Monthly Archives: June 2016

Renault Zoe: The Electric Car Lie

1st of January 2015 I started working in Oslo, Norway. About 124 kilometres from where I live; Sandefjord.

I started off with taking the bus. Did that for a couple of months and found it to be sub-optimal with trying to work on the bus on the way in and back, seing that it was constantly crammed going back. I swapped to train to try if that would be more optimal. Sure, the comfort was way better – but had the downside of me walking to take the bus to take me to the train. Ended up being an end-to-end travel of about 3 hours each way. Compared to 2.5 hours with the bus (including walking to the bus and to the office from the bus), which was still a lot. We only had one car at the time and my wife needed it during the days.

In with the electric

We have a pretty good insentivised deal in Norway for electric cars. There is no sales tax on them, making them a better deal than their carbonfuel based counterparts. In addition we have other good deals with free parking on public parking spaces and also no toll for toll based roads. I therefor started thinking about buying an electric. Did the math and figured a car loan would in fact be cheaper than taking the bus or the train. In fact a whole 1000 Norwegian Kroners (about 130 USD or 110 Euros). And the best part, I could save a lot of time. Another benefit is that electrics can drive in the bus-lane – meaning you don’t have to get stuck in traffic. There are some local changes to this, but its a question about timing – when you drive, but still in place. With all this upside, what could possibly go wrong. <>Having absolutely no experience with electric cars, but have owner a bunch of regular gas and diesel based cars over the years – I jumped into it with the wrong goggles. I didn’t look too much around as most cars really didn’t have the range I needed, except for Tesla – but even in Norway these are very expensive. I know people argue they aren’t, with all the benefits – but a car half that price is still half that price with the benefits on top. So I set out to find something not Tesla with enough range to get me one way. I was counting on being able to charge when I was at work – giving me a full 8 hour charge. Seeing that the infrastructure was in place in Oslo, I was willing to take this gamble.

After reading a bit about a few cars, I found the Renault Zoe to be the most interesting from a range perspective. Unlike the competitors, it had gotten reviews claiming the range to be accurate to what they were promising; 240 kilometers on one charge. I even stumbled upon this article, claiming it had almost unnoticable drops in performance in -25 degrees celcius. Everything was pointing towards it. They even had a deal were you could get it with a home super charger included in the price.

I had my testdrive of the car on the 28th of April 2015. Found the car a nice drive, but found it weird that I had to stop for a 45 minute charge halfway to Oslo. The battery had dropped to 20%. I charged and drove it in, parked it for charging for the day. Called the dealer and explained my situation and the salesguy told me to drive it in ECO, which would prevent the car from going faster than 96 km/h. This is were I go; OK and then WTF.. But willing to do what he said when I drove back, I managed to get back – but the display said there only was 15 kilometers left on the battery. Sure, it was a bit confused since its averaging. At this point I knew little about the car and was willing to except that it might be displaying wrong information due to me not driving ECO in and then ECO back. Messed up the statistics, kinda. Did point this out, and the salesguy was surprised.

I was skeptic, to say the least. But had the car for a couple of days for test driving, this time only driving ECO and proved a couple of times it would make it all the way in. So I decided to buy one.

Got the car…

13th of May 2015; super excited. Picked up the car. The installer of the super charger thingy came the day before – all set. Since I was going to charge in different locations, I did order the car to come with a transformer that was able to transform from regular 240 volts to the 400 volts the car needed and also convert whatever it needed to convert. This was not ready from the manufacturer and I was promised to get this in August. Which was perfectly fine for me, as I could charge on the way home if I couldn’t find a charger that was compatible in Oslo and still save time on my travel in comparison to the bus and train options. The compatibility question is related to the volts but also the fact that it needs 3 phase charging and the plug being a Type 2 plug.

A week later

I don’t travel the distance to the office every day. Some weeks 2 days, others 3 and occassional 1 day a week. So I didn’t get into trouble straight away, due to this fact. 19th of May I drove the car in and found a public charging pole and plugged my car in. Shortly after it said “Battery charging impossible” in the display.

