The EQ XX and efficient efficiency

The CW-value, known also as drag coefficient and meaning how smoothly a car (in this case) passes through air, is a notion that has been part of the automobile world since at least a 100 years. In 1921 Edmund Rumpfler’s “Tropfenwagen” (drop car) became the first aerodynamically designed automobile, to be followed over the coming decades by cars like the Chrysler Airflow or the Tatra 77. I first become aware of it at a young age when my father bought a new Audi 80 B4 in the early 90’s that looked like a bar of soap, much like its larger brother did, the Audi 100. No doubt Audi had paid a lot of attention to wind resistance and if memory serves me right, the car had a CW-coefficient just below 0.3. That became a bit of a benchmark from then on that proved difficult to beat, with many cars managing 0.27-0.28, but few going below that. And then we got the horsepower race that we’ve seen over the last years, where less attention was paid to efficiency, as it could just be compensated with a more powerful engine.

The “Tropfenwagen” – the world’s first aerodynamically-designed car

The reason things like the CW-value are more important than ever is of course EV’s, as the fight for every km or range needs to go over as little resistance as possible, especially since every EV is penalized by its weight. Mercedes set a new CW-value record with the EQS (another soap-like car) at 0.20. And then just a few weeks ago, the Stuttgart brand also started showing their project car EQ XX to a wider audience, which has a hitherto unrivaled drag coefficient of only 0.17. That also means that equipped with a 100 KwH battery pack, it is the first EV to have a range of over 1000 km (735 miles). This week we’ll look at what makes the EQ XX an example of efficiency, and what it teaches us in a broader sense?

A CW-value of 0.17 is a new record!

The EQ XX is a prototype car which if it goes into production one day as is rumored, it will not be in its current format. The prototype however looks rather nice, far nicer than any other EV Mercedes currently produces. It’s not reminiscent of Rumpfler’s drop car, but clearly the drop form has been the inspiration, especially over the extended tail. Looking at it from the front, some of the air inlets are also quite similar to a Porsche Taycan. But it takes more than that to get the CW-value of a car down to 0.17, so what has Mercedes done? Well, starting up front and next to the very visible are inlets and outlets, there are also active flaps under the front bumper that will vary their position depending on conditions and speed. There are of course special tires and wheels to reduce air resistance, and the long tail of the car ends with an active, extendable rear diffusor, which at speed reduces wind turbulence. A bit surprisingly the EQ XX doesn’t have side cameras but rather standard mirrors, but there’s a logic to this as well since apparently, the gains in reduced wind resistance of cameras is lost again by the power consumed by the screen that becomes necessary in the gauge cluster or the dash. 

Four seats and a bit cramped in the back…

On the inside (and seen from videos and photos, given Mercedes for some reason didn’t invite me to the launch…), emphasis is on recyclable materials for one, and low weight on the other. Every metal surface is firstly not metal but rather 3-D printed recycled plastic, and secondly, as perforated as possible without it breaking into pieces. There’s a giant micro-LED display going across the whole dash which is said to consume much less power than a regular screen. There’s no sunroof since the roof of the car all the way down the rear window (which is thus also absent) is covered by solar panels. This is something I’ve never understood why you don’t see on more cars (with the exception of the Fisker Karma and perhaps 1-2 others I’ve forgotten about). Of course panels have become much more efficient and on the EQ XX, they are said to power many of the interior functions, producing somewhere around 4 Kwh in a (bright and sunny) day.  

Solar panels cover the roof and the rear window

As impressive as the low wind resistance is no doubt that the fact that the EQ XX weighs in at only a1700 kg, very remarkable for an EV with such a large battery pack. Through that and its efficient shape, it only needs one 180 Kw engine while still managing a time to 100 km/h under seven seconds and a top speed limited to 140 km/h (87 mph). And as mentioned, it has a range that quite easily seems to trump 1000 km, with as much as 1200 km set as record on test drives. The official consumption number is 8.7 KwH per 100 km, which is roughly half of a normal, rather efficient EV. What does it sacrifice? Except for the very limited top speed, it doesn’t offer much room on the inside and as far as I’ve understood, no boot (there is also no frunk given the air outlets). Driving it seems to be an exercise in efficiency, as the dash will constantly show if you’re consuming or generating power, and also how much different functions in the car consume in real time. It also has wind sensors around the car with the wind taken into account for range estimates. 

The power consumption of different parts is shown in real time

Summing it up, from an efficiency point of view, it’s as much the low weight as the wind resistance that impresses with the EQ XX. After all, a Mercedes EQS with only a slightly higher wind resistance at 0.20 is nowhere near 1000 km of range given it weighs at least 800 kg, or almost 50% more. And this is of course the efficiency lesson in an electric world – wind resistance is important, but reducing weight by reducing the comfort features of traditional cars is as crucial. This also highlights the inherent conflict in building heavy luxury cars or SUV’s as EV’s, and so when Mercedes tells us it will bring the G-Wagon in an electric version, you have to wonder where the efficiency thinking went.

It’s really positive to see that advances in materials (recycled plastics etc.) and production methods (especially 3D-printing) will bring weight gains to an increasing number of cars, and at some point when the realization kicks in that we are nowhere near the battery materials required to electrify the whole world (see here if you want more thoughts around that), this will come to benefit combustion cars and hybrids as well. I would guess that exterior design will then also become a bit more the focus again as was the case with Audi back in the 90’s. That’s a good thing, since the world can well do without any more G63’s or 3-ton EV’s. I therefor think we’re heading towards a future that will be of a mix of different drive trains, but if the more traditional of these become more efficient and thereby consume less fuel, that can only be a good thing, both for the wallet and the environment!

Driving the craziest four wheels out there!

Shortly before Christmas I published my much read “nail in the e-coffin” post, setting out why I’m convinced EV’s are not the only way mobility will develop going forward. At the same time, I made clear that I have no problem with EV’s as a concept, as long as their owners come down form their high horses and stop pretending they’re saving the world. As I said then, this settles the background debate for me (if I didn’t manage to convince you until now, you’ve probably stopped reading anyway). That doesn’t change the fact that EV’s are part of the car world now, and no brand has made more of an impact in this regard than Tesla. Earlier this week it so happened that I had the opportunity to drive the most impactful Tesla of them all – the Model S Plaid. I didn’t know it then, but life was about to enter another dimension…

Slightly more aggressive headlights, otherwise an unchanged look

I’ve driven the Model S before but it’s quite a few years ago, so it was nice to see that what was at the time a pretty low-quality cabin now with the introduction of what you could call the second series has been significantly upgraded. The overall layout is still the same but the materials are nicer. It’s no luxury car, but it’s certainly not worse than other EV’s around the same price point (Audi E-tron being an example) The screen is now horizontal across all models, and this Plaid was also equipped with the yolk in place of a steering wheel. This is apparently something that varies by market but at least here in Switzerland, you can choose between a normal steering wheel and the yolk both on the normal S and the Plaid. More on the yolk later, but a clear benefit is that it opens up your vision of the instruments and towards the front of the car.

I chatted about charging, batteries and the new sound system (which is not as good as other high end systems, whatever Tesla says) with a very nice salesman who also showed me some parts of the system. This is of course where any Tesla shines and you have to give it to them, what they do on the tech side is still pretty far ahead of everyone else. An example would be how in other cars, you’re still lucky to find someone offering wireless Apple Car Play, when in a Tesla you don’t need it at all as you have direct access to your Spotify account. Or how I was thinking that it was crap that there was no memory buttons on the electric seats, only to be reminded that you can set up to 10 profiles in the system under which all your seat, mirror and steering wheel adjustments are saved. I may have doubts on our EV future, but such developments will hopefully be part of it more broadly.

