First time out of range

My Zoe and me we went out on an adventure today. I decided it was time for her to go out of range from the home base. I assume that this is a kind of a thrill for any electric vehicle owner: the first time to venture out so far that you must charge your car ‘in the wild’ to get home.

I searched for the right charger on oplaadpalen.nl. The station was located on a public parking lot that has no gate or fence and has the right Mennekes plug. So this morning, I got behind the wheel and I commanded the TomTom to direct me to the charging station where I planned to feed my Zoe. An ominous message appeared on screen:
Non public charging station warning
After clicking ‘Yes’, i got this:

Incompatible plug warning

What to do? The info on oplaadpalen.nl stated that the charger is operated by ‘e-laad’ and I had already tried out one of their charging stations in my neighborhood and it worked like a charm with my ‘LoveToLoad’ card (from TheNewMotion), so I figured that it was simply due to the correct plug not being set in TomTom. Through Google Streetview I had verified the charger was on an accessible parking lot. So I decided to take the risk and ignore the message. There were other charging stations nearby and I guessed I would arrive with at least 50 km of range left. The prime directive: always have a backup plan in case the charger of choice doesn’t work.

I set off with 136 km range indicated on the GoM*). After driving 81 km (mostly motorway @ 98 km/h cruise control), I got to my destination with 46%/67 km remaining. As I said before: my Zoe tends to underestimate the remaining range. Kudos to Renault for educating her on good EV manners.

I plugged her in, presented my card to the charger and it was accepted. My Zoe said on her instrument panel: .’Ongoing checks’. After waiting for a minute or so, the message was still there and nothing happened. No charging. I decided it was no good waiting longer for these ongoing checks. I unplugged the cable and did things in a different order: now I first presented my card and then plugged in. This time it worked promptly and my Zoe sucked in the electrons.

This is how I left her. I felt a bit sorry for leaving her in the blazing sun, but as an EV you don’t get to choose your parking spot. Life is hard for an EV in 2013.Zoe parked for feeding

My Zoe had taken me to a place that is nice for walking and I took a 3 hour walk through the woods. I thought on how cool it would be to see the charging progress on the mobile app, and report my experiences that to you, my dear Internet people. I became a man on a mission.

It didn’t work. During the first 2.5 hours, the app persisted in showing the status of 9:24 when I was still charging at home. But then, I got an update. It now showed the status of my Zoe of 9:50, while it was now half past one. What good are these status reports if they come through with such a delay?

I will report on my experiences with ZE connect in a separate post, but for now I suggest to set your expectations low. Being a web developer myself, I can already tell you ZE connect works like a half finished afterthought. The icons look fresh and nice, but these are all the friendly words I can muster. The rest is buggy, slow, inconsistent, unreliable, vague and user unfriendly. If this is supposed to be the ‘killer app’ for their ZE strategy, I think Renault should consider what the hell they are doing in this business. This is a major component of the ‘ZE experience’, but it seems Renault has not yet realised we are living in 2013. Yes, people do judge them on these kind of things that they, with their 20th century mindset, probably consider a ‘nice to have’. Come on Renault, it is really not that hard or expensive to get this right! I had hoped to show off the app to my collegues with a ‘how cool is that’ attitude. But first I had to wait two bloody weeks for Renault to get it working. Now I finally got it, I realise there is nothing worth showing off. But the ZE connect troubles didn’t affect my Zoe’s appetite for electrons and she awaited me with her belly full and I had a worry free trip home.

These are the scorecards she gave me for today’s driving. First the ones on the way out:

Trip report 1

Energy use 1

And two for the return trip. As you can see, I drove faster than in the morning because then I wasn’t 100% sure I could charge and wanted to arrive with at least 50 km range. That fear, aka ‘range anxiety’, didn’t play a factor in the afternoon. Also, it was hotter so the A/C consumed more. I had the A/C on for most of the time, about 55 minutes I guess. To conserve energy I usually open the windows and set off without A/C to let all the heat out of the car. When entering the motorway, I close the windows and switch on the A/C. To get an idea of the extra consumption for the A/C, the base consumption of my Zoe would normally be 0.3 kWh for an hour long drive without A/C. So the A/C consumed 0.6 kWh for this drive with a blue sky and 25° C. On this particular trip, it took about 5% of range.Trip report 2°Energy use 2


*) GoM: the guess-o-meter or indicator of remaining range.


ZE connect – it’s finally accomplished

When I got home this afternoon, a nice surprise awaited me when trying to login to ZE connect (a daily routine to see if Renault already had made some progress). Lo and behold, ziz iz wuz i zaw:

ZE connect

And this is how the app looks:

ZE connect mobile


No love from ZE connect – no progress

I received a phone call yesterday from the Renault NL customer relations rep. He was prompted by the sales rep from the dealer who had called me the day before to know if there was any message from Renault NL. The customer relations guy Just reconfirmed that they have achieved nothing. And that he could not make any predictions, it’s in the hands of an unnamed third party. Two weeks and counting.


