GM’s ‘Reinvention’ Starts With $25 Million Battery Lab

By dancurranjr On June 16th, 2009

hybrid_battery_packGeneral Motors took a big step toward its reinvention as the “New G.M.” today when it opened what it calls the largest automotive battery laboratory in the United States, a move the struggling company believes will hasten the development of electric vehicles.

The GM battery lab is located at its sprawling Warren Technical Center campus outside Detroit, Michigan.

GM invested $25 million in the 33,000-square-foot Global Battery Systems Lab to develop and test the drivetrains underpinning the Chevrolet Volt and other hybrid, battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

The automaker believes the facility, at its sprawling Warren Technical Center campus outside Detroit, Michigan, will help make it a market leader in battery and EV technology.

“The new global GM battery lab will benefit consumers across America by helping us advance the development of battery technology in the United States and put cleaner, more efficient vehicles on the road more quickly and affordably,” CEO Fritz Henderson said in a statement.

“Our new lab improves GM’s competitiveness by speeding the development of our hybrid, plug-in and extended-range electric vehicles.”

The lab’s opening comes one week after General Motors filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and vowed to reinvent itself as a leaner, greener company focused on fuel efficiency.

It also comes as major automakers align themselves with battery manufacturers to bring cars with cords to market. Volkswagen, for example, recently signed a deal with Chinese auto- and battery-maker BYD, and Daimler bought nearly 10 percent of Tesla Motors last month.

The Global Battery Systems Lab is four times larger than the cramped quarters where engineers had been working on the lithium-ion battery pack used in the Volt. It employs more than 1,000 engineers.

The operation features 160 test channels and 42 thermal chambers that subject batteries to real-world driving conditions and temperarture variations. It also has 32 battery cyclers, “treadmills” used to deplete and charge the packs repeatedly.

“This facility is state-of-the-art and represents one of the largest and most capable battery test labs in the world,” said Jim Queen, vp of global engineering. The lab has a maximum power capacity of 6 megawatts.

The lab also features a thermal shaker table for testing the structural integrity of each pack and a battery tear-down workshop for failure analysis and reverse-engineering competitors’ batteries.

The Global Battery Systems Lab is the crown jewel in GM’s battery program, which includes labs in Mainz-Kastel, Germany and Honeoye Falls, New York.

General Motors is working with LG Chem on the battery that will provide the Volt with an all-electric range of 40 miles, and it has a joint deal with Compact Power and LG Chem to continue developing the technology.

GM also has joined the University of Michigan in creating a battery-specific engineering curriculum and a battery lab in Ann Arbor.

GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week and is radically scaling back its operations, but work on the battery lab started in December 2007 shortly after GM started developing the Volt. Construction started in August and engineers started testing batteries there in January.

The company plans to open a factory somewhere in Michigan to begin producing batteries by the end of 2010, at which point the Volt is slated to start rolling off an assembly line at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly factory.


Toyota Camry Hybrid Test Drive With Review

By dancurranjr On June 16th, 2009

toyota-camry-hybrid-thailand-1Toyota Camry Hybrid ran smooth and quiet during our test drive and review.

The Toyota Camry Hybrid has been one of the top selling cars of all-time. The sedan is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine producing 147 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor produces another 45 horsepower.

The Toyota Camry can operate on any combination of the two power sources. Its power is transferred to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT was chosen for its ability to keep the gas engine in its most efficient power band.

Our Camry Hybrid test drive found that the combination of the gas and electric motor felt surprisingly robust. The acceleration seems much better than most four-cylinder vehicles and within the same limits of a six-cylinder. The automobile can go from 0-60 mph in just 8.3 seconds.

Camry offers various packages and some options include sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a four-way power passenger seat, a navigation system, satellite radio and a JBL sound system with a six-CD changer and Bluetooth. We sat in one of the cars with the high-end package and fell in love with the leather seats. The seats felt very comfortable and were well fitted for any person.

Toyota built this vehicle to perfection as we could tell by the quality. The automobile can operate on electric power at speeds up to 30 mph. However, rapidly acceleration will automatically turn on the gasoline engine.

The Toyota Camry Hybrid has an advanced Technology Partial-Zero Emissions Vehicle rating. This is the cleanest possible rating for a gasoline-burning car in terms of air pollution. In some cases, a city’s air could actually be dirtier than what’s coming out of this vehicle’s tailpipe.

Toyota Camry features standard front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, anti-lock brakes, stability control and traction control. In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing, the car received five out of five stars in all front and side collision categories. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also awarded the vehicle its highest rating of “Good” for frontal-offset and side collision protection.

