Underwater Robots

RV Flip. Photo: US Navy

This post is published on the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Marine Biological Association of San Diego on 1903-09-26. In 1912, the assets of this organization were transferred to the Regents of the University of California and renamed the Scripps Institution for Biological Research. In 1925-10, it was renamed the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Its mission statement reads, “To seek, teach, and communicate scientific understanding of the oceans, atmosphere, Earth, and other planets for the benefit of society and the environment.”

One of the more interesting vessels at Scripps was Research Vessel Flip = Floating Instrument Platform. It was in service from 1962-07-23 to 2023-08-04, but is now being scrapped. It is often described as an open ocean research platform designed to study various phenomena such as wave height, acoustic signals, water temperature and density, and to collect meteorological data. The vessel has no means of propulsion, because that could potentially interfere with acoustic instruments. Surprisingly, it is equipped with diesel generators. Flip has to be towed to open water sites where it will be used. Once it is in position it is sunk with the lower have reaching a depth of 91.4 m. The upper part sticks about 17 m above the surface. It can then either be allowed to drift freely, or is anchored in place.

For the past sixty years, I have followed the adventures of Flip at irregular intervals, inspired by its ability to collect data. A cheaper way of collecting data is to use a smaller vessel equipped with sensors. Since 1962 there has been major developments in sensor technology. Sensors are now inexpensive, and can be attached to microprocessors. Data can be stored on equally inexpensive solid state devices, that can be fitted onto an underwater vessel.

In robotics, as elsewhere, language is used inconsistently. There are two types of underwater robots, that is, underwater vessels/ vehicles without human occupants, that use two different naming conventions. If the robot is tethered to the surface it is called a ROV = Remotely Operated Vehicle. If it isn’t, it is called an AUV = Autonomous Underwater Vehicle.

In a more ideal world, it should be possible to distinguish between surface watercraft and submersible watercraft. Both categories could be autonomous or in some way human controlled. Tethered craft are not crewed, but remotely controlled by humans. An alternative naming system could refer to two classes of robotic submersibles, the first referred to as tethered (RS-T), and the second as autonomous (RS-A) or even untethered (RS-U). A vessel crewed with humans could be given the name CS = crewed submersible.

My experience with RS-Ts started in 2008 teaching technology to students at Leksvik Upper Secondary School, and using both the community swimming pool and a local beach as launch sites. Build Your Own Underwater Robot and Other Wet Projects (1997) by Harry Bohm (1954 – ) and Vickie Jensen (1946- ), published by Westcoast Words, in Vancouver, provided the inspiration. A copy of this book was found at the Simon Fraser University bookstore, and purchased in the summer of 1997.

Experimentation with a diving bell, teaches the laws of physics as they apply to submersibles. Depending on the power of the airpump, a diving bell is able to rise, fall and even balance itself in a column of water. However, if the diving bell descends below a certain critical depth, the water pressure will be too great for the air pump to work, and the vessel will continue downward without any ability to stop. This surprises most students.

Three of their models, a Diving Bell (powered by an aquarium airpump), Seaperch (powered by thrusters = electric motors) and Seafox (powered by bilge pumps) were made, adapted and remade, repeatedly.

There are numerous commercial and organizational sites that use the Seaperch and/ or Seafox as the starting point for products, competitions and DIY construction. Unfortunately, some are disingenuous, most notably the Seaperch organization, that fails to acknowledge their indebtedness to Bohn/ Jensen. However, the Wikipedia article about the organization does acknowledge this debt. The Bohm/ Jensen RS-Ts have their limitations, particularly in terms of operational depth. Their main purpose is education, both in terms of construction and operation in a marine environment.

Monitoring Equipment

An infinite number of inmates at Verdal prison had, over the years, requested an opportunity to make drones. In particular, they were interested in using these to monitor prison guards. Fortunately/ unfortunately for the guards/ inmates, respectively, no drones were ever made at the prison, at least not when I was working there. When I did offer to teach them how to make underwater vehicles, there was no interest.

Description of the OpenROV Trident.

Thus, when OpenROV was proposed in 2012, it immediately attracted my attention. It took several years (2015), before OpenROV announced a Kickstarter project to build an underwater drone for everyone. They referred to it as Trident, with a purchase price of $1 200 each.

With a length of 300 mm, a width of 200 mm and a height of 150 mm, it is considerably smaller than either a Seaperch or Seafox.  It is also lighter, with a mass of about 2.5 kg. However, it has several additional attributes that distinguish it. The first is an ability to reach a depth of 100 m. This makes it almost useful! The depth exceeds that of RV Flip.

A waterproof tube 180 mm long and 100 mm (outside) diameter houses all the electronics and other environmentally sensitive equipment. There are 3 x 800kv brushless motors to power the RS-T.  Two horizontal thrusters allow the RS-T to move forward and aft as well as rotate, and a vertical thruster allows the (neutrally buoyant) vehicle to change depth.

The trident is the weapon of the gods of the Sea: Greek Poseidon, or Roman Neptune as well as Amphitrite, Greek queen of the sea and consort of Poseidon. In Roman mythology she is referred to as Salacia, with a reference to salt. In both sets of myths, Triton, another Greek as well as Roman god of the sea, is the son of Poseidon/ Neptune and Amphitrite/ Salacia. Triton is a merman with a human upper half, and a fish/ lobster/ crayfish lower half. In Hinduism, Shiva also uses a trident, referred to as a trishula.

Ægir (Æge in modern Norwegian) is the Norse god of the sea. He does not appear to have a weapon, but spends his time brewing beer. It is married to Rán (Rån in modern Norwegian), goddess of the sea. Together they have nine daughters, the waves.

One of my intentions when I worked at setting up a mechatronics workshop in Inderøy, was to provide an opportunity for the production of equipment to monitor the environment. At the time I was particularly interested in unmanned underwater vehicles, to discover local sources of pollution. Inderøy library has now taken over this workshop.

Thus, my own little workshop will have to become a local skunk works, producing not only vessels, but slower, lower altitude incarnations of a U-2 Dragon Lady or SR-71 Blackbird, in the form of a drone.

Lockheed took the name Skunk Works from Li’l Abner’s moonshine factory, where it was known as Skonk Works, found in the comics written and drawn by Al Capp (1909–1979), from 1934 to 1977. For those too young to be acquainted with the comic strip, Li’l Abner Yokum, was the son of Pansy Hunks aka Mammy Yokum and Lucifer Ornamental Yokum aka Pappy. They lived in a log cabin in Dogpatch, USA. The location of Dogpatch is disputed, but most place it in Kentucky. One of the wimmenfolk there was the beautiful Daisy Mae Scragg, who married Abner in 1952. Sadie Hawkins was another notorious resident, not quite so beautiful, but intent on marrying. Some of my fascination with names as well as fictitious geography comes from comic strips. In addition to Li’l Abner, Pogo by Walt Kelly (1913-1973) also provided some interesting geographical features in Okefenokee Swamp, located in southern Georgia and northern Florida.

Currently, I have a workshop that supports my construction activities by producing components in wood. While I have not given up the idea of producing wooden products entirely, especially geodesic dome greenhouses, I have also acquired a small computer numeric control (CNC) milling machine, for subtractive processes. One intended use of this machine is to make parts for a RS-T. I also have a 3D-printer for making parts using additive processes.

In the past, I have used the non-descriptive name, Unit One, for this workshop. My own name, Brock, means badger, so it is not inappropriate to rename this workshop the Badger Works, but also incorporating the Norwegian language equivalent, Grevlingverket. From 2024-01-01, I intend to spend time designing and making a RS-T and surface/ support unit, suitable for investigating pollution in Trondheim fjord. The names Ægir and Rán will probably be incorporated into the names of these vessels.


This is a Volkswagen Sportswagen HyMotion vehicle with H2 fuel cell technology. The photo is from 2014, and shows technology developed by Ballard Power Systems of Burnaby, British Columbia. Photo: Volkswagen.

HyMotion is the name Volkswagen applied to its hydrogen fuel cell prototypes. This post is mainly about Volkswagen, a company that was forced to transition to electric vehicles, because of Diesel-gate. The American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) , had found that Volkswagen had intentionally programmed turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing, which caused the vehicles’ NOx output to meet US standards during regulatory testing. However, the vehicles emitted up to 40 times more NOx in real-world driving.

About the same time, concerns about the danger of global warming led many countries to set up a timeline to phase out fossil fueled vehicles. It is actually a case of too little, too late. The European Union seemed to be heading in this direction, but then on 2023-03-28 it approved legislation ending sales of new carbon-emitting cars by 2035, but made an exception for E-fuel based internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, due to lobbying from Germany. That means ICE cars will continue to be available for sale after 2035, but will need to be fitted or retrofitted with fuelling inducement system technology to prevent the use of fossil fuels. E-fuels are synthetic fuels, regarded by some as carbon neutral because they are produced by capturing CO2, which offsets the emissions from usage. Carbon neutrality is not always the case. In contrast, hydrogen vehicles emit water vapour and warm air, while BEVs have zero tailpipe emissions.

The challenge is that billionaires, and other wealthy people immediately under them in terms of class, want supercar toys, powered by E-fuels. What E-fuel advocates either fail to understand, or more likely are not concerned about, are the dangers of combustion on living creatures, particularly the role of PM 2.5 particulates. In addition, vehicular noise pollution also becomes an issue, as people seek quieter cities, and other places to live.

After the Diesel-gate scandal broke in 2015, Volkswagen saw electrification as a way to redeem itself. New fossil-fueled light vehicles will not be available for sale after 2024-12-31. Many brands, including Hyundai, have already stopped selling ICE vehicles. Volkswagen in Norway will not sell them after 2023-12-31. Already now, almost 90% of light vehicle sales are battery EVs. Hydrogen vehicles are sold, but in insignificant numbers. I am not certain if Norway is following EU regarding E-fuels. However, there will be social pressure exerted on any potential E-fuel users, who will be seen as violators of the Norwegian social contract.

The motivation to write this post, followed an announcement by Volkswagen Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Oliver Blume (1968 – ), that the group would transition to hydrogen powered vehicles, after 2030! Previously, 2022-07-03, Blume had supported E-fuels as an effective, complementary solution to making cars cleaner. “Combustion engines can be powered with e-fuels in a virtually carbon-neutral manner. They don’t have to be converted or retrofitted for it. E-fuels can be offered as an admixture or alone at all filling stations. We have to offer an option to the owners of existing vehicles too.” This misses the point that combustion makes a major contribution to debilitating heath issues through the release of PM 2.5 particulates. It also shows his background as CEO of the Porsche division.

In addition, Blume seemed to be more concerned about the economic health of fuel providers. “If produced on an industrial scale, prices of less than $2 per litre could be possible. The important thing is that synthetic fuels are produced sustainably and in places in the world where renewable energy is abundant – then the higher energy input for production is irrelevant. E-fuels produced from water and the carbon dioxide extracted from the air for automobiles, planes and ships have the advantage over pure hydrogen that they can be transported more easily.”

Ballard Power Systems of Burnaby, British Columbia has developed technology for hydrogen fuel cell products, including membrane electrode assembly, plate and stack components. On 2015-02-11 it sold its technology for light vehicles to Volkswagen Group, but retained the rights to this technology for buses and non-automotive uses. Volkswagen introduced its Ballard based technology to the world in the form of four Volkswagen and Audi fuel cell concept vehicles at the Los Angeles auto show in 2014-11.

Since then, Volkswagen has gone on to develop further fuel cell technology. German patent DE 10 2020 119 021 B3 was issued on 2021-07-29 to Volkswagen and Kraftwerk Tubes. It involves a ceramic fuel cell membrane. Allegedly, this is cheaper to manufacture than a polymer membrane, as found on Toyota and Hyundai fuel cell vehicles. It works without any need for an expensive platinum electrocatalyst. Volkswagen states that this will allow them to produce vehicles with a 2 000 km range.

Volkswagen brand’s CEO Thomas Schäfer (1970 – ), said that E-fuels were unnecessary noise, and that hydrogen has some big disadvantages compared to battery technology and that it’s not for Volkswagen, at least not in the next ten years because it is not competitive, especially not for passenger cars, as the fuel tanks take up space in the cabin.