Dissecting my Zoe – driving

Forgot to put nozzle back

What if I forget to unplug?

I you want to drive the first thing is start the car. Since I have the ‘Intens’ model with the hands free key card, I just sit down slide in horizontally and press the start button. The displays comes on with a nice animation and I’m set to go. But what if I forget to unplug? Will this happen? –>

Luckily my Zoe is much more intelligent than the ICE age dinosaurs, and she refuses to move a millimeter while the plug is still in her snout. She won’t even start. What if you do it the other way around? First start her and then plug in? They thought of that too and my Zoe will switch off as soon as I plug her in. There is a disadvantage though: once I noticed I forgot to close the windows after plugging in. I went back inside to close them, but couldn’t. I can only operate the electric windows when my Zoe is on. But while plugged in, I can not start her. So I had to get out, unplug her, start her up, close the windows and plug her back in. And would you expect I could at least change the charging schedule? Nope, only when she is on and thus not plugged in. Not very convenient and I wished the Renault engineers had tweaked this safety feature a little bit so you can do certain things while she is plugged in.

Regulating speed

One of the main qualities of the Prius (that is perhaps hard to appreciate if you’ve never driven one), is the Rolls-Royce like smoothness of the drive train. Absolutely no shocks or vibrations, just smooth, uninterrupted acceleration. Also very easy to drive in day-to-day traffic, as you have very precise control over your speed, which is more often than not determined by the vehicle in front of you. The electric drive of my Zoe offers those same qualities and goes beyond by adding an effortless silence and instantaneous response. The Prius drive train has some lag as sometimes the engine has to be revved up. No such delays with my Zoe, she goes where I think her to go, as if we are a mind meld and my brain is connected directly to her motor.

Zoe accelerationWhat about performance? The graph to the right is a screen print from a GPS speedometer with the important speeds and timings marked. I arrived at the guidelines’ position by pixel counting, so do not take this too seriously.. At the low end you can see 0-10 km/h was slightly slower. There was water on the road where I started and I had some slippage. I will try a perfect run later and update the image. Below is the video of another run. Notice the background going from green to blue to purple. That is how my Zoe feels about my driving style. She does not approve.

The brakes feel totally ordinary, which is an achievement not to be sniffed at. To maximise range an EV has regenerative braking, using the motor as a generator to convert all that kinetic energy in electric energy instead of heat. The Prius has that too, and Toyota did a tremendous job on making it barely noticeable as the friction brakes take over from the electric brake. I say ‘barely’, since I sometimes did notice some slight shocks. The Renault engineers have improved on that and I can not feel anything, only smooth, predictable, natural deceleration. What is nice is that my Zoe displays the power level for both acceleration and deceleration. The maximum power she allows for regenerative braking is 43 kW, which happens to be exactly equal to the power level for fast charging.

The cruise control is engaged by a button on the central console and operated by the four buttons on the steering wheel. It operates in very direct manner, you can really feel the acceleration and deceleration as you change the setting, my Zoe even applies the generator brake for a short second when I turn it down a notch. It is less comfortable than the Prius, which would react with a much more gradual speed change. Many times I had to look at the speedometer to notice any reaction. Although less comfortable, it does allow me something new: ‘thumb driving’. I can adapt my speed much quicker and react to the traffic ahead much better, thus allowing me to drive the car with only my left thumb operating the cruise control. The cruise control can also operate in speed limiter mode but I never use that.

Range

So the response is good, the acceleration is more than sufficient for everyday use, braking feels 100% normal. What about range? For now, on my daily commute (100 km roundtrip, 70% highway) my Zoe brings me back home with 30%-40% battery remaining. I put the cruise control at 98 km/h, but have no fear of accelerating temporarily to 110-120 when passing a truck. So in summer, if you keep your highway speed in check, but without obstructing other traffic, you’ll have no problem of hitting the top end of that 100-150 km guidance. I will report more on range as I gather more data. This is just a first impression.

To extend the range, there is an obligatory ‘Eco’ button on the central console, but I never use it. Eco mode will reduce the maximum power of the motor to 45 kW and the top speed to 90 km/h (real speed, 94 on the speedo) and operate the climate control in a more economic fashion. Unless I press the go pedal all the way down, then my Zoe feels that I need maximum acceleration she will obey without complaint. I think it will do very little for me, since I already have the ‘eco’ built into my genes after 8 years of Prius driving.

Handling

On cornering abilities I can’t say much. Although I do take corners at high speed (braking for corners wastes energy!), I am in no way a racing driver and don’t notice much difference between one car or the other. If I turn the steering wheel clockwise, my Zoe goes to the right, when I turn it counterclockwise, she goes to the left. Just as I expected.

