Fotheringay

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  1. Jun 18, 2010Jim KenzieSpecial to the StarBROOKLYN, N.Y.—The energy and cost densities of modern electric car batteries, not to mention their longer-term environmental concerns, don't appear to be materially different than for the Baker Electric of 1913.Then, once Charles Kettering invented the electric starter and installed it in a Cadillac, the gasoline-powered car took over and hasn't been challenged since.But an awful lot of seemingly intelligent people and well-capitalized companies are pouring billions of dollars and billions of brain cells into electric cars. Can they all be so totally misguided? The Smart car company will soon be bringing a semi-production series electric car to the North American market. A small number of battery-powered electric-drive Smart Fortwos will hit the beach in late 2010 — 45 for Canada, 250 for the U.S., out of a total world production run of 1,500.Customers will be about 80 per cent corporations, which either have a dog in the electric car race or who want to project a green image, and 20 per cent individuals, who will typically be early-adopters living in green-tinged communities.The first woman who came across our test car on the ferry dock in Brooklyn where we began our drive cooed, “I am so-o-o gonna buy one of those!''Technically, not. The cars will only be available on a four-year lease ($2,500 down, $599 per month) after which they may have to be returned to Germany — those plans are yet to be finalized. The cars will also carry a four-year warranty.This price includes the U.S. federal tax subsidy of $7,500; further subsidies at the state level will go to the cars' owner, Smart USA, a Roger Penske company, which is the exclusive distributor of all Smart cars in the U.S.Mercedes-Benz Canada handles Smart up here. Our pricing is TBA until the subsidy situation is clearer. Ontario has already committed to a $10,000 (!) electric car subsidy, but neither the federal government nor the other provinces have yet ponied up.Actually, TBA describes several aspects of the Smart Electric Drive car, according to Pitt Moos, the terminally cheerful product manager for the Smart electric drive program in Stuttgart.“We introduced a fleet of 100 previous-generation Smart electrics in England in late 2007,'' he said. “We are still learning a lot about how the cars behave, and how the customers use them.“For example, when we started, 87 per cent of the owners said ‘range anxiety' — a concern that the car would run out of power and strand them — was their biggest concern about an electric car.“Now that they have some real-world experience with (the 135 km range of ) the car, they know how far (or, actually, how little) they drive, where they can recharge, and so on. (Now) only 17 per cent still have that concern. We have had very few instances of that happening.'' Nicholas Hayek, founder of the Swatch watch company and the originator of what became the Smart car, initially only wanted an electric or hybrid city car. Neither the technology nor the market existed at that time, but the Smart has always been designed around that possibility.That's probably why it didn't take very long to get those Phase I U.K. cars into customers' hands (development started in 2004) and why the electric version sacrifices nothing in terms of passenger or cargo payload versus the internal combustion Smart.In fact, apart from the two gauges on the dash that display battery condition and power draw, the electric Smart looks and works nearly identically to the conventional car.A 30 kilowatt (41 horsepower) electric motor nestles in the rear of the Smart (as do the gasoline or diesel engines).A 16.5 kW lithium-ion battery pack bought from Tesla is located under the floor within the Smart's Tridion safety cell, for optimum protection in the event of a crash.(Daimler-Benz is working on proprietary batteries with several partners, but the Tesla was the best available option at the time.)The 41 horsepower doesn't sound like much, especially with a weight gain of 140 kg. But as Bob Lutz, former GM executive once said, “People buy horsepower; they drive torque.''The Smart motor develops a shade under 90 lb.-ft. But as with all electric motors, this occurs at zero rpm, so launch is more, um, electric than the numbers would suggest.Its 0-to-60 km/h takes 6.5 seconds. No drag racer then, although in traffic, your acceleration can never be better than the car ahead of you.No 0-to-100 km/h time is quoted because, well, you'll almost never get there — top speed is limited to 100 km/h.