My views are my own... but I can be persuaded by the facts
Byline: Bill Moore
Papillion, Nebraska is a wonderful small town south of Omaha, itself famous for steaks, the College World Series, and billionaire Warren Buffett. Our community of some 20,000 residents last year celebrated its 150th anniversary. This past weekend saw the 75th anniversary of its annual Papillion Days festival, which includes carnival rides, food stands, fireworks and the annual parade down Washington Street, its main street. We've lived here now for over 40 years and embarrassingly, this is the first time I've actually taken a semi-active role in the parade.
I and five other local families volunteered to drive our electric cars as part of the approximately one mile-long parade route. The Nebraska Chapter of the Sierra Club sponsored us, providing signage for our cars that included the following: Tesla Model 3, Polestar 2, Kia Soul, Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf and my Fiat 500e. As with any parade, we spent more time standing around and chatting then rolling slowly at a walking pace in the parade. We talked with fellow EV owners, sharing experiences and chatted with other parade participants: in my case, the local police department volunteer chaplin and a couple young lady equestrians. Meta (formerly Facebook), which has a nearby data center) is sponsoring a local production of the musical 'Newsies' so they made a boisterous but melodic contribution behind us. Ahead of us, a local hair salon had a salon chair sitting in the bed of their 4X4 pickup with a female head -- yes, just a head -- creepily staring out from in the seat. The DARE police car - a '57 Chevy - followed up. Of course, there were lots and lots of parade participants in front and behind us.
A bit of personal history: for the first six years or so in the early 80s, my little family (wife and two kids) lived one block from the starting point of the parade, and for the next 20-plus years a few blocks further north. I am sure my kids, when they were teenagers, attended the festival, but it just wasn't my "thing." So, I have to admit being pleasantly surprised to see the number of families that turned out to line the parade route, easily in the thousands: many having set up their shade canopies hours in advance. They were needed! The digital temperature readout on the Fiat's instrument cluster read 105F / 40.5C. I noticed most of the other EVs ahead of me - the Fiat rode 'drag' in the electric car procession - had their AC running and their windows closed. My car has a sunroof so I had it open, as well as both side windows: all the better to wave as the crowd, many of whom seemed to appreciate the gesture; cheerfully smiling and waving back. By the time I got home, my shirt and shorts were soaked in sweat.
At the approximate location of where the original Union Pacific railroad tracks cross Washington Street (also known as Omaha's 84th St), the Papillion Fire Department flew a giant American flag mounted high above the ground between their two ladder trucks. The open sunroof afforded me the opportunity to snap a passing photo from underneath.
Since all the cars in our entourage sported EV-relevant signage, I could not but help wonder if the young families, teenagers, and boomer grandparents seated on the curb or in their folding camp chairs understood or recognized the significance of the red, white, blue, black, and gray automobiles gliding silently by, tailpipe-less, mean to their future. Most them likely drove to the event in gasoline-fueled vehicles, SUVs and pickups, I imagine. That week they probably laid out as much as a $100 or more to fill their tanks, charging it to their credit card. In the case of our cluster of a half dozen electric cars, we paid a fraction of that and it will appear on our local electricity bill, assuming we all charged at home. I certainly did. And because my local public utility (OPPD) is part of the Southwest Power Pool, a surprising percentage of our electricity is being generated by the wind. As I write this at noon, 38.4 % of the pool's power is being produced by regional wind farms. Coal is adding 32%. Natural gas is 19%. Nuclear is 4.58% Hydroelectricity is 3%. Solar, sadly, has a long way to go here: it is contributing less than one-half a percent. (Source: https://spp.org).
South across Papillion Creek, the parade route passes a local gasoline station - one where my teenage son once worked. As I glanced over at it, I reflected how far I have come personally since those days in the late 80s when we owned a pair of old gas guzzlers and helped my son buy his first car: a Plymouth 'Cuda.' I worked for an airline and mowed my huge Sixth Street lawn with a gas mower. The world of EVs (and EV World) would be another decade away and my first electric car even longer, acquiring the 2016 Fiat only in 2019. So, just as it took me decades to come to the position, philosophically and economically that I am now, it may take some time for those families along the parade route to reach a similar point. The trouble is, though, we may not have that kind of time as this week's heat wave is impressing on us all. Then too, there were no EVs to put in a parade back then, not really. Now there are and more coming with each passing model year.
