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Aha3D

Living a green future

The day is here! The vehicle has been with me for seven long days now, and I’ve put almost 800 kilometers on the odometer to qualify for this post.

Here’s the deal, in one line – It is almost too good to be true. Okay. A second line – owning a car with this level of refinement, without suffering through a hefty maintenance expense, almost feels like there HAS to be a catch ๐Ÿ˜€ The next feeling you get is, why isn’t everyone driving this! I’m sure that its a matter of time before the EVs take over. (it might be hydrogen fuel as well, but the future standards of refinement, economy and everything else are set with EVs).

For this article, while analyzing numbers, I won’t even get into the “help the environment” and “driving pleasure” aspects of the EVs. That’s now in the “for granted” space ๐Ÿ™‚

The goldilocks zone

Not everyone will benefit (financially) from buying an EV in the present date, because EVs are costly. It is the right value deal for you today in India, if (a) Your daily drive is 50 kilometers (or more), and (b) You don’t need to run it on a highway to recover the high initial cost. If you have an ICE (EV lingo, for internal combustion engine = petrol/diesel) car to take care of highway driving part, it makes more sense.

Over the next couple years, the entry level price is bound to come down to 800k INR or so, due to competition and evolution in battery technology, which will make the case for EVs much stronger.

Also, the Nexon-EV has software bugs. A release is round the corner, but these things take time to mature. If you need a polished Indian product, wait for some more time (maybe an year or so). Engineers and other under-the-hood people can go for it right away, though!

Range

First things first – I did NOT experience any range anxiety. Because everything is quite measurable and visible there on the dashboard. And you know your remaining range very precisely – to within a kilometer or so. You can safely ignore the people who harp about range anxiety. They are simply careless, and would strand themselves alone with a dry tank even with an ICE vehicle.

My golden number of range happiness was 230 kms, because a place where I’m terribly interested in, and plan on visiting twice-a-month, is 110 kms one way. So I was determined to find out how far it goes off a single charge. I’ve been scheming on putting a Generator inside an EV and charging it on-the-go. Or thinking of ways to put “range extender batteries” in the boot, etc. Just to get to a 230kms range. (reading on forums I figured I’m going to get not more than 140 kilometers!)

The first true range test I did yielded 232 kilometers, on a 100% to 5% charge! I’m a happy soul ๐Ÿ™‚

Charging time

11 hours to 100%, if you’re charging after depleting it all the way.

In normal practice, you are expected to drain it to maybe 15-20% before you charge it again. There is some more charging discipline if you love your car batteries. Like:

  • don’t keep it at 100% charge for too long (I couldn’t find what exactly “long” means. I assume two hours or more)
  • if you like to charge it up fully, just drive off asap. Or don’t charge to 100%, only to 80% or so.
  • Then, don’t do frequent short charges. Do the full cycle every time (ideally, 20% to 80%, with an occasional 5% to 100%).
  • Also, don’t do fast charging too often, even if you have access to it. More later.

Fast charging = Charging on especially installed DC fast chargers, where you can get to 80% charge within 1 hour. I I’ve not be able to witness these fast chargers, because quite simply, the infrastructure isn’t there where I live. There is one fast charger installed in Jaipur for the show, the minister’s name is there on the inauguration plaque, but the charger has never worked. Also, even if it did work, it’s of no use because it uses some relic “Bharat DC-001 socket” meant for fleet taxis etc. (The Nexon, MG ZS, Kona, and the whole of Europe uses “CCS-2” socket).

In due time, you are expected to see one fast charger every 10 kilometers along these routes:

But don’t get very happy, because you never know how long it will take, and even if the network comes along, fast charging supposedly hurts your batteries (the range gets lower if you do it too often). TATA recommends fast charging not more than 4 consecutive times.

Speed and acceleration

The car’s max speed is software-limited to 120 kmph. In addition, you hear a tiny “ding” notification when you cross 80 kmph.

The acceleration. Well, a friend of mine, who drives a Fortuner, commented that he won’t dare taking up a race challenge with the Nexon EV. I think that suffices.

In short, all concerns from EVs which might have arisen due to the pathetic namesakes we had in the past, can safely be put to rest.

Oomph factor!

The car is a crowd-puller.

I was surprised at the level of awareness for EVs. And the green number plate. Everyone recognizes, and is terribly curious about these. I am spending almost one hour daily in multiple sessions explaining the vehicle to random crowds which get formed whenever and wherever the vehicle is parked ๐Ÿ™‚

The sense of righteousness, coupled with driving such a great Indian product, has me on a different plane since last week.

