Tag Archives: Tesla

Bolt from the blue

The 2017 Chevy Bolt after its Detroit semi-introduction on Jan. 11.

The 2017 Chevy Bolt after its Detroit semi-debut on Jan. 11.

Is the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt the electric car that finally goes mainstream?

The Prius of pure EVs?

That seems to be the goal for General Motor’s all-electric five-door, which was piloted onto the stage by GM CEO Mary Barra herself during its quasi-debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this month.*

* (The Bolt was first revealed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas the previous week)

So far, pure EVs have sold in relatively limited numbers due to a combination of low driving range at the low end of the market and high cost at the top end. The painfully slow proliferation of charging infrastructure hasn’t helped a nervous public ditch their combustion-powered vehicles, either.

'More range, less cost' is GM's mantra with the Bolt.

‘More range, less cost’ is GM’s mantra with the Bolt.

The Bolt’s job is to eliminate range anxiety and do it at a price deemed ‘affordable’ for middle class car buyers. With an estimated range of 200 miles (320 kilometres), a price of $30,000 U.S. (after government incentives), and a spacious liftback body designed for family and cargo), GM feels it’s found a happy medium that will appeal to the maximum number of consumers.

Will it sell like umbrellas at Heathrow Airport? Time will tell, but the clock is ticking for any automaker looking to snatch the ‘Everyman EV’ crown.

When it hits dealer lots this fall, the Bolt has to make miles not just on the road, but on the gathering competition.

In the rear-view is the venerable Nissan LEAF, which received a modest range boost in 2016 (approximately 170 kilometres) ahead of a 2018 revamp that could see it surpass the Bolt in miles per charge.

Like the Nissan LEAF, the BWM i3 will also get a range boost in the near future.

Like the Nissan LEAF, the BWM i3 will also get a range boost in the near future.

BMW’s interestingly proportioned i3 gets a 50 percent range boost next year as well, pushing its outer limit to approximately 193 kilometres, minus the optional range-extender.

Somewhere out there in the ether, Tesla’s long-anticipated Model 3 is nearing a post-planning phase. While details of the entry-level Tesla are scarce, and price points and release date the subject of rumours, a more affordable Tesla with a range exceeding 200 miles should strike fear into the heart of any EV maker.

Still, the Model 3 doesn’t seem all that near, and Tesla currently seems quite preoccupied with working out the bugs with its fancy-doored Model X and delivering the luxury SUV to customers.

So it looks like the Bolt will have the high-range/low-cost market to itself for a little while, at least. Will lack of direct competition make the model shine on the sales sheet? Or will low oil prices, a diverse crop of plug-in hybrids, and lingering consumer nervousness around full-EV vehicles keep the Chevrolet Bolt in the sales slow lane?

We wait.

Don’t Vox me, bro

Maybe we should subsidize all bikes, while we're at it. Who's on board?

Maybe we should subsidize all bikes while we’re at it. Who’s on board?

I waited until the second day of the New Year to get annoyed by something because this was my New Year’s resolution.

So, it’s January 2, and I’m annoyed by a story I read after being linked to it via Twitter!*

*In many ways, 2015 hasn’t ended

The annoyance comes, not surprisingly, from the preachy news site Vox, an outlet where right-thinking Brooklynite millennials explain to the plebs the way things really are. Their entirely predictable take on every issue of the day has become known in more cynical circles as Voxsplaining.

I won’t link to the offending article (it can be looked up, if one so chooses), but it can be summarized as ‘Economists don’t like electric vehicle subsidies but I do because we collectively need to do something to save the planet.’

Economists almost all agree that such subsidies are “excessive and inefficient,” the article states, but the author argues there are nebulous benefits realized that we can’t measure but must be there. So the subsidies must continue apace.

And it goes on and on in the usual ‘Me vs. The World’ tone one comes to expect from someone convinced of their own righteous moral superiority.

Stop, I say. Just stop.

EV ownership can be promoted many ways, some better than others.

EV ownership can be promoted many ways, some better than others.

So very often in these debates, it comes down to one party claiming the other’s plan to solve XYZ problem is inefficient, and the other party claiming the first guy just doesn’t want to do anything about XYZ problem.

Because he doesn’t care, see.

For a good example, watch any two opposing politicians talk about any given issue.

