Dawn of the $2,000 Car – Tata Nano

By dancurranjr On March 31st, 2009

tata-nanoTata Motors announced that it will begin accepting orders for its $1,980 Nano “people’s car” on April 9th. (No relation to the Apple iPod Nano.) The ultra-affordable Nano promises to make automobile ownership more widespread in native India and likely beyond, and it serves as an interesting bookend in a corporate portfolio that also includes Jaguar and Land Rover.

Much like the XO laptop designed for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) mission, the Nano represents a creative initiative to produce a low-cost car that can reach an expansive market. Tata expects significant demand and will be using a lottery system to handle the initial orders. (Today, the Nano section of the tatamotors.com site was down for hours, perhaps reflecting initial interest with the announcement.) Production is expected to reach 350,000 vehicles a year.

The Nano is a 10-foot-long four-seat car powered by 624cc, two-cylinder engine with a four-speed transmission. It will be offered in three trim levels. The base Standard model is barebones enough to make the Flintstonemobile seem luxurious, but it does feature a fold-down rear seat and an 18-month/24,000-kilometer warranty. The midlevel CX boasts heating and air conditioning, power brakes, two-tone seats, and a parcel shelf. The relatively premium LX adds fabric seats, central locking, front power windows, fog lamps, electronic trip meter, a cup holder in the front console, and power point outlet. The LX is also distinguished by unique colors and rear spoiler.

While there are no plans for the Nano to arrive on American shores, we will have an opportunity to check out the company’s two entries for the Progressive Automotive X Prize. Tata is expected to enter an electric microcar in the Alternative class, which requires a minimum range of 100 miles and two-passenger capacity. Tata is designing a hybrid to compete in the Mainstream class, which requires a 200-mile range and four-passenger capacity.

SOURCE: Consumer Reports

Fisker Automotive Recruits First North American Retailers to Represent Premium Green Brand

By dancurranjr On March 31st, 2009

fisker-karmaPremium green automaker Fisker Automotive has appointed its first group of North American retailers to market and service its luxury plug-in hybrid vehicles, beginning with the US$87,900, 100mpg Karma sedan later this year. Thirty-two award-winning retailers have confirmed their intent to carry the Fisker marquee. The number puts the carmaker close to its goal of having 40 locations across the country by the end of June 2009.

All Fisker retailers are well-established operations familiar with premium brands, new technology and discerning clientele. Many are family-owned, each is active in giving back to their communities, and all understand the need to offer premium customers a vehicle that reduces environmental impact. A full list can be found at www.fiskerautomotive.com

Fisker Board member Vic Doolan has been instrumental in guiding development of the company’s retail network. Doolan led BMW NA and Volvo Cars NA to record sales in the 1990s and 2000s, and in so doing built solid relationships with top retail principals. “Our retail partners are our most important assets,” he said. “To our customers, they are the face of the company. For that reason, we’ve chosen those who will give Fisker owners the comfort and confidence to drive the future.”

By keeping startup costs low and not requiring floor-planning beyond demonstrator and display cars, Fisker is able to attract new franchises even in tough economic times. President Obama’s recent pledge of US$2.4B to support development of plug-in hybrid vehicles and battery technology is added incentive.

Fisker showrooms will reflect the company’s concern for the environment and their vehicles’ emission free capabilities. “They will be Eco-facilities, not Ego-facilities,” Doolan said. Architecture calls for natural and sustainable materials like wood and textiles. An available solar-powered car port can keep demonstrator vehicles clean, dry, fully charged and ready to go.

Fisker Automotive Retail Network, Charter Members:

    Barrett Holdings, Inc.         Charles Barrett       San Antonio, TX
    Bergen Jaguar                  Dennis Squitieri      Bergen County, NJ
    Bergstrom Corporation          John Bergstrom        Wisconsin
    Borton Automotive              Kjell Bergh           Minnesota
    Capitol Cadillac Company       Daniel Jobe           Maryland
    Century Automotive Group       George Jones          Alabama
    The Dorschel Automotive Group  Richard Dorschel      Rochester, NY
    Elder Automotive Group         Rob Elder             Tampa Bay, FL
    Fields Auto Group              Dan Fields            Illinois
    Fields Auto Group              Dan Fields            Orlando, FL
    Fields Auto Group              Dan Fields            British Columbia
    Frank Kent Motor Company       Corrie Churchill      Fort Worth, TX
    H.A. Ott Motor Cars LLC        Chip Ott              Philadelphia, PA
    Jaguar of Great Neck           Jack Weidinger        Long Island, NY
    M2 Motors, Inc.                Bernardo Moreno       Ohio
    Manhattan Motor Cars           Brian Miller          Manhattan, NY
    Marvin K. Brown Auto Center    Dave Grundstrom       San Diego, CA
    O'Brien Auto Group             Mike O'Brien          Washington
    Palm Beach Motor Cars Ltd.     Robert Simpson        Palm Beach, FL
    Patrick Dealer Group           Martin Stilwell       Illinois
    Price Family Dealerships       Tom Price             San Jose, CA
    Price Family Dealerships       Tom Price             San Francisco, CA
    Price Family Dealerships       Tom Price             Sacramento, CA
    Rickenbaugh Cadillac Volvo     Mary Pacifico-Valley  Denver, CO
    Roger Beasley Highline Group   David Stein           Austin, TX
    Ron Tonkin Family of
     Dealerships                   Ron Tonkin            Oregon
    Serra Automotive               Joe Serra             State of Michigan
    Serra Automotive               Joe Serra             Pasadena, CA
    Shelly Automotive Group        Damon Shelly          Orange County, CA
    Sullivan Luxury Cars LLC       Mike Sullivan         Beverly Hills &
                                                         Santa Monica, CA
    Ted Britt Auto Group           Raymond Britt         Northern Virginia
    Warren Henry Automobiles       Warren Zinn           Miami, FL

