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December 31, 2009

All Electric Taxivan Claims 700 Miles Per Day Capability

So, the die-hard EV-deniers keep harping that EVs can't cut it in high-mileage applications. ElectriCab has developed a solution for an all-electric taxicab. With a combination of high-capacity on-board battery and fast charging stations, their electric minivan cab is getting the job done, travelling hundreds of miles a day.
MMD Newswire story on the ElectriCab

December 30, 2009

Quebec Government Gets with the Program

Almost a year after announcing the pilot project for LSVs in the province, the provincial government finally took deliver of a Nemo electric truck for its own fleet. Sadly, the acquisition comes after ZENN, the other producer eligible to supply vehicles under the pilot project, announced it will cease production of their vehicle before the end of April 2010, and long before the pilot project is scheduled to end. For a province that exports electricity and imports all its oil, it seems faint encouragement for an industry where the province could become a world leader.
Techstocks story on the Nemo delivery to the Quebec National Assembly

December 21, 2009

China Backs Down on E-bike Reclassification

Bikes in the Fast Lane story on Chinese government reversing course on reclassification decision

December 14, 2009

What the Heck is Happening in China regarding E-bikes?

Thomson Reuters article titled "Sparks fly as China quarrels over battery-powered bikes" says a green transportation group in Beijing is concerned about the lead-acid batteries in some e-bikes as an environmental issue. As if the motorcycles and cars that will take the place of the e-bikes in danger of being panned don't have lead-acid batteries in them for starting, lighting and ignition. And those gas-burners bring a host of other environmental issues with their expanded use, including more sprawl and traffic congestion. It also ignores that the lead in the batteries is sufficiently valuable to encourage recycling.

The rest of the world has largely standardized on 32 km/h (20 mph) as the acceptable electric assist maximum speed. Presumably the manufacturers only want to sell what they export within China as well. Keeping the official limit at 20 km/h (12 mph) will only force the small manufacturers to divide their resources over two model lines, one for each power rating. Given China is a large market, this could encourage those manufacturers to focus on the domestic market rather than models suitable for export, which could slow their acceptance in the rest of the world which has so much of its manufacturing done in China now.

Econogics Electric Bicycles Page

December 11, 2009

Th!nk Restarts Production in Finland

Originally produced in Norway by Pivco, then swallowed, masticated and spit out by Ford, the Th!nk City has been resurrected. The plastic-bodied, 2 + 2 seater (rear seat package not intended for adults). The highway-capable car has a maximum range of about 150 km per charge. The company plans to focus its sales efforts in Norway, and other European countries, concentrating on countries that are friendly to EVs. Presumably, that leaves out Canada for the foreseeable future.

December 8, 2009

ZENN Pulls the Plug on EV Production

ZENN, the producer of a passenger LSV in Quebec made it official: the plant in St. Jérôme will cease production of their line of low speed electric vehicles on April 30, 2010. Previous plans to introduce a highway-capable electric car have also been scrapped. The company will instead bet all its chips on the EEStor capacitor technology, and a drive train based on it, in hopes they can sell that to another player that can actually make the vehicles.

ZENN's press release dated December 7, 2009, announcing plant closure
Montreal Gazette article: "ZENN abandons electric car plant"

No word on what support will be provided to owners of the newly orphaned car line.

That leaves only Nemo as a supplier under the current Quebec pilot project, and they only build a truck; no cars in their line. That's going to make the value of the pilot project pretty questionable unless another passenger LSV is allowed to acquired under the project.

December 5, 2009

When is Orange Green?

You decide if it's green with envy, green that will have to come from your wallet, or environmentally green. Yet another of the automakers have learned that electric doesn't have to mean boring. The Audi e-tron got fresh orange paint for it's lastest round of exhibitionism.

Left Lane News article

Let's hope the R4 retains much of the spirit of the concept vehicle, and sports a price that means it actually takes to the road, and not just the Audi museum.

Audi's Web page on the e-tron concept car

December 4, 2009

Malaguti presents their hybrid scooter prototype

Production of this Italian step-through electric scooter with hybrid range extension capability is on display at a trade show, with production slated for 2010.

Twowheelsblog article
Malaguti Web page on the scooter

Unlike the major automakers, it's good to see that other vehicle makers see the right way to build a hybrid: an all-electric drive train with a small heat engine used only to extend range on those trips where the battery capacity is not sufficient.

December 1, 2009

B.C. = Beyond Confusing

I have long maintained that the biggest obstacle facing the widespread adoption of environmentally-superior electric vehicles is NOT the technology, but the minefield of regulatory barriers as governments at all levels take bizarre stands and enact Kafkaesque rules to delay their adoption. The sheer breadth and depth of these inanities makes we wonder if it is intentional at some level.