Software

From the forums and general talk around, and before getting my own NexonEV, I held the opinion that the software team at TATA are a pack of monkeys.

Turns out however, that they are smart people who know what they’re doing, and are reasonably good at it. I’m confident that the future releases will utilize the car’s hardware properly.

I’ve written embedded software myself for a few years. It is a fact that you can’t do away with 100% of the errors. You can only architect your code so its fool-proof by design, and harden it so the most common code-paths are bug-free. All devices reboot themselves at times (or you do it – like power-cycling your smart TV, or home router) if they hang up.

In the case of a car, nobody expects to reboot it, so it becomes a big deal.

For example, in the current software release, I hit this bug, where 30% charge from my battery disappeared magically while driving, and it re-appeared when I charged it the next time (the green ramps show charging phase):

Obviously it is buggy. And well, probably it will strand someone if they don’t rectify it soon. But they are at it, and pretty serious about it. They tell me there’s a software release ’round the corner. Might be that should fix this issue.

The Dashboard

You will notice a few nifty metrics on the dashboard like the DTE indicator below the battery, and the power consumed per kilometer.

These are crap. I’ve seen random numbers here, nothing to do with reality.

The only reliable indicator I find is, battery percent. Simply set the trip to zero when you’re fully charged, drive for 100-odd kilometers, and find out your distance-per-battery-percent number. (For me it is 2.4 kms per point or so.) Trust that. That alone is sufficient, till the software team takes their time to fix the DTE and Wh/km numbers.

About Wh/km

The average Wh/km is a very interesting metric. It shows how much energy you are spending per km. An electric equivalent of kmpl in ICE world.

It shows you how efficient your driving is. The lower you can get this number, the better it is for you.

For example, TATA says that NEV does 100 Wh/km. This means that, it can do 10 kms in 1KWh. 10 kms in one unit of electricity. INR 8 at most places. So, you spend 80 paise per km. If you’re doing lower than 100 Wh/km, you’re spending lesser than 80 p/km ๐Ÿ™‚

This way, from the dash, you can see in real time how much you are spending per km.

Also, you can understand your range economy in real time. The battery capacity in the NEV is 30.2 KWh. If your driving efficiency is 100 Wh/km (as shown in dash), you can expect 30200/100 = 302 km from a full charge.

The Zconnect app

like Amit said, the Zconnect app works. And I confirm. It works. Never mind whatever is going on on the forums.

There are two SIM cards inside the car which get it online. The connectivity is slow, but it works.

The most nifty thing I found in Zconnect is, you can pre-cool the car before you enter it on a hot day (or otherwise ๐Ÿ™‚ )

But the overall software ecosystem of TATA is fragmented. I installed three different apps for the car (Zconnect for the car, ConnectNext for the infotainment system, and Car charging station locator app).

Easter eggs

The car pulled a Tesla yesterday, and surely managed to surprise me, by showing the following greeting all day long ๐Ÿ™‚

Make your opinions!

Suggestions for software engineering team

Dear TATA software team, if you’re reading it, this section is for you.

  1. Consider setting up a bugzilla or some other issue tracker, and let people raise issues.
  2. Give an expected fix-by date or release number for most pertinent bugs.
  3. Also give release notes with releases, and bring more transparency into release cycles.
  4. Many of the current buyers of the NEV have the right skills/aptitude, and are here to support you. You will be surprised at how much energy and time we are devoting to improve the NEV. You can channelize the effort and use it to fasten the development.
  5. We will be happy to work for you, and in the direction you suggest. We will also volunteer to do alpha and beta testing of features. Consider engaging us.
  6. Then, here are some bugs I’d like to raise:
    1. There is no odo reading in Zconnect app. Needed.
    2. The battery reading disappears magically. See earlier.
    3. Car always boots up with AM radio selected, and not the last selection.
    4. The AC chills irrespective of what temperature it is set to.
    5. Looks like the Zconnect is using AT commands over 2G network. Can it just use 4G? How soon? Can it, by any chance, use WiFi when its available?!

The “EV driving style”

On the forums online, you will invariably come across “the EV way of driving”, or “single pedal driving” or such. And that if you get the EV discipline, you will get a great range from the Vehicle.

