Toyota

I have tried to approach Toyota neutrally, as a vehicle brand, over the past fifty years, but it has gradually sunk in my esteem. Today, it is probably the vehicle brand that I regard most negatively. Toyota’s major concern is that a rapid shift from ICE vehicles to EVs could erode its market share and reduce or eliminate profits.

Earlier, in our car purchasing careers, Patricia and I would attempt to evaluate Toyotas. However, they were not designed for our collective anatomies. If Patricia felt comfortable driving a model, it was uncomfortable for me, and vice versa.

Indeed, with the latest incident with their e-Palette pod at the Paralympics in Tokyo, Toyota is now permanently removed from my list of vehicle brands to consider purchasing.

The Last Straw

Toyota suspended use of the e-Palette transportation pods at the Tokyo Paralympic Games village, a day after one of the vehicles collided with and injured a pedestrian on 2021-08-26. After a couple of days the vehicles were taken into use again. The incident happened when a pod, was manually controlled by one of its two on-board operators using the vehicle’s joystick. It pulled away from a T-junction and drove through a pedestrian crossing while Aramitsu Kitazono (1991 – ), a visually impaired athlete, was walking across. The vehicle operators were aware that a person was there but thought the person would realize that a bus was coming and stop crossing the street.

This situation involves a vehicle capable of autonomous operation, but being operated in manual mode. Thus, the statement made by Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda (1956 – ) is disingenuous, when he states that the crash shows autonomous vehicles are not yet realistic for normal roads. Indeed, all it shows is that human vehicle operation still results in accidents. Admittedly, there is a need to scrutinize the various levels of autonomous driving systems, including their safety and real-world capabilities. Such an incident is inconsistent with what is expected from a self-driving vehicle. A car cannot expect anything from a human being. It is the vehicle that must exercise caution.

This statement by Toyoda is the proverbial last straw. Toyota has opposed a fast transition to electric vehicles (EVs), something that appears critical to mitigate climate change. In 2021-06, several media sources reported that Chris Reynolds (1963 – ), an American Toyota executive with responsibility for government relations, travelled to Washington DC for closed-door meetings with congressional staff members. Here, he allegedly stated Toyota’s opposition to an aggressive transition to all-electric cars, arguing that internal combustion engine (ICE) – electric hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles should be accorded a bigger role.

Toyota has opposed stricter vehicle emission standards and electric vehicle mandates in North America, the European Union and elsewhere, including India, where Toyota’s Indian subsidiary publicly criticised India’s 100% electric vehicle sale target by 2030.

Toyota, and other legacy auto-makers, agreed with the Trump administration in a confrontation with California over the Clean Air Act. Toyota also sued Mexico over fuel-efficiency rules. In Japan, it argued against carbon taxes. Toyota concentrated on the wrong technology. Hydrogen fuel cells offer a costlier and, increasingly, a less developed technology in relation to battery EVs.

The Colours of Hydrogen

Hydrogen may be a colourless gas, but it is available in a variety of colours, based on how it is manufactured. Some methods are environmentally suitable, many are not, and there is no easy way to distinguish what is in any particular vehicle’s tank. This is a major problem for Toyota, when they attempt to promote hydrogen as an environmentally friendly product.

Black or brown hydrogen, uses black (bituminous) or brown (lignite) coal in the hydrogen-making process. Grey hydrogen is the most common form and is generated from natural gas/ methane, through steam reforming. With blue hydrogen, the carbon generated from steam reforming is captured and stored underground through industrial carbon capture and storage (CCS). It is, therefore, sometimes referred to as carbon neutral as the emissions are not dispersed in the atmosphere. However, it is probably more correct to regard it as low carbon because 10-20% of the generated carbon cannot be captured. In addition, storing the

Green hydrogen is produced using clean energy from surplus renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, through electrolysis. Yellow hydrogen has two divergent meanings. It can refer to hydrogen electrolysis using solar power, or it can refer to electrolysis using mixed sources, including non-renewables, depending on what is available. Personally, I am attempting to refer to the latter as orange (up to 50% non-renewables) and red, when the non-renewables exceed this value. Pink hydrogen uses electrolysis powered by nuclear energy. Turquoise hydrogen may be more climate friendly than blue hydrogen, but it still relies on a fossil fuel, methane. It is currently an experimental process that uses methane pyrolysis to generates solid carbon. There is no need for CCS, and the carbon can be used in other processes, including tire manufacturing. I dislike the term turquoise being used in this way, because it greenwashes methane. Personally, I would like to refer to this as purple hydrogen.

Hybrids

Ferdinand Porsche (1875 – 1951) developed the Lohner-Porsche hybrid vehicle in 1901. It was the first hybrid. Yet, it is Toyota that is known for its hybrids. Hybrid electric vehicles become widely available with the release of the Toyota Prius in 1997. Since then, Toyota has stagnated. Despite the first plug-in hybrid car being built by Andrew Alfonso Frank (ca. 1934 – ), and his students, in 1971, the first mass produced plug-in hybrid passenger car was the Chinese BYD F3DM, launched in 2008. Before this, there were some experimental vehicles, including some Prius models, that were after-market plug-in hybrid conversions, but this was more despite Toyota, than because of Toyota. These added plug-in charging and additional lead-acid batteries, to extend range. It is not Toyota, but Mitsubishi, with its Outlander PHEV that is the world’s all-time best-selling plug-in hybrid. Hybrid vehicles require a duplication of technology, and do not offer any guaranteed reduction in fossil fuel consumption.

Politics

On 2020-12-07, Toyota announced plans to bring two EVs and a hybrid to the European market. On 2021-02-10, they repeated this for the US market. One of the EVs is the bZ4X SUV (and its badge engineered Subaru Solterra AWD). The others are more difficult to guess, but some sources think the plug-in could be a Toyota RAV4/ Subaru Forester. These EVs will not be built by Toyota, but by BYD, the Chinese EV manufacturer. Admittedly, plug-in hybrids can be efficient in some use cases, but it is an exaggeration, if not an outright untruth, to state, as Toyota did, that: “GHG [greenhouse gas contribution] of a currently available BEV model and PHEV model are roughly the same in on-road performance when factoring in pollutants created by electricity production for the average U.S. energy grid used to charge batteries.”