Pretty non informative message to get, and it didn’t help to drive to a charger I knew worked. Same message. Anyways, I ended up having to get the car and me picked up by a dealer in Oslo. They plugged in the car to their charger and the message went away. Apparently this happens from time to time. The car then needs to reset its software (turn off the car and wait for a minute or so).

First death

Yes, you read that right; first… The car died on the 29th of May. Not full two weeks after I got it. They had it for almost a full month, claiming to have swapped out the engine and had visitors from France and what not. That may very well be true, but a full month. Really. For a brand new product. Impressive. They hadn’t really found the problem, just swapped out everything. I use the car till I go on my holiday on 11th of June.

Second death

Yup, there was a second one. Got back from holiday and went on a work related trip to the US. I drove the car to the airport, which is farther than Oslo – so I had to charge on the way to get there. Parked it at the airport. Got back from the trip on the 3rd of August. Drove the car to the nearest super charger. It didn’t work for some reason. Drove to a second, got the famous message. Drove to a third, still – same message. Tried “resetting” the car. Googled for help – nothing. I had enough charge to drive to the Oslo dealer, did so. No magic charge could wake the charging unit to life.<>This time it took 5 weeks in the garage. But now they had found the reason for the car dying, some condensator internally not withstanding the type of power we have in Norway is what I’m being told.

Now what

At this point I’m beginning to really become desperate and annoyed. While waiting for the car during its second death. I contact the dealer on the 17th of August to hear about the transformer thing that was supposed to show up during August. Figured I had to have some dialogue with them and try to get my own mood better. The message back is; it will be delayed for another 2-3 months.

A year has passed…

… and then some, since I bought the car. It has not died on me since its second death. But it does occassionally say “Battery charging impossible”. And its just completely random. <>I still have not gotten my transformer. But I have a massive brick with me that does the job, almost.

It weighs in at 27kilograms. So not a lightweighter.

And it does only support 10 ampére charging. Which makes it take some 16 hours to charge when I drove it winter time and had just a few percent of charge left in the battery.

The range lie

Lets bring the story back to the title. Ok. I’ve been messed with quite a bit by Renault and the local car dealer; BilService here in Sandefjord. I’ve been served lies upon lies related to both the performance of the car, range, delivery dates and all. But the biggest of them all is related to the range. And that was actually what got me started on this. I got an email yesterday with an advertisement for Zoe from the local car dealer. Again promoting the awesome 240 kilometers of range of the car. This time with a * next to the 240 kilometers. Me hoping that meant they were going to be more honest, but no.. They actually pointed out that it was 249 kilometers according to the NEDC (New European Driving Cycle). The ad is in Norwegian, but it shouldn’t be hard to get the gist of it.

Having an experience were I see the range be more in the line of 150kilometers on a sunny day with high temperatures and next to no wind resistance and on a winters day with sub zero (celsius) its more in line of 110-130 kilometers, depending on air moistness and all. Added on top that I get the summer range if I drive in ECO with maximum speed of 96 km/h and for the winter range I have to stay at maximum of 90 km/h – there is something really fishy with how these cars are at least being marketed. When I buy a car, no matter what car, I’m not expecting it to be driven in a magical way to get from A to B. I also don’t expect it to have imaginary performance numbers in the lines of “if you drove the car off a cliff and fell for 240 kilometers, you would be able to make the range”. If I were to ever make that range, I think I would have to drive the car at a speed of 50 km/h. I think this is a big fat lie. Renault has yet to come with any excuse to me as a consumer of their products.

The best part, I think… I asked the dealer about the transformer; again… Almost 3 weeks ago, with a more annoyed tone from me. The answer I got was that he could see that I was on the list for the following week. Now, 2 weeks later – I’m just writing down on the “keeping score card” – another lie.

Fantastic.

And its a shame, the car is a nice drive. But if I could turn it back in I would – in fact I was in dialogue with the authorities; Norwegian Consumer Advice – they basically said it was hard to do anything with the situation, just based on the fact that the manufacturer has responded and done “… what they can…” to help me out. I’m now stuck with a product I kinda hate. And the awesome part; the battery quality will deteriorate – lithium based batteries has a tendency to go to 70% capacity after 1000 charging cycles. So that is brilliant when I was hoping to almost make close to one full cycle per day traveling rather than 2. All my math based on a lie, and I’m the one having to pay for it. Thank you Renault. Guess I won’t be your customer for long – nor the local dealer; BilService. Its the worst consumer experience I’ve ever had – I hope you don’t run into this.