The key is quite simply this – energy is spent mostly in accelerating or decelerating. Be mindful here, and you’ll have a great range. Specifically,

  • When accelerating, don’t cross the 50% mark on energy bar.
  • When braking, prefer not using the brake pedal at all, just release the pedal and let the regen stop your car
  • If you must, apply brakes, but not abruptly. This will let aggressive regen stop your car early. More later.
  • Higher speeds doesn’t cost you energy. Hard pickup/braking does.

If this feels like grandpa mode of driving, don’t worry, you don’t have to do it all the time. Just when you need the range. Unlike ICE engines, the hardware doesn’t permanently degrade if you drive like James Bond. You will  still get your long range whenever you drive with due discipline!

Here are the details:

The Energy indication on the dashboard

Along the left edge, you see a graduated bar indicating energy, with three zones. Power, Eco and Regen.

Spending Energy

  • When you are accelerating, the vehicle is spending energy.
  • Try not to cross 50% mark (ECO).
  • The “S” mode allows you to go beyond the 100% mark. You deplete energy like a pro. And you can forget about range.

Energy spent while moving at constant speed

Maintaining constant speed doesn’t eat up too much battery, even if the speed is 80kmph, because constant speed energy plot looks like this:

So now you know. You can go fast AND get a great range at the same time.

Regen

It is when the vehicle is creating energy.

  • It is magic. Concept-wise simple, but practically feels like magic, in this world fettered by ICE mindset.
  • The car doesn’t regen during while the battery SOC is 95% or higher, because there is no space in battery to store the created charge.
  • It creates approximately 0.6 kilometers per battery percent. I measured it by measuring distance run with regen off (100% to 95%, runs 2.1 kms per point) and then with regen on (runs approx 2.7 kms per point).
  • You may end up with more battery than you start with, if your destination has a net lower altitude.
  • You can even charge your batteries by getting your vehicle towed ๐Ÿ™‚ The regen does that for you. A fellow group member could charge the vehicle by 20% by getting it towed 20 kilometers last week! I’m yet to confirm if that’s safe to do regularly, but seems okay, technically speaking.
  • If you take your foot away from gas pedal, the regen kicks in, and gradually stops your vehicle while doing regen. You actually don’t need to apply brakes. This is called single pedal driving in EV lingo.
  • Even if you DO apply brakes, the vehicle might not actually use brake shoes, simply a more aggressive regen to stop the vehicle sooner.
  • Only when you apply sudden hard brakes, you lose energy.

Behavior of the pedals

Here’s a specific section on how the pedals behave. It is quite interesting. The vehicle does a clever attempt in simulating acceleration/braking using EV techniques. For this section, allow me to just call them the gas and the brake pedals.

  • Press gas pedal, the vehicle picks up speed. Nothing different.
  • Switch to S, you can pump up to 150% energy into the motor (as compared to D), and pay the range penalty accordingly. Expect to get a 140km range if you’re in S all the time.
  • Switch to N, regen stops, and you can coast like an ICE vehicle. You can switch to N even while the vehicle is in motion. Some people say its not the right thing to do.
  • Slightly pressing gas pedal doesn’t actually accelerate the motor. It just stops regen from kicking in. It is a placebo acceleration. Acceleration by not braking ๐Ÿ™‚ This is one more way of coasting (other than putting the vehicle in N).
  • Leave the gas, and regen kicks in. You don’t need to use brake pedal at all, actually. They say your car’s brake shoes last double as long as in ICE vehicles.
  • Press the brakes lightly, and regen gets more aggressive, so vehicle stops faster. Still, the actual braking doesn’t happen via brake shoes.
  • Only if you brake HARD, you deserve the energy punishment. No range for you.

Credits

Much of the knowledge in this post (and not in this post) is there thanks to the hyperactive community at the Nexon EV Owners Club! (twitter: @NexonEvOwnerClb). Also, Tata EV division is very serious about supporting the early adopters, which shows on a daily basis. Here’s recognizing the phenomenal work done by the entire team. We’re with you, guys. Keep up the good work!

In the end: Dharmendra of Roshan Motors is a genuinely customer-centric guy. He managed to delight me again by fixing the number plate himself, when I arrived at the showroom 15 minutes past closing time, and all the other staff has left. My highest recommendations for the team at Jaipur!

Thanks for reading. Signing off, until next time!

aakash@aha3d.in

Dreamer, doer, maker-turned-leader. Former electronics nerd. Passion driven, for good or for bad. A dabbler in spirituality. Moved on from independence to interdependence. Moved on from label-based identification to creating key value, in whatever format possible.