Posts Tagged ‘Tesla’

As part of my “Tech Metals Insider” column on KITCO News I just released the first part of a segment drilling deeper into which metals are used where, and in what quantities. To make it as user friendly as possible I condensed the information collected over the past six months into one spreadsheet which is available for download here: Technology metals in passenger cars part 1. As a faithful reader of my personal blog you have preferred access – I will post a link to the official article as soon as it was published.

Tech Mets in Cars Title

Part 2 will deal with the many little helpers, fairies and gremlins in our cars that we don’t even think about anymore. Should be even more fun than this one so please check back for it next week. And before I forget, this previously published picture might be useful to provide additional context.

this picture

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Electric vehicles – toys of a few for several years, EVs have become main stream with Tesla producing them by the thousands, and many other manufacturers getting ready to join the fun next year. Electric vehicles are in fact incredible (if they work, but I won’t harp on that again…), fun to drive, they make you feel good and they make you the center of attention wherever you go. Infrastructure was an issue at first but more and more charging stations, free and fee-based, are going up around the world making it easier to use your car to go wherever you want to go. Even the charging times are much reduced: a Tesla takes about half an hour at a “super charger” to replenish its battery to over 80%. Few places can afford to ignore the trend these days and preferred parking for EVs is now quite common, at least in the main markets along the West- and East Coast of the USA.

EV ParkingAlas, this picture of a happy family casually strolling back to their electric vehicle after a pleasant shopping experience will soon be history (image: Schneider Electronics). The number of EVs and plug-in hybrids is growing much faster than the number of parking spaces offered. Inevitably, bad manners take over and the once happy community of pioneers sees itself confronted with a growing number of bullies:

  • EVs get unplugged by people who feel they need the power more.
  • EVs get unplugged by pranksters just because.
  • EV parking spaces get taken by EVs and Plug-Ins that aren’t charging (but the spaces are free)
  • Drivers of internal combustion engine (ICE) powered cars occupy EV parking spaces and chargers
  • Free “customer only” parking spaces get used by non-customers.

These, unfortunately, are symptoms of an idealistic world meeting the reality of daily life and its multi faceted annoyances of egocentricity and envy. Some EV drivers report about incidents in online forums, and the number of occurrences is increasing. They fight valiantly by placing notes (friendly and not) under windshield wipers; they confront perpetrators, report them…. to little avail. Special problems arise for people utilizing airport charging spaces: their cars are fully charged long before their return, after which they are unnecessarily blocking a valuable charger-equipped parking space.

These events may in fact be uncovering a major flaw in any kind of “plug-in” vehicle concept: a divided society, Gas versus Electric. Studies suggest that the transformation to electric will take a very long time. EVs will need another decade to even build a noticeable footprint in the automobile market. The complete transformation, which is inevitable, will take until 2070. Until then, how will the two camps coexist? Without a surplus of EV charging stations consumers will be deterred to make the switch. An increasing number of EV reserved parking spaces will, on the other hand, reduce the available conventional parking spaces. Conflicts are inevitable.

I have a feeling that the only way to resolve this will be to uncouple the process of charging from the “act” of parking. The two are asynchronous and should not be connected. Be it by way of ultra-quick chargers that will allow drivers to “refill” their EVs in the amount of time to refuel a conventional car (i.e. by way of battery-swapping as proposed by Tesla and Better Place), or to abandon the concept of lithium ion batteries altogether in favor of hydrogen fuel cells right away.

Future will tell – I am afraid, though, that this issue will turn out to be a major and unexpected roadblock in the proliferation of EV technology.

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This week’s “Tech Metals Insider” blog on KITCO News is featuring Hyundai, a brand that few people get excited about. Having started off as a manufacturer that followed the Japanese business model initially (inexpensive, reliable but bland cars), they are in the process of shaping their own identity now. At the International Auto Show in Frankfurt this September, my attention was drawn to Hyundai’s fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) which is based on their ix35 crossover SUV. While several other brands had made announcements about upcoming fuel cell vehicles, Hyundai was the only one present to actually have one. And not just that: it was a finished product, several of them serving as press shuttles to prove the point.

I now had a chance to follow up on my encounter by interviewing Frank Meijer, Team Leader FCEV and Infrastructure Development, at the company’s European headquarters in Offenbach, Germany. Mr. Meijer showed me a very detailed presentation on the company’s future plans for FCEV technology which I have posted here: FCEV Deployment 12-11-2013 if you are interested.

