Panel Vans

A 1961 Hillman Husky panel van in Christchurch, New Zealand. This is an Audax design from Raymond Loewy (1893 – 1986), who also designed vehicles for Studebaker and International Harvester. (Photo: Riley, 2011-10-23)

A panel van is a cargo vehicle with (up to) three distinguishing characteristics. First, it is based on a passenger car chassis. Second, there is typically only one row of seats for a driver and either one or two passengers. The area behind this row is for cargo/ goods/ freight. Third, (optionally,)there are no side windows behind the B-pillar, which is the roof support for the vehicle immediately behind the front doors.

In the past, some panel vans were almost identical to station wagons, but with glass side-windows replaced with steel, and rear seats removed. In the above photo, the windows are still in place, but painted with signage. Others featured a raised cargo area, behind the B-pillar. British panel vans, especially the Hillman Husky and Commer Cob, with their Audax design from 1960 to 1965, by Raymond Loewy (1893 – 1986), appealed most to me in the 1960s.

An aside: In part, this preference for British vehicles came from spending most summers in Kelowna, British Columbia, where my mother grew up. The community seemed to have a split personality: Half of the population drove British cars, the other half American. The first vehicle I ever drove was a Chevrolet pickup, in a farm field. I also spent a lot of time driving to beaches in the back of my aunt’s 1939 Plymouth. However, most of my mother’s friends had their own Austin A40s, Morris Minors, and even a Mini, bought in 1960.

By the 1970s, station wagons such as the Volkswagen Squareback and Volvo Amazon station wagon/ 125 and, later, Volvo 145 were also favourably viewed. This position was overtaken by the Saab 95 panel van in the 1980s and early 1990s. Our landlord in Aukra, Norway, had such a vehicle. Sometimes he would take us into Molde, about 30 km away, with Trish sitting in the passenger seat, while I lounged in the back. At the time, this was all perfectly legal. With the introduction of the Citroën Berlingo and Renault Kangoo in 1996, these two models dominated my thoughts. They no longer featured the front end, and lower seating height of a small car, but had a distinctive cockpit that improved visibility.

Part of the appeal of a panel van is that both sides and, potentially, the back, can be used to display artwork. This is part of their charm, and I have spent considerable time contemplating what I would paint on these surfaces. This characteristic does not extend to the panel van’s passenger vehicle cousin, the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV). Despite their inferiority in displaying artwork, they also have one major advantage. When they aren’t busy carrying cargo, they can also haul up to five, and sometimes even seven people. This group of vehicles also includes the Kia Soul.

Since retirement in 2017, I have been unable to justify buying a panel van. We are reduced to one vehicle in the household. Even if that one vehicle is used mainly by a single person at a time, and sometimes even two people, it has to be capable of carrying at least four people. Unfortunately, the premise of owning a panel van was dependent on having more than one vehicle in the household. Any new vehicle means that it won’t be a panel van, but could be an MPV.

Why an MPV? Apart from driving to the local store, or SpirenTEK, the local hacker space, which could be done with any vehicle, the answer is to transform it into a primitive mini-camper, that could be used to explore Trøndelag/ Norway/ Scandinavia/ Europe at a leisurely pace. There are companies that make removable camper conversions, but it is also something that could be made in almost any woodworking workshop. Thus, the MPV is the most relevant type of vehicle to consider.

There are smaller contenders: a Fiat 500 Giardiniera (if it ever makes it into production, hopefully with a side opening tailgate), a Hyundai Kona, or a Kia e-Niro, all vehicles that have suitable range! If worse comes to worse and price becomes an important consideration, there is always a Dacia Spring, or a Renault Zöe. Renault has also said it will reduce the number of platforms it builds on, which probably means it will discontinue its Renault Twingo EV. They have also said that they will introduce a Renault 5 hatchback EV in 2023 or 2024 (probably a replacement for the Zöe), and a Renault 4 retrostyled mini-SUV EV in 2025. These would both use a new CMF-B EV platform, designed for electric compact vehicles, and be built at the Douai plant near Lille, France. None of these vehicles would make a suitable mini-camper. Apart from power, torque and sufficient battery capacity, which determines range, liquid battery cooling is imperative.

EV variant vans prior to 2021 were better suited to flat, slow moving urban landscapes, than to the mountainous terrain of Norway. Fortunately, both Renault and Citroën have updated their smaller vans. Soon these will be available with improved motors and batteries, so that they provide sufficient range and power. Are they once again fit for purpose? The availability of liquid battery cooling will provide the answer. If not, the Kia Soul EV does.