The story that brings me back to this theme today comes from British Columbia, our scenic left coast and nominal home of Canada's preponderance of treehuggers.

In June of 2008, the B.C. government, which had previously legalized low speed electric vehicles (LSV), turned the rules upside down, and devolved the authority to allow LSVs (or not) to the municipalities. So, instead of using the established provincial regulatory infrastructure, LSV owners in B.C. now have to get permits from both the provincial and municipal governments in order to be able to drive their cars. To my knowledge, this need for two levels of permits for a vehicle class is unique in Canada. Clearly, the municipalities were not prepared for the hand-off, and many have fumbled the ball. For example, the article reports that on the North Shore of Vancouver, the current patchwork of regulations means that it is not legal to drive your LSV to the works yard where you have to go for the required inspection.

If that weren't confusing enough, the provincial government has confused LSVs with highway-capable EVs in some of their literature, and the province has introduced yet another term - Neighbourhood Zero Emissions Vehicle or NZEV - to describe the vehicles. They are usually called LSVs in most other Canadian jurisdictions and NEVs in most of the U.S.

In hopes that it will help some current and prospective LSV/NEV/NZEV owners in B.C., we continue to maintain our list of which municipalities have legalized these neighbourhood and climate change friendly vehicles. We're doing this because, having created this regulatory nightmare, the provincial government has declined to provide this valuable information to its constituents and taxpayers. (B.C. municipal officials: please feel free to provide us with updates.)

November 17, 2009

If you want an electric car, make your own

It all has a dreary familiarity to it. The mainstream media pump up the arrival of the electric car prototypes (1970s, 1990s and again now), then the automakers and our governments (cheered on by Big Oil) take them away from us like Lucy with Charlie Brown's football. (If you remember that from the Peanuts comic strip, maybe you also remember the previous alleged comings of the electric car.)

Ontario finally legalized the Low Speed electric Vehicle (LSV) this past summer, just a decade after U.S. states did so. But in an artful display of doublethink, they then added regulations that ensured no production model could qualify. Then, when they announced incentives for electric cars in July to take effect in the second half of 2010, the LSV was specifically excluded from the incentives, although it would have qualified based on the skimpy details provided at the time of the announcement. Stay tuned while they find a reason to exclude conversions and the few EVs already on the road in Ontario from the incentives as well. It's not as though we really want to foster a new, green industry in the province that would create jobs (vehicle manufacturing, sales, batteries, electric motors, other components).

Now with confusion as to what incentives will really apply in the U.S., and when, it appears more of the erstwhile EV makers will likely disappear.

Last week, Chrysler walked away from its earlier commitment to deliver 3 different models of electric and electric-hybrid cars.

Today, there is a rumour that forward-looking EV darling Aptera is in trouble.

While GM continues to advertise their Volt plug-in hybrid prototype, the actual delivery date keeps sliding off into the future. Remember, when originally announced in 2006, it was supposed to be in showrooms by now. Most recent guess - late 2010 - in limited numbers. GM will yet find a reason not to deliver. The last time they were forced to deliver (1996), they started a blood war with the State of California that concluded with a concerted search and destroy mission to eradicate the EV-1 from existence. They got that concession in return for a promise to deliver hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to showrooms in quantity in 2008. Per usual with GM and environmental commitments, never happened. GM may have to change its colours due to government and UAW ownership, but green isn't one they will adopt willingly.

If you want a sense of how this is going to end, find a copy of The Lost Cord by Barbara Taylor.

Enthusiasts and small conversion companies have built literally thousands of on-road electric cars, trucks and motorcycles in North America in recent years. It's a viable option, and more likely to achieve results than continuing to wait automakers that have fought the technology tooth and nail for decades while pretending they'll deliver someday.

Air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, climate change, dependence on foreign oil; you can continue to wait and hope that someone else will solve the problem for you, or you can ACT!

October 1, 2009

PHEV 09 Trade Show

I visited the trade show for the Plug-in and Hybrid Electric Vehicle conference (PHEV09) in Montreal yesterday, hosted by Electric Mobility Canada. [Disclosure: I am a member of EMC.]
Picture of the PHEV 09 Trade Show
The PHEV09 Trade Show at Complexe Desjardins (Montreal) 2009.09.30

Two things really struck me. The first was how few companies made an appearance here given the apparent level of interest in EVs in the world media and the Obama Administration. Perhaps this is a reflection of the total lack of interest, or even hostility, towards EVs being demonstrated by the Canadian federal government and most provinces, even those starting to talk 'green'. By contrast, the delegates at the conference seemed very upbeat about what they were hearing at the presentations.