Toyota announced on 2021-09-08, that it is investing ¥ 1.5 trillion = ca. US$ 13.6 billion = ca. € 11.5 billion, in EV batteries as it is trying to catch up after falling behind in electrification. Masahiko Maeda (1969 – ), Toyota’s chief technology office, said that Toyota wants to secure 200 GWh of batteries by 2030. With an average battery pack of 60 kWh, this would be enough to produce more than 3 million EVs per year.

Toyota seems to be trying to game climate change, rather than taking it seriously. They are playing both sides: offering climate scepticism to climate sceptics and climate concern to environmentalists, when it suits them. My personal conclusion is that this approach makes Toyota one of the least ethical auto-makers in the world. It is attempting to undermine agreed upon climate goals, which may in themselves be too little, too late. Consumers with the possibility, should only be considering EVs for their next vehicle purchase. One approach is to retain a current ICE vehicle, until EV prices decline sufficiently to allow a purchase. Regardless, consumers should avoid buying Toyotas, until the company starts talking realistically about environmental concerns including human induced climate change, and shows real environmental progress by eliminating ICE (including hybrid) vehicles from their model program.

If not a Toyota, what?

In the coming months and years, a number of new, lower cost mass market EVs will be emerging, that are more reliable, economical and environmentally friendly than current vehicles. These will not be technological experiments on wheels, but functional mass-market products. The handling of fires in Chevrolet Bolts and Hyundai Konas, shows that manufacturing and selling EVs is not a game, but an endeavour with potentially serious and expensive consequences. While General Motors used delay tactics and let consumers deal with emerging safety issues, Hyundai replaced defective batteries almost immediately, despite the enormous cost. Now, General motors is also having to replace batteries at the same enormous cost, but has lost the respect and confidence of consumers. My expectation is that few consumers will want to prioritize buying a Bolt (or any other Chevrolet EV) in the future.

While there are several theories about innovation, one of the first and most influential was Everett Rogers’ (1931 – 2004) famous Diffusion of Innovations (1961) book, containing a model and curve (see below). Geoffry Moore (1946 – ) in Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers (1991) regarded the step from early adapters to early majority as a chasm. Crossing it is difficult, yet critical for success. To understand why I am pessimistic about the fate of legacy auto-makers, one has only to read Clayton Christensen (1952 – 2020), The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997). He is not optimistic about the chances of any legacy manufacturer of anything surviving, in a disrupted market.

The Diffusion of Innovation Curve (Rogers, 1962 ...

For the past ten years, EV models have been released that have suited initiators, innovators and early adopters, with an emphasis on sportiness and luxury. These values are wasted on the majority, who want pragmatic solutions to their transportation needs. In Norway, the early majority are already in the marketplace. By 2025, the late majority will have started buying EVs. Laggards will be making EV purchases by 2030, if not 2027.

Today, I read in passing that there are 138 EV models available. I don’t know how accurate this is, but it seems a reasonable approximation. I will make no attempt to influence or micromanage any reader, or to suggest any of these models for anyone. Instead, I will allow readers to see some of my considerations, when I evaluate EVs, and why I need help to make sensible choices. At the most basic level, safety (including positive crash test results) must be in place, and the technology (battery, motor, charging) must be sound.

I am not known for my wise automotive purchases. In part, this is because practicality has to combine with my personal sense of style (some would say, frivolity) to create an attractive vehicle. My first car was a 1962 Hillman Minx convertible, purchased in 1966. It was fun, but unreliable. It lasted six months. Together with Patricia, over our lifetimes, we have owned 2 English, 2 French, 2 German, 2 Japanese and 1 Korean vehicles. In this time I have learned something about vehicles, my own personality, and Patricia’s.

My temperament attracts me to utilitarian French vehicles because of their comfort, ground clearance and load carrying capacity, and despite their notorious lack of reliability. Yet, I manage to see them possessing utilitarian elegance. I have appreciated the Citroën Berlingo since its inception, but I am less enthusiastic about its current and upcoming electric Multispace, its multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) variants. Even the new Renault Kangoo ZE update in the same segment, is not being built as an EV from the ground up. However, I find Renault (and its sub-brand Dacia) along with Fiat, the most interesting European automotive manufacturers, precisely because there is a sense of whimsy in their design. What they lack in quality, they make up in style. Fiat, back in 2018, announced a 500 Giardiniera station wagon. Then in 2019, it presented the Centoventi (120) concept, which they suggested, could become the first Panda EV. Both would be built on an electric only platform. Both hold a design appeal I find lacking in a BMW or Cadillac or a Ford F-150. The main difference between 2019 and now, is that Fiat has become part of Stellantis, headquartered in Amsterdam, but with 30 manufacturing facilities around the world. Most new Fiat products would be built on the Stellantis STLA Small EV platform.

Fortunately, Patricia won’t let me make the most ruinous decisions, and tempers my desire for fashion, form, frivolity and fun. She will undoubtedly tell me that it would be much more sensible to purchase a Hyundai, such as the upcoming Ioniq 3 (compact) or Ioniq 1 (mini) crossover SUV EVs, but that I should wait until 2025, when more mass-market models will be available, at lower prices. Nirvana is less than 40 months away!

Regardless of what happens, it should be noted that I will not be the first in the family to own an EV. My daughter, Shelagh together with her domestic partner, Derek, own a BMW i3.

Shelagh and Derek’s 2017 BMW i3

Ford Comuta

The 1967 Ford Comuta EV. Photo: Ford of GreatBritain.

In 1913, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison had collaborated on an electric vehicle. This was not a successful venture. Fifty-four years later, in 1967, Ford of Great Britain, produced their first modern electric vehicle, a Ford Comuta concept/ prototype, developed at Ford’s Dunton Technical Centre, east of London.