A 2021 Renault Kangoo, a multi-purpose vehicle, available in ICE and EV (called ZE in Renault-speak) varieties. Buying one is dependent on it coming with liquid cooled batteries. Photo: Renault.

Update: On 2021-02-14 some minor changes were made to improve the text, and to help people better understand locations in Canada and Norway.


The U.S. consumes about 100 EJ = 100 Exajoules = 100 x 1018 Joules of energy, annually. Americans, being Americans don’t often express energy in Joules. Rather, they prefer to use British Thermal Units (BTUs), where 1 BTU = 1055 J. Another way of expressing this is to say that Americans use about 100 quads of energy, where 1 quad = 1015 BTUs. If one is willing to accept a 5.5% error, one can say that 1 EJ is about equal to 1 quad.

Only about one third of energy consumed is used for productive work. The above Sankey diagram shows energy inputs and outputs, productive work is clumped together as energy services, in a dark gray box. The other 2/3 is wasted as heat, which in the above diagram is referred to as rejected energy, which is clumped together in a light gray box.

Renewable energy comes from solar (1.04 quads), hydro (2.5 quads), winds (2.75 quads) and geothermal (0.21 quads) sources, for a total of 6.5 quads. Thermal energy systems burn fuel or split atoms, and accounted for about 93.5% of American energy inputs in 2019. Most of this fuel come from fossil sources, that is responsible for most of the carbon emissions associated with climate change. Wasted/ rejected energy is a proxy/ surrogate/ substitute for the damage being done to the planet. The exception is the energy provided by nuclear power, although it also has issues of its own. In contrast, renewable energy (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal) capture energy, without creating heat. While there are some transmission loses, most of that energy provides energy services.

A modern electric vehicle (EV) with regenerative braking is about 95% energy effective. Even the most efficient internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, can only achieve about 30% energy efficiency. This means that an EV only needs about 1/3 of the energy inputs that an ICE vehicle needs.

The United States transportation sector uses 28% of the total energy. Of this, cars, light trucks, and motorcycles use about 58%, while 23% is used in heavy duty trucks, 8% is for aircraft, 4% is for boats and ships, 3% is for trains and buses, while the last 4% is for pipelines (according to 2013 figures). This means that road transportation accounts for over 80% of the total. From the Sankey diagram, one can see that the transportation sector has 28.2 quads of input of (mostly) fossil-fuel energy, which means that 22.5 quads are road related. This results in 5.93 quads of transportation services, of which 4.75 quads are road related. These figures show about a 21% efficiency, because transportation related engines are considerably less efficient than other engines, including those used for electrical power generation.

If one uses renewable energy for road transportation, 4.75 quads of transportation services could be produced from about 5.0 quads of renewable (wind/ solar/ hydro/ geothermal) energy. At the same time, 22.5 quads of oil production would be eliminated, without any negative energy-related consequences. In fact, there would be benefits in terms of improved health, and less pressure on the environment.

A shift to renewable sources in other sectors would also have benefits. Natural gas and coal currently make a large contribution to inputs for electricity generation used elsewhere, 11.7 and 10.2 quads each, respectively, for a total of 21.9 quads. However, using the 1/3 service, 2/3 rejected formula, this means that these fossil-fuel inputs only produce 7.3 quads of electrical services. This contribution could be replaced by 7.5 quads of renewable energy.

Gasoline has an energy density of about 45 MJ/kg, which can provide about 15 MJ/kg of energy services, and 30 MJ/kg of rejected energy, as discussed above. A litre of gasoline has a mass of 0.76 kg and produces 2.356 kg of CO2 and 11.4 MJ of energy.

For American readers: The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that “About 19.64 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) are produced from burning a gallon of gasoline that does not contain ethanol. About 22.38 pounds of CO2 are produced by burning a gallon of diesel fuel. U.S. gasoline and diesel fuel consumption for transportation in 2013 resulted in the emission of about 1 095 and 427 million metric tons of CO2 respectively, for a total of 1 522 million metric tons of CO2. This total was equivalent to 83% of total CO2 emissions by the U.S. transportation sector and 28% of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions.Under international agreement, CO2 from the combustion of biomass or biofuels are not included in national greenhouse gas emissions inventories.”