As our little group of electric cars gathered at the rendezvous point in the parking lot of the local Best Buy to collect the signage, there was already an EV parked in the lot and another drove through while I was taking the group photo below. In fact, I am starting to see lots more EVs: Teslas, Fords, VWs, Hyundais on our local streets: a really promising sign.
So, here's hoping that our little caravan of electric cars will help others begin to rethink their personal transportation choices. We're planning to do even more of these events locally. We're even talking about B and C teams; and we are in early discussions with our local AAA baseball team, the Stormchasers, to hold what we're calling a 'Baseball, Hotdogs and EVs' ride and drive exhibition the last evening of the team's regular at-home game schedule.
First Published: 2022-06-20
Byline: Bill Moore
The sprawling Alibaba e-commerce website is a panoply of all sorts of wondrous (and bizarre) goods manufactured in China. You pretty well name it: Alibaba likely offers it, often at surprisingly cheap prices, at least before you factor in shipping, In fact, there's a web author who regularly features the "weird" electric vehicles he/she finds on the electronic version of China's "Sears Roebuck Catalog." Most are either two/three wheeled EVs with the occasional four-wheeled model, some strictly low-speed golf kart types, others higher performing models that may, or may not meet US federal safety standards.
In my daily scouring of the ?Net for EV news, I happen to come across one not-to-weird EV a day ago that captured my attention, in part because I have long argue that there could be a market for a modern version of the 1914 Detroit Electric motorcar like that owned by Clara Ford, Henry's wife. (Yes, she like a lot of society women of the time preferred electric automobiles to the gasoline and steam models of the period, even one manufactured by her husband). Below is Clara's car, preserved at Ford's Dearborn museum.
Curiously, the model in the Alibaba catalog is a replica of Ford's 1908 Model T, priced at $7,500USD. Equally interesting, the company, Yatian, isn't the only one offering similar period Ford Model T replicas. I noticed at least one, possibly two others on the website. An external link into the site that I followed was a blogger on Youtube who said he'd thought this would be a perfect vehicle for giving tourists rides similar, but more humanly, than horse-drawn carriages. Actually, someone tried that some 8 years ago [https://www.theverge.com/2014/4/17/5625050/the-beautiful-electric-carriage-tearing-new-york-city-apart] I remember interviewing them for EVWorld.com.
Similarly, there was a venture, if memory serves, out of Arizona that converted a vintage Model T into an electrically-propelled ice-cream truck, so this is hardly a new idea.
Then again, if I were looking for a side gig with relatively low capital investment, I might consider this, though to meet US safety standards for a low-speed EV, there would have to be some upgrades including installation of seat belts and windshield wipers. The website says the "Model T Mini Car" has a top speed of 30km/hr (18 mph) and range of 100 km (62 mi).
From a historical perspective, Henry Ford actually toyed with the idea of offering an electric version of the Model T (might it have been dubbed the original Model E?) around the time Clara was puttering around Dearborn in her electric runabout. Here's a photo of it. He even partnered with Thomas Edison to solve the ever-looming battery question, which Edison never truly solved though he demonstrated the nickel-iron battery could propel an automobile a 1000 miles: just not on a single charge.
As most China observers have noted, they are pretty good at copying other people's products -- and this version of the Model T is clearly one of them. It got me to wondering if Henry Ford had ever built a Model T plant in China? The answer is no. The company explored the idea in the late 1930s, but Japan's invasion and the ongoing economic and political turmoil dissuaded the company, though it did offer sales of its vehicles -- trucks and successors to the Model T -- for a period of time until World War II.
The Model T design is likely so far out of US patent and copyright that I don't imagine Ford taking Yatian to court, or any of the copycats. Still, about the gig idea, I wonder if the folks at Yatian would trade some Cardano ADA for one?
First Published: 2022-06-12
Byline: Bill Moore
I recently came across an amateur video shot in Paris capturing the moment the batteries on an all-electric transit bus exploded. First white smoke began to billow from the roof of the bus, immediately followed by a shower of sparks and then an explosion that in minutes consumed the bus, which fortunately was empty at the time. I should point out that electrical system fire likely is the cause of the destruction of a entire fleet of 20 conventionally powered buses across teh Channel in Britain in March of this year.
