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Cars nissan leaf technological revolutions

Published on March 6th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan

20

Technological Revolutions & EVs (Reader Comment)

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March 6th, 2012 by Zachary Shahan
 
 
nissan leaf technological revolutions

Below is part of a discussion on the Nissan Leaf and electric vehicles here on CleanTechnica. It’s got broad relevance to EVs, solar technology, wind technology, and more, and is just a great little reflection on society. So, here it is (slightly edited to be tailored to a post rather than a comment in that Nissan Leaf thread):

I’m old enough to have lived through multiple significant technological changes.

The first that I recall was from slide rules to calculators. The first calculators were very expensive and had limited functions. An experienced slide rule user could calculate faster. But calculators added more functions and prices fell. It’s been over 40 years since I saw someone use a slide rule.

Then there was the transition from typewriters, “adding machines”, and ledger books to computers. Most people resisted at first, but as computers improved and prices dropped, people rapidly switched. Seen a typewriter store lately?

And film to digital. Around 2000, we got ‘not cheap’ two-meg digital cameras. Some of us, mostly those who weren’t interested in printing large, switched, but the real movement happened a few years later when megs rose and prices dropped. Kodak just announced that they will no longer manufacture slide/transparency film.

I look at today’s EVs like those multi-hundred dollar calculators, personal computers that ran at 8 megs and cost a couple thousand dollars, and the first 6-meg digital SLRs that cost thousands of dollars.

It’s the opening round. A few people do the math and find that it’s cheaper for them to drive a limited-range Leaf. A bit later we’ll have the option of an EV with a bit more range and for a few thousand less. My guess is that, in a few years, almost everyone will find an EV/PHEV that works for them and saves them money.

Image: Nissan Leaf courtesy of shutterstock

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • David Stead

    I’ve had the car since last Friday.

    It is more fun than a van full of cheerleaders.

    So far, the limited range hasn’t changed my weekend driving. My S.O. drives it to work, 20 miles or so each way, with no problems.

    It is quick and quiet. And it’s quiet. I mean, it makes no noise. Did I say that enough?

    Pedestrians are a problem. They walk right out in front of the car, even though they _should_ see it. Auditory cues are apparently the dominant safety factor in parking lot situations. Leaf drivers all know this after about one day driving it around. You have to be CAREFUL with pedestrians.

    Another issue Leaf drivers realize quickly is the amount of energy used in moving a vehicle down the road. The real-time energy usage gages are an eye opener.

    Abrupt, aggressive acceleration is a watt-killer. This is a lesson that can be crossed-over into gas car driving. Ease away from the light, and save a ton of money on gas.

    Also in an electric car there is no source of heat as a by-product of combustion as in a gasoline or diesel engine, so you have to consume battery power to heat the cabin. We were spoiled by our gas cars. Riding around in a tee-shirt in January is a luxury, it turns out. You have to be stingy in the electric car, and we are already habituated to donning our coats before getting into the Leaf.

    No problemo though, as we consider oursleves advernturers with this car.

    The Leaf is by far the most fun vehicle I have driven, with the possible exception of my old GSXR1000. It accelerates smartly, and the always-on torque makes the transition from 35mph to 60mph an effortless. The normal sensations associated with acceleration, the noise and vibration, the gear-shifts and the feeling that the car is “diggin-in” are not present. There is instead only a constant gentle push on your back as the car swims through the air as effortlessly as a barracuda through a swimming pool.

    My only regret so far is that I wish they had not made all the concessions they made to make it look and feel like a “normal” car.

    EV’s are a new paradigm, and I resent being strapped with vestigial things like a shifter and even foot controls. There simply is no reason to operate the car with your feet. An XBOX controller would be a nice operator interface, for example. But the old and the mentally-challenged would be confuddled by a totally new vehicle, and I understand the market imperative of not getting too far out ahead of your potential consumers.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Thanks, David. Keep it coming. A report every few weeks would be interesting.

      Insurance?

    • http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Thanks, David. Just posted it. :D

      I do look forward to more updated. But no pressure. :D

  • David Stead

    I’ve had the car since last Friday. It is more fun than a van full of drunken cheerleaders. (take a second, let the image fade). So far, the limited range hasn’t changed my weekend driving. My S.O. drives it to work, 20 miles or so each way, with no problems. It is quick and quiet. And it’s quiet. I mean, it makes no noise. Did I say that enough? Pedestrians are a problem. They walk right out in front of the car, even though they _should_ see it. Auditory cues are apparently the dominant safety factor in parking lot situations. Leaf drivers all know this after about one day driving it around. You have to be CAREFUL with pedestrians. Another issue Leaf drivers realize quickly is the amount of energy associated with vehicle travel. The real-time energy usage gages are an eye opener. Abrupt, aggressive acceleration is a watt-killer. THis is a lesson that can be crossed-over into gas car driving. Ease away from the light, and save a ton of money on gas. Also in an electric car there is no srouce of heat, so you have to consume battery power to heat the cabin. We are spoiled by our gas cars. being able to ride around in a tee-shirt in January is a luxury, it turns out. You have to be stingy in the electric car, and we are already habituated to donning our coats before getting into the Leaf. No problemo though, as we consider oursleves advernturers having this car. The Leaf is by far the most fun car I have driven. I wish they had not made all the concessions they made to make it look and feel like a “normal” car though. EV’s are a new paradigm, and I resent being strapped with vestigial things like a shifter and even foot controls. There simply is no reason to operate the car with your feet. An XBOX controller would be a nice operator intgerface, for example. BUt the old and the mentally-challenged would be confuddled by a totally new vehicle, and I understand the market imperatives of bnot getting too far out ahead of your potential consumers. More to follow.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Thanks for that, very interesting.