The Comuta was 2 032 mm long, and weighed about 545 kg. Along with a fiberglass body, it featured a steel backbone chassis, with an independent suspension provided by leading arms at the front and trailing arms at the rear. Drum brakes were also provided.

It could seat two adults in the front and two children in the rear. It’s top speed of 60 km/h and a range of 60 km if driven at 35 km/h. The rear wheel drive vehicle was powered by dual DC electric motors that put out 3.7 kW. These were originally designed as aircraft auxiliary units. Power came from four mid-mounted 12 V 85 Ah lead-acid batteries, producing a total of about 4 kWh. Ductwork piped air through the central backbone to provid motor cooling and heating for the passenger compartment.

Somewhere between two and six Comutas were built (sources conflict). It was unveiled at the 1967 Geneva Motor Show. One can be found in the collection of the Science Museum in London. The fate of the other(s) is unknown.

V2G

Weighing almost 4 000 kg, the Dream Car 123 EV has a range of almost 400 km at a speed of 60 km/h, with 3.5 hours of charging. Greg Zanis, the Dream Car 123’s developer, built the car’s tower garage to harvest solar and wind power to provide the vehicle with a personalized V1G capability. Photo: Zapcar.ru

V2G = Vehicle-to-Grid, involves one basic question. Who can a person trust? Technically, this is a weblog post about the transfer of electrical power to and from an electric vehicle (EV). This topic is forcing electrical vehicle stakeholders to think in new ways. It is a bit too early to call it a paradigm change, but that is the direction in which it is heading. One of the main challenges is to find out who is going to control (and profit from) this transfer. There are at least four potential answers: consumers, electricity producers/ grid owners, regulators and EV manufacturers. One’s approach to this control, may have much to say about the attractiveness of EV brands.

First, this blogger would like to criticize the Wikipedia article on the topic that begins by putting V2G into a purely economic perspective, essentially a system in which plug-in electric vehicles (PEV), “communicate with the power grid to sell demand response services by either returning electricity to the grid or by throttling their charging rate.” There can be other reasons for connecting a vehicle to the grid other than economic considerations. Security from power outages is one of these. Speed can be another. The type of ownership can be yet one more consideration, especially if one is a member of a co-operative. If economic considerations are to be made, then it is important that all costs associated with it are taken into consideration. Battery degradation is one of these, especially when the cost of a battery in a battery electric vehicle (BEV) is about one-third of the vehicle cost, in 2021. Then there are regulations, which impact stakeholders in different ways, some technical, some economic, some social and even some that are cultural.

Second, for a century consumers have been persuaded that their role in the electricity supply system is to use electricity, and to pay for it. With more discussion of a smart grid, this narrow role is being expanded. At a minimum, consumers living between 60 degrees S and 60 degrees N, are being encouraged to install solar panels. Increasingly, electrical power does not just need to be produced. It needs to be stored. Electrical producers and grid managers are also having difficulty responding to this change. This has necessitated grid regulators to enter the arena, and to make decisions that are typically unpopular with one group or the other.

Third, there are numerous variations on the theme, involving electrical power flow. Here are some of them.

  1. V1G = Unidirectional power flow, from one source
  2. V1G, from several sources
  3. V1G, with fragmented actor objectives
  4. V2G = Bidirectional power flow
  5. V2H = Vehicle-to-home
  6. V2B = Vehicle-to-building
  7. V2L = Vehicle-to-load
  8. V2X = Vehicle-to-everything

Apart from this paragraph, V2X will not be discussed further in the post. It is less about the transfer of (electrical) power, than communication between a vehicle and any entity that may affect, or may be affected by, that vehicle. It may incorporate other more specific types of communication, including: V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure), V2N (vehicle-to-network), V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle), V2P (vehicle-to-pedestrian), V2D (vehicle-to-device) and V2G (vehicle-to-grid). The main motivations for V2X are road safety, traffic efficiency and energy savings.

Fourth, there are at least three approaches to V2G from automakers. These will be examined in terms of three different EV manufacturers: Tesla, Volkswagen and Hyundai.

Avoidance

Tesla seems to want to avoid V2G altogether. Jeffrey B Straubel (1975 – ), Tesla’s chief technical officer, stated his opposition to V2G technology, because battery wear outweighs its economic benefits. This might be a satisfactory solution in areas that do not experience power outages, but even in California power companies are cutting off power, to prevent forest fires, during extreme weather situations. The deadliest and most destructive forest fire in California history, the Camp Fire in Northern California in 2019, is thought to have been caused by downed power lines. According to at least one source, during the Texas blackout of 2021, a Tesla owner who rigged up such a system to provide basic needs for his family, had his Tesla Warranty voided.

Tesla often undertakes unilateral actions, including software updates, that sometimes impact consumers negatively. On such change occurred in 2019, when Tesla updated system software to “protect the battery and improve battery longevity,” and it resulted in a range loss for only “a small percentage of owners.” In Norway, a lawsuit was filed with the (consumer) Conciliation Board, 2020-12. Tesla did not respond to this. On 2021-04-29, the board found Tesla guilty of throttling charging speed and battery capacity through this 2019 software update. It ordered Tesla to pay NOK 136 000 = ca US$ 16 000 for each vehicle registered in the case. There are about 10 000 such vehicles in Norway, and this judgement would also apply to many of them. The decision could also be even more significant, with similar legal cases in other countries.

Control

On 2021-04-05 Volkswagen Group announced that starting 2022-01-01, all vehicles built on its MEB platform will have V2G capability. This is probably a good enough reason for anyone considering a new Audi, Seat-Cupra, Skoda or Volkswagen vehicle should wait until then before buying such a vehicle.

At Volkswagen’s Power Day (2021-03-15) Elke Temme, Head of Charging & Energy at Volkswagen Group Components, stated that 6 500 GWh a year of renewable energy is not used due to lack of energy storage. She suggested that grid operators could store that electricity in car batteries if they have the technical and regulatory ability to do so. This is sufficient energy to power 2.7 million BEVs. She did not discuss how much Volkswagen could earn from such an arrangement.

