GM Settles on Volt’s Battery Maker

By dancurranjr On August 29th, 2008

General Motors Corp. has decided on a battery maker for the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle, but it’s not saying who it is, yet, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said Thursday on the sidelines of a media event touting the automaker’s 2009 vehicle line.

Lutz said GM plans to announce the battery supplier by the end of the year and will show the production version of the much-anticipated electric-drive vehicle “fairly soon.”

GM is hoping to regain a solid reputation for technological leadership and return to profitability with the Volt and a growing lineup of more fuel efficient and alternative energy vehicles, some of which it showed to automotive journalists Thursday in Joliet, Ill.

The Volt, which is expected to drive 40 miles on an electric charge alone and about 400 miles using an onboard gas-burning generator to recharge its lithium-ion battery, is not expected to be available publicly until November 2010. But it is already the symbol GM is using to promote an image of fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness.

“The actual production of production vehicles may be earlier,” Lutz said.

Because the battery technology necessary to make the vehicle possible is yet unproven, GM has been working closely with two battery makers — Continental and LG Chem — to develop the power supply for the Volt.

Lutz said Thursday that the automaker expects to have a large number of production Volts operating in a test fleet by the end of 2009.

“The Volt is real … and test work is progressing nicely,” Lutz said. “We haven’t hit any obstacles so far for the batteries. They are all performing flawlessly. It’s almost scary we are not seeing any problems with the batteries.”

The Volt is just one part of an energy diversification strategy at GM that includes efforts to develop more fuel-efficient internal combustion engines, hydrogen fuel cells, clean diesel and small turbocharged engines.

But it’s an important part, said auto analyst Erich Merkle of Crowe Chizek.

“The Volt is a big game-changer,” Merkle said. “It’s not going to save GM, but it’s a green halo vehicle. It has the potential to change the perception of GM to be one of a fuel-efficient automaker.”

GM is already doing a lot of things to improve the fuel efficiency of its lineup, Merkle said, but often has difficulty getting credit for what it does accomplish.

GM is already using many of the technological measures other automakers are now boasting about, Lutz said.

For example, GM has already begun combining turbocharging and direct injection in engines, he said.

Ford calls its combination of gasoline-injection with turbocharging EcoBoost and says it provides up to a 20% improvement in fuel economy.

It will be available on a few vehicles in 2009, such as the Lincoln MKS and Ford Flex crossover. Four-cylinder EcoBoost engines are to debut in 2010 in North America and Europe.

But Lutz said GM is already doing that.

“We build EcoBoost turbos today,” Lutz said. “This technology is not new. We don’t call it EcoBoost. We’re doing a lot of it and we know how to do it. The only thing we don’t understand is how Ford claims to get 20% better fuel economy. … When we look at absolutely equivalent engines, we see about an 8% improvement.”

Lutz said he believes Ford must also be including other vehicle improvements such as low-friction tires and electric steering.

Lutz also explained why the Volt should not be called a hybrid — even a plug-in one.

“I know you’ve been hearing a lot about it lately, but it bears repeating that the Volt is not a plug-in hybrid, even though you can plug it in,” Lutz said. “It’s not a hybrid, which is a vehicle that is usually powered by an internal combustion engine with vehicle assist. It is an extended-range electric vehicle. The power driving the wheels is electricity, and only electricity.”

Toyota Motor Corp. has said it will launch a fleet of plug-in hybrids in 2010, but Toyota’s plug-in system — like its existing Prius hybrid — has both the electric motor and gas engine powering the wheels.

GM does plan to launch a plug-in hybrid, Lutz said. The Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid is to make it to market in 2011.

Lutz said all of the solutions GM is pursuing — as well as many that others are pursuing — are viable and in many cases, complementary.

“We are exploring all of them, because ultimately, it may take more than one of them to transform the industry,” Lutz said. “They’re not competing alternatives.”

Lutz said he could not predict when GM will return to profitability after reporting some of its worst quarterly losses ever in recent years. He said GM hopes its upcoming vehicles combined with a plan to save and raise $15 billion this year and next could lead to a return to profitability as early as 2010.

“I cannot in all good conscience make any projections of when” GM will return to profitability, Lutz said. CEO Rick Wagoner and President Fritz Henderson “have said if everything goes according to plan and we have some sort of recovery in 2010, we would hope to have the corporation profitable again by then.”

Source: Freep.com

Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV), Electric Car on Toyota Agenda

By dancurranjr On August 29th, 2008

Toyota is getting back in the electric vehicle game.