In terms of comfort, she seems to be a bit harsh, bouncing over the speed bumps, but that might be my subjective impression. Where I live the roads are mostly of near perfect quality, so in all honesty, I don’t care very much. The seating position is high, so I have good overview. The view through the rear view and side mirrors is good, although the left side mirror is a bit narrower than usual and has a slightly larger blind spot than I like. It has a curvature at the left side to reduce the blind spot, but there still is a tiny blind spot left.

The granny lever

The granny lever

What I really dislike is the gear shifter: a classic ‘old granny style’ linear P-R-N-D lever. How much more convenient (and futuristic!) is the control stalk in the Prius or LEAF with which you can switch any gear directly from the central position to which the stalk always returns. Much more direct and easy to operate. It is one of those things where you ask yourself: “What were those Renault engineers thinking?”. Perhaps they did it in a misguided attempt to offer people something familiar. But the average Zoe buyer wants nothing more than leave the old 20th century tech behind as far as possible!

One of the things I hate when waiting for a traffic light at night is the driver in front of me keeping a foot on the brake. Modern cars have very, very bright braking lights, especially Volvo has driven this to an absurd height out of their concern for ‘safety’. Modern braking lights blind the driver behind you. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” is always a good motto, so when waiting for a traffic light I was accustomed to switching to P (in a Prius the P is engaged by a simple button press) and taking my foot off the brake. For my Zoe this would mean pushing the granny lever all the way forward through all the gears until reaching P, having to also operate the unlock button at some point on the journey there and on the way back to D. Just a tad too much hassle. An acceptable alternative is to shift to N. When the traffic lights change, I can pull it in D and drive off without having to touch the brakes. Of course, this only works on horizontal roads, which we luckily have in spades on our former seabeds that we call ‘polders’ :D.

My Zoe has an automatic hill start assist. She will hold the brakes for a maximum of 2 seconds after I have taken my foot off the brake pedal and until I press the go pedal. A no-brainer for today’s cars that already contain all the hardware to apply the brakes automatically. Just a few lines of computer code.

Dashboard

The dashboard is nicely done. I like the design and the plastics look good. However, I noticed yesterday that the plastic of the dashboard is quite shiny. The sun was low and I took off my polarised sunglasses to better read the touch screen. I was surprised by the amount of reflection. So if you think about buying a Zoe, prepare yourself and buy a pair of polarised sunglasses. You’ll need them.

There are two TFT screens: one central for the R-link system and one for the instrument panel. Just like in a Tesla Model S! Below the instrument panel is a row of warning lights as you would find in a conventional car. Having a TFT instead of mechanical dials or a fluorescent display is really awesome and you wonder why car manufacturers waited so long. TFT technology has been very common for more than a decade now. Is the ICE age public so conservative? It looks really great and is very easy to read. It allows my Zoe to communicate with me clearly and without clutter. The display provides three main instruments, from left to right: the battery indicator, the power indicator and the speedometer. Also an area at the top of the screen to display the status of the cruise control and at the far right a general information area.

The battery indicator has 8 segments, but is is more like an analog instrument, it shows partial segments as the battery depletes. It is a pity that they opted for 8 segments instead of 10. We live in a decimal world and 8 segments make it harder to estimate remaining battery capacity. My Zoe only communicates her charge level in % when she hooked up to a charger or after switching her on . There is a myriad of information available to me, but not that crucial factoid. Very weird. I have to rely on the more crude and hard to interpret battery level indicator.

Above the battery level is the estimated km remaining, which has limited value. Not for nothing that LEAF owners mockingly call the remaining range indicator the ‘guess-o-meter’ or GoM for short. I have found the GoM to be much more conservative than that in the LEAF, which many around the Internet have reported to be wildly optimistic, a fact that I could verify on the one test drive I made in the LEAF. The GoM in my Zoe tends to underestimate the available range (at least, with my driving style). Well done, Renault! There is one quirk though. When resetting the trip computer, the GoM deletes the recent driving history and defaults to 130 km for a full battery. From that point on, she has to start learning all over again.

Next to the instrument panel is a button to change the appearance of the instrument panel somewhat. There are two different power indicators and a switchable background gradient. By changing the color of the background gradient my Zoe lets me know if she approves of my driving style: green is good, blue is so-so, purple is bad. As an experienced economy driver with 8 years of Prius training, I don’t need that, of course ;). One of the two power indicators is totally useless, the other does provide sufficient information for me to know about how much power my Zoe is consuming or generating. It helps me with one my favourite pastimes behind the wheel: gliding.