Since 1 MJ = 0.2778 Kilowatt hours (kWh), 11.4 MJ is the equivalent of 3.17 kWh. According to Electric Choice, the average price a residential customer in the United States pays for electricity is 13.31 cents per kWh in December 2020. This means that gasoline would have to sell for 42.19 cents per litre to be cost effective. Since there are 3.785 litres per American gallon, a gallon would have to sell for about $1.60 to provide an equivalent price. According to Global Petrol Prices, the average price of mid-grade/ 95-octane gasoline was $2.752 per gallon, the equivalent of $0.727 per litre, as of 2021-02-01.

In Norway, the price is about NOK 1 per kWh for electricity, but with wide variations. The price of 95-octane gasoline is about NOK 16.33 per litre, once again according to Global Petrol Prices. This helps explain why EVs are so popular. To be price equivalent, gasoline would have to sell for about NOK 3.17 per litre. Currently, Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament, is debating increasing the CO2 tax by NOK 5 per litre, which would bring the price to over NOK 21 per litre. Not all political parties are in agreement, with this proposal.

There is a great deal of discussion about consumption figures for electric vehicles in Norway. In part, this is because the terrain varies greatly. Some people drive in urban landscapes, others out in the country. Some people are flatlanders, while others have more mountainous environments. However many consumers have experienced real-world energy consumption levels of about 15 kWh/100 km for vehicles such as a Hyundai Kona, Kia Soul and Tesla Model 3. This gives a fuel cost of about NOK 15/ 100 km. In American terms, this would be about 24 kWh/ 100 miles, or $3.20/ 100 miles, with the electrical costs noted above.

Sports Cars

A 1961 advertisements for a Volvo P1800 featured this photo. Call it what you will, the P1800 is nimble, designed for the mountains and winters of Scandinavia, but equally appropriate in British Columbia. One is currently being restored across the bridge in Mosvik, by Arne Ivar Sundseth, the son of the original builder and first owner of Cliff Cottage. Photo: Volvo.

Automotive prejudice is not necessarily against something. Often, it is for a particular nationality, brand or model. Some people appreciate vehicles because they originate in a particular country, or have a perceived status, closely related to the price of the vehicle when new. For others, use or performance measures are more important.

In British Columbia, where I grew up, and in Norway, where I grew old, there was and is, respectively, the odd freeway/ motorway allowing one to drive in a relatively straight line, but on most roads drivers must contend with the geography of mountains and valleys, and snowy road conditions. With few exceptions, an American built car with a large V-8 engine, and a soft suspension, is ill matched to the terrain. One needs something nimble, which is the adjective I use to distinguish sports cars from other vehicles.

Until the term got overworked and degraded, GT (Grand Tourismo = Grand Touring) cars were luxury sports vehicles for the monied classes. The only one that ever made an impact on me was a French Facel Vega, massively powered with a Chrysler V-8 engine. Other vehicles in this class included the German Mercedes Benz 300 SL Gullwing, the Italian Maserati Sebring, the American Studebaker Gran Tourismo Hawk and the English Alvis TD 21.

Slightly below this were less luxurious vehicles, the Jaguar XK-E, (known as the E-type in Britain, and among hard-core North American enthusiasts), the Chevrolet Corvette, the Porsche 356, the Volvo P1800 and the Alfa Romeo Giulia.

The British dominated the mass market sports cars, which also form their own hierarchy. This writer’s subjective ranking placed the Lotus Elite (aka Type 14), and its replacement, the Lotus Elan (aka Type 26) at the top. Immediately below this was the Austin Healey 3000, with its 6-cylinder 3-litre engine. Then came a series of Triumphs which culminated in the TR-4A, closely followed by MGs, ending with the MGB.

At the bottom of the heap were the cheap sports cars, the MG Midget and its sister the Austin Healey Sprite, along with its cousin, the Triumph Spitfire. The Triumph Herald, will not be mentioned, even if a convertible version was owned by John Lennon (1940 – 1980).

While I had an affection for British vehicles, they had cantankerous engines that needed considerable attention, and almost daily adjustment. The British sports car that avoided this best was, in my rather prejudiced opinion, the Sunbeam Alpine, made by Rootes Group. This was the first Bond car, appearing in Dr. No in 1962. It was also Maxwell Smart’s vehicle in the 1960s American comedy series, Get Smart, in its V-8 Sunbeam Tiger variant.

If I were to buy a sports car today it would be as an initial step in an educational project to learn technical skills surrounding vehicle electrification. This would hopefully result in a disposal problem being transformed into a functioning electric vehicle.

