IRS Plugs Into Incentives for Hybrid Cars

By dancurranjr On May 16th, 2009

irsThe IRS, in line with the Obama Administration’s energy conservation program, is working on incentives to encourage the purchase of plug-in electric vehicles.

“The new administration has made it clear to major American auto makers that the manufacture of plug-in electric cars is essential both to their survival,” said Robert Manero, a tax partner at CPA firm Maillie, Falconiero & Company, LLP, with offices in Oaks, Pottstown and West Chester, Pa. “To make this more appealing to manufacturers and buyers, the IRS is preparing guidance on tax incentives that range from $2,500 to $15,000 for the purchase of these cars.”

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are moving from the drawing board to the assembly lines here and abroad. General Motors, for example, advertises the Chevy Volt.

Low-speed vehicles with at least four wheels that draw propulsion through a rechargeable traction battery with a capacity of at least four Kilowatt-hours may qualify for at least $2,500. Higher credit ranges from $7,500 to $15,000, depend on vehicle weight and battery capacity.

“With the price of the initial American plug-in hybrids expected to cost $30,000, the tax incentives would seem to place them in the price range of the average American taxpayer,” Manero said.

To get the tax break, the hybrids must be purchased after Feb. 17, and before Jan. 1, 2012.

SOURCE: Community Pub

Renault-Nissan Lands in China, Obama Buys Hybrid Cars

By dancurranjr On April 14th, 2009

obamaThe Renault-Nissan Alliance said Friday it will help the Chinese government map out plans to popularize electric cars.

The automaker will create a detailed plan mapping out a battery-charging network and a marketing program. The alliance will do all these work for the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Nissan said it also is working with the city of Wuhan on a pilot project to create the infrastructure for electric cars.

The alliance plans to start selling electric cars in China in early 2011.

The alliance has been aggressively wooing governments from around the world to build markets for all-electric cars. It has inked similar deals in Japan, Israel, Denmark, Portugual, Monaco, the United Kingdom, France, Switzerland, Ireland and the United States.

Other carmakers and players in the auto industry also have been lobbying for government support to provide incentives for consumers to buy electric cars and to create policies that would smooth the process of setting up charging networks.

Earlier this week, Mitsubishi said it plans to work with Oregon and utility Portland General Electric on developing a charging station network. The utility is developing the network, and Mitsubishi said it’d provide the all-electric i MiEV for testing the network. The automaker hasn’t said when it will start selling the i MiEV in the United States. Mitsubishi plans to launch the car in Japan this summer.

The Portland utility and the state of Oregon have a similar deal with the Renault-Nissan Alliance.

While the state and local governments in the United States are looking ahead to promote low- or zero-emission cars, the federal government is focusing on helping the domestic automakers now.

President Obama announced yesterday that the government would buy 17,600 fuel-efficient cars from American automakers for its fleet. The administration plans to spend $285 million by June to buy those cars from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, reported Washington Post. That would include 2,500 hybrid cars.

The General Services Administration will make the purchase. It also plans to spend $15 billion to test advanced technology cars in the federal fleet, including buses that run on compressed natural gas and all-electric cars.

SOURCE: GreenTechMedia

GM Boosts Request for Energy Loans for Hybrids

By dancurranjr On April 12th, 2009

2011 Chevrolet Volt Production Show CarGeneral Motors Corp. has raised its request for loans from a federal energy program by $2.6 billion to $10.3 billion to help build three fuel-efficient vehicles, according to a government filing.

The loans GM is seeking from the U.S. Department of Energy is in addition to its request for up to $30 billion in loans from the Treasury Department to sustain its turnaround effort.

The latest request was disclosed by GM in a report earlier this week. It comes as the Detroit automaker is racing to restructure its operations and extract concessions from stakeholders, including its and bondholders.

The Energy Department has set aside $25 billion in low-cost loans designed to help automakers retool plants and develop fuel-efficient technology. Although the department has received dozens of applicants, it has not yet disbursed any of the funds set aside.

