Sunday, December 8, 2019

Cause the power you're supplying It's electrifying!

As a car-focused family and just one of many families that simply abhor flying for any reason, we are often asked about our thoughts on future prospects of electric vehicle ownership. Throw into this line of questioning autonomous vehicles and you get the picture. Surely, isn’t it time to modernize your vehicle purchase “metrics” to better reflect imminent changes? Even here, in Northern Colorado, any drive around our township will highlight just how many Nissan Leafs and Tesla Model S, X, 3s whatever can be seen standing on driveways. I have to admit, when Tesla first announced it is taking orders for its then-upcoming Model 3, it was hard to ignore the many texts I received from excited folks who had placed orders for this latest Tesla.


As a car-focused family we continue to be inundated with statistics on just how fast today’s electric cars have become and yes, given access to the full amount of torque on hand as soon as the “gas pedal” is slammed to the floor, the numbers speak for themselves. And now that Porsche has entered the fray with its Taycan - both Porsche and Tesla are out on track at the Nürburgring trying to outdo each other over fastest lap times – isn’t our pragmatism becoming somewhat flawed? Any lap time around the ‘Ring in the vicinity of seven minutes, naturally enough, is a lap time that cannot be ignored, right? Even the new Jaguar iPace is attracting devotees and if you are a decent driver with lots of track experience, you can fork out $600K plus to join those who would like to compete in these Jaguar SUVs at Jaguar-sponsored races as part of the ABB Formula-E track weekends. 

At recent conferences and events it has been hard to miss the promotional pursuits of major technology vendors and at the HPE big-tent marketing events held each year in Las Vegas, there were private briefings from Virgin team driver, Sam Bird - along with a HPE technician from the team supporting the Formula-E program – and their excitement over Formula-E couldn’t be suppressed. It was impressive gaining an insight into how competitive this Formula-E series is becoming even as it was hard to ignore the enthusiasm from those racing these electric formula cars. Sure wish each of them could pipe to the spectators the sound of the former V10 engines we so loved to hear back when BMW has one of the best V10 engines in the paddock. 


It still did not do much to persuade either Margo or me to jump onto the electric car bandwagon or, dare we say, become active participants in the electric car hysteria. In the latest issue of one car magazine a whole page was devoted to upcoming models of electric cars that featured horsepower numbers equivalent to 2,000 hp with absolutely unbelievable times projected for the 0 – 60mph dash. Exciting? Electrifying? Most definitely – for some and perhaps not us! Surely, if everyone is talking about Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) does this imply that Margo and I have our heads in the sand? Are we going to be the odd-ones out?  As much as BEVs are hyped today, there is a little wrinkle that represents a starting point; hybrids! As it happens to be, hybrids in technology just happen to be what Margo and I follow and write about so it should come as no surprise that hybrid cars appeal to us both!

When our local BMW dealer handed us the keys to their demo hybrid i8, we thought well, naah! This isn’t for us. Then we drove it and everything changed. At the time, we were giving financial information to the local Corvette dealer as we were negotiating the price of a black on black Corvette Z06 (with yellow stitching and matching yellow brake calipers) – a thing of beauty. But when it comes to beauty, we were wowed by the i8. Definitely not a track car, but then again, no slouch either. We were both surprised. Futuristic and yes, a little heavy but just the thrill of driving this i8 was unmistakable. It took a while to get the price right but we did end up leasing the “White Knight” and well, the rest is history. We drove it to Toronto and back and yes, we drove it multiple times to the West Coast. On our first trip to Texas, we averaged around 70 mpg even as we drove it “energetically!” Sometime later I managed to score a drive in the all-electric BMW i3 but it did nothing for me and I suspect that this essentially sealed the deal for us – hybrids were the future!