This of course, comes on the heels of the tragic death of a Florida medical doctor whose Tesla caught fire when he crashed, allegedly while speeding, trapping him inside. He leaves a wife and five children. Another Tesla driver had to break out the windows of his car to escape a similar fate when the electrically operated doors failed to open, presumably due to a short-circuit.
The fire department in Normal, Illinois, home of Rivian's assembly plant, again, for the third time, had to respond to a battery pack fire at the electric pickup maker's factory. Other than the one pack that caught fire on a test stand, no other damage was reported or workers injured.
Then in India, there have been a spate of thermal runaway events with foreign-made and locally-assembled scooters and batteries, prompting to a government probe and call for increased testing nd quality control. These are just the latest round of EV battery fires, largely due to one or more lithium-ion cells short circuiting, catching fire and cascading across the rest of the pack: what is called a "thermal runaway" event. With temperates approaching that of molten lava, these are very difficult and stubborn fires to quench, requiring enormous quantities of water.
It has been pointed out numerous times in the past that the number of such electric vehicle fires are few and far between and are a fraction of similar fires in gasoline engine vehicles. But I will also admit, as an electric car owner, that such catastrophic events are on my mind every time I plug in my Fiat 500e at night. However, a couple of things give me confidence that our smoke alarms won't go off in the middle of the night. The first one is that the car, which I bought "used" with some 24k miles on it, had previously been part of Chrysler's California-compliance lease program. Someone had had this car for 3 years prior to my ownership. They had charged it numerous times over that period without experiencing a thermal runaway: otherwise the car wouldn't be sitting in my garage.
Secondly, the battery pack was engineered and built by SB LiMotive, a Michigan based joint-venture of German auto supplier Bosch and Korean firm Samsung. As Motortrend noted back in 2010, the "[b]attery cells will be built in Korea, but assembled into finalized battery packs in a facility in Springboro, Ohio. From there, completed packs will be shipped to Chrysler's factory in Toluca, Mexico, which builds 500s for North America." I have had previous experience with questionable Chinese-made NiMH cells which lost their ability to hold a charge only 18 or so months after being installed in our 2009 Prius as part of an experimental PHEV conversion. The chairman of the battery company that made the cells later committed suicide: not a resounding vote of confidence in their product. This is not a condemnation of all Chinese-made EV batteries - CATL and BYD are two of the world's leading automotive traction battery producers: heck, fellow Omahan, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns shares of BYD. That being said, safely assembling high-energy density lithium-based batteries is a technological challenge. When I visited a prototype lithium battery plant outside of Beijing 20 years ago, I had to wear clean room coveralls and the air in the assembly room was tightly controlled for humidity: lithium reacts thermally with water vapor.
Even the world's most technologically sophisticated automotive OEMs, including GM, BYD, Tesla, Ford, Hyundai, and Chrysler have had their electrified (including hybrids and pure battery electric) models recalled due to fire risks. Still, knowing this didn't prevent me from purchasing one and regularly charging it, usually overnight, in my attached garage.
Yes, there are a few things to fret over when owning an electric vehicle, though, thankfully, ones like the dreaded "range anxiety" are becoming less of a concern, largely due to those same high-energy lithium batteries. Just as you shouldn't be all that concerned about how far your electric car will carry you, neither should you let the very, very remote possibility of a battery fire prevent you from "driving electric" today and into the future.
First Published: 2022-06-02
Byline: Bill Moore
If I asked you which of the US 50 states was the most EV-ready, I suspect you likely say California or maybe Washington...possibly Florida? Well, you'd be wrong. The three most "EV-ready" states are, according to a newly released study by LeasePlan, the top three are Nevada, Mississippi, and Hawaii.
Yep! Seriously! Summarizing Lease Plan's report [ https://electrek.co/2022/05/24/2022-report-rates-the-us-on-ev-readiness-how-prepared-is-your-state/ ], Electrek noted the reasons the Magnolia State scored so high.
"No offense to The Magnolia State, but we did not expect to see it in the top 10, let alone the top two! As you can see from the data tables in the full LeasePlan EV Readiness Index, Mississippi by far has the lowest EV penetration in the US. We've seen similar results in other past studies. It also only has five laws and incentives in place to support EVs, another discouraging mark.
