July 6, 2017 laminar

How My New Car Made Me A Revolutionary

I recently acquired a new car! I would not write about this normally because people buy cars all the time.  But this time is different because I have become a revolutionary.  Yes, a middle aged revolutionary and like all good revolutionaries, it comes at a high price.

I bought an Electric Vehicle (EV) for my every day vehicle.  A Tesla Model X to be precise.  I ordered it in July 2016 and it arrived late March 2017. Buying a Tesla is not just buying a car as it turns out.  I am part of a massive disruption, that is long overdue.  With Elon Musk’s notoriety, the movement is gathering momentum exponentially, though this is far more predominate overseas.

The car is not just an EV, it’s also capable of fully autonomous driving.  When Tesla release the software in Australia (once the authorities allow it), my car will drive me around while I sit in the back.  It will, for example, allow me to drive to work, get out and the car can then return home to take my wife to her business meetings.  It’s capable of Level 5 autonomy, this refers to a fully-autonomous system that expects the vehicle’s performance to equal that of a human driver, in every driving scenario—including extreme environments like dirt roads that are unlikely to be navigated by driverless vehicles in the near future.

I have always been a techie/geek and so this car resonated with me straight away.  It’s practically an iPhone with wheels and is one of the vehicles leading the way to a massive change not just in the motor industry, but in the way we function, travel and consume.  I decided to pay a little more than I would normally, to help progress this change.

It’s a premium car for sure and I was very surprised with the quality, especially as it is an American built car.  I am a tough marker!  The interior is nice and simple – not the same as a European car in that it is not as busy.  It is incredibly nice to drive, much like a Porsche/BMW/Mercedes.  It’s a shame the car will be autonomous.

Some Key Changes To The Industry

One of the new concepts introduced by Tesla, is that new features are rolled out just like the latest IOS update.  The concept of old is that you buy a car and when new features are made available to the market, like automatic windscreen washers for example, you would have to buy the new model; a new car.  Tesla simply offer a new firmware update. It’s like an iPhone, users eagerly await the next firmware update.

By driving an EV, I choose where I re-charge.  For me this is mostly at home, where it costs me nothing because I have a solar system on the roof.  I am not tied to a distribution chain like service stations or fuel depots.  There are lots of charge stations and even special parking bays for EV vehicles.

An EV car is so simple mechanically.  In my vehicle for example there is a motor (size of a watermelon) for each set of wheels, batteries and some electronics. There isn’t any of the following:

  • Internal combustion engine (noise, heat, mechanical wear and tear)
  • Gearboxes
  • Transmission
  • Exhaust systems (heat management, toxic gases)
  • Fuel management systems (hoses, tank, filters etc)

So, what does all this mean?  It means there is very little to maintain or repair.  I will have to change tyres when they wear out, add washer fluid and maybe brake pads one day.  I am told I may never have to replace brake pads.  When slowing down in an EV, the electric motor(s) become a generator, which recharges the battery and slows down the car!  This is called Regenerative Braking and it is very effective.  I don’t have to touch the brakes until I come to a full stop.

The powertrain is also a key difference.  For a comparison, my Landcruiser had a twin turbo diesel V8 motor with 200kW and about 650Nm torque, at the fly wheel.   That would equate to about 140kW at the wheels. My Tesla front motor has about the same and delivers that directly to the front wheels with very little loss so the whole 195kW! The rear motor is another story.  So, my new family SUV car with something like 580kW (770HP), can out drag a V8 supercar to 100Kmh… and it’s not even the fastest version.

My Thoughts So Far

My research so far leads me to think that car manufacturers of the future will be providing vehicles that predominately will be a ride share service.  Or ride share companies will manufacture cars! For example, I predict that UBER will buy Volvo.  Tesla has already announced their ride share program, and BMW/MB have teamed up to offer their car sharing program in Europe.

The oil industry will be in trouble and this will significantly change the “Power” status quo around the world.  Countries will not be held to ransom and there will be a lesser drain on our environment’s natural resources.  Countries without oil will not have a huge cash drain and this would include Australia.

I notice the local traditional motoring “journalists” are avoiding the reviews of Tesla’s. In their car of the year awards Tesla does not even rate, but it does overseas. There are some reviews in the local auto press but they simply don’t get it and certainly have not researched their articles. The authors of these reviews are losing credibility very quickly and the majority of sponsors appear to be oil and traditional motoring companies.

Countries such as Germany, Norway, Netherlands and India are already making plans to ban ICE cars and in some places legislation will require that all new homes be equipped with an electric vehicle recharging point.  Norway and Netherlands appear go first with a ban in 2025 and the cessation of sales of new ICE vehicles by 2020. Germany and India by 2030 and France by 2040. Other countries like New Zealand are promoting the autonomous vehicle technology, so that it can spawn an industry. Recently Volvo announced that they will stop using ICE in the vehicles in 2019.