A horn button that small is dangerous – screen is not always intuitive but offers far more functions than a normal car

The sales guy then spontaneously offered me to take the car for a ride straight away, which I did. Alone. I followed his recommendation for a route that included both city, motorway and a nice, curvy road over a lower mountain pass, all within 30 minutes of the city (Switzerland is a mountainous country…). I was reminded of two things straight away from previous drives in the Model S, namely to treat the accelerator with some caution (especially in this version…) and also that the recuperation is very strong and as I understand it, no longer adjustable. That really isn’t a problem at all though. It takes you a few minutes to get used to it but not more, and after that you basically drive the car with one foot. I really don’t understand car journalists and vloggers who have a problem with this, however it probably means that you need to actively think of using the breaks from time to time, or your discs risk rusting.

Another very special thing is of course the yolk. I’d like to think that you get used to it and in most situations, meaning everything except roundabouts and sharp turns, you can basically treat it like a wheel. In those situations though, unless you want to cross your arms you’ll need to move your hands without an obvious place to put them. You also need to be careful such as not to hit the small buttons on both sides of the wheel for notably indicators, horn etc. And when you do need the horn, you usually don’t have time to search for a small fiddly button rather than just smash the center of the steering wheel. It is indeed pretty cool not to have the steering wheel blocking your view forward but on balance, the disadvantages with the yolk outweigh the benefits.

Materials are now far better than a few years ago, hopefully that goes for the quality as well

The ride is good, as it’s always been with the Model S. I’ve never driven, but ridden in a new Model Y which is a terrible experience, with a suspension that is much to hard. The S is far better, clearly on par with normal cars. Handling is excellent, the car feels planted and neutral. It’s too heavy to dance around the corner but it’s very neutral in its behavior. The steering is precise and can be set with different levels of resistance, but none of them will communicate much of what happens below the car. It’s a different experience driving on a curvy road as you’re not using the break and it takes some getting used to, but I don’t doubt you would get used to it. In summary, I guess you could call it a somewhat synthetic experience. It’s different, but it’s not bad.

And then there’s of course the acceleration. Which is completely freakin’ bonkers. I’ve driven many fast cars, none of which come even close, and I strongly doubt anything does this side of a dragster or a fighter plane. It’s not only about the sheer power though, there’s also the EV immediacy, i.e. the power being delivered without any delay at any point. You hit the pedal (no, you don’t floor it in this car on a public road unless you’re tired of life) and in return you’re pushed back against your seat at the same time as your knuckles whiten. It’s completely and utterly crazy. It’s also completely unusable in anything except a straight line or a drag race. Trust me, I know how to drive on a curvy road and at no point was it possible to use anywhere near the full power of the Plaid.

The S is still the best looking car in the Tesla line-up – if you ask me

The new “normal” Model S does the sprint to 100 km/h in 3.2 seconds and has a longer range than the Plaid which is one second quicker to 100 km/h. Except for a carbon fibre spoiler lip on the trunk and the Plaid logo (which looks like the symbol of some religious sect) the cars are identical, and the normal S is 20-30% cheaper. The Plaid is of course nothing more than a prestige object but given that, Tesla should perhaps have worked a bit more on the styling to set it apart? Even putting that aside though, there’s really no reason to go for anything more than a normal Model S, especially since there’s quite a few reports of the brakes overheating quite quickly when the 1000 hp Plaid is driven with some ambition…

For a petrol head deciding to take the – big – step of switching to an EV, at around 100′ CHF in this country, the Model S is probably the best EV you can buy. It’s also the best car in the Tesla range. The Models Y and 3 are both simpler and cheaper in ride and materials, and even though the Model X has had the same interior updates, I’ve never met an X owner who hasn’t had problems with his gull wing doors. The Model S is however not only that, for me it also beats EV’s at a similar price point (think Audi E-tron, Mercedes EQE etc.). It’s better in areas such as range, infotainment and charging infrastructure, and is now also on par in terms of materials. All the others are far less powerful though, meaning they’re less fun. That last part is what makes it worth a consideration for anyone interested in more than the sheer transport from A to B. This petrol head is however not there yet!

The last nail in the e-coffin

This week we’ll put the nail in the coffin of any dreams of personal car electrification in the coming years. That may sound drastic, but regular readers of the blog will remember I did my first post on the subject almost two years ago and have followed that up a couple of times, notably last summer, at a time when we were all living in the world where markets were good and Putin was, well not in Ukraine. On one hand things have thus changed in a way which is highly significant notably for EV’s. On the other I came across some really astounding facts a couple of weeks ago, the silence on which is very surprising. But if the media won’t tell you about it, then I guess I will, and although it may sound pompous, I really do think this seals the fate for the worldwide EV roll-out our Western politicians want to see over the coming years. Let’s dig in.

There are around one billion 450 million cars in the world or if you prefer, roughly one car per five world inhabitants (although it rather splits like three in our developed world garages and non in many developing countries). Almost all these cars are powered by a combustion engine, the basic principle of which is identical to the one invented around 150 years ago. That resounding success is of course helped by constant developments and improvements, but even more importantly, by the fact that the fuel needed to power it has been, and continues to be, plentiful. Put differently, had we reached peak oil a long time ago, it’s reasonable to think that the development of alternative fuels would have started earlier.

An E-Type V12 is a particularly fine example of the combustion engine!

The skepticism I’ve long held to our electrical future has nothing to do with the cars themselves (although most, after you’ve pushed the pedal to the metal a few times, are about as interesting as watching paint dry, but that may change as more come to market – maybe). Rather, this comes from the massive issues related to EV battery production, the less than convincing carbon footprint they have, and the geopolitical implications of where the necessary metals are located. But actually, you don’t even need to go there, because in addition to all this, there’s the simple fact that there isn’t enough of the materials needed for the electrical future to be realized. In other words, the alternative to the combustion engine is finally here, and it’s not a bad one, but the world doesn’t have enough “fuel” to power it on a massive scale. And yet, whilst concrete plans are drawn up for a ban on combustion engine cars, no one talks about it.

Never ever forget this picture – and apologies for the bad quality.

We’re told we should replace all our traditional cars with EV’s as quickly as possible. Let’s say we’re slightly less ambitious and content with 500 million EV’s as a first step. After all, that’s about 480 million more EV’s than are on the road today and maybe we don’t need all of those 1.45 billion cars going forward (that would actually be a fair assumption…). To supply batteries for that number of cars would require mining a quantity of energy minerals equivalent to about three trillion smartphone batteries. That’s equal to over 2,000 years of mining and production for the latter. And even if that through some miracle were to happen, it would still only eliminate 15% of the world’s oil consumption.

We would of course in addition have to mine whatever is needed for the solar panels, windmills and electrification needs of industry that should happen in parallel. Naturally, this assumes that all the countries from which we get these metals pose no political or moral issues, and continue to happily supply us with everything we need. No reminder is probably needed that one of the two most important of these countries is Russia which is currently engaged in a war in Europe and actively turning eastwards and away from us. Another one is the Congo, where children work in mines under inhumane conditions to extract 70% of the world’s cobalt production. Lithium on the other hand mainly comes from south America, notably Bolivia, with severe consequences for the local ground water supply.

Lithium extraction in Bolivia. Not really great for the local ground water…

Given however electrification is the chosen and from what you hear, the single way of development, the logical consequence should be to have increased mining high on the agenda. Without that, where are the metals supposed to come from? Of course that’s not what happens, especially not in the Western hemisphere. Our politicians much prefer to travel by private jet to a climate summit (COP 26) in a developing country (Egypt) to lecture other developing countries on their usage of fossil fuels, only to negotiate more oil and mineral deliveries from the same countries when the lights go out. Around 400 private jets brought the dignitaries of this world to COP in October this year and as an example, Germany imported eight times more coal from South Africa in 2022 than in 2021. We’ve rather let the Chinese invest in new mines, preferring not to get our hands dirty.

