Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Audi Q7 e-tron: Are You My Electric SUV?

Audi's e-tron project has quietly been stalking Tesla. From the R8 supercar to the A3 hatchback, they have some ambitious EV and PHEV ideas. The Q7 e-tron is one of the few 7 passenger vehicles out there with at least some all-electric range. Could this be the family car we've been looking for? Read my original review then we can discuss it.

Image via Best Green Cars.

Audi Q7 e-tron: Enough Plug-In TDI for the Whole Family

This week at the Geneva Auto Show, Audi displayed its family sized PHEV. Seven-seat plug-in hybrids just got a little less rare. For drivers who need three rows of seats and want some electric range, it's been hard finding anything to drive.

The Q7 e-tron boasts an astounding 166 MPGe. Is it really that much more efficient than the 124 MPGe BMW i3? It's probably measured with the very generous European scale, but remember what Audi has done well for a long time: diesel. Particularly their Turbo-charged Direct Injection (TDI) engines. It's the sort of engineering that allows the Golf TDI 2.0 to get 45 highway MPG.

Combine Audi's old skill at turbo diesel with their new passion for electricity, and you get a lot of performance and range. The Q7 e-tron uses a 3.0 liter TDI V6 and an electric motor to produce a combined 373 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. Zero-to-sixty time is six seconds with a top speed of 139 mph. The eight-speed automatic transmission can de-couple from the drive-line, allowing the vehicle to coast for maximum efficiency.

The 17.3 kWh lithium-ion pack is built into the center tunnel. It enables the Q7 to travel 34 miles on pure electricity. With a high-voltage outlet, it can recharge in two and a half hours. A full battery and diesel tank will give the SUV a whopping 876 mile range. With Audi's famous Quattro all-wheel drive, traction will be no issue.

Read the rest of the review at Best Green Cars.

Image via Best Green Cars.

So, is this my electric family car? Let's go down the WIMEMV checklist:


For about 34 miles. After that it's a clean diesel. Depending on how your family drives, a PHEV will make most of your everyday miles all-electric. Then you have fossil-fuel range for the long trips. Still a major improvement. This thing will burn much less fuel than most big SUVs, so you can't complain about that.


Seats seven in three rows, which is one of the requirements. Comparing the 2015 Q7 to the same year Toyota Sienna, most size numbers are very close except for the luggage volume and third row space. As expected, the minivan is a bit more roomy. So the Q7 will get you and the squad to hockey practice, but maybe not camping.

Image via Best Green Cars.

Certainly. It's a luxury vehicle with all the touches you'd expect from a BMW and Mercedes-Benz competitor, like Bang & Olufsen sound and a virtual cockpit. The neighbors would be jealous and the kids would be spoiled.


Um, well no. When it goes on sale in Europe in early-to-mid 2016, the price could be well over $90,000. Not family priced. Surely it will have considerably more gizmos than I think I need. You know me. I'd rather have an engine, seats and a glovebox full of cash than a $90,000 car.


If it comes to the US, it won't be until 2017. Hopefully the EV marketplace will be very different then. We should have the Tesla Model X and maybe the Chrysler PHEV minivan. A high-end PHEV SUV may not sell. So, nothing we can do about this Audi for now.

Still I think PHEV technology is the bridge between ICE and advanced long-range batteries of the future. People can have zero-emissions short range and long range when they need it.

Thanks for giving this to somebody, Audi, if not us.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Where is my Compressed-Air Minivan?

May 1, 2015, the AIRPod made a splash in "Shark Tank" when it earned a $5 million pledge. Can compressed air engines truly power a passenger car? The technology is over a century old. Has it been repressed like so many other alternative power sources? How clean is it truly?

Will Compressed Air Power Tomorrow's Cars?
Originally published at

Could the future of automobiles be compressed air engines rather than ones fueled by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells?

The AIRPod

Motor Development International of France designed the AIRPod. It's a small three-wheeled city car that seats a driver in the front and two rear-facing passengers in the back. It has no pedals or steering wheel. Rather, a joystick controls this car. Range is about 100 miles with a top speed of 50 mph. Built mostly from resin and fiberglass, the AIRPod weighs a mere 600 pounds. ZPM hopes to sell them by the end of 2015 for around $10,000

Image via Best Green Cars.