“Speed is a range killer,'' said Moos. He feels 100 klicks should be sufficient for the urban use for which the car is intended, although anyone taking the 401 at any time other than rush hour might argue.A couple of jaunts around this leafy, gentrified neighbourhood proved that — as with all electrics I have driven — the Smart electric works very well, within its limitations.Power delivery is significantly smoother than in the gasoline Smart, whose transmission is the jerkiest in the industry.There is a slight whine from the motor, but it is merely different, not more objectionable, than the noise in a gasoline Smart.That's inside the car. Pedestrians beware.Among the technical advantages of an electric Smart is that, depending on ambient temperature, it can be pre-heated or pre-cooled while it is plugged into the household circuit, rather than from the on-board battery, so range is unaffected.The operational key to any electric car is recharging. The Smart can handle either 110- or 220-volt inputs; with 220 it takes about 3.5 hours to go from 20 per cent charge (what the typical customer gets down to) to 80 per cent (what the typical customer needs). A full 0-to-100 per cent charge takes eight hours.The U.K. experience shows that typical customers only plug their cars in once or twice a week, and almost always at home, rather than at public outlets.They have also learned to think in terms of usage time like boat and airplane operators do — they think of four to five hours of driving, rather than however many kilometres.The Smart electric can also be re-energized at dedicated charging stations. An iPhone app has been developed to let customers know if they have the juice to get where they want to go.Smart, the company, is striving to get standardization for recharging plugs, so far without much success. The U.S.-based Society of Automotive Engineers recently adopted the so-called J1772 plug as their standard, which is not the same as Europe uses.(Why can't we lock all these idiots in a room and not let them out until they agree on one plug? Toss computer and cellphone makers in there too.)Moos adds that concerns among sceptics (who, me?) that electric cars will have to be recharged from distinctly ungreen sources (coal, nuclear, damned rivers) won't be an issue at any volume of electric cars that is projected for many years to come. Even in worst-case energy-generating scenarios, the well-to-wheel environmental equivalence still favours electricity.Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan, which is introducing its Leaf electric soon, has noted that electricity generation is (in fact, has to be) local; pricing is fairly stable (not affected by distant wars, for example); and there is sufficient capacity in the system to handle the projected volume, mainly because most electricity is used in the daytime, but electric cars can be recharged at night when prices are low.The Smart electric also appears to be particularly well-suited to car-sharing programs. Register, phone for a reservation, pick up the car, drive it, drop it off when you're done.Ulm, Germany has been in operation for a while; Austin Texas, a technology-savvy university town, started one in May.For sure, as Moos admits, there are issues with electric cars.“But a trip of a mile begins with one step, and that's where we are,'' he said. “I have worked with Smart since 2001, and on the electric program pretty much from the very beginning, and I am more confident now than I was even two or three years ago that the price of the technology will come down quickly.''Whatever technical concerns remain, to me the major concern with electric cars is the entire subsidy thing. As I said about the Leaf, if I'm a California resident and my neighbour buys an electric Smart, I'm going to insist on driving it two to three days a week because I'd “own” about 30 per cent of the car.Derek Kaufman, vice-president of Smart USA, said the Smart electric can be a catalyst for an energy program for the U.S., something that's dearly needed.But there is an energy program; the U.S. simply refuses to implement it. It's called “gasoline pricing.” Make Americans pay even half what the Rest of World pays for it, then let the market decide what the transportation mode of choice will be: electric, hybrid, diesel, gasoline, horse, whatever.Any subsidies that favour a particular technology artificially distort the market, the latter remaining the most efficient way of allocating resources. Kaufman added that if there was any good coming out of the Gulf oil spill, it is a greater public awareness of the dangers of dependence on petroleum. Maybe the time is right for “smart” gasoline pricing.Of course, we cannot blame Smart (or Nissan) for taking advantage of the subsidy programs governments are stupidly offering. They should be concerned, however, if they build their entire business cases on these subsidies.Governments might get smart too.Travel was provided freelance auto reviewer Jim Kenzie by the automaker. jim@jimkenzie.com
  2. I found a pile of pics here. http://images.google.ca/images?q=volkswage...=4&ct=title
  3. I was driving in Toronto in my 2005 Passion Cabriolet and some guy in a Hummer pulled up beside me, looked over and started laughing. I yelled up to him, "I drive one of these because I have a big d***." He didn't get it but I did.