Still earlier, Blume’s predecessor Herbert Diess (1958 – ), criticized H2 fuel cell vehicles, referring to a report from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) that concluded hydrogen vehicles are not the way to achieve climate neutrality. Battery electric cars (BEVs) are more sustainable and can be a more environmentally-conscious option for those who are concerned about their car’s emissions.

A move to H2 fuel cells and away from batteries does not seem to be the smartest move, for several reasons. While there are a certain number of early adapters, most of these interested in alternative vehicles have already taken the EV leap/ plunge, finding it a more appropriate solution for themselves than a H2 fuel cell vehicle. This is mainly an operating cost issue, but also a space issue, but increasingly a model availability issue. There are few fuel cell vehicle model choices. EVs have become dominant, with models suitable for a variety of use cases. People are unlikely to reassess their preference for EVs, especially considering that the operating costs of a H2 vehicle are several times higher than that of an EV. Of course, there are others who are brand loyal, irrespective of how stupidly the company they support acts. In Norway, when an EV needs charging, it is typically plugged in at 22:00, when energy prices are lowest. By morning, it is “fully” charged, typically to 80%, to preserve battery life.

A key word is convenience. In much the same way that workers find it more convenient to work at home, and are reluctant to return to the office, most electric vehicle operators find it more convenient to charge at home, and are reluctant to return to a fueling station. Home charging is a habit that grows quickly, especially when commercial high-speed charging is expensive, and offers no to few advantages. H2 is even more expensive.

A previous post discussed the colours of hydrogen, the assorted types of H2 available, based on how it is produced. About 95% of that H2 is methane based, meaning that it is essentially a fossil fuel, that produces CO2. Other types/ colours of H2 are more environmentally friendly, but with the power produced costing about three times more than electrical power from other sources such as wind, solar or hydro. Given a choice, I doubt if consumers would be willing to pay this for this fuel, given the availability of cheaper, more environmentally friendly alternatives (read: BEVs).

In 2023-06, three H2 stations in South Korea received contaminated black hydrogen, produced using steam methane reformation (SMR) — from Korea Gas’ Pyongtaek facility. Proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells used in hydrogen-powered cars need H2 with a purity of 99.9% to safely operate. SMR produces hydrogen (H2), carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2). A water-gas shift reaction is usually turns the CO into CO2, while the CO2 is removed using pressure-swing adsorption. In this particular case, some CO or CO2 may not have been properly removed. These impurities can cause irreversible damage, necessitating the replacement of the PEM and other components. For example, CO adsorbs strongly on the platinum electrocatalyst, and CO in hydrogen fuel degrades the performance of the polymer electrolyte fuel cell (PEFC).

On 2019-16-10, an explosion destroyed a Uno-X hydrogen fueling station at Sandvika, near Oslo, Norway. This was covered in one post initially, then followed up in a second post, some two weeks later. More recently on 2023-07-18, hydrogen buses were being fueled at a Golden Empire Transit facility, in Bakersfield, California when one of the buses caught fire. One bus was destroyed and the dispensing portion of the hydrogen fueling station damaged.

In the world there are about 625 public hydrogen fueling stations, according to one source. At the top of the list are: Japan with 175, USA with 107, Germany with 92, China with 88 and France with 40. In Canada there are 8, of which 6 are located in British Columbia (Burnaby, Kelowna, Marpole in Vancouver, North Vancouver (2) and Victoria). There is also one in Mississauga, Ontario and another in Quebec City, Quebec. In Scandinavia, Norway and Denmark have 7 each, Sweden has 5, Iceland has three, while Finland has none. There is actually one located 124 km (1h 51m driving time) south of Cliff Cottage. It is the most northerly in Norway. Except, a Norwegian source states that there are only three H2 fueling stations currently operating in Norway! Interested readers can take it upon themselves to find the correct number of H2 fueling stations in the world. It is probably over 500, but less than 1 000. Currently, one source indicates that there are about 115 000 gas stations in the USA.

Ammonia (NH3) has also been suggested as an energy bearer. This will not be discussed here, except to reference a source for further information.

If Blume is wanting to shift to fuel cells to increase range, he should be aware that researchers at Pohang University of Science & Technology in China have found a way to multiply the energy storage of a battery by ten. An anode stores power when charging and releases it to provide power. Currently, most modern lithium batteries use an anode made of graphite. Other materials, like silicon, have a higher energy capacity, but researchers have been unable to create a stable battery with a silicon anode. This is because the reactions inside the battery cause the silicon to expand dangerously. A research team has created a binding material that will keep a high-capacity silicon anode from expanding.

Currently, the specific energy of a lithium-ion battery is 100–265 Wh/kg (0.360–0.954 MJ/kg). Our Buzz has a 80 kWh battery providing a theoretical 400 km of range. Using the above data, the battery mass should vary from 800 kg to 302 kg. Personally, I see little need for this range to increase by a factor of 10 to 4 000 km. Even the most enthusiastic of users would probably be content with a 2 000 km range. Normal mortals would probably willingly accept 1 000 km,

If the specific energy of a battery increases to 1 to 2.65 kWh/kg (3.6 – 9.54 MJ/kg), then the mass of a battery with a 1 000 km range is probably somewhere between 200 and about 75 kg. A Volkswagen Transporter T6 2.0 TDI has a fuel tank capacity of 80 liters, with fuel consumption per 7.5 liters (combined) per 100 km, or 75 litres for 1 000 km range. The density of diesel is about 0.85 kg/ litre, which means that 75 litres has a mass of almost 64 kg. This does not take into consideration the mass of the storage container. This means that the mass of an EV battery is approaching parity with the mass of diesel.

In 2021, Equinor, Aire Liquide and Eviny started Project Aurora, at Mongstad, Norway. Its goal was to construct a Norwegian liquid hydrogen manufacturing facility for maritime shipping. They estimated that manufacturing costs would likely be ca. US$9.30 per kg. That project was permanently abandoned in 2023-03, because it failed to attract customers. Liquid hydrogen would also be needed for aviation fuels. However, this price is three times the cost of Jet A fuel. Transportation of hydrogen is a major challenge. The US Department of Energy states that a single tanker of gasoline contains 14 times the energy as a tanker of hydrogen. Thus, for both maritime and aviation uses, it may be appropriate to produce H2 near the facilities where it is being used. This situation may also apply to vehicle H2 fueling stations.

It is useful to compare energy pathways. Here, two such pathways will be examined. The first looks at the use of electricity to produce liquid hydrogen, which is used to produce electricity to power, say, an aircraft or ship. Start with 10 MWh of electricty. Turning water into hydrogen is about 70% efficient. There is about 7 MWh of chemical energy in the resulting hydrogen. Compressing, storing, transporting and distribution hydrogen uses another 10%, resulting in 6.3 MWh of available energy. Liquifiction is about 66% efficient, resulting in4.2 MWh of energy. Boil off uses another 5%, leaving about 4 MWh of energy. Burning hydrogen in a jet engine is about 50% efficient at optimum altitude and speed, but is closer to 40% efficient gate to gate. Thus 10 MWh of green electricity provides 1.6 MWh to move an aircraft.

The pathway for a battery aircraft or ship from wind differs significantly. From wind farm to the grid or a battery, it’s about 90% efficient. That results in 9 MWh of energy being available. There is an addition 10% energy loss using electric motors on the aircraft or ship. These would have about 8 MWh of energy available. This is five times the energy available on the hydrogen pathway.

Despite Volkswagen being the automotive brand that I have bought most frequently, I am not a loyal customer. The VW Buzz we currently drive will most likely be our last vehicle purchase. I appreciate having the opportunity to drive a quiet EV, that avoids combustion, and was delivered as a carbon neutral vehicle. I find the comments made by Volkswagen Group CEO Oliver Blume irritating, but not nearly as irritating as some of those made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The final word on this subject will be given to Frank Welsch, Member of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand with responsibility for Technical Development:

"Science is largely in agreement on this issue, as several recent studies have shown. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, for example, assumes that hydrogen and synthetic fuels, so-called e-fuels, will remain more expensive than an electric drive, as more energy is required for their production.The Agora Verkehrswende (traffic transformation) initiative also points out that hydrogen and e-fuels do not offer ecologically sound alternatives without the use of 100 percent renewable energies, and that, given the current and foreseeable electricity mix, the e-car has by far the best energy balance. In the view of the Fraunhofer Institute, synthetic fuels and drive technologies such as hydrogen in combination with the fuel cell will indeed play a role – but not so much in the passenger car sector, but rather in long-distance and heavy-duty traffic, as well as in rail, air and sea transport. These segments will only be converted in later phases of the energy turnaround, i.e. beyond the year 2030, and closely linked to the expansion of renewable energies."

"In fact, hydrogen-based fuel cell technology has one crucial disadvantage: it is very inefficient – both in terms of efficiency and operating costs. This is also confirmed in detail by a Horváth & Partners study, comparing both types of drive for e-cars from the customer’s point of view."

A Perfect Planet

Planet Earth has always undergone transformations, sometimes having enormous effects much more significant than the current warming of the planet. A lot has happened in the 4.6 billion years (about 145 Ps= Petaseconds, in SI units). So, while we will never live on a perfect planet, there is a lot people can do to make it a better planet. Much of that behaviour means doing less. Each of us has a short period of time, perhaps 80 years (2.5 Gs= Gigaseconds), to make a positive impact.


For the past two months (2023-03 and -04), I have taken a sabbatical from writing weblog posts, allegedly to concentrate on a kitchen renovation. The renovation probably did not proceed any faster, but it was delightful to avoid deadline anxiety, which was the real reason for the writing break. Writing was taking up too much of my time. Thus, this post signals that I intend to be more moderate with my writing.

As is the case with most of my posts, much of this one was written months in advance of its intended publication date, sometime in 2024. When this post was originally written, it was for a celebration. Rail journeys to and from Inderøy would stop using Type/ Class 92 diesel powered railcars. Finally, the Trønder line, opened 1882-07-22, would be fully electrified.

Now, Banenor – the Norwegian government-owned corporation that builds out the rail network, claims it is currently working on part of that route from Trondheim to Hell or Stjørdal heading north, and to Storlien, heading east. That section of the line that continues north, between Stjørdal and Steinkjer, where Røra in Inderøy has a station, has been put on indefinite hold. The map, below, provides some clarification about the location of the routes mentioned. Inderøy is unmarked, but it is about 3/4 of the distance along the route from Hell to Steinkjer.

When 2023-05-01 arrived, this post was almost abandoned, because of this unpleasant fact. However, I decided to continue. The original two sentence, opening paragraph appears immediately below, and has not been changed.

One of the major goals Patricia and I share, is to reduce our environmental footprints. Much of this reduction will be associated with transportation.

On our last major rail journeys from Drammen (near Oslo) to Bergen, Patricia was sitting beside a grump, who was pouting because of his lack of internet access, instead of enjoying the scenery. I have promised to change my attitude. I will make notes with a pen on paper on future rail journeys, and use my smartphone to take photos, and will avoid connecting to the internet.

In my defence, journeys always seem too long. My concentration wains after a few hours. Thus, I have obtained a concession that most journeys will be restricted, generally, to an a duration of six hours (a day), but with the possibility of exceptions. This applies not just to trains, but also to other forms of travel.

That rail journey was on an electrified rail line, that obtains its energy from renewable sources. The Class/ Type 92 dielsel railcar sets in use from 1984 to 2022 were noisy rather than uncomfortable, and not really suitable for anyone (apart from athletes) to enter and exit. You can read about them here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norske_Tog_Class_92

This simplified map shows the routes from Trondheim that head south (not mentioned further), east and north. Both of these last two routes run to Hell, on the south bank of the Stjørdal River. Across the river to the north is TRD = Trondheim Airport, Værnes and the city of Stjørdal. South of the river the line continues eastward commonly under the name Meråker Line, where it crosses the border into Sweden. The first station in Sweden is at Storlien. West of Storlien, diesel locomotives (Loks, in colloquial Norwegian) were used on this route, with electric locomotives taking over for the journey eastwards.
A Type 76 FLIRT train at Trondheim Airport, Værnes station. Photograph: Alasdair McLellan

Stadler, the Swiss train manufacturer, makes various models of FLIRT = Fast Light Intercity and Regional Train (English); Flinker Leichter Intercity- und Regional-Triebzug (German), multiple-unit trainsets. The Type 76, now used in Trøndelag, as a replacement for the Type 92, is a variant of these. It is 7.2 meters longer, with two drive bogies, compared to three on the other similar types, because of a generator car containing four power packs. Each power pack contain a 480 kW diesel engine and a generator that supplies electricity independently of each other. There is also a small battery pack that can be used to move the trainsets in and out of workshop buildings without starting the diesel engines.

