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Hardly any manufacturer at this year’s auto show did not bring an electric or “alternative energy” vehicle along. With Tesla being absent, all players in the “pure electric” segment are in the 80-100 mile range with batteries varying from 22 – 28kWh (except for the Toyota RAV4 EV which still has a 42kWh battery, it seems.) The only surprise to me, perhaps, and a bit of a disappointment, was Mercedes’ confession that their new B-Class EV won’t have more range either. While an official EPA rating for the U.S. is still pending, the product specialists present said it would be anywhere between 80-100 miles per charge.

Most of these cars will reportedly go on sale in the U.S. some time this year with CA and other coastal regions receiving priority – all because of the energy credits to be obtained, no doubt. The “rest” of the country will get the cars in 2015.

There was some confusion on the use of the word “range extender” which to BMW signifies a petrol engine while being used to describe regenerated energy by everybody else. Technically, I believe that BMW will have to accept at some point that what they have created is a hybrid, and not an electric vehicle. Here are some pics, all taken by my son Felix, by the way:

Toyota RAV4 - EV

Toyota RAV4 – EV

Mercedes Benz B-Class EV

Mercedes Benz B-Class EV

 

IMG_4469

 

VW e-Golf

VW e-Golf

IMG_4831

Kia Soul EV

Kia Soul EV

IMG_4766

 

 

Not much new in the hybrid section, and I sincerely hope BMW will forgive me for lumping them in here. I realize there is a pure electric version of the i3 but if internal sources can be trusted then the majority of customers is opting for the “REx” (range extended) version, which – as I said before – makes it a hybrid in my book. So here we go:

 

 

Audi A3 e-tron

Audi A3 e-tron

BMW i3 / i8

BMW i3 / i8

BMW X5 eDrive

BMW X5 eDrive

 

Trunk, unusable if you want to show off the cool blue eDrive cover.

Trunk, unusable if you want to show off the cool blue eDrive cover.

 

Cadillac ELR - if the Chevy Volt just doesn't look fancy enough in your garage.

Cadillac ELR – if the Chevy Volt just doesn’t look fancy enough in your garage.

 

Porsche 918 - more fun to run on conventional gasoline because of the flames coming out in back.

Porsche 918 – more fun to run on conventional gasoline because of the flames coming out in back.

 

I will post pics of hydrogen powered vehicles and other novelties in a little while so please check back later.

Finally, here are high-res versions of the pics used in my KITCO News report on the show:

Kitco Slide 1

Kitco Slide 2

 

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Today will be remembered as the day when Microsoft discontinued support for its Windows XP operating system. It will be remembered as the operating system that bridged the familiar “look and feel” of its predecessors with the simplicity and reliability that made it outshine Windows Vista, its unloved successor. As always, Microsoft had to take a step back to cater to its audience when Vista flopped. Consequently, Windows 7, while reliable and more capable in keeping up with time, came out like Windows XP2, it failed to excite, and the differences remained elusive to many users.

At the same time, Microsoft added geeky complexity offering several different ways to accomplish the same tasks culminating in Windows 8, a product that thoroughly spooked its audience and prompted it to just sit it out.

As the result of this product strategy, more than 12 years after its release Windows XP still remains installed on almost 25% of the world’s computers with no immediate end in sight (for comparison: Windows 8/8.1: ~ 10%, Mac OS X < 4%). Dr. Sheldon Cooper condenses consumer sentiment into one simple phrase:

 

Windows XP: your occasional blue screens will be missed – just not yet!

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IMG_4368As fortune would have it I was able to spend much time on two of my favorite things recently: innovative technology and cars. The two have met, the world of cars is transforming in a big way, and my not-so-new-anymore writing charter for KITCO News allowed me to study it up front and close. In the process, I believe to have unraveled the mystery of where the industry, and we as frequent users of cars, are going. After many hours of conversations with people from all camps, and after even more hours of visiting events and reading online material, here is my prediction on what the next twenty or so years will look like:

  • We will not run out of gas. Yes, more people use gas, but more people use less gas than before. Ironically, the melting ice caps will allow us to drill for oil in even more places.
  • Consequently, the internal combustion engine (ICE) will continue to live on for quite a while.
  • However, since we keep changing climate by living the way we do, there is still an urgent need to implement new technologies that reduce our carbon footprint.
  • These new technologies don’t necessarily have to be “sustainable” in the beginning, but using what is always available instead of continuing to burn up precious resources must be the ultimate goal.
  • The majority of consumers is not in the “pioneer” or “early adopter” camps when it comes to changing.
  • This is bad news for any car that’s battery powered. A large amount of people will remain sympathetic but on the fence for a very long time, especially since there is no immediate need to change.
  • Small battery powered cars will continue to struggle with range for a while, meaning they will mostly be used for commuting only. Their market is further narrowed down by the necessity to keep a second car, so to a lot of people they make no sense economically.
  • Large battery powered cars like the Tesla will continue to be expensive for quite some time. Tesla’s Model S has replaced the Toyota Prius as an avatar to a specific demographic subgroup of society: people with a certain level of education, enough money and an overall “sustainable” and “organic” approach to life. Plus, in some cases, the desire to show it.
  • The majority of car producers will move towards designing new models in ways that will allow for an easy swap of power trains.  Customers will not only be able to select between different conventional engine sizes (gasoline and diesel) but also CNG, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery EV and fuel cell EV.
  • This “menu” approach will put them at a distinct cost and acceptance advantage over EV-only concepts like Tesla or the new BMW i-line of cars. In fact, I am ready to predict that unless Tesla keeps pushing the envelope their growth will flatline within a few years. Note that the “new” Tesla X scheduled to come out next year is essentially the same car.

IMG_4316Bold predictions? Perhaps. Except they are not, apart from the last bullet, maybe. The above statements are a -preliminary- assembly of puzzle pieces I gathered as explained in my my opening paragraph. Elon Musk has so far remained elusive to me but I hope to be able to confront him with this scenario one day. As to the other manufacturers, VW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Ford and Toyota are all rolling out “menu” cars already, with other brands close behind. So it isn’t actually a prediction I am making, it’s an observation of what is already happening.

Meaning the future is now, and I like it!

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Bodo 2013Welcome back to “The Eniqma”. As you will recall I took a short timeout to rethink my activities. The wait is over, I am back! A slight makeover of this blog site is only half of it. I am very honored to contribute a new weekly commentary to KITCO News from now on: “Tech Metals Insider”. The welcome page of The Eniqma already explains the details so I won’t repeat them here. Also, KITCO published an introduction to the new series which you can read here.

In future, my blog will contain stuff I think to be relevant but which didn’t make it into my articles. I’ll probably sprinkle in a few other things as well, let’s see how it goes. I hope you will enjoy the new Eniqma. Always happy to hear from you so tell me if you do, and… oh well…. if you don’t you can say that, too.

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From time to time I look back at my blogs. Topics, categories, search strings and statistics provide an image of what I like to write about, what readers want to read about, and the part where both overlap. If you recall, after a brief excursion into the world of “precious metals only” I returned to “Marketing and The Meaning of Life” quickly after realizing that neither I nor my readers enjoyed what I wrote. Ever since my blogs have been hovering around several hundred readers each, plus minus, and I want to thank every one of you for lending me your time and for sending the occasional comment.

Still, life goes on, things progress and I may have changed a little over time. My observations are:

  • While blogging about “current affairs” is incredibly satisfying it is also true that these blogs never seem to change anything. So what’s the point?
  • With the appearance of the electric BMW in my life last year (and its disappearance earlier this year) I discovered how fascinating the world of alternative energy really is. I have since become more involved with the technology and logistics behind these vehicles, learned much about other alternative technologies such as hydrogen, and of course the materials required to enable them. So my blog has turned into a car blog a bit more than anything else last year.
  • Lastly, I find myself not reading as many blogs anymore as I used to. No disrespect to my fellow bloggers, some of which are good friends of mine, but it seems like I am not the only person experiencing “blogging fatigue” after everything of relevance has already been said before by someone else.

Instead, I find myself drawn more towards topical news, information and industry insider commentaries on discoveries, technologies and trends. Which lead me to combine the two: with my unique exposure to the precious metals and specialty metals / rare earths industries combined with my passion for everything that moves fast I am confident to be in the right spot to pick up topics at the intersection of both areas, report and interpret on developments, and hopefully manage to insert the occasional interview with interesting people from participating industries. And I promise my sentences will be shorter.

Bodo 2013So here is the plan: my blog will go passive for a little bit and relaunch in September this year with a new focus, and a new design. Anyone sharing my passion or wanting to contribute is invited to do so. I hope you will like the new “Eniqma”. Of course my other website pages will remain in place. Where else in the world do you find information on Albert Schweitzer, Taekwondo and Deaf Cats on the same website? I am conscious of my responsibilities. 😉  Also, some of my older blogs are still getting hits on a regular basis so I’ll leave the archive in place.