The specific vehicle would have to meet at least two of three criteria. First, it should have recycling issues, which should have the added benefit of being cheap. Second, it should come either without an engine (preferred) or with a defective engine. Third, and one potential cause of the recycling issue, it should have a fibreglass body. Yes, the Saab Sonett II and the Lotus Elan are both attractive, fibreglass vehicles, but existing models with functioning engines should be preserved. If for some reason they have engine challenges, they are top candidates.

Fibreglass replica cars, much like fibreglass boats, pose a recycling challenge. Some other people may even regard them as illegitimate. Yet, sports cars have often been considered works in progress by their owners. Thus, readers are encouraged to consider adopting one, to give it new life with an electric drivetrain, and allowing it to become a beloved object, that upcoming generations will yearn to inherit, despite its obvious imperfections.

People interested in undertaking their own conversions, may want to consider purchasing a wrecked electric vehicle, such as a Nissan Leaf, Renault Zöe, or ???

Production parts from Volkswagen’s e-up! can be used with a Kassel single-speed gearbox and Brunswick battery system components. This provides old VW Beetles, and potentially other related products, with 60 kW of power. The battery system can be built into the underbody and consists of up to 14 modules, each with a capacity of 2.6 kWh, providing up to 36.8 kWh. This would give an old beetle a new total weight of about 1 280 kg, allowing an acceleration to 50 km/h in just under four seconds and to 80 km in just over eight seconds. The top speeds is 150 km/h, with a 200 km range. Unfortunately, Volkswagen has misunderstood makers, and wants customers to use conversion specialist eClassics in Renningen, near Stuttgart, Germany.

An alternative for rear engined air-cooled Volkswagens, including Karmann-Ghias, and Porsches, is Zelectric. Once again, they “build to order”, rather than allowing people to undertake the work themselves.

General Motors, however, is offering a GM eCrate kit, although there are serious issues, especially related to the battery pack. It seems to be the drivetrain from a Chevrolet Bolt, slightly repackaged. An even more accessible manufacturer is EV West, which seems to be catering to the DIY market. Note: I have not used any of these products, and cannot comment on their quality or suitability for any purpose.

RBW Electric Roadster: A Tidbit

A RBW Electric Roadster, based on a MGB body shell from the 1960s, but with a modern electric drivetrain, Photo: RBW Electric Classic Cars

When enthusiasts comment on sports cars they commonly show their prejudices in their first sentence. This enthusiast is no exception. I cannot hide my delight that the age of the ICE (internal combustion engine) sports car is ending. Long live the electric sports car!

What seems to be happening is that people are taking their favourite 1960s vehicle bodies and fitting them with an electric power-train. Sometimes these bodies are real, with steel parts that have had sixty years to rust. At other times these bodies are constructed in fibreglass, original if available or a replica if not. Presumably there are also carbon-fibre replicas. Many of the drivetrains come from Teslas, or other electric vehicles, that have been totally damaged in an incident.

RBW Electric Classic Cars takes a different approach. Recently, they have produced a prototype of a sports car based on a MGB.

The body shell is new, produced under licence to the original specifications, by British Motor Heritage, of Witney, in the Cotswold. It is powered with a patented drivetrain system, incorporating three years of development by RBW, Continental Engineering Services (CES), and Zytek Automotive, a 100% owned subsidiary of Continental Engineering Services. This drivetrain is derived from Formula E technology. All three companies are based in Lichfield. While the electric motor is placed at the rear of the car, a lithium-ion battery pack is located in the abandoned engine room, giving a balanced weight distribution.

The front and rear suspension consist of independent coilovers. The brakes, feature discs and callipers, but also integrate regenerative braking technology.

While the interior features a 7″ dashboard display with wi-fi-enabled navigation, the system seems underwhelming, at least to a computer scientist.

Top Speed80 mph = ca < 130 km/h
0-60 mph = ca 0-100 km/h9 s
Range160 miles = ca 260 km
BatteriesSix Hyperdrive Lithium-ion battery packs
Power Output70 kW
DC Charging3.0 kW
Recharge Hours8 hours
Electrical and related characteristics of the RBW Electric Roadster.

Thirty examples of the RBW Electric Roadster will be produced, starting in early 2021. Prices will start from £90 000, plus taxes, with an initial £5 000 deposit.


Izera Z100 Crossover SUV prototype. Photo: ElectroMobility Poland.

Izera is an electric vehicle brand, named after the Izera Mountains in south-western Poland. It is owned by ElectroMobility Poland, a state-controlled joint venture established in October 2016 by four Polish power companies: PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna SA, Energa SA, Enea SA and Tauron Polska Energia SA. Each has a 25% share. It even has a marketing slogan “A million reasons to keep on driving.” As if this isn’t enough, the company has been able to design and make two prototypes, with the intention of launching an electric vehicle production facility: a hatchback (T100) and crossover/ SUV (Z100), both suitable for families.