I refer to this unit as a Power Pod, essentially a half-length special purpose rail car, equipped with four power packs, each providing 480 kW of diesel fueled motive power to a Type 76 train. The photograph was taken at Røra station, Inderøy by Alasdair McLellan.

To discover new electrified rail adventures, we bought ourselves two books, one in English and the other in Norwegian: The newly (2022-04-12) published 17th edition of Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide, by Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries; Ferie med Tog: Reiseglede langs skinnene = Holidays by Train: Travel pleasure along the tracks (2022), by Sigrid Elsrud.

It is not practical to make rail journeys everywhere. For the first time since the pandemic, Brock is taking flights, to Iceland and the Faroe Islands. He and Trish are still intending to take flights to visit our daughter, Shelagh, currently living in Oakland, California. However, these could mark the end of our flying career that began, for Patricia, in 1966, when she returned from Ireland and Great Britain with her sister, Aileen. To get there, they had taken a train across Canada from Vancouver to Montreal, then taken a ship to Cork, in Ireland. Most of our international flights have involved trips to British Columbia, to visit family.


If one intends to do less of something, the time involved has to be applied to other activities. Less travel means more of something else. That something else means more of staying at home.

We live in a rural area, and have no intention of moving. We have lived in the same house since 1989-03-01. Most weeks I drive into Straumen, our municipal centre, and back, 26 km (16 miles). Once a month, I extend this to 60 – 70 km (32 – 37 miles) by driving to one of the neighbouring communities of either Verdal or Steinkjer. Patricia has even more extensive driving habits, that may involve driving 100 km in a week. Weather permitting, we make a few longer excursions. In 2022, we spent NOK 10 758.84 on diesel for our Mazda 5, and drove about 8966 km. The fuel costs were about NOK 1.23/ km (US$ 0.20/ mile).

Since 2023-02-13, Buzz, our Volkswagen electrified MPV, has been providing this service. After 80 days of use, we had driven 2004 km, which amounts to an average of slightly over 25 km a day. We had provided Buzz with 526.2 kWh of electricity. This costs us about 1.5 NOK per kWh = NOK 789.30. The fuel costs per km are about NOK 0.40/ km (US$ 0.065/ mile), which is about one third of that of the Mazda 5.

We had driven more with Buzz than I had originally anticipated, but it includes about 700 km of excursions. This would amount to about 9 200 km a year, or almost the same as we drove the Mazda, in 2022.

Reducing transportation impacts may be necessary, but it is not enough to prevent climate change. In many areas we have decided to make do with what we have.

An example: In 2012, we bought a used 40″ HD television for half its 2010 new price (NOK 2 500 vs NOK 5 000). Its TV reception capabilities were almost immediately eliminated to avoid the television reception tax. Instead, it is connected to a media player that, in turn, is connected to our server. The media player uses LibreELEC = Libre Embedded Linux Entertainment Center, a just enough operating system, that supports the Kodi media player software. Both of these are open-source products. This screen will not be replaced until it stops working. It is gudenuf for our use.

This is mentioned because our primary substitute for international travel involves viewing documentary films. We will allow younger, physically fit camera crews to endure the dangers of capturing remote places, and enjoy them in our living room, up to a maximum of one hour a day, and up to several times a week. Five hours of viewing a week, should be enough for anyone. For those who think that we waste our time with television, our total consumption in 2023, ending 2023-05-05 is less than 40 hours! Yes, we keep a complete log of all programs watched.

We often refer to our residence as a cottage, rather than a house. Definitions are often personal, and my definition of a cottage is a residence that is compact, rural, close to nature, simple and charming. One further requirement is that it has to be practical. One cannot live in a cottage without adequate laundry facilities. Wikipedia tells us: “A cottage during England’s feudal period, was the holding by a cottager (known as a cotter or bordar) of a small house with enough garden to feed a family and in return for the cottage, the cottager had to provide some form of service to the manorial lord. However, in time cottage just became the general term for a small house.” The term has its origins in old Norse, kot = hut. The modern Norwegian kott refers to a closet. Related to cot is the Latin domus = dwelling/ house, and grangia = barn. In time the grangia became the grange, referring first to a farm, and then to a large house.

By compact, I mean that rooms are small, yet functional. Rural refers to a low population density. It is more difficult to specify what close to nature actually means, since so much of nature has been destroyed, or cultivated. Sometimes it is simply a brownfield area that has been left to rewild. Simple? One has to be careful about definitions here. Someone might object to calling a dwelling simple, when it is wired with Ethernet cables everywhere, and shelters about 20 different computers. To side-step this issue, I will define simple as the absence of unnecessary decoration. Similarly, I will not even attempt to define charm, except to say one knows it when one sees it.

For better or worse, I am not sure everyone can adapt to cottage life. My parents retired to a new, but similarly sized dwelling on Vancouver Island. They lived there for twelve years, then returned to New Westminster, and lived two blocks from the house where I had grown up. In contrast, I have no desire to reconnect with the bustle of urban life. Online shopping holds greater appeal than in-person shopping, although I value visits to places where I can see and touch wood, as well as plumbing and electrical components!

Before retiring, I would attempt to hire people to renovate parts of the house. It was no great success, because I felt the workers were always trying to take shortcuts or not being competent to do what I asked them to do. Our main bathroom is adequate, but it is not equipped with the pipe-in-pipe plumbing, I requested. The roofer did not know how to apply roofing paper, resulting in a leaking roof. The carpenter did not optimize the use of boards, creating unnecessary waste. Since I retired I have rebuilt much of the cottage myself, but keeping it simple. This year, and for the first time since the cottage was built in 1963, the kitchen is being renovated.

At one point I reflected on my personal dependency on Ikea, especially with respect to my office. It is not always appropriate to make everything. I use an inexpensive, black Ikea Råvaror folding chair (no longer available), with a back and seat made of plywood, without arms. There are no adjustments. This is useful when I make things at my desk. Arms on a chair would just get in the way. When that gets too uncomfortable, I work standing up, folding the chair and stowing it, and raising the sit-stand desk I bought in 2008. It is not from Ikea, but from a local furniture store. It measures 1800 mm wide x 1000 mm deep (72″ x 40″). Along the wall behind my desk I have installed a shelf above the standing height of the desk, and fitted it with three Ikea Moppe mini-storage chests that houses components and tools. Above that I have 4 (width) x 2 (height) Ikea Eket storage cubes, for equipment, books and other reference materials. I also have an Ikea Alex drawer unit, for storage of things, including those printed on paper. More recently, I bought an Ikea Elloven monitor stand with drawer. The top of it supports my 27″ AOC monitor, Logitech G Pro headset and Vertical mouse. Underneath, it provides space to stow my Logitech K860 ergonomic keyboard, while the drawer provides storage space for assorted writing implements. I also have a desk lamp with magnifier, which is sometimes necessary for electronic work. If I need greater magnification, I also have a stereo microscope. I still use my 2016 Asus VivoMini VC65, because I like it. I deliberately bought a monitor without a camera, but have a Logitech webcam, for those few occasions when it is needed. In terms of speakers, I have an Angry Birds speaker bought used for $5. The power supply it did not come with, cost more! It is not used often, because I share my working environment with another person. This is also why I have never considered a mechanical keyboard. In terms of plants, I not only have Phillis, a philodendron, but curtains made from Ikea Filodendron cotton fabric.

While the kitchen has some components from Ikea, especially the Vattudalen sink and Sundsvik tap/ facet. Most of the whiteware is international: The Samsung microwave oven, fridge and freezer were bought in Steinkjer, in 2021; The Electolux dishwasher and oven, and the Husqvarna induction stovetop were bought locally in Straumen, in 2023. I have come to accept a certain level of dependency on large corporations. Much of the remaining components and supplies came from Biltema = Car Theme, in Steinkjer. It is yet another Swedish chain, founded in Linköping in 1963, to provide car parts to the Scandinavian market. In particular, they have provided the material for the cabinets, made from 18 x 600 x 2400 mm = 3/4″ x 2′ x 8′ spruce shelving material, and the 25 x 600 x 2400 = 1″ x 2′ x 8′ oak counter tops. They have also supplied PEX plumbing components, and electrical installation materials. The drawer and sliding door handles have a more complex history. Originally, we bought some at Ikea, but these were discontinued. However, an identical model soon appeared at Biltema. These have become the standard handle used throughout the house. They also provide a sense of continuity. None of these parts are cutting edge, but they are gudenuf!


One of the main reasons I will continue to reduce the time I spend writing is because I want to spend some time doing other things. In 2022-06 I bought a CNC machine that still has not been used. I need to reassign time from writing to working in other areas. I need more variation.

For example, I want to construct a geodesic dome greenhouse, for the experience of making one. Afterwards, I may just give it away because gardening does not give me pleasure, and Trish does not want one. Similarly, I would like to use my CNC machine (and other tools) to construct a robotic lawn mower. Yes, I can probably buy one for less, but that won’t provide me with the satisfaction of making one. It may be based on a Segway Navimow, but with variations.

A Segway Navimow H3000E robotic lawn mower. Photo: Segway

There is now less than five hours before this post will be published. I have made some corrections, eliminated some content, and added some more. I will continue to publish some posts, but not with the same intensity as before.

Buzz 4: Acquisition

It was this photo of the interior of a Volkswagen ID. Buzz, that attracted us to the vehicle, especially it light colours (including yellow). In addition, the cabin feels roomy, uncluttered with consoles. The device occupying the space between the driver and passenger can be removed, creating a passage between the front and rear seats of the vehicle. Photo: Volkswagen.

At the start of Putin’s war in the Ukraine (2022-02-24), we reconsidered our general purchasing strategy. We didn’t want our purchases to support companies in countries lacking democratic governments, made with non-union labour or without workers on the boards of directors. Note: I still retain my union membership in Lektorlaget, a teachers’ union. Most of the time, we try to find suitable companies. Suitable is a relative term. Depending on product category, characteristics vary, but with a geographic component. For eggs and milk, geography involves two neighbouring farms. For EVs, computers and hand-held devices, the geographic range has to be extended, to include not just Europe, but also North America (Canada and USA) and a few countries in Asia (notably, South Korea and Taiwan, but also Japan). These conditions exclude Chinese vehicles, and Tesla.

On Friday, 2022-05-20, we received an email from VW about the pricing of their new 5 passenger ID. Buzz. It had a base price of NOK 495 000 = USD 50 000 = CAD 70 000, or about NOK 200 000 less than expected, and almost in our price range. At the time I was not quite sure how to convince Trish that we needed one, because it was at least NOK 100 000 more than our original budget. However, even third place candidate Stellantis, came in NOK 75 000 over the limit. In addition to the advantages shown in the specifications, one practical advantage of the ID. Buzz, is its considerably more space for passengers and for goods. That is because it was designed as an EV from the ground up, which the others were not. In addition, many of the options on the competitors are standard equipment on the ID. Buzz.


There are certain features that I appreciate on assorted EVs. For example, on the Fiat 500, there are Easter eggs = artwork/ design details etched into the vehicle. I found these an attractive addition. It may not quite be personalized, but it is a step away from commodification. On the Hyundai Ioniq 5, there is bidirectional charging capability that allows the car to provide power to a house during a power outage. I think especially of it as useful for keeping food in a refrigerator or freezer at an appropriate temperature. The VW ID. Buzz had this too.


The colour history of our cars from 1986 to 2012 shows two red cars, followed by two green cars, followed by two light blue cars. For years, I have talked about buying a yellow car. Volkswagen made some vehicles that I admired in Saturn Yellow. My parents owned a 1974 Volvo 144, in Kanaro Yellow. Trish and I rented a yellow Volkswagen Rabbit in Sunbrite Yellow to use on our honeymoon, in 1978. All three colours were close to signal yellow.