The hypocrisy is truly hard to believe, But it doesn’t stop here. Few countries have been as vocal about human rights abuses in connection with the football World Cup in Qatar as Germany, and emotions were running high when its team wasn’t allowed to wear rainbow armbands during the games in defense of LGBTQ rights. As we know now, that didn’t prevent the German government from signing a natural gas deal with Qatar for the coming 15 years at the same time as the German team tried to qualify for the quarter finals – without multi-colored bands around their arms…

Some of the more than 400 jets that brought world leaders to Egypt at the COP26

This last example serves to highlight a crucial point of which we’ve been reminded a few times already, and will certainly be reminded of many more times this and next year: when energy gets scarce, there’s a risk of people not being able to heat their homes or industry needing to shut down because of lack of electricity, then every single politician will do what it takes to keep the lights on, be it with dirty energy and, as I suspect will increasingly happen, be it in spite of sanctions as well. That’s also when EV’s become more of a problem than a solution.

Let’s summarize the facts that should be obvious by now;

1) We don’t have enough storage or mining capacity to extract the rare metals needed to produce batteries anywhere close to the scale needed for the electrification of the world’s auto fleet. As a concrete number, a single large EV battery pack of 500 kg can require up to 250 tons of earth being moved to produce sufficient ore to extract the quantities of metals required.

2) There is currently (meaning at least for the coming five years) no alternative battery technology to replace our metal-based batteries, and there are no other metals that are as efficient as the ones currently used. EV enthusiasts will often point to cobalt quantities being reduced given how problematic its production is. It is however substituted with nickel, mostly coming from Russia, not with other types of metals. Any other type of metal would make the battery less efficient. And even if you could argue that nickel from Russia is better than cobalt from the Congo, it’s really an improvement on the margin, not more.

The carbon emissions in the black smoke behind this cobalt mine aren’t verified…

3) There is no reliable way to trace the full carbon footprint of an EV. Estimates vary widely and will continue to do so, and how could it be any different when in some instances you’re required to dig out 250 tons of earth in some of the poorest countries of the world, under conditions we don’t want to know about? No one has even tried to measure the climate impact of cobalt extractions in the Congo, and that’s probably a good thing. However, based on 50 academic studies, the estimated emissions to produce one single EV battery range from eight to 20 tonnes CO2. That’s before it’s been driven a single meter, and the higher end of that range is comparable to the emissions from a conventional car during its full lifetime.

4) In a world where electricity is scarce, EV’s for personal driving will not be prioritized. Here in Switzerland, the government’s energy emergency plan tells us not to use streaming services in times of crisis, or not to wash our laundry above 40 degrees. In the US, California has seen more power cuts this year than ever before. Under any of those scenarios, how likely is it that you’re allowed to charge your EV as much as you want? And when an EV charge costs almost as much as filling your tank as has been the case in the UK in some places this year, where’s the incentive?

5) Finally, and although nothing really points at it, perhaps a bit of common decency and morality will come in to the public discussion, pointing to the fact that children in the Congo work in mines under terrible conditions to produce the metals needed for feel good Westerners to drive Teslas. Or that over 90% of the solar panels on our roofs are produced by Uighurs in Chinese prison camps, their only crime being to be Uighur? If fast fashion isn’t the way to go for the clothes we buy, then EV’s most certainly aren’t for our driving!

Therefore, batteries in their current shape or form are not the way forward, and current electrification plans for our auto fleet simply won’t happen. That doesn’t mean that the combustion engine in its current form will be there forever, but that’s a story for another day. Until then, enjoy your conventional car – as long as you do, you’re doing the world a service!

Airy 1300 hp dreams!

It was certainly not a surprise that after our week in western Florida and the car reflections that came to me on the beach, New York would be vastly different. Still, I had to laugh to myself directly after landing, realizing I had just complimented our American friends on their civilized way of driving and was now about to die in a taxi from Newark airport, driven by a constantly honking maniac in a way only a maniac can drive a car. Let’s call it a return to reality… There’s no doubt Florida is more laid back than NY not only driving-wise but that said, it was great to see NYC back to its old, pre-Covid form!

We spent most of our days walking around Manhattan, and it was in the nowadays very pleasant Meatpacking District that we came upon the new Lucid showroom. We went in and talked to the very friendly Johan from Lucid, whom I guess I shouldn’t refer to as a sales guy since some strange American regulation makes a difference between shops and showrooms and prevents personnel in the latter from disclosing prices of cars shown. Having said that, Johan knew all there was to know about the Lucid Air, setting him apart from a number of other car showrooms and even shops around the world. We thus had a great discussion which brought me back to what I wrote last week about the greater freedom in EV design potentially replacing 700 hp V8 engines as the differentiator going forward. Lucid is not what I was thinking of when doing so, but I would claim the Air is a step in the right direction, and no doubt a very impressive one!

The Air in the Meatpacking district showroom

Lucid Motors was started in 2007 in California under the name Atieva as a 20-employee battery company. Today’s CEO Peter Rawlinson joined the company as CTO in 2013, having before that worked as lead engineer for the Model S at Tesla, and before that for Jaguar and Lotus but also for the legendary Porsche tuner Ruf. Rawlinson’s vision was to build the best EV in the world and thereby the first real luxury car in the segment. Before listing Lucid on Nasdaq through a SPAC deal in 2021, the company notably secured financing from the Saudi Public Investment Fund, and its good capitalization no doubt has helped the company bridge the various supply delays it together with other car makers have had in the last year. As I write this, Johan told me they have delivered about 3.000 cars and are ramping up production. Being mostly US-focused so far, plans for Europe have been delayed, but Lucid will launch in a number of European countries in the coming months, including Germany (where there is already a showroom in Munich), Switzerland, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands..

So what is the Air? The slightly philosophical answer to that is that it’s the kind of car that can only come out of a company that hasn’t built cars along certain routines and principles for a number of decades, and also not from a company with a larger-than-life man at the top who by principle insists on fitting something like falcon doors to a car, even if it delays it by two years and then still doesn’t work when it reaches the market (I know I’m incredible subtle here so just to clarify, I’m referring to the Tesla Model X). The Air takes a new approach and shows a new way of thinking, not only in how it looks but also in the thinking that has gone into it. Rawlinson claims the only principle that steered the team in the development was to build the best EV in the world and having everyone committed to that goal, letting all the underlying pieces contributing to the single goal.

It really looks like nothing else seen from the side…

Size-wise the Air is comparable to a Mercedes E-class on the outside, but with an interior space on S-class level. It looks good but I would not call it beautiful. It is however definitely different, especially over the passenger space between the A- and C-pillars. The Cw-wind resistance factor at 0.21 is of course excellent, and the front booth / frunk space is huge at 280 litres, apparently the biggest in the industry. It may look like a hatchback but the rear booth is conventional, being very deep but also quite low, in a Citroën CX-kind of way. That’s a shame since it makes it difficult for those of us with needs for dog cages or other bulkier stuff, and at least from the outside, it looks like the decision not to go for a hatchback design was not because they couldn’t but rather because they didn’t want to.

The real revelation however comes when you step in to the car and are met with an interior that is far beyond anything in any other EV (very much including cars like the Merc EQS). Under the glass roof that reaches over the full passenger space, Lucid has built an interior mixing leather with textile and wood. It looks and feels very much like the premium car it aspires to be, and does so all the way through and not like for example the mentioned EQS where the lower half of the interior is mostly cheap plastic. It’s a clean, nice design, with all the different screens you have nicely integrated. The glass roof gives a very airy (…) feel, and the leg space in the rear is larger than in most limos, with as only drawback that you can’t fit your feet under the front seats. By the way, the rear seats are in a different color than the front, a neat little design trick I think we’ll see more of. I wasn’t able to test he functionality of all this but the screens interact nicely with each other, and there’s also quite a few functions that can be operated over physical buttons.

