Thursday, July 6, 2017

Volvo Announces Their End Date for Conventional Gas or Diesel Powered Cars

Lost in the Independence Day bustle was an announcement from Volvo that “every car it produces from 2019 forward will have an electric motor”.  Being an engineer, and therefore a bit too literal in my interpretation of such things, my first thought was “but they already have electric motors... they're used for windshield wipers, fuel pumps, fans ...”.   Probably few people would ever think that way; Volvo meant every vehicle they introduce after 2019 will be either a purely electric vehicle or a hybrid.  No more conventional gasoline or diesel powered cars after 2019. 
Instead the company will begin producing three levels of electric vehicles (mild, Twin Engine, and fully electric) and has committed to bringing out one million Twin Engine or all-electric cars out onto the roads until 2025, according to [Volvo President and CEO Håkan] Samuelsson. Between 2019 and 2021 Volvo plans to launch five fully electric cars, three of which will be Volvo models and two that will be high performance electric vehicles from Polestar, Volvo's performance car division. Samuelsson said all of these electric vehciels will be new models and not necessarily new stylings of existing Volvo models.

Technical details on the vehicles were sparse during a press conference held by Volvo, but the company did offer some information about its three electric vehicle tiers. The mild electric vehicles, which Volvo views as a stepping stone away from ICEs, will feature a 48-volt system that will utilize a battery in conjunction with a system that will function as a starter, generator, and electric motor all in one and the Twin Engine will be a plug-in hybrid system. During the press conference Henrik Green, Senior VP of R&D at Volvo, said the company will be aiming to provide a “very competitive range” with these new vehicles, which he said will be available in medium range and long range – at least up to 500 kilometers (about 311 miles) on a charge. Green said Volvo has not yet settled on a battery supplier, but said the company is looking at all available suppliers for the best option. “ When it comes to batteries of course it's a highly competitive and important component in all the future pure battery electric vehicles,” he said. Samuelsson added that this should also be taken as an invitation for more companies to invest in battery research and development. “We need new players and competition in battery manufacturing,” Samuelsson said.
I don't think the solution to the battery problems lies in competition and more players, Mr. Samuelsson; I think you need new physics or perhaps a new universe.  There is no such thing as "Moore's Law of Batteries"; this is more an exercise in physics and chemistry than clever manufacturing.  While I'd never recommend betting against "clever", there's no methodical process at work like there was in the semiconductor industry during the heyday of Moore's Law.  To borrow a quote from that linked post on electric cars and batteries:
Battery research is slow compared to the semiconductor "internet speed" we're used to.  Think of how a battery works: two different materials give and take electrons at a voltage potential determined by the way the universe was put together.  All of the simple combinations have been tried and new ones are being researched daily.  The limits, though, are imposed by the universe.  In semiconductor work, the same materials are always worked on, the techniques for putting down dopants and photoresistive masks is all that changes.
I've tended to be hostile to electric cars and electric vehicles in general (and I've been taken to task over it) for a simple reason: from the fuel:power ratio perspective, they're so inefficient compared the power available with gasoline that I think of them as very niche vehicles.  They're just not cost-effective, even with the thousands of taxpayer dollars you get paid to buy one.  And remember GM executive Mark Reuss  telling reporters that his company wants to be the first to produce “electric cars that people can afford at a profit.”  As I've said a bunch of times now, battery makers are desperately trying to figure out how to reach a specific energy of 450 Wh/kg (Watt-hours per kilogram), gasoline already offers 12,000 Wh/kg.  One horsepower is 750 W, so turning Watt hours to Horsepower hours, batteries give 0.6 HP*h per kg, while gasoline offers 16 HP*h/kg.  Either way of looking at it, gas has over 26 times the energy density. 

That said, there is a niche.  If you use your car for nothing but easy commutes, they're another choice.  To modify what commenter Aesop said to the post on Electric Airplanes, if there's no gasoline, the electric vehicle by itself is no better than a gasoline-fueled car: both only move until the fuel source is used up.  A situation in which there's no gasoline available at all and no electric power to charge the car batteries for an extended period of times is a true SHTF event, and if you want your electric car to be chargeable with no power grid, you'd better plan for a solar panel farm and room full of batteries - just as you'd need to plan for a gasoline or diesel fuel tank if that's your fuel.  The advantage to the solar, of course, is that the tank is refilled by the sun and you can keep some mobility.  To some amount.  For a while. 

And since they're niche vehicles, going over to only EVs and hybrids will make Volvo purely a niche seller, if they're not already.
Would I buy one?  There's an area where I think an electric motor has a natural advantage over an internal combustion engine, but nobody makes a vehicle to take advantage of it (that I know of).  Electric motors, specifically the DC brushless motors used in virtually all electric cars, reach their absolute maximum torque at zero RPM.  This combination would be great for people pulling boats up ramps, towing campers, and other things that are common uses for SUVs and pickup trucks.  You pay for that "low end torque" in gasoline engines with larger cylinders (more cubic inches), longer piston strokes, and generally lower gas mileage.  An electric SUV optimized for that sort of use would definitely get a closer look from me!


18 comments:

  1. The Next Big Thing in batteries has always been "In Two Years...", or "In Five Years..." depending on who you listen to.