Consumers may once again be concerned about how their interests are going to be taken into consideration, by Volkswagen Group. As individual consumers produce more power through solar panels, and other devices, it can be more economically beneficial for them to power their own houses – and vehicle batteries – first, before sending power into the grid. From the description of the Volkswagen system provided so-far, Volkswagen seems to want to take on the role of being an electrical system power broker, but one that is only capable of a binary relationship, in which either power is supplied to the grid, or taken from it. Similarly, there was no mention of compensating BEV owners for any battery degradation.

Flexibility

On 2021-02-22 Hyundai announced that its Ioniq 5 would offer V2L capabilities. V2L enables it to provide up to 3.6 kW of power to external devices. This is managed through 1) an Integrated Charging Control Unit (ICCU); 2) a Vehicle Charging Management System (VCMS); and 3) an on-board charger (OBC) . Users can access up to 70% of the vehicle’s battery capacity. This includes the ability to charge other vehicles. The Hyundai approach seems to offer a much more flexible solution, than those offered by Tesla or Volkswagen.

Hyundai’s new Electric-Global Modular Platform (E-GMP) will be underpinning new Genesis, Hyundai and Kia EVs. Between 2021 and 2025, they will be releasing 23 different models that use this platform. Its main components will be 1.) a battery pack under the cabin, 2.) an all-in-one motor, transmission, and inverter designed/ developed/ manufactured by Hyundai. This bundling will raise the maximum speed of the motor by up to 70 percent compared to existing motors, despite its small size, allowing it to produce up to 450 kW of power. Equipped with a 50 kWh vehicle battery pack, an EV will be able to provide 35 kWh of electrical energy that can be fed into a house during an outage. While the size of batteries has not been disclosed, they should offer a range of about 500 km, and allow 80% charging in 18 minutes, with an 800 V architecture and 350 kW charging speeds. A five-minute charge can add about 100 km of range.

Consumer Responses

What should consumers do? A first step is for every consumer to show a healthy scepticism to all proposals from other electricity stakeholders, including electricity producers and EV manufacturers. Assume they will not be acting in consumer interests, but in their own interests, until proven otherwise. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. A second step is to understand how a smart grid operates, and the role of the various stakeholders in it, including consumers. Part of this could be a household level microgrid (MG). A third step is to understand, and potentially advocate for a broad right-to-repair legislation, to ensure that the consumer is fully in charge of the vehicle.

When an EV is connected to a MG, rather than to the larger grid directly, the consumer has an opportunity of using both energy production and energy storage sources optimally. The consumer can decide if power should flow from an EV to the main grid, a V2G strategy, or to the load, a V2L strategy, at any given time. Consumers should be encouraged to reduce loads in peak periods, or shift them to off-peak periods. EV scheduling and demand response programs help MGs to reduce costs/ increase profits. Sahbasadat Rajamand has used simulations to show costs can be reduced by 14.67% using optimized EV scheduling.

One energy related stakeholder that has not been heard from so far, in the presentation of this debate is the consumer’s insurance company. They are, in fact, not particularly keen about shifting electrical consumption to off-peak hours, particularly if those hours involve the night when consumers are sleeping. In Norway, they are actively discouraging consumers from using equipment such as washing machines, driers and dish washers during the night because of the fire risk. While potential cost savings look significant as a percentage, they are totally insignificant if lives are put in danger.

For consumers maximizing energy usage to off-peak hours, can be a tedious chore. Norwegian consumers have decided that the economic benefits are not worth the cost. Major electricity producers are advocating it, so that they can profit from selling power outside of their traditional market. The advantage of V2G comes from emergency preparation. As implied in a weblog post about the ACE EV, auxiliary electrical power offers an almost normal lifestyle during an electrical power outage. It can power refrigerators and freezers, hot water tanks, induction stove tops, conventional and microwave ovens, computers and their screens, lighting or broadband interconnections.

As readers can see from the above, this writer is more impressed with the V2L solution offerd by Hyundai Group than that offered by either Tesla or Volkswagen Group. It remains to be seen how other EV manufacturers, such as BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mercedes Benz, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi (including Avtovaz and Dacia brands), Stellantis (Chrysler, Citroën, DS, Fiat, Opel, Peugeot, Vauxhall), Toyota and numerous Chinese brands will develop, with respect to V2G.

Ace EV

The Australian Clean Energy Electric Vehicle (ACE EV) group is a startup founded in 2017 by Australian engineer Gregory McGarvie (ca. 1952 – ) and Chinese entrepreneur Will Qiang, in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia. Its goal was to manufacture electric vehicles in Australia, especially small, city vans aimed for small businesses.

In August 2019, ACE EV unveiled their range of three electric vehicles: the Cargo van, the Yewt pickup, and the Urban 3-door hatchback. Sales of vehicles on the Australian market are expected to start in 2021, with prices of about AU$ 40 000 = NOK 250 000 = US$ 25 000. Castle Placement has been engaged to find AU$ 230 million in capital. Their prospectus provides further insights into ACE EV.

In addition to the Australian domestic market, developing countries throughout the world represent another target market for ACE EV. Competitive product pricing requires some changes to product development. The focus is on providing the underserved with access to electric vehicles and battery technologies. This will be done by offering kit based or do it yourself (DIY) modular packages for easy assembly and maintenance anywhere in the world; onboard Alternating Current Bidirectional/Vehicle to Grid (V2G) capabilities; and, Carbon Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) components that are 3D printable and recyclable.

Australia’s legacy auto-makers have closed down, with the last mass-market vehicles being produced in Australia in 2017. Now, only insignificant quantities of niche products are made.

The assembly of an electric vehicle kit could facilitate the training of EV service personnel, as well as more general education at secondary schools, and in other forums. This comment is addressed in particular to readers at Melvindale secondary school in Detroit, Verdal prison school, and the Inderøy Radio Control Club.

It may be less advantageous for private individuals to construct their own vehicles. If any problems arise, one wonders if Ace EV would accept responsibility, or attempt to deflect responsibility onto the builder/ owner. I asked my daughter if she would want me to spend some of her potential inheritance buying an EV kit? She tactfully replied that “a car is best purchased, not diy’ed.” Two minutes later, she added, “To put it bluntly, it sounds like a recipe for disaster.”