The small screen left of the steering wheel reminds of the new Escalade

The Air comes in different equipment versions and also with one or two engines, which is one part of the Lucid magic. At less than 100 kgs and fitting into an airplane carry-on suitcase, not only are these engines smaller and lighter than anything on the market, they are also more powerful. One engine produces 670 hp (meaning that the top version “Dream” has 1300 hp…) and is thereby more than 100 hp stronger than a Taycan engine which is twice as heavy. The battery pack is the second part of the “secret sauce”. Lucid uses cells from LG but develops the pack internally and has managed notably to reduce resistance and thereby power loss through heat. This gives the Air around a 500-mile range, and Johan was very relaxed about this actually being for real even in less-than-ideal conditions. If true, it means that Lucid would set a new range standard. Peter Rawlinson however prefers to talk about charging speed, believing it to be more important than range as it ultimately makes cars with less max range acceptable. And less range means lighter, cheaper, and hereby also sportier cars (remember Rawlinson used to work at Lotus?) Anyway, in Europe Lucid uses the same CCS-system as the German manufacturers and the car can in ideal conditions charge at up to 300 kW, meaning 300 miles in 20 minutes. Prices for dual engine cars will probably start around EUR 150′ which would make it more expensive than a Model S Plaid, but cheaper than a Mercedes EQS.

Will two-tone interiors become the new trend?

I really wish Lucid well, not only because they’ve put together a good car but also because it feels like the next step in the evolution of EV’s, and the first EV I’ve ever really wanted to put in my garage. Of course you need to drive a car before giving any kind of final verdict, but I’m kind of relaxed about it since on one hand tests confirm that it drives well, even very well compared to other EV’s (and that assessment came from none less than Evo!). And on the other, as discussed a bit last week, beyond pushing the pedal to the metal an reaching 100 km/h in 2-3 seconds a few times, which is no doubt a big thrill, neither Lucid nor any other EV will ever bring the excitement through the driving experience. They need to do so differently, and the Lucid air is a good step in that direction!

Populism is in, power is out!

A few weeks ago the Swedish mobility agency in a public announcement told EV drivers that it would be wise if they walked or biked for shorter distances, rather than use their shiny new EV. That’s of course the car they’ve been more or less coerced into buying and replace their old combustion one with, and it’s at the time of year when in Sweden, neither a walk or a bike run is necessarily what you’re dreaming of. This is only one of many small outcomes of the energy crisis Europe is currently battling, or put differently, the crisis where European tax payers pick up the bill for decades of political energy policy mismanagement. This week’s post will be more about what goes into the tank than the car itself – but as we all know, no fuel no fun… Regular programming will resume next week.

It’s a lovely season for a walk in Sweden…

Russia’s barbaric onslaught on Ukraine which will hopefully by some divine justice have Putin and his closest gangsters burn in a warm place for very long, is a complete tragedy. We may complain about energy security and fuel prices, but let’s never forget that the Ukrainians are paying a far heavier price, currently without an end in sight. The Ukraine war has however also provided populist politicians the opportunity to put the blame for their own failures on the war and Putin. EU representatives in Brussels like to talk about how Putin has weaponized energy. The exiting Swedish PM speaks about “Putin prices” when defending any kind of spiraling energy prices, notably at the petrol station, although half the price is tax. And so on. Clearly the war has had devastating effects on Europe’s energy supply, but it’s only had so because of Europe’s careless and self-imposed reliance on Russian energy.

Going into the war, 40% of Germany’s natural gas came from Russia. Gas makes up around 25% of Germany’s total energy mix but far more in the all-important industrial mix, so putting it bluntly, Europe’s largest economy put the energy supply of its industry and thereby the security of the whole country in the hands of Putin the dictator. And by the time the now blown-up NordStream II pipeline was built in the second half of the 2010’s, Putin had already showed what he was made of by invading not only Crimea in 2014, but before that also by engaging in wars with Georgia and in Chechnya – twice. So it was, or at least should have been, in complete knowledge of the facts that then German chancellor Merkel took the decision to hand the keys to the German industrial kingdom to Vladimir Putin, with many other European countries doing more or less the same. You really can’t make it up.

Russian-speaking ex-chancellor Merkel with her pal Putin.

To get to the root of the problem we do however need to go back to 2011 when immediately following the tsunami-caused Fukushima disaster, Merkel decided to close down Germany’s nuclear plants. Fukushima is of course on the other side of the world seen from Germany and the accident had no relevance whatsoever to Germany’s nuclear security, given the only coast Germany has is to the North Sea which isn’t very prone to tsunamis, and in addition not where Germany’s nuclear plants are located. But hey, who cares about energy security when there is a chance to earn political points with the growing Green movement? Here in Switzerland our local politicians jumped on the train before it had even stopped at the station and decided to close down our local plants. Of course we continue to import nuclear power from neighboring France and could never have closed down our own plants without those imports, but that’s something we don’t really like to talk about.

Nuclear is also where Europe and the US meet in our respective crises, with US policy in the last decade being just as set on closing down nuclear as Europe. The problem is of course that in parallel both sides of the pond also wanted to close down fossil fuels, in other words leaving us with no weather independent source of base power. In the US this has translated to more black-outs last year than at any point in history, and fuel prices in California are now getting close to USD 7 per gallon, which still sounds like a steal seen from Europe but is a historical high from a US perspective. President Biden has consistently acted against any expanded production of both oil and natural gas, at the same time as depleting the strategic oil reserve and traveling to Saudi Arabia, trying to get the true democrats down there to increase production. In essence, the message to US oil companies is “guys, we really don’t like you and we’ll close down all your business in a few years, but until then, could you please invest a few billion and increase production?”.

Look at the lower, grey curve…

Enough of the ranting, but the above needs to be said to put the current situation into context. For some strange reason though it usually isn’t, and I’m pretty convinced things will not get better unless those responsible are willing to stand up for mistakes made in past. Whether in the US or in Europe, we’re not in an energy crisis primarily because of Putin’s war in Ukraine or because the Saudis won’t increase production – we’re here because of naive, uninformed and populistic political policies that we as taxpayers are now paying for at the pump, by not using the EV that it was so important we buy, or by freezing in our homes.

The bad news is of course that this will not end anytime soon, but it’s at least good to see that a bit like a drunk waking up on the side of the road, European countries including Germany are now really scrambling for solutions and doing all they can to remedy the situation. Notably in terms of gas supply things are changing quickly, with a heavily reduced dependance on Russia that will go towards nil in 2023. That’s all great, but it only solves part of the problem. Through policies like the ones described above, most countries at present quite simply don’t have any reserve capacity for any type of energy. Building nuclear isn’t done in a couple of months, neither are necessary LNG terminals or for that matter little-discussed but very essential grid investments for renewables that are desperately lacking across Europe, and for which there risks not being any money left in the new recessionary environment we find ourselves in, coupled with increased defense budgets.

This is an LNG terminal in Japan. Doesn’t look like something you build in a couple of weeks…

What happens now is therefore a return to the old power sources we thought were closed down forever. Coal imports to Europe have increased by more than 30% in 2022 compared to previous years. In Poland natural forests are now being chopped for energy and people are burning garbage. In Sweden, the oil-fired power plants are back in action and in Denmark, neighbors steal each others’ wood pellets. Climate policy is out the window and we’d better all wish for a very sunny, windy and mild winter across both Europe and the US, which is not really what winter typically looks like. Otherwise, more or less power cuts could be on many countries’ agendas for the coming months. And even in the US, we can safely assume that oil production will increase when people really start freezing.

If electricity really is rationed, you can be pretty sure that EV charging will not go unaffected. The Swedish mobility agency may have been first, but a similar message will no doubt go out in other countries as well. EV charging will also continue to increase in price. How much depends on where you live and where you charge, but as a scary example there are charging stations in the UK where a 300 km charge now costs around £50, which is more expensive than fuel would be for a mid-sized car. And that’s assuming you find a station that works, which seems to be quite rare over there… If you need your car for your daily life and if you’re dependent on the public grid for charging, buying an EV right now is probably not the best idea.

