Is the Age of Electric Vehicles Finally Upon Us?

By dancurranjr On December 3rd, 2010

The LA Auto Show took place last week and several of the hottest cars were electric vehicles (EVs). On display were the much anticipated Chevy Volt along with its current biggest competitor the Nissan Leaf. According to Chevy, the Volt will be available sometime this year for pre-order and manufacturing will begin sometime in the first quarter of 2011. Once it is finally available, the price tag is expected to be in the $40K range. So maybe, just maybe consumers will actually get their hands on the Volt in 2011.

Nissan took orders for the the Nissan Leaf earlier this year and according to the company, the first year model is sold out. With a price tag around $32K it will definitely be a competitor to the Volt. But here is where the cars really differ. The Volt is both a plug-in electric vehicle with flex-fuel capability (PHEV). In other words, it has a gas backup that can run on anything from 100 percent gasoline to eighty-five percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, (E85) while the Leaf is a plug-in electric only vehicle (PEV).

But how hot will EVs and PHEV’s really be? The auto industry is banking on them and nearly all major auto companies have either an EV or PHEV car that will hit the market by 2012. Here are some examples: Audi is releasing 2 models, BMW is releasing 4 models, Ford is releasing 2 models, Mercedes Benz is releasing 4 models, Toyota is releasing 4 new models, Lexus is releasing 5 models, and Honda is releasing 5 new models. In addition, Cadillac has one model, Hyundai is launching its first hybrid, as is Jaguar, Infiniti, Mitsubishi, KIA, SAAB, and Volkswagen. And this list doesn’t include the hybrids and EVs from independent car companies such as Fisker Karma, the Coda sedan, Smart Fortwo EV and Weego LiFE.

What is interesting is that very few of these vehicles are set to be plug-in electric FFV vehicles (PHEVs) meaning most won’t be able to use higher blends of ethanol for their “gas” back-ups. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice two things of interest. First, most of the EVs are coming from foreign manufacturers and countries such as China have plans to dominate the EV market. These same manufactures are not releasing many, if any FFVs. Second, American auto manufacturers are not releasing as many EV models as foreign manufacturers. However, in their case, they are releasing significantly more FFVs.

It will be extremely interesting to watch consumer adoption of the next generation of FFVs and EVs and simultaneously see if the American auto industry comes out on top with its gamble on alternative fuels or if foreign auto makers will continue to gain market share with their gamble on EVs.

SOURCE: Domestic Fuel.com

Cost & CO2 Calculator Helps Choose Electric, Diesel or Hybrid Car

By dancurranjr On November 30th, 2010

As the Environmental Protection Agency struggles with how to accurately label passenger vehicles for fuel economy and greenhouse-gas emissions, a new online cost and CO2 emissions calculator launched today to help fill the void.

“Electrics, hybrids, plug-ins, all these alternative powertrain cars are a hot topic these days, but there’s not a good way to look at the bottom line of what it costs to own one of these,” said Jon Lal, founder of BeFrugal.com, a frugal-living website that offers tools to help consumers save money, including its new calculator.

The calculator allows consumers to first determine which type of alternative-drivetrain vehicle best suits their driving needs based on what state they live in, how many city and highway miles they drive, how many road trips they take each year (and at what distance) and fuel costs in their state, whether it be electricity, gas or diesel.

Using its database of 64 vehicles (four electric, eight diesel, 13 hybrid and 39 popular gas-powered cars) the calculator then allows users to make side-by-side comparisons using EPA miles-per-gallon data, manufacturers’ suggested retail prices and other factors.

Electric car operating costs are translated into an mpg equivalent, or MPGe, using individual states’ electricity costs as calculated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Electric cars’ upstream carbon dioxide emissions are also calculated using DOE data on the electricity source for each state.

According to BeFrugal.com, Washington, Idaho, Kentucky, West Virginia and Arkansas are the states with the lowest electricity rates, making electric cars most economical on a cost-per-mile basis. Vermont, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and New Hampshire are the best states in terms of electric cars’ lowest upstream CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour.

The top two states for electric cars’ lowest operating costs and greenhouse-gas emissions: Idaho and Washington.

California ranks sixth in lowest CO2 emissions, at 0.3 tons per kilowatt-hour (versus 0.001 for Vermont). The state ranks 45th in terms of electricity cost at 15.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (versus 8.3 cents for Washington).

SOURCE: LA Times

Hybrid Cars May Be Industry’s Next High Profit Center

By dancurranjr On December 16th, 2009

new-insightIs it possible that the auto industry has found it’s latest Holy Grail?

For a long time, the industry had relied on its pickup trucks and sports-utility vehicles (SUVs) as their largest profit centers. Indeed, they looked at these vehicles as the geese that laid the golden eggs. That changed with the sharp spike in gas prices a couple of years ago. With gasoline now settling back to the $2.50-$2.75 range the margin on pickups and SUVs is razor thin, if theres any at all.

However, if you look at the hybrid segment, theres an interesting phenomenon going on. The 10 least expensive hybrids are priced between $19,800 and $28,100. And the prices seem to be holding at or near dealer invoice, which means that dealers are making a profit on these vehicles that, while it may not approach the same levels as their former star profit-makers, they are still doing all right.