SOURCE: Cloud Computing Journal

Honda’s New Insight Hybrid Poses Threat to Prius

By dancurranjr On March 31st, 2009

2010_honda_insight_hybridIf Honda makes inroads in the United States, the world’s largest market for hybrids, it could force Toyota, the market leader, to reduce its prices. The Japanese news media have reported that Toyota, which controls 70 percent of the U.S. hybrid market, will introduce a cheaper hybrid model with a smaller engine in 2011.

The road is about to get a little more crowded for the Toyota Prius. Starting Tuesday, Honda Motor will offer American consumers what it bills as “the world’s first affordable hybrid.”

Costing just shy of $20,000, the Honda Insight promises to let drivers respond to the two leading crises of the day: the environment and the recession.

If the Insight’s introduction in Japan is any indication, Toyota Motor should be worried. The car went on sale here Feb. 6, and orders have soared, reaching 18,000 in the first three weeks — topping Prius’s sales. In fact, the Insight pushed Prius off the list of the 10 top-selling cars for February.

“I have people asking about hybrids that I never had before,” said Tsuguhito Tokita, a Honda dealer in Tokyo. “With this price, it’s easy to recommend to anyone.”

If Honda makes inroads in the United States, the world’s largest market for hybrids, it could force Toyota, the market leader, to reduce its prices. The Japanese news media have reported that Toyota, which controls 70 percent of the U.S. hybrid market, will introduce a cheaper hybrid model with a smaller engine in 2011 — in part, reportedly, because of the Insight’s success.

Sales of hybrids have been hit hard by the global economic crisis. After several years of strong growth in Prius sales, Toyota had virtually no increase in 2008 from the previous year, as the overall auto market struggled.

“In the short term, it’s a very difficult sell,” said Christopher Richter, a Tokyo-based auto analyst at CLSA. “We’ve entered into a very deep recession, and consumers aren’t keen on buying new cars. Fuel prices have plunged, with fuel so cheap people don’t care much about it.”

But so far, the Insight has been a bright spot for Honda in an otherwise dismal year of plunging sales that have led the automaker to make painful cutbacks and give up its prized Formula One racing team.

Toyota plans to reduce the sticker price of the Prius, according to the business daily Nikkei. The automaker has declined to confirm the report.

“But I can tell you we’re not satisfied with the current state,” said Paul Nolasco, a Tokyo-based spokesman for Toyota, which has sold one million Prius vehicles since their introduction a decade ago. “The Insight’s popularity is evidence that the public is recognizing hybrid technology.”

The market for hybrids could be headed for a huge expansion. The development of cheaper technology, economies of scale and more government subsidies for environmentally friendly vehicles could take what was a niche technology into the mainstream.

A bigger market for hybrids could also ensure that they stay the green vehicle of choice over full electric or hydrogen cars, which remain prohibitively expensive. A report released by J.P. Morgan in October predicted that the global market for hybrids “will rise exponentially” to 9.6 million in 2018 from 500,000 units in 2007, and the current economic slump will not significantly slow that rise, the authors said.

The Insight could bring about a big turnaround for Honda, which tried selling hybrids for a decade without much success. It discontinued a previous Insight model in 2006, believing consumers found hybrids too expensive. But when Toyota saw sales of the Prius rise as oil prices spiked, Honda quickly changed course.

Behind the less expensive Insight is an aggressive cost-cutting effort, as well as technological sacrifices.

Instead of the more complicated hybrid system used in the Prius, the Insight’s main source of power Relevant Products/Services is a lightweight gasoline engine that is assisted by smaller batteries. That greatly reduces manufacturing costs but gives the Insight a highway fuel efficiency of 5.5 liters per 100 kilometers, or 43 miles per gallon — about 4 percent worse than that of the Prius. The Insight also shares parts with other Honda models, which helps the carmaker keep costs to a minimum.

Honda has also struck a chord with an overhaul of the car’s shape. One reason its other hybrids have failed to take off, analysts say, was that they did not come in distinctive shapes.

“A lot of people who drive hybrids want to make the statement, ‘I am driving a hybrid,'” Mr. Richter said.

But Honda’s new Insight looks remarkably like — well, Toyota’s triangular Prius, which has become synonymous with hybrid technology. Analysts say that should help sales.

The global economic slowdown could be an advantage for the Insight, at least over the Prius.

