Friday, December 28, 2007

Financial Times on Th!nk

Financial Times Deutschland has a report on Th!nk Global. Putting a little flesh on the bones of previous reporting. 10,000 Think City electric cars in 2009. Parts manufacturing in Thailand and Turkey. As previous reported, plan is to sell the car (€25,000) and lease the battery. Zebra batteries first. Online marketing and sales.
Think says it has battery supply contracts with three companies, and is moving into production. It plans to begin selling its cars in Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and the UK next year, with projected sales of 10,000 cars in 2009 and double that by 2011.
One question raised in the story is how Th!nk will fare as established carmakers bring electric cars to market.
With its modest volumes, it also remains unclear how Think will cope when bigger competitors such as Renault/Nissan and Daimler come to market with their own electric cars.
If Think can begin making thousands of cars per year in 2009, I suspect there won't be much competition for years. Subaru's snail's pace production plans are far from ambitious. GM's Vue and Volt plug-ins have no firm date to appear in showrooms. If Nissan or Mercedes are to make a serious electric offering in the same time frame, we'll have to hear something soon.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Subaru to Begin EV Sales in Japan in 2009


Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) has issued a press release, according to Green Car Congress, announcing that 2009 rather than 2010 will see the sales of the first 100 electric Subarus in Japan. FHI's President Ikuo Mori foresees the price down below $20,00 by 2012 for this subcompact, as production ramps up for the Lithium battery packs.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Electric Smart Car ForTwo Delivered by Mercedes

Mercedes-Benz has delivered the first of 100 electric Smart ForTwos to fleet customers in the UK. Coventry City Council will be using the electric Smart in its fleet.

Smart Car of America has the most complete report, straight from Daimler, with most of the relevant stats. The energy storage is a sodium nickel chloride battery. Same battery the first new Th!nk City cars are said to be using. Only stat missing in the report is the size of the battery pack.
Rated output 30 kW/41 bhp
0-60 km/h 5.7 s (0-37miles in 5.7secs)
Maximum speed approx. 112 km/h (just shy of 70mph)
Range approx. 115 km (just over 71 miles)
Consumption* 12 kWh/100 km
CO2 emissions 0 g/km
Could this herald a serious interest on the part of Mercedes to produce battery-powered vehicles?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Popular Mechanics Takes Aptera for a Drive

This wingless Jetsonian vehicle has seemed to me to be too much design, too much gadgetry, too much website, and not enough practical, buildable car. I thought I could smell the vapor.

Well, Popular Mechanics asked and the Aptera folks let them in. The magazine's Ben Stewart took the all electric car (3 wheeler) for a 20 mile spin in Carlsbad CA. And he came back impressed. There's video, lots of stills and most of the basic stats you'd want to know. And plans for a serial plug-in hybrid. 300mpg, they say. Yowsa! Here's to hoping all they say is true.

•Available 2008
•under $30,000
•120 mile range
•10kWh Lithium pack
•under 1500 pounds
Check it out here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Electric Car Salute to Al Gore in Oslo


Electric cars, including many Th!nk City cars and at least one RAV4 EV, turned out in large numbers to salute Al Gore, lining Oslo streets as he drove (in a gasser) to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. (click on the photo below to see more photos thanks to ElBil Norge, click on the video image to see Youtube video.)


Electric car advocates know that nothing can take a bigger bite out of greenhouse gas emissions than switching from internal combustion to electric drive. Here's to hoping that Al Gore took a look out the window as he drove past. With the new solar PV on his Tennessee roof, he could do all his Carthage driving truly emitting no greenhouse gases, if, and only if, he drove an electric car. I'm hoping Governor Schwarzenegger takes the former VP and ally on global warming issues for a drive as soon as he takes delivery of his Tesla.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

EPA Says No: Dems Get Rolled Again

It took less than 12 hours.

The Democrats got rolled again.