"However, the state scored quite well in factors three, four, and five based upon number of chargers, climate to support EVs, and the ratio of chargers to EVs. We do want to focus on that last factor for a second because it's a little misleading. Mississippi offers a ratio of 36 chargers per 100 EVs, but that loses a little of its zest when there are less than 800 EVs (0.08% of the entire country's total) residing in the entire state."
This revelation, at least to me, kindled a question about whatever happen to Green Tech Automotive, a 2009 startup that planned to manufacture not unattractive two-passenger electric cars, if memory serves, originally developed in China. The company wrangled something north of $140 million dollars out of the state to set up an assembly plant in Tunica, Mississippi. Leading the effort was Clinton presidential advisor and eventually Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe. When he decided to run for governor, McAuliffe, resigned from Green Tech, sold his shares of the company and created a blind trust [details here: https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/where-did-140-million-in-greentech-money-go/].
Not long after, the company, which seems to have never actually gotten into full-scale production, declared bankruptcy; its holdings, such as they were, acquired by Oak Point Partners [https://oakpointpartners.com/oak-point-portfolio/greentech-automotive-inc]. But there seems to have been a lot of shady shenanigans going on with the whole enterprise [https://freebeacon.com/politics/five-things-you-need-to-know-about-greentech-automotive/] from SEC to Immigration, with legitimate questions about what its real intent was: building EVs or providing legal US residency to foreign nationals?
Bottom line: it turned out to be yet another failed EV want-a-be, which is really disappointing because the nation is starting to clamor for affordable EVs and Green Tech's (as the photos show) would have been a good candidate: small, nimble, and (hopefully) affordable: just what the planet needs, not to mention families in and around Tunica that lost their jobs.
But hope is not lost. Last year LA-based Mullen Automotive acquired [https://www.todaysemobility.com/article/mullen-buys-greentech-plant-mississippi/] the shuttered Green Tech Auto assembly plant in Tunica with the announced intention of building their MX-05 electric SUV (photo below). Of course, if I were the local chamber of commerce, not to mention the legislators in Jackson, I'd be circumspect about bankrolling any automotive startup, big or little.
First Published: 2022-05-25
Byline: Bill Moore
Over the weekend, television celebrity Simon Cowel, age 60, fell off an electric-assist mountain bike that he apparently had just acquired. Reports are that he fell in such a way that he broke his back, coming within one centimeter of possibly being paralyzed. During an overnight 6-hour surgery, surgeons purportedly installed a stainless steel rod to stabilize his vertebra.
The Sun newspaper, a popular British tabloid, reports Cowel "fell backwards and smashed down onto a concrete floor at his Los Angeles home.
"A source said: 'He was testing out his new bike with Eric and Adam (his sons) and the power of it surprised him a bit."
That's probably because unlike most e-Bikes available on the market that are typically rated at 250-750W - the latter being approximately equivalent to one brake horsepower - he was siting on a Swind EB-01, which sports a 15kW electric drive, or some 20 HP.
Today, Cowel cheekily tweeted from his hospital bed: "Some good advice: If you buy an electric trail bike, read the manual before you ride it for the first time." The most recent reports say Cowel won't be walking for weeks and will require physical therapy.
Having ridden electric-bicycles for something like 20+ years now - and crashed at least a couple times - I concur that maybe he should have known what he was get on, especially since e-bike motors have gotten more torquey and batteries more energy dense in the ensuing decades. The little side-mounted Ball Electric motor on my first e-bike 16-inch-wheeled folding model in the early 2000s provided only modest amount of assist. As the years have passed however, their technical sophistication increased and e-bikes began to gradually drift from curious, toylike novelties to serious commuting options, especially for aging bike riders, like myself.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, public interest in electric-assist bicycle have skyrocketed. They have always been tremendously popular in China, which is the world's leading e-bike manufacturer, but suddenly demand in the West is outpacing supply, in large part because residents in densely-populated urban centers which have historically been reliant on public transit - buses, trams, trolleys, light rail, subways, taxis, and more recently ride-share like Uber and Lift - have decided to shy away from their close quarters for fear of contracting the virus. Additionally, remote workers and stay-at-home orders have given families more time together and compelled people to go outside and ride as a way to relieve the monotony and isolation.