The Japanese automaker said this week it intends to develop a small all-electric car for sale early in the next decade. The announcement by President Katsuaki Watanabe is the first indication that Toyota plans to revisit an area of automotive technology that it dabbled in a few years back in the Golden State.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe During California’s abortive effort to encourage development of electric cars, Toyota leased electric versions of its RAV-4 sport utility vehicle. Some of those are still on the road, and some electric-vehicle advocates have been grousing that Toyota, the industry leader in sales of fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrids, should resurrect its earlier electric-only efforts.

Other big automakers, such as Nissan and Mitsubishi, have also announced plans for electric vehicles. And several smaller companies, such as Bay Area-based Tesla Motors, are also developing electric cars or light trucks.

Toyota didn’t release any details of what its proposed electric car will look like or how much it will cost. But spokesman John Hanson said they will be sold to the general public.

That is decidedly not the case with Toyota’s highly anticipated plug-in hybrid, which operates like a gas-electric hybrid but also has a short electric-only range and more powerful batteries that can be recharged overnight through a household outlet.

Toyota has said early versions of that vehicle — widely expected to be based on the successful Prius hybrid — initially would be leased only to fleet operators such as corporations and municipalities.

That plan hasn’t changed. But Watanabe said Toyota now plans to deliver the first of those plug-in hybrids in late 2009 rather than in 2010 as previously announced — indicating that the automaker and Matsushita, its battery-development partner, have made progress in perfecting mass-production techniques for the tricky lithium-ion batteries that will power the plug-in vehicles.

General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz Meanwhile, General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told reporters this week that GM doesn’t consider itself to be in a race with Toyota because its entry in the plug-in sweepstakes, the Chevy Volt, is a completely different (and, he hinted, better) design.

While the Toyota plug-in is expected to have an all-electric range of not much more than 10 miles, Lutz repeated his earlier contention that the Volt’s lithium-ion technology will give it an electric-only range of 40 to 50 miles.

Once these vehicles exceed their all-electric ranges, it’s expected that the Toyota will shift to conventional gas-electric hybrid operation, while the Volt will still be powered by its electric motor and use a gasoline engine to recharge the depleted batteries.

“It’s wonderful that Toyota is working on this,” Lutz said, according to the Associated Press. “If they have test fleets out next year, that’s great. But it’s not the same thing as a Chevy Volt, which is not a plug-in hybrid.”

Several automakers have some sort of plug-in vehicle in the works. Felix Kramer, founder of CalCars.org, a Palo Alto-based advocacy group, thinks the movement will spread.

“It looks like between 2010 and 2012, every major car maker is going to have something that plugs in,” he said.

GM expects to have the Volt in dealer showrooms by late 2010, although Lutz said production versions will be driving in large test fleets late next year.

Toyota’s insistence on providing the first wave of its plug-in vehicles only to fleet users (in what will essentially be a large-scale road-test of the plug-in technology) grates on advocates who can’t wait to get their hands on a plug-in car.

One Northern California Toyota dealer is actually taking $500 deposits to get on a waiting list for the upcoming plug-in, even though the car isn’t even on the delivery schedule yet. So far, they’ve gotten about 30 folks to pay the deposit, which is refundable at any time should the depositor tire of waiting for a car with no delivery date.

“The only reason we’re doing this is because the demand in our area is so enormous that we have to do something to satisfy our customers” who have been clamoring for the plug-in hybrid, said Eric Doebert, business development manager at Magnussen’s Toyota of Palo Alto. “Perhaps out efforts here will show Toyota what their market looks like.”

Hanson said Toyota doesn’t “have anything against him taking orders for future products. But ‘future’ is the key word here.”

Source: LA Times

Next-Generation 2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid

By dancurranjr On August 27th, 2008

Spy photographers have caught the next-generation Toyota Prius hybrid car undergoing testing ahead of its official unveiling at next January’s Detroit Motor Show.Although the new car is heavily disguised, the photo shows that Toyota designers haven’t made major changes to the petrol-electric hybrid vehicle’s distinctive look.

The interior of the new Prius hybrid, however, has had a significant re-design, with the world’s most famous hybrid car adopting a far more modern look that shares styling cues with the Toyota Corolla.The gearshifter of the new Prius hybrid has been moved from the dash to the centre console and now resembles a conventional manual gearshift lever, although it is finished in a blue, carbonfibre-look in keeping with the space age theme.

Toyota designers have retained the large screen that displays diagrams of the car’s hybrid drive system and tells drivers when they are saving fuel and regenerating energy through the braking system.But while the old screen used to sit high on the dash, the new screen is integrated into the sloping centre console, creating a more wraparound cockpit feel for the driver.