Defeating Putin in Ukraine is of course more important than prices at the pump and would most probably help reduce the price of oil and gas, and thereby inflation. It’s interesting how politicians of all colors are now changing their tune with regards to nuclear and have a very hard time remembering where they stood on the issue until very recently. I had to rub my eyes hard this week when the climate activist Greta Thunberg joined the crowd, talking about Germany’s mistake in closing down its nuclear plants. Of course Greta as recently as 2019 was publicly against nuclear. The more things change they also stay the same though, because only two days later, ex-chancellor Merkel in only the second big interview since she left office said she doesn’t regret anything.

This may all be entertaining but it’s against a serious background where until there is at least more clarity on how our power supply and energy mix will look going forward, the safest option is no doubt to keep your combustion car, because whatever you pay at the pump, it’s still cheaper than buying an EV (and charging it). As we’ve looked at previously you won’t save the climate anyway by driving electric, and you may indeed want to decide yourself when to drive your car and when to bike or take a walk.

Serious EV power from Croatia!

I’m sure most, if not all readers of this blog have a few automotive legends of their own. Henry Ford is no doubt part of most people’s list as the man who gave us the first mass-produced automobile. I would of course also cite some of my Italian car legends that you’ve seen featured on this blog, and no doubt include Christian von Koenigsegg as well, the Swede who built the world’s fastest car from scratch on the countryside in Sweden. These days however, at least for the general public, Elon Musk is probably the biggest of them all. You can debate how much of a car company Tesla is (or for that matter how sane Elon is), but you can’t debate the success Tesla cars have had (and as shown last week, this goes for the resale values as well!).

What’s fascinating with Elon next to the fact that in addition to cars, he also builds rockets that he lands back on earth after the flight, is that just like Koenigsegg, he started from a piece of paper (albeit with lots of money in his pocket). He did so in the biggest car market in the world, but of course he himself is South-African. Let’s just say that the odds of success weren’t necessarily on his side, and they were even less so for Koenigsegg, as also highlighted in my piece last year. So in that case, how would you rate the odds of a 20-year old Bosnian setting out to build the fastest EV supercar in the world in neighboring Croatia? Yeah, right. You’d be wrong though, because his name is Mate Rimac and he’s quickly developing to becoming something like the next Elon. This week, we’ll look closer at him and the car brand carrying his name!

Rimac’s electric BMW – the fastest EV in the world at the time!

Mate Rimac is only 34 years old, but he’s already accomplished more than most do in a lifetime. Having grown up in Germany and Croatia, he participated in various innovation contests at a young age and in 2006, after having exploded the engine of his BMW E30, decided to transform it to an electrical car. So he did and not only that, he made it the fastest EV in the world at the time, which got him quite a lot of press coverage that would turn out to be very useful a few years later. Mate also competed with the car against traditional combustion engines and usually won, and it was sometime around here that he became convinced of the potential of EV’s and decided to set up a company and build better cars than Tesla. At the same time he invented a few other things as well, such as a rear-view mirror without blind spot and the iGlove, aimed at replacing the computer mouse and keyboard. It didn’t, but there’s little doubt Mate had lots of ideas in his head and by the looks of it, still does.

Mate Rimac and the Rimac Concept One

At first, Rimac’s company focused on conversion of traditional cars to electric drivetrains. That business developed nicely and became known as Rimac Automobili in 2009, when Mate was 21. It took him another two years to get a few employees at the company’s HQ in Croatia, and at this time he also met a GM designer called Adriano Mudri. The two men got along and started discussing building an EV supercar together. Thanks to the previous garnered publicity, they also got an invitation to the royal family of the United Arab Emirates who would become the financier of Rimac’s first prototype called Concept One, unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2011. Eight Concept Ones were built in total and as far as I know seven are still around, the eighth having been crashed in quite spectacular fashion by Richard Hammond of (the original) Top Gear. That’s without doubt the most expensive car Hammond has ever crashed…

Next to the car however, Rimac continued to work with other brands on modifications and parts related to electrification. These include Porsche, Aston Martin, BMW and Koenigsegg, and in 2018 VW/Porsche also bought a 10% stake in Rimac. Last year, it was then confirmed that the partnership has been extended to a new company called Bugatti Rimac where Rimac owns 55% and will provide electrification to the coming hybrid Bugattis. Porsche is also said to have invested further in the company in its latest financing round. As if that wasn’t enough, Rimac also produces the battery systems for the Aston Martin Valkyrie and the Koenigsegg Regera.

The Nevera – a mix of other sports cars and old uniform neckties!

With a top speed of 220 mph (roughly 350 km/h) the Concept One was no doubt extreme, even for an EV, especially 10 years ago. This was however only the hors d’oeuvre for what was to come. The even faster Concept S would follow in 2016 as more of a track car, before the Nevera was unveiled in 2018 and is being delivered to customers form this year. With 150 cars being built for a price of EUR 2m these customers are to be considered very lucky, as this 1914 hp monster sets a new standard even for EV’s. With a top speed of over 400 km/h and a 0-100 time of 1.85 seconds, it also reaches 300 km/h in nine seconds, faster than an F1 car and something that will most probably have you searching for your eye balls at the back of your head, should you try it.

Of course speed isn’t enough though, and the Nevera (which by the way is the name of a Mediterranean storm – what is it with auto makers and winds??) certainly looks the part. It’s a beautiful car with hints of the new Corvette at the front and a McLaren of your choice in the back. Air vents along the sides have the same shape as the necktie of Croatian soldiers fighting for Napoleon (you’d be forgiven for not noticing that yourself…). Of course almost every panel is carbon fibre, it uses butterfly doors and a break spoiler in the back, deploying at a predetermined speed. Rimac confesses he’s programmed that speed to be low enough for the spoiler to deploy frequently, as clients find it cool….

Quite a plush interior given the car’s power, more of a GT than a track car

The Nevera has four electrical engines, one per wheel, which are thus operated and adjusted individually, further contributing to great handling. The interior is more plush than you would expect and definitely more of a GT car than a track car. That doesn’t mean it drives badly though: the first of the 150 Neveras will be delivered to ex-F1 world champion Nico Rosberg who is enthusiastic about not only the power but also how the car handles. In terms of colors you can of course have whatever you want – Mate himself has chosen raw carbon fibre for his own Nevera, a bit of a debatable choice but who are we to argue…

We’ll see where Rimac goes from here, but both the cars and the prestigious collaborations have put him on a fast track for even greater things going forward. From interviews and videos he also seems like a genuinely good guy, which is always nice to see. Notably all Rimac employees, from the cleaning stuff and up, have a share in the company. Of course, unless I have more prominent readers than I know, neither you nor I will probably have the pleasure of driving a Nevera or see for ourselves how nice Mate Rimac is. There is however another way to experience the Rimac magic, namely by buying an electrical MTB from his other company Greyp Bikes, founded in 2015. That will save you a couple of million, be better for your health and give you the first MTB that can communicate with all other Greyp MTB’s around the world, and also film what happens behind you when you ride. If that’s not an irresistible offer, I don’t know what is!

EV’s will never rule the world

A few months ago, as spring was still losing the fight against the last efforts of winter, I attended a financial conference close to Zurich. That’s one of those events where asset managers meet up with investors to tell them why they are the best option to invest with, in whatever theme they feel is of most interest at the time. Not too long ago, these events still had some diversity to them, as you had the opportunity to speak to a great variety of managers on different strategies. Those days are gone. Today, everything, and I really mean everything, is around ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) and impact. In a way that’s great – I’m absolutely convinced of companies needing to behave like good citizens, both towards their employees and the environment (which is what ESG is about), and if they can report some concrete metrics on that good behaviour (which impact is about), then all the better. What I don’t like is when the discussion gets stupid, because when it does, it also gets counter-productive. In this case, as you probably guessed already, it was about EV’s.