Even before May, I had already made the decision, subject to a veto by Trish, that I wanted a yellow car, potentially a special order, painted at the factory. If after-market solutions were needed, then a white vehicle would be purchased that could either be painted, or covered with a yellow wrap.


On Saturday, 2022-05-21, I showed Patricia the same photo of the interior of a Volkswagen ID. Buzz, that appears at the top of this post. This attracted her to the vehicle. When asked to explain in more detail what attracted her, it was the brightness of the interior, and especially its use of yellow colour. In addition, she felt the cabin felt roomy, with large windows.

I agreed with all of these points. In addition, I appreciated that the console occupying the space between the driver and passenger was removable, to create a passage between the front and rear seats of the vehicle, or to carry boards 2 400 mm long inside the vehicle!

On Sunday, 2022-05-22, I sent an email to our local Volkswagen dealer saying that we wanted to buy an ID. Buzz. On Monday, 2022-05-23, this was followed up by telephone calls and additional emails. We visited the dealer on Tuesday, 2022-05-24 and attempted to sign a contract, without success because of internet connection issues. Finally on Monday, 2022-05-30, a contract was signed. Our May goal was met.

The agreed price of the Buzz was NOK 572 000 = US$ 57 000, as long as the vehicle arrived in Norway before 2022-12-31. Fortunately for the Norwegian state, the vehicle arrived after that, allowing them to collect almost NOK 42 000 in assorted taxes, for a price just a hair under NOK 614 000. Obviously, people can discuss if this is an acceptable price. People in other places are having to pay considerably more. One worse case situation in Europe is the Netherlands, where consumers would have to pay €81 000 = NOK 850 000 = USD 85 000 for an identical vehicle. (These exchange rates are approximate, but were valid on 2022-05-30.)

When the ID. Buzz was offered for sale in Norway it was available in standard white, pearl effect black, metalic grey, blue, green, orange and yellow, and two-tone variants of the last four, with white on top, and colour beneath. We have chosen the two-tone yellow variant, referred to in our contract as Pomelo Yellow, but also called lemon yellow and lime yellow in assorted publicity materials. This is not a signal yellow, but yellow with a significant green tinge.

According to Volkswagen, ID stands for intelligent design, identity and visionary technologies. All of the various models are EVs, built on the Modularer E-Antriebs-Baukasten = modular electric-drive toolkit = MEB-platform. ID vehicles are powered by an APP 310 permanent magnet brushless electric motor. Motor and gearbox are parallel to the axle. Maximum torque is achieved at low speed, allowing use of a single speed gearbox. The motor and gearbox weigh about 90 kg. The motor is produced in Kassel, with rotor and stator produced in Salzgitter, both located in Germany.

Sandy Munro has torn down, and in other ways evaluated, the Volkswagen ID. 4. Information has been presented in six videos, starting on 2021-04-07. The most interesting one is the wrap up with Alex Guberman, released on 2021-04-19. One important point that was brought out was the need for a planned transition from one vehicle to the next. This resonates with me because I never mastered the transition from a Citroën Evasion to a Mazda 5.

Volkswagen Group’s next transition is to the Scalable Systems Platform (SSP), a modular electric vehicle platform. It was announced 2022-07-15, as part of a new strategy, to use a single battery electric vehicle (BEV) platform across all the group’s brands. Its introduction is planned for 2026. This will be too late for our Buzz, but is probably a sensible approach for Volkswagen to successfully compete with other brands.

lnterestingly, the Buzz has artwork added to the vehicle, much like the Fiat 500. In addition to assorted smilies, and Buzz shapes, there is a drawing of an umbrella found under the rear window wiper blade. There is also V2G charging capability. Our dealer stated that an electric trailer hitch was an essential item, in Norway. We had intended on ordering it anyway.

In contrast to other car dealers that want to maximize optional equipment, I found our local Volkswagen dealer often suggesting restraint. For example, we were also advised against electric rear sliding-door openers, if only because they operate too slowly. Yes, at times, consumers can want too many features.


On 2022-06-27, it was announced that there were battery issues with the ID. Buzz at the battery supplier according to Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung. Some battery packs contain cell modules that may result in a voltage drop, reducing driving range and – in a worst-case situation – posing a safety risk . These quality-related deficiencies were discovered at the un-named supplier. Around 500 vans were manufactured with the bad cell modules. None were delivered. ID. Buzz production resumed 2022-07-04.

On 2022-07-22, it was announced that Herbert Diess (1958 – ) would stop working as chief executive officer (CEO) of Volkswagen AG on 2022-08-31, to be replaced by Oliver Blume (1968 – ). Severe software-development delays set back the scheduled launch of new Porsche, Audi and Bentley models. Unsuitable software also postponed the debut of some ID models, and some customers are still unable to access over-the-air (OTA) updates.

Volkswagen’s software unit, Cariad, was underperforming. In 2021-12, VW overhauled its management board. Diess had some responsibilities removed, but was given the major task of turning around Cariad. Transforming VW into a leader in electric-vehicle production, requires an emphasis on software solutions. Hardware is not enough. This did not happen. In addition, Diess failed to build alliances within the company, especially with its labour leaders. Thus, he became increasingly isolated.


In preparation for delivery of a vehicle we had an Easee Home charger installed on 2023-01-04. It has 3-phase wiring, with 230 V and 32 A, offering the potential to produce up to 11 kW of power. We expect this system to provide most of the vehicle’s energy. This is a Norwegian product, made in Stavanger, by a company owned in large part by immigrants to Norway.

Buzz (as in Lightyear) is the affectionate name of this vehicle. While it should not be treated as a toy, it should not be treated solemnly. Driving and riding in it should be fun, but it should be done safely and with purpose.

On 2023-02-08, we received word that Buzz had arrived at the Volkswagen dealership in Verdal. We agreed with our salesperson, Tormod Olsen, that we would pick up the vehicle on Monday, 2023-02-13. The 13th has significance , especially, in Trish’s life. In chronological order, she was born on 12-13, her nephew was born 11-13 and we married on 01-13.

The Future

There are certain items that I have no intention on selling. Cliff Cottage, our residence since 1989-03-01 is one, as is much of its inventory. I expect Cliff Cottage to be used as a holiday residence, a place where my descendants, friends and family will be able to relax and enjoy a form of solitude close to nature. Buzz is another. I expect that he will be able to meet the land transportation needs of people when they come to stay at Cliff Cottage.

As noted in a previous weblog post, within a decade, 2033, solid-state batteries are expected to mature, offering over a million kilometers of transportation service. I envision Buzz lasting a century. He has been bought with that intention. The next milestone on his path to venerability will be on 2053-02-13, when he turns thirty. At that moment, he becomes a Norwegian veteran car. I will not be present for that event. Our son, Alasdair, will be quickly approaching seventy, while Shelagh, our daughter, will, at sixty three years and ten months, soon be reaching the upper limits of what could be referred to as middle age.

Buzz 3: Comparison

An 2022 Opel Combo Life multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) one of four families of electric vehicles (EV) that we considered buying.

2022-05-01: Our challenge, during May, was to find a replacement vehicle for our diesel powered Mazda 5, turning ten on 2022-10-19. In Norway, over 80% of all vehicles sold are battery electric vehicles (EVs), while another 10% are hybrids. Those still driving ICE vehicles, realize that they are fossils. They may refer to the vehicles, the drivers or both. Readers are free to select their own variant, but I have elected both, if only because choosing an EV requires a mindset open to change. Such a mindset is helped by volatile diesel and gasoline fuel prices, with some consumers complaining they have paid NOK 30 per litre (US$ 12 per gallon). Prices bounce. On Monday 2023-02-13, the price was slightly over NOK 18 in the morning, but over NOK 25 in the afternoon. Rather than increasing the wealth of oil investors, I would prefer to pay a premium for a vehicle that uses renewable energy. EVs are sweetened with financial and other incentives provided, in our case, by the Norwegian government.

Yet, there is a certain amount of time pressure in finding something suitable. Government incentives are being reduced. Currently, Norwegian EV purchases are exempt from value added tax (VAT). Effective 2023-01-01, VAT will apply on that part of an EV expenditure that exceeds NOK 500 000. The government claims that there are vehicles available that cost less than this. There will also be a weight tax, NOK 12.50 per kilogram gross-vehicle weight that exceeds 500 kg. In addition, EVs have their official weight reduced (for tax purposes) by the weight of the battery, which can be up to several hundred kilos.

Many Norwegians feel they need to buy more expensive and heavier vehicles. Narrow, curvaceous, steep mountainous roads demand good handling, power, energy and braking capacity, preferably with generous amounts of safety equipment onboard, should an unfortunate event occur. Utility trailers, the ubiquitous Norwegian replacement for a pickup, also require power and energy. Ideally, the vehicle is under five meters in length and two meters in width, with a low centre of gravity. Range is another desirable attribute, not so much for the daily commute, but for the weekend, when Norwegians travel to areas of natural beauty and low population density, that typically lack built-out charging facilities. These features add to the price of an EV.


Throughout the world there are different ways to categorize vehicles. Wikipedia has an article about car classification that attempts to explain these, and to compare and contrast the various systems in use. In Europe, vehicles are classified into segments, most often by size, from A (mini = city) to D (large = American mid-size). E, F and S are used for executive = American full-size, luxury and sports vehicles, respectively. In addition, J-segment (sports-utility) vehicles were originally vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive. Now, this requirement seems to have been dropped. Vehicles in this segment offer elements of on-road passenger cars with some off-road features, most notably raised ground clearance and higher seating, the H5 measurement. The segment is currently dominated by crossovers, with a more luxurious interior, but with a conventional exterior appearance. M-segment (multi-purpose) vehicles are often described as van-based passenger cars, but include other taller vehicles as well. Both the J- and M-segments are further divided into small and large groups.

The American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies many passenger cars on the basis of a vehicle’s total interior passenger and cargo volumes. An exception involves SUVs, that are classified as light-duty trucks, resulting in more lenient regulations compared to other passenger cars. Light-duty trucks are classified based upon their gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). Heavy-duty vehicles are not included within the EPA scheme. In contrast, the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) separates vehicles into classes by the curb weight of the vehicle with standard equipment including the maximum capacity of fuel, oil, coolant, and air conditioning.

Increasingly, there are challenges with these segment designations, especially their conflation of comfort level and size, as well as the exemption of SUVs and pickups from environmental standards. Personally, I have never understood the appeal of a limousine, with an excessively long yet low body style. They do not even make particularly good lowriders! The Hyundai Staria is a much better luxury vehicle, combining a van exterior with a more luxurious interior, a cruise ship lounge inspired interior that uses hanok, a traditional Korean architectural style, to provides a sense of spaciousness and to connect the outside to the inside.

To put things into perspective, the vehicles we have owned in Norway fit into the following segments: Subaru Justy (B), Volkswagen Golf (C), Citroën Berlingo (M-small), Citroën Evasion (M-large), Hyundai Matrix (M-small), Mazda 5 (M-small). Two-thirds of all vehicle purchases, and all in the new millennium, were M segment vehicles. All of these vehicles were front-wheel drive, although the Justy also could use 4 wheel-drive, when needed.

The J segment is the category that sells the most vehicles in Europe. Regardless, Patricia and I seem to be dedicated M-segment people. In addition, after 36 years of driving front-wheel drive vehicles, we prefer them, when given a choice between front- and rear-wheel drive. We have no need for four-wheel drive, as we can now just avoid driving when whether conditions are at their worst. It is difficult to believe that since our marriage in 1978, at least some of our preferences have merged.

Within the M-small segment four families of vehicles had been investigated, on paper. Unfortunately, they were not available to drive, or even look at, so – initially – no conclusions could be reached. These vehicles could all carry five passengers and lots of goods.

On Tuesday, 2022-04-03, we attempted to see some Stellantis M-segment vehicles in Verdal. In this segment, Stellantis produces: Citroën Berlingo Multispace, Opel Combo Life, Peugeot Rifter and Toyota Proace Verso. We visited both a Peugeot dealer – who theoretically also sells Citroën products – and an Opel dealer. They could only show us cargo vans. Despite this, after a few days we received an offer on an Opel Combo Life, at NOK 445 000, but this was missing the colour option we wanted – a yellow vehicle. That would cost at least another NOK 30 000, bring the cost to about NOK 475 000.

