Mar 1, 2005 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Here On Earth http://wpr.org/HereOnEarth/ is a global cultural affairs call-in program from Wisconsin Public Radio, carried by 16 midwestern radio stations and heard online internationally. Last Saturday, the weekly program featured "A New Breed of Cars" . Host was WPR Senior Broadcaster Jean Feraca http://wpr.org/HereOnEarth/bio.cfm, a poet and 25-year veteran of public talk radio. She interviewed Keith Johnston from GoinGreen in London and Felix Kramer from CalCars.
GoinGreen's story is fascinating and encouraging. We were astonished at the level of incentives and benefits drivers of electric vehicles (and, we hope, soon plug-in hybrids) can get in London. And we had fun talking about some subjects that don't usually come up -- like the sounds of electric driving.
You can hear the stream from
http://wpr.org/HereOnEarth/archive_060225k.cfm, download a podcast
version, or go directly to
minutes, Real Audio).
Here's the unofficial transcript (thanks to Greg Wiley and our second
"Here on Earth" intro ("Here on Earth" in several languages) [Jetson's theme music][ Jean Feraca, host]: [0:38] In the 1960s futuristic cartoon series "The Jetsons," produced for television by Hanna Barbera, George Jetson's family got around in a car that levitated! Well, we're not quite there yet - - but believe it or not, NASA is working on it. In June, NASA unveiled its "Highway in the Sky" navigation system, which is designed to make piloting into a veritable video game - - moving us closer to the possibility of sky-based commuting. Meanwhile, on the ground, the future is already here - - with electric cars that are designed in California, made in Bangalore, and driven in London. And, the new Plug-In Hybrids, that average more than 100 miles per gallon. Would you buy one? Maybe you already drive one...[1:35]
[Two Brits, from tape]
- "I do think it's very neat."
- "The engine's on, is it?"
- "The engine is on."
- "I didn't hear anything, though..."
- "That's because it's electric - - there's nothing to hear. That's now in gear... all you do is and off you go."
- "Alright... extraordinary!"[1:57]
[Host] That's the BBC's Peter Day, taking a test drive in his new electric car. And joining us now to talk about the electric cars, that are becoming more and more popular in London, is KEITH: JOHNSTON. He is the Managing Director of "GoinGreen," K's first dedicated environmentally friendly car retailer.< http://www.goingreen.co.uk
I'm JEAN FERACA. You're listening to "Here on Earth" - - radio without borders, where this hour we are featuring the future of the car. Keith: Johnston, welcome to Here on Earth.[2:32]
KEITH: Jean, good afternoon.
JEAN: The electric car, that Peter Day just got into and drove off... that's your car!
KEITH: Yes it is. We started selling them in London just over 18 months ago now, and since then we've sold about 500. Now, that may not sound like many, but we don't advertise at all; that's all been done by word of mouth.
JEAN: And, who's buying them? People who are like Peter Day, who are very much "in the know"? People who are educated into the environmental and economic benefits of the car? What's it called, by the way, this car?
KEITH: It's called a "G-Wiz".
JEAN: A "G-Wiz"... that's right.
KEITH: Yeah, I mean, in terms of the profile of our customers, it's everyone from late teens to people in their late 60s. I guess as a marketing person, the typical bullseye target audience is someone in their late 30s, early 40s; it's people who obviously have an environmental conscience, and are concerned about the impact that cars are having on the world now and, you know, probably who have children and want to make sure that there's something left for them when they grow up.[3:56]
JEAN: But are they having FUN with the G-Wiz car?
KEITH: The G-Wiz is great fun! It's a little, small car, I mean I guess if I could describe it, it's designed as an urban commuter car. It's a two-door, two-plus-two seats, a hatchback; it's fully automatic. It has a top speed of 40 miles an hour and a range of about 40 miles. That doesn't sound like much, but in the UK, the average journey is only eight miles, and in cities it's only two miles, and something like 75% of all journeys are done under two miles. So it's ideal as the urban runabout, and that's what it's being used for. I mean, it's pretty much people who are leaving their BMWs or Porsches or saloon(?) cars at home, doing the same journey on our congested roads in London at the same speed, in the same time. The difference is they're doing in completely emissions-free mode, and at the same time, they're saving may 1000... what, say maybe $1500 a month by doing so.
JEAN: So this is really a second car...