It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in our daily business lives indeed not a day passes without some reference to Hybrid IT. Early on, Hybrid IT was about accessing multiple public clouds but today, it’s a reference to a data center with mixtures of traditional computer systems, collections of servers virtualized and running what is referred to as a private (on-premise) cloud as well as network connections to one or more public cloud service providers. This trend brings together the best of both worlds – the opportunity to keep running the applications already deployed while capitalizing on the cheaper storage and services that come with clouds. Of course there is talk that, eventually, all of IT will be running “in the cloud” and the data centers and mainframes we hear so much about will simply fade away – relegated to the technology scrapheap that is a reoccurring theme among all users of technology.

The similarities are inescapable – “it’s a software world, after all!” And if you still doubted this, imagine the surprised responses when articles began appearing questioning how IT professionals will respond when the cost of the processor chips falls to zero! Yes, zero; any wonder then that they are showing up in the vehicles we buy today, willy-nilly. When you consider the software in our “drive-by- wire” BMW i8 and yes, it has two separate gearboxes managed by a computer, the mere fact that is a reliable form of transportation is quite amazing. The vehicle is an automatic but with the option of being in sports mode where gears can be selected by column mounted paddles. The steering is electric as is everything else which, in eliminating the mechanicals reduced the vehicle’s overall weight, helping offset the weight of the battery pack, naturally enough. But it’s all about the software and should you be a member of the i8 Facebook community, you will know just how many “software glitches” have been reported by owners of the early models. 

When it came time to return the White Knight earlier this year, we “ummed” and “ahed” about with what to replace the i8 coupe – the newly released i8 roadster was a considerably more expensive vehicle and at first, not even considered by us as an option. While we had a 2015 coupe and experienced only the annoying issue of being unable to open the fuel cap when it came time to top up the gas, it had been smooth driving all the way. But what about another Corvette? 

Should we trade our old Corvette Z06 for another new seventh generation track-focused Corvette Z06? What about the ZR1 – a real supercar if ever there was one! However, when it came time to show up at the dealer with the i8 coupe that last time, we elected to do nothing. We had leased a Jaguar F Type and were in the process of replacing the Jeep SRT with a Range Rover Evoque so, what the heck, why did we need another vehicle? But then, a matter of half a year later, the earth turned substantially on its axis. We made that heart wrenching decision to sell our company command center – the RV – together with our car hauler and yes, the 2003 Corvette Z06.   
Even for us Fools for NonStop – check the tee-shirts – it was a tough call when we finally decided to part with the rig. Our good friends had opted out of track weekends and that essentially diminished the social aspect of the sport for Margo and me, adult beverages and grilled steaks notwithstanding. On the other hand, the market for such big rigs is almost non-existent so we were beginning to run out of ideas when a casual conversation with Steve, our Corvette sales manager, triggered a series of events that led to us swapping it all for another hybrid vehicle – yes, an i8 Roadster that sat on the showroom floor for nine months and was given such a price reduction that we were able to lease it for the same amount as we had leased the i8 coupe! We swapped the White Knight for the Black King! Just think about it – for a list price some thirty percent more than the coupe, you could get a roadster that didn’t have a back seat, no roof and diminished luggage space – a true deal, eh?

And what about BEVs? Was there ever consideration for leasing a pure electric vehicle – did Tesla come into the picture at any point, for instance? What about that Jaguar iPace? But here’s the thing; we live in the western state of the US, where roads go on forever. For Margo and me it’s always been about finding that perfect backroad that takes us two hundred plus miles into the middle of nowhere. Blame it on the “wanderlust gene” – yes, it does exist, identified as the gene variant   DRD4-7R that we both believe was passed down from our respective parents – but just the thought of heading out the front door is enough to get us anxious to just well, leave! It’s not a bad attribute to have even if it has driven our respective families a little crazy from time to time. 