Learn about the history of compressed air engines, their real world possibilities and their limitations.

Where is my Solar-Powered Minivan? has an overview page for each of the major types of alternative fuel vehicles: all-electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell. Editor Assen Gueorguiev asked me to write one about solar-powered cars.

How does solar power work? Can a useful passenger car be powered by photovoltaic cells? I found the answer and it's almost yes. Please read on.

The Quest for Solar Powered Cars
Originally published at

We are currently traveling over 66,000 miles per hour around a giant nuclear reaction that produces 5x1023 horsepower per second. Let's plug our cars into that.

It's not that simple, but we're working on it. Occam's Razor states that the simplest answer is usually the best one. When did we decide that pumping oil from inside the Earth, refining it into gasoline to run our vehicles with, while releasing poisonous fumes, was the simplest answer?

How Solar Works

The modern photovoltaic cell is built mostly of silicon with some phosphorous and boron. Each silicon atom has fourteen electrons arranged within three shells. The first shell holds two electrons and the second holds eight. Both shells are full. The third holds four but is only half full. The atom wants to fill these holes so it eagerly shares electrons with neighboring atoms.

This is how molecular bonds are formed. Each silicon atom shares an electron with four of its neighbors, forming a solid crystalline structure. This makes pure silicon a poor conductor of electricity because the secured electrons don't want to flow. Impurities are necessary. Phosphorous and boron are added, making up about one out of every million particles.

Learn about the World Solar Challenge, the Ford C-Max Solar Energi and all of its predecessors.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

National Drive Electric Week

Not enough people realize what driving electric is like. They have misconceptions. They think all electric cars are slow, small, short-range and expensive.

And worse, they think they will stay that way.

I readily admit EVs are not for everyone. They're not even for most people. If I had a longer commute, my Leaf would not work for me. People who drive lots of highway miles and don't have charging at work need gasoline.

The very definition of this website states that the electric vehicles most people need don't exist.

Yet a reason they don't exist is that people aren't demanding them. They think zero-emissions cars are like Star Trek beam-me-down-Scotty technology that will never be developed in our lifetimes.

And when the auto industry does not perceive a demand, they don't work to supply it.

The truth is emissions-free vehicles that most people can afford and will love are close to being widely available. If the multi-billion dollar global industry made developing these vehicles more important than producing internal combustion engines, it would be done in little time.

What you drive and what you see on the road would change quickly.

You just need to stand up and demand it. EVs should be cheaper with better range. They should be built to fit whole families and all their gear. And although I charge almost exclusively at home, public chargers should be more numerous.

The people behind National Drive Electric Week (including this guy) believe that once you get inside an EV, your mind will open up. You'll start to ask questions. You'll do the math.

How often do I drive over 80 miles a day? If most of the money I spend on gas went to my car payment instead, could I afford to go electric? How much would I save? What's the difference between a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid? Can I really charge my car with the same socket that powers my garage door opener? Why does my local dealer push the same old thing instead of plug-in options?

With this in mind, NDEW is hosting events all around the country from September 12 to 20. You can look at, ride in and even drive a range of electric vehicles. You can learn from electrical engineers, solar experts, automotive designers and plain middle-class parents like me.

Personally I'm helping organize two NDEW events in Eastern Washington: a drive to the top of Mount Spokane and a ride-and-drive in Liberty Lake. At least several Leafs, a few Teslas, a BMW i3, a couple EV conversions, a Think City and a Zero Motorcycle will be at the Liberty Lake function. Please join me if you're nearby or enter your zip code here to find an event near you.

That's my pitch for NDEW. Find a local event and get involved. Learning never hurt anyone. See what's out there and see what could be out there if the industry made it a priority.

National Drive Electric Week is sponsored by the Nissan LEAF®Plug In America, the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Association.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

News from S. Monte Kase and E-V Concepts

He's always up to something.

I emailed Monte at E-V Concepts right after republishing my piece on his company. He responded to me with some interesting news.