KEITH: Yes it is. That's because of the limitations of the technology. I think that the way to think about it is it's like the first computer. The first computer I had was a Commodore computer - - it had games on it, it was a bit slow, and a bit clunky, you know, and sometimes it didn't work as reliably as other computers do now, but it was the first one, and that's the point - - it's available here, it works, and people are buying it. It's the first generation, and the technology is starting to change now... it's getting very exciting. [One of] the critical components of an electric car is the batteries, and the G-Wiz uses what are called Lead-acid batteries. This is the old style of technology, that most cars with an internal combustion engine will have to start the car in the first place. They're very reliable, but their performance is limited, as I say 40 miles an hour in a 40 mile range. I mean if you go back, the very first cars were actually electric. Not many people know this I think.
JEAN: And all the way back - - to the 1880s, or something like that...
KEITH: Well, it depends where you start, but in 1839, the electric carriage was invented when they got rid of the horses and put in an electric motor in the carriage instead. If you go to around the turn of the 20th century, there were something like 35,000 cars in the U.S., but almost all of those were electric, not gasoline. Dr. Porsche's first car was electric, I believe. Many of the innovations that you see in cars today are actually over 100 years old. Hybrid-electric vehicles - - they're not a new thing: they were around 100 years ago. Four-wheel-drive was around a hundred years ago. What happened was, when the oil companies realized that this fuel could be used to drive cars (and that everybody wanted a car), they cozied up with the auto companies and made this very nice duopoly, this very powerful one, which has lasted for 100 years now. And they've just had the market tied up. So of course nobody got to invest in the electric car or hybrid technology that was there all that time ago.
JEAN: And so what are the forces that have brought it back to the fore now? And tell us a little about your own company, GoinGreen...[7:24]
KEITH: Ok. Well, let me start by giving you a few numbers. I mean, like I say, the whole market started 100 years ago. Cars started then, but it was pretty slow to take off. By 1970, there were only 200 million cars in the world; but just 15 years later, that number doubled to nearly 400 million, and then ten years after that, it had gone up to about 500 million and today there's over 600 million cars. And the forecast is that by 2020, it's going to double: there's going to be about 1.2 billion cars and trucks in the world! The numbers are crazy - - by that time, there'll be as many cars in China as there are in the world today; traffic congestion is going to be about ten times worse than it is today, if that's possible... I don't see how that's going to happen in London: ten times worse would mean there was just nothing moving at all.
JEAN: And what you mean is... go ahead
KEITH: Congestion is one of the things that's a driver, but it's not just the volume of cars that's a cause for concern. I mean, not many people realize that there choice of car has a greater environmental impact than any other choice they make as a consumer. Transport is now the single largest user of energy - - mostly oil of course - - something like a third of all fossil fuels are used for transport. And oil is running out; I mean, cheap oil is soon going to be a thing of the past, and it's never going to come back. And we're still, because we're burning so much carbon in our car engines, transport's also the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases, of course.
JEAN: But doesn't electricity also depend on fossil fuel?
KEITH: Not necessarily, no. Here in the U.K., everyone who drives a G-Wiz switches to green electricity tariffs, and in the U.K., this effectively means wind. So, what happens is - - it's a bit of a fudge at the moment - - but the utility companies, for every Kilowatt-hour that's taken out and used to charge the car, they'll put a Kilowatt-hour of clean energy in, wind energy into the system. So there's this "brown electricity" as it's called, which is not the ideal solution, but it's the first step, I think.
A couple of things about electricity is that it's not [necessarily] dependent on fossil fuels to make it - - that's the point. You can generate it from wind, from solar of course, and the big debate is nuclear, you know. But, whichever you use, the point is it doesn't [necessarily] rely on Carbon to generate it.[10:06]
JEAN: Um-hm. So the purpose of GoinGreen? What is it that makes this unique? Why is it that... HOW is it that you're able to offer this electric car at fairly reasonable rates? And by the way, how much does a G-Wiz cost?
KEITH: It costs just under 8,000 pounds, which is what, about $13,000 U.S. I think? It came about three years ago when two of our founders were actually in India on a leaders quest - - a personal development course - - and they came across this prototype that had been designed in California and was being made in Bangalore in fact. And, at that time, we knew that here in London, the congestion charge was going to be introduced. And this originally was a five pound per day charge, that is now 8 pounds perday, 40 per week, just to travel into the center of town. And, so what the guys did is we got this exemption for electric vehicles, or for any emissions-free vehicle, which is only electric at the moment.
JEAN: Let me just stop you for a moment. So, I want to make sure I understand. In other words, it costs - - you have to pay a fine in order to go into downtown with a regular car?
KEITH: Yeah. I mean, the U.K. has got amongst the most congested roads in Europe now, and it's got so bad in London, that the mayor of London introduced this in February of 2003. So, if you wanted - - there are nine million of us in London, and a lot of people work in Center City - - if you want to drive your car in now, you pay this daily levy of eight pounds. [JEAN "I see..."] So this - - apart from the fact that it's expensive - - this really annoyed a lot of people, as you can imagine. They suddenly had to pay all this extra money just to go to work. Or, you know, if you worked wherever it was...
