Blast from the past-

I saw this a long time ago and just thought of it. Try looking at your keyboard when you're done.


Weird cars in New York

Can you spot what's weird about these cars I saw in NYC this week? Hint: the VW has no snow on it--also, apologies for the shoddy camera-phone picture quality.


More snowy motorcycles

I've been having a ball riding around in the snow this week--an article I wrote about it appeared on Hell For Leather (subscription) and Jalopnik. Thanks to Wes for publishing it.


Riding a motorcycle in the snow

1980 Honda C70
Honda C70 SnowI was elated to see snow on the ground this morning and rode to work in the snowiest conditions yet. Michelin's Gazelle is not a good for snow; the carcass is far too stiff to take advantage of low pressures and its tread pattern is hopelessly conservative for the winter. I reckon some trials tires would be much better, but can't bear the thought of taking the Gazelles off; I popped 2 tubes getting the rear one on.

Jalopnik stole my electricity

The case of the missing electrons has been cracked. Mike Spinelli and Ray Wert (both of Jalopnik fame) had rented the very same Volt that's in the previous post, drained it's battery, and dropped it off back at Hertz just before my dad and I picked it up.

Here's a picture Jalopnik took of the navigation screen displaying trip info:

Photo from Jalopnik.com

And here's a picture I took, hours later:

Note the 29.9 miles travelled by battery in each, and the decrease in miles per gallon as the batteries ran out and the engine came into play.

The Jalopnik article was called "New York Isn't Ready for Electric Cars," but since Hertz didn't bother to charge the Volt before renting it again, I'm not sure they are either!


Hertz Chevy Volt Rental: Potential for Disaster

Hertz Chevy VoltIs the Chevy Volt a hybrid? Nope--but it is the exact powertrain configuration I dreamed of during my previous all-electric Hertz rentals. The Volt is an electric car with a small gas generator that keeps the car moving if the battery runs out. A car like this can get away with a light-weight battery pack because its range of 40 miles covers, say, 80% of trips, and on longer trips the gas motor kicks in (a Nissan Leaf has to have a huge heavy battery for a 100 mile range). You also aren't married to the idea of charging a dead battery if you have to head out. Awesome, right?


Parallel Parking Tips

So, you don't have any cavities? Good! Then it's time to learn how to parallel park the British way.

Studies by Transportation Alternatives have shown that 15%-45% of drivers in Manhattan are trolling for parking, and observation suggests that a lot of those drivers pass up spots that they could fit in—just because they lack parallel parking skills.

Driving the Nissan Leaf

Hertz Nissan Leaf
I was invited to drive one of the Nissan Leafs that Connect by Hertz is planning to start renting from 60th street sometime in February. After being charmed but a little underwhelmed by their slow Smart ED on Tuesday, I was excited to have a go in a car that had been designed from the ground up as an electric vehicle.

The Leaf looks a like a fat Yaris with bubbly headlights-it doesn't make you ache like a Corvette, it doesn't mimic the appealing techno look of the new Prius, and it isn't adorable like the smart.

Connect by Hertz' Smart ED

Hertz Electric Smart
Last Tuesday, I rented a Smart ED from Connect's 50th street location in Manhattan. I drove the car Westchester County Airport for a Civil Air Patrol meeting. The total distance of the journey was 63 miles, and I started with the battery gauge on 100% but returned it with what you can see in the picture--maybe 1% on the gauge (a representative called me in a panic when it got below about 3%, but everything was okay since I was so close to home). I used the heater on the return journey, because it was freezing, and I there were a few times when I used the full 30kW power to keep up with traffic.

Using the full 30kW
My overwhelming impression of the car is that it is really slow at highway speeds, not unusably slow, but probably the slowest car in the entire Hertz fleet. It struggles to go 58 up hills, and is harshly limited at 65mph. When the car runs into the red zone, it becomes even slower.

Because the car is "throttle by wire", there is no direct connection between the pedal and the motor. The computer decides what is best for you, and accelerates in a very soft way even if you floor it, using a maximum of 20kW. But if you push past a final "click" in the accelerator pedal, it realizes you want to go quickly, and gives you the full 30kW on the gauge, and you make a little more progress. When you are in the red zone, the car goes into limp mode and will use only 15kW even if you push past the "click" in the pedal.

Electric Smart CarReturned it with 1% charge
It wasn't so quiet as I expected at highway speeds; there is a fair amount of whine from the electric motor, and of course wind noise and tire roar. When crawling around, however, it is ghostly.

When I picked the car up, the lot attendant ran after me and said I needed to come in the little room to get my ticket, and then sheepishly realized that it was a Connect car. Someone else then ran after me to get a copy of my driving license. The car was dirty (understandable considering the recent snowstorm) and had a broken center armrest on one of the two seatbacks, but otherwise the experience was excellent. I really enjoyed driving such a great distance on battery power.

As for range anxiety, I get a thrill from it. I enjoy running my cars right down to empty. If you think of the smart EV as a car with a 3 gallon gas tank, then I think that might really bother some people. But you do have options--in a traffic jam, no energy is used. You can use the parking brake when you're stopped so the rear brake lights don't spill energy, and of course, you can charge it at your destination. Had I charged the car for the 2 hours I was at my Civil Air Patrol meeting, I would easily have been able to make it back with a 25% charge. I guess the best thing to tell people is that the battery gauge is pretty linear, it doesn't suddenly fall quickly once it gets past 20%. Also, I imagine they calibrated the gauge so there is some reserve below zero, although I didn't get to find out.

I am excited that Hertz is renting these electric cars. I find electric cars and their quirks fascinating, and this is my only opportunity to experience them.