Again, thanks for tuning in, and I hope you’ll be giving the new “Eniqma” a shot.

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Chevrolet Camaro 2008Easter – not only a caloric religious holiday but also the time of the New York International Auto Show. I’ve been going for many years although it isn’t one of the really important events car buffs don’t want to miss. But it’s as good as it gets around here, so why not? Five years ago I decided to try out my new digital camera on the occasion, and I submitted a few pictures to a German car website (also new at the time) named Carspotting. And would you know it? One of my pictures shot to #1 of the most viewed pictures and has since stayed there with over 300,000 views and counting. Counting, but counting slow because in all honesty I don’t think the site is doing so well. But that’s besides the point.

The trophy picture? Here it is – a “bumblebee” yellow Chevrolet Camaro. Which might surprise you as it surprised me. Neither is the picture special in any way, nor is the car something people take much notice of over here. Which goes to prove that Germany’s romantic relationship with the American Way of Life is still alive and well. A relationship frequently expressed through admiration combined with a shaking of the head. Hard to explain, but it’s there.

IMG_1759So what is the picture I liked best? Here it is: a detail of the then also new Audi R8 (yes, five years ago, time flies…) which I thought combined the white car with the red background in a great way. Oddly, the website has a second scale of “most voted for” pictures, and it emerged on that scale just a year ago. I believe this scale doesn’t even take into account whether people like or dislike an image, it just counts the votes. But what the heck. Seeing it there made me happier than topping the other list – I remember waiting forever to get a clean shot the way I wanted it with all the people there.

WP_20130329_027I have now decided to never look at this website again – it made me happy while it lasted but, like the Camaro, it’s getting stale and it is time to move on. So while this blog has no deeper meaning or message than this it will serve me as reminder of my decision. The blog, and the repeat I did on the Audi. Five years later and it’s still looking pretty hot, don’t you think?

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Shame on me – I don’t even deserve that title, and I call myself German. Last weekend was the first time I could actually sit down and look at what other ActiveE owners were doing on the BMW sponsored online forum. Not only did I miss out on a gathering of Electronauts, I was also completely ignorant of all the enthusiasm my fellow Electronauts profess by discussing every aspect of the car, trying to outdo each other in highest mileage driven, longest distance per charge and so on. So what, in absence of all the excitement, has my life been like?

I really miss my trunk. No surprise, but the ActiveE is a single-purpose car clashing with my multi-faceted life. Driving an ActiveE IS a sacrifice in a number of ways. But I knew that, I agreed, so I’ll stop whining. Still wish they’d chosen an X5 as the base vehicle.

Other than my fellow Electronauts I am playing it safe: Anything above 80 miles total driving distance is out. I have neither the time nor the curiosity to look for charging stations elsewhere – my car can not dictate or slow down my daily schedule. Its purpose is to serve me, not the other way round. So sorry, my fellow Electronauts, I truly admire your enthusiasm, but I am not playing.

On the upside, I’ve never been so much at the center of attention (on public roads) as I am now. I frequently get the “thumbs up” from other drivers ranging from commercial vans to exotic sports cars. Takes some getting used to – at first I kept asking myself “Do I know you?”, but it’s all just part of my day by now. I wonder if I will miss this one day – would you? Alas, with great bling comes great responsibility: what are the odds of me dissolving into the crowd like my grey Prius did (no, I don’t want it back)? What are the odds of people remembering exactly who just misbehaved (allegedly…), speeded, went through a “Jersey Yellow” light and such? It may be paranoia but I am actually driving more consciously now, knowing that I am probably not going to wiggle my way out of any incident like that.

So it’s a social event, mostly:

  • The security lady at the gate of a parking lot I frequently use making it a point of keeping the prime spot reserved for me so she can enjoy the view (letting her sit in the car once probably helped);
  • The valet forgetting to take his tip because he was temporarily enjoying his job a lot;
  • The fellow at the car wash exit taking periodical abuse (in Spanish, luckily) from his coworkers because he still hasn’t figured out how to start the car (subsequent cars pile up surprisingly quickly, I noticed);
  • Other drivers taking pictures, honking their horns or telling me at stop lights how much they wanted to get this car.

It would be wrong to say that I am not having fun driving my ActiveE. I like the stereo, the feeling of sitting in a “real” car again after my Prius Years, but mostly the sensation of the electric drive with little noise and little need for using the break pedal. In fact, I have a feeling I don’t want to go back to a gasoline powered car – ever. So I guess I’ll continue to be the “everyday Electronaut” who goes about doing the things he used to, minus the gas.

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