We have the good fortune to be living in Colorful Colorado and so there really isn’t any need to hide our wanderlust. Everyone we know takes to the mountains at every opportunity and any time of year. Just in our small crooked street here in Windsor, happily enough called Sanctuary Drive, we have a mix of Maseratis, Porsches, BMWs, Jaguars, Audis, Corvettes and track-ready Camaros and much more – and this is just in the surrounding twenty plus homes that have sprung up since we moved in. Maybe it’s time to hold our own “Coffee and Cars” Saturday afternoon. But electric cars? Haven’t seen any as yet, but they will probably turn up. On both occasions we walked away from buying the Series Seven (C7) Corvette Z06 instead preferring the i8, but what about the new C8 Corvette mid-engine offering? Couldn’t you have waited? Readers of posts to this blog may recall our liking for a mid-engine vehicle and have frequently written about the Audi R8 and the Lamborghini Gallardo so wouldn’t this latest addition to the Corvette family be of interest?

Longer term, perhaps. But for now the i8 answers the immediate question concerning mid-engine placement but there’s more to the story. As already noted, when it comes to hybrid we are big fans and when it comes to software we have a lot of experience. The first batch of C8 Corvettes features millions of lines of “new code” – the transmission control unit (TCU) alone has two million lines of brand new code - all to handle torque delivery through different transitions. So when it comes to the long view we are taking, it doesn’t rule out the C8 Corvette, but we would like to see the specifications of the yet-to-be announced C8 Z06 which many Corvette pundits believe will be a hybrid along similar lines as our i8. That is, mid-engine driving rear wheels and electric motors adding torque (and some power) to the front wheels. Goodness knows how many lines of new code that will involve so it’s a much longer term prospect. Having said this, this latest Corvette admittedly is a pretty car …
I have left to last comments about autonomous driving. Simply put, I suspect that this is a long way off given the amount of one step forward, two steps back we read about today. Driver-assist will continue to develop but the reality is that given the real world we live in there is simply too many variables and I have to believe the insurance companies have yet to come to terms with suing a robot. When you go on track in any of today’s modern cars, once you have learnt “the track,” you begin turning off the nannies that constantly step in and overrule your decision making – want to wear out your front brake pads? Leave the nannies on and you will be very surprised at how much behind the scenes brake steering is being attempted. No, if you are a driver, then autonomous driving as it stands today will intercede at disturbing times – no, I don’t want to slam on the brakes right now? I am in the middle of a no-lift lane change and yes, I know I will safely clear the car ahead in my current lane. But no, up come flashing red lights and in some instances on hard go the brakes. Stupid …

Autonomous cars may make it onto our roads in one capacity or another but their presence will be limited. Possibly limited to small city centers and limited to just one car type. Why am I so hard on autonomous driving and the cars so equipped to step out into the traffic – it’s the software! We just don’t have fast enough processors to handle every potential vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication it would take (even with 5G or 6G), and we don’t have standardized infrastructure in place that would be mandatory for such vehicles to operate safely. At best, we will still be required to sit in front of a steering wheel, feet close to the controls and yes, paying attention to our surroundings all of the time. Perhaps Boston Dynamics will succeed in having us all purchase only robotic dogs in the future!

As for the near future and considering our desire to eventually reduce the number of cars we lease, it’s looking more and more likely we will reduce the number to just three cars. With winter setting in there is plenty of opportunities to talk about what comes next and if we are serious with hybrids then the next SUV will likely be a hybrid leaving us open to just one nice car. When you consider we have the BMW i8 and the BMW M4 Competition, this pretty pale blue Bentley Continental Margo sighed heavily over represents something that’s simply less expensive … it is pretty, isn’t it? And it’s not a BEV and there’s no attempted autonomous driving feature onboard. Possibly the last of this era: What do you think? From White Knight to Black King to the Blue Fairy; makes sense doesn’t it? Perfect! 

1 comment:

Richard Buckle said...

If you detected some less than enthusiastic support for autonomous driving then you are correct. Imagine then when I came across an article in the September 2019 issue of Motor Trend when Frank Markus suggested in his column Technologue that -

"I've covered autonomy only six times. That's because the topic is no fun. Yes, it's coming at us like the inevitable root canal or hip replacement; yes, it should save lives and enable nonstop in-transit mobile-device fiddling for all. I still hate it, so don't hold your breath for tons more coverage on the topic."

And with that well, I couldn't have said it better myself!