In any car, when you lift your foot off the accelerator it uses the engine as a brake. In a hybrid or EV, the engine brake actually is a generator brake, it uses the electric motor as a generator to put kinetic energy back into the battery. But there is a small penalty: conversion losses. So it is best to prevent this as much as possible and glide instead. My Zoe tells me she is regenerating when her power indicator is below the zero divider, in the blue zone. This is what I see when I lift my foot off the go pedal. The trick is to compensate by slightly pressing it until no blue and no green bar lights up. Then I am in a glide. For a novice it takes some practice, but after 8 years in a Prius it has become second nature to me.

The generator brake is a bit stronger than in my Prius, and I think even a bit stronger than in an ICE car, perhaps comparable to having it in 3rd gear. But it is not strong enough to enable the ‘single pedal driving’ that Tesla owners rave about. In a Tesla the regenerative braking is so strong that the brake lights are engaged when you take your foot off the accelerator.

Last words in this article go to the information area at the far right of the instrument panel. It is used to display things like average consumption/speed/odometer/trip distance/service interval. With two buttons at the end of the right control stalk you can cycle through these displays or turn it off. When my Zoe wants to bring something important to my attention, like having forgotten to close her charging flap, she will notify me with a message in that same area.


Petrol station owners fail to stop charging stations

Just in, some good news.

When Fastned made public their intent to deploy a few hundred EV fast charging stations alongside petrol stations along the Dutch motorways, the petrol station owners were quick to file a lawsuit. They have been granted a contractual monopoly until 2024 to sell ‘fuels’ on those locations. They thought electricity (for powering cars) would be covered by the definition of ‘fuel’. The judge thought differently, at one point asking: “If cars could run on water, would you claim a monopoly on operating a tap?”

It is at this moment unknown whether the petrol station owners will appeal.


No love from ZE connect – continued

I went to the dealership this afternoon to have the autolocking beep turned off. Took the opportunity to ask the salesman in person about the status of my ZE connect account.

The Renault customer service rep is not a friendly person and sounds as if I am bothering him. He never gave me any piece of useful information, just defensive language to keep me in the dark as much as possible. Never any feedback, not by phone, nor by e-mail. When I told the salesman at the dealership how displeased I was with Renault’s handling of this incident, he basically ignored my comment, almost reacted like it was nothing extraordinary. Very telling. 

Then he phoned Renault about the status of my issue. Renault Netherlands had sent the issue over to Renault France to resolve. They expect an answer within a few days. Yeah, right.

So after more than a week I still can not control my vehicle from my phone and monitor charging progress, start climate control, see trip data, charging sessions, etc. ZE connect is one of the main selling points of the Zoe and Renault seems unable to give me a friggin’ login account to use this service! The level of incompetence is breathtaking.

 


Dissecting my Zoe – energy consumption

This morning I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to do some EV science. The weather prediction said there would be very little wind, and Sunday mornings the traffic is light, almost non-existent. So I headed out at 6:30 to a straight, dead flat, five lane section of the A4.

When I got there, the wind turned out to be a bit stronger than I had hoped, but the direction was almost parallel to the road. Cross-winds increase your energy consumption in both directions and would spoil a good measurement. Of course I made two runs in opposite directions at each speed to cancel out the effect of wind as best as possible.

The stretch of motorway that I had selected is about 5 km long. I used the trip computer to record energy consumption. The energy consumption settled to a stable value after 2 km, so a 5 km stretch looks to be enough to make accurate measurements. I don’t know how accurate my Zoe is measuring her consumption, so my results may not be comparable to those from other Zoe’s.

My Zoe has now rolled 300 km, maybe she still needs some breaking in. I don’t know if EV’s need that. Tire pressure front and rear was 2.6 bar. The speedometer has a +4 deviation from real speed. I have corrected for that, the table shows the real speed. The calculated range is based on the official figure provided by Renault: 22 kWh usable capacity. I completely switched of the air conditioning and fan. When I got home at 8:00, the energy consumption screen still showed 0.5 kWh used for ancillary systems. 500 Wh in 1.5 hours suggests a ~350 W drain that I can not account for at the moment.

The meteorological conditions were: temp 17°C, relative humidity 80%, wind speed 3 m/s, pressure 1020 hP.

I had planned to do tests at 10 km/h intervals from 70 up to top speed, but I had to skip the last ones because the battery was not fully charged.

These are the results:

Real speed (km/h) Run 1 (kWh/100 km) Run 2 (kWh/100 km) Average (kWh/100 km) Calculated range (km)
70 14.2 12.2 13.2 167
80 15.2 13.2 14.3 154
90 17.6 15.2 16.4 134
100 19.4 17.2 18.3 120
110 21.3 19.4 20.4 108

The line graph looks a bit surprising. I would have expected more of a parabole, as air resistance (the dominant force at those speeds) increases with the square of the speed, but from 80 km/h upwards it looks like a straight line.

Renault Zoe energy consumption