On Thursday, 2022-05-05, we sent an email to our preferred Hyundai dealer, asking when an electric passenger version of the Hyundai Staria van was going to be made in Europe, and available for sale in Norway. The reply was that it would not be available until at least 2024, putting it outside of our timeframe.

A Hyundai Staria, currently unavailable as an EV in Norway, but expected in 2024 or 2025.

We also contacted appropriate dealers about Mercedes-Benz EQT, Nissan Townstar and Renault Kangoo EVs. All of these would be made by Renault. We were told by multiple dealers that they would arrive in Norway, about 2022-11. Checking websites on 2023-02-01, they are not available. These were designed simultaneously as both as an ICE vehicles and EVs. They entered production in 2021 as an ICE variant. While these vehicles three years more modern than the Stellantis models, they are still designed with multiple sources of power in mind, making them less desirable than a product that is EV only. We were told that the Nissan Townstar EV would have a price starting of about NOK 370 000. With a little optional equipment, these will cost about the same as their Stellantis equivalent. The gasoline version has a starting price just under NOK 500 000.

Media reports indicated that the Volkswagen ID. Buzz was expected to be available in Norway by the end of May. On 2018-02-05, I had publicly sworn not to buy another Volkswagen product, because of Dieselgate. Despite that, I contacted my local Volkswagen dealer, and discovered that NOK 700 000 was the salesman’s best guess at a base price, perhaps more. Totally out of our price range.

Here is a comparison of the specifications for these three available product families in alphabetical order: Renault, Stellantis and Volkswagen. The best value is in bold. Power = 90/ 100/ 150 kW; torque = 245 / 260/ 310 Nm; battery (gross) = 45/ 50/ 82 kWh; range WLTP mixed = 300/ 280/ 418 km. Dimensions = length x width (excluding mirrors) x height = 4486 x 1919 x 1893/ 4403 x 1848 x 1878/ 4712 x 1985 x 1937 mm; wheelbase = 2785/ 2716/ 2988 mm; ground clearance = 180/ 164/ 143 mm; trunk capacity = 775/ 597/ 1121 litres; trailering capacity = 1 500/ 750/ 1 000 kg. Renault excels in terms of ground clearance and trailering capacity, but Volkswagen exceeds at everything else.

A 2023 Renault Kangoo E-tech MPV

On 2012-10-19 we purchased a Mazda 5 that cost NOK 275 000, which involved an almost NOK 50 000 discount, as the model was being discontinued. Before we first started looking at vehicles in 2022, we set the maximum price at about NOK 400 000. The only vehicle we found within this price category, that we liked, was the Renault Zöe. We drove one and concluded that it had acceptable characteristics including various types of driver assistance, power and range. With these options, its price was NOK 310 000. However, its small size would require that an additional larger vehicle be available for some purposes, effectively meaning that we would be unable to dispose of the Mazda 5. This was not an ideal solution.

Stellantis multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) = Citroën e-Berlingo/ Opel or Vauxhall e-Combo Life/ Peugeot Rifter were designed as ICE vehicles in 2018. They were updated to include EV versions in 2021. Unfortunately, equipment has not been significantly updated for the 2020s. For example, only halogen headlights are available. No LEDs, and not even Xenon lights, are offered. With far too many long, dark nights, Scandinavians are willing to invest in vehicle lighting. One of the reasons we bought our Mazda 5 was that it came equipped with Xenon lights.

Electrek estimates the current price of a battery pack for an EV at US$ 132/ kWh (or about NOK 1 300) down from US$ 1 200 in 2012. One of the main challenges with a Stellantis MPV is its limited battery size, 50 kWh, in contrast to a VW ID. Buzz with 83 kWh (gross)/ 77 kWh (usable). Thus, the 30 kWh extra capacity is worth about NOK 40 000.

The ID. Buzz is also equipped with vehicle to house (V2H) bidirectional capability. This means that it can power electrical appliances and tools in off grid settings. During a power outage, the vehicle can be used as a power source to keep the electrical system in a house running. Since, our house may soon be equipped with an additional storage battery of 30 – 100 kWh capacity, the Buzz will be able to drive to a public fast charger to bring more electrons back! It may surprise some readers, but we experience electrical power outages about once a month. Sometimes they last only a few seconds, and most are under an hour in duration. It is still an inconvenience. Currently, many houses use wood stoves to provide warmth during longer outages, but these are ineffective at cooking meals, and useless at keeping food cool/ frozen or providing lighting. The V2H capability has been written about in a previous weblog post. It is assessed a nominal value of NOK 20 000.

Vehicle autonomy is often categorized in six levels. These are often coded as: Level 0 – no automation; Level 1 – hands on/shared control; Level 2 – hands off; Level 3 – eyes off; Level 4 – mind off, and Level 5 – steering wheel optional. Volkswagen claims that ID. Buzz will in the future be able to operate at level 4. In 2022-04, it started testing of an autonomous ID. Buzz AD prototype with Argo AI on public roads. The vehicle already comes equipped with some level 3 capabilities, such as autonomous parking. This is an important, especially for older drivers. The current autonomous driving capability is assessed a nominal value of NOK 20 000.

One issue with the Stellantis MPV is its use of halogen lighting. LED headlight use less electrical energy and run cooler. They produce a whiter and brighter light of 3 000 to 4 000 lumens, in contrast to the yellow of halogen bulbs at 1 000 to 1 500 lumens. LED headlights cast a larger and brighter light pattern on the roadway, so it improves driver situation awareness, while halogens cast a smaller, yellowish light pattern. Unfortunately, many oncoming vehicle drivers suspect that a LED outfitted vehicle is using its high beams, when they are not. LED lights are more durable, but more expensive and complicated to repair/ replace. LED lights are small and provide vehicle designers with a greater opportunity for design creativity. In Norway, retrofitting halogen with approved LED headlights costs a minimum of NOK 20 000. This is the value that will be assigned to LED lighting.

Not everyone in the automotive press is enthusiastic about the driveline on the ID. Buzz. With 150 kW of power, and 310 Nm of torque, its top speed is limited to 145 km/h, with an official acceleration from 0 – 100 km/h of 10.2 s. If this is too little, one wonders how they would react to 100 kW of power and 260 Nm of torque with the Stellantis MPV. Its top speed is 130 km/h, with an official acceleration from 0 – 100 km/h of 11.7 s. I do not expect to drive over 120 km/h, so the additional top speed is not particularly useful. Locally, the speed limit is 90 km/h, although the new highway to Trondheim is expected to have a speed limit of 110 km/h. There are some test sections with limits of 120 km/h, which is the maximum speed in Sweden and Finland. Denmark has motorways allowing 130 km/h.

Some of the extra power in the Buzz will compensate for the extra mass of the vehicle. On the other hand, the Stellantis MPV is fitted with front-wheel drive. Perhaps this is the only feature that I appreciate more on the Stellantis MPV than on the VW ID. Buzz. Rear wheel drive could be regarded as an acceptable price to pay for owning an iconic vehicle. It is difficult to find out what additional power and torque in a driveline actually costs, but- after deducting the value of front-wheel drive – will once again will use NOK 20 000 as its nominal value.

This total of NOK 120 000 more than accounts for its increased value of the Volkswagen ID. Buzz, in relation to a Stellantis MPV. In addition, the larger space for passengers and goods, and its iconic aesthetics, have not even been taken into consideration, in terms of assessing its economic value.

Buzz 2: Concept Vehicles

For the past twenty years, I have admired Volkswagen’s minivan concept vehicles. It began in 2001 with the Microbus concept, presented at the North American International Auto Show, in Detroit. Unfortunately, despite an attractive design, it was environmentally unfriendly, using a 3.2L V-6 engine of 172 kW and 320 Nm. Production was scheduled for 2003, until it was deferred and then cancelled in 2005.

2001 Volkswagen Microbus Concept

In 2011, a smaller Bulli concept was presented at the Geneva Motorshow. It was electrically powered with a 85 kW motor producing 270 Nm of torque using a 40 kWh battery giving a 299 km range. One significant difference, compared to the 2001 concept, was the use of conventional back doors, rather than sliding doors.

On 2015-09-20, Volkswagen announced that it had deceived the public about the emissions from eleven million diesel vehicles, using a software detect device that engaged full emission control only when the vehicle was being tested. On 2015-10-12 Volkswagen announced that it would accelerate electric vehicle development.

On 2016-01-05, Volkswagen presented the Budd-e at the Consumer Electronics Show, in Los Vegas. It was built on a MEB platform, with two motors producing 225 kW of power. The 101 kWh battery had an estimated range of 375 km.

This was followed up on 2017-01-08 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, with the ID. Buzz, described as a versatile, zero-emissions, all-wheel drive vehicle for the future. All-electric driving range of up to 435 km, with 275 kW of power from two motors, seating for up to eight with two luggage compartments, ID. Pilot, automated driving mode, while the driver’s seat can be turned 180 degrees to face the rear, head-up display projected information, and fully autonomous driving capability.

The production model of the ID. Buzz is very similar in appearance to the concept vehicle, but currently lacks many of the proposed features. The initial model released in Europe is also shorter. In many publications directed towards people working in the automotive industry, the ID. Buzz is referred to as a Lower Premium vehicle. This seems to indicate that some initial steps are being taken to separate vehicle specifications, and passenger comfort features in particular, from vehicle shape.

Buzz 1: Heritage

An iconic 21 window Volkswagen Samba bus. Photo: Kieft, 2009-11-02

This story is being told because, in our rural, Norwegian existence, Trish and I are dependent on a vehicle to thrive. We have chosen to live about 13 km from the economic centre of Inderøy, which has opted to place a sawdust burning, central heat distribution service at the centre of the village.

While public transport can be arranged, we have not used it for many years. Instead, we use a 10-year old multi-purpose vehicle (MPV). It is sufficiently large enough to carry (up to) seven people and/ or lots of goods, including building supplies. It can be fitted with roof racks and can even pull a 1 200 kg utility trailer. Yet, this Mazda 5 has not been a faithful friend, breaking down more than once, first on Saturday, 2013-08-10, returning to Inderøy from Bergen, 1 400 km away, ten months old, after being driven a total of 12 030 km. We were forced to wait until Thursday 2013-08-15 for repairs to be made, allowing us to continue our journey home.

Two MPVs were part of my childhood memories. One of these was a Volkswagen Type 2 Kombi, owned by the Bibby’s, on the laneway behind my childhood home. It was appreciated as a practical vehicle, for transporting goods, but mainly people, usually Florence (1908 – 1990) who sat in the back, driven by one of her sons, less often by her husband, Pat (1912 – 1990). Yet, at the time, this was probably not my favourite MPV on the laneway. That honour would go to Alf Fenton’s (1902 – 1995) Hillman Husky. It too was an MPV, but in a more compact format.

A Hillman Husky at the Waterfront Car Show in Bellingham, Washington. 2013-05-26. Photo: John Lloyd, Concrete, Washington.

From 1954 to 1965 Rootes Group produced the Double Duty Hillman Husky: You pay for one car, but have the services of two. It was a Commer Cob van with Hillman badging, factory-fitted side windows and fold-down rear seat. It was intended to be a full commercial vehicle as well as a passenger vehicle, an MPV before the term was even used. The interior was basic or, to be polite, minimalistic, with rubber floor coverings, minimal sound insulation, a minimum of instrumentation and, a minimum of everything else. This was not only appropriate for its intended usage, but a necessity to keep the price low. This avoided competition with more luxurious wagons. The Husky was slightly old-fashioned. Even when the Husky was updated, it was always behind the latest developments. Unfortunately, as far as I am aware, there have been no attempts to revamp the Husky.

In many ways, the Volkswagen Type 2/ MPV/ van/ bus/ minibus/ Transporter mirrored the Husky. It too was more functional than fashionable. It too was minimalistic. Yet, unlike the Husky, it still lives on. Its latest incarnation is the Volkswagen ID. Buzz, which will be the topic of three future weblog posts.

A sketch

Ben Pon (1904 – 1968), Dutch importer of Volkswagen vehicles to the Netherlands, is credited with the initial design idea for the Type 2. His 1947 sketch was inspired by a flatbed parts-hauler seen while visiting the Volkswagen plant. This ultimately resulted in the Volkswagen Type 2 that started production on 1950-03-08. It was available in two versions: The Kombi, with side windows and removable middle and rear seats; and the Commercial, a panel van.