Bush started the day signing the energy bill that Nancy Pelosi called "earth-shattering change in terms of energy policy" and Sierra Club's Carl Pope said "is a clean break with the failed energy policies of the past and puts us on the path toward a cleaner, greener energy future." To get a bill the president would sign, out dropped any challenge to big oil's obscene profits, a national renewable electricity standard, overwhelmingly popular wind and solar tax credits, and plug-in hybrid credits that might truly jumpstart an alternative automotive future.

They decided passing an energy bill and raising CAFE standards was worth any price. And now they've paid it.

They don't know how to lose with dignity and purpose. They could have done a bill, with solar and wind and RPS and plug-in credits and taxes on oil companies to pay for and seen it vetoed. Then when Bush had the EPA kill the CO2 waiver too he'd have looked like the enviro monster he is. Now he disingenuously argues the energy bill provided a 50 state solution, not a patchwork, as the automakers like to say.

So now we have a do-little energy bill and years more litigation.

Did Mayor Bloomberg in China Drive a Miles Javlon?

Autobloggreen is reporting that Mayor Bloomberg has driven the first Miles Automotive highway-legal all-electric car off the production line. What is certain is that he spoke before the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and said
After my remarks, I look forward to going outside and seeing some of the latest-model battery-powered all-electric cars that an American company—Miles Automotive Group—is developing in partnership with the Chinese Automotive Technical and Research Center or ‘CAT-ARC,’ the Chinese Electronic Technology Group Corporation, Lishen Battery Company, and the city of Tianjin.

“I will be joined by the chair of Miles Automotive Group, Miles Rubin, and its chief operating officer, Kevin Kiley. As well as by their Chinese partners: Zhao Hang, director of CATARC; Wang Xi Wen, vice-superintendent of Chinese Electronic Technology Group Corporation; Qin Xing Cai, general manager of Lishen Battery; Liang Rui, deputy general manager at Lishen Battery; and Wu Zhi Qin, general manager of Tianjin Qingyuan Electric Vehicle Company.

“Assembled here in China, the cars they are making can be marketed to drivers in both our nations, and in South America and the European Union, too. The result is a marriage of U.S. and Chinese technology that is taking us forward—toward 100 percent electric-powered vehicles that drastically reduce air pollutants, cut carbon emissions, and are less expensive to operate.
For a while they've said 2009, 120 mile range, $35,000. All good numbers to me. Let's hope we see some prototypes soon. And get some definitive test drive reports, from Mayor Bloomberg or whoever.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Everybody Happy: Bush to Sign Do-little Energy Bill

The opening line of the Detroit News story says all you need to know:
The House approved a stripped-down energy bill Tuesday and sent it to President George Bush, who is expected to sign the legislation.
The headline is a 35mpg CAFE standard for cars produced 13 years from now. Big whoop.

The best stuff in the bill is energy efficiency standards, including phasing out the incandescent light bulb.

The reality, however, is no removal of tax breaks for Big Oil; no 15% renewables standard for utilities; no plug-in hybrid incentives. Incentives for wind and solar were stripped out, as well, according to Sen. Boxer. "We're pretty disappointed," said Rhone A. Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, which sought an extension of the investment tax credit that expires at the end of next year.

But yes, there is a requirement for five times more ethanol than we now produce. "Clean tech" will have a place to throw some money, even if the environmental benefit is nil, the impact on petroleum usage minor, the impact on food prices unknown. As stated in the Washington Post story today, "For farmers and agribusiness, it is a windfall, providing more support than perhaps even the farm bill." 'Nuf said.

Why Nancy Pelosi calls the bill "a moment of change, of real change" is not yet clear. Most elements that would constitute a progressive energy bill have been dropped out.

I can't help thinking if carmakers are still producing masses of 20something mpg cars and pickups and SUVs in 2020, something envisioned with a 35mpg average, we're in big trouble.

Honestly, though, I think this standard will be overtaken by reality. Once a few plug-in hybrids and electric cars hit the market, and they will long before 2020, the relevance of these standards will disappear in the rearview mirror of reality.