Poland is the largest European state that has no vehicle brand, despite the automotive industry being the second largest in the country, at 7% of GDP, over 200 000 jobs in production and 270 000 other jobs.

The Izera EVs were designed based on a detailed analysis of Polish consumer expectations and car clinic studies. Production models are not meant to be luxury products but affordable vehicles for Poles. ElectroMobility Poland wants to introduce an installment payments system so that the total cost of ownership of the car is less than comparable internal cumbustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Much of the prototype design originates with Torino Design. ElectroMobility Poland intends to start production around 2023, which means that there is ample time to refine the prototypes into production vehicles. ElectroMobility Poland’s CEO Piotr Zaremba says the production models “will retain the characters of the presented vehicles”.

Production vehicle characteristics announced: 0 to 100 km/h in under 8 seconds; range about 400 km; two battery pack sizes that are suitable for home chargers as well as fast-charging stations; a dedicated smartphone app; all-LED lighting; high-resolution LCD touchscreens; Electronic Stability Control; Forward Collision Warning; Blind Spot Detection; Traffic Sign Recognition; and probably much more. Dimensions of the prototypes and the proposed production vehicles were not revealed.

ElectroMobility Poland says it is negotiating the purchase of a vehicle production platform from Germany’s EDAG Engineering GmbH, based in Wiesbaden. It is also active in the fields of product development, production plant development, plant engineering, limited series manufacturing, modules and optimization. After a production platform is in place, the prototypes can be industrialized, and a suitable production facility constructed.

A short YouTube video shows the current state of the design prototypes, released to the public.

Wuling Hongguang Mini EV

The Wuling Hongguang Mini EV (Photo: Wuling)

The Wuling Hongguang Mini EV is being made by the SAIC-GM-Wuling joint-venture, with each company having 50.1, 44 and 5.9% of the shares, respectively. The company is located in Liuzhou prefecture, in south-eastern China. It is known for its microvans (bread box cars), especially the ICE-powered (internal combustion engine) Wuling Sunshine. As China has become richer, microvans have become less popular, encouraging Wuling to focus on other segments.

After first being announced in 2020-03, recent attention has focused on deliveries for the Mini EV. It was launched 2020-07-24, with 15 000 vehicles were sold in the first 20 days. Now, there are more than 50 000 orders. According to Wuling partner, General Motors, the vehicle is inspired by the Japanese Kei car, their smallest highway-legal passenger car segment.

In the future, about 100 Experience stores will be opened, throughout China, to market the car, particularly in urban centres. According to Gasgoo, this is being done to attract fashion conscious younger owners.

The Mini EV dimensions are: length 2917 mm on a 1 940 mm wheelbase, width 1 493 mm and height 1 621 mm. It can provide seating for four adults.

The range is 120 km with a 9.2 kWh battery or 170 km with a 13.8 kWh battery. Charging is via a 240 V outlet. The motor has 13 kW of power, and 85 Nm of torque. This provides a top speed of 100 km/h. It comes equipped with an intelligent battery management system (BMS), as well as low-temperature pre-heating technology and battery insulation. It has an IP68 waterproof and dustproof rating and, according to Wuling, been put through 16 rigorous safety tests. The battery’s functions can be remotely monitored via a smartphone app.

The price of the vehicle in China ranges from 28 800 yuan (ca. €3 550) to 38 800 yuan (ca. €4 750).

More than half (57%) of the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV’s body consists of high-strength steel. It also comes with the anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and reversing radar. The back seats are equipped with two ISOFIX child safety seat restraint interfaces. When the rear seats are not in use, there is 741 litres of storage space. In addition, there are 12 storage compartments in the cabin, including a smartphone tray.

While the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV is currently only available in China, some characteristics hint that it could be built to satisfy European microcar (L7e), or city car (A-segment) specifications. The 13 kW engine power hits at it being a microcar, can only have a maximum of 15 kW. However, the contra-indication to this is the seating for four adults. This would mean that the payload would exceed the maximum 200 kg allowed. If the rear seats were removed, this would put the maximum payload below 200 kg. As a city car, the vehicle would have to be equipped with airbags, and other safety equipment, raising the price.

Wuling Hongguang Mini EV interior, with the rear seats folded (cutaway). Photo: Wuling.