So, that gave us the idea that now might be a good time for us to launch an emission-free car. And of course, that, plus the whole environmental debate as that started to come up the agenda, and here in the U.K. it gets a lot of media coverage now. So it's this coming together of factors, really, that gave us the right environment to launch. The fact that oil is getting very expensive; the environmental [problem] - - somebody has to do something about it.
Now, apart from a commercial interest and adventure, our social purpose, really, with the business, is to combat climate change - - by showing people, whether that's drivers, the government, or the media, that it IS possible not only to travel cleanly without incurring higher costs - - because most people don't want to pay a premium to green their transport behavior. There's this thing called the attitude-action gap: we know from research that awareness is very high, but that people don't want to be the first to make the change if it's going to cost them money. So we knew we had to find a way of launching an electric car that didn't cost people more money. And that was the key...
So we don't look much like a car company, really. What we've tried to do is take the cost out as much as possible. So, I said the car is made in Bangalore, so a manufacturer can make it much more cost-effectively than in most other places. And, with us, we sell direct to the customer - - we have no dealers; we have no showrooms, [or] expensive real estate; we don't advertise at all - - it's all viral or by word of mouth or from the media picking up on it. We don't print brochures, we don't employ any car salesmen. It's all done over the Internet at goingreen.co.uk, our website.[14:00]
JEAN: We're talking with KEITH: Johnston - - he's the Managing Director of GoinGreen, UK's first dedicated environmentally-friendly car retailer. They sell the G-Wiz, which is now on the road, being driven by 500 Londoners. I'm Jean Feraca. You're listening to "Here on Earth" - - radio without borders, where this hour, we are talking about the future of the car, which is NOW. We're at 1-800-642-1234. Would you buy an electric car? Do you already have one?
[Musical, commercial and station ID interlude][15:38]
JEAN: I'm Jean Feraca. You're listening to "Here on Earth," where this hour we're talking about the future of the car. With us is KEITH: Johnston, Managing Director of GoinGreen, UK's first dedicated, environmentally-friendly car retailer. An joining us now from - - I think it is Palo Alto, in California - - is FELIX KRAMER, who is the Founder of Calcars, also a non-profit initiative working to spur adoption of efficient, non-polluting automotive technologies. Felix Kramer, welcome to "Here on Earth" [and] thank you so much for being with us...[16:13]
FELIX: Hi Jean!
JEAN: Hi. Now you've been working on a new form of the hybrid car - - something called the... ah... tell me... FELIX: plug-in hybrid JEAN: Thank you! Why is it I can't keep that in my head? The plug-in hybrid! And, exactly, how is it different from the hybrid itself?
FELIX: Well, you start with understanding how a hybrid works: a hybrid is an efficient gasoline car - - it uses electric technology to make the gasoline go farther. So it does two things: When you stop at a stop light, the car goes off entirely - - there's no idling. And when it starts up again, it starts from the electric motor and then the gasoline engine kicks in. That's the first saving.
The second saving is actually a greater saving: you spend a lot of energy going up a hill. On the way down, in a conventional car, you lose all that energy - - it just [disappears] out the window or to your brake shoes, to friction. But in a hybrid car, you put that energy back - - through what's called regenerative braking - - into a battery, and then you use that with the electric motor. And you save [recapture] about half of the energy that you used going up the hill.
So, a hybrid car - - all you can do is fill it with gasoline, but it can double the miles per gallon of a gasoline car.
JEAN: Ok... I just want to go through this one more time. There's the electric car that we've been talking about, that is already being driven in London. The hybrid car combines the features of the electric with the old-fashioned gas-fueled car...
FELIX: Well, as you said, you're already driving a car that has electric components in it - - every car does. Every car has a starter motor and a small battery. A pure electric car does away with all of the gasoline components. A hybrid car has a larger battery and it can drive very briefly - - some of them can drive briefly electric only, but for just a very small distance. But they are, effectively - - the only important thing to think about is where does the power come from? All hybrids, it comes from gasoline; in a pure electric vehicle, it comes from the power grid. And, as Keith: was saying, the power grid can get cleaner and cleaner.
So now we go to the mixture of the two...[18:39]
JEAN: It gets cleaner and cleaner... how?
OK, my favorite thing about what people say about electric cars is that an electric car is the only vehicle that can get cleaner as it gets older - - because the power grid gets cleaner. Right now, 20 states in the United States are under a mandate to increase the amount of renewable power that goes into the power grid; and all over the world, people are figuring out how to make the power grid cleaner. It's much easier to clean one electric power plant than 100,000 cars. So, if you transfer the energy production and so forth to the power plants, rather than to the engine of a car, you've got a much easier job. And in fact there are many ways you can make power plants cleaner.
