First GM Volts and Nissan Leafs Delivered

By dancurranjr On December 19th, 2010

Just a couple of weeks after GM had originally planned, customers are starting to receive the new Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid that uses battery power for 35 miles, before a gasoline generator kicks in to extend the car’s range. The first to get the car is a retired airline pilot, who picked up his Volt today in New Jersey.

He traded in his old Toyota Prius, which could perhaps be read as a ceremonial changing of the guard as GM bests Toyota to the plug-in hybrid market. But it also makes one wonder how much the new car will hurt sales of existing hybrids, rather than the market for gas guzzling cars. GM shipped the first 360 Volts to California, Texas, Washington DC, and New York this week.

Last Friday, the first Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car with an estimated range per charge of 73 miles, was delivered to an entrepreneur in California. His last vehicle was an electric bike.

SOURCE: Technology Reviews

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

Utilities Excited and Worried As More Electric Vehicles Come On-Line

By dancurranjr On December 1st, 2010

The first mass-market electric cars go on sale next month, and the nation’s electric utilities couldn’t be more thrilled — or worried.

Plugged into a socket, an electric car can draw as much power as a small house. The surge in demand could knock out power to a home, or even a neighborhood. That has utilities in parts of North Carolina, California and Texas scrambling to upgrade transformers and other equipment in neighborhoods where the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt are expected to be in high demand.

Not since air conditioning spread across the country in the 1950s and 1960s has the power industry faced such a growth opportunity. Last year, Americans spent $325 billion on gasoline, and utilities would love even a small piece of that market.

The main obstacles to wide-scale use of electric cars are high cost and limited range, at least until a network of charging stations is built. But utility executives fret that difficulties keeping the lights on for the first crop of buyers — and their neighbors — could slow the growth of this new niche.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” says Mike Rowand, who is in charge of electric vehicle planning at Duke Energy, based in Charlotte.

Auto executives say it’s inevitable that utilities will experience some difficulties early on. “We are all going to be a lot smarter two years from now,” says Mark Perry, the director of product planning for Nissan North America.

Electric cars run on big batteries that are charged by plugging into a standard wall socket or a more powerful charging station. A combined 30,000 Nissan Leafs and Chevrolet Volts are expected to be sold over the next year. Over the next two years, Ford, Toyota and every other major automaker also plan to offer electric cars.

Governments are promoting the expensive technology as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil, cut greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. Congress is offering electric car buyers a $7,500 tax credit and some states and cities provide additional subsidies that can total $8,000. The Leaf sells for $33,000 and the Volt sells for $41,000.

Driving 10,000 miles on electricity will use about 2,500 kilowatt-hours, a 20 percent increase over the average annual consumption of a U.S. home. At an average utility rate of 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, that’s $275 for a year of fuel, equivalent to about 70 cents per gallon of gasoline.

Nationwide, utilities have enough power plants and equipment to power hundreds of thousands of electric cars. Problems could crop up long before that many are sold, though, because of a phenomenon carmakers and utilities call “clustering.”

Electric vehicle clusters are expected in neighborhoods where:

• Generous subsidies are offered by states and localities
• Weather is mild, because batteries tend to perform better in warmer climates
• High-income and environmentally conscious commuters live

Progress Energy is expecting electric car clusters to form in Raleigh, Cary and Asheville, and around Orlando and Tampa, Fla. Duke Energy is expecting the same in Charlotte and Indianapolis.

Adding an electric vehicle or two to a neighborhood can be like adding another house, and it can stress the equipment that services those houses. “We’re talking about doubling the load of a conventional home,” says Karl Rabago, who leads Austin Energy’s electric vehicle-readiness program. “It’s big.”

How big depends on the size of the battery in the car, and how fast the car is charged.

When plugged into a standard 120-volt socket, the electric car will draw 1,500 watts. By comparison, a medium-sized air conditioner or a countertop microwave oven will draw about 1,000 watts.

But the car can be charged faster, and therefore draw more power, when plugged into a home charging station. The first Leafs and Volts can draw 3,300 watts, and both carmakers may boost that to 6,600 watts soon. The Tesla Roadster, an electric sports car with a huge battery, can draw 16,800 watts. That’s the equivalent of 280 60-watt light bulbs.

A modest home in the San Francisco Bay area that doesn’t need air conditioning might draw 3,000 watts at most.

Extra stress on a transformer from one or two electric vehicles could cause it to overheat and fail, knocking out power to the block.

Ted Craver, the chief executive of the parent company of SoCal Edison and a chairman of an industry electric vehicle planning association, says early buyers will likely be tolerant of a few hiccups. At the same time, he says, those are the people utilities should try hard to please. “They turn into promoters,” he says.

Hybrid Vehicles Making Greater Inroads

By dancurranjr On November 3rd, 2009

new-insightIt’s been a decade since an odd-looking little car called the Honda Insight hit the U.S. market and Americans discovered the smug, fuel-saving joy of owning a hybrid vehicle.

Now, gas-electric hybrids seem to be everywhere.

More than a dozen hybrid models are available in the U.S. today, with options spanning nearly every taste and budget, from gas-sipping small cars like the Toyota Prius to big SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe that blend right in on Texas roads.

And even though hybrid sales have fallen with the recession and lower gasoline prices, the category continues to attract buyers.