In the old days, one would just accuse the other’s wife of running around town, leading to punches or maybe even a duel. Nowadays, we shame our opponents by climbing into a Care Bear furry suit.

Maximum benefit to society comes from infrastructure everyone can use.

Maximum benefit to society comes from infrastructure everyone can use.

The issue at hand – EV subsidies – doesn’t exist in a vacuum, though. It’s a ‘green’ issue, like green energy and green jobs and green taxation and the like.

When the first oddly proportioned EVs trickled onto the market as a novelty, some governments tossed cash at EV buyers so that they could claim they were helping more EVs ply the roadways, and aren’t we great stewards of the Earth?

It was but one way of addressing the need to lower emissions created by internal-combustion engines.

Then more and more EVs hit the market, many of them at the high end of the market, while in the background, gasoline-powered cars became more efficient and energy-saving programs for homes and businesses came and went. The EV subsidy exists as a single square in a patchwork quilt of programs with the same goal – saving the planet.

The problem is, once a program is put into effect, it becomes a sacred cow to some. After all, if it was created with the greatest and purest of intentions, why would anyone even consider altering it?

Well, for one thing, because this is a subsidy consisting of finite taxpayer money that could be put to better use while keeping the same goal in mind.

Build it and they will come. If it fits unobtrusively into a lifestyle, and can be fueled easily.

Build it and they will come. But only if it fits unobtrusively into a lifestyle, and can be fueled easily.

Ontario, like Quebec and some U.S. states, will fork over up to $8,500 to the buyer of a new EV. The program has been in effect for years, and exactly how much has been paid out through it remains a mystery. In a province of 13 million people, suffice it to say millions.

Should the affluent buyer of a 691-horsepower dual-motor Tesla P85D – a car that goes zero-to-100km/h in 3 seconds, retails for $120,000 and features a ‘Ludicrous Mode’ – receive $8,500 from taxpayers to fund his or her ultra-lux road rocket?

To phrase it another way, should the residents of a province with $300 billion in debt, monthly interest payments of $11.4 billion, a stagnant economy and serious health care challenges be throwing money at the wealthy for status-symbol cars?

Imagine it was electric. And you're helping your neighbour's dad finance it.

Imagine it was electric. And you’re helping your neighbour’s dad finance it.

Wealthy people who very likely can afford the P85D just fine, along with (probably) a boat and cottage for weekend down time?

A solid look at the current subsidy setup would make both fiscal conservatives and social democrats cringe.

Surely there’s a better way for a province obsessed with displaying its progressiveness at every turn to tout its green bona fides while supporting EV proliferation?

In its defense, the province recently pledged $20 million for the installation of public charging stations. Not only was it a good way to change the channel from the soon-to-be forgotten scandal of the day, it’s an altogether better use of public funds to spur EV ownership.

Rather than help a person who can already afford an EV buy one, this type of investment strengthens the infrastructure needed to make EV ownership practical for all potential buyers, and the EV industry as a whole sustainable.

Provincially-bought chargers would bolster the ranks of stations already installed by the likes of Tesla, Sun Valley Highway, local municipalities, privately-owned shopping malls, hotels and dealerships.

Subsidies directed to EV buyers should be redirected to this initiative. At the very least, a cap on vehicle price should be added to the subsidy program.

The Tesla Model X P90D. Rarified air for any EV buyer (Image: Tesla Motors)

The Tesla Model X P90D. Rarified air for any EV buyer (Image: Tesla Motors)

Governments are in the business of building and maintaining roads, something they eventually pull off reasonably well, with some caveats. They’re not in the business of creating what’s driving on them, nor are they good at picking winners when it comes to handing out big globs of corporate welfare (though that cash is always gladly accepted on the other end).

Better charging infrastructure is crucial at a time like this. EV numbers are rising – slowly, to be sure – but a new wave of cheaper electrics with far better range are poised to hit the streets in the next year or two.

Tesla showed the world that a long range, capable EV was possible, but vehicles like the Model S and fancy-doored X are still out of reach for most of the buying public. Models like the Chevy Bolt (due next year), as well as the next-generation Nissan LEAF and (conceptual) downmarket Tesla Model 3 would put EV ownership solidly in the hands of the middle class.

For a young or middle class buyer to choose an EV, it needs to be a purchase that won’t make them quickly regret it. That’s where infrastructure comes in.