AOL’s list looked like this (from least to most expensive):

  1. Honda’s reborn Insight. The Insight was the first hybrid to market, beating Toyota by a full year, and became a cult car when it didn’t achieve the mass it needed to be considered a mass-market car. The Insight is priced at $19,800.
  2. Toyota’s Prius Hybrid. Available since 2001, this has been the vehicle to beat in the hybrid market. It achieved the critical mass needed to become a market mainstay and offers a wide variety of features, including 40-plus mpg on the highway. The Prius starts at $21,000.
  3. Honda’s Civic Hybrid. The Insight was produced until 2006, although it was very limited in its last year on the market. The Civic Hybrid, which came to market in the 2003 sales, powered by a 1.3-liter four, is available only as a sedan and is starts at $23,800.
  4. Chevrolet’s Malibu Hybrid is next. It is also a mid-sized, rather than a compact as are the first three on this list. Still, it achieves respectable mileage of 34 on the highway and 26 in the city. It is powered by a 2.4-liter Ecotec four and cranks out 164-horsepower. It is priced at $25,592.
  5. Toyota offers the next hybrid with a Camry Hybrid. Priced starting at $26,150, this front-drive mid-sized sedan seats five and offers mileage of 34 and 33, highway/city.
  6. Saturn, although no longer part of General Motors’ active stable, has an entry with its Aura Hybrid. It is essentially the same car as the Malibu Hybrid mid-sized and achieves mileage of 36 and 24, highway/city. It is priced starting at $26,325.
  7. Nissan’s Altima Hybrid is next. Another mid-sized sedan, it seats five and powered by an electric motor that is charged by a 158-horsepower, 2.5-liter four. The interesting ratings for this vehicle are its highway/city rating. The Altima Hybrid achieves 33 mpg on the highway (probably the most realistic estimate so far in this bunch) and 35 around town. This is the type of mileage skew you would expect in a hybrid. The reason is that in the city the vehicle can take advantage of the natural charge offered by first and second gearing as well as the charging of the regenerative braking system that does put a lot of energy into the battery system. The Altima Hybrid starts at $26,780.
  8. The Ford Fusion Hybrid is next on the list. The 2010 Fusion was radically restyled for the 2010 model year, roughly three years into its product cycle which makes this an even more interesting offering because automakers usually wait until the fifth or six year of their product cycle to change a model radically, but Ford chose to do it halfway into the Fusions product cycle for 2010 and the result is not only a Car of the Year, but also an exciting product. The Fusion Hybrid if a sedan that seats five and uses a 2.5-liter four to power its electrical system. Ford is another of the automakers that uses honest figures in its mileage, showing its highway mileage to be 36 mpg and its city cycle to be 41 mpg. This is a far more honest way of listing things. This model starts at $27,625.
  9. Mercury’s Milan Hybrid, the Mercury twin of the Fusion, is next on the list and it offers the same figures at the Fusion. It starts at $27,855.
  10. The Saturn Vue Hybrid rounds out this list. An SUV, this orphan GM model is a front-drive model that seats five. It starts at $28,160.

Given the interest many potential buyers are showing in hybrid technology and given the fact that this list of 10 vehicles is a list of the least expensive vehicles on the market, it is extremely likely that for a while, at least, the auto industry has found another magic golden goose that could bring in added profitability. The reason for this is simply that all the industry has to do is keep the numbers down and it can keep the price and profitability up. Its simply supply and demand.

SOURCE: All Cars Electric

Toyota Seeks a Short-Range Plug-In Hybrid for the Long Haul

By dancurranjr On October 16th, 2009

plug-in-hybrid-car-phevToyota Motor Corp. is on track to start testing the prototypes for its first crack at plug-in hybrid cars later this year, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

By Jan. 1, the company expects to release 500 plug-in versions of its Prius onto American, European and Japanese roads, said Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight. The cars will use lithium-ion batteries, not the nickel-metal hydride packages seen in Priuses today.

The pilot will kick off a three-year effort by the Japanese auto giant to get data on how these cars fare in the real world: how they’re charged, how their batteries perform, and what sort of mileage they get. In recent years, Toyota has resisted pressure to develop a plug-in, even using commercials suggesting that plugging in hybrid vehicles is a bother.

Engineers will use the new plug-in data to design a more widely produced plug-in version of the Prius, but they don’t intend to copycat other companies’ plug-in efforts, said Tom Stricker, director of the energy and environmental research group for Toyota North America.

The Chevrolet Volt, which General Motors Co. has slated for release late next year, would get a range of 40 miles on all-electric power before firing up its gasoline engine. GM says it based the range on statistics showing that 75 percent of American commutes are less than 40 miles.

Early forecasts are that Toyota will aim for an all-electric range of 10 to 15 miles instead.

Batteries are the most expensive part of any electric-drive vehicle, Stricker said, and Toyota has decided that a 40-mile range is too much.

