Now, we all know that products have flaws. We might like to think that every computer and machine ever invented is in fact infallible, but the unfortunate truth is, if it was made by humans, it’s going to be just as prone to flaws as we ourselves are. None of us are perfect. And if anything points out this little pearl of wisdom in the face of reality lately, it’s been auto manufacturer recalls. Toyota was obviously the one that got everyone’s attention. But even much smaller businesses selling high-performance bleeding-edge technology can also produce cars with faults, just like everyone else.
Tesla just announced a recall on 439 of their 1300 shipped Roadsters, a little over one third, because of a potential cable fire. And it’s really no big deal. It’s just a the low voltage (12v) auxiliary cable behind the passenger-side front headlamp. The high-voltage system is in no way involved. The batteries are in no way involved. All that can theoretically happen is that the 12v aux cable can potentially chafe against a carbon-fiber body panel, scraping off the insulation, and causing a minor short. It’s a problem easily fixed with an extra cable sheath, which can be fitted in the field at a customer’s home or office in about an hour. Tesla has already begun notifying customers and repairing the affected vehicles. It only affects Roadsters model version 2.0 and 2.5. Anything earlier (VIN ending with 500 or before) is not affected as the 12v aux cable in question was only introduced since version 2.0, so prior Roadsters don’t even have such a cable to worry about.
So it really is no big deal. And yet, it is. Because even a high quality vehicle can still have potential problems that simply cannot be discovered until they have spent time out on the roads. It happens to the best of them. The important thing is to fix it and move on.
Tesla Motors has issued a statement Tesla To Do House Calls in which it “recalls” some of their Tesla Roadsters. But rest assured, it’s not for any reason you’d have thought of. It doesn’t speak badly of Tesla’s electrical drive systems, batteries, or anything of the like.
The problem, it would seem, is that chasis, assembled by Lotus, has been found to occasionally have some “improperly torqued” bolts. This causes looser handling than was expected. It’s an entirely Lotus problem, and is even causing Lotus to perform similar recalls on some Lotus Elise and Exige vehicles.
Not good for Lotus.
But Tesla is handling it quite well. They’re actually going door to door to visit each affected customer to inspect the vehicles, only taking the vehicles to a facility to fix if the bolts are found to be “improperly torqued”. Tesla is also taking the opportunity on these visits to also provide a complimentary full vehicle inspection and perform a software upgrade. All at no cost to the owner. Tesla doesn’t have any responsibility to be this nice about things, but apparently they want to keep their customers quite happy. With service like that, who can complain?
As for Lotus? Naughty on them. Wouldn’t you expect a company like that to have better quality control than that?
In a world of green and electric start-ups trying to manufacture their very own vehicles from scratch, it’s nice to see companies taking a different, if not smarter, twist. Raser Technologies has just unveiled their Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV) plug-in hybridization of an H3 Hummer. And for 40 miles from a full charge, it can run purely on electricity, using no gasoline whatsoever. Even after the first 40 miles the Raser H3 Hummer runs in your more typical hybrid fashion for a fuel economy that still puts a Honda Insight or Toyota Prius to shame (which … really … is not all that difficult with today’s technology), at least until it hits around 200 miles after its last battery recharge.
It’s a Hummer that even ultra-green California and its Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, can get behind. (Or in front of, for a good photo-op.)
The 100+ MPG Raser H3 Hummer hybrid has Arnold Schwarzenegger smiling.
Make no mistake though, this hybridized H3 Hummer is no simple upgrade. The standard Hummer engine is replaced by a 260-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, as is used in the Pontiac Solstice, and drives a 100-kilowatt generator to provide electricity. Yes, that’s right. As is the standard in extended-range hybrid designs now, the gasoline engine never actually moves the transmission or wheels directly. The gas engine is there only to power a generator, and the vehicle is actually entirely powered by electric motors. A move that Toyota and Honda should seriously consider to upgrade their Prius and Insight lines respectively. The electric motor in the Raser H3 is a 200kW advanced AC induction motor specifically designed by Raser. And in the H3 this one electric motor is all that actually powers the 4WD transmission, powerful enough to retain the Hummer’s off-road capabilities while simultaneously giving the Raser H3 a top-end of 90MPH.
The conversion further adds a 40 kWh battery pack near the rear weighing in at 600 lbs that can be recharged anywhere from three to ten hours, depending on the line being used to recharge the vehicle. (For comparison the Chevy Volt’s battery pack will supposedly be 16 kWh at 375 lbs and the Tesla Roadster has a massive 53 kWh battery pack at almost 1000 lbs.) All of that doesn’t come easy to fit in a vehicle even as large as a Hummer. The transmission was moved, necessitating drive shafts changes as well, which further required an exhaust pipe adjustment. The fuel tank has even been relocated and reduced in size, from the standard 22 gallon down to a mere 11 gallon fuel tank. Not that you’ll be needing a large fuel tank anymore though!