Pundits are predicting the new Prius will be powered by a bigger, more powerful four-cylinder petrol engine – up from 1.5 to 1.8 litres – taken from the Corolla. The new engine, when combined with a new electric motor, is expected to put out an extra 30kW of power, bringing total output of the hybrid powertrain to roughly 120kW, the same as Toyota’s Camry medium sedan.

Despite the extra power, fuel consumption will be better than the current model. Some estimates say the new car will have a fuel label rating of just 2.9 litres per 100km, down from the current model’s 4.4L/100km. These seem optimistic, however, given the increase in engine capacity.

The fuel economy improvements will come from a more efficient nickel-metal-hydride battery and updates to Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain.

There is also talk of a solar panel on the roof to power the electronics and air-conditioning.Toyota plans to replace the nickel-metal-hydride batteries with lighter, more efficient lithium-ion batteries during the new car’s model cycle, but early models will persevere with the older technology.

Toyota plans to start producing lithium-ion batteries next year in a joint venture with Matsushita Electric Industrial, but they are not expected to enter vehicle production until at least 2010.

A plug-in hybrid version is also expected to be available early next decade. Although the body doesn’t look very different from the current model, it is rumoured to be 25mm wider and 30mm shorter than the current model.

The main visual difference is at the rear of the car. The hatchback’s glass area has been extended and a prominent rear spoiler splits the glass section, in a similar design to Mercedes’s C-Class Sports Coupe (since replaced by the new CLC).

The 2010 Prius will be built at Toyota’s new Mississippi plant in the United States as part of plan to reduce the car’s whole-of-life environmental footprint. Critics have suggested that the Prius hybrid’s fuel efficiency is cancelled out by the carbon emissions created during shipping from the Japan to the United States.

The new Prius is expected to go into production in Japan – and for the first time, the United States – early in 2009, with local versions tipped to arrive in the middle of 2009. As with the Corolla, the formal, upright centre console of the Prius has been replaced with a bridge-like design that flows from the dash to the car’s centre storage bin in between the two front seats.

Also similar is an open storage compartment underneath the floating centre console.

Toyota is working feverishly on a plug-in hybrid powertrain, although early versions of the next generation Prius are expected to continue with the regular hybrid engine, albeit with major updates and changes to improve its efficiency.

Source: Stuff.co.nz

Ford Aims to be Hybrid Vehicle Leader

By dancurranjr On August 27th, 2008

After some disappointing quarterly results, Ford has made it clear where its future lies – with plans to become the number one hybrid car producer in America next year.

Ford intends to double the number of hybrid cars it offers with hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan to be added to the Mercury Mariner and Ford Escape Hybrid the company already offers.

The company’s director of powertrain research, Dan Kapp, discussed the long-term strategy for the business at a recent Press event in Portland, Oregon, and outlined that the plan is to advance fuel-saving technologies across the product line and begin to delve into plug-in hybrids and more. After that the company will look into hydrogen fuel-cell cars, biofuel-powered cars and any other new technologies.

In particular, Kapp chose to highlight the EcoBoost engine available on select models. With direct injection and turbo charging it can raise fuel economy by as much as 20 per cent and can lower exhaust emissions by around 15 per cent.

Kapp also highlighted that Ford offers the first driveable hydrogen fuel-cell PHEV in the Edge HySeries but admitted that Ford was not pursuing hydrogen powered cars as quickly as Honda.

Source: GreenCarWebsite

Toronto College Offers Hybrid Vehicle Course

By dancurranjr On August 27th, 2008

Toronto’s Centennial College, in collaboration with the Canadian Automotive Repair and Service Council (CARS), is offering a new training course on hybrid vehicle technology, the first of its kind to be offered in Canada.

The 16-hour training course is designed to give participants an understanding of hybrid electric technology, including critical safety issues and how to perform routine maintenance and service on current production hybrid component systems, such as those from General Motors, Toyota and Honda. The part-time course is intended for practicing automotive technicians who want to offer aftermarket service, and is an invaluable aid to service advisors, auto body repairers or towtruck operators who may be first at a crash scene involving a hybrid.

Hybrid vehicle owners and enthusiasts can also enroll, although the level of technical information may be high for many laypersons.

The course begins September 17 at the Ashtonbee Campus in Scarborough (Toronto), Ontario, and is scheduled for Wednesday evenings in four-hour blocks over four weeks. A second class begins on October 22. For more information, visit Centennial College.

Source: Canadian Driver