      Couple of things:

      1) Apparently future Leafs will have much improved heaters. Cold weather range should improve 20-25 miles.

      http://www.autoblog.com/2012/03/20/nissan-leaf-update-will-add-new-heater-25-miles-of-range/

      (Does the Leaf have seat heaters and a steering wheel heater like the Volt?)

      2) Why not put small exterior speakers in the front fenders and play “normal car” sounds at lower speeds?

      Shouldn’t be noticeable inside the car. Wouldn’t require pedestrians learning a new cue. Could turn them off once the car reached the speed where tire noises take over.

      Of course, collision-avoidance radar would be even better. Alert both ped-person and driver that soft is approaching hard….

      • http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

        Thought they were working on #2

        • Bob_Wallace

          There has been discussion of legislation requiring EVs to include warning signals. It just then occurred to me that making them sound like other cars might make more sense than having them go “Beep, Beep, Beep” or play a tune.

          Of course having them play a “Hey! Look at me! I’m and EV and it’s dirt cheap to drive me!” would be another option….

    • http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

      LOL :D

      This is awesome. Think I’ll turn it into a guest reader post :D Want to rework it at all for that?

      “Another issue Leaf drivers realize quickly is the amount of energy associated with vehicle travel. The real-time energy usage gages are an eye opener. Abrupt, aggressive acceleration is a watt-killer. THis is a lesson that can be crossed-over into gas car driving. ”

      – Read about this and loved it! & totally agree, should be in all cars.

      • David Stead

        I tried to edit the comment (was I drunk?), but my aged browser doesn’t support whatever script controls editing. New post instead.

  • David Stead

    I am going to pick up my new Leaf tomorrow (if the dealer is reasonable). Purely an economic choice. I was going to buy a new VW Diesel Passat, but even at 40MPG it was about 11 cents a mile and a $35,000.00 vehicle. The Leaf is the same price, but at around 2 cents a mile, it’s a no-brainer. Not as luxurious as the Passat, but way more fun to drive. And the big thing is that I can pass those disgusting numbers on the gas station reader boards and not be depressed. Now we plan to drive around for fun. I plan to drive the Leaf into the ground, maybe shoot for 100,000 miles in 4 years so it will be about dead when we trade it in for Leaf II with a safe 200 mile range and a new, seksy profile. Wee.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Good on you David. Wish there was an EV that worked for me.

      How about giving us an update from time to time about how driving a Leaf is working for you?

      Will it cramp your style in any meaningful way? How will the “hassle” of plugging in differ from stopping at the pump? That sort of everyday info.

      RE: Leaf vs. Passat. What sorts of “luxurious” differences did you notice? Features, materials, quality of finish?

      Oh, and how was getting insurance for an EV?

  • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

    I think there is a lot of improvement available in the car itself — for example the SIM-LEI has a battery only slightly larger capacity than the Nissan Leaf (24.9kWh vs 24kWh) and yet it’s range is more than twice as far! The SIM-LEI (Which seats 4 vs the Leaf’s 5) goes up to 300km or 186 miles vs ~70-80 miles.

    The Leaf uses ~340Wh/mile to go 73 miles on the EPA test. The SIM-LEI car uses ~134Wh/mile @ ~62MPH.

    Of course, you can drive either one farther or not as far, depending on how you drive. The Leaf can be driven using less than 200Wh/mile; which gets the range up over 110 miles.

    The biggest gain in efficiency in any car can come from aerodynamic drag.

    I’m designing and hoping to build a 5 seat electric car that goes at least 300-400 miles on a battery pack that is 50-56kWh. I’m aiming for consumption 100-150Wh/mile @ ~55MPH. My car is open source and called CarBEN EV5.

    The Bochum University SolarWorld GT solar car — which is being driven around the world — can use only ~30-35Wh/mile @ ~31MPH, which I’ll grant you is slower than most people want to drive, but the car can go over 60MPH and seats 2 people. It has been driving across the USA and may be right now getting reading to be shipped across the Atlantic.

    Neil

    • Bob_Wallace

      Do you know anything about the SIM-LEI?

      Would it meet US safety regs?

      Has it been independently tested?