“Hybrids were once seen as a curiosity but have now become mainstream,” said Ailis Aaron Wolf, spokesperson for

Hybrids are likely to make still bigger inroads in coming years as automakers strive to meet tougher fuel-economy standards recently introduced by the Obama administration. The rules call for fleets to achieve an average 35.5 mpg by 2016.

Motorists are demanding cleaner and more fuel-efficient transportation in the wake of $4 gasoline last year and widening climate-change concerns.

Hybrid sales will account for about 2.8 percent of U.S. auto sales this year, growing to 6.7 percent in 2012, predicts J.D. Power and Associates in Troy, Mich.

The Toyota Prius sedan continues to be the best-seller, accounting for 50 percent of U.S. hybrid sales. A newly redesigned Honda Insight is seen as an emerging challenger while hybrid models by Ford, Lexus and Saturn are also finding takers.

Most hybrids — which combine a gasoline-fed internal combustion engine with an electric motor — tout better fuel economy and reduced tailpipe emissions when compared with models powered solely by internal combustion engines. The models are especially recommended for stop-and-start city driving, in which the electric motor takes over, recharged with every tap of the brake.

Critics contend that automakers often overstate gas-mileage claims and that hybrids’ higher sticker prices make sense only if gasoline prices are much higher than they are today.

But Aaron Wolf said the growth of hybrid technology over the past 10 years is silencing detractors. It’s also providing a bridge to electric cars for the masses.

Next year, hybrids are expected to take a leap closer to that goal with the release of the Chevy Volt, which General Motors says can achieve 230 miles per gallon. It pairs a gas engine with lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged by plugging into a wall socket at home. The Nissan Leaf, a fully electric and zero-emission model, is expected later.

Meantime, Americans will see a variety of more traditional hybrid vehicles offered in coming years from the likes of Hyundai, Mercedes, BMW, Ford and Toyota.


Electric, Plug-In Hybrids Ready to Hit the Streets

By dancurranjr On September 9th, 2009

telsa roadsterElectric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are two technologies that automakers are trying to develop for mainstream use, but two upstart California companies are leading the alternative vehicle world. Tesla Motors already sells the only electric vehicle legal for highway use, while Fisker Automotive stands to be the first to bring a plug-in hybrid to market.

The Fisker Karma is a stylish sedan with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain. Also known as a series hybrid, it differs from the hybrids on the roads today in that the gasoline engine acts as a generator only. It has no mechanical connection to drive the wheels. The Karma will drive the first 50 miles on electric power only, after which the gasoline engine will start up as needed to make electricity.

The Karma captures energy used to slow the car down via regenerative braking. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the same idea as the Chevrolet Volt. In fact, the Karma will use some General Motors parts, including the four-cylinder engine to supplement the hybrid electric drive provided by partner Quantum Technologies. The vehicles will be assembled in Finland by Valmet Automotive, builders of the Porsche Boxster

Designer and Chief Executive Officer Henrik Fisker styled cars for BMW and Aston Martin. Fisker showed the production version of the Karma at the 2009 North American International Auto Show in January, along with a concept version of a hardtop convertible. The Karma sedan made its first public “driving debut” earlier this month at the Laguna Seca Raceway.

Orders are being taken for both models, with deliveries of the Karma sedan scheduled to start in 2010. Prices start at $87,900. Fisker Automotive has chosen the Patrick and Fields dealer groups to market the Karma in the Chicago area. For now Fisker has decided to work with established dealers with experience in selling luxury brands rather than building new dealerships. They are also not requiring their dealers to stock vehicles beyond demo and display units.

The Tesla Roadster is a two-seat electric car with a stated range of 244 miles and 0-to-60 acceleration of 3.9 seconds. Lotus builds the chassis in England and assembles the bodies. It has a family resemblance to the Lotus Elise, though it actually shares very few parts. The electric motor, controller and lithium ion battery pack are installed at Tesla’s headquarters in San Carlos, Calif. The Roadster base price is $109,000 and qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit. Tesla also offers an even faster, more performance-oriented Roadster Sport.

Tesla Motors has already delivered more than 500 Roadsters. “We are opening our first stores based on the number of current customers we have in each market. We already have several dozen Roadsters on the roads in Chicago and the Chicagoland region,” said Rachel Konrad, Tesla spokesperson.

Tesla is opening a stand-alone store at 1053 W. Grand Ave. in Chicago, with a VIP customer reception on Sept. 10 followed by a public open house the next two days. Tesla wants its locations, which are all company owned, to be more like Apple stores or Starbuck’s than a traditional car dealership.

The master plan is to launch a new car, built in California, in 2012.

“In addition to having numerous customers in the area for the Roadster, we anticipate that the region will be an excellent one for the Model S sedan [below], which is our next car,” Konrad said. “The Model S has half the sticker price of the Roadster and will also be offered in all-wheel drive, which a lot of customers want in the upper Midwest.”

When asked how the sporty alternative Roadster might fare in our climate, Konrad said, “It’s important to note that we do our cold-weather testing literally on a frozen lake in Sweden near the Arctic Circle. We do our hot-weather battery testing in south Texas. Two of our best national markets outside of the United States are Canada and Norway. So it’s very safe to say that we do not have problems in cold weather.

Also, we offer two hard-top options on the Roadster and as you can imagine they are very popular in northern climates, while the standard soft-top is popular in California, Texas, Florida and Hawaii.”