Is everything really green in EV land? Eeh… no.

One of the sessions I chose to attend was with a portfolio manager (PM) who started by presenting his team with their name, role and how they commuted to work. The options were bike, public transport or EV, and when someone asked about conventional cars, she was told that wasn’t allowed on the team. The PM thereafter spent whatever was left of his 20 minutes to talk in extremely broad, non-committing terms about how we were all going to die very soon unless we all invested through him in cool companies such as Tesla and solar panel manufacturers, rather than the terrible old dinosaur industrial companies, to which he gladly also counted traditional car manufacturers who now build EV’s – go figure. To conclude, he then looked at his client relations guy standing next to him and explained how he had convinced him to buy a Tesla, and how happy he was by now. Apparently the colleague wasn’t trusted with saying this himself.

In the context of what was supposed to be a serious, institutional investor conference, this was all a bit too much for me so I put up my hand, congratulated the client relations guy on his new car and said I hope firstly he didn’t have a car before, since replacing it with an EV in most cases and for a very long time will be detrimental to the environment and not positive from a total emission perspective, and secondly that I hope he drives a lot, since he’ll need around 100.000 km’s for his Model S to be “net positive” in total CO2 emissions compared to a conventional car. I added that I’d be interested in knowing where the solar panels of the mentioned company were produced. All this made the PM quite excited, and in a rather arrogant way (how dare you question the wisdom of EV’s??) told me that the 100.000 km number was absolutely not correct and based on “biased research by the petroleum industry”. He never gave a number himself. With regards to solar panels, he had to admit that a large part were still produced in China, but “not in the problematic parts”. Stupid me – I wasn’t aware there were parts in China which are not a Communist dictatorship…

It’s been a year and a half since I published one of my most read posts on EV’s and how they won’t save the climate (catch it here if you missed it). One of the main points in that post was on the “CO2 deficit” of EV’s, i.e. the very large amounts of CO2-emitting energy that goes into their battery production. This fact was validated by a study I learnt of recently, commissioned by VW in 2019 and done by the Austrian Joanneum Research Institute together with the German automobile club ADAC and the excellent German Economics Professor Hans-Werner Sinn.

Given the above, it’s safe to say that almost no EV’s make sense from a CO2 emission perspective.

With apologies for the bad quality (coming from the fact that I took a picture of the screen during a presentation by Prof. Sinn), it’s pretty easy to see why VW didn’t want a lot of publicity around the study’s results and instead chose to bury it in a basement somewhere before it was leaked to the public. You see, the results go against the complete electrification VW and all other car makers in the world are currently embarked on. The diagram is based on the total CO2 emissions of a car, so for an EV including the production of batteries, and the two lines depict on one hand an electric Golf and on the other the same car with a diesel engine. As the graph makes painfully clear, for a country with an electricity mix comparable to Germany and Austria (and there’s quite a few of those), the 100.000 km number the PM claimed was exaggerated is actually quite the opposite when compared to an economical diesel engine. If you go by the yellow vertical line that shows the average lifetime of a car in Germany, the EV simply never catches up.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has laid bare especially Europe’s dependency on Russian energy and is now talked about as something that will accelerate the transition to renewables, which on a global basis still make up less than 2% of the energy mix. This reasoning is often accompanied by statements of how solar panels and wind mills will continue to get cheaper according to a version of Moore’s law (which refers to how the number of transistors doubles every two years whilst prices of computers are cut in half). This is quite simply wrong.

Firstly, the material cost of notably metals that go into the production of all renewables has a worth that will always prevent the cost from going below a certain level. Most of those metals have price-wise been at a historical bottom during the last ten years or so, until very recently. If you combine that with a cost of financing that with interest rates at zero has been as low as it can get but is now moving up, everything points to renewables getting more expensive going forward, not the other way around. To which should then be added further issues such as notably the extraction of required metals from great countries like Russia, China and the Congo, the many tons of cement needed for the basements of wind mills and so on. That’s not good news for anyone, especially since the ESG-movement has been very good at preventing any form of investment in oil, gas, and even nuclear, a non-polluting and non-weather dependent form of energy. That’s obviously where it gets stupid.

Coal is still the world’s largest energy source, and no country has more coal mines (and workers) than China

Some countries have a better energy mix than Germany and Austria and with cleaner energy sources, the EV equation improves. There are also initiatives to recycle battery metals and even replace especially cobalt, and there’s obviously research into steady-state batteries and so on. That’s all great, but it won’t be here tomorrow or even in a few years, and the issue of scale is still huge. Quite simply, we are very far away from having the battery or other storage capacity required for an energy system based on renewables, and such a system would also by definition assume massive over-investment, such as to produce enough energy to store when the wind blows and the sun shines. I don’t know about you, but the more I look at wind and solar power, the more I’m convinced that this is not what our future will be built on. I am however as convinced that we will manage to solve the energy equation such as to reduce emissions, quite simply because human creativity is unbeatable at solving challenges, and emissions is a challenge we need to respond to. But we need to be smart about it.

Stock performance YTD per 9 July. It was more fun investing in EV’s last year… Volvo Cars is included as owner of Polestar.

We all suffer at the pump these days and as previously said, things won’t get better anytime soon (rather the contrary if you consider that China has basically been in lock down, i.e. not consuming a lot of anything, in the last months, but is now opening up). I fully understand if you choose to buy an EV, especially if you can produce your own energy through solar panels (preferrably not from China) or otherwise, but please don’t tell your friends how you are helping save the environment by doing so, because in most aspects, you’re not. For those without their own electricity production, unfortunately it can be expected that electricity prices move up as well. It seems the market is starting to realize that as well, as illustrated by the stock price performance of EV’s this year, as illustrated above. I haven’t checked on the recent performance of the funds managed by the PM I met at that conference but looking at the table, I think I have a pretty good idea!

What’s new in the EV world?

Although EV’s are not the focus of this blog, there’s quite a bit happening on the EV front so that I feel it’s worth giving you a small round-up of what I believe to be the most important recent developments. The first thing to point out is obviously that the long awaited jump in EV sales is now really happening. The below graphic gives a nice illustration of where sales are surging (China, Europe and the US in order of importance) and where not (somewhat surprisingly Japan, where EV’s make up less than 5% of all EV sales worldwide. Japan has a lot of hybrids however). Putting these numbers in context shows that EV’s hereby represented 12% of all cars sold in China, approximately 11% in Europe (including PHEV) and 3% in the US. So the growth is clearly there and accelerating, but we’re still not at the point where EV’s are close to taking over.

Tesla claims the two top spots in the US with its models 3 and Y, and the Model 3 is the best selling EV in Europe as well, ahead of the VW ID3, the Renault Zoe and the VW ID4. In China the top seller is a car I’m sure you’re all familiar with – the Wuling Hong Guang MINI EV. No? The Wuling is a Chinese mini electric car, the size that actually makes most sense for an EV. It’s ahead of, yep, the Tesla Model 3 and Y. It’s worth noting that not only do the two Teslas claim the top spots in most markets, they are also by far the most expensive of the EV top sellers, making their numbers even more impressive. It’s also interesting that even in the US, the two other models S and X don’t see many buyers anymore.

The leading Chinese EV is rather small and not very aerodynamic

So much for existing sales, but much more interesting is looking at the new market entrants, and there’s quite a few of those. I’ll focus here on the ones I for different reasons believe are the most important: Mercedes with the EQS and other EV models now being rolled out as representative of the the in my view leading traditional brand, Lucid Motors as the most exciting new EV brand, and to round it off, why not a couple of electric pick-ups?