Or you can read someone snarkier and more cyncial about these matters than I, Mark Morford the San Francisco Chronicle columnist.
...because it's Beltway politics and watching it too closely is akin to having your cerebral cortex raped by encephalitic trolls, I've only paid cursory attention to the massive, landmark energy bill that's right now passing like a painful gallstone through Congress and getting snagged here and gutted there and stripped of key provisions over here, all so Dubya won't veto it, given how it might be just too mean to his fat, piggish pals in Big Energy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Senate Strives for Palatable Energy Bill; Plug-in Credits In

The Detroit News is reporting on the efforts in the Senate to craft a viable energy bill. As presently consitituted, the Senate bill drops the requirement of electricity generators to achieve 15% renewable sources, but includes higher CAFE standards and major provisions for plug-ins, including conversions.
The bill also increases to just more than $1 billion consumer tax credits for buying a plug-in hybrid, with a $5,000 per-vehicle maximum. It also creates a 20 percent tax credit for consumers who convert their vehicle to a plug-in, or up to $2,500.
$5000 could cover, certainly goes a long way, to make up the differential between a gasoline only hybrid and a plug-in. Over 200,000 PHEVs. And if the OEMs don't step up to the plate, $2500 should push a significant number of hybrid owners to contemplate conversions coming to market in 2008.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Menahem Anderman: Enough Already

Menahem Anderman, PhD, is Mister Battery Consultant. CARB, DOE, Congress all seem to turn to him to analyze the state of battery technology. His reports always suggest batteries won't quite cut it for freeway-capable cars. His report at CARB in 2003 seemed to suggest the electric cars then on the road couldn't be functioning as well as they were. Drivers of electric cars were stunned at his low opinion of the state of battery technology. He's always called upon, contracted with, and his report inevitably finds batteries wanting.

At EVS23 he stopped at the Plug In America booth to challenge what he felt was the overly optimistic tone taken by these advocates in their questioning at various sessions. One of the things he specifically said to Sherry Boschert, author of Plug-in Hybrids, to demonstrate the inadequacy of NiMH in electric cars was that the batteries have been replaced in many of SCE's fleet of RAV4-EVs. Chelsea Sexton of Plug In America inquired of Ed Kjaer at SCE to find out what the truth is. Here's what Mr. Kjaer wrote in response to the inquiry:
How he [Anderman] arrives at this fanciful assertion is frankly mystifying to us.

Were he to actually ask we would tell him that the majority of our EV fleet has consisted of '98 and '99 MY RAV4 vehicles. Of the almost 14,000 NiMH battery modules powering these EVs only a little less than 0.5% had to be replaced!

A powerful testament to Toyota and Panasonic design, quality, durability and reliability. And what is even more impressive is the fact that these vehicles were from the 1990's.

Hopefully this answers Sherry's question...for the record!
Getting a government contract to express one's informed opinion about batteries is one thing. That Mr Anderman always find them wanting despite evidence to the contrary is, perhaps, his right. But spreading malicious falsehoods without asking for evidence from those in the know suggests a lack of professionalism that ought raise questions about his analysis and methodology. It's past time for CARB and other agencies to broaden their search for objective consultants to analyze the state of battery technology.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Slate's EV Acid Test: Are electric cars greener?

Every electric car advocate is asked the same question every day: Are EVs really cleaner, greener, better for the environment? The long tailpipe, and all that. Slate, the online magazine, has an enviro Q&A column, The Green Lantern, that asks the question today.
Driving one still has an environmental cost, mostly associated with the use of Santa's most feared stocking-stuffer: 49.7 percent of our nation's electricity is generated by the burning of coal. But if you break down the numbers, EVs still come out ahead of cars featuring internal combustion engines, especially in terms of carbon dioxide emissions.
...The real question, then, isn't whether EVs are environmentally superior to today's gas-powered cars, but how they stack up against another technological rival: plug-in hybrids. The Lantern promises to tackle that question soon.