The Camry Hybrid provides plenty of headroom and leg room. The sedan provides a serenely quiet environment when running on its electric power. It is so quiet, that it’s difficult to tell if the vehicle is still running.

Overall, Toyota continues to build a great car while maintaining the Camry tradition. The automaker didn’t cut any corners with this vehicle, but provided quality and great fuel economy.


Ford Hybrid Shows Green Can Be Fun If You Enjoy Being Despised

By dancurranjr On June 11th, 2009

ford fusionI have become what I most hate. As the traffic light turns green on Manhattan’s Park Avenue I feather the gas pedal, softly rolling forward. Horns blare and yellow cabs swirl round my blue Ford like a river divided by a rock.

I coast the Fusion Hybrid to the next light, ignoring the invective directed at me, the maddeningly slow driver clogging up traffic.

But damn I’m getting good gas mileage.

If sports-car lovers fixate over Nurburgring lap times and power-to-weight ratios, there’s an equally obsessive eco-green set who argue over consumption-over-distance ratios and the etiquette of hypermiling — the practice of driving to maximize fuel economy.

The latter group has another midsize hybrid to obsess about, and this time it’s from a U.S. automaker. Ford’s Fusion Hybrid gets Environmental Protection Agency estimates of 41 miles per gallon in the city and 36 on the highway.

But it can achieve better than that — way better — driven “correctly.” Ford advertises that the 17.5-gallon tank will last you for 700 miles in the city, yet a Ford team wrangled 1,445 miles in a test — more than 80 mpg. The problem is that the driving style needed to achieve those numbers will raise the blood pressure of your fellow road users.

The midsize sedan seats five and starts at $27,270, a sizable premium over the base $19,270 Fusion. A $1,700 Federal hybrid tax credit is good until Sept. 30.

Braking Energy

Ford’s other available hybrid is the $29,645 Escape Hybrid SUV, which also seats five and gets 34 city, 31 highway. There are also Mercury versions of the Fusion and Escape, the Milan Hybrid and Mariner Hybrid. In all, Ford has upped its hybrid production to 50,000 units for 2009.

The Fusion Hybrid has a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and an electric motor for combined power of 191 horses. Ford says the car can operate up to 47 mph in electric mode. Like the Toyota Prius, it uses nickel-metal-hydride batteries and a regenerative brake system to recapture energy.

As for looks and design, except for the shiny three-tiered grill and the honeycombed taillights, it has about as much style as knit sweaters. From the lackluster rims, which look like they’re made of plastic, to the generic sedan shape, the Fusion has no flash whatsoever. Both the rear seats and the trunk are cramped as the battery pack is stored back there.

The economical aesthetic extends to the interior. You like your plastic garnished with cheap-looking cloth? You’re in luck. Fortunately, heated and leather-trimmed seats are available, as is Ford’s fine SYNC infotainment system.

Digital Display

Engineers spent lots of time on the instrument cluster, coined SmartGauge. The digital display flashes fancifully when you turn the car on, showing a speedometer flanked by data on the operation of the hybrid systems and real-time mileage.

How much information you get is up to you. There are four modes, from basic “inform,” giving only fuel and battery charge levels, to “empower,” which even tells you how much energy the air conditioning is sucking.

The goal is to use the readings to maximize your driving efficiency. It definitely works, though it can be as distracting as a video game.

As with other hybrid and electric cars, there’s no start-up noise when you switch the Fusion on, and the continuous variable transmission means there’s no shifting. The transitions between gas and electric power are mostly seamless.

Slow Start

The Fusion has a tight turning radius and though you won’t mistake the steering or suspension for a German-made car, they are acceptable. Power is adequate. It’s no less fun to drive than a Toyota Camry.

Which brings us to those driving techniques that make you public enemy number one. The best mileage is achieved when the electric motor is on, and the best way to do that is to avoid stopping or, when you must, to start off again very slowly.

This is, of course, the opposite of New York City driving etiquette — mashing on the gas to surge through gaps and slamming on brakes at stoplights. Mincing through traffic instead put me in real-time mpg of 60.

The art of hypermiling is controversial as it can include illegal maneuvers such as rolling through stop signs and drafting, or following another vehicle closely to reduce wind resistance. Ford says the team who got 80 mpg did not do that.

