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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for February 2012

“It’s a brick” - Tesla’s batteries under question

A titillating story emerged this week with solid evidence that Tesla electric cars can turn to “bricks” if their batteries reach a zero charge. Tesla has since released a statement downplaying the issue, but the juiciest facts are clear. Michael DeGusta of The Understatement broke the news: 


“A Tesla Roadster that is simply parked without being plugged in will eventually become a ‘brick'. The parasitic load from the car’s always-on subsystems continually drains the battery and if the battery’s charge is ever totally depleted, it is essentially destroyed.” (1)

That’s exactly what happened to Tesla Roadster owner Max Drucker. As described in DeGusta’s article, Drucker’s car turned to a brick after he left it unplugged in his garage for two months. 

“It wouldn’t do anything,” Drucker said. “It wouldn’t even unlock. It took four guys two hours to get the car out of my garage and onto a flatbed truck. The car wouldn’t even roll.” (1)

But that wasn’t the worst of Drucker’s experience. When the $100,000 Roadster was towed to a Tesla service center a technician informed him his car was a “brick” and the battery would have to be replaced at a cost of $40,000 – far more expensive than any battery sold at Midas. 

The worst part - Tesla does not offer any form of insurance or warranty for a “bricked” car. 
Drucker sent an angry letter to Tesla CEO Elon Musk and vented about his terrible experience to DeGusta, who just happened to be one of nearly 500 people that had dropped a $5,000 reservation on the upcoming Tesla Model X. 

DeGusta published a scathing story describing Drucker’s experience as but one example of a “devastating design problem”, not only for the Roadster but for all Tesla electric cars. (2) More to the point, he perpetuated Drucker’s charge that Tesla fails to do an adequate job of properly disclosing their vehicles can transform to useless bricks if not properly maintained. 

“With such a large price tag for a bricked vehicle, it would be reasonable to expect Tesla to go to great lengths to ensure their customers were fully aware of the severity of battery discharge,” he wrote. (2) 

In fact, Tesla does have buyers sign a Disclosures and Acknowledgements” form that specifically states:

“Note, your Roadster warranty as it relates to the battery does not cover damage caused by exposing an unplugged vehicle to ambient temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit for over 24 hours, storing an unplugged vehicle in temperatures below -40 degrees Fahrenheit for over seven days or leaving your vehicle unplugged where it discharges that battery to at or near zero state of charge.” (1) 

Drucker felt this warning was vague at best. 

“It doesn’t say that if you don’t leave the car plugged in your battery will be dead and you’ll be out $40,000,” he said. “I am not an idiot. If I had ever heard that, I would not have allowed this to happen.” (1)

When DeGusta's article on Drucker’s $40,000 battery replacement began to grab Google headlines Tesla was quick to release a statement reminding people that “All automobiles require some level of owner care. For example, combustion vehicles require regular oil changes or the engine will be destroyed. Electric vehicles should be plugged in and charging when not in use for maximum performance. All batteries are subject to damage if the charge is kept at zero for long periods of time.” (3)

There’s plenty of truth to those comparisons. Then again, when I returned from a week-long winter vacation to find the battery in my Subaru dead I didn’t get shafted to the tune of $40,000 - I called Triple A and got a jumpstart. 

Whether or not Tesla is doing enough to clearly inform their customers of the brick issue is up for debate. What’s clear is that Tesla is well aware of the issue and has gone to great lengths to prevent their cars from ever reaching critically low charges.

Tesla stated that, “Owners of Roadster 2.0 and all subsequent Tesla products can request that their vehicle alert Tesla if SOC (state of charge) falls to a low level. All Tesla vehicles emit various visual and audible warnings if the battery pack falls below 5 percent SOC.” (3)

A Tesla service team member reportedly told DeGusta that in certain cases Tesla staff has gone so far as to remotely activate a dying vehicle's onboard GPS after failing to reach the driver. Once the vehicle is located Tesla has sent maintenance workers to service the vehicle. (3)

If Drucker was aware of or signed up for these services it’s likely his Roadster never would have been bricked. Still, being asked to fork over $40,000 to replace a dead battery isn’t going to seem like a reasonable proposition to many consumers should all the preventive measures fail. 

Having said that, it's important to keep in mind we’re going to have to grant electric cars certain concessions while the technology behind them evolves to the point where they can be mass-produced.

For Tesla, “brick” could soon become a forgotten dirty word of their early history. 

But I wouldn't say that to Mr. Drucker. 


Read DeGusta’s full article here: http://tinyurl.com/6nfl87c

SOURCES:
(1) http://www.wired.com/autopia/2012/02/bricked-tesla-roadsters/
(2) http://theunderstatement.com/post/18030062041/its-a-brick-tesla-motors-devastating-design?utm_source=Jalopnik+Newsletter&utm_campaign=b6b671aaaf-UA-142218-9&utm_medium=email#fnref:1
(3) http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2012/02/22/tesla-motors-downplays-threat-brick-problem/?vgnextrefresh=1?test=latestnews#ixzz1nFDfMY7Y 

Kia Track’ster – 250hp AWD Soul?

 

If Kia were a high school the Soul would be the coolest kid on campus. It makes sense then that Kia is tickling auto enthusiasts with hints that their Track’ster concept could be the basis for a Soul “family”. 

Will this family wear tracksuits and hamster dance? At the very least we can expect the Track’ster to showcase one of the more exciting Soul variants on the horizon. 