      Curb weight? Interior volume?

      Did they save much weight by going to in-hub motors and avoiding a drive train?

      Does it all come down to aerodynamics?

      (I won’t repeat how ugly I think it is. I’ve already said that elsewhere. ;o)

      • http://neilblanchard.blogspot.com/ Neil Blanchard

        I know as much about the SIM-LEI as I’ve read. It seats four people. It is designed and built by a consortium of 34(?) companies and other institutions. They have designed the basic drivetrain floor pan system to work on a rang of vehicles; including an 8 wheeled performance car we saw a few years ago.

        The ridge on the side doors are for the side intrusion beams; so safety is a strong design point.

        No independent tests yet, as far as I know. This is still a concept car, though they also mention they hope to start production in 2013.

        It looks to be fairly roomy. It is fairly tall, which usually helps improve the usable volume inside.

        L/W/H 4700mm/1600mm/1550mm 185″/63″/61″
        1650kg 3,638 pounds

        The hub motors are mainly used because they are more efficient — no additional drivetrain losses from gear friction, etc. It is 4-wheel drive, has built-in traction control, and it is very quick — 0-60mph in ~4.8 seconds.

        Yes, after drivetrain efficiency the next most important thing is aerodynamic drag. Aero drag is about 50% of the losses at just 35mph, and about 75% of the losses above 65mph, so a huge loss and there is no way to recover it. Aerodynamic drag is a total loss.

        Weight is less important than aero drag because once the car is accelerated, the kinetic energy “investement” can be regained in either of two ways: free wheel coasting which is much better in a low drag car in that you cover greater distance losing less speed that you might think; and regenerative braking for when you need to slow down.

        They need to work on the things that bother people without changing the overall shape. They have introduced a lot of clashing lines on the surface of the chassis — the ridges on the side doors, and the three slight creases on the rear quarter panels are trying to add something but end up jumbling things up. Whether the bulging headlights are helping the air flow around the side mirrors, I don’t know. There are both video cameras and minimum required optical mirrors, so I’d think that a better solution could be found.

        They need to address the aesthetics — a skilled designer could make this instantly appealing. With good aero, I find that it takes seeing a car in person and in motion that let you see the beauty of form following function.

        Even if they didn’t “fix” the looks, I’d buy this car in a second. More than doubling the range of the Leaf with virtually the same battery capacity, and significantly quicker and four wheel drive.

        Neil

      • Bob_Wallace

        SIM-LEI
        L/W/H 4700mm/1600mm/1550mm 185″/63″/61″
        1650kg 3,638 pounds

        Nissan Leaf
        L/W/H 4445mm/1770mm/1550mm 175″/69.7″/61″
        1521kg 3,354 pounds

        The LEI is a bit narrower and some longer. It actually weighs more.

        Coefficient of drag
        SIM-LEI 0.19
        Nissan Leaf 0.28

        Frontal area (W*H)
        SIM-LEI ?
        Nissan Leaf 24.8

        Is it likely that aerodynamics could explain that range difference? Could be. There’s a bunch of stuff about CoD that I don’t understand. There’s this claim –

        “…frontal area matters but (if) the Cd is <0.2 then only 1/5th of the frontal area "counts". So a little extra frontal area adds a lot less if the Cd is slightly lower."

        Wonder if they could clean up the looks without messing up the aerodynamics?

        I think drive trains can eat up about 10% of used power. In-hub could account for some of the additional range.

        I'm hoping they can clean up the looks and prove the range. This would be a big step forward. And with 4wd I could use one to go to town. I can stop and move rocks out of the road to make up for the small ground clearance on my last 3.5 miles. ;o)

        • Bob_Wallace

          SIM equaled Daimler’s “trigger fish” car design Cd of 0.19. The Daimler’s looks are a bit more acceptable for me. (Note I did not say “pretty”.)

          http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0710-DaimlerChrysler.html

          GM produced a concept car in 2000 with a better Cd and “more normal” looks…

          “Precept uses the most aerodynamically efficient design in the world, with a drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.163″

          http://www.electrifyingtimes.com/gmprecept.html

          Looks like there’s room for stylistic differences while keeping Cd low.

          (For some reason GM has designed their Spark EV with a 0.34 Cd.)

  • Bob_Wallace

    Wiki has an interesting (at least to me) entry on the history of calculators.

    “Hewlett Packard (HP) had been developing a pocket calculator. Launched in early 1972 it was unlike the other basic four-function pocket calculators then available in that it was the first pocket calculator with scientific functions that could replace a slide rule. The $395 HP-35,”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calculator#Development_of_electronic_calculators

    Professional quality slide rules sold for $30 to $50, vs. the HP-35′s $395 price tag.

    $395 in 1972 is $2,035 in today’s dollars.

    By 1977 slide rules were no longer manufactured, at least by the companies which had previously dominated the market. Scientific calculators were selling for less than $20. We saw a major technological shift within a five year window.

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