GM said that it will use the $10.3 billion in energy loans to develop and introduce three hybrid vehicles, two of which will be modeled on the Chevrolet Volt, the extended-range hybrid the automaker hopes to introduce next year.

GM said that despite its financial troubles, it still remains committed to developing next-generation vehicle technologies. The most touted of its plans to do so is the Volt, which is expected to be able to run 40 miles on a single charge, at which point a small gasoline engine kicks in to help power the car.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration gave GM 60 days to continue its restructuring effort before it grants its request for additional funds. It also said a quick bankruptcy may be necessary, and ousted its former chief executive, Rick Wagoner, leaving former Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson in charge.

Shares of GM gained 3 cents to $2.12 in afternoon trading on Friday.

SOURCE: Business Week

GM Says Volt Isn’t Dead Yet, Despite Panel’s Bleak Report

By dancurranjr On April 8th, 2009

phev-voltThe White House may have sounded a bit bleak on the Chevrolet Volt last week, but both the company and the Obama administration say don’t read that as early news of the much-advertised electric car’s demise.

President Barack Obama’s auto task force last week said in an assessment of General Motors’ viability that it was a full generation behind Toyota in “green powertrain development” and that “while the Volt holds promise, it is currently projected to be much more expensive than its gasoline-fueled peers and will likely need substantial reductions in manufacturing cost in order to become commercially viable.”

A White House official who worked on the assessment said Wednesday, however, that the statements had been simply another way of saying what GM has said all along – it will be a challenge to bring the new technology up to scale and make it cost-competitive.

GM will have to make its own decisions about the pace of its advanced technology, said the official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

“You should not expect the task force will say GM should discontinue the Volt,” he said.

GM spokesman Dave Darovitz said there was nothing new in the government statement on high costs. New technology is always expensive, he said.

The company has added money to building the Volt, and it’s still the “No. 1 product development program here at GM,” he said.

“We will make it happen,” Darovitz said. “There is no deviation in our focus and intent to bring the car to market in late 2010.”

Darovitz said the government report made an unfair comparison with Toyota because it was dealing with two different technologies – the Prius gas-electric hybrid and the battery-powered, plug-in electric Volt.

Obama last week rejected GM’s restructuring plan and gave the automaker until June 1 to explain how it would reshape itself as a healthy company. GM seeks more than $16 billion in additional taxpayer funds.

GM reported in its five-year restructuring plan that it’s investing in hybrid and plug-in cars and trucks, including the Volt and two other models that will use its technology.

“With a majority of Americans driving their vehicles less than 40 miles per day, the Chevrolet Volt – providing up to 40 miles on a single electrical charge – should be attractive to those seeking to use little if any gasoline,” the GM plan said. “The development costs of high-technology vehicles like the Volt are significant, but so are the long-term benefits that come from increased energy efficiency and independence.”

Darovitz said the company expects state and federal incentives will help boost demand for the Volt, particularly a $7,500 federal tax credit. The Volt is expected to sell for around $40,000 because of the high cost of its batteries. The Energy Department has been helping with battery research to bring costs down.

SOURCE: Miami Herald

Hottest Electric Cars Soon To Hit The Roads

By dancurranjr On March 21st, 2009

toyota-phev-priusAmerica’s roads could get a whole lot quieter in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks to unprecedented tax incentives included in Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package, plug-in electric vehicles are getting closer to the road than you might expect. Tax credits ranging from $2,500 to $7,500 for buyers of electric cars, the largest of which start in 2010, mean the race is on for automakers to produce moderately priced plug-ins for eager, eco-conscious consumers.

“There is a lot of interest currently with the Obama administration making it very attractive for electric vehicle manufacturers to come into the U.S. to produce vehicles,” says Brendan Prebo, a spokesman for Th!nk, a Norway-based maker of electric cars. “And that’s very much what we’d like to do.”

The automaker just announced plans to build a manufacturing plant and technical center in the U.S. (eight states are currently being considered). The plant will employ 300 workers, the technical center 70, with production starting in 2010.

Th!nk’s City car has a range of 112 miles and a top speed of 65 miles per hour–currently sold in Norway and soon to expand to “EV friendly” cities in Europe, it won’t come to the U.S. for several years.