EV1 Stirs Emotions Decade Later

An emotional Alexandra Paul, actress who appeared in Who Killed the Electric Car?, is interviewed by Matt Kelley of Next Gear in front of an EV1 that made an appearance at RenewableLa put on by by Energy Efficiency Solar.
video
I gather GM really did destroy the molds and sever relationships with suppliers, but it is so clear that if they simply re-released the EV1 today it would still be a show stopper. Who thinks that GM couldn't sell 5-10,000 EV1s for between $50,000 and $75,000? And wouldn't those cars, even if they took a loss on each one, bring more positive results for GM than the millions of dollars of "Gas-Friendly to Gas-Free" adverts endlessly appearing in the American media these days?

German Battery, German Electric Car?

An Agence France Presse report has produced a small flurry of articles this past week, here and here, for example, that has a German company developing Lithium batteries that would be suitable for electric cars. Li-tec is said to be working in cooperation with Bosch and Volkswagen, which has heightened interest.

One can only hope, despite scant evidence, that the fierce grip of internal combustion on the German automakers might loosen. German Greens have bought into hydrogen hype as much as California regulators. BMW is pushing hydrogen gas into the most complicated engine ever and dousing the American airwaves and celebrities with this unavailable $500,000 diversion.

The country has admirably pushed renewable electricity generation, offering subsidies and incentives greater than most any other nation. Their insatiable appetite for solar panels has kept the world price high and supply low. But somehow, the increasingly low-carbon grid has not enticed either automakers to manufacture or policy makers to create incentives for grid connected cars. Do the Germans actually intend to make a green grid, only to throw away 75% of the energy to the losses involved in hydrogen production?

Of late, the French, Irish and Finns are creating feebate structures that could push electric cars. The Norwegians have a host of EV positive initiatives. But the Germans, for all their green reputation, remain laggards. The German government has opposed the strictest CO2 emission proposals in the EU, in order to protect their domestic, comparatively more polluting, auto industry.

Perhaps a German battery will propel interest. An electric VW, say a Plug-in UP!, might bring boomers back to the car that brought them to their first Earth Day rally.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Th!nk City: Electric Civic for the 21st century?

Business 2.0's Green Wombat blogger Todd Woody has written up an optimistic report on the Th!nk City titled A Honda Civic for the age of global warming. As I mentioned a week or so ago, the first new Th!nk City electric car has rolled off its Norwegian assemblyline. Everything in the piece agrees with our previous understanding - Zebra batteries for now, EnerDel and A123 Lithium in the future; battery leasing in Norway; US release a number of years away at best. Biggest piece of news:
According to [CEO Jan Olaf] Willums, General Electric (GE) is now an investor in Think and the company struck a deal with GE to collaborate on battery technology.
Perhaps Andy Grove already had an inkling when he penned his incitement, as mentioned here, to "Think Disruptive." It wouldn't be the first time GE has dabbled in electric cars.

Friday, December 7, 2007

French CO2 Feebate Plan Good News for Electric Cars

The French government's Ministry of Ecology has instituted a CO2 based "feebate" scheme. Low emission vehicles will receive a rebate, high emission cars will be assessed a fee. Mid level emitters, representing about 45% of the cars currently sold, will be unaffected. As reported on the Green Car Congress website, electric vehicles would receive 5 times the rebate available to the best currently conceivable ICE vehicle. A Smart Car emitting less than 100 grams of CO2 per km would receive a €1000 ($1466) rebate. An electric car would receive €5000 (over $7300.)

French automakers probably have put more electrics on the road than all others combined, although they were limited to fleets. Hopefully this will spur Renault and Peugeot to offer consumers EVs.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

EVS23: It's the Plug, Stupid

John Voelker has posted from EVS23 for IEEE's Spectrum, and he ain't writing about fuel cells. Except to point out that Honda's FCV rep actually got hissed as he dissed lithium batteries. The same lithium batteries without which Honda's much heralded Clarity who chug along like a quiet 1960s era VW bug.
The FCX Clarity will be leased for $600 a month, starting next summer, to selected customers in Southern California. “That means,” said one bystander, “that Honda’s picking up the other $600,000 on each vehicle.” Which is as good a way as any to summarize the cost challenges of fuel-cell vehicles—even before looking at the infrastructure challenges.

If one statement sums up this conference so far, it’s this one, overheard in the hallways: “It’s all about the plug-ins, stupid!”