The second thing that struck me was the David and Goliath image presented by Steve Dallas and his stunning home-built electric car that works today vs. the GM Volt prototype. While Steve invited people to sit in his car, GM reps were on hand to ensure no one took that liberty with their vehicle.

Steve is from the Toronto area, in Ontario. The Ontario government recently announced incentives to take effect in 2010 that would substantially subsidize the price of the GM Volt (which will not be built in Ontario, if it should ever become available for sale. Because Steve showed initiative and built his own electric car, it will not qualify for any incentive under the provincial program. With that sort of tilted playing field (announced tax dollars support for an unavailable hybrid to be made outside the province; no support for an electric car built in the province), it should come as small surprise that Steve has no interest in producing more copies of his smart 2-seater electric car. Pity.

Steve Dallas's electric car
Steve Dallas's electric car 2009.09.30

September 22, 2009

Better Place orders 100,000 Electric Cars

The mainstream media completely ignored this story. That's unfortunate, as this could be the moment that changes everything for automobile transportation in the next decade! Renault now has the order they need to start real mass production of an all-electric, battery-only, car. That's the volume that can achieve volumes of scale to make electric cars truly affordable, at least in Europe, in the next few years.

Video of Shai Agassi making the announcement at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show (2009.09.15)

Those of us living in North America can rest easy, knowing that our domestic automakers have no intention of providing us with a real electric car any time soon.

July 25, 2009

Ontario Announcement Regarding Incentives for EVs and PHEVs

An Open Letter to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty

Dear Premier McGuinty:

I would like to thank you for your government's recent apparent reversal regarding support for clean air transportation in Ontario.

The announcement on the Ides of July 2009 included statements which were as stunning to a long-time Ontario electric vehicle advocate as they were ambitious and sweeping. Statements like “The McGuinty government aims to have one out of every 20 vehicles driven in Ontario to be electrically powered by 2020. “ and “Ontario will also add 500 electric vehicles to the Ontario Public Service fleet.“

It's as if someone flipped a switch and your government finally got the message. You know, THE message. As if someone finally put together the devastation of climate change from burning fossil fuels in our vehicles, the burden of health effects caused by automotive emissions, and the need to foster an economic environment that is about sustainability instead of the extinction of the human species, and grasped that there is an answer.

It's hard to believe that this came from the same government that had to be badgered into allowing electric-assist bicycles in the province, and only relented in 2006 with a pilot program. Or the same government that only grudgingly permitted Low Speed electric Vehicles (LSVs) on our roads this year, and with such harsh restrictions that no one will build a vehicle to meet the unique and oppressive Ontario regulations; and that a decade after the federal government created the classification. Or the same government that took away preferential license fees for electric cars a few years ago. Or the same government that still prohibits electric motorcycles from using major Ontario highways.

However, I am confused by the one-year phase-in period before any of the announced incentives come into effect. Why not let the pioneers that already drive battery electric and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles benefit now? Why not provide a retro-active reward payment to those with licensed vehicles as of the effective date showing a Motive Power of E(lectric)? If the motivation really is putting clean air, electric cars that produce less Greenhouse Gases on Ontario roads, why not reward those innovators that are already doing so?

My fear is that this government is not so much interested in cleaner air as they are in providing an additional bail-out to GM and Chrysler, now that you are shareholders. The devil is in the details, and my concern is that your government will restrict the incentives to specific makes and models, as it did with the fuel efficiency incentives of recent years.

On reflection, if your government had taken this stance just three years ago instead of putting it off another a year into the future, perhaps we would have a domestic market for the burgeoning surplus of electricity in the province. A surplus that has reached such proportions that we are now shutting down perfectly functional nuclear reactors to reduce the supply. Further, last summer, when gasoline was over $1.40 a litre, Ontarians would have had another option for their transportation needs – electric vehicles.

Personally, I look forward to getting my Green Plates for my current, highway-capable, electric car, and I hope this signals a pervasive change in your government's attitude toward electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Now, if only there were HOV lanes in Ottawa.

May 4, 2009

Edmonton's Trolley Folly

After almost 30 years of reliable service, Edmonton chose to accelerate its removal of the remaining fleet of electric trolleybuses. I was in Edmonton on the day in question, and composed a photo-essay on the subject. I can't help but think that the residents will come to regret this decision in years to come.

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    About the Author:
    Darryl McMahon built his first electric car in 1978, and has had at least one electric vehicle EVer since. He was a founding member of the Electric Vehicle Association of Canada. He is the author of The Emperor's New Hydrogen Economy and many articles about electric vehicles, related technology and history. He is currently a member of the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa, Electric Mobility Canada, Historian for the Electric Auto Association, and President of Econogics.

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