Mercedes-Benz landed a real PR punch a few weeks ago when it became the first car maker to receive the approval for level three self-driving in Germany. This is a major snub to Tesla but certainly not a coincidence. MB’s Swedish CEO Ola Källenius is not only using social media to the fullest, he’s also repositioning MB as a car maker that will exclusively be building EV’s by 2030. The EQS that came out a few months ago is the flagship in this regard, with the EQE (E-class) and other models now following. I’ve had the opportunity to study the EQS inside and out several times although I haven’t driven it yet, and it’s very surprising to me hearing how various commentators put it on par with the “normal” S-class. Let’s be clear, and take my word for it: if you forget the giant screens and look at other interior materials and perceived quality, the EQS is nowhere near an S-class. At the same time it’s however far ahead of Tesla and other EV’s, but so it should, given it’s also quite a bit more expensive at around EUR 200′ fully equipped. You get a pretty fully equipped, “normal” S-class for that kind of money…

Keep your eyes on the screens – what is below is less fun…

Lucid Motors is the new star on the EV sky and perhaps one that can challenge Mercedes on the luxury EV throne. Lucid’s CEO Peter Rawlinson was previously part of the senior management at Tesla, and the Lucid Air of which a few thousand have been delivered by now is an impressive large sedan that scores high both in quality, space and materials (although given what I mention on the EQS above, I’d like to be the judge of that first). The drive train is no less impressive with up to 1111hp in the top model Air Dream Edition, and a range of around 800 km (in ideal conditions). Interestingly the battery pack operates at 900V which complemented by its size helps speed up charging, something Lucid is happy to talk about. The company comes from California, the cars are built in Arizona and plans are to open up in Europe soon. There’s obviously always a risk with new brands, but Lucid has a lot going for it (including around USD 1bn of Saudi money).

The Lucid is a large car, however not a hatchback as you may think.

We will not see many of the other two EV’s I’ve chosen to mention here in Europe, but the US readers will have the opprtunity to enjoy them. They are both pick-ups, the first being the Hummer EV, easily recognized as a Hummer, meaning it still looks cool and is now fully electric. The roof can be removed in four different parts, and the Hummer also has a lot of other gadgets of the kind that seem to appeal to EV buyers. It’s also the only EV (actually, any car) in the market that can do the crab walk, meaning it can move forward diagonally. I have no clue what the practical side of that is, but I’m sure it’s fun. The second is less known until now, it’s also a US pick-up from a new brand called Rivian. The company has been around for ten years but it’s not until last year they showed their first car, the fully-electric R1T. It’s an interesting concept with quite a few interesting features which are new to the EV world, and it comes at an interesting price point around USD 75′ in the US.

Finally, let me bring you some stories of what life with an EV is like during the winter months in Europe. This is not some I’ve spent hours googling about, rather things I’ve picked up from friends or read about. It’s also not out of a wish to be mean to the EV collective, but it seems important to me that if the plan to have the whole world drive these, we need to know what’s going on out there – even in the European winter.

  • A colleague of mine set out from northern Europe to the French Alps in his Model S for a week’s skiing with the family. With around 1.000 km to drive, they needed to charge three times on the way there, as the real range in the winter months is only 250-300 kms. When they picked up the car from the (unheated) parking a week later, the battery was almost empty as it had lost a few km range every day by just being parked when it was cold outside. They just about made it to the next charging station.
  • A friend of mine put his Model X on support charging in northern Sweden as you’re supposed to, however the smaller, second battery that powers notably the screens froze, making the car unusable. I don’t know whether this was his fault or not but as a result the car had to be transported back to Stockholm on a tow truck, over 500 km away, since there was no garage in upper Sweden that could assist.
Not ideal when you’re 500 km away from the nearest garage…
  • A lady in Germany wanted to pick up her new electric VW herself at the factory in Wolfsburg to save the EUR 700 delivery costs VW required for sending it to Munich where she lives. That was a bad idea. The 600 km back home took her more than 12 hours with three charging stops. She was also freezing cold during the whole trip since the car apparently warned her from turning on the heating, as it would cost too much energy. VW told her she should have planned her charging stops better – but perhaps VW should build a car that would save her the work, as Tesla has been doing now for close to 10 years?

Let’s be clear on a couple of points. EV’s are an interesting alternative with a more efficient engine than a classical combustion engine – under certain conditions. In cold temperatures they are very far from the range claims being made, and also run into various other issues. Range anxiety during the winter months is thus very much still an issue. Also, some of the above problems could probably have been avoided by more informed buyers and owners, but as EV’s as rolled out in large numbers, we can certainly not demand of all drivers to be EV experts. Issues such as the above need to be solved by manufacturers, as spending 12 hours in an unheated car in the middle of winter shouldn’t be the future thrill of driving!

Can E-fuels save traditional mobility?

Readers of this blog know of my scepticism towards EV’s, not as a concept but as a solution to climate-related issues. I wrote about this in a recent post you can find here, so I won’t repeat myself. To be fair, things are moving in the right direction at least with regards to some of the issues raised, as I also highlighted in my recent post about Mercedes’s new EQS (see here). It does however remain the case that even if EV manufacturers become climate-neutral in their production, as long as the country they produce in is not 100% based on green energy, what they achieve is basically nothing put pushing the dirty energy consumption on to the next guy.

Even the steel is said to be climate neutral in a few years in the production of the EQS and other MB EV’s

There is however another BIG issue around EV’s that no one seems really keen to talk about, namely what on earth we’re supposed to do with the millions of fully functional cars we currently have on our streets, if the plan is to roll out EV’s for all? Don’t laugh, the question risks becoming very real as various European governments start fixing end dates for the sale of new combustion engines. A logical next step is then to start discussing bans on existing cars. But what is the plan for millions of existing and fully functional cars, and even more, what is the carbon footprint of destroying millions of existing cars and building new EV’s? Funnily, this is an aspect that is completely absent from the discussion.

I’m of an optimistic nature so I’d like to think that realism will prevail in the end – a realism that for me needs to be based on a future for traditional mobility – especially (and I’m finally getting to the topic of this week’s post), since traditional mobility doesn’t necessarily mean traditional fuels going forward. The development of so called e-fuels is progressing rapidly, and this week we’ll look at whether they are the solution that will allow for a more reasonable solution to the issue of traditional, personal mobility.

A new 12-cylinder will never be built, but it would be nice if we could still save the old ones!

Electrofuels, also called e-fuels or synthetic fuels, are produced exclusively from renewable energy. Without going into the technical details, in the case of car fuel it means producing hydrogen from clean energy, to which CO2, extracted from other sources, is added. The result is emission-free hydrocarbon, and the resulting synthetic fuels are no technically different to conventional fuels. They can thus power the same cars without modifications and also use the existing fueling infrastructure. A further big advantage is that e-fuels don’t compete with food production, a big problem for example with ethanol production that isn’t very compatible with the world’s need to feed another 3bn people until 2050, using less resources. Disadvantages? Unfortunately, there are a few, and they’re rather big.

Firstly, e-fuels don’t solve the issue of clean energy going to its use as long as the full economy doesn’t use clean energy, as you’re basically just pushing the emission onto someone else. As we’ll see below the clean energy used for e-fuels is produced very far away and thus not cannibalizing on anything else, but this is not a viable, long-term concep. Secondly, e-fuels offer far less efficiency than electricity, as long as electricity production is local. This is however an important point given that, as noted, most countries are still not 100% green in their energy production. So either you push the emission problem onto the next user as noted above, or, and this is not unrealistic, we’ll start importing for example solar energy from a sunny place such as the Middle East. If that becomes the case, then hydrogen all of a sudden becomes very competitive in terms of efficiency as it can be transported much more easily. Thirdly and lastly, as you will have guessed, the production process for e-fuels is far from cheap, and it will still take time and probably also some further technological innovations to solve both the cost and thereby also the required scale issue.