Trying to keep GM in the rearview mirror

“That might not be the right number if it costs you $15,000 a battery and nobody buys it,” he said.

He pointed to research from Carnegie Mellon University suggesting that about half of U.S. miles driven are for trips shorter than 20 miles.

In its three-year pilot, Stricker said, Toyota will try to find a sweet spot — a balance between all-electric range and the pricey batteries needed to power it.

“The key question for plug-ins, from a design perspective, is how much of an electric range is really necessary, and what will that cost,” he said.

It’s not a bad strategy, according to Andrew Frank, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of California, Davis, whose students once built a plug-in SUV with a 50-mile all-electric range.

Lithium, the main ingredient in the batteries, is hard to come by. So “for the amount of lithium available today, you can build three times more Priuses that are plug compatible than Chevy Volts, since the battery packs are one-third the size. And you make money by selling cars and not batteries!!” Frank said in an e-mail.

Frank said the more cars Toyota sells, the more the price of its batteries will fall, enabling it to make cheaper, longer-lasting cars.

An ‘oddly conservative’ strategy?

The shorter all-electric range for the Prius means that under some conditions, it would use more gasoline than the Volt.

“From an environmental perspective, the more [electric] range the better,” said Roland Hwang, transportation program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an e-mail.

He said Toyota’s strategy on plug-ins “seems at first oddly conservative,” and that the company risks “being seen as a technology and environmental laggard, and losing their current perceived pole position on environmentally friendly cars.”

Toyota currently leads the U.S. clean car market with the Prius, a regular hybrid that sold almost 160,000 models last year. Including its Camry and Highlander models, the company sold more than 240,000 hybrids.

Automakers remain unsure which clean-car technology will catch fire with the public — and through what channel. Major manufacturers are developing vehicles powered by batteries, fuel cells and biofuels, but costs remain high, thanks to technical hurdles.

Smaller companies such as Tesla and Fisker are angling for niche markets, with the eventual goal of reducing price and selling to the mass market.

Driving toward an uncertain market

Meanwhile, carmakers face uncertainty about future market conditions — namely, the price of gasoline and a possible price on carbon emissions.

Toyota is moving toward low-range plug-ins because they make it easier to promise low cost and durability from the get-go, said Bruce Belzowski, an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.

“They’re just not convinced that they have the lithium-ion battery in the right spot to be able to do the things that GM says they wanted to do,” he said. “Toyota is much more conservative when it comes to this.”

The company knows it’s walking the tightrope of public reputation, Belzowski said. Past examples show that a single, high-profile failure can be enough to sink an entire line of cars.

That’s a lesson General Motors knows well — in the 1980s, its efforts to market diesel engines floundered thanks to performance flaws (ClimateWire, June 22).

Instead of going with a smaller all-electric range, Belzowski said, GM will simply sell fewer Volts, improving the defects from year to year. “They’re trying to manage the risk by not promising high volumes to start with,” he said.

SOURCE: New York Times

Debate Begins About Fuel Ratings on Electric Cars

By dancurranjr On September 23rd, 2009

toyota-electric-solarAs the government hammers out how it will rate the fuel efficiency of hybrid-electric and all-electric vehicles, an Israeli company wants to make sure the U.S. gets it right.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a draft proposal for computing an efficiency rating using a “miles per gallon” scale but is not close to issuing a final ruling. It would be a rating buyers could use to compare various vehicles.

ETV Motors, a company that specializes in self-charging hybrid-electric propulsion systems for cars, has suggested in a letter to the EPA that the government consider a new multiple standard. CEO Dror Ben-David says ETV advocates a three-pronged rating for fuel efficiency: one number to show how far the car can go on a single plug-in battery charge, a second number to show how energy intensive the battery is, and a third for how much gasoline it consumes to drive a generator or the wheels when the battery runs out. Ben-David says the U.S. decision is important. “Most of the world looks at the United States as the standard provider and will adopt what the U.S. is doing.”

Even though no plug-in electric vehicles have yet hit the market in significant numbers, debate has begun over efficiency claims. Using an EPA draft proposal, General Motors has forecast that its plug-in Chevrolet Volt electric car will be rated at 230 mpg (it will go 40 miles per plug-in charge before the gas engine comes on to generate electricity), though the EPA cannot confirm that. Nissan, using different numbers from the Department of Energy, claims its Leaf plug-in car, an all-electric with no engine to burn gas, will get the equivalent of 367 mpg.

Says Ben-David, “A single number is not good enough. … It might be a bit misleading.”

Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says there are a variety of other ways the government could set a standard to cover plug-in electrics, but no option is simple.

He says they could measure the car’s greenhouse gas emissions, a number that goes up when a vehicle consumes more gasoline or other fossil fuel. But that rating would also need to include how much carbon dioxide is emitted by power plants that generate electricity to recharge the car’s battery when it is plugged in.

And using an mpg rating formula may be misleading, Kliesch says, because people may not get that efficiency in the real world, depending on their usage patterns and how much or how little the onboard “range-extender” engine is needed.

“It’s really critical that the test procedure that’s decided on accurately reflects what people are going to experience,” he says. “Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.”

Source: USA Today