    I'm with you on electric cars. They're getting better, but still don't compare with a "regular" car.

    Back in the 1970's, I used to joke with a friend that they should make a diesel-electric car, like a locomotive, but with a battery pack for burst power.

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    1. Don't forget we're going to have fusion power "in 20 years" too!

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    2. I think the first time I heard we'd have fusion power in 20 years was about 45 years ago. It's still 20 years away.

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    3. That's already being done in F1 cars.

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  2. And when no one buys them ( like Tesla and the Volt) will the "Government" or the UN mandate them? It isn't about the environment. It is about control. No gas/electric/self driving means no movement without government approval. I can think of no better reason to exterminate the greenies than being forced to give up my oversized pickup. ---Ray

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    1. Another reason to bring down the EU. What a bunch of asshats over in Brussels.

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  3. Diesel electric trucks and other heavy equipment have been around for years; one recent innovation has been for front end loaders that are diesel electric to have quick start engines and a battery pack so that the engine turns off instead of idling during slow parts of their cycle, for example when waiting between loading trucks. The battery runs lights, AC, radios, etc, and may soon run the whole machine for short periods like drjim suggests.
    But there is no serious talk of running them on battery power, since as you know there isn't enough power available EXCEPT where emissions are a big problem - like underground mines. There, the machines have enormous battery packs and are often set up to switch packs so they don't have to wait for a recharge. Sandvik makes a shield hauler/ loader that can handle 55 tonnes (metric tonnes) and which uses the battery as a counterweight - but the machine costs millions and only a handful have been made.

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  4. In general, I don't have a problem with electric vehicles as long as people understand the advantages and disadvantages. Most people I know that have one also have a conventional vehicle and use the electric car for commutes and fun (and let me tell you, a Tesla absolutely is fun - the acceleration is insane).

    That said, the idea of Volvo doing this strikes me as unwise. I currently drive a Volvo S60R and am planning to get rid of it shortly. Aside from reliability issues in general, Volvo simply hasn't impressed me with the engineering on this car, which was their top-of-the-line performance model when it came out. It has a 300 HP, 300 ft-lb turbocharged engine and a 6-speed manual transmission, so it's fairly fun to drive, but they have many things that they didn't really work out. For instance, it uses 18" tires with a wide, low-profile design, but if you crank the steering wheel to the stop the tires rub the inside of the wheel well. The idea of a company that can miss something like that trying to go to a full electric and hybrid lineup makes me a little doubtful that they will pull it off.

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    1. The Tesla's acceleration comes from the torque/RPM curves that I'd love for towing the boat. First time I saw the Teslas, at $100K, I thought "there's no way I'd spend $100,000 on any car, but if I did, that would be the one. That was around '08 - ? - I think.

      Agreed on the tire rub issue. That's just stupid. One test ride before turning on production would reveal that.

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    2. How far would you have to tow that boat? And how much fun would you have when your tow vehicle runs outta juice a few miles from where you intended to go, with the trailer and boat hanging off the back?
      }:-]

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    3. That gets back to the whole thing about buying vehicles for that once a year occasion we do something. Although I've never towed the boat down to the keys or over to the west coast, I might. That's trivial with my Exploder. Just pull into the gas station and dump in another tankful. With an electric vehicle, it just ain't happening.

      And that's why there's no electric vehicle in my future. Unless my 12V trolling motor counts ;-)

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    4. That problem will soon be solved by graphene batteries.

      For those of you who don't know, graphene is the newly discovered substance that can do absolutely anything except, apparently, leave the laboratory...

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  5. Not that I really care about Volvo, but I wonder how their stock reacted? This is one dumb move. The president must be a bean counter without a lick of engineering sense.

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  6. Electric motors are wonderful for vehicular use. They make max torque at stall (zero RPM), so they're capable of astounding acceleration.

    The problem is still the power source....

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  7. The problem is that the Governments that are pushing self drive/sparky cars, don't CARE if the Tech works or not. The reasons behind this Are: To data link the on board AI computers with the GPS allowing government to control the car at all times. Making it in essence a rolling gulag. At any point they would know who was in the car and what they were saying/doing and where they were going. If someone in The office of population movement and control didn't like what was said, or where they were going (say a rally for the "wrong party", a gun show, or a covert religious service) they could just lock you in and send the car to meat with the nearest secret police. Or just reprogram it to lock you in along side the road until the GESTAPO comes to get you, hours or maybe days later. IMO that is the ONLY reason all of this has been pushed on us. It is ALL of it about high tech "birth to death" slavery. I was only half joking when I said it was grounds for revolution. I really do see this as grounds to burn everyone involved at the stake. It is one of the most sinister things ever foisted onto Liberty. ----Ray

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  8. Speaking of electric windshield wipers, the Lockheed Electra L-188 had hydraulic motors for the windshield wipers. Loved the logbook entry "windshield wipers leaking"

    And the funniest thing I heard this month was Elizabeth MacDonald on Fox Business commenting about Elon Musk. "Profit, the final frontier".

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  9. Steam powered cars. Roughly as old as both electric and internal combustion cars (1890s?).

    Water plus that commonly available biofuel, biodegradable, and readily renewable resource ... wood.
    :)
    Q

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