 x 2000 = 160,000 amp-hours. 3000 70% DOD cycles is 210,000 amp-hours. So if you are driving a LEAF and you commute 40 miles one way, (meaning that in everything but the dead of winter you could make it on one charge per day) your batteries will deliver more energy over their useful life if you charge at work. Really deep cycles (90% - 95%) make this effect even more pronounced, with less than 1000 cycles delivered.

(Thundersky has, for their new generation, been advertising 3000 80%, 5000 70% and, from their chart, still about 1000 95% cycles.)

For this reason, the Volt treats its 16 kWh pack as a 10kWh pack.

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#17

Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

09/14/2011 11:03 AM

We're comparing apples to oranges again. People trust the range of a Volt more than the range of a Leaf because the Volt is a hybrid that can fall back upon gasoline.

The press compares these two cars because they're both new and both competing for early adopters. But a fairer sales comparison would be Volt vs. Prius and Leaf vs. Tesla. We could include other models of hybrids and EVs, but let's not mix hybrids with EVs.

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#18
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Re: The Volt Shocks the Leaf (Again)

09/15/2011 8:35 PM

We're comparing apples to oranges again. People trust the range of a Volt more than the range of a Leaf because the Volt is a hybrid that can fall back upon gasoline.


?? That does not explain the LEAF sales lead.


We could include other models of hybrids and EVs, but let's not mix hybrids with EVs.


Why not? The point is to compare market acceptance of two different technologies: range extended EV vs electric-only EV. There is nothing wrong with comparing apples and oranges: oranges are a citrus fruit, apples are not. Apples are often red, oranges are often orange... etc. It is OK and common to compare different things: comparing identical things would seem pointless.

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