This 1947 sketch by Ben Pon is the origin of the VW Type 2, which has evolved over 75 years into the VW ID. Buzz.

The Type 2 was authorized on 1949-05-19. The first vehicle came off the assembly line on 1949-11-12. The first MPV, designated a Microbus, dates from 1950-05. Since the Volkswagen’s model year starts on 08-01, and ends on 07-31, these were 1950 models! While the first T1s were built at Wolfsburg, production moved to a purpose built factory at Hannover, in 1956. The models were under continuous development. This distinction between commercial and passenger vechicles carries on to this day. Sales of Type 2 vehicles is undertaken by specialists in this area.

Paul Niedermeyer has put the Type 2 into its historical perspective, incorporating personal experiences starting in 1965. The assorted van/ bus generations are generally coded T1 to T7, with the first three generations retroactively named. They had the following production years, in Europe: T1 = 1950 to 1967 (17 years); T1 = 1967 – 1979 (12 years); T3 = 1979 – 1991 (12 years); T4 = 1990 – 2004 (14 years); T5 = 2003 – 2015 (12 years); T6 = 2015 – present; T7 = 2022 – present. This system of generational designations, was only adopted after the introduction of the T4, but applied retrospectively to the T1 to T3 generations. Only the first three generations were based on the Volkswagen Beetle/ Type 1.

To gain insights into the various models of Volkswagen Type 2 MPVs produced, a first stop could be Wikipedia. The production of older models often continued outside of Europe after the introduction of newer models in Europe.

The original T1 was appreciated for its versatility, especially an ability to transport goods and people in varying quantities, depending on the need. At the time people commented on its roomy interior, conventional rear-wheel drive, and less conventional air-cooled engine. It was regarded as easy to operate and maintain. In North America it was seen as a cost-effective alternative to a station wagon.

Roger White, curator of road transportation history, Division of Work and Industry, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, says, “For many people, the VW Microbus [= T1] became the symbol of protest with Detroit’s overpowered cars and society in general. It was a way of thumbing their noses at the establishment. It became popular with people who were rejecting mainstream American culture. It was their way of saying, ‘We don’t need your big V8 cars.’”

Because of its relative low cost, owners began to adapt the T1 to meet their own specific needs. One such need was for a camper, outfitted with beds, a table, kitchen facilities ( such as a stove and sink), and sometimes even a toilet. Volkswagen contracted with Westfalia to make camper conversion kits. These were exported to North America, starting in 1956.

While this Volkswagen MPV has participated in numerous historical events, such as the Woodstock music festival near Bethel, New York in 1969. It has been used to transport countless surfboards as well as an infinite number of hippies.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Some individual vehicles have had a significant impact on people. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., two pieces of what was a green T1 are on display, a side panel and rear hatch. They contain a message from Esau Jenkins (1910 – 1972), “Love is progress. Hate is expensive.” This 1966 VW Transporter took African-American children to school and adults to work on the Sea Islands near Charleston, South Carolina. While Esau Jenkins drove, Janie Jenkins (1929 – 2016) taught passengers about the South Carolina constitution, and their rights.

How the Volkswagen Bus Became a Symbol of Counterculture
Esau Jenkins, painted “Love is Progress, Hate is Expensive” onto his VW bus. The rear hatch is on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Photo: William Pretzer

Perspectives change.

As a teenager in the early 1960s, I remember talking to an old man, possibly seventy, in New Westminster. He owned an old car. Unfortunately, my memory is not reliable, but I believe it was a 1904 curved-dash Oldsmobile. It was about sixty years old: not just old, but outmoded and obsolete, for the technology underpinning the vehicle was no longer in use or usable. Regardless, it was venerable, the oldest vehicle I had ever seen.

Model A Fords were produced from 1928 to 1931, a fact I can recall without having to look it up. In the 1960s, two of my neighbours were into them. Being into something, means that whatever that something is, doesn’t come with commitments. One neighbour was more of a parts collector, than a mechanic. No driveable Model A ever emerged to quench his obsession. The other, Patrick, managed to restore one! With that challenge met, he was able to sell the vehicle, and move on to greater things.

A Model A was only half the age of that venerable beast, previously mentioned. Models As were slightly over thirty years old. They were old and outmoded, but not obsolete. That is, their DNA could be found in every internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle produced since the 1930s to this day. Now, every model A is over ninety years old. They are just as outmoded as they were in the 1960s, but no worse than that. Their lineage lives on, in today’s ICE vehicles.

A similarly aged car in 2023, would have started its career somewhere between 1988 and 1991. Apart from some safety equipment, there is not much that distinguishes it from a more modern vehicle. It is old, but not outmoded, and definitely not obsolete, just yet.

A 1929 Model A Ford, complete with rumble seat (providing seating for two passengers in the open at the rear of the vehicle) and trunk. On the side of the vehicle are a spare tire, and a red can of Benzin (German) = bensin (Norwegian) = gasoline (English). This vehicle belongs to a cabin owner at Vangshylla, Norway.

Soon, all ICE vehicles will be obsolete, regardless of their age. This is because drivelines are being transformed, to use motors powered by batteries. Unfortunately for new ICE vehicle owners, but not for the world, CO2 production has led to global warming, so that even brand new ICE vehicles must be made obsolete. I have absolutely no desire to own any vehicle dependent on combustion. Following the Pandemic, it has not been possible to buy most EVs without waiting. It is common now to wait nine months for a car delivery. The ID. Buzz, now has a wait list lasting 18 to 24 months. Many consumers are aware of the impending climate crisis, wanting to do their part. While not everyone is moving at the same speed, an increasing number of people expect their next vehicle to be battery electric.

If one really wants to see people living in the past with a passion for obsolete vehicles, one comfortable way is to watch an episode of Rust Valley Restorers (2018 – present), filmed at Tappen, British Columbia, near Shuswap Lake. In the tenth episode of its fourth season, the last vehicle restored is a 1964 Pontiac Parisienne, 9-passenger station wagon. There are some vague similarities to a Volkswagen bus: two tone colours, with a white top and bright green underneath. Some people may regard it as attractive, but I find it far too low. It also makes a terrible noise, whenever its engine starts and is in operation. It may offer exhilaration, but no fun.

A 1959 Nash Metropolitan. Photo: Dave 7 from Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

I cannot recall any Volkswagen MPVs or vans in Mike Hall’s collection at Tappen. With the exception of a Sunbeam Alpine, there were no cars that captivated my heart. In my childhood there were lots of cars on the laneway from the 1950s. Yet only four cars attracted me sufficiently for me to want to own one: two Nash Metropolitans, belonging to the two mothers of the boys obsessed with Model As, Alf’s Husky, and Pat’s Volkswagen microbus!

Hyundai Ioniq 5

Charles Justice in front of his new Hyundai Ioniq 5 in Lucid blue pearl paint.

Congratulations, Charles, on buying your first electric vehicle (EV), a Hyundai Ioniq 5. I was impressed when you told me that you only used CA$ 16/ US$ 11.50/ NOK 125, for electrical power to travel the 720 km (450 miles) between Prince George and Prince Rupert. That is a little over 2 cents CAD a kilometer, a little over 2.5 cents USD a mile.

A suitable 2022 EV in a developed country probably means that it is built on a dedicated EV platform, has a raised seating position typical of SUVs, receives a five-star (Euro) NCAP safety rating, holds five people comfortably and with enough space for luggage/ shopping in both a frunk and trunk, offers a minimum 400 km of range with sufficient power, torque and handling for local conditions, which in British Columbia and Norway implies mountain roads. Since people are all different, that means that everyone will have different perspectives on what constitutes important vehicle characteristics.

I was a little surprised at your choice of a compact crossover SUV, because I always think of you as a van/ multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) type of person, needing an EV replacement for your previously owned Mercury Villager. I find it very similar to the Citroën Evasion, that I once owned. Unfortunately, choice is often an illusion, because there is a need to compromise. There are not that many electric powered vans around. Those that do exist offer low range. On the horizon, one exception is the Volkswagen ID. Buzz. It has just started populating European streets (or at least VW Dealer showrooms), but it will not be coming to North America before 2024, in a slightly longer version.

With 155 mm (6.1″) of ground clearance, the Ioniq 5 is a good choice for a winter car, especially for driving on unplowed roads with snow. However, it is definitely not for offroading.

The Ioniq 5 is built on a dedicated electric platform, the Hyundai Electric – Global Modular Platform (E-GMP). This is important. It allows a long wheelbase, in relation to length. The floor is flat. This provides increased passenger comfort for five people, as well as improved ride characteristics. There is a generous amount of cargo space, initially 531 litres (18.75 cubic feet), but expanding to 1 600 litres (56.5 cubic feet), with the rear seats folded down. There is a frunk for storage at the front of the vehicle.

The battery can recharge 86 km (53 miles) of range in 5 minutes, or from 10 to 80% in 18 minutes, or 375 km (230 miles) in half an hour with its 800 V charging capabilities using a 350 kW charger. With electric motors providing torque at low speeds, EVs typically accelerate quickly. Regenerative braking produces electricity when braking, rather than wearing out brake pads.

Hyundai Ioniq 5 interior Photo: Hyundai Canada.

The dashboard houses two 300 mm (12″) screens, an instrument cluster display in front of the driver, and an infotainment system between the two front-seats.

Vehicle to load (V2L) function = bidirectional charging can provide up to 3.6 kW of power through a port mounted under the rear seats or from an outside port. This is important in areas with electrical power outages, because it allows refrigerators, freezers, hot water heaters, stoves and space heaters to continue operation. If necessary, and if the outage is local enough, the vehicle can be driven to a fast charger, then return to power the residence. If one lives in an area with electrical price changes throughout the day, V2L will allow a car to provide power to the household during periods when grid electricity is expensive, then recharge itself, when it is cheap.

Who buys a new EV? To find out, I tried to look up some basic demographic information. It didn’t provide all of the insights I wanted. One comment on age: the age of a new car or truck buyer has grown older over the past decade. It is now around 53 years old. They also note that among new vehicles buyers, the 55+ age group has a 15 percentage point increase since 2000. For most vehicle types, the gender difference favoured men, about 55% men/ 45% women. There were two exceptions. First, 14% of light-truck purchasers were women, and 86% were men. Second, 25 % of electric vehicle (EV) purchasers were women, and 75% were men. My Norwegian experience tells a very different story. Most of the EV owners I know are women. They purchase practical vehicles, notably Kia Soul EVs. Men tend to be more performance oriented vehicle owners, buying Audi, Polestar and Tesla EVs.

Hyundai Ioniq 5 specifications

Wheelbase3 000 mm
Length4 635 mm
Width1 890 mm
Height1 605 mm
Ground clearance155 mm
Mass (small – large)1830-1950 RWD/ 1905 – 2115 AWD kg
Battery capacity58 – 73 (Europe) – 77 (North America) kWh
Power125 – 168 (RWD)/ 173 – 239 (AWD North America) kW
Torque350 (RWD)/ 605 (AWD) Nm
Range384 — 488 (RWD)/ 319 – 412 (AWD) km
Top speed185 km/h
Accelleration (0 – 100 km/h)8.5 (small RWD) – 5.1 (large AWD) s
Specifications are provided for the two North American battery packs, but not the long-range European battery pack, with the exception of its battery capacity. Non-metric values can be found in the Wikipedia article on the Hyundai Ioniq 5.

EVs keep checking more boxes, except one – price! Some of these characteristics are: appearance, comfort, connectivity, performance, safety and size, in alphabetical order.

Prices. An article, in the New York Times states that many companies have increased prices because they have had increased costs, the past two years. This has improved their profitability, but it has also pressed inflation to higher levels. This applies to the automotive market, especially. Dealers have paid more for the vehicles they have purchased, but they take even more money for the cars they sell. They do this because they know that there are very many who want to buy cars, but there aren’t enough available, in part because of supply chain difficulties.

Historic internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle price data, and consumer price index (CPI) data, are insufficient to calculate a reasonable EV base price. Instead, one is forced to look at the prices of real world vehicles, discover/ compute/ invent shadow prices for the the most important features. After that, one is left with the task of picking out the most suitable vehicle, and accepting that its price is going to be higher than one originally hoped.