First of all, he's been talking to clients about converting vans. He didn't give me client details and I wouldn't give them away anyway. But it's good to see people other than me are looking for the same thing.

Second, he's found something easier and cheaper than converting cars. Admittedly, taking the ICE guts out of a quality car and converting it to electricity is expensive to the point of impracticality. It's a rich guy's play area. When you have so many things in your garage that you really must have an electric Porsche conversion, you call him.

So what's he doing? Modifying wrecked Leafs. He gets them cheap. The batteries and motor are already in place and have proven reliability. What they need is a new body. Monte's a fiberglass expert and not a big fan of the Leaf's quirky shape.

"Making a Nissan Leaf look good is a big problem," he said. I'm not telling my car he said that. I think she's adorable.

So he he's currently working on two concepts:

'39 Ford Delivery Van Replica by E-V Concepts
Modern Pickup Truck by E-V Concepts

I'd never thought about taking the Leaf platform and powertrain then changing the body. I'd like to see an extra-cab Frontier body bolted onto one. Maybe stretch the wheelbase and add another battery pack.

The possibilities are intriguing. I sent several questions back to him and am waiting for his response.

What do you think? If you had the frame and guts of a Leaf, what would you do with them? What body and interior would you create?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Nissan e-NV200: Is this my Electric Minivan?

My search for an electric family car should start no further away than with the bigger, boxier cousin of my own Nissan Leaf.
Via Wikipedia Commons

The e-NV200 is a version of Nissan's NV cargo van built with the Leaf's motor and battery pack. It was originally unveiled at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. It's a versatile platform that can be configured as a panel cargo van or a 5-seater. Recently Nissan revealed a 7-seat version. Then came along the Evalia package, which gives it quality touches like rear climate control, privacy glass and softer interior fabrics. Otherwise, it feels more like a utility vehicle than a family ride.

And it has functioned mostly as a utility vehicle to this point. In Europe, Asia and North America, Nissan has been loaning e-NV200s to power companies and postal services for testing. Some day soon, a regular person can buy one. Nissan is very quiet about a US release date.

But let's run a theoretical 7-passenger Evalia e-NV200 through our WIMEMV checklist.


Yup. The same motor, battery and front-mounted plug door as a Leaf. Plug it into a solar panel (or a windmill, if you have one) and it's a very clean, efficient way to travel.
Via Wikipedia Commons


True. Two up front, three in the middle and two in the back. The seats fold away to allow for a good bit of cargo. It will carry three bikes with the wheels on. If you're taking seven people on vacation, you may not have bunches of luggage room. Comparing it to other minivans is a little tricky. We have numbers on an NV200 cargo version, which is about 14-16 inches shorter than a Toyota Sienna or Dodge Grand Caravan. The 7-seat Nissan may be stretched out about a foot. It is a little narrower. Yet overall, it will carry more people and stuff than any other EV I can think of.
Photo by Karlis Dambrans via Flickr


The Evalia package should deliver the comfort and options consumers expect out of a minivan. The kids won't be happy if they're riding in the back of a construction vehicle.

The flexibility of this van, however, should be an advantage. My opinion is people have become way too caught up with extra stuff in their cars. Many doo-dads that have become compulsory I think are unnecessary and only extra expense. I'd like the option of buying a box with seats and a motor. I'll add on the extras I like and none of what I don't. The NV platform should give us lots of choices.


Estimates of price are only speculation, but this could start at around $35,000. With government and perhaps state incentives, that's a good price. Comparable to other vans but much cheaper to fuel and maintain. Compared to $100,000 or more for a Model X, it will be a great frugal choice.


This is where the bubble pops. Again, it's a Leaf underneath. It will have the same range or less when fully loaded. 80 miles or so. The efficiency will drop sharply at highway speeds, so this is not a road-trip car. Nice for getting around town but it will never take you away for the weekend. My Leaf works in my lifestyle because we have a Toyota Sienna for long trips with the whole crew.

Yet Nissan is talking about increasing the battery capacity. There certainly would be space underneath to double the 24kWh pack. Maybe more. There also could be a battery leasing option for those concerned about owning one.