Packards and Peirce-Arrows brought about technological advancements in the car industry 100 years ago, but it was the lowly (and wildly popular) Ford Model T that brought about the proliferation of fueling stations and new gasoline refining techniques in America.

A thirsty society needs – and demands – access to fuel, whether it be hydrocarbons or charged ions.

If public money is to be spent, this is where it should go.




Roadster, redux

The Tesla Roadster (2008-2012) will soon benefit from an upgrade package that will give it 400 miles of range (Image: Tesla Motors)

The Tesla Roadster (2008-2012) will soon benefit from an upgrade package that will give it 400 miles of range (Image: Tesla Motors)

Tesla Motors’ first vehicle – the simply-named Roadster – was a ground breaking vehicle when it hit the market in 2008.

Based on a carbon fibre Lotus bodyshell, the all-electric Roadster was a pocket rocket that astounded motorists and auto journalists alike with its neck-snapping acceleration and handling, smashing pre-conceived notions of what an electric car could be.

Tesla hasn’t forgotten that first car, which stopped production in 2012 after the company’s initial order of 2,500 Lotus bodies ran out. On Dec. 26, the company announced an upgrade package for remaining Roadsters, designed to give the vehicles a greatly enhanced range and a new lease on life.

Tesla will demonstrate the Roadster 3.0 Package with a Frisco to L.A. cruise in January (Image: Tesla Motors)

Tesla will demonstrate the Roadster 3.0 Package with a Frisco to L.A. cruise in January (Image: Tesla Motors)

Though they came from the factory with a then-impressive 244-mile (393 kilometre) range, Tesla estimates the improvements included in the ‘Roadster 3.0 Package’ will give the tiny two-seater a 400-mile (644 km) range.

The package, available in spring of 2015, includes a lithium-ion battery pack with a 31% greater capacity than the original, an aerodynamics kit that reduces drag by 15%, low rolling resistance tires, and upgraded front wheel bearings and brakes.

Read more about the upgrades here.

In the first few months of the New Year, Tesla will perform a demonstration run from San Francisco to Los Angeles to highlight the Roadster’s increased range.


An hour in Heaven


In the summer of 2011, I was able to snag an hour of alone time behind the wheel of a Roadster 2.5 Sport, the last version of the model.

The sexy white Roadster was pure motoring bliss, and turned heads wherever it went. I’d have spirited it off into the sunset, except the PR team that handed it too me warned of a $157,000 bill in the mail if anything happened to it.

The spartan interior of the Tesla Roadster has everything you need, and nothing you don't.

The spartan interior of the Tesla Roadster has everything you need, and nothing you don’t.

Given my 6’4″ frame, getting into the Roadster could easily have been accomplished by stepping over the door sill. Once nestled inside, about a millimetre off the ground, I had to crouch a bit to get my head out of the slipstream coming over the windshield.

I was struck by the Roadster’s spartan, user-friendly interior. Gear selection was accomplished via pushbuttons, as was the parking brake, but everything else was as one would expect.

With electric sports cars being a niche oddity at the time (a trend that continues today) the driving experience was surprisingly predictable and familiar. At a stoplight, the car would creep forward when you eased up on the brake pedal, just like any automatic transmission-equipped gasoline-burner.

What wasn’t familiar was the instant burst of acceleration from the rear-mounted 288-horsepower motor. Because the motor didn’t have to worry about things like RPMs or gear ratios, its 295 foot-pounds of torque were instantly available right off the line, seamlessly doled out by a 1-speed Borg-Warner transmission.

You could say the Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport was a 'gas' to drive. I slay me...

You could say the Tesla Roadster 2.5 Sport was a ‘gas’ to drive. I slay me…

When it was first tested by the crew at Top Gear, the resulting review declared the Roadster to be “Biblically quick” – a description that stuck in my mind over the years.

Yes, the Roadster, with its 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds, didn’t accelerate so much as it instantly attained the desired speed. A light jab at the throttle on the highway meant your 80-to-120km/h passing acceleration was accomplished, seemingly, in the blink of an eye.

Tesla’s introduction to the vehicle market in 2008 came like a brick through the plate glass window of established norms. An independent maker of all-electric performance vehicles – in America, no less? Where did this come from?

As the Big Three automakers struggled to stay alive in that tumultuous year, Tesla had provided a glimpse of an alternate future. It also showed what can happen when imagination meets a pile of capital.