31 May 2011

Why the Th!nk is a great car

The Think City electric car submerged in 5% saline solution while the car is running
We had some heavy rains in parts of the state recently.  There is always a report of someone driving into deep water, getting water sucked into the cylinders, and breaking a connecting rod.  Well, you should never drive into deep water but it is nice to know that it won't break anything in the Th!nk.  They tested it.  400 volts?  No problem.  But seriously, don't try this in any car.
Quoting from Th!nk's US web site: "THINK City has been put through extensive testing and validation, including hundreds of computer simulations, over 50 sled tests and more than 20 full-vehicle crash tests. Comprehensive electrical testing and validation have also been conducted over extended periods, including deep-water wading and total submergence in salt water with all electrical systems activated."

There is also lots of little stuff I like.

The air conditioning is powerful.  We had 98 degrees F today (37 C) and we were very comfortable in the Think EV without turning up the AC all the way.

The horn is righteously loud, and has two tones.  (I believe the musical interval produced by the horns is a fifth.)  No one ignores the Th!nk when it honks at them.  Not your typical small car "beep".

The settings of the dash board controls can all be distinguished by feel, you do not have to take your eyes off the road to check where the fan is, if the AC is on, etc.  The controls on the Mini E mostly required a glance to figure out where they were set, which I find to be a safety concern.

The 12 volt outlet works when the car is turned off, making it easy to slow-charge the 12 volt accessory battery without jumper cables.  This should never be needed, but I heard a story on the radio just last weekend where a Prius owner needed to charge his 12 volt battery and could not even find it.  Most Japanese cars do not keep the 12 volt outlet active when the car is off.  If I recall, the Mini E did not either.

The center of gravity is very low since the batteries are under the seats.  It will take corners very fast with out a complaint.  The handling is very good in my humble opinion.  And although it is not nearly as fast as the Mini E, everyone I take for a drive comments on the great acceleration.

I like the recirculate button since it will stay on as long as I want it on.  This was one of the MOST annoying things about the Mini E.  We were in traffic today with some smoky cars.  I turned on the air recirculation so we did not have to smell them.  My car pool coworker said, "This car does not Stink, this car is a Think!"  (Not bad for some one who's first language is not English.)  Of course you should not leave the recirculate on forever, fresh air is good when available.

Absolutely reliable charging.  I have charged the Th!nk dozens of times and I have never had to restart charging or come back to find the car stopped charging before the battery was at 100%.  I don't know about other Mini E drivers, but I probably had to try again one out of five times when charging at 120 volts in the Mini E.  And of course the problems charging the Mini E at 245 volts and above were very widespread.  (To be fair, I have not setup for 240 volt charging with the Th!nk yet.  And I am sure BMW will not make that mistake again.)

I like other mundane stuff like huge cargo space (the Mini E had very little), excellent rear visibility such as you have never seen, long life no rust no dent no scratch plastic body panels (with the "Blue Suede Shoes" look), essentially no maintenance (well, I still need to clean the windows sometimes), 2.1 cents per mile to charge the battery compared to gasoline costs that can be ten times higher, no support to OPEC but support to other American Energy Workers like coal miners or nuclear workers or hydro/wind/solar whatever.  I like that it is a car assembled in America with an American Made battery from an American owned company, OK I will stop now.

I am loving it, can you tell?

Ah, but my wife called the Th!nk EV "the ersatz 458" recently.  She still misses the Mini E.  So do I.  But we don't miss the lease payments!!

One more thing.  The Th!nk has all the gauges you need and nothing more.  No unreliable "miles remaining" estimate that only makes people nervous.  No battery temperature, just a better quality battery and cooling system than the Mini E had.  Yeah yeah, I can hear some of you saying that more information is better.  Maybe not when you are driving.  How did that song go?  "Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel!  The future's uncertain and the end is always near."

OK, I promise to never quote Jim Morrison again.  I promise.

22 May 2011

100 mile range at moderate speeds as advertised by Th!nk, 96% charging efficiency

We drove one hundred miles on a single charge yesterday in our new Th!nk City EV.  The low battery light came on at about 99.5 miles, and the gauge indicated several miles of range left, perhaps just under 10.

Most of this drive was done on back roads at speeds of 45 mph, but with many stops going through small towns.  We used the air conditioning for about 25 miles, I guess.  The usual EV driving technique of trying to slow down only with regenerative braking is instinctive for me after 25,000 miles driving the Mini E.  However, it takes a bit more care in the Th!nk since the regen is not as strong as the Mini E regen.  This technique is essential to getting the best range in an EV of course.  And it makes a noticeable difference in gas cars as well, it is just not as noticeable since efficiency of gas cars is so very low to start with.