Given a choice between a Zetta CM1 and a Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, there is no doubt (at least in my mind) that the Zetta is a superior vehicle, and probably gives better value.

Zetta CM1: A tidbit

The Zetta City Module 1 (CM1) is the first Russian built EV to enter production, according to Automotive Logistics. Unfortunately, detailed information is difficult to access. Even the English version of the Zetta company site fails to mention the CM1, devoting its content to technological issues of its drive train, especially the in-wheel = in-hub induction motors. However, some information is available from Russian Auto News.

The modular approach used by Zetta means that different modules can be built for different purposes, goods as well as person transport. Some of these will be mass produced focussing on common needs. This is the case of the CM1. Others may have more limited appeal, such as outfitting a vehicle to accommodate a person with disabilities, who has very specific and individual needs. Yet flexibility is not the only attribute. The Zetta is also technologically efficient, economic and – to repeat that so-often misused term – ecological.

The in-hub drive train is exceedingly important for Zetta. Zetta CEO Denis Schurovsky says “Summer and winter validation has shown us that induction motors can endure road dynamic stresses. They are resistant to chemicals, dust, water, etc. All wheels are connected to a single management system that simulates electric ABS and ESP with high recuperation capability.” Each in-hub motor is rated at 20 kW, for a total of 80 kW, a respectable power for such a small vehicle.

The CM1 has a length of 3 030 mm on a 2 000 mm wheelbase, and with a width of 1 270 mm and height of 1 600 mm. It is configured as a four-seater. Inside EVs makes a point that the car is just 340 mm longer than a Smart Fortwo, and that the seating must only be for children in the back. This misses the point entirely that an EV with in-hub electric motors will use space much more efficiently than an ICE (internal combustion engine) designed vehicle. Top speed is 120km/h and battery capacity ranges between 10kWh and 32kWh, for a range of between 200 and 560 km. Depending on the battery pack selected, the weight of the vehicle should be between 500 and 700 kg.

About 90% of the vehicle content is Russian. Much of the remainder is in the batteries, imported from China. The vehicle has been in development since 2017.

At a price of €5 300, Zetta CM1 claims to be the cheapest EV in the world. The vehicle has been developed by Russian Engineering and Manufacturing Company (REMC) in Toliatti/ Togliatti, the Russian city named after Italian Communist Party Leader Palmiro Togliatti (1893 – 1964). Estimated production is 15 000 vehicles a year.

And so to the question many readers will be asking, would I buy one? I would like to answer yes, especially after a theoretical regret at prioritizing a Japanese Subaru Justy four wheel drive in 1986, instead of the cheaper Russian Lada station wagon (VAZ-2104) or its similarly priced, but considerably larger and more powerful 4×4 off-roader, the Lada Niva (VAZ-2121). Andy Thompson in Cars of the Soviet Union (2008), states that Lada “gained a reputation as a maker of solid, unpretentious and reliable cars for motorists who wanted to drive on a budget.” It is my hope that the Zetta will offer purchasers a similar, positive experience. Unfortunately, the answer will probably be no, and I will be unable to engage in the one-upmanship that comes from owning a €5 300 EV, capable of doing the same basic driving tasks as a €53 000 (or more) Rivian R1S or Tesla Model Y.

eCaravan: a tidbit

eCaravan, an electrified Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, awaiting its first test flight (Photo: MagniX)

On 2020-05-28 aviation history was made, with the first 30 m test flight of an eCaravan, an electrified Cessna 208B Grand Caravan at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Washington. The eCaravan was modified in Goldcoast, Queensland, Australia by Magnix, so that it is powered by a 560 kW magni500 all-electric propulsion system with a 1 tonne, 750V lithium-ion battery. The flight consumed $6 worth of electricity, needing 30-40 min of charging.

The electric aircraft propulsion company MagniX worked with engineering and flight test specialist AeroTEC on this project. In its current state, the Magni500-powered plane can fly 160 km with 4 or 5 passengers while keeping reserve power. The companies are aiming for a certification by the end of 2021.

In a slightly more distant future, the companies hope to offer machines capable of operating 160 km flights with reserve capacity, and a full load of nine passengers. The longer term goal is to enable 800 km flights, which account for about 45% of all flights flown in the world. Some decades ago, smaller commuter airlines operated such routes. The general aircraft operating these routes disappeared because they were economically unviable. They were replaced by larger, more complex regional jets. Electric aircraft could provide the economic characteristics that make such routes feasible again. However, it is the relatively low energy density of batteries that has constrained the range and payload of electric aircraft. Magnix is studying other technologies, including lithium-sulfur batteries and hydrogen fuel cells.