Wind turbines of Project Haru Oni off Chile’s coast

A number of automakers are looking into e-fuels as an alternative or complement to EV’s, none more than Porsche which currently runs a project called Haru Oni off the coast of Chile (where it’s very windy). They do so together with notably Siemens, and the logic for Porsche is that because of the points above and others, conventional electricity alone will not be enough to move to a clean car fleet fast enough, in view of other – rising – electricity needs in the world. The project is still in its early days but by removing CO2 out of the air through wind power and combining it with hydrogen, it aims to produced 130.000 litres of fuel next year, and 550 million litres in 2026. As a reference, around 23bn litres of fuel were consumed in Germany last year so although a lot, it would take many more such installations to get anywhere near the volume required to make this a viable alternative on a larger scale. The cost so far remains a mystery, but it’s clear that it’s nowhere near being a reasonable consumer alternative at this stage.

So at least for now, it remains at best unclear whether e-fuels will give a future to combustion engines. It’s however good to see that some thinking around fuel alternatives is going on and who knows, as so often before, maybe there will be other innovations along the way that allow for even better solutions in the end. It would however be high time for some realism to enter the discussion around EV’s and our future mobility. It would also be desirable with some political willingness to engage in discussions on where the electricity is supposed to come from in the emission-free world, when many countries in parallel wish to phase out nuclear? This can’t possibly be something only a few engineers at Porsche have thought about? And finally, perhaps someone can tell us what the plan is for the many millions of fully-functioning cars in the world? Reality is slightly more complex than what the current debate would have you believe and the sooner we’re mature enough to engage in a difficult but highly necessary discssion on it, the better.

The EV market takes off for real

Ten days ago, in a flashy, high-tech online show that you can watch here if you missed it, Mercedes-Benz presented the new EQS, the fully electric version of the S-class. I would claim that rather than just another car launch, the EQS is a real game-changer in the EV market, and likewise the last confirmation needed that the big guys are now entering this segment for real. Interestingly, it’s also a (positive!) game changer with regards to environmental factors and sustainability. This week we’ll take a look at the new EQS, which even without considering the drive train looks to be one hell of a car, and talk a bit more about why it’s important and how it will influence the market going forward. If your love for traditional cylinders (to which we’ll return next week) runs so deep that it prevents you from reading any further, in summary I think you can say that whereas the planned Super League in European football came to a very sudden death this week, there will be nothing stopping the EV Super League from taking off in 2021!

Starting with the EQS, In one simple sentence it can of course be described as an electric S-class, whis is perhaps what many people will do – but that would mean missing the whole point. Because by bringing an S-class to the EV market, Mercedes is also bringing a whole new level of luxury and car quality, where until now the only luxury has been Tesla’s giant infotainment screen.

The new EQS – notice the very long wheelbase

Starting from the bottom (literally), the EQS is built on Mercedes’s first EV-specific platform. So far EV’s not only from the Stuttgart brand but also from other large manufacturers have been built on traditional platforms, and this makes a big difference as one specifically developed for EV’s can take into account the absence of an engine and battery space far better. The new platform can also be adapted to different car sizes, something Mercedes intends to do as it rolls out an electric version of all cars in its current line-up over the coming years, some of them already in 2021. To those who know Tesla this is obviously not new, however what happens above the platform, inside the car, definitely is.

The EQS doesn’t look like an S-class and is actually a hatchback (without a frunk, as that space is taken up by various air-cleaning filters). At over 5.20 metres it’s a big car, with lots of interior space, and luggage space of around 650 litres (in addition to which you can fold the rear seats). If the design can be debated, what cannot is the fact that it’s the most aerodynamic car currently in production, with a Cw/Cd-value of 0.20. Also not open to debate is not only the quality, but also the innovativeness of the interior space, at or beyond S-class level. The most spectacular parts are probably the (optional) self-opening-and-closing doors and the gigantic so called hyperscreen (actually consisting of three screens) that extends over the whole dashboard and enables the passenger to for example watch Youtube whilst the driver has access to the navigation. Noteworthy is also that front and rear passengers are independent both in infotainment and speech commands, and chan thus address the car by “Hey Mercedes” independently of each other. The EQS also sets new standards in driver profiles and indiviualization, and the list goes on, and on, and on. Two interior design lines are planned, a more elegant and a more sporty one, and if the hyperscreen for some reason isn’t your thing, you can opt for the mid-mounted “iPad” of the new, “normal” S-class instead – a simple example of how a large car manufacturer can cross-fertilize various items between product lines.

The hyperscreen in the elegant layout version

The EQS is set to come to dealers this summer and will initially be available with 333 or 524 hp as rear- and all-wheel drive. An AMG version is set to follow later. The range will be up to 770 km WLTP, which should translate to something like 600-650 km in real life under pretty ideal conditions. This is a really important point, as no one has so far been able to compete with Tesla’s superior range – until now. Prices aren’t known, German media expect them to start around EUR 110.000 (with as always an almost unlimited upside…), which means pretty much on par or actually even slightly below the regular S-class. Mercedes have stated that they will earn less by car produced than for conventional cars, which in turn means they believe strongly in the growth of the EV segment. If pricing at this level is confirmed it goes against what has been the case so far, where EV-versions from traditional brands such as the Audi E-tron or the MB EQC tend to come at a premium to diesel or petrol versions.

The hatchback rear with the mandatory light bar

As stated previously on this blog, I don’t subscribe to the view that the big car companies have missed the EV train, quite simply as it hasn’t left the station yet. Although the amount of media attention it gets would make you believe it’s already a significant percentage of new car sales, the global EV market is still around only 2%, however with growth really starting to take off in selected markets in Europe, as well as in California and other places. Also, if you except small EV’s with a 150 km range, the market has basically been owned Tesla until now, as we know a three-model car company with only one of them, the Model 3, selling outside of the US, and with the exception of improved range and software, no significant facelifts or updates since the models were launched. I’m sure most large car brands have watched the market carefully whilst preparing in the background for the day growth takes off, and nowhere more so than in Germany. From that perspective, Mercedes’s timing looks pretty impeccable to me. The VW group is about to introduce its new EV platform with notably 20 electric Audi models rolled out over the coming five years, and others will follow close behind. Given the expertise all of these have in building not only cars, but also real luxury cars, the fundamentals of the market are probably about to change, which in turn will make life hard for Tesla, especially in Europe.

Last but not least, let me come back on the sustainability of EV’s that I was very critical of in my post back in January (see here), and that indeed still deserves to be looked at critically, notably in terms of the “CO2 cost” of battery production. If you saw the introduction of the EQS, you may have noted Mercedes CEO Ola Källenius saying that the battery train of the EQS will be produced in Germany in a carbon-neutral way. This sounded a bit too good to be true, so I was in touch with Mercedes’s customer relations this week to have it confirmed, and very impressively, they came back to me in 24 hours. Not only did they confirm that from the first car built, the EQS’s battery pack will be produced exclusively with fossil-free, CO2-neutral energy. They also said that every Mercedes factory in the world will be carbon-neutral by 2022, with some of those in Germany already being so. This is obviously very good as it resolves one of the main issues around EV’s, and will hopefully influence both the public and competitors..

The car can still charge quicker than most stations, but Ionity has really taken off!

EV’s have a lot going for them, and resolving some of the issues with the battery production adds to the positive list. I believe that what Mercedes now starts with the EQS will be a game-changer for the direction of the EV market, as others can be expected to follow close on their heels. In parallel, the European Ionity charging network is growing quickly, already providing a far better coverage than could be expected a few months ago. So whereas I still don’t think you should take your 10-year old car to the car scrap, it definitely looks like the future is electric, and that it may happen quick than I would have thought only a few months ago. Thus, if I were in the market for a new S-class, I would probably think twice about which one to get. In a couple of years, maybe that won’t even be the main question for the typical S-class buyer, but rather if an S-class can really be a hatchback…