Part of EV pricing challenge has to do with batteries. Batteries make up a large proportion of an EV price. Some projections point to a downward trend in Li-ion battery components, then some unexpected expansion in demand results in an increase in prices. Because battery prices were so high, many of the first EVs produced had inadequate range, which increased anxiety. Larger batteries increase weight and vehicle price. In 2022, 300 km is often regarded as inadequate, 400 km as acceptable, and 500 km as ideal. In Europe, range is determined using the Worldwide harmonized Light vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP). Wikipedia has an article about it.

Theodore Paul Wright (1895 – 1970) wrote a paper Factors affecting the costs of airplanes (1936) about the the learning curve effect = Wright’s Law, that has predicted the decline in production costs, for many technological products. Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery cell costs fall by 28% for every cumulative doubling of units produced. The battery pack is the most expensive part of an electric vehicle. Consequently, the prices of EVs fall with declining battery costs. One prophecy was that by 2023, the cost of Li-ion batteries would fall to around US$ 100/ kWh. This would mean that EVs would be as cheap to make as ICE vehicles. By 2021, increased demand for EVs increased the demand for battery materials, which resulted in increased battery costs. Tea-leaf readers, crystal-ball gazers as well as others with insights, real or imaginary, are invited to provide more details about upcoming battery (and EV) price developments.

Appearance. The Ioniq 5 originated as the Hyundai 45 EV Concept, with 45 referring both to a common angle emphasized on the vehicle, as well as the 45th anniversary of the Hyundai Pony, manufactured from 1975 to 1985, that was South Korea’s first mass produced and exported vehicle. The concept’s sensuous sportiness design language, emphasized kinetic cube front and rear lights. Today, they are referred to as Parametric Pixel design, several sources inform that it is not just apparent in headlights and tail lights, but also in its wheels.

Comfort. Much of the well-being afforded by a vehicle relates to the volume of space available to passengers, in relation to their size. It should be proportional, neither too large nor too little. The Ioniq 5 offers more than adequate space, especially for people sitting in its front seats. People, big or small, will be able to sit comfortably. The front seats offer automatic two-zone air conditioning and massaging capability. One can wonder if these features make driving/ riding less stressful? The rear seats are more confining, especially if that space has to be divided between three people. All of the seats are suitably supportive. What many people appreciate most inside an EV, is quietness, especially noise suppression, at higher speeds. In its brochure, Hyundai inappropriately lists features under comfort that belong elsewhere: bidirectional charging, charging of phones and other devices, net-based services.

Connectivity. Hyundai has a greater focus on wireless interaction than comfort. Everything from loud-speakers to automatic emergency calls (911/ 112) is treated as a connectivity issue/ feature. It appears that it is not enough to have a display. The ignoble art of quantity and size comparisons asserts itself. Prioritizing silence over sound, I am not the right person to comment on the tainment half of a digital infotainment display. However, I would place the info half, under safety.

Performance. Some people prioritize performance characteristics. They typically want a vehicle with fast acceleration and a high top speed. In Scandinavia, the Moose test is the ultimate performance tool. The term was first used in 1997 by journalists at Teknikens Varld, a Swedish magazine. This evasive maneuver test was originally used to assess tire adhesion. Later, it tested vehicle stability during an extreme maneuver. Another priority here is braking. It should happen quickly. There should be some form of dynamic braking available, coupled with FCA, which is mentioned under safety.

Safety. Older drivers should prioritize safety. This was emphasized at a driving course for people over 65 that Trish and I attended some years ago. It was pointed out that the same injury that barely affects a twenty year old, could potentially kill someone who was seventy. In addition, older people often have some cognitive issues.

Modern vehicles have a large number of features to help older drivers cope with traffic. These are often coded. Here are some of them that are provided as standard equipment on European versions of the Ioniq 5: DAW = Driver attention warning; NSCC = Navigation based smart cruise control; PA = Parking assist; PDW = Parking distance warning; LFA = Lane follow assist; LKA = Lane keep assist; LDW = Lane departure warning; LVDA = Leading vehicle departure alert; FCA-JT Forward collision avoidance (junction traffic); FCA = Forward collision avoidance; PCA = Reverse parking collision avoidance assist; RSPA = Remote smart parking assist; BCA = Blind spot collision avoidance; RCCA = Rear cross traffic collision avoidance assist; HDA II = Highway driving assistance with level 2 autonomy; SVM = Suround view monitoring; BVM = Blind spot video monitoring; SEA = Safe exit assist; ROA = Rear occupant alert; ISLA = Intelligent speed limit assistance.

Some of the other safety issues have to do with residential charging. Sandy Munro, for example, wondered if many of the fires blamed on EV batteries, might be the fault of inappropriately designed chargers.

Size. The most common way people define their vehicle needs is in terms of size. The North American neighbourhood electric vehicle, with speed and weight restrictions, is replaced by a quadracycle in Europe, where somewhat different speed and/ or weight restrictions may apply. There is also a distinction between passenger cars and trucks. In Europe passenger cars are divided into segments A – F: A = mini, B = small, C = medium, D = large, E = executive, F = luxury. In addition there are: J = sport utility, M = multi purpose and S = sport. It is arranged by consensus, rather than with fixed definitions. In North America, passenger car classes are defined on the basis of measured interior volume. Small pickup trucks, standard pickup trucks, vans, minivans and SUVs are defined on the basis of gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR). The Ioniq 5, as a passenger vehicle, is defined by its interior volume. Since it is a compact crossover SUV, it must meet the interior volume index of 100–109 cu ft (2.8–3.1 m3).

Just an hour before this post is to be published, I am checking the usual EV sources, and discover that the Ioniq 5 has been selected as Motortrend’s SUV of the year, 2023.

Motortrend writes: The SUV of the Year winner stood out from the formidable competition thanks to its stellar looks, wonderful driving capabilities, roomy and comfortable cabin, efficient battery, and amazing value. The Hyundai IONIQ 5 is a game-changing rethink on what an SUV can be and is the first EV to win MotorTrend’s SUV of the Year award.


Yes, I hope to convert everyone to metric system enthusiasts, but I also want to encourage electric vehicles. So, today only, I am adding some non-metric values in the main text. Non-metric units for almost all metric values stated here, can be found in the Wikipedia article about the Hyundai Ioniq 5.

In discussing this topic with my son, Alasdair, he reminded me that the purpose of a automotive sales person is not so much to encourage people to buy a particular product, but to reassure them that they have made the correct choice, once the contract is signed. Buyers’ regret is real!


Yes, Charles, despite attempts to look forward, both you and I are influenced by our childhood experiences. They have shaped our preferences later in life. Twenty years ago there were still remnants of a population that refused to use seatbelts: It is better to be thrown clear in an accident, than to be crushed to death! They no longer exist. Today, there is a younger generation of drivers that use hand-held devices while driving. It is difficult to look objectively at one’s own generation. I encourage younger people to comment on the more irritating driving traits of you, I and others born in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

I remember being impressed by four vehicles on our lane in New Westminster: a Volkswagen bus, two Nash Metropolitans, and a Hillman Husky, all from the late 1950s/ early 1960s. There were also vehicles that should have impressed me, but didn’t, such as an Edsel hardtop (convertible ?). Away from the lane, I also remember being impressed with a Nash Rambler, driven by my widowed aunt Millie’s friend. I suspect that you, too, Charles were influenced by your father’s Rambler. For me, nothing surpassed the spaciousness of another aunt’s car, Molly’s 1939 Plymouth 4-door sedan. She owned a small farm in Okanagan Mission, outside Kelowna, British Columbia. A few farm fields away, I began my driving career with a 1953 Chevrolet Advanced Design 3100 pickup, probably at the age of 14.

Sometimes I wonder why I have never owned an American car. I suspect Molly’s Plymouth was so much more comfortable to sit in than those lower, sleeker cars from the late 1950s/ early 1960s. That had a significant impact on my perceptions. Yet, sometimes, I allow myself to appreciate the lowlife, usually various iterations of a Studebaker Hawk. Other American vehicles that have appealed include the International Harvester Metro step vans, and their Scout and Travelall SUVs, are all on my top ten list of vintage vehicles. Somehow, I find it difficult to be enthusiastic about mainstream brands, like Ford or GM.

While many people in our generation acquire relics from the past, the beginning of the end of my ICE era, dates to 2012, with my purchase of one last ICE vehicle. Already then, I knew it would be the last one. The problem was that EVs were just a little too expensive, and batteries were just a little too small. Yet, the writing was on the wall: Future vehicles would be electric.

In fifty years time (2072), your descendant who inherits this car, will inherit a gem: one of the first vehicles built on a dedicated EV platform, with mass market appeal, comfort, performance, safety features and range. Congratulations, Charles, on your purchase of an impressive car, a Hyundai Ioniq 5!

Plasma Kinetics

This illustration shows some of the applications for Plasma Kinetics hydrogen technology, that include aircraft, and assorted types of land vehicles. Presumably, various types of vessels could also use it. Source: Plasma Kinetics.

Hydrogen based storage technology could replace capacitor and battery technology for energy storage in vehicles, vessels and aircraft of various types and sizes. Previously, posts in this weblog have taken up a hydrogen station explosion, and its aftermath. In addition, a flawed report about the economics of hydrogen and methane has been examined.

Plasma Kinetics hydrogen technology was introduced, and patented, in 2008. It was first claimed that the technology was transformational, then disruptive. Almost immediately restrictions were placed on their use of patents, effectively resulting in the technology being banned by the US government. That situation continued until 2017, when it was allowed to be commercialized. There were some restrictions imposed under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which continues to restrict its export as a missile fuel.

Where Plasma Kinetics technology differs from other providers of hydrogen, is that it does not need a compressed gas infrastructure to capture, move or distribute hydrogen. Instead, one common distribution method is to fill 19 l / 7 kg containers with hydrogen, for sale at assorted local stores. Empty containers can be returned, in exchange for recharged containers.  The stored hydrogen is non-flammable.  Containers of hydrogen can be transported via truck, rail, or ship without restriction.  There is no need to build compressed hydrogen gas stations.  Plasma Kinetics systems are slightly larger, and only moderately heavier, than compressed gas carbon-fiber tanks at 700 bar.  But solid storage containers are much easier to manage than compressed gas, and have a lower overall energy cost, and a cleaner fabrication process.  Safe, non-flammable, hydrogen storage in dense solid form. Hydrogen is zero-carbon. No energy or pressure is required to collect and store hydrogen. No pipelines or fixed structure pumping stations are required. Cassette, canister and other container systems can be easily recharged. Materials used are non-toxic and readily available worldwide. The entire processing process is quiet. 

The nano-graphite film recharges through 150 cycles and is fully recyclable. The reason for this limit, is that the process only works with atomic hydrogen = 1H (where an atom consists of one proton and one electron, but no neutrons). This amounts to 99.98% of hydrogen found in the wild. Deuterium = 2H (where an atom consists of one proton, one neutron and one electron), amounts to 0.02% of the wild hydrogen population. It cannot be used in the energy system, so it accumulates on the film. It can, however, be retrieved when the storage units are recycled, and sold for a profit that exceeds the recycling costs!

Comparison between different hydrogen storage methods. Source: Plasma Kinetics.

My acquaintance with this technology came from a YouTube video (2021-06-24) on the E for Electric channel, when Sandy Munro was asked by Alex Guberman, what he would do if he became CEO of Toyota for a day? Part of his answer involved Toyota acquiring, or at least developing a relationship with, Plasma Kinetics.

Some weeks later, in an interview with Paul Smith (2021-08-12), Smith explains how the technology works, starting at about 5m00s in. He claimed that 15 lbs provides 20 miles of range in a car. With a severe allergy to imperial units, I would probably have said that a 19 l/ 7 kg cartridge would provide an average car with sufficient energy for 30 km. Cylinders for trucks would be 20 x larger (140 kg). Four of those would allow a truck to travel 570 miles = ca. 900 km.

One of the main concerns with this technology is the capability of consumers to replace a 19 l/ 7 kg cartridge every 30 km. People expect a modern electric vehicle (EV) to have a range of at least 300 km, which would require a vehicle to carry ten such units, at a weight of 70 kg. It was pointed out that systems were being developed for the automatic removal and insertion of disks (in cars), and presumably cylinders (in trucks and airplanes).