  4. I couldn't get behind the wheel at my dealership because the R Class looks too much like a hearse to me.
  5. I remember that in the 1960's a man was charged in England of having sex in the back of his Austin Mini. The judge looked at the case file and threw the case out saying it was impossible. The judge obviously needed a life.I haven't tried fornicating in my smart but I have slept in it. I've also had lots of sex in it but you have to be open to the car's limitations and an agreeable, inventive partner. Remember, there's more to sex than just having your oil checked.F.
  6. I always thought that was Aaron Copeland.
  7. How about pedestrians who are trained to look all ways before stepping off the curb?
  8. I was recently in Nebraska with mine and had to endure some near tornado force winds. The top was closed and the wind was blowing into the car through the gap between the roof and the crossbeams (or whatever those two removable pieces are called) and the car was blowing all over the road. Getting sucked into transports was a lot of fub. Anyway, the top held up amaingly well.
  9. I'm notorious for breaking things. Once at the Olympics in sarajevo I kept breaking a a videp tape recorder. After I went through 6 in a week (BTW, the parts that repaired the warrantied machines were warrantied on their own, a common practice,) I got a phone call from the deigner of the machine who was also president of the company. He asked me to come to Lucerne after the games and break a few for him. I did. 15 in total. It turned out to be a faulty desing in the supply reel brake.
  10. Finally, Duck is sort of understanding what I'm saying.Listen up. You bought a car that's warrantied for 90.000 km. At 85,000 km the Isonator goes. They replace the isonator in your car with a BRAND NEW ONE. The dame component they would have put in a car on the assembly line and warrantied for 90,000 km.Why should a part carry the warranty of the car instead of the warranty the part was designed to have?When a flea rides on a dog's back it doesn't die if the dog does.
  11. Common doesn't make it right. If it were a stereo and I had a new motherboard put into it the board would come with a warranty of, lets say, nine months. Its a new part, right from the factory and although the stereo itself is a couple years old THE PART INSIDE IS BRABD NEW and comes with its own warranty.Why should cars be different. My car is two and a half years old but the door handle is only 6 months (it could even be a few days old by there rules).Sorry guys, but I think your thinking is the reason they get away with ideas like this. BTW, my service advisior thinks its a stupid idea too.
  12. I just clocked 93,000 km and I took my smart into Thornhill to make an appointment. Six months ago mt driver's door handle broke and they replaced it. It went again last week so when I aske me if they couls fix it this is what I was told. Since my warranty is over so is the warranty of the replaced (or any replaced) part. If I had something fixed under warranty the day before the warranty ran out then the replaced parts warranty would still run out with the car's. However, if I paid for the part I would get a two year warranty on replacement.Is this bogus or what?
  13. I'm about to put my Third one on. Anybody else having their's break?
  14. I took my smart up there for the first time about a week after I got it in October 2005. Its a place I go to every month when I need to find some inspiration. I took the curves as fast as I could, with the top down and my girlfriend kept yelling at me to slow down. I don't know why.If you travel to the town close to Mississauga Road (who's name escapes me) there's an amazing restaurant. The food really is to die for, or at least it used to be. Sorry I can't remember the name.If you're up there look for my smart parked where the old Credit Valley Railway station used to be, and you'll probably find me on the trestle just thinking the day away.
  15. This trip started very innocently. I had two weeks off with no work in sight so I decided to hop in the car and take a drive. I got on the 401 and headed west. That's really all there was to it. I had my camera along but didn't take many pictures that would interest anyone but me. It was more more research than anything.I don't know about the 19/20 rule. I've literally met thousands of people in my trips through the US and only one bubba. I also could have sold a s***load of them if I were dragging them behind me.Next chance I get I'm doing a TO to Halifax to Boston and down the coast. That or out to California on business. Also thinking about the southwest US and Mexico (Although I hate Mexico).