Wisconsin Radio: CalCars + London Electric Vehicles
- 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
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
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.
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
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?
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,
KEITH: Do you mean pedestrians?
JEAN: No, I mean when you drive an electric car, how is the
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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