What more riders are also starting to realize is that using an electric-assist bike - the more conventional single or sub-horsepower ratings - can be just as physically beneficial as riding a manual pedal model, something that apparently attracted Cowel to e-bikes. Because of a previous health issue, he is said to have taken up e-bikes to help him get fit again. If you follow my Quikbyke Tweeter page, you'll find that I occasionally link to articles that discuss the exercise benefits of e-bikes. Additionally, it appears insuring e-bike riders is a safer bet for underwriters than your typical cyclist.
However, as Mr. Cowel demonstrated, older e-bike riders may end up having more accidents. In the Netherlands, studies found that retirees are at greater risk of bodily injury riding an e-bike than younger riders. Part of the answer certainly has to do with age-related declines in sensory acuity and balance, but also because e-bikes allow older riders to travel further for longer periods of time, increasing their exposure risk compared to riders of their same age on manual bikes.
I am 72, going-on-73 next month and I still enjoy riding my e-bikes, of which I have four, though as a general rule I ride the Falco Maverick pretty much most of the time. My usual ride is a 5-mile, half-hour circumnavigation of a nearby flood control lake with a wonderful paved trail. The lake is home to year-round flocks of Mallard ducks and Canada geese, as well as quail, song birds and barn swallows. It's a wonderful break from my desk.
I can understand why Mr. Cowel decided to climb aboard his, though I agree, he should have been aware that his new toy has 20 times more powerful than what he probably was used to riding. Which also begs the question of classifying something with a 20 hp motor as a "bicycle."
I think we are all immensely relieved that his injuries didn't leave his paralyzed. If there is a silver lining to this story, it is that from the sheer number of news accounts across the Internet, I suspect that the accident has done more to raise global awareness of electric-assist bicycles than the fact that Leo DiCaprio or William Shatner or Arnold Schwarzenegger have ridden them for years. Hopefully, it will also remind everyone to be safe. America has a long ways to go to catch up with Europe in terms of dedicated bicycle commuting infrastructure. And we still need to reach a universal consensus on where we can ride e-bikes. I was instrumental nearly a decade ago in getting them permitted on that trail I ride around the lake, and in getting the state of Nebraska to recognize them in statute law as "bicycles" and not "motor vehicles." It remains unclear if they can be ridden in our National Parks or not, let alone in many state parks across America.
One of the last holdouts in permitting e-bikes on public streets has been the Empire State. However, as of August 2, 2020, "the law allows people to operate electric scooters (e-scooters) and bicycles with electric assist (e-bikes) on some streets and highways in New York State."
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the startup I and several investors put money and a lot of time into. We call it Quikbyke. The concept is a self-contained, solar-powered electric bicycle rental "pop-up" shop in a converted 20 ft cargo container. The idea was to place it on or near cruise ship docks initially in the Caribbean. Cruise passengers typically have 6-8 hours of shore time and we wanted to offer them a carbon-free form of personal transportation that would allow them "to see more and do more while ashore." The catch phrase was "Come Ride the Sun" since the electricity charging the batteries comes from solar panels on the roof if the container. It proved a popular service when we trialed it during the 2016 US Olympic Swim Trials here in my hometown of Omaha, NE. When we eventually moved it to near Port Canaveral, the setbacks began to multiple: zoning restrictions, Hurricane Irma, a fall out with a co-founder, the unexpected death of another, a second hurricane, more zoning restrictions, the reneging on a lease contract, and then COVID-19. But I am still hopeful that we can parlay our experience and knowledge into a viable business, solar-powering all those new e-bikes and e-scooters hitting the streets of America using innovative designs engineered and built with strong Nebraska ethics.
Bill's e-bike menagerie: (Clockwise from top-left) Custom super-light 'K-15' bamboo and aluminum single-speed with ZeHus All-in-One electric motor. My regular ride: Falco Maverick with 500W rear-hub motor and lithium-ion battery in 'water bottle' assembly. ProdecoTech 350W front hub motor and 10.5Ah lithium battery: one of 8 Quikbyke rented during the 2016 US Olympic swim trials. Wavecrest Tidalforce M50, my second bike powered by 750W rear hub motor and NiHM batteries in front wheel hub built on a Montaque folding aluminum frame.
First Published: 2020-08-10
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