At the end of the interview, Mrs. Kerstin Mueller, the company’s Product Marketing Manager for FCEVs, surprised me by offering me the keys to one of their ix35 FCEV vehicles for a test drive. I couldn’t possibly have said “no”, of course, and I want to thank the folks at Hyundai once again for the opportunity.

Hyundai ix35 FCEV

Hyundai ix35 FCEV

So how was it? Shockingly normal, is the answer. Normal in a good way. Not only is the car very similar to its gasoline powered siblings, it also works without drama or the need to learn how to operate it. It’s plug and play, agile, roomy, quiet and relaxing like an EV should be, and at the end of the 20 minute test drive the fuel needle was still on “full”. So how does the experience differ from the battery-electric vehicles (the BMW ActiveE or the Tesla S / P85) I have driven? The Hyundai doesn’t accelerate nearly as well as those two which was to be expected. There is also much less “regen” upon deceleration meaning you can’t drive it with just the right pedal. If you are just converting from a regular car this will, I believe, make your transition easier as the driving experience is nearly the same. There is hardly any noise from the fuel cell, and apart from a short 10 second cooling cycle after turning it off you don’t even know it’s there. Trunk space is much improved thanks to the absence of battery packs which rounds off my initial statement.

After a little while, our conversation turned away from the car onto other things. Which, if you think of it, is a good thing. If you are not one of the pioneers or early adopters who enjoy playing with their car’s features for hours on end, if you are just buying the car for its environmental impact or (later) for cost reasons, then you’ll be a lot better off getting a less dramatic car, like the Hyundai ix35 FCEV. A car you’ll be able to refuel whenever you have to, just like in the old days when your car ran on gasoline.

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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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Tesla S - P85 Only two weeks since my first KITCO blog appeared… feels like ages, and being on a schedule adds just the right amount of pressure to stay on top of things, throw more balls in the air, follow more leads…. a very exciting experience. I noticed that besides of my obvious intentions to build a brand around “technology metals”, there are very personal goals, too. Like meeting certain people who, besides of playing a role in our industry, are entrepreneurs I have admired for a long time. Now I am inching my way closer to them and hope to ask them a couple of questions on technology and the meaning of life one day. My list? For starters, it’s Elon Musk of Tesla and Shai Agassi of SAP / Better Place. The former being celebrated as a modern day rebel who, against all odds, created a car company of a new kind. The latter who, after a charismatic career with SAP, just failed royally with his “Better Place” project despite having all of the world’s wind in his sails. I admire them both and hope to talk to them one day. I seem to have an angle on Elon Musk already (no, I didn’t buy that car – yet) but if any of my readers had a connection that would lead me to interviewing Shai Agassi I’d be very grateful.

That aside, what is it like writing for an actual news organization? I enjoy the services of a lady opening event doors for me which is awesome. There is a page editor who makes my articles look better – I have to get used to that. I mean, how do you improve what’s already perfect?  Just kidding, I learn a lot from him. On top, I get tons of spam e-mail (glad I created a new address for this), random questions from readers who worry about their life’s savings, and a lot of nice feedback from friends, personal and in business. I am looking forward to the next two weeks 🙂

This week’s article is about “Fort Metlock“, a bunker in Frankfurt which Matthias Rueth bought through foreclosure, and turned it into one of the most secure buildings in the world. It turned out I had driven past the building for decades (!) without paying any attention whatsoever…. just an ugly monolith that was completely unremarkable. Since World War 2, the building had served as a music studio and then as the “home” for up to 20 homeless people who were evicted by the City of Frankfurt prior to getting rid of the place. Since you can’t tear it down its uses are limited, and Matthias’ only competition was someone who decided that – since the place was so cheap – he could just seal it, put solar cells on the roof and enjoy the free power.

IMG_0070Matthias told me they removed 100 truck size garbage containers to clean out the place. Putting in flooring, lights, a freight elevator, two 4.6 ton doors and adequate alarm systems was a different matter, and he ended up spending over EUR 900,000 (about USD 1.2M) to convert the building to its present state. On the upside, his insurance company determined that even a direct plane hit would probably not require more than fresh paint (and more garbage containers) to fix the damage, so his premiums are rock bottom. Using modern tools, it takes 24 hours to drill a fist size hole in the wall – the police needs less than four minutes to be on the scene. Matthias has a letter of apology from HILTI, maker of the world’s best drills, because so many of them broke during renovation. So it’s easy to see why he feels good about his investment.

On the inside, despite the beautiful floor and great lighting, the place isn’t for everyone. There is an echo and vibration everywhere, you can feel the 2m walls around you wherever you are, and when the lights are turned off you are in complete and utter darkness – darker than any night is dark. Fascinating and a little scary at the same time.

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