JEAN: And that is by increased use of wind and solar?
FELIX: Well, many things - - wind and solar; natural gas is cleaner than coal. Very few power plants in the United States use gasoline, but some do in other countries. But the trend is towards cleaner electric power.
JEAN: So I'm imagining the possibility of all of us driving hybrid cars, and what happens during a brown-out or a black-out?
FELIX: Well, a hybrid car doesn't help you very much. A plug-in hybrid would, or an electric vehicle would. If you imagine... let's just take this further and explain the plug-in hybrid and then we can look at the whole picture of the three different vehicle types. JEAN: OK
FELIX: A plug-in hybrid is the logical extension of the hybrid car. If you take that hybrid car and you add a larger battery, and then you add the ability to recharge that battery from the power grid. Right now, in hybrids, the battery only gets charged, effectively, from gasoline. But if you can plug that in, you now have two power sources going into the car. So you can actually think of a plug-in hybrid as having a small second fuel tank - - but instead of filling that fuel tank with gasoline, you fill it with electricity. And you do it - - you use it first, you fill it at home from an ordinary socket, and the cost is equivalent to less than a dollar a gallon. So you're filling it with electricity which is cheaper, cleaner, and it's generally domestic power - - it's not imported from the Middle East or from other places.
So now we have these three different situations. A plug-in hybrid is an electric vehicle for your local travel, and it is a hybrid car, a hybrid gasoline car, for your extended range. So let's say you have a battery in your plug-in hybrid that has a 30 mile range, and your daily commute is 20 miles.[21:15]
So in this case, you don't need two cars.
FELIX: You don't need two cars. With the G-Wiz, that's a commuter car; that's a local-travel car. But if you want to take that out of town, you run into the problem that electric vehicles have had forever, which is extended range - - what's going to happen? Am I going to run out of juice?
With the plug-in hybrid, you don't have that problem, because you have the gasoline engine. So, under several circumstances - - if your daily commute is under 20 miles and you have a 30-mile battery, you could go for months without going to a gas station. But one day, let's say you forget to plug it in - - you're at a friend's house or it's just not convenient or you forget it; that next day, you're driving a clean hybrid car! If you want to go to the mountains, hundreds of miles away, you're driving a clean hybrid car - - a pretty efficient car - - all those miles. But for local travel, it's electric, and generally what this means is that about 80 or 85% of the miles most people put on their cars will be electric miles, and with all the advantages that that brings.
JEAN: So really this is much more adaptable to the American lifestyle?
Well, it's not actually even so much the American lifestyle - - it's the American advertising message. Cars are sold in television ads as being about freedom and the open road. JEAN: ...see the USA in your Chevrolet! ... " FELIX: That's right, that's right. And so even if it's your second car - - most people say, 'supposing one day I want to travel hundreds of miles in my second car?' They insist on having unlimited range - - and what we at Calcars.org are saying is that there's the freedom of the open road, but there's also the freedom of emissions of global warming gases, and the freedom of [from] relying on imported power, and a plug-in hybrid gives you those freedoms as well. And it doesn't sacrifice anything - - it's the best of both worlds...
JEAN: So, are people actually driving them yet?
FELIX: There are a handful of people. We built some prototypes, and other people have as well. One car-maker, DaimlerChrysler, has built a large vehicle, a Sprinter, 15-passenger van, and it's interesting, based on what Keith: was talking about, [that] one of the reasons they were interested in this is that a lot central cities in Europe, particularly, are starting to say you have to have a zero-emission car in your center cities [JF, "or you can't come in..."] Yeah, and so this Sprinter van, which can go unlimited range, when it's in the city, can go all-electric, and when it's out on the highway, it can be gasoline. So we're trying to get there, and our big point is to get the car-makers to build them, but so far, it's a small number of prototypes. A few people have built them, but there's been a tremendous interest and last week, we had the President of the United States talking about plug-in hybrids for the first time ever.
JEAN: And why was that, do you think? I mean, old oil man that he is... why all of a sudden, this tremendous shift?
FELIX: Well, he joked about it - - he said 'you must be surprised to hear a Texas oil guy talking about this...', and the reason is, [is] that everybody in the United States right now is talking about dependency on foreign oil. And a plug-in hybrid can be a 100+ mile per gallon vehicle... and [aside], there's no free lunch here: it's 100+ miles per gallon of gasoline, plus electricity. And then if you go the next step and you start switching the range-extender fuel - - the fuel you use for your long distance - - from gasoline to a mixture, for instance, of 85% ethanol / 15% gasoline, then you can actually have a plug-in hybrid that's a five-hundred-mile-per-gallon-of-gasoline car, with the additional power coming from electricity and ethanol.[24:52]
JEAN: Now, is the President DOING anything to...