Either way, you have to keep the speed down, often to far slower than the flow of traffic. Hitting a parkway, I drive a steady 55 miles per hour and get 50 mpg. Nice. Eyes on the SmartGauge, I slow down. At 49 mph an octogenarian in an Oldsmobile blows by, honking her horn. Embarrassing, but I’m in the 60-mpg range.

I kick the air conditioning up to full blast and the SmartGauge scolds me for sucking lots of extra energy. I quickly stab it off, feeling sheepish.

In fact, I feel a bit giddy. Green can be fun. I wonder how long it takes for this feeling to fade. I’m guessing the first time you’re late for work.

SOURCE: Bloomberg

Will Volvo’s 2012 Plug-In Hybrid Also Be a Diesel?

By dancurranjr On June 11th, 2009

The maker of some of the world’s safest vehicles will soon be the maker of one of the world’s most fuel-efficient vehicles. Volvo announced today plans to produce a plug-in hybrid vehicle that will be available in 2012.

“Most car journeys are short trips, for instance to and from work. We will be able to offer a product that fulfills this transportation need. In order to cover longer distances as well, the car will also be equipped with one of Volvo’s fuel-efficient diesel engines,” Volvo President and CEO Stephen Odell said in a press statement.

The new development will be a joint venture between Volvo and Swedish energy company Vattenfall. Volvo plans to create a plug-in version of an existing model rather than create a new one, and its charging systems will be developed and supplied by Vattenfall.

Volvo has previously stated its plans for a fleet of 10 plug-in hybrids. The Swedish car company did not name which of its existing cars will be the first to go plug-in, but last year Volvo road-tested the ReCharge Plug-in Hybrid, which is based on the C30 coupe platform and uses a diesel engine to power the lithium ion batteries.

A video on (posted by shows interviews with Volvo and Vattenhall executives explaining the partnership and features a diesel plug-in hybrid Volvo V70 that can travel up to 50 km (31 miles) on a single charge and be charged from a standard wall socket, which would cost Swedish owners approximately 3 euros per 100 kilometer (60 miles). Based on current currency exchange, that works out to approximately 7 cents per mile. The diesel engine uses 2 liters per 100 kilometer m (.5 gallon per 60 miles), according to the video.

Volvo also announced plans to debut three demonstration plug-in Volvo V70s this summer that will be used to gather information on customer driving habits and technology preferences. Vattenfall will be testing various concepts for high-speed home charging and developing a public charging and billing system infrastructure. The power company is also tasked with accelerating the vehicle’s charging time. The video shows a 8 kw battery being charged in 5 hours from a standard wall socket.

Source: CNET

Israel Declares “Revolution” Against Gas Guzzlers

By dancurranjr On June 10th, 2009

israel-flagIsrael declared a “green tax revolution” on Monday, proposing a new customs levy on large vehicles and a rebate for junking older gas-guzzling models.

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said he hoped his plan would persuade Israelis to switch to hybrid cars while earning the state up to 400 million shekels ($100 million) a year.

“We are introducing a green tax revolution,” Steinitz said.

The plan would be implemented over the next decade and must first be approved by parliament’s finance committee, which was likely to do so in the coming weeks, Environmental Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan told reporters, alongside Steinitz.

Israel’s conflict with Palestinians has long overshadowed environmental concerns. But high levels of carbon emissions from a growing fleet of private and commercial vehicles has begun to eat into the country’s gross domestic product, Erdan said.

He said up to 2 percent of Israel’s GDP of 714 billion shekels in 2008 was lost to the costs of automobile pollution, including illness, damage to buildings and other infrastructure.

Due to the recession, Israel is expected to post a budget deficit of 6 percent of GDP in 2009.

The government’s plan to cut state spending was rejected by labor unions so new ways to increase revenues are being sought to keep the deficit under control.

The government has already raised fuel taxes and increased the value added tax (VAT) to 16.5 percent from 15.5.

Critics said the new tax plan, which would raise the base tax on new vehicles from 75 percent to 92 percent, then offer discounts for cars with better gas emissions standards, may actually increase the prices of many smaller cars.

Steinitz said purchase taxes would be slashed to just 30 percent for hybrid vehicles, and that the bulk of most tax increases would be borne by purchasers of larger, luxury automobiles or SUVs.

Erdan said the policy also meant to educate the Israeli public “to get used to opting for consumer items that do less damage to the environment.”

The government would also try to encourage Israelis to get rid of thousands of older vehicles clogging the roads — about 70,000 are at about 20 years and older — by paying 3,000 shekels ($750 shekels) apiece to junk them, Erdan said.

SOURCE: Reuters