V2G capability could quickly become a must-have feature of an EV. In areas where short duration power outages are a relatively common occurrence, V2G could eliminate the need for a smelly, noxious wood stove. At cliff cottage, we removed the wood stove from our living room, with the intention of replacing it with a more modern variant. This would cost about NOK 50 000.

Unfortunately, a wood stove is an inferior substitute for electrical power. It does not power refrigerators or freezers, hot water tanks, induction stove tops, conventional and microwave ovens, computers and their screens, lighting or broadband interconnections. Its only function is space heating. One proposal is to invest in some form of a battery pack that could feed electricity to the house during an outage. V2G is one such answer.

I am eagerly awaiting a YouTube video, made by an Australian outback station owner, describing an Ace EV’s capabilities after a year of driving. Will it withstand driver abuse? is a critical question.

Aptera

Aptera 3 in 2021. (Photo: Aptera)

In the twenty-first century, the ancient Greek word, aptera = wingless, has been reused, this time to refer to a brand of extremely aerodynamic vehicles. Perhaps, it can best be regarded as reassurance that this vehicle will remain flightless, and not ascend into the skies. An equally appropriate name for the vehicle would be Phoenix, for the Aptera brand and vehicle was born in 2006, died in 2011, but was resurrected in 2019.

The original Aptera Motors, Inc., was founded by Steve Fambro (1968 – ) in 2006 and was originally named Accelerated Composites. Fambro was educated as an electrical engineer at the University of Utah, where he studied electo-magnets and antennas. Immediately before starting Aptera, he worked as a senior electrical engineer at Illumina, designing robots that make DNA, and vision systems to inspect that DNA. On LinkedIn, he writes, “Embracing efficiency as an ethos for a car company means we endeavour to do more with less. More range, more performance, more safety, more fun- with fewer batteries, less mining, less energy, less carbon. Doing more with less.”

Fambro initially worked as chief executive officer (CEO) at Aptera. He hired Chris Anthony to be the chief operating officer (COO) shortly after the founding. Thirty million dollars was raised in three rounds of funding, and Aptera grew from 3 to 50 employees. Aptera launched a prototype, the Typ-1, in 2007.

The design of the Aptera Typ-1 was futuristic, but due in large part to Jason C. Hill, president/ owner/ designer at Eleven, a transportation, automotive and mobility design consultancy, started 2003-11. Hill describes himself and his company on LinkedIn as “Specializing in design and product development as well as strategic design, advanced design, and design DNA creation. Currently working with a top New Energy Vehicle Company. Worked on AV solutions regarding the integration of sensor technology for the leading company of LiDAR tech. Recently worked with a MAAS start-up defining the design DNA and UX/UI for their unique urban mobility solution.”

The Aptera 2 Series, was a rebadged Typ-1, to be made available in two variants, a battery electric 2e, and a plug-in hybrid 2h. These could accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in about 6.3 seconds. Their top speed was 140 km/h. About 5 000 pre-orders for the vehicles were made by California residents.

In 2008, Fambro relinquished his CEO position to Paul Wilbur, and became chief technical officer (CTO) for the company. When Wilbur joined Aptera he had 20 years of experience with Ford and Chrysler, and over 10 years experience as CEO of American Specialty Cars Incorporated, a tier 1 supplier. My thought on reading this, is that he was too integrated into the conservative automotive industry to function as a CEO of a venture capital financed startup.

Because of assorted production challenges that made it difficult to receive government financing for a three wheeled vehicle classified as a motorcycle, instead of a four wheeled vehicle classified as a car, the design was changed to that of a four wheel vehicle. This added immensely to the cost, and the original company was liquidated in 2011. Various reasons are cited for this, but one is the enormous amount of capital needed to actually produce a car.

After several years working with vertical farming, Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony, once again found an opportunity to relaunch the Aptera in 2019. This time it was Chris Anthony who was given the role of CEO. He had gained experience working as founder and chairperson at Flux Power, an energy storage technology company, for ten years from 2009-10 to 2019-12. Another major differences was that this new Aptera relied on crowd funding from enthusiasts, rather than venture capital from impatient capitalists. During the course of the intervening nine years, electric cars had matured. Batteries were larger and cheaper, motors were more powerful, and there was a better understanding of how everything worked.

Dimensions of the Aptera 2e and 3 respectively

Wheelbase2 819 / 2 743 mm
Length4 394 /4 369 mm
Width2 311 / 2 235 mm
Height1 346 / 1 448 mm
Kerb weight680 / 800 kg
Dimensions of the Aptera 2e & Aptera 3.

The Aptera 2e used an A123 Systems for the 20 kWh lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery pack, and Remy International for the 82 kW HVH250 electric motor. This was mated to a BorgWarner 31-03 eGearDrive transmission. A SAE J1772 compatible charging system at either 110 or 220 V was to be provided. The range was about 190 km.

The hybrid version also had a small, water-cooled electronic fuel injection (EFI) gasoline engine with closed loop oxygen feedback and catalytic converter that was connected to a 12 kW generator/starter. It is similar in approach to the range extender found on the BMW i3. With a 20 litre fuel tank and fully charged battery, the 2h could offer a range of 970 – 1130 km.

Aptera 3 evokes deja vu. It repeats the basic Jason C. Hill design, but modernized for the 2020s. Like many other smaller manufacturers of electric vehicles, Aptera has engaged the services of Munro & Associates, a company established in 1988. Munro & Associates, Inc., focuses attention on profit improvement through design innovation; not financial trickery or outsourcing. He claims that they use their 3 000 m2 facility to benchmark and redesign products using purpose built software, and an internal search engine to remove 20% to 60% of the cost while improving the product’s function and quality. Sandy Munro has his origins, like this weblog writer, in Windsor, Ontario, where he started working as a toolmaker at the Valiant Machine Tool Company.

