…Which is the better one this year…

The field of (mostly) battery-electric cages consists of (in North America):

 

-Chevy Volt (battery-only plug-in for short ranges, piston ICE for long trips or emergencies)

-Nissan Leaf (fully battery-only operation)

-Mitsubishi MIEV/i (battery only, very limited availability)

-Tesla Roadster and Model S (battery only, limited availability)

-Fisker Karma (piston extender for trips, limited availability)

-BMW ActiveE (leased to limited trial customers only)

 

Soon to be joined by Honda and Ford battery-only offerings.  The field of battery-electric motorcycles and scooters also has choices:

 

-Zero Motorcycles (several models, all battery-only)

-Vectrix (scooter once available, now less so)

-GPR-S (once available, now less so)

-Brammo (one model once available, newer models pending)

 

In addition, BRD, KTM, and Agility have promised electric motos “soon,” while MotoCzysz, Honda, and BMW are showing rideable prototypes for future availabilities.  Kawasaki and Triumph are also causing rumors, while Lightning is happy getting buzz, not sales.  Some of these companies you’ve heard of, of course- and some are fresh-faced startups.  Welcome to the start of an S-curve.

 

Not all of these models will be successes, of course.  If anyone could do it, everyone would.  Anyone can’t, but these forward-thinking builders think they’re it.  Which ones will it be? I’ll post my thoughts…

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Born Free, as Free as the Glass Shows

Speaking of hybrids, it’s a great time to be into cameras.  In the digital era, there were only compacts (“Point-and-Shoots”) and dSLRs (“Big Iron”). Either you had a little consumer digicam, or a pro Beast.

No longer. All the names you’ve heard of now have something in between: the “mirrorless” or CSC (Compact System Camera).

Olympus and Panasonic: Micro Four Thirds
Samsung: NX series
Sony: NEX series (E-mount)
Pentax: Q series, and K-01
Fuji: X-Pro and X100
Nikon: J1 and V1

Today, Canon finally announced their EOS M. And the battle is joined.

The difference, of course, is that with a mirrorless/CSC/whatever, you can swap out lenses to improve detail and other factors for the situation at hand. Meanwhile, you don’t have the mirror box and pentaprism of an SLR, which are nowadays baggage from the era of film. I’ll go into detail on those later.

Then, of course, there’s the “Phantom Menace” of photography: cellphone cams. Since a cellphone cam is a real camera, the market has, technically, been completely upended. Cellphones with cameras not only outsell all other camera classes, but all other camera classes combined, dSLRs in particular. And they aren’t crappy, either. While there’s only so much you can stuff in a pocketable bar, the sensor arrays and optical trains have been around the block. Sure, the first camera phones were grainy and noisy, even in good light. No longer.

I’ll continue on why this is a big deal… longer.

“there’ll be a better one in 2-3 years”

In tech, any time something new comes out, you’ll sometimes hear “…there’ll be a better one in two to three years.” If that something new is particularly advanced, it becomes “…in three to five years.” The natural response is “really?” The logical response is “so?” As in, so you don’t own a computer of any type, or a camera, a nice cell phone, video game, or any other sort of digital media?

If you let two to three years rule this year, then nothing happens. There is ALWAYS something coming years from now, and the best you can do is draw your own criteria for purchase. When something crosses the line, and there isn’t something else juuust about to be released (i.e., some sort of date given, credibly), then go ahead and purchase. The computer or camera or whatever wasn’t going to last forever, anyway, so why make that artificial, clingy claim? (See: sunk cost, in economics.)

Cars and motorcycles and other inertia-limited systems don’t quite make the same progress as computers and other electronics. (And they’re capital equipment, in a sense, so one might be a little clingier on such a large outlay.) Unless, of course… that car or motorcycle or whatever happens to be electronic…

http://www.motorcycledaily.com/2012/03/md-quick-rides-2012-zero-s-and-brammo-enertia/

“At some point, we’ll have to stop saying “the electrics are coming,” and start saying “the electrics are here. And I suspect we won’t realize when that moment has come and gone. We may already have passed it.”

-Gabe Ets-Hokin, Motorcycle Daily

We are now in, I reckon, Generation 3 of electrics. There was Generation 1, of course- the early electrics, back when gasoline was smelly and hard to buy and needed lots of maintenance. I’m talking about the 1900s, of course, and people weren’t sure whether this newfangled “piston engine” would outcompete the electrics. Dr. Porsche’s first cars were more electric than the competition, because he could make electrics perform better. That’s right, electric cars and hybrids have been around for over a century, and Porsche was right there in the running. Motorcycles, too.

Fast forward oh, seventy years. Victor Wouk builds the first modern hybrid, adding batteries to a Buick Skylark. It wasn’t quite ready for prime time, though, as those batteries were lead-acids. Little heavy. Let’s call it Generation 1.5.

Another twenty-five years (a human generation) brings us the GM Impact/EV1, a full-on electric car. It is soon followed by an electric Ford Ranger. Both of these still had lead-acid batteries. None of these were sold in quantity to the public, outside of select demo customers and sales to utility fleets. Still, these were fully drivable, street-legal automobiles, racking up miles on public roads. Generation 2.0 had arrived, though it departed too.

…At least, the full electrics departed. At this same time, the Big Three built the PNGV demonstrator (Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle), while Toyota was working on G21 (for ‘Generation 21st Century’). The G21 turned into the Prius in a few years, while the PNGV… was forgotten by the Big Three. The Big Three were happy to make SUVs, until oil prices rose, and the Prius was ready and waiting. This is Generation 2.1 or 2.5, and Ford eventually joined Toyota and Honda in it, while GM continued to hedge with weak assist. The big difference is nickel-metal hydride battery chemistries (NiMH), which were still a bit new when the Impact/EV1 was released. Nickel beats lead, and NiMH beats lead-acid, no prob.

Generation 2.6 or 3.0, in turn, substitutes lithium batteries for NiMH. Lithiums existed at the time of the Prius; Toyota claimed they just couldn’t get them in quantity, in good quality, at good prices. But with lithium chemistries, full-on battery vehicles become worthwhile again. Nissan sells the Leaf, Mitsubishi the iMIEV (or just “i” in some markets), Honda will soon have a battery-electric vehicle, and GM… is still hedging with the Volt/Ampera hybrid.

The motorcycles haven’t taken a backseat. Battery-electric motorcycles have been knocking around, but not competitively. No range, no highway passing, no grunt off a stoplight. Until now: upgraded lithium variants and better drivetrains (controllers, power switches, and of course motors) mean the practical electric motorcycle is within reach. I’ll go into more detail on that later.

I’ve ordered mine. There’ll be a better one in two or three years, you say? Great, let’s see it.