 

 

Edit: I don’t do these kinds of posts – and trust me, I would’ve preferred not to this time either. But I don’t really know any other way. I’m frustrated, I’ve got a product that is not delivering on a promise, a manufacturer who is not in dialogue mode at all, a car dealer who is just trying to push the problem away, authorities basically saying I’m stuck. I know this is not the ideal way to deal with these things. I could “lawyer up”, but that can easily become expensive. So I don’t know.

Evangelizing

A while back I got into a discussion with another developer. The other guy basically critiqued my code because Angular 1 was so much better than Knockout. It really annoyed me, not because I felt the other person was wrong, or at least not wrong in the sense that I loved Knockout that much. But it annoyed me because its really comparing apples and pears. Sure, both targeting to solve workloads for frontend development on the Web. The arguments presented was very clearly for Angulars ease and against Knockouts idiotic properties being “ko.observable*”. But fundamentally they are different in its underlying core values and concepts. Knockout aiming for a reactive model with its observables, while Angular not having any reactive model at all and being a MVA (Model View Anything) – not opinionated.

This is what bugs the hell out of me. Since these things are so different, fundamentally – how can one be better than the other? And as a consequence, just because one has found something that makes sense for you, why does it have to be true for everyone else? To me for instance; Angular is just completely weird and can’t understand why one would like it at all.

Lets take a step back; this is not a “Foo Framework” against “Bar Framework”. I’m trying to get to the core of something that I think is way much broader than just software development – but probably more visible in software, seing we have all the options we have. Going back to when I grew up for instance, I was a fan of SONY’s HiFi equipment, while one of my best friends was a JVC fan. We had the weirdest discussions. Enter my third friend who was fan of things no one had ever heard of; NAD, Denon and similar. The discussions got even weirder – not from our third friend, but from the others trying to convince him that he was wrong. You can see this with just about everything – people being so convinced their choice of car is the best, TV and of course religion. It seems that this is part of human nature. And we love to evangelize it and try to convince everyone else we’re right.

Trust me, I’m not taking a high road here; because I do this myself. I find something that I enjoy enough to start “evangelizing” it. This is probably something well defined in psychology already; related to wanting to getting a reinforcement of ones own beliefs and decisions.


Core values

<>There is nothing wrong with a good discussion and if you’ve discovered something you should of course show it off and see if others find it cool. But if you’re in a team, having these discussions around one thing being better than other can truly be poison. In my oppinion it also reflects a symptom of lack of common core values. The discussion of Angular vs Knockout as described above is a weird one because it really is not about a discussion between the two, but rather about the differences in underlying mindset and core values. If you’re used to and enjoy a particular way of thinking, changing to something else is very hard. For instance, if you’re used to object oriented programming, functional can be too far away to understand.

Job protection

<>A scary thing I’ve seen a few times; people get comfortable in their job – so comfortable that they start making up reasons for keeping their beloved way of doing things. The reasons behind this is not always obvious. The ones I’ve encountered have been in two categories.

  1. I’ve spent a lot of time learning what I know now and don’t see the point of learning anything new.
  2. The company has had success with the way we’ve done things.

<>For the first reason I’m just going to say “ehh… what…”. That is especially true for our line of work; software development. A relatively young business with so many things changing all the time, and not only changes in software – but the hardware in which the software is running on. Personally I think that is a risky way of going about thinking in our line of business.<>The second reason; if you’re having success it is really hard to see and even argue that you should change your way. If the business you’re working for is having success, but for instance the software you’re working on hits a snag and you get to the point of getting to rewrite it. Even then, you will have a hard time seeing that you need to do it in a different way; after all – the way you did it worked, because it brought success.