All of these adjustments don’t come cheap, and the retail pricing has yet to be unveiled. But Raser Technologies is sure that customers will be lining up. And not just for green Raser H3 Hummer hybrids either! By completely replacing the engine and transmission Raser has created an off-the-shelf drop-in that can be adapted to most similarly large trucks and SUVs, opening up a wide potential for big bad hybrids that are greener than nearly any vehicle on the road.
Raser Technologies says that full-scale production will begin “soon” and that they sincerely hope to have two thousand such hybrid conversions of SUVs and trucks on the road by 2010. It’s being a bit on the hopeful side perhaps, but certainly a goal worth aiming for, as the whole world can benefit from such fuel-efficient vehicles.
And what of California’s Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger? Well supposedly he’s already in line for one of Raser’s first shiny green H3s. A green auto enthusiast himself, Arnold already owns two alternative-fuel modified Hummers, and the Raser H3 would certainly be a shining pinacle of mean green machine for his garage.
Michael Kimberley (Lotus CEO) tells the Financial Times, “Don’t be surprised to see an electric Lotus shortly… it will become one of the showcases for the world of what you can do with electric vehicle technology.”
And so, the rumor mills are flying. Lotus? Electric? Really?
The real question is, will Lotus produce an all-electric racer like the Tesla Roadster? Or will it be more like an E-Flex / “Extended Range Electric Vehicle” design like the ChevyVolt? Or will it simply be just another hybrid? (Especially of the non-green variety that uses the hybrid electric drive not to improve fuel efficiency, but to merely boost the vehicle’s acceleration.)
Well, since almost no one does a pure electric car, and I’m most unfortunately feeling cynical, I’m guessing the latter. Lotus doesn’t entirely strike me as being a company setting out to save the planet with fuel efficient vehicles. (Funny that.) They don’t exactly make cars that compete with the Toyota Prius. So using a hybrid’s electric motor purely to boost the already stunning performance of something like the Lotus Elise would be my guess as to the direction Lotus plans to take things. In a way, hybrid drives are the new nitrous oxide, except that they improve both acceleration and braking.
I’d actually be pleasantly surprised if Lotus in fact went the serial hybrid route instead, designing an electric car with a gas generator backup that only kicks in when the electricity runs dry. (Much like the Chevy Volt.) Such a car is still an all-electric at heart, only burning gasoline when there’s no electricity left to run on. And since most such cars are intended to go 40+ miles on an electric charge, it fits a lot of people’s daily commutes in an electric-only mode. (But still leaves them the option to drive cross-country for a vacation by running on petrol. Something all-electric cars like the General Motors EV1 never had.) But since a serial hybrid essentially adds a mostly unused gas motor and fuel tank to what is basically an electric car, I have my doubts that such a sports car producer as Lotus will devote that much weight just to extending the drive range of an otherwise all-electric vehicle. It just doesn’t race. You don’t add weight to a race car.
And speaking of not adding weight to a race car, actually, I really don’t expect Lotus to do all electric much more than I expect them to do a serial hybrid. Essentially an all-electric is just a serial hybrid without the gas generator backup for when you run out of juice in the batteries. So you need to add a lot of batteries to make an all-electric work. Batteries add weight. Enough batteries to give a good range to a high-powered sports car add a lot of weight. The Tesla Roadster is a perfect example. Its handling suffers from so much battery weight. Maybe Lotus thinks that they can do better than Tesla. I’m sure if anyone can design a suspension to handle the weight well, it’ll be them. But still … it’s not a very promising direction to take at the moment. We still need better battery technologies. So it’s hard to imagine Lotus making the same “mistake” as the Tesla Roadster.
Still, whatever Lotus comes out with, I’m sure it will at the very least be interesting. Whatever they show us in the end. Just because I flog being green doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy I good thrill!
Tesla Motors, makers of the fully electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster, may have had a cheer, a chuckle, and a groan when BBC’s Top Gear took a Tesla Roadster out for a spin.
It starts out quite well. After a quick jibe at the Toyota Prius, Jeremy Clarkson moves on to the stunning all-electric car of wet dreams: the Tesla Roadster. And it’s a mighty impressive bit of production editing with electrifying special effects.
The high point is when they go head-to-head between a Tesla Roadster and a Lotus Elise in a drag race. The Tesla wins, no hands down. It’s not even a competition.
The Tesla Roadster beats a Lotus Elise off the line.
This is exactly why electric motors make perfect sense in a sports or race car. Their torque is unbeatable.
The Tesla Roadster's motor cranks up to over twelve thousand RPMs!