I plan to test the range again on the freeway in the Economy mode, which is 60 mph top speed, and hopefully later in the Drive mode, which has 70 mph as the top speed.

On this trip I took a Garmin GPS which indicated that my Th!nk City EV reads a little high on the speedometer, just like my wife's Honda.  At 59 mph on the speedometer, the GPS says 55.  While my wife's Honda has the exact same speed offset, my old Mercedes 240D read even higher, almost 7 mph off at 65 mph.  However my Saturn agrees precisely with the Garmin.

Recharging the Th!nk after my 100 mile trip consumed 23.6 kwh, a bit less than the 24 kwh specified to charge fully from zero.  Perhaps this is because I stopped when the low battery light came on, and I had several miles of range left.  This agrees with Th!nk's claim of 96% charging efficiency.  See slide #12 at this link, original source is here if you can open a PDF file.

Charge time agrees closely with the Frequently Asked Questions  on the Th!nk website.  They claim 18 hours for a full charge from 110 volts.  I measured 19 hours 19 minutes.

The bottom line is that the Th!nk adds about 5.2 miles of range per hour when charging at 116 volts, versus about 3 miles of range per hour of charging at 110 volts for the Mini E.

This high charging efficiency is a significant advantage over the Mini E which in my experience took over 30 hours to fully charge from 120 volts, even though they claimed 24 hours.  (At work, I could only charge the Mini E at 110 volts, there was no 208 volt supply available to me until near the end of the lease.)  The Mini E battery pack is only about 16% larger than the Th!nk battery, so most of this difference is in charging efficiency.  I do not believe this is AC Propulsion's fault, I suspect it has more to do with poor BMW decisions like running the battery cooling fans during charging even if they are not needed.  (Keep in mind the Mini E is a prototype.)  As I found out, this can be a fatal flaw when charging the Mini E outside in the winter unless you put a cabin heater in the Mini E.  The Th!nk should have no such problem.  In addition, the battery temperature range of the Ener Del battery pack is wider, on both the hot and cold extremes.

To be fair, the Mini E charging efficiency appeared to be much better at 220 volts, presumably because the parasitic fan power is a smaller percentage of the total.

The older fourth generation Th!nk reported had a charging efficiency of about 64%, consuming 18 kwh to fully charge the 11.5 kwh NiCad battery.  Nice that our generation 5 Th!nk has more than twice the battery capacity and roughly 50% more efficient charging.  But I do miss the 12 kw charge rate available in the Mini E, even if I did not use it much.  The 3.8 kw charger in the Th!nk is a limitation for long trips.

19 May 2011

Th!nk City EV is shipping in Norway again

I hear from Tom in Oslo that deliveries have restarted to Th!nk showrooms in Norway.  Th!nk builds the City EV in Finland for the Euro market, and they use a different power connector, not the SAE J1772 standard used in the US version of the Th!nk.

This is interesting since apparently the Japanese EVs showing up in Norway do use the J1772 connector.  The battery is also different in the Euro version of the Th!nk, it is not the 24 kwh Lithium Ion battery from Ener Del that we get in the US.  I'll save the details on the Euro version until later.

I will get around to interior photos later, but here is one photo, with the Th!nk City EV Interior Designer Katinka von der Lippe sitting in the car: 

Correction, I am told that the Ener Del Lithium Ion battery is now available in Norway, in addition to the Zebra sodium battery.

17 May 2011

Th!nk is more conspicuous than Mini E

I never had anyone stop me in the Mini E to ask about it.  But the Th!nk EV stands out a bit more.

Today, in the rain, someone got out two cars ahead of me at a stop light and ran back to give me a phone number.  They wanted to know more about the EV.

Another tidbit I learned today: while the car can sustain 70 mph, the road speed limit does not completely cut power until 75 mph going down hill.  A lot of blogs are claiming a top speed of 60, which is only in Economy mode.

I don't have enough miles to comment much on range yet, except that 100 seems easy off the freeway.  And the range appears less elastic than the Mini E, simply because there is less power to waste.

15 May 2011

Lots of cargo

This might not mean much to you if you have never driven a Mini E, which has no back seat.  But here is a photo of five suitcases in the back of the Think City EV.  Most of these suitcases are very large.