How Smart Are We?

When I travel overseas I can catch a driverless Uber in San Francisco; In Norway, I can get out at the mall entrance and my Tesla parks itself somewhere.  Many people I speak to in Australia generally have no idea that any of this is happening, except other EV nerds I have be-friended.

How did those countries evolve so far, and we have not?  I recently introduced my Tesla to a parliamentarian who had just heard about it.  We discussed much of what I have found with him on the steps of Parliament. I suggested that he and his fellow law makers pass some laws that allow this development to be useable here.  But mostly there was head shaking.

On the positive side of things, I’ve read and heard about “rebels” modifying ICE cars to be EV’s.  You can buy and import a basic electric motor, controller and battery pack from the US for about US10K.  I note there is a Victorian manufacturer of specialised EV off road vehicles, and there is even a company making a two-wheel drive EV “AG” motorbike.

Some Great Learning

In the 90’s when GM (USA) released the electric car it was popular.  They only offered a lease program and part of the deal was that you had to hand back the car.  The queue to buy one got large, and GM got worried.  They pulled the program and recovered all the cars.

The impact I realised was not only with the oil companies, but all the dealer networks in the US.  They make money from sales of new cars (although not much), services and other add-ons.  Traditional ICE cars need a lot of servicing (oil, filters, belts, sparkplugs, coils etc).  The electric car threatens all this and I am sure the dealers would not sell that first electric car.

I can see why some states in the US have tried to prevent Tesla selling there, unless they have a dealer network.  So, while GM tried to disrupt themselves, they could not continue down this path, because their support would not let them and perhaps the management simply did not have the balls to rebel.  Shortly after the car industry in the US declines, goes into debt, goes broke and generally struggles leading to much better German and Japanese imports becoming popular.  I used to say, the only countries in the world that make a decent car is Germany and Japan (traditional quality engineering reputation).  Then comes along Elon from the IT industry with lots of cash, who makes a great car.  There is the queue back again and they chose to sell direct.  The dealers won’t make money, because there is very little to service.  I can see the day where dealerships won’t exist.  Just a shop, like an Apple store.

Now I notice the German and Japanese automakers scrambling.  Some have made electric cars but almost deliberately, are not quite there.  These organisations have some amazing capabilities and yet BMW released a car with only 90-120Km range – what’s with that?  Tesla has already snared a significant portion of the luxury car market in the US, and the losers are BMW, Porsche and Mercedes.

Toyota was initially following a path of using hydrogen.  As an engineer, I always thought this was useless, I can’t make hydrogen at home!  It’s complicated and I am sure many of the Toyota engineers would have done the same maths I did – another half-baked idea to make sure something doesn’t destroy a cash flow?  Now Toyota has dumped the whole Hydrogen strategy!  All these manufacturers are having to almost start from scratch, new floor plan, new components etc.  Tesla now has 10 years of development on them!   This means they have to change how they manufacture, they have to adapt manufacturing lines, set them up etc.  This will likely take some time.

Electric cars are simpler to make, so robots can do more of the work.  I would expect that cars will be made in the US again as less labour is required.  Elon has already said that he can make cars cheaper in the US than China!

But there is another elephant about to enter the room.  One of the key components in the car is the battery system and electric motor.  Tesla make their own electric motors and it is highly automated.  This has been built up over many years.  Guess who makes lots of batteries in the “Giga factories” at a low cost.  Where will the traditional auto marques get their batteries from?

One last elephant (there are so many now).  One country makes more electric cars than any other country. China!  They have many reasons why this is important for them. I can see that the cost of the key components – electric motors and batteries dropping dramatically as it always does.  This means the cost of an EV car will also drop dramatically in the near future.

Summary

I recently have hired cars in my travels – nice ones – and my first thought was “nice tractor”.  I see a Ferrari or BMW M5 and I now think old ‘tech’ and slow.  I believe I have now become an EV snob.

It also dawned on me recently that we will only probably need one car per household in the future.  I can drive to work and then the car can take my wife and family to work meetings – a bit like a personal “Uber”.

With many households currently owning more than one vehicle, one could also surmise that costs could eventually decrease for household transportation and also space required to store said vehicles. And what of other issues not even touched on here? Improved road safety and the reduced environmental impact, not only from reduced emissions, but also due to less vehicles on the road?  It seems there are many questions to be asked, the most prevalent being when will Australia catch up to the changes the EV industry will inevitably bring?

Very exciting!

 

Author: Alan Kepper