Shaun Shue

Being an EV Early Adopter: My 2011 Zero S

“They’re quiet, clean, need minimal maintenance, and put full torque from a dead stop. When is every vehicle going to be electric?” — Me getting my Zero, early 2013

“Oh… They need to solve some things.” — Me, late 2013

Note: I’m revisiting this in 2020 as I change my site over to JAM stack. Tesla has solved most of these and cemented itself as the industry leader. Other electric startups are fledgling in the market and what I wrote feels oddly relevant to them so many years later.

1. Price

For the price, I could have had any other motorcycle I was interested in. The high price is partly due to small scale manufacturing, but even if the fixed costs were spread over more units, the variable cost of lithium chemistry batteries is still high. It’s offset somewhat by far less expensive fuel, and hypothetically, by lower maintenance.

2. Charging infrastructure

There are few places to charge and it takes longer: 4 hours on 115VAC, specifically. Shopping centers are trying to bridge the gap and build new user habits by offering charging while there, but I’ve only seen CHAdeMO plugs, and I don’t have that charger.

If I didn’t have a garage, I wouldn’t have this bike.

3. Range

Related to charging, I can’t deviate from my commute without finding a place to charge. The onboard charger goes to 100% and holds there, which has depleted the lithium batteries’ maximum capacity, bringing the range down from a specified 58 miles to ~30 (93km / 48km) and compounding the problem further.

I’ve mostly gotten used to the charging and range routines, and as a daily commuter, these have become as normal as checking tires for air. Still, I’m very aware of it when I’m on my last bar of battery.

The 2012 Tesla S has a specified range of 265 miles (424km) to alleviate range anxiety, and it gives me range envy.

4. Support

I’m lucky enough to have an authorized shop in the city. But even then, they kept my bike for three months when the controller fried, and I only got it back after it was shipped to the manufacturer for repairs.

I’m told the 2012 switched to brushless motors (engineering Shaun approves), and is essentially an entirely different bike that happens to look like mine. It’s certain to help reliability, but when things inevitably break, three months is too long to fix. Custom PCBAs and no standardized parts also means I’m not going to fix it with some buddies on a Saturday morning.

In Summary

The Zero is fun. There is a directly-connected feeling between throttle and speed that, with its light weight and instant torque, gives a nimbleness that borders on comic book fiction. So when is every vehicle going to be electric? Once these four things are solved, it won’t be long.

 

Update: I’ve built other light electric vehicles since selling the Zero. It is easy to make an EV. It is hard to make a great EV.