Cadillac SRX Crossover Plug-In Hybrid Under Development

By dancurranjr On December 23rd, 2010

According to US reports, GM’s luxury car faculty, Cadillac, could be about to bring out a new plug-in hybrid luxury SUV using technology also seen on the Chevrolet Volt. The car in question is expected to be based on the Cadillac SRX Crossover concept first unveiled at the Detroit motor show in 2008.

Reports say GM internal sources have confirmed production for the new model and say it will use some of the technology from the Volt to help keep development costs down. The car is also said to be based on a since scrapped project which started in 2008, based on a Buick vehicle.

A Cadillac hybrid SUV would provide the market with a rival to Toyota’s luxury off-road hybrid Lexus RX vehicles, although the Cadillac version will have the upper hand since it will be a plug-in hybrid using range-extending technology. GM does see Toyota as its main competitor in terms of sales though.

If the project does go ahead, it will be the first range-extending, plug-in hybrid luxury SUV on the market. Speculators say it certainly could take some of the Prius sales away from Toyota in the future.

Since the plans haven’t officially been made public, a release date is yet to be estimated. We’ll keep you updated though.

SOURCE: CarAdvice

Transformation of Michigan Assembly Plant Symbolizes Ford’s Transformation

By dancurranjr On December 17th, 2010

Ford Motor Company held its press preview for the North American International Auto Show at the newly-renovated Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne.

The plant used to build trucks. Now, after spending $550 million, Ford says it’s the first manufacturing facility in the world to build four kinds of powertrains: gas-powered, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles.

Ford says the plant is a symbol of its own transformation to a company that builds more fuel-efficient vehicles.

CEO Alan Mulally says Ford is deeply committed to better fuel efficiency, but, at the same time, the federal government is considering new CAFE standards of 60 miles per gallon average. Mulally says any new standards have to be technically feasible. And, they can’t be out of reach for consumers.

“The most important thing is the economics of the whole thing,” Mulally says, “because people need to have the vehicles that they want but they also need to afford em.”

The Michigan Assembly Plant will build the new Focus starting next year, along with an all-electric version of the Focus, and a hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicle yet to be announced.

Ford and its Detroit rivals Chrysler and GM have traditionally had trouble making money on small cars like the Focus in North America.

But now, the companies are beginning to see lower labor costs, as a 2007 contract with the UAW starts to kick in. Ford will be hiring a thousand new workers soon to work at its Louisville Assembly plant. The new workers will get half the usual wage of current UAW plant workers. Any new workers at the Michigan Assembly Plant will also make the lower wage.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally says another factor that allows the company to make money on small cars is using the same platform – the underpinnings of the car – to build a similar version of the Focus, everywhere in the world that Ford sells cars. Those economies of scale bring down the production cost of vehicles.

The company expects smaller cars like the Focus to become more popular in the U.S. – especially if gas prices continue to rise. Higher gas prices could also spur hybrid sales, but Ford doesn’t expect more expensive all-electric cars like the electric Focus to be big sellers for a long time.

The electric Focus will be competitively priced to compete against the Nissan Leaf, says Mulally.

Ford’s President of the Americas, Mark Fields, says the Focus will also have a similar range as the Leaf, around 100 miles. Fields says two things will limit the popularity of all-electric vehicles. The first is so-called “range anxiety,” which means having to plan every trip around the upper limits of the battery’s capabilities. That capability can vary, depending on the weather, whether the roads are hilly, and driving style.

Fields says the other limiting factor will be price. All-electric vehicles are likely to remain significantly more expensive than gas-powered or hybrid vehicles for many years.

SOURCE: Public Broadcasting.net

First Chevrolet Volts Heading to California Dealers

By dancurranjr On December 15th, 2010

General Motors’ Chevrolet division is shipping 160 of its Volt electric cars to dealers in California, Texas, Washington, D.C., and New York this week.

The first of the Volts, which combine an all-electric motor with a small gasoline engine, left the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant on Monday. The Volt was tested earlier this year when Chevrolet shipped 15 so-called “pre-production” models to people who drove them for 90 days under typical daily commute conditions.

General Motors is trying hard to move first into what will soon be a crowded market. Electric cars of various types are scheduled to hit the market with increasing frequency over the next two years.

Several hybrid models from Honda and Toyota, including the popular Prius hybrid from Toyota, are already on the market.