FELIX: He's doing a little, and he needs to do more. And what we would love him to do best would be to call up the car companies and say, 'hey - everybody wants these cars; how can we make it easier for you to build them?' That's what Calcars.org is doing. We're promoting these vehicles and we're partnering with other organizations; for instance, there's a group called "Plug-In Partners" dot org, which is organizing fleet buys among cities, and municipalities, and corporations around the country to come up with a buy order to take to a car company, saying 'You're saying nobody wants these cars'? Well, here we are!
JEAN: How often do fleets change?
FELIX: Well, a fleet car... any car actually... the U.S. Fleet turns over about 10% a year. And it's interesting that fleet managers are the most hard-nosed people of all, and they look at a number that almost no one else does, which is the total lifetime cost of ownership of a car. And when you look at that number, which takes into account the purchase price, all the cost of service, and the fuel price over the whole lifetime of the car, a plug-in hybrid is by far the best bet for those people. So that's why they're interested. And I should say a plug-in hybrid car, if it's made in quantities by a car-maker.
JEAN: Now, do you need more than an extension cord to plug in your car at home, if you for instance, don't have an outlet in your garage?
FELIX: Well, for most people, that's exactly right. We have, the former CIA Director, James Woolsey, made this comment a couple weeks ago, 'The only infrastructure you need for plug-in hybrids is an extension cord.' And that's phenomenal, and most people have that situation; other people - - at the point where plug-in hybrids start becoming widespread, there will be solutions for people. There may be
- - there are some parts of the United States now, for instance, where parking meters are equipped with electric plugs so that in the cold climates, people can keep their cars warm...[26:58]
JEAN: Oh yes... that's what they do in Alaska!
FELIX: [Yes, ] and then you've got garages, and garages can actually get an income stream by providing places for people to plug in. And then you've got companies where people can plug-in while they're at work, and then you've got train stations, large parking lots at train stations - - in the Bay Area, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system is interested in this concept of allowing it. And actually, at that point, if you have millions of these cars, they'll be plugged in 23 hours a day. At that point, it changes a lot more than just cars - - because they become part of the power source of the entire power grid, and what they do is they start leveling the load. They're mostly charged at night, at a time when there's plenty of power, and it's cheap, clean power, and in the daytime, the utility can borrow some of the power for peak load from the parked cars and they wouldn't have to build power plants to take care of the peak load for air-conditioning in hot afternoons.
JEAN: Is it possible to convert a pre-existing car to function this way?
FELIX: We have converted a Toyota Hybrid Prius, and other people have done that as well. There are now two companies that are going into business just to do that. We're doing it to prove a point that a car company can do it. Other people are doing it because they see a business there, and we think the car companies will start building these once we make it an irresistible offer for them - - saying, you know, there's so many people out here who will pay for these cars...[28:35]
JEAN: We have Bill, joining us from Sun Prairie, and open lines for anyone else who'd like to join this conversation about the future of the car. 1-800-642-1234. You can also send your messages by email; the address is hereonearth@.... And... Bill, thanks for your call. Go ahead...
BILL: Thank you Jean, hi Felix, it's Bill Robbins, it's great to hear you on the radio. I'm so excited about plug-in hybrids. And about everything that's happening on the national scene that we're actually getting some attention. I wanted to mention that Wisconsin public power is one of the many utilities that has signed on to that pluginpartners.org. And I also wanted to mention that there is a hybrid car festival being put on in July in Madison called Hybrid Fest, and I just encourage people to check out the web site http://www.hybridfest.com to learn more about that and just a great chance to see all the different hybrids that are on the market today and take test drives and that sort of thing.
FELIX: That was really helpful to know. We're working with a group experimenters and engineers and electric vehicle advocates from around the country, and it's possible that by that time of that Fest there will be some people that who right around there will have converted their Prius' according to instructions that we're developing using components that we recommend. So, maybe there will be a plug-in hybrid at that Fest.
BILL: That would be great.
JEAN: Now, you mention the Toyota Prius. Wasn't that already the car of the future when it came out and that wasn't very long ago?
FELIX: Well, hybrids have been climbing a kind of wall of skepticism. Most auto makers dismissed them for a while and now they are triumphant. Everybody is falling into line to build them and Toyota is maybe five years ahead of anybody else. They have built the best car, the best hybrids there are, and absolutely they are the cars of the future. One of the things that they have going for them is that they have electrified many more aspects of the car. Instead of using mechanical components to do things like braking they're using wires and (inaudible) and so forth.