The resin composite skin contains microfluidic channels filled with a coolant to transfer heat from the batteries, motors and solar panels to the underbelly and sides of the vehicle.

Technically, the Aptera 3 will come with either two or three wheel hub motors for front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Each motor provides 50 kW, and is provided by Elaphe Ltd, in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Multiple solar panel, motor and battery configurations are planned, with ranges from 400 to 1 600 km provided by 25, 40, 60 or 100 kW·h lithium-ion battery packs. Embedded solar cells will contribute up to an additional 65 km per day from sunlight alone under ideal conditions. With average daily commute distances estimated to be about less than 50 km per day, this allows Aptera to claim that they are producing a never charge vehicle. Prices vary from US$ 25 900 to over US$ 47 000. The all-wheel-drive version will accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.5 s. The two-wheel-drive versions have a 0 to 100 km/h time of 5.5 s.

A number of details for the Aptera 3 are missing. This includes the charging technology to be used. Several enhancements/ options are offered: SafetyPilot adds Level 2 autonomy capability, including facial tracking, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and emergency braking; Enhanced audio provides three more channels of audio including an added lightweight transmission-line subwoofer; Off-road kit increases ground clearance and provides tougher wheel covers; Camping kit provides an integrated tent and rear awning; and, Pet kit adds a pet divider, a way to secure a pet, a rear ladder and other assessories for an animal.

From other sources, it appears that Aptera will use batch processing (rather than an assembly line) to produce its products. A batch could consist of between 100 to 200 units that have highly similar characteristics. Batch production would reduce capital investment.

Two new front-wheel drive (FWD) limited editions will be available. The Paradigm Edition is described as “The Most Efficient Vehicle on the Road” with a 640 km range, 100 kW drive system, with solar panels. The Paradigm + is “The Most Efficient Long Range Vehicle on the Road” with a full 1 600 km range, 100 kW drive system, and solar panels.

Another Aptera 3, showing off its solar panels (Photo: Aptera)

Notes: 1. The noun Aptera, has a long history. It was the name of an ancient city in Crete, as well as the name of another ancient city in Turkey. Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) classified Aptera as the seventh and last order of Insecta. It included many diverse creatures without wings, including crustaceans (crabs/ lobsters/ shrimp/ woodlice/ barnacles, etc.), arachnidans (spiders), myriapods (terrestrial creatures having anywhere from about 10 to 750 legs), and more. In 1795 Pierre André Latreille (1762 – 1833) divided it into seven orders: Suctoria, Thysanura, Parasita, Acephala, Entomostraca, Crustacea, and Myriapoda.

2. Wikipedia claims that the 2e was (going to be) assembled in Canada. Canada is a big place, and I haven’t been able to find out where, specifically, this was going to happen. If anyone knows, please advise and the text will be modified appropriately, with an acknowledgement.

Arcimoto

The Arcimoto Deliverator, is a last-mile battery electric delivery vehicle, made in Eugene, Oregon, USA. (Photo: Arcimoto)

Arcimoto describes itself as a manufacturer of ultra-efficient electric vehicles. These are (relatively) low cost and low environmental impact vehicles.

The Fun Utility Vehicle (FUV) is a three-wheeled, two-passenger tandem = seated one behind the other, vehicle. This vehicle uses a platform that forms the basis for other models. Specifications for the FUV are shown in the table below. All values are converted and approximate. American units are available from the Wikipedia article on Arcimoto, or the company website.

Acceleration0-100 km/h in 7.5 s
Top Speed120 km/h
Turning Circle8 840 mm
Power57 kW
Range160 km city
ca 100 km @ 90 km/h
ca 50 @ 110 km/h
Overall Length2 870 mm
Overall Width1 549 mm
Max Height1 651 mm
Ground Clearance140 mm (unladen)
Wheelbase2 032 mm
Shipping Weight590 kg
GVWR816 kg
Specifications for the Arcimoto Fun Utility Vehicle, converted to conventional metric units.

Munro & Associates, is providing engineering advice to Arcimoto. Some of this work is related to product engineering, such as reducing vehicle weight to 500 kg. Others aspects relate to expanding production capacity and profitability. Arcimoto has two strategic directions: It can focus on expanding production to 50 000 units/year, or it can concentrate on higher profit margin products (Deliverator/ Rapid Responder) at its current 3 – 5 000 unit/year rate, or some combination of both. On 2021-01-06, Agreed to purchase a larger, 17 000 square meter manufacturing facility, a few blocks away from its previous/ current location in Eugene.

An aside: Sandy Munro (? – ) is a Canadian automotive engineer, who started his working life as a tool and die maker. He worked for Ford, starting in 1977, but left in 1988 to start his own consultancy. His work incorporates design for assembly (DFA)/ design for manufacturability (DFM) principles. His focus is on lean design, which is also the name of his website. His tear-down reports critically examine quality issues of specific vehicle models. They are most often used by assorted Asian start-ups. As the wise, old man of the automotive industry, he begins his YouTube videos with, “Hey, Boys and Girls …” Munro is also assisting Aptera with a relaunch of their vehicle, abandoned ca. 2009.

The FUV platform uses pouch cells from Farasis Energy, a Chinese battery manufacturer, providing a total of 19.2 kWh. While the battery is capable of accepting level 2 charging, Arcimoto plans on making fleet vehicles capable of handle higher charging rates.

Arcimoto is not developing in-house autonomous driving capabilities, but provide a foundation for third party hardware and software that will integrate into the vehicle platform. For example, steering is drive by wire allowing software to control wheel direction without additional hardware. Advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) features will be gradually added up to level 5 (Eyes off) autonomous driving.

The Rapid Responder™ is an emergency response vehicle that retains the two passenger configuration, but has equipment found on emergency vehicles. It is inexpensive (US$ 25 000), easily manoeuvrable through traffic, and capable of reaching places inaccessible to large trucks.

The Deliverator® replaces the rear seat with a large cargo area accessible by a door on the starboard side (right side facing forward) for last-mile delivery. Because of its small footprint, it can park in places unavailable to larger vehicles.