The rapid surge to over twelve and a half thousand RPMs makes Jeremy sing, “That’s Biblically quick! This car is electric!Literally.“ Which he later follows with a proclamation, “Not bad for a motor that’s the size of a watermelon, and only has one moving part.”
Unfortunately, that’s the upside of Top Gear’s review of the Tesla Roadster. It’s not long before the downside begins.
The first complaint is that the batteries add so much weight to the otherwise ultra lightweight car that it affects the handling. As Jeremy puts it, the Tesla Roadster is kind of like him, “Thin at one end, thinning at the other, and ends with a big fat bit in the middle.”
Unfortunately, the Tesla Roadster has a few handling problems.
This, however, begins to be mitigated by the tires, which Jeremy says are low rolling resistance (which at InsanIT.net means low traction) wheels. And because of the combination of tires and batteries, on their test track the Lotus Elise is able to easily squeeze by the Tesla Roadster on the corners. “However, come the next straight … Yes! Come on! Come on! Go! Bye!“ Jeremy, in the Roadster, slingshots right by the Elise with ease once again as he hits a good straight.
Jeremy in the Tesla Roadster waves goodbye to the Lotus Elise once he gets back onto a straight part of Top Gear's testing track.
But then, on a high note again, the next disappointment falls. The claim of Tesla that the Roadster will go 200 miles between charges is quickly dashed as the Top Gear team only gets 55 miles out of theirs. The Roadster comes to a stop and has to be pushed into the garage for a recharge.
The Top Gear team has to push their Tesla Roadster back in for a recharge after only 55 miles of driving.
The disappointment is further explained by Jeremy. “Ok, to fill the tank on a normal car takes, what, a couple of minutes? To fully recharge the batteries in this, from a normal thirteen amp socket like that, takes sixteen hours.”
Things only get worse from there as the Roadster proved to be more prototype than production quality. Taking a second Tesla Roadster around the track some more quickly comes to a halt as the motor overheats, putting the car into a reduced power mode. And while it cooled down Top Gear tried to go back to using their first Tesla Roadster … “Only to find that while it was being charged its brakes had broken.“ Oops. Not so good for Tesla. “So then, with the light fading, we had no cars at all.“ It was a dismal end to the Top Gear’s first day of Tesla Roadster testing. Jeremy ends the day walking down an empty track, musing, “I did think that the Teslas would bring a bit of peace and quiet to our track with their electric motors. I didn’t think it would be this much peace and quiet though.”
Jeremy is sad as Top Gear's TWO Tesla Roadsters both fail on testing day, leaving the track eerily silent at the end of the day.
“What we have here then is an astonishing technical achievement: The first electric car that you might actually want to buy. It’s just a shame that in the real world it doesn’t seem to work.”
Of course, being Top Gear, that’s not quite the end. They still had to hand the car over to The Stig for a track time run.
Even The Stig slides a bit off the track because of Tesla's choice to use low rolling resistance tires.
The Stig finds out all too quicky just how bad the traction of low energy ties are as he bites into the grass through the first turn. But being the professional that he is, once gauged, he pushes the Roadster quite well. The Stig manages to get a track time of 1:27.2 in the Tesla Roadster, exactly the same time as a Porsche 911 GT3, and strangely enough, exactly on the same mildly moist track conditions.
And there it is, the Tesla Roadster completes Top Gear's test track in the exact same time (and conditions) of a Porsche 911 GT3 at a mere 1:27.2 seconds.
So there it is. We knew that the Tesla Roadster was fast. We knew that an electric motor could really tear up a track. And Top Gear proved it. But we also knew, all too well, just how expensive it was. And, unfortunately, Tesla Motors still seems to have a few quality control issues to work out, at least if you’re going to push your Tesla Roadster in track conditions, as Top Gear found out in the worst of ways.
Some say that the all-electric car is dead. That sentiment even gets thrown around at Top Gear. But here, honestly, I think that’s just a load of back-minded hogwash. With better battery technologies like NanoSafe, and better (higher amperage) recharging stations put into place (If hydrogen “gas stations” can get an infastructure built up from nothing, then why not high amp “recharging stations” from our already solid electrical infrastructure?) then there’s really no reason for the electric car to be dead. At all. In fact, frankly, across most of the world it makes more sense to use electricity than it does to use hydrogen, at least until we have a good means of producing hydrogen for every region. The electric car only gets its bad name from the early attempts to push it before the technology was ready. Where as the hydrogen car has no bad name yet simply because it practically doesn’t exist.
And still, the only difference between a hydrogen fuel cell car and a battery car is … the battery. You either charge a battery by electricity, or you charge the battery by filling a fuel cell back up with hydrogen. The motor is the same. The transmission is the same. Everything is the same, except which battery provides the electricity to power the car. So most of the advances in one technology are likewise advances in the other. They don’t have to compete. Their technologies are almost completely shared.