In terms of building the car, they've built a hybrid that actually doesn't have very far to go to make it a plug-in hybrid. So they're heading there but they are resolutely saying number one, we don't think our customers want this, they don't want to plug in, as if we didn't all plug in our cell phones every day. They're saying it's too inconvenient, you know, but this is a regular 120 volt outlet in the United States and in Europe it's a 230 like Keith's car. So they're saying that. They're saying people won't pay extra, and people are paying extra all the time for features in cars but when somebody spends two thousand dollars on leather seats no one says to them "why did you do that, what's the payback on them, why did you do that?" So there are millions of people that will pay for the environmental features of a car.
JEAN: What's going to make these cars sexy?
FELIX: Well the Toyota Prius right now, there's many months long waiting lists for that car, so it's already sexy, it's already attractive. But we think that saying "this is the car that's 100+ miles per gallon", that gets a lot of people's attention. And, building it on the Prius we hope that Ford will come along with the Ford Escape hybrid and other hybrids they're building. We hope that some of the foreign companies will as well.
We think that great technology is going to be the sexy car of the future.
JEAN: We are talking with Keith: Johnston, the managing director of Going Green in the UK and Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars in Palo-Alto. I'm Jean Feraca, you're listening to Here On Earth, radio without borders where this hour we are focused on the future of the car. Back to the future when we're talking about the electric car as we've learned from KEITH: Johnston. And the future is now when we're talking about the plug-in hybrid.
Lots of breakthroughs on this in the recent past, coming from President Bush himself and also there's an evangelical thrust. 86 prominent Evangelical leaders formed a new alliance on February the 7th in Washington D.C. saying this is God's world and any damage that we do to God's world is an offense against God himself.
What will it take, do you think to get us off the oil addiction? [COMMERICAL BREAK][34:55]
JEAN: I'm Jean Feraca with Felix Kramer in Palo-Alto and Keith: Johnston in London and we have been talking about very exciting breakthroughs that are bringing us, in the case of the electric car, a zero emission car. Keith: , I'm wondering, I'm seeing these little green cars every once and a while going around town. Is that one of the G-Wizs?
KEITH: In London? It could be.
JEAN: No, right here in Wisconsin.
KEITH: Oh, I don't think so. There may be one or two that have been imported but it would literally be only a handful.
JEAN: What do they look like? The G-Wiz?
KEITH: Well, they are about the same size as a smart car? Do you have those in Wisconsin? From DaimlerChrysler?
JEAN: I'm not sure. Somebody who's listening will tell us.
KEITH: They're about 1.8 meters long and 1.3 meters wide. They are small cars. I doubt if there's a car as small as that on the roads in America. Well there isn't in the UK either, it's the smallest car on the road.
JEAN: American's don't like small you know?
KEITH: Well you will soon when oil gets very expensive. Can I just cut in? Actually it's very interesting, the whole plug-in hybrid debate because in two weeks time, Going Green are going to be selling a plug-in hybrid as well. It's a conversion of the Toyota Prius, so I very much agree with everything that Felix has said there. I think that it's really going to come down to choice and price and preference in the short term. We'll be selling a G-Wiz for less than the price of a conversion to a plug-in Prius for the Toyota. So, it really depends very much on what you need the car for, what kind of car you want to travel around in and how much you're prepared to spend on your transport.
JEAN: And how is it that you gain back the extra cost of the vehicle to begin with?
KEITH: Well, in London you get it back in about 12 months. The savings on the congestion charge is just over 2,000 pounds a year. Then you can park for free on all the central London meters and the pay-and-display bays on 23 of the big municipal car parks. And that's worth a savings of just over 6,000 pounds a year on the season ticket price never mind the daily ticket price.
JEAN: So you have policies already in place?
KEITH: We do in London only. Our political push is to get those extended around the UK. And then the other big savings on the G-Wiz is that the electricity costs just over 1 penny per mile. So it goes the equivalent of 5 to 600 miles per gallon currently. So the easiest way to think of that is for the price of a tank of fuel, of petrol, you can drive a G-Wiz around London for a year.
JEAN: So do people miss the noise of the engine? The roar, you know, the horsepower?
KEITH: Do you mean pedestrians?
JEAN: No, I mean when you drive an electric car, how is the experience different?
KEITH: Well it's quiet. There's a slight whine from the electric motor but there's no roar at all, because there's no engine, no exhaust, there's none of that happening in the car. So, it's a much quieter experience, that is you don't get road rage. I mean it's just not possible.