Locally, Tesla Motors  makes a pricey sportscar that is all electric, but its $109,000 price tag puts it out of reach of ordinary drivers. Those who want to haul groceries or drive their kids to soccer practice in a Tesla still have a long wait: it will be 2012 or so before the Palo Alto company’s Model S sedan goes on sale.

Tesla, led by CEO Elon Musk, has been on a steep learning curve. It has sold fewer than 2,000 cars total, a number that’s practically a rounding error for one of the big carmakers. But it has partnered with Toyota to gain expertise on mass producing cars.

Toyota and Tesla plan to revamp part of the shuttered NUMMI plant in Fremont to make their cars.

Nissan also started delivering some of its Leaf electric cars in California this week — Olivier Chalouhi of Redwood City got the first one, though he had to get it via a dealer in Petaluma. Chalouhi works at Fanhattan, a television technology business he himself started.

A second round of Nissan Leafs is due to hit dealership lots Dec. 20, according to the company. Nissan Leaf cars are coming first to markets in California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Tennessee.

GM says the Volt can go up to 379 miles without recharging or refueling. It combines both the electric motor (for the first 40 miles or so) and then adds power from the gasoline motor as the battery runs low.

Tesla aficionados will no doubt pooh-pooh this reliance on a gas motor, as Tesla’s cars promise to be pure electric. In its marketing, Chevy has played up on the “safety concerns” of drivers who fear being stranded when an electric motor runs out of juice. The company tells Volt shoppers they need have “little concern of being stranded by a depleted battery.”

Dealers in California and the other markets started taking orders for the 2011 Volt in late summer. The car costs about $41,000, but is eligible for some tax credits that cut that to around $33,500.

SOURCE: San Francisco Business Times

Hybrid Toyota Pickups Coming?

By dancurranjr On December 14th, 2010

Toyota may have won a near-monopoly on modern hybrid drivetrains over the last decade, but at least until recently its Hybrid Synergy Drive has been limited to use in car and crossover applications. Sensing the vulnerability, GM, Chrysler, Daimler and BMW collaborated to develop a large V8-based hybrid system capable of powering large light-duty trucks. The resulting “Two-Mode” hybrid system has largely proven to be a bust, as BMW and Mercedes have limited its use to one-time X5/X6 and ML Hybrids.

GM and Chrysler have tried to sell Two-Mode versions of their full-sized trucks and SUVs with little success over the past several years, as relatively low fuel prices and high MSRPs conspired against the hybrid truck segment. Now Toyota may be targeting the hybrid pickup market, as its Hino truck unit has begun testing a hybrid drivetrain for light-duty trucks that it hopes to commercialize by net year.  Greencarcongress.com reports:

The hybrid system, which features a clutch between its engine and motor, offers an all-electric drive mode for the truck. Internal Hino testing showed an improvement in fuel efficiency of a diesel truck by about 50%.

Testing by the Japanese postal service, and several private firms should give a better sense of the efficiency benefits of this system, but that will still leave the question of price. And gas prices. And America’s willingness to buy pickups from Toyota in Detroit-like numbers. On the other hand, it’s not safe to underestimate any Toyota hybrid. If this new drivetrain can do for trucks what Hybrid Synergy did for cars, things could get interesting…

SOURCE: Truth About Cars

General Motors Going to Electric Cars

By dancurranjr On December 2nd, 2010

General Motors Co. is moving into the future.  The company announced today that it would placing a firm focus on the future by hiring a large number of engineers and researchers to design electric cars and hybrid vehicles along the lines of the company’s Chevrolet Volt.

That car is battery-powered and has a better fuel economy than the much lauded Toyota Prius. It runs for an estimated 35 miles when fully charged (it has a 400 pound lithium ion battery); from there, the car has a 1.4 liter engine.

That makes it an alluring sell for those who commute less than 35 miles to get to work.

The Volt is the car that almost wasn’t, particularly in the face of GM’s meltdown during the auto crisis. It is not a cheap car to build, so its beginning profit margin is fairly low ($41,000 per car). GM’s own North American chief referred to the project as a “moon shot.” He also viewed the project as forward motion for the company itself, noting that the project represented the “new soul of GM.” It first introduced the concept of the Volt in 2007 during a Detroit auto show.

The car will first be available in December. The number of Volts on the market will increase in 2011. The company also plans to export the vehicle into overseas markets.  The release of the Volt marks the first big venture of the company since it passed out of the government’s hands after a public offering earlier in November.