August 28, 2013

Electric Car2Go is a Gas!

The all-electrtic Car2Go fleet in San Diego is not why we moved here, but we did sign up for the service as soon as we got here. Now, with nearly two years of experience, what do we think? It's a gas! Just take a look, and then read on...
Not all of these electric Smart Cars come with a highly-skilled driver like the one you see here, but they are all fun, whether you drive or are driven. Okay, we do have some quibbles that I will address in a moment, but basically this is a great service and the car is very impressive.

If I have to run errands involving more miles than I feel like walking then I often choose a Car2Go over our trusty old BMW 323. The iPhone app makes it very easy to locate nearby cars and reserve them.

At first, I tended to avoid Car2Go trips involving freeway miles, then my wife (the highly-skilled driver behind the wheel in the photo above) found the boost switch. You activate it with an extra push on the gas pedal when accelerating and it really helps with highway on-ramps and overtaking.

Of course, like all electric vehicles, the Car2Go can tap maximum torque at zero rpm, so it is always ready to leap off the line at the lights (great way to elicit gob-smacked looks from drivers of big sedans and hot hatches).

As for handling, the word is nimble. You can turn corners and cut U-turns where no other car would dare. I should point out that the ride is a little on the rough side over city streets, but most of the trips that I take in a Car2Go are too short for this to matter. The highway ride is acceptable. I did chat recently with someone who had ridden in her daughter's regular, bought-from-a-dealer, gasoline-powered Smart Car. She reported that it also had a somewhat rough ride on city streets (maybe someone should tell Mercedes Benz that America's city streets are not as well-paved as they used to be, and adjust suspension accordingly).

So far the electric-ness of the Car2Go has not been a problem. I have never run out of power. If the San Diego Car2Go fleet is short of anything it is cars-to-go. We can't always rely on there being one handy, and we live in the densely-populated Little Italy part of town. That would be one niggle. Another would be the length of time it takes to get the support folks on the line in the evenings.

Why would you need to call the support line? Well, it is possible to lock things inside these rentals. Yes, members have an RFID card that opens cars, but cars don't open to you if they are reserved by someone else or if they are out of service. So here's a scenario I encountered: Drove back from the supermarket in a Car2Go. Exited the vehicle with my groceries. Ended the rental. Then noticed that there was one more bag of groceries in the rear storage area. Tapped my card on the card reader but was told car out of service due to low battery. It took about 15 minutes to get through to an agent who could unlock the car.

Another problem I have encountered is missing cars. You see a car on the app, walk to its location, but it is not there. This may not be the fault of the system. Cars left in parking structures can give rise to this issue.

There are some restrictions on Car2Go, like not transporting our dog. I understand this policy: not all dog owners can be relied upon to keep the cars clean of dog hair, etc. And of course, only two people will fit in the car. However, they fit very well. I have a friend who is nearly seven feet tall and he owns a SmartCar. Not only that, his SmartCar was hit by another driver and protected him so well he got another.

So, bottom line: 9.5 times out of 10, my Car2Go experiences are 100% positive. So much so that they have allowed us to give our second vehicle to our daughter. So she likes Car2Go and has never driven one.

July 7, 2013

Wheels on fire: the curiously British need for speed

For a small island that is increasingly crowded with people, Britain displays a strangely persistent fascination with traveling fast, as reflected in several recent news stories about speed records and vehicular races.

Last month, a British built vehicle set a new world land speed record for electric cars. And while nobody dislikes the idea of aristocracy more than me, I must admit to being impressed by the BBC report that: "Lord Drayson, who was behind the wheel, said the achievement was designed to highlight electronic vehicle technology's potential." I'm assuming this is Lord Drayson, sitting on the amazing vehicle (and I'm hoping he doesn't mind me displaying this picture--which is particularly interesting to me since it shows one of the sponsors was Qualcomm, based in my adopted home town of San Diego).

Lord Drayson is CEO of Drayson Racing Technologies, developer of the amazing Lola B12 69/EV which hit a top speed of 204.2mph (328.6km/h). Drayson is based in Oxfordshire, England. The vehicle was built using a lot of parts from Lola, a leading supplier of chassis for prototype racing, such as you see driven in the Le Mans 24 Hours race. Lola is based in Cambridgeshire, England. Drayson's car handily beat the previous record of 175mph set by Battery Box General Electric in 1974.

Building fast cars has long been a passion in England, from the early records set by Rolls Royce powered cars in the 1920s to the Formula One cars of today. Regardless of their official country affiliation, most of the F1 teams are based in England, where the lion's share of the engine and chassis development occurs. This graphic from NBC coverage of Formula One makes this quite clear.


All of which seems a bit odd for such a small and crowded place. In Britain, the phrase "Land's End to John O'Groats" is synonymous with "one end of the country to the other," and this is about 600 miles as the crow files. The journey by road is 837 miles according to Google, which estimates you can cover it at an average of 60 mph. Compare that with my drive in 2011, from Upstate New York to Southern California, when my Jeep clocked 3,000 miles. Google reckons you can average that one at 67.35 mph.

Brits also like speed in the air and on rails and on water. Back when trains were pulled by steam locomotives, the highest speed attained was 126mph, attained in July of 1938, by an engine called Mallard, seen here:
Mallard photo by Dudva

This month there will be a big celebration of the 75th anniversary of that achievement and six examples of this type of locomotive, designated A4, will be reunited at a museum in York. This inspired the Daily Mail to produce a great graphic explaining how to drive a steam locomotive. Nowadays you might not associate Britain with high speed train travel, given that the French hold the world record for rail, hitting 357mph using electric power delivered by overhead lines. But it is worth noting that British Rail Class 43 holds the Guinness record for the fastest self-contained locomotive (diesel powered).


As I have written elsewhere, Britain currently holds the world land speed record at 763mph and is looking to push that past 1,000mph. (But props to America for setting and holding the wheel-driven and combustion-engined records.)

Why do the Brits have this need to make machines go faster, I don't know. But it makes for exciting times, whether it is a Formula One race or a record attempt.