JEAN: But do you get power thrust?
KEITH: Well the thing about driving a G-Wiz is you leave your ego behind.
JEAN: Oh, now we're down to the heart of the matter.
KEITH: When you buy a G-Wiz, you're not saying I'm big or I'm powerful or anything like that, you're saying you care. It's a very different statement
JEAN: Now we have to bring Felix back in here. How is that going to fly?
Felix: It's very interesting because some of the fastest vehicles on the road are pure electric vehicles because they have incredible acceleration and torque. So you can build an electric vehicle that can go zero to 60 in about 3 seconds and burn rubber faster than almost anybody.
What's nice about a plug-in hybrid actually allows you to downsize the engine of the car that the plug-in hybrid is in, because the electric motor provides all that additional power for your passing power when you're getting onto the highway. So, you gain in another way. But, I would go back to what Keith: was talking about. It is a different experience to be in a silent car and most people get used to it and love it. There are a couple of issues, one of them is that blind people have been concerned about this because they don't get the traditional sound.
JEAN: Oh, you can't hear it coming, of course.
Felix: Another thing is, yes they sell cars with Freedom. BMW spent 10 million dollars tuning the sound on their cars so it would sound in a way that people would buy it. So, I don't know, you could say that what we're doing is we're "green tuning" cars and maybe some of the "green tuners" will actually add a hi-fi stereo system where they have the nice ROAR sound that they can generate with their car even though it doesn't need it. I don't know, people will have fun with these things. But once the car makers build them, going back to some of the things KEITH: was talking about, about cost. If you want to buy a converted Prius now, yes the cost is extremely expensive, it can be up to ten thousand dollars but we're saying that Toyota could do it and sell it for about three thousand dollars more than the cost of the existing hybrid and at that point you as a consumer would benefit pretty quickly on the savings. I actually envy the situation that KEITH: finds himself in, in London because that city has gone so far in creating the circumstances to encourage the adoption of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. And I hope that cities here will do that as well.
JEAN: New York, that would be great. We have Lyman joining us from Johnson Creek. Lyman, go ahead.
LYMAN: Thanks for taking my call, it's a great show and an excellent topic. My question for your guest since he spoke a little earlier about fleet managers reluctance, sort of their conservative nature in approaching hybrid and alternative fuel cars. You'd mentioned that there wasn't much of an investment required in terms of infrastructure to deal with that conversion. But it seems to me there are whole fleets of people who take care of fleets of cars and that there would have to be a resulting human infrastructure conversion also. Maybe if you could address that issue, and how the municipalities might be able to address the costs and the human reluctance to change our own education about these things.
JEAN: It's always tough when you're talking about a real paradigm shift, which in essence this is, or maybe I've got that wrong. Felix?
FELIX: The service interval on an electric vehicle is very long because electric motors basically don't need any service at all. People in California driving Toyota RAV4 EVs bring their cars in to rotate the wheels. That's about it. So if you're a service manager or fleet manager and you have a fleet of plug-in hybrids, the car will need the same kind of service that it always needs for the gasoline engine, but the gasoline engine will be used a lot less, so the intervals will extend.
Then you do need some special knowledge about the electric components, but all cars are becoming complex computers at this point, so the service people are getting an education in cars all the time.
JEAN: Thanks Lymon, we'll go to Susie next in Richfield. Hi Susie go ahead.
SUSIE: Hi Jean, I was just giggling when I was listening to your questions about the macho factor in purchasing cars. I've been driving a Prius since they first came out here in 2000 and it was a new experience for me. I'm in my 50s and I had more young men in Corvettes stop me at gas stations to admire my car. It's really been fun. People are interested in buying these kinds of cars because it's the right thing to do. And I'll take comments offline.
JEAN: OK, but what about the horse power, what about the bling, bling. Are these cars going to satisfy that male need to identify with the car as an extension of self? Who's going to take that? Felix.
FELIX: Well actually there have been three or four different magazine articles called "Pimp My Prius" and people have been decorating them and adding all sorts of things to them that satisfies that sort of geek gadget impetus.
The macho thing, well there are, hybrids are being sold now in two different kinds. One of them the car companies, I'm talking about the gasoline only hybrids, they're taking all that extra efficiency you get and they're turning it into MPG, like the Prius. Then other car manufacturers are selling it for the macho factor. They're saying buy a Toyota Lexus hybrid and you get a more powerful car with the same size engine.
They sell the Honda Accord V6 and they say it's a V6 plus a hybrid so you're getting a V6 but you're actually getting the performance of a V8. So, all that is up in the air, up for grabs. I'm not happy about the muscle hybrids and we do have a lot of work to do in this country I think to address those issues of where do you get your source of satisfaction when you drive a car?