“Several years ago, the Prius would have won hands down,” Mr. Richter said. “But when you’ve got a raging recession, you come down to the question: Do you want the fancier car with greater fuel economy or the one that still has pretty good economy, allows you to be seen driving hybrid and is cheaper?”

“The Insight could steal a lot of Toyota’s thunder,” he said.

Whatever the outcome of the new hybrid race, it is certain to reinforce the dominance of Japanese automakers in eco-friendly cars. Unlike their American counterparts, Japanese automakers have long made energy Relevant Products/Services efficiency a priority, teaming up with Japanese electronics conglomerates to develop high-powered batteries.

In 1996, Toyota and Matsushita, now Panasonic, formed a joint venture to produce nickel-metal hydride batteries for hybrid cars. It plans to produce a million batteries a year by 2010. The venture also plans to make more powerful lithium-ion batteries.

Honda, which gets its batteries from Panasonic and Sanyo, has also invested heavily in battery production, setting up a company with a battery maker, GS Yuasa, to produce lithium-ion batteries. That move came partly because Honda was nervous about obtaining batteries from the same company as its rival, Toyota. The greater capacity would also allow Honda to introduce hybrid versions of its other models.

A string of auto companies worldwide, from Ford Motor to start-ups like Tesla Motors, have announced or introduced hybrids, plug-ins or electric cars. Others are hurrying research into fuel cells and other alternatives.

A technological breakthrough could still turn the market on its head, analysts say.

But for now, only Toyota and Honda have invested the money to mass-produce the mainstay batteries at a scale that makes economic sense. Batteries are still expensive to develop and produce, and kinks in the technology remain, as demonstrated by a string of flare-ups involving Sony-made lithium-ion batteries for laptops three years ago.

“Other companies just don’t have a mass-production setup yet,” said Kohei Takahashi, a Tokyo-based auto analyst for J.P. Morgan. “They might be able to come up with hybrids, but they’re too expensive.”


States Offer Communities Help Buying Hybrids

By dancurranjr On March 31st, 2009

Washington Prius PHEVA state energy agency announced this afternoon that businesses and public entities like municipalities can apply for federal stimulus money to help them buy hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles rather than cheaper but less efficient conventional models.

The Department of Energy Resources said the $300 million national program is intended to cover the price difference between the two categories of vehicles and help businesses and communities buy fuel-efficient models they could not otherwise afford. The agency said the grants would likely range from $2,000 for a hybrid car to $50,000 for a heavy-duty truck powered by compressed natural gas or hydrogen.

To qualify, businesses and public entities must send a letter of commitment by May 18 to the Department of Energy Resources, which will then pass the list on to the federal government. Program participants must buy their vehicles within a set time frame and keep them for at least three years.

SOURCE: Metro Daily News

10 Things You Should Know About the Tata Nano

By dancurranjr On March 30th, 2009

tata-nanoThe tiny Tata Nano is an Indian car that’s been getting huge buzz.

But what do consumers need to know about this new four-passenger car – and is it green?

  1. At about $2,000, the Tata Nano is the world’s cheapest car.
  2. Naturally, it’s a tiny car. The dimensions are nine feet long, five feet wide and about five feet tall, “smaller than a Toyota Yaris,” says Wired. It’s powered by a 623 cc engine, and is designed to compete with scooters. The top speed the Nano can reach is 65 mph.
  3. The Nano is pretty bare-bones: It has a manual transmission, and no air conditioning, stereo or air bags (they can be purchased as add-ons). It only has a single windshield wiper: “Kind of skimpy for a country with a monsoon season,” notes Emily Wax of the Washington Post.
  4. The sale of accessories will make Tata steep profits: According to the Economic Times, the accessories will command a 15-20 percent margin, almost thrice the 5-7 percent margin that is usual in the small-car segment.
  5. Tata hopes to make the car available in the U.S. by 2011 or 2012. However, because of higher emissions and safety standards here, the cars would cost around $4,000.
  6. The Nano is pretty green when it comes to fuel consumption.  The car is certified by the Automotive Research Association of India as getting 56 miles to the gallon. That gives it not only the highest fuel rating of any other Indian petrol-powered car but also the lowest CO2 at 101 gm/km.
  7. This doesn’t mean the arrival of the Nano is green, though. Because it is so affordable, many environmentalists fear that it could double the amount of cars on already-crowded indian roads. According to the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, studies already show one person dies every hour in New Delhi from air pollution-related diseases.
  8. However, if people give up their polluting scooters – currently a popular method of transportation in India – for a cleaner Nano, it might not be so bad after all. According to Tata, the Nano pollutes 12 percent less than a typical scooter.
  9. Tata will not be able to keep up with the demand for the Nano. Auto analysts say that production will be limited to just 30,000 to 50,000 cars in the first year because of limited production capacity — a fraction of the original target of 250,000.The first 100,000 Nanos will be sold at random to anyone who has applied early and put down a deposit.
  10. Tata hopes to eventually release diesel, electric and compressed air-powered versions of the Nano.

SOURCE: U.S. News and World Report