Electric disappointment

Posted on December 27, 2010


Disclaimer: this is a heated ventilation of a personal opinion. Proceed with obvious caution.

I can’t get over the fact that GM has killed the electric car once more. The first time they built it just right and then removed the car forcibly from the hands of their happy everyday drivers, and this time they engineered it all wrong to please the massively ignorant public. The whole story is a mishmash of terrible details. How can the right idea go so wrong in just a handful of project years? It started out beautifully as a series-hybrid concept, and now it comes out to the dealers as a Prius “me too”, with just a plug and a larger battery to speak of.

In my view, GM’s “Voltec” drive train is fundamentally equal to Toyota’s “HSD” drive train. I bet they made quite an investment in patent lawyers to avoid being sued by Toyota for such a similar system. I can’t find any fundamental mechanical difference between the two. Well, maybe it is a little more flexible in its available modes because it’s got more clutches. But in the end, it all comes down to software; as long as the promise of a “pure” EV with range-extending ICE is kept by the system controller, the gamble will stick.

In truth, a series-hybrid DOES NOT NEED a planetary gear at all. It is only there in these two hybrid power trains because it is a clever way to maximize energy efficiency when you have 3 motors with different efficiency curves in the same place. Yes, I admire the depth of engineering that both Toyota and GM have gone through to brings us energy-efficient cars, but they are still missing the point altogether!!! More complexity and more engineering does not make the results better, just different! GM fell exactly into the same trap that Toyota did; they gave in to the temptation of reusing parts and systems already present in their production chain, instead of being bold and engineering the correct solution from scratch. They did the right thing in the battery project, but then threw it all away by designing the drive train around the combustion engine!! Damn!… I feel betrayed! I’m taking the “Chevy Volt” link off my blog!

I think I’m going to cry now… there are no series drive train electric vehicles on the market after all. The promise of a highly tuned and optimized serial system remains to be fulfilled. booh hooh hoo…. 😦

Which brings me to the Nissan Leaf. Given my disappointment with the current market of electric hybrids, you’d think I’d be happy to see the real pure electrics arriving, right? Wrong!! Even at the risk of sounding like someone who is always against the tide, I just can’t swallow an EV that weighs 3 times and costs 2 times what it should!! Never mind the fact that it is a four-seater that just prolongs the problems of lack of parking space and traffic congestion in our cities; let’s just focus on the product engineering problem.

Just like all the other big brands, Nissan have missed the target completely by taking a standard car platform and (I can’t believe this) reinforcing it!!! “Why of course, the battery adds a lot of weight to the car, so we had to make it sturdier to withstand the same crash-proof tests”, I hear the Nissan engineers say. Well, how about re-engineering the whole car to be lighter in the first place, so the battery weight wouldn’t be an issue?!! Picking stronger materials, reducing and redesigning the structure altogether, picking new lighter materials for the interior (make them biodegradable in the meantime), none of that passed through their minds?? It didn’t even dawn on them that a lighter car would need a lighter and cheaper motor/electronics/battery, which would significantly reduce the final price of the whole vehicle!!??

Of course not; maintaining the current production chain at work is, after all, the main objective. Ahh, crap, I’m getting more and more demanding in my old days. 😛

Posted in: Opinion