The advantage of electric propulsion systems is their environmentally friendly operation, fewer moving parts and simplicity, compared to ICE engined aircraft. Some estimate that electric propulsion will reduce operating costs by up to 80%.

In a previous weblog post, Alice, an all-electric, nine-passenger aircraft being developed by Eviation Aircraft, was discussed. That project was disrupted in 2020-01 when an electric system fire damaged an Alice prototype in Arizona. Magnix had also been named one of two companies to supply propulsion systems for it.

The eCaravan in flight at Moses Lake, Washington, USA, 2020-05-28. Photo: Magnix

This weblog post was updated 2020-06-05.

Oatly & Einride: A tidbit

Oatly has devised a process to provide a vegan alternative to milk. Now it is concentrating on making that process more sustainable, but reducing CO2 emissions. Artwork: Oatly.

My personal transition from omnivore to vegan/ vegetarian is proceeding almost as slowly as my transition away from driving a diesel to an electric vehicle. One positive change, is that we purchase our eggs and milk (and some honey as well as produce) from neighbouring farms, rather than grocery stores.

I asked my personal shopper to add some Oatly products onto her shopping list. Instead, she invited me to help her shop at the local Co-operative in Straumen. Thus, I was able to purchase one litre (about a quart) of havredrikk kalsium (oatmilk calcium). Unfortunately, I was unable to find the other products I wanted to try: havregurt vanilje (oatgurt vanilla); havregurt turkisk (oatgurt Turkish) and iMat fraiche (Oat creme fraiche).

Oatly is a Swedish vegan food brand, producing dairy alternatives from oats. Based on research at Lund University. The company’s enzyme technology turns oats into a nutritional liquid food suitable for the human digestive system. The company operates in southern Sweden with its headquarters in Malmö, with a production & development centre in Landskrona. The brand is available in more than 20 Asian and European countries, Australia, Canada and USA.

Oatly claims to be a sustainable food manufacturer. Artwork: Oatly

Oatly also tries to be sustainable, by reducing its contributions to global warming. They also produce a sustainability report. It shows that almost half of Oatly’s contribution to greenhouse gasses comes from the cultivation of ingredients, a quarter from transport, 15% from packaging and 6% from production (p. 26).

Oatly is not perfect. For example, there has been some controversy about it selling oat residue to a pig farm. On the other hand, it has benefited from two publicity attacks. First, Arla, the Swedish dairy company, attempted to discourage people from buying vegan alternatives to cow’s milk (mjölk in Swedish) using a fake brand Pjölk. Oatly responded by trademarking several fictitious brands Pjölk, Brölk, Sölk and Trölk and began using them on their packaging. Second, the Swedish dairy lobby LRF Mjölk, won a lawsuit against Oatly for using the phrase “Milk, but made for humans” for £ (sic) 100 000. When Oatly published the lawsuit text, it lead to a 45% increase in Oatly’s Swedish sales. Once again, this seems to suggest that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

On 2020-05-14, Oatly and Einride announced that Oatly will use four 42-tonne vehicles starting 2020-10 to transport goods from production sites in southern Sweden, using Einride’s Freight Mobility Platform. This is estimated to lower its climate footprint (on the affected routes) by 87% compared to diesel trucks: 107.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year per truck, about 430 tonnes per year in total, or 2 100 tonnes throughout the five year duration of the contract.

Part of the solution involves optimizing electric trucks operations using computer-controlled logistics with Einride’s Freight Mobility Platform software. Accurate transport planning allows 24 tonnes of goods to be transported an average of 120 kilometers without charging. It involves optimizing and coordinating drivers, vehicles, routes as well as charging. On a typical shift, three drivers will drive four different trucks. This means that one truck is always charging, which places less strain on batteries, and making the operation more durable and economical.

Oakly’s 42-tonne Einride trucks will feature a DAF glider, with Emoss drivetrain and Einride software. Photo: Einride

This initial iteration involves a DAF glider (a vehicle without a drivetrain/ prime mover/ power source, fitted with a Emoss motor. Future iterations may involve a Einride Pod, previously referred to as a T-pod.

Commercial Crew Clowns

Uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaching the ISS 2019-03-04 (Photo NASA)

There seem to be two categories of space exploration corporations, winners like SpaceX, and those unable to win, like Boeing. For the past few years, the reputation of Boeing has been slipping, in large part from its inability to manage, design and manufacture high quality, technological products. This was examined in a previous post, Clowns Supervised by Monkeys, about the Boeing 737-MAX, and continues here, about the CST-100 Starliner.