JEAN: Well, you've raised an interesting question. What's going to happen to the SUV?
FELIX: Well, the SUV, turn it into a plug-in hybrid and you immediately have a safer car because the center of gravity in the car gets lower because you've got the batteries in the low part of the car. There's no reason why an SUV can't be a plug-in hybrid. There's a professor at UC Davis, Andy Frank, who has taken a Chevy Suburban, a huge car, and turned it into a 60 mile range plug-in hybrid and he took out a 5 liter engine in the car and put in a 1.9 liter Saturn engine because of the reason I mentioned before. because you don't need that big engine for acceleration. So you've got this Suburban which normally gets ten or twelve miles per gallon, on the highway, not in electric mode at all, just tooling along at high speeds with that small engine. That Suburban is now getting about 30 miles per gallon. So there's no reason not to do that.
You've got utilities that are making plug-in hybrids for bucket trucks, which are the kind of trucks that are in your neighborhood to fix the wires. So they now have their own generator on board, they don't have to be noisy. And let's go completely macho, the military is very interested in plug-in hybrids for two reasons. First of all. delivering fuel to the battlefield costs more than 100 miles a gallon. Second of all, all these Humvees have a tremendous amount of electronic equipment on them and they have to run the engine in the car, in the Humvee, to power that equipment. And that means that it's a hot car, which has a heat signature that enemy rockets and so forth can find. If you turn it into a plug-in hybrid it no longer generates that heat. So, there's a very interesting wrinkle on this whole thing. They're interested in plug-in hybrids because it's a battlefield vehicle.
JEAN: We have Jan joining us next from Lacrosse. Hi Jan, go ahead.
JAN: You know how Americans, they kind of like to gamble? I don't, but the lottery kind of an effort, if you had a raffle and everybody paid five bucks for a ticket, because new ideas like this they need to be funded. And the winner would win a G-Wiz. I mean I would buy several tickets and that was just my thought.
JEAN: That's an ingenious idea. And I think it raises another question. I know you guys aren't into advertising, but how do you create market appeal for these cars? Keith?
KEITH: Well, our strategy from the very beginning has been to keep the price down, very very low. So, as I said at the beginning we try to take as much cost out of the whole process of buying a car and out of the car itself and part of that is not advertising, so my background is actually advertising and marketing. I did 20 years in advertising agencies before I started doing this and I don't advertise at all. Now, the way we do it is it's completely virally and so that's a very powerful thing nowadays.
JEAN: What is the satisfaction of the G-Wiz driver? Where does the satisfaction come from?
KEITH: Well there are three types of satisfaction. The first is the environmental satisfaction. Most of our owners have children and they know that they're taking really positive steps, setting a good example and you can't get better than emission free. I mean plug-in hybrids are fantastic in that they allow you to go emission free in the city centers but unfortunately they're still polluting elsewhere. So that self satisfaction, smokeless in some cases is a very very powerful incentive. [49:25]
Secondly you've got the financial incentive. A G-Wiz in London for a commuter, when you get out of your car into a G-Wiz it reduces your commuting costs by about 80%. It's actually cheaper to drive a G-Wiz than it is to take the London Underground or the bus to go to work. It's a massive savings.
The third is they're fun. These things are cute little cars that you zip around town in and it really really is fun. It's like the fun of a Dodgem or a Fab rather than driving one of those SUVs or 4 by 4s which are difficult to park, difficult to maneuver. People get annoyed at you, all of that stuff, you don't have any of that with a G-Wiz. So there's lots of satisfaction.
JEAN: And of course there's the satisfaction of knowing that you're saving the planet after all. I mean it really does come down to that.
KEITH: Exactly. We track this very carefully and it's pretty much an even split 50/50 between exactly that, the satisfaction from saving the planet and the satisfaction from the financial savings. And I think that's why the G-Wiz is the first car that's actually made this breakthrough, because it scores on both points. If it's scored on just the one, I don't think it would work. Not so well in London anyway.
JEAN: I wonder just how much Jared Diamond, his influence has to do with these breakthroughs. You know he's made the case for environmental salvation so clear in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
I think the message is finally being driven home, and I want to thank you both very much for being with us this hour.
KEITH: Johnston the managing director of Going Green in the UK and Felix Kramer in Palo-Alto, the founder of CalCars.
For more information about both of these organizations you'll find links to Going Green and CalCars when you visit our web page HereOnEarth.org. Plus you can post your thoughts at our web forum and subscribe to our Podcast.
If you'd like a copy of the program, call the radio store at 1-800-747-7444. Ask for program number 225K
I'm Jean Feraca, thanks for listening.