In development is the Cameo™. The passenger seat and storage compartment is replaced with a rear-facing seat, for a camera person to film various activities. It is aimed at the “film and influencer industry”. Also in development is a flat-bed pickup variant, and the Roadster, “Anticipated to be released in the first half of 2021, the Roadster is designed to be the ultimate on-road fun machine. Built on our patented three-wheel all-electric platform, … [it] features an incredibly low and forward center of gravity, twin-motor front wheel drive, instant torque, and a fully-connected seating stance.”

On 2021-01-26, it was anounced that Arcimoto will be buying Tilting Motor Works’ assets for around US$10 million, along with Arcimoto shares. Arcimoto want to integrate these into future products. TRiO, which is the most popular three-wheel conversion kit for touring motorcycles, provides a comfortable and stable ride, but with the riding characteristics of a motorcycle. This means that the rider/ driver can drive/ pilot their vehicle as if it were a two-wheeled motorcycle, yet eliminate the need to put their feet down while at a stop, or riding in slow traffic.

Tilting Motor Works’ technology in operation. Photo: Tilting Motor Works.

Upcoming electric vehicle posts

With so much time spent researching and writing about computing, there has been less time available to research and write about electric vehicles. Currently, five drafts of weblog posts are either scheduled or pending. These are:

Aptera will be the subject of the next weblog post on electric vehicles. It is a three-wheeled streamlined (enclosed) vehicle. Originally scheduled to be launched ca. 2010, this vehicle was a focus during my teaching career. The project was abandoned, but has since been revised.

Paxster has much in common with the Arcimoto Deliverator, but is a four-wheeled vehicle. It used for urban mail distribution by the Norwegian postal service, Posten.

Frikar is a pod bike, made in Sandnes, Norway.

Eav from Electric Assisted Vehicles Limited, of Bicester, England, is an eCargo bike with electric power assistance for last-mile transport solutions.

e-Cub is about Shanghai Custom’s electric conversion of the world’s most popular vehicle, the Honda (Super) Cub, with over 100 million units having been produced since 1958.

Mobilize is the name of Renault’s new mobility division. This division will offer car-sharing, energy and data-related services to help make transportation more sustainable. Their first prototype, the EZ-1, was presented 2021-01-15. A production model could be a replacement for the Renault Twizzy.

Additional electric vehicles will be discussed in Downsizing the Garage, scheduled for 2021-10-29, the fourth anniversary of Stuffing a 10-car garage, which appeared 2017-10-29.

Heat

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.

Update: 2021-06-12 at 15:00.

The amount of energy used to refine gasoline (and diesel) is more than the electricity required to drive the same number of miles/ kilometers, using equivalent battery electric vehicles. Fossil fuel vehicles make absolutely no sense. When a country substitutes EVs for ICE vehicles, electrical consumption actually declines.

Vehicle Devices

The Fisker Ocean will be contract manufactured by the Canadian owned, Austrian located, Magna Steyr facility in Graz, Austria. Photo: Fisker, Inc.

While many Americans will be focused on their presidential election taking place today (2020-11-03), this observer is awaiting the result of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Initiative (2020), a referendum appearing on today’s Massachusetts general election ballot. This could update the state’s right to repair laws to include telematic electronic vehicle data. This was specifically excluded on the 2012 referendum that passed with 86% of the vote.

It comes as no surprise that Elon Musk is opposed to the Massachusetts Right to Repair Initiative (2020), and is actively encouraging people to vote no. Right to repair legislation is generally supported by consumers, independent repair/ after-market companies and associations. It is generally opposed by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), such as Ford or GM, and dealerships.

The Clean Air Act of 1963, is a United States federal law that with the purpose of controlling air pollution. It has been amended several times since then. The 1990 amendments required all vehicles built after 1994 to include on-board computer systems to monitor vehicle emissions. The bill also required automakers to provide independent repairers the same emissions service information as provided to franchised new car dealers. California further passed legislation requiring that all emissions related service information and tools be made available to independent shops. Unlike the Clean Air Act, the California bill also required the car companies to maintain web sites which contained all of their service information and which was accessible on a subscription basis to repair shops and car owners.

Today, microprocessors control operation-critical vehicle systems: brakes/ ignition (on internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles) / air bags/ steering/ and more. Repairing/ servicing requires computer diagnostic tools. At the same time, OEMs have taken on gatekeeper roles to control information and parts necessary for service/ repairs. Control, in the above sentence, is particularly aimed at restricting access.

Most ICE vehicles use a controller area network (CAN bus) to manage microcontrollers, smart sensors and other devices to communicate with each other without a host computer. Each of these components is referred to as a node, with a hierarchical structure in relation to each other. No two nodes are equal, one always ranks above or below the other. The network features a message-based protocol. When two or more nodes transmit simultaneously, it is always the highest ranking node that is allowed to continue.

The electronic control unit (ECU) is typically based on about 70 nodes, each featuring, say, a 32-bit, 40 MHz microprocessor with about 1 MB of memory. This is orders of magnitude less powerful than those used in laptop or desktop computers.

Each node has to be able to handle a large set of processing tasks. These include: Analog-to-digital converters (ADC) – where a physical property usually measured in volts is converted into a digital number; Digital-to-analog converters (DAC) – provide an analog voltage output to drive some component, with a digital number telling the system what analog voltage to supply; signal conditioners make adjustments to input or output data so that it aligns more correctly with real-world needs; communication standards are implemented capable of sending appropriate signals to other nodes. The CAN-bus communication standard allows for speeds of up to 500 kilobits per second (Kbps) using two wires.

The CAN-bus, and similar devices, simplify vehicle wiring through the use of smart sensors and multiplexing. In ancient times (prior to about 1990) a wire ran from each switch to the device it powered. The circuit was completed by grounding one terminal of the battery to the chassis.

Smart sensors are integrated components, that include not only the sensor, but an ADC and a microprocessor. This allows it to read a voltage, make compensations for temperature, pressure or other factors using compensation curves or calculations, and then send digital output signals onto the CAN-bus.