Our Think EV does not have a back seat either but it does have a lot of room, unlike the Mini E.  Here is another view with the suitcases outside the car.
For those unfamiliar, the Mini E is a prototype car for research.  The entire back seat is taken up by batteries.  When we took the Mini E on long trips, we had to add a roof rack.  Pictures are here.  The storage space in the Mini E is perhaps comparable to the Smart ED, although nothing much else is comparable. 
(We had to give the Mini E back when we moved to NC. It is not supported here.)

The Think City EV was designed from the ground up as an EV, with the batteries under the seats.  So there is about a cubic yard of cargo space in the back of this two seater.

And the seats in our fifth generation Think EV can lean all the way back when the back is not completely full of suitcases.

Now that I mention it, the best part is that they cannot take the Think EV away from us if we move!  We own it, unlike the Mini E which was only leased.  (You cannot get it in the US anymore.)

14 May 2011

Back in the EV saddle

We received our Think EV yesterday.  This is generation 5, for those in Europe who have had access to earlier Think EV models for decades.

For those of you who are on long waiting lists to get an EV from a competitor with less experience in EVs, hear this:  It took about 3 days from the time I wired the money to Think in Indiana until the time it arrived at our driveway in NC.  Depending on how far you are from Indiana, it might vary.  Ours arrived in a covered straight truck and was off-loaded locally to a flat bed.

We have only put about 30 miles on it so far, but it seems a little better than the model I test drove outside of Indianapolis a few weeks ago.  I suspect the demo I drove had the software set for a slightly lower top speed according to Euro standards, but ours has a top speed slightly over 70 mph on flat roads.

It is too soon to tell for sure, but my first impression is that the Think is a bit more comfortable than the Mini E which had rather stiff seats.  I once drove Grandma from Long Island NY down to central New Jersey in the Mini E and she refused to ride in it again because of the hard seats.  (Funny, she is 100% German but all this time in the US must have made her soft.)

Another first impression is that it has better handling, which surprises me.  Not that the Mini E was not fun to drive, but it took me weeks of driving over 600 miles per week to feel comfortable with the "twitchy" Mini E steering.  I am not a car geek, so I cannot talk about over-steer or whatever.  But the Think feels completely comfortable to drive from the get go.

Visibility out the back window is amazing if the car is empty.  They say in defensive driving classes that backing up is one of the most dangerous things you can do.  I believe it is much less so in the Think.  No need at all for a backup camera when unloaded.

Of course the Think has a lot less power than the Mini E, which is fine with me.  The Think has adequate power, and I always felt the Mini E had too much.  And the built-in Think charger is wimpy, as are the built-in chargers in most of this generation of EVs such as the Leaf and the Volt.  But since my commute is down from 600 miles per week to 80 miles, that is not a problem for me.

At low speeds the Think is not as quiet as the Mini E.  I believe I hear the vacuum pump and the power steering, which I was told is electrically driven hydraulic.  So there is no need for some type of audible warning for pedestrians.  (Which I feel is ridiculous anyway, and just an oblique attempt to undermine EVs.)

On the highway, the road noise might be even less than the Mini E while the motor whir is noticeable at 70 mph.  But I do not take the freeway much anymore.  Years ago I found I preferred to drive back roads instead of the freeway.  This happened long before I had a chance to drive on biodiesel, which I did for several years before the Mini E, and very long before I had a chance to get into an EV.

So my first impression is that the Think is pretty close to perfect for my needs.  It costs about $4000 less than it would to lease the Smart EV for 4 years, and the Think should easily last 6 times longer than the Smart EV lease.

The rear storage is huge, I will post photos later.

I see a lot of misinformation in the major EV blogs about Ener1 writing off their investment in Think.  And a lot of misinformation generally about Think.  I may comment on that in detail later, but suffice it to say for now that it makes me wonder if the main stream EV blogs are not really just shills for the major car companies who are trying to get into the EV business and distract from their inexperience and even downright recent animosity towards EVs.

My main attraction to the Think over competitors is domestic content (the battery in made in the US by a US company, which is still supplying Think regardless of changes in the mutual investments), domestic assembly and no rust plastic body panels.

But the overwhelming consideration was immediate availability.  I was not willing to wait up to another year for an EV from a less experienced EV maker while paying nearly $4 a gallon for gasoline.  What is that new movie called, "Gashole"?  That about sums it up.

To be fair, my wife is more skeptical about the Think, due to the motor whir at speed.  Well, she also really misses Mini E 458.  So do I.  But no more pouting when we see Minis on the road.  We are back in the EV saddle again!