The Electric Race
Electric vehicles have faded in and out of public view for more than a century. Inventors in Scotland and the Netherlands developed electric and electromagnetic cars as early as the mid-1800s, and the Detroit Electric automobile won favor in the early 1900s for drivers–mostly ladies–who didn’t want the physical stress of hand-cranking a combustion engine.

Major automakers, including Ford Motor, General Motors, Nissan and Toyota, even created generations of electric concept vehicles, but they never caught on. Limited battery technology, the expense of production and a lack of demand kept the cars from mass production.

The current market for electric vehicles is limited to second- or third-vehicle options to augment a family’s fleet of cars. The Tesla Roadster, for example, will take your breath away on the open road, but its convertible configuration, two-seater status and high price ($109,000) make it less than practical for families. And the diminutive ZENN is good for running errands in the city, but its top speed of 25 miles per hour can’t quite hack it on a highway road trip. In short, the EV market offers expensive sprinters or pod-like commuters–not much in between.

However, Toyota’s Prius PHEV and FT-EV (based on the current Toyota iQ model) are two of the latest models the Japan-based company has put forth as possibilities for production. The plug-in Prius will commence field tests later this year, with 150 of them to be used in a two-year trial in the U.S. Production-grade units of the model could arrive after that, but the time frame is uncertain, says Bill Reinert, Toyota’s national manager of advanced technology vehicles.

A key to success for any plug-in is to manage consumer expectations. Case in point: The current-model hybrid Prius has done so well–Americans bought 158,884 of them last year–that it completely changed the identity of Toyota’s brand. Now, the challenge is to maintain that status with plug-ins.

“It’s equal measures exciting and frightening,” Reinert says. “It’s exciting that you see things changing, and it’s frightening that they may not change enough or you may have missed something. We’re pretty high up on a tightrope here without a big net underneath us. It’s a lot of money to spend.”

Chevrolet, too, is under pressure for its much-anticipated Volt. The four-door sedan with an electric-only range of 40 miles–and a small gas tank that fuels it further–is due out late 2010. Experts say the car has the potential to enliven the entire brand, which has suffered considerably as General Motors struggles with near-bankruptcy.

BMW’s MINI is also on the forefront of electric technology–field tests for 450 of its plug-in MINI E will start later this spring. Pre-approved drivers in California, New Jersey and New York will lease the E, which boasts a top speed of 95 miles per hour.

“This thing drives like a MINI,” says Jim McDowell, head of MINI USA. “It is a surprisingly nimble, agile car with a top speed well above what anybody would be driving on a state highway. You really have no limitation in terms of the joy of driving.”

Fringe Element No More
If history is any indication, economic incentives still might not be enough for traditional automakers to bring EVs mainstream. Nimble start-ups, however, have excelled at getting electric technology to market relatively quickly–and might in the near future as well.

Tesla and the Irvine, Calif.-based Fisker, with its $87,900 Karma, developed their models based on the idea that electric cars should be neither constrained by budget nor reminiscent of a golf cart.

Needless to say, the cars are popular. The signature-edition Karma is completely sold out, and the company is already accepting $5,000 deposits for its Karma S convertible, which won’t be available for another year. Prospective Tesla owners must get on a waiting list–and expect to receive their cars a full 12 months after reserving one.

ZENN Motor Company (Zero Emissions, No Noise) and California-based ZAP (Zero Air Pollution) have been around since the early 1990s selling neighborhood electric vehicles and scooters. But the tiny size and low power of cars like the ZENN and three-wheel, $11,700 ZAP Xebra have relegated them mostly to neighborhood use.

But Alex Campbell, for one, sees potential for electric vehicles to break that paradigm. A spokesman for ZAP, he has owned a Xebra since 2006 and says he almost never uses his other vehicle, a gasoline-fueled truck.

“I drove to work in my Xebra this morning, and I’m living the dream,” Campbell says. “It’s really fun.”

It’ll be fun for everyone else if EVs actually catch on and those tax credits start rolling in.

SOURCE: Forbes