With multiplexing a microprocessor monitors sensors in one area of the vehicle, such as a door. When that a specific window button is pressed “downward”, the microprocessor will activate a relay that will, in turn, provide power to the window motor so it moves downward.

Among the parts carmakers buy assembled from external suppliers are instrument clusters. These are designed by the supplier to the vehicle maker’s specifications. This is advantageous for both for the maker and the supplier. However, it also takes power away from the OEMs, and gives it to suppliers, such as Bosch or Continental.

Some of the nodes include: Battery Management System (BMS); Brake Control Module (BCM) which may also incorporate an Anti-locking an Braking System (ABS) and Electronic Stability Control (ESC); Door control unit (DCU); Electric Power Steering Control Unit (PSCU) or a Motor-driven Power Steering Unit (MPSU); Human-machine interface (HMI); Powertrain control module (PCM): which may combine an Engine Control Unit (ECU) and a transmission control unit (TCU); Seat Control Unit; Speed control unit (SCU);Telematic control unit (TCU).

Confusingly, ECU is also used as an abbreviation for the Engine Control Unit, which is one specific node. Here, and in many other circumstances to avoid confusion, it will be referred to as an ECM = Engine Control Module. It uses closed-loop control. Depending on the intended usage of the vehicle, the ECM will optimize specific goals: maximum torque, maximum fuel efficiency, minimum emissions, etc.

The CAN-bus allows module to communicate faults (errors) to a central module, where they are stored, then sent onwards to an off-board diagnostic tool, when it is connected. This alerts service personnel to system errors.

With electrification already a reality, and autonomous driving becoming one soon, the CAN-bus methodology will be unable the flow of data. Tesla uses a dual (read: duplicate/ redundant) artificial intelligence (AI) based, Samsung produced microprocessor system, running at 2 GHZ, to control vehicles. Compared to the CAN system, these are extremely powerful,

Volkswagen’s ID3 is going the same route, where it is using high-performance computers (HPC) supplied by Continental for control purposes.

Some vehicle designers do not have the capability to set their designs out in life. A notable example is Fisker. Danish-American Henrik Fisker (1963 – ) has made some exciting vehicle designs, but not all of the businesses he has started have survived. The latest manifestation is Fisker Inc., which was started in 2016. It has presented a SUV EV, Ocean, and a pickup proposal, Alaskan. With the Ocean’s design finalized, it is outsourcing vehicle production of its Ocean to Magna Steyr, a Canadian-Austrian contract vehicle manufacturer. For Fisker, this will reduce manufacturing complexities and costs, in contrast to building and operating its own factory. Magna’s electric vehicle platform, Partial payment for this will be in the form of (up to) 6% stake of Fisker Inc.’s equity, currently valued at $3 billion.

Returning to the Massachusetts Right to Repair Initiative (2020), a yes vote can have dramatic consequences for the computing equipment put on vehicles (ICE as well as EVs) in the future. Starting with the model year 2022, all vehicles with telematic systems, sold in Massachusetts (but more likely throughout the United States, if not the world) will have to be equipped with a standardized open access data platform.

On 2020-10-15, Foxconn, the Taiwanese multinational electronics contract manufacturer, responsible for production of an estimated 40% of all consumer electronics sold worldwide, announced its MIH open platform for electric vehicles. If Tesla is the iPhone of electric vehicles, Foxconn wants to be its Android. Foxconn has been involved in automotive manufacturing since 2007.

Currently, according to Foxconn, the battery pack accounts for 30 to 35% of the total production cost of an EV; powertrain = 20 to 25%; Embedded Electronic Architecture (EEA) = 15 to 20%; body = 13 to 15%; otheto develop and establish an open industry standard for automotive electrical-electronic (E/E) architecturer, including wheels & tires = 10 to 12%.

The MIH platform would be prepared for 5G and 6G, comply with AUTomotive Open System ARchitecture (AUTOSAR) and ISO 26262, and be ready for OTA (over-the-air) updates and V2X (vehicle-to-anything) communication.

AUTOSAR has been in operation since 2003 Its founding members include: Bavarian Motor Works (BMW), Robert Bosch GmbH, Continental AG, Daimler AG, Siemens VDO (until its acquisition by Continental in 2008), and Volkswagen. Later members include Ford Motor Company, Groupe PSA, Toyota Motor Corporation (all 2003), General Motors (2004). Thus, it represents a very large proporttion of the automotive industry. Its objective is to create/ establish an open and standardized software architecture for automotive electronic control units (ECUs). Other goals include “the scalability to different vehicle and platform variants, transferability of software, the consideration of availability and safety requirements, a collaboration between various partners, sustainable use of natural resources, and maintainability during the whole product lifecycle.”

ISO 26262, Road vehicles – Functional safety, was defined in 2011, and revised in 2018.

The MIH platform can accommodate wheelbases from 2 750 to 3 100 mm, with tracks from 1 590 to 1 700 mm, ground clearance from 126 to 211 mm. Three battery packs will be available. Vehicles can be rear wheel drive (RWD), front wheel drive (FWD) or all wheel drive (AWD). Motors on the front axle can be: 95 kW, 150 kW or 200 kW. Motors at the rear can be: 150 kW, 200 kW, 240 kW, and 340 kW. This allows a range of vehicles from a FWD with 95 kW to an AWD with 540 kW.

Part of the MIH strategy is to use mega castings. Foxconn cites one example, where they reduced 7 front suspension body panels to a single cast part and 27 rear longitudinal rail components to yet another single cast part, using a 4.2 Gg = 4 200 Mg (commonly called a ton) die-cast machine.

This post will end with a rhetorical question: What is a vehicle device? There may be many answers, but there are three I would like readers to consider. The first, is that there are subcomponents on a vehicle that could be regarded as devices. Second, the vehicle itself is also a device. Indeed, unlike a so-called mobile phone, which is a hand-held device, a vehicle is a true mobile device. Other potential members of this category include robot lawnmowers, electric airplanes and exoskeletons that are sometimes used by people with mobility issues. The third, is that the production platform is the device.

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

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.