It was noted that while batteries are extremely efficient, the specific energy of hydrogen, expressed in terms of J/ kg, is three times that of a battery. Except, in some respects, one is comparing avocados with olives! The hydrogen needs to go through a fuel cell for its energy to be converted to electricity.

It should be noted that prior to the hydrogen ending up in some container, water = H2O has been converted in an electrolyzer resulting in hydrogen 2 parts H2 and oxygen 1 part O2. Please do not ask what happens to the oxygen!

Both fuel cells and electrolyzers are becoming smaller, lighter and more reliable. Electrolyzers can be stationed at local wind or photo-voltaic farms, wastewater treatment facilities, or other climate friendly sources.

It was also pointed out that a conventional compressed hydrogen refueling station can cost US$ 2.5 to 3 million. This contrasts with a station for Plasma Kinetics containers that costs about US$ 200 000.

A fuel cell vehicle using this technology should be far cheaper to make than a battery electric vehicle. Some items are eliminated, others are repurposed. For example, the battery cooling system becomes a fuel cell cooling system. Some components remain the same, such as the electric motors. In essence, a heavy battery is being replaced with a much lighter fuel cell and the Plasma Kinetics photo release system for hydrogen. This should give the vehicle improved range.

Paul Smith concludes that interest for the technology is stronger in Asia and Europe, and much less so in North America. A fab = fabrication facility = factory, to make the equipment costs about US$ 100 million.

In EV 2030 predictions, the challenges with fuel cells involve the energy costs of electolyzing hydrogen from water, which account for somewhere between 25% (DC) and 31% (AC) energy loses. Then, processing of hydrogen in the fuel cell costs another 50%. This means that the energy value available to the motors is somewhere between 36 – 38%. In contrast, the energy value available with a battery is about 77%.

Since my prophecy quotient is already used up, I will only speak of dreams. One of which is that dynamic charging along highways will meet much of the vehicular need for electricity, by 2050. Unfortunately, this is not supported by any evidence seen so far. Associated with this dream, is that the cost of dynamic charging technology will be less than that provided by hydrogen containers and fuel cells or equivalent battery based components, in vehicles. An agenda to this dream is that solid-state batteries will become the norm because of their increased specific energy and energy density, and durability. Any such batteries will generally be much smaller and reserved for last mile situations, something a 20 kWh battery would be able to supply.

Analogue Electric Vehicles

A Woodpecker skateboard, to encourage young experimenters to investigate battery electric vehicles. Photo: Woodpeck.org

Part 1

On 2021-07-07 Robert N. Charette wrote an article in IEEE Spectrum, How Software Is Eating the Car, The trend toward self-driving and electric vehicles will add hundreds of millions of lines of code to cars. Can the auto industry cope?

As usual, an article in Slash Dot ( /.) is my main source of biased opinions about a serious technological issue, with one typical comment given a score of 4: interesting. It read: “If you get something pre-1978 then the most sophisticated electronics in the vehicle will probably be the radio kit.” This was then followed by numerous comments about 1976 (and later) Chrysler Cordobas. This type of reasoning reaches its zenith with, “What was the last car without this nonsense? Makes me want to buy a classic car or motorcycle, just for the simplicity.”

Yes, for a long time the trend has been towards increasing [Engine Control Units =] ECUs, based on the design philosophy of, “If you want a new feature, you buy a box from a Tier 1 [top-level component suppliers, such as Bosch] that provides the feature, and wire it in. As a general rule, automakers love outsourcing work; for most of them, their dream scenario is that everyone else does all the work for them and they just slap a badge on it and take a cut.

Then Rei adds a score 5: informative, but long, comment: “This article actually has it backwards. The first company to break with this philosophy was Tesla, which has from the beginning had a strong philosophy of in-house software design, and built basically a ‘car OS’ that offloads most vehicle software functionality into a handful of computers (with redundancy on safety-critical functionality). … Eventually everyone is going to have to either make their own ‘car OS’ stack or lease one from someone else. The benefits are just too significant[:] Lower hardware costs, lower assembly costs, lower power consumption, simpler cheaper lighter wiring harness, faster iteration time on new functionality, closer integration between different subsystems, you name it. This trend throws into reverse the notion of ever-increasing numbers of ECUs (which quite simply was an unsustainable trend).”

Who could possibly disagree?

Part 2

What is the minimal vehicle a person needs? Of course, there will be as many answers as there are people, and it will all be dependent on what they are doing. There are a lot of vehicles available, but I will not refer to them as choices. Some places lack trams or other forms of public transit. They may exist in other places, but run at inappropriate frequencies. Some communities lack bike lanes, forcing cyclists to compete for space with cars. Some streets are perpetually gridlocked.

Some people need to work, outside of their residences! Does one have to take children to kindergartens or schools? What distance does one have to travel to attain basic health and nutritional needs? Can this be done as part of a commute, or is a separate trip necessary? What about specialty shops? What is the distance to the nearest bus station/ train station/ airport/ international airport? Is there a need for a social life? Is one dependent on driving a car? Could a bicycle do for some items? Are trains or buses an option? So many questions, so few obvious answers.

Perhaps my own situations could be used as an example. Compared to most people, my life is simple: no job is calling me, and I am no longer responsible for looking after young children. Yesterday, I used a vehicle with a mass of about 1.5 Megagrams (where 1 Mg = 1 000 kg), to drive 40 km. Admittedly, there are vehicles that weigh less than a car. A bicycle is probably the most efficient device for conveying people, and it can have a mass of from about 5 to about 20 kg. Yet, I would not feel safe driving one of these on the roads of rural Norway. There are no buses, but if I plan in advance and contact the appropriate office a day in advance, I might be able to use public transit, essentially a taxi charging bus rates, as long as I am willing to wait up to several hours, for a return trip.

The most basic foods, as well as building supplies, can be purchased with a 14 km return trip across Skarnsund bridge in Mosvik, where there is even a coffee bar, with better than acceptable lattes. Basic health care (doctor, dentist, pharmacy, optometrist) and a larger selection of food and basic necessities are met by driving 26 km for a return trip in the opposite direction, into Straumen. More specialty shops are available in Steinkjer involving a 70 km round trip. This all involves driving. However, there is also a train station at Røra, 40 km round trip by car, that will allow one to connect with an international airport (TRD), and the fourth largest city in Norway, Trondheim, about 120 km away – 240 km round trip, with an even larger selection of shops and activities.

Part 3

I am in agreement with Rei, that more software (and less hardware) is needed in vehicles. Yet, I am reading this week that General Motors is charging purchasers of many GMC, Buick, and Cadillac vehicles, that are shipped with OnStar and Connected Services Premium Plan by default, $1 500 for the three-year plan that was once optional, but is now required. Other companies are doing the same sort of thing. It is estimated that this revenue stream could give GM an additional $20 to 25 billion per year by 2030. BMW has come out with similar claims, giving them an additional revenue of about $5 billion per year by 2030. I do not want to ensure that a wealthy elite continues to take more of an income pie that is already unfairly divided.

At issue is the right of consumers to direct access to vehicle data, which historically has been obtained from an on-board diagnostic (OBD-2) port (North America) or European on-board diagnostic (EOBD) port, since 1996 and 2001, respectively.  These allowed vehicle owners and technicians access to vehicle data to assist with maintenance and repair. This situation is threatened by vehicle manufacturers, who want to use telematics = the sending of data wirelessly and directly, restricting vehicle data to manufacturers. In 2021, 50% of new cars have these connected capabilities, but no country has more than 20% of its vehicle fleet equipped. USA has the most. By 2030, it is estimated that about 95% of new vehicles sold globally will have this connectivity, according to a study by McKinsey. ​

While this data could provide economic and other benefits to car owners, vehicle manufacturer want to act as gatekeeper, determining who can access it, and at what cost. This is a detriment to consumers, which could result in: Increased consumer costs; restrictions on consumer choices for maintenance and repair;  safety and security issues involving the use of non-standard data types and formats; privacy concerns. Automotive mechanics, and other aftermarket providers can also be affected. 

This has resulted in a consumer backlash, which I associate with the right-to-repair movement. There are already open-source groups working to ensure that consumers retain their rights. In addition, Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) is an open source project hosted by The Linux Foundation that is building an open operating system and framework for automotive applications. It was started in 2012, and currently has 146 corporate members.

I imagine that automotive manufacturers will try to add just enough proprietary software to their vehicles, to profit maximally from their investment. On the other hand, I see that there will be an incentive for ordinary consumers to demand right-to-repair legislation, and for guerilla activists to produce generic software substitutes where this is useful.

In Europe, repair is increasingly regarded as an essential consumer right and an environmental necessity. The main objective of the European Green Deal, is to be climate neutral by 2050. The European Commission’s Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), published 2020-03, details how this goal is to be reached. To reduce waste, products have to be designed to last. If they don’t last, they shouldn’t be sold. To encourage the development of products that are longer-lasting, there could be lifespan labels, service manuals, and an EU-wide repairability index. This would encourage the market to compete on repairable and durability.

In 2020-11, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a right-to-repair, and insisted that the more conservative European Commission administrative arm, implement it. It also included repairability labeling.

In 2020-11, voters in Massachusetts approved Question 1, involving a right-to-repair Law, with almost 75 percent in favour. The law requires automakers to provide a way for car owners and their chosen repair shops to access vehicle data, including that sent wirelessly to the manufacturer. The intent of this law is to prevent manufacturers and dealerships from having exclusive access to data.

Massachusetts is the state where the first automotive right-to-repair law was passed in 2012. That law made car makers open up the data inside the car. Rather than create a state by state solution, automakers reached a nationwide agreement with car parts makers/ suppliers and repair shops on how to share the data. This agreement opened the OBD-II port. With this new and improved right-to-repair law, similar transformative actions are required.

There are an increasing number of underpaid programmers and other software and hardware specialists, unable to fully live the American (and Scandinavian) dream. Many of these would undoubtedly be willing to work as guerilla technologists to develop the tools needed for retrofitting vehicles with more consumer friendly components, especially after warranties have ended. There are an increasing number of inexpensive microprocessors and systems on a chip that can be used for these purposes.

Part 4

To put electric vehicles in perspective, one needs to return to 1965-11-05, when President Lynden Johnson was given a copy of Restoring the Quality of Our Environment, a report by the Environmental Pollution Panel, President’s Science Advisory Committee. On publication of this blog, people have had 20 735 days or 56 years, 9 months, 8 days to confront this challenge, but have failed miserably at this task.

One fundamental question is, where can younger people learn more about the construction of appropriate vehicles for the 21st century? Currently the most interesting project is Woodpecker, that describes itself as an: “Open source based Carbon negative Electric Vehicle Platform. Woodpecker is a game changing micromobility vehicle to decrease CO2. Electrical propulsion allows to use solar and renewable power. Production of Wooden frame even decreasing CO2 because it is encapsulated by [wood] while growing. Vehicle built on Circular Economy concept – most parts are recyclable.” It appears to have originated in Latvia, and includes partnerships with many higher-educational institutions in the country. One problem with Woodpecker, is that it as an organization is too closely bound to commercial enterprises. For example, a good starting point for most open-source projects is to become acquainted with their documentation. In this case it requires people interested in downloading their technical drawings to have a Trimble account, in order to use Sketchup.


1. This post follows up some aspects of Vehicle Devices, published 2020-11-03. The division between parts is not based on content, but time. Part 1 of this weblog post was originally written 2021-06-18 and saved at 10:49. It had been patiently waiting to be published. On 2022-08-12, outdated content was removed, and Part 2, was added, starting at 20:43. Parts 3 was started on 2022-08-13 at about 07:40, while part 4 was started on the same date at 08:48.

2. Trondheim claims to be the third largest city in Norway, but I would give that title to Stavanger. The challenge with Stavanger, is that its metropolitan area is divided between multiple municipalities. Yes, I am aware that I have offended some of my Norwegian readers, because of their origins in Trøndelag. However, Stavanger is the only place in Norway where I have ever been able to find/ buy root beer! This is probably due to Americans working in the oil industry, and living in the Stavanger area.