I like the option of buying a battery to suit my needs and even upgrading if I want.
Photo by Karlis Dambrans via Flickr


The e-NV200 is a great step. It meets almost all of my needs in an electric minivan. The range is the big stinger. With a bigger pack comes increased weight and decreased performance. My Leaf is quick. The van should be a little slower. The van packing much more lithium-ion could be sluggish. Suddenly all the fun of driving an EV is gone.

But we're on our way. Next up: Tesla, Chrysler and more.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Quest

Where is my Electric Minivan? is about a hunt. I've written about lots of potentially green cars and realized most of them weren't for most people.
Nissan eNV200 - Wikipedia Commons

Manufacturers like to show that they're doing something to get away from gasoline, but rarely do they produce anything people will actually buy. 

I've seen lots of city cars that wouldn't fit a single me comfortably, let alone passengers and cargo. You'd never feel safe in one looking up at the full-sized vehicles on American roads.

I've seen exotic, esoteric dream mobiles that look like props from a science fiction movie, but may never appear in a real neighborhood.
NanoFlowCell Quant e-Sportlimousine - Wikipedia Commons
I've seen California compliance vehicles. California is progressive in pushing the auto makers to change. They require them to build a certain number of alternative fuel vehicles or they can't sell cars in the state. So things like the Toyota RAV4 EV and the Chevy Spark EV pop up in limited numbers, but never sell anywhere else.

I saw an electric car revolution come and go with eery quietness in the 1990s. We'll get into Who Killed the Electric Car, the General Motors EV1, the electric Ford Ranger, Chrysler's electric Caravan and more later.
General Motors EV1 Junkpile - Wikipedia Commons

All I wanted was to see was automobiles that most people could afford and use. I don't believe you can change people very much. We drive what we drive. We like to go where we want when we want. Therefore mass transit will never replace the car. We'll never drive tiny boxes. We want useful cars. We want sexy cars.

We need big cars. We need three rows of seats and cargo space. That's why minivans and full-sized SUVs are king. Nothing is available in this class with acceptable range that doesn't run on fossil fuel.

So I'm asking: "Where is my Electric Minivan?" I'll take a zero-emissions big SUV too. I believe middle-class families deserve zero-emissions, long-range, family-sized affordable transportation.

That's all.

Some vehicles out there almost fit. We'll look into those. We'll watch the industry come closer and closer. We'll expose ways to save money going solar. We'll learn about green tech.

And we'll make noise. We'll let the auto industry know that we'll buy these things when they build them. It's capitalism. They'll listen.

Here's to garages with solar panels on them and EV chargers in them with no exhaust anywhere.

Thanks. Let's do this.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

EV Conversion Pioneer S. Monte Kase

Based on an exclusive interview and originally published at
Want to know about this custom electric car? Follow the link at the bottom.

E-V Concepts: Disemboweling Gas Cars since the Seventies

A bright red 2002 Mercedes-Benz SL500 launches off the line and rapidly muscles its way to 135 mph. The coupe's long hood, clean lines and classic German beauty are just like when it rolled off the assembly line. It displays the same aggressive power and agility through corners. Perhaps it's even more quick and nimble. Something's different.
Maybe it's the missing V8 roar. And 600 pounds. And exhaust pipe.

The Mercedes is an electric conversion designed by S. Monte Kase and his team at E-V Concepts in Charleston, South Carolina. A Netgain WarP 11 series wound DC motor sits where the old 5 liter used to be. 80 Thunder Sky 100 amp 3.3 volt lithium-polymer cells are mounted in the front and rear. An Evnetics Soliton controller ties the whole 260 volt system together. The car's maximum range is 75 miles.

The car retains the original 5 speed automatic. All the accessories, like the power steering and air conditioning, are still in place. It has dropped from its original curb weight of over 4100 pounds to a trim 3500. Kase and his team are NASCAR racers at heart, so extra weight is not tolerated.

Kase never met the owner of the Mercedes. They exchanged a few phone calls and emails before he converted the car and returned it. The job took 90 days for a cost of $18,000. Of the 100 clients he has built cars for, he has met perhaps 5%.

“They send the cars and I send them back,” he says.