“The idea was to make the Track'ster tough looking, like a bulldog. But the car had to be approachable as well. We wanted to base the car in reality so people instantly knew it was a Soul, but with a lot of attitude,” said Tom Kearns, chief designer for Kia Motors America. (1)

Instead of the Soul’s four doors the Track’ster has two long ones. It rolls on a stretched version of the Soul platform, almost an inch longer and more than five inches wider than the Soul. Inside fiery orange suede racing seats match the exterior paint scheme. The rest of the cabin is trimmed in Granit Gray leather and more suede. 

There are no back seats. The space where they would have been is replaced by bins to store racing equipment, a spare tire and racing helmets for party rockin’ in the house tonight. 

Performance ware is nice but not anyone in a tracksuit can dance. To keep it legit the Track’ster packs a 250-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder, six-speed short-throw manual and all-wheel drive. That’s a 66% power increase over the Soul with a drivetrain that’s well-equipped to put it to the ground. 

“If the Soul were to evolve into a family, it would be nice,” design chief Peter Schreyer said. (2)

If Kia actually released a production version of the Track’ster auto-enthusiasts would think it was much more than nice. Sadly rumor is all but confirmed that it will remain a concept indefinitely. For now we can stay Optimistic that Kia is interested in building on the Soul’s image, and that elements of the Track’ster design will eventually find their way into the Soul.

Let's hope Kia will hurry up, settle down and start their Soul family. The performance sibling definitely looks good on paper. 

See photos of the Track'ster: http://tinyurl.com/7z6l9dz 

SOURCES:
(1) http://www.slashgear.com/kia-trackster-concept-ditches-dreary-for-mini-cooper-rival-08212630/
(2) http://www.autoblog.com/2012/02/10/kia-trackster-unlikely-for-production-but-hints-at-next-genera/

PICTURE: Copyright Kia Motors America & Autoweek

Cadillac ATS vs BMW 3 Series

 

It takes a serious pair to announce a car from Detroit is going to make the BMW 3 Series look like a second-rate job. General Motors did just that. Five years after beginning to build the Cadillac ATS from the ground up GM is ready to release it as their contender in the largest luxury vehicle market in the world, one that was basically created by the 3 Series. 

With the stakes set higher than Tommy Chong at Burning Man, production of the Cadillac ATS was one of the only programs General Motors refused to halt during their bankruptcy.

“In this segment, performance is the No. 1 attribute that people are looking for,” said chief engineer David Masch. “It's all about ride and handling and making the car fun to drive.” (1)

Here’s what Masch and his team did to make the ATS a worthy competition for the world’s best:

DOWNSIZE 

The Cadillac CTS would be a heavyweight in a global market with the likes of the 3-Series, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-class and Lexus IS. The ATS had to be much smaller and lighter.

“We had a mantra: 'Every gram, by every engineer, every day,” Masch said'”. “We approached development by counting all the grams in the ATS. We minimized them where we could and put them to the best use where they were needed.” (1)

By the end of the diet Masch’s team managed to bring the ATS down to 3,400 pounds, nearly 500 pounds lighter and eight inches shorter overall than the CTS. 

SUSPENSION & HANDLING

Masch’s team set the benchmark for the ATS suspension at the E46 3 Series, which is widely believed to be the best handling 3 Series ever. Their hardcore standards led to them to believe BMW compromised the performance-focused chassis tune of the E46 with the current generation 3 series and will continue to move farther in the same direction with the next 3 due out later this year. 

That meant blood in the water the ATS guys. Their engineers track-tested six different suspensions before deciding to outfit the ATS with Cadillac’s first five-link independent rear setup. All-wheel-drive is optional. (1) 

SPECIAL LITTLE REFINEMENTS

They include undercarriage panels to direct airflow, trunk-mounting the battery to help achieve perfect 50/50 weight distribution and placing the variable-effort steering gear ahead of the wheels for precise steering feel and response during aggressive driving. 

ENGINES

Ah yes, the cajone comparison. Power-plant options for the ATS include two four-cylinders: a naturally aspirated 200-hp, 188-lb-ft 2.5-liter, a turbocharged 270-hp, 260-lb-ft 2.0-liter and a 318-hp, 267-lb-ft 3.6-liter V6. Mark Reuss, president of GM North America said a diesel engine will eventually make its way into the ATS sometime during the first generation. (3) 

Currently the US-spec 3 Series is set to offer a 2.0 liter turbo four with 240hp and 255lb-ft and a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six good for 300hp and 300lb-ft. On paper the beamer could be the clear winner in the top engine department thanks to the extra lower-end grunt, but the caddy sure looks like it packs the better turbocharged four-cylinder. 

TRANSMISSIONS

General Motors was working on an eight-speed automatic for use in the ATS but was forced to postpone the program during its bankruptcy – yet another reason to hate the recession. Instead the ATS will be offered with either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission. 

The 3-Series will offer a six-speed manual as well as an eight-speed automatic for higher efficiency at highway speeds. Score one for the Germans. 

Speculation aside there’s good reason to believe the ATS won’t have much trouble impressing auto critics and prospective buyers alike even if it doesn’t quite knock the 3 Series from its throne on the first try. That duty might be left to something along the lines of an ATS-V. 

A car like that might be worth importing from Detroit – to Munich. 

SOURCES
(1) http://www.autoweek.com/article/20120108/DETROIT/120109912#ixzz1lBPaAv1y 
(2) http://www.autoweek.com/article/20120108/DETROIT/120109912#ixzz1lBZOFOmB
(3) http://www.motortrend.com/auto_shows/detroit/2012/1112_2012_detroit_2013_cadillac_ats_first_look/#ixzz1koIYaykR

PICTURE
AutoGuide.com

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About this blog

Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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