In both cases I think the boiling frog anecdote might be the reason behind. Basically, while building something over time – you won’t notice the things that lead to something not really being done in a good way. You’re having many small successes and feel good periods and you simply aren’t noticing that the project is in fact failing. Most projects do tend to have the best velocity in the beginning and slow down over time. Something the team members executing on it won’t notice, because it is happening slowly. But anyone external to the development team is noticing, because their demands for new things have not declined over time but rather increased and often these are the people dealing with the problems as well – while the development team is having a hard time getting through things at the right pace.

I find what Einstein saying: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. interesting and so true. One gets into discussions with management of needing to recreate the product from scratch, because you’ve identified something that is holding the development back and is too painful to fix. You get to do “File -> New Project” and do it again using the same kind of thinking we used when we created the problems in the first place (referring to another Einstein quote).

<>We are so lucky in our profession; there are so many choices – so many ways of doing things. It truly is a luxury.

Mixing it up

<>At a place I was we were about to embark on a rewrite. A few of us had discovered some new principles and experienced some pain while doing a small 3-4 month project in isolation. From this two of us were tasked to do a small proof of concept for the larger project, to sketch out a direction and a starting point for a discussion. After doing this we decided on the direction for the project and what fundamentals to go for. To get the team familiar with different thinking, we mixed things up a bit by doing a period of Ruby development. Writing Ruby and discovering the culture of rubyists let us write our C# in a different way when we got back to it.

Keeping fresh

<>So, how do you keep fresh thinking? It is hard, it really is. Everyone suggesting everything from kode katas, pair programming, friday lightning talks and all these cool things must realize that it is hard to get there. They are all good ideas and things that can help your team keep fresh. But getting to a place where you can build this type of culture is hard. You need the trust from the business to be able to do so. Also, you probably need to have a certain critical mass of people working together before it can be accomplished. Lets face it, being a development team of one makes this very hard. But it is very doable. It starts with recognizing that one has to keep fresh and on top of things. If you think when you graduated that you didn’t need to learn new things, you need to start with changing your attitude. That attitude won’t push anything forward in terms of new ways of doing things. Innovation comes from being aware of what is going around out there and combining wizdom and build on top of it or go in a different direction from established wizdom – but nevertheless, its about knowledge.

Breaking it all up…

One way of being able to push forward and try different things to be able to learn new tricks and gain knowledge could be to start breaking your software up into smaller pieces; enter the buzz of the Micro Services. Sure, there is a lot of buzz around this. But cut to the bone; its about breaking monoliths up into smaller digestable pieces. These digestables could be implemented in different ways, in fact – I would argue they should be. Basically because the different parts have different requirements both for business and ultimately also technical. This is a great opportunity to mix things up.

Back to the value thing…

Remember I said something about core values. I’m convinced this sits at the heart of it. If you get to work and it is a predictable environment in terms of you know you share something with your coworkers. Having the thing you share being core values, rather than the belief in something hard and concrete as a specific technology – you move the discussions to a more healthy level. If your discussion is which of Windows, Linux or OS X is the best operating system, you’re probably not solving the real problems. If you can look past this and past implementational details and start having a solid fundamental that you all believe in – you can move up the stack much more rapidly. Chances are that a lot of the decisions will automatically be made for you if you settle the core value debate first. I’ve blogged about this before – I have no problem reiterating the importance of this, I think it is at the heart of a lot of silly discussions that could’ve been resolved without them having started.

Wrapping up…

<>Is it really important that I drive a Toyota and you drive a Ford? Will the world be a better place if I switched to a Ford? Probably not! Conformity is nothing but just that. It doesn’t really solve any fundamental issues, it covers it up. It is the fundamentals that are different. In software development, these fundamentals are core principles – how you believe software should be written and what makes you productive. This view is a subjective view and it is also a very temporary view. Once you’ve learned new ways of doing things, chances are you look back at your previous knowledge level and laugh or you’re embarressed you ever had that view. If you’re really cool, you even move forward in life and forget you had the view and laugh at people who have the view you had way back… ehh… a whole month ago… Everything is hard until you know it, and then it is the easiest thing in the world. We tend to make a point about it as well. Once we know it, we’re so proud of knowing it that we tell everyone. Knowledge is a moving target, new knowledge emerges – embrace this concept and embrace change. I know I will work for this and aim for getting better at doing better in this area. I have a few comfort zones to break out of and will push forward. Wish me luck!