The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, is a human spaceflight program funded by the American government and administered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The goal of CCDev is to fly US and international astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on privately operated crew vehicles.

The CCDev program started in 2010, with CCDev 1 providing $50 million to five US companies to develop human spaceflight concepts and technologies. This was followed up in 2011, with CCDev 2 providing $270 million to four companies for developing vehicles that could fly astronauts after the Space Shuttle fleet’s retirement. In 2014 operational contracts to fly astronauts were awarded to SpaceX and Boeing.

CCDev 3 was renamed Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap). This involved proposals for end-to-end operational concepts including spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services, ground and mission operations, and recovery. A final request for proposals was released on 2012-02-07 to be submitted by 2012-03-23. Three proposals were selected, and announced 2012-08-03: Sierra Nevada Corporation was awarded $212.5 million for its Dream Chaser/ Atlas V proposal; SpaceX was awarded $440 million for its Dragon 2/ Falcon 9 proposal; and, Boeing was awarded $460 million for its CST-100/ Atlas V proposal.

Certification Products Contract, phase 1 (CPC 1) involved the development of a certification plan with engineering standards, tests, and analyses. Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Boeing were each awarded about $10 million.

CPC 2 was renamed the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) and included the final development, testing and verifications to allow crewed demonstration flights to the ISS.

On 2014-09-16, Boeing and SpaceX received contracts to provide crewed launch services to the ISS. Boeing received a potential $4.2 billion, and SpaceX up to $2.6 billion.

On 2019-11-14, NASA’s inspector general reported a seat price of $90 million for Starliner and $55 million for Dragon Crew. Boeing’s price exceeds the $80 million paid by NASA to the Russian space corporation, Roscosmos, for Soyuz spacecraft seats to fly astronauts to the ISS. The report also stated that NASA agreed to pay an additional $287.2 million above Boeing’s fixed prices. Similar compensation was not offered to SpaceX.

While the first CCDev flight was planned for 2015, insufficient funding and technical issues caused delays.

2015-05-06Dragon 2 Pad abort testSuccess
2019-03-02Dragon 2 Uncrewed orbital flight testSuccess
2019-11-04CST-100 Pad abort testSuccess
2019-12-20CST-100 Uncrewed orbital flight testFailure
2020-01-19Dragon 2 In-flight abort testSuccess
2020Dragon 2 Crewed test flightPlanned
2020CST-100 Crewed test flightPlanned

The CCDev was aimed to minimize development costs through private investment and development, by using two space transportation vehicles competing with each other. NASA had hoped this approach would provide redundancy both in regards to development and flight operations.

After completing the demonstration flights, each company is contracted to supply six flights to ISS between 2019 and 2024.

As shown in the table above SpaceX has successfully tested its Dragon 2, Crew Dragon, despite a delay caused by a ground test failure, caused by a leaky valve.

On 2019-12-20 an unmanned Boeing CST-100 Starliner space taxi malfunctioned on the capsule’s first mission, an Orbital Flight Test (OFT). The initial failure was due to a timer fault. Now, another error has been found in the capsule’s software which could have destroyed the Starliner. If this second fault had not been discovered, it could have resulted in the deaths of the astronauts onboard a Starliner.

The CST-100 has had greater problems. Its abort test, while successful, still had a parachute fail during descent. Its service module leaked toxic fuel, delaying its uncrewed OFT by months. The OFT was supposed to be one of the last steps in Boeing’s development of the CST-100 Starliner. When that test finally happened, a timer failure prevented a rendezvous with the ISS. It failed its mission. Then it was discovered that there were other issues including inappropriate thruster firings, inappropriate valve mappings, potential collision issues between the service module and the crew module, as well as space-to-ground communication issues.

Doug Loverro, the head of NASA’s human spaceflight section, stated that the software anomalies were “likely only symptoms…we had numerous process escapes in the design, development, [and] test cycle for software…We have a more fundamental problem…”

Boeing is failing in its ability to deliver mission critical software, not only in spacecraft but with the disastrous software failures with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) system on the Boeing 737.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine held a media teleconference detailing some of the CST-100 issues, explaining it in the “interest of transparency”, thanks to the OFT having “lots of anomalies”.

Given a choice of being an astronaut with SpaceX or Boeing, there is no doubt that every rational person would opt for SpaceX. Boeing is just too dangerous a company.