May 21, 2012 – Vol.17 No.10
RETHINKING ELECTRIC CARS - PART 9
by Bruce Mulliken, Green Energy News
At least on paper, Toyota's recently introduced, next generation RAV4 Electric Vehicle is a disappointment.
To begin with it's more expensive than the first generation RAV4. Toyota should be introducing new electric models that are less expensive, not more. The first RAV4 electric had a sticker price of $42,000. The new one has a list of $49,800. (Sigh.)
Secondly, even though its battery pack can hold more juice, (27 kWh old, 42 kWh new) the new RAV4 EV doesn't go any farther. In fact it's a little less. The old had a range of 80 -120 miles, the new about a 100 give or take a few miles depending on who's driving and where.
Now that I’ve trashed the vehicle, let me defend it.
Even though the name is the same, there's nothing in common between the first generation and now. The first generation RAV4 EV was, of course, based on the first generation gas SUV which was much smaller and lighter. Two generations later, the current conventional vehicle, for which the EV is based, can seat up to 7 and has an optional V6. It's big by comparison. The bigger new vehicle should be expected to need a larger battery pack in the electric version which would push the price higher and not add range.
There's also a matter of inflation. It's been 10 years between the old and new RAV 4 EV: $42,000 in today's dollars is almost $54,000 somewhat more than $49,800 sticker for the new EV. In a way Toyota did cut the price.
(While I'm on the subject of RAV4 generations, the current gas model introduced for the 2006 model year is about to be replaced by a fourth-gen, yet it doesn't appear as though the electric version will be used that on that platform. Kind of weird, but I thought I’d mention it.)
Now back to that price. Again, totally different vehicles, so it's comparing apples and oranges. But there's more. Only executives at Toyota know the exact cost figures, however it's fairly certain that Toyota lost money on the first RAV4 EV and could very well be losing money on the new vehicle. It's the degree of which Toyota takes its loss the determines the sticker price. Who knows? Toyota may have taken a $50,000 loss per vehicle on the first and a $10,000 loss on the second. (Just speculating with made up dollar figures.)
Then there's that range issue.
As has been shown in a previous installment in this series, lithium-ion batteried vehicles don't really get outstanding range unless the battery pack is unaffordably huge. The battery in the new RAV4 is rated at 42 kWh, the old nickel metal hydride pack 27 kWh. Again, the old RAV was light to begin with, the new heavier, perhaps by as much as 800 lbs. Further, the old was not very quick, 0-60 in 18 seconds. The new is very snappy off the line with 0-60 in seven seconds. That will burn up some electrons and reduce range.
Toyota is only planning to build 2600 vehicles, about twice as many as the first-gen cars.
With so few to be produced, and limited to only a few California markets, there may be something going on here and more than meets the eye that could be a very good thing for electric vehicles, as well as Toyota in the long run.
California has revived its zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate. Though the details are not finalized, Toyota, as well as all other car manufacturers, will soon be required to sell a percentage of electric vehicles if they want to sell cars in the state. Electric cars and trucks developed for the California market could be sold elsewhere. The more cars sold, the cheaper they could get.
Technically there’s also something under the hood that Toyota may be experimenting with.
The new RAV4 EV is using an electric drive motor and controller built by Tesla Motors. On the surface not a big deal, except this: Tesla’s motors don't use permanent magnets. Sounds like a fairly geeky detail right? Not really. The U.S. government is spending millions to find substitutes for the rare earth metals used for magnets in everything from drive motors in hybrids and electrics to wind turbines. The government is doing this because the only major source of the rare earth metals currently used is China and China has shown, in the past, a willingness to limit or shut down exports of these metals. No rare earth metals, no magnets and whole clean tech industries could be brought to a standstill.
So, along comes Tesla Motors and others, foreign and domestic, that use all-copper motors, no magnets at all. Their motors, also known as copper rotor induction motors, are still are able to become generators to capture the energy of slowing and braking and turn it to electricity to stuff back into the battery pack. In other words, permanent magnets aren’t needed for energy regeneration
There's really nothing new to the all-copper design. The Tesla Roadster, the new Tesla Model S and upcoming Model X have no magnets. BMW's Mini-e went without. And I'm almost certain GM's EV1 was a magnet-free motor.
By incorporating a Tesla-built drive and electronics, the Toyota has a real world test bed for all-copper motors. If all works well, and Toyota starts using copper motors in all it's hybrids and future EV's, the company could end up cutting costs as a result. Toyota also won’t have to worry about trade wars with China. Other companies will follow suit.
According to the Copper Development Association, “Copper-based induction motors are 20 percent less costly to manufacture than their permanent magnet counterparts, yet provide performance advantages.”
Daimler, by the way, has also placed an order with Tesla for electric drive systems for a new Mercedes-Benz EV. The value of the order is about $280 million.
Beyond Tesla, companies involved in copper motors are Remy International, Fukuta Electric & Machinery, and AC Propulsion. There may be others.
RETHINKING ELECTRIC CARS - PART 1
If EV’s don’t catch on at a quicker pace, manufacturers might have to go back to the drawing board.
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