Monday, December 3, 2007

Entourage Star Breaks Parking Law in BMW Hydrogen 7

It's a shame the video on TMZ.com doesn't include the reporter's voiceover, because the narration I heard when the story aired on TV caught the reality of hydrogen hype better than most serious enviro journalism. Automakers using movie stars to greenwash was its essence. The story, as reported on TMZ.com:
He's all for saving the environment, but Jeremy Piven also likes to break the law!

TMZ caught Piven in front of the Newsroom Cafe on Robertson with his new hydrogen-powered BMW yesterday, where the "Entourage" star asked us to tell the Governator to get more hydrogen stations. Sure, Ari!

It's great that he's going green -- but does that make him special enough to park in a red zone?!


A123 & LG Chem Battery Packs for Chevy Volt Unveiled at EVS23

GM-Volt.com is reporting on battery announcements at EVS23. Both A123 and LG Chem/Compact Power have delivered packs to GM for testing in the Volt. GM has announced plans for real world testing in vehicles in spring 2008, and with these batteries in hand, they appear to be meeting their announced timetable.

IEEE Tech Talk: Times They are a'Changin'

IEEE Tech Talk's John Voelker's report is titled EVS-23: A Surge of Energy for Electric Cars. It is a first comment on the palpable difference being experienced at this year's Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS23), the electric drive industry trade show. An astounding 450 people attended Sunday's plug-in hybrid workshop. A member of congress, for the first time, spoke from the floor about promoting electric vehicles through federal legislation. Five major automakers have expensive displays. Voelker writes:
A year ago, the Chevrolet Volt was unknown......The demand for plug-in hybrids has exploded.....grumbled the City of Vancouver’s Brian Beck, “I’m ready to change the building code to require electric plugs throughout parking garages, but automakers tell me I can’t get their plug-in prototypes...
Still no plug-in hybrids or electric cars in showrooms, but things are looking up.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

First New Th!nk City Rolls Off Line

Good news from Norway. Automotive News (subscription required) reports:
Think Global has launched production of an electric minicar for European markets. On Wednesday, the first City minicar rolled off the assembly line at Think’s plant in Aurskog, northeast of Oslo. “This project is on time. We are building full production cars with all the right components from the right suppliers,” Think Global CEO Jan-Olaf Willums said.
In the wake of Tesla's decision not to sell it's batteries, word is the first cars will be using the Zebra battery.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fahrvegnügen and fuhgedaboutit: V-Dub Disses Hybrids, Hydrogen & CO2 Concern

Edmunds Inside Line's Alistair Weaver interviewed Wolfgang Hatz, the head of powertrain for the entire Volkswagen Group. The title of their piece, Mr Engine Fuels the Future, probably tells you all you need to know. Quotations from the interview below; first, my somewhat snarky synopsis.

Hatz, in short: Hybrids are bogus - "a very expensive way to save a small amount of fuel." But because Americans have fallen for the idea, the politically expedient thing for VW to do is make some hybrids. Hybrids' PR payoff is bigger than their environmental benefit. Everyone's paying too much attention to global warming anyway. Low carbon cars don't make the air cleaner. Diesel is more efficient than gas, it just needs good filters. Gas and diesel are here for three more decades at least. Hydrogen makes no sense due to its inefficiency, certainly for the next 30 years. And he wasn't asked about batteries or plug-in hybrids or electric cars.

Fahrvegnügen and fuhgedaboutit.
Will hybrid become the dominant power source in the next few years?
Hybrid technology is a very expensive way to save a small amount of fuel. The cost/benefit analysis is quite on the expensive side, but we're politically pressed to develop hybrids by the U.S. market.

If someone said that every car must be a hybrid, the car industry would be bankrupt quicker than anything else. Even Toyota would have problems if they had to produce hybrids in high volumes. But politically we have to do a certain amount of hybrids.

What about diesel hybrids?
For fuel economy, this is the best option, but it's a very expensive solution.

Is there too much emphasis on carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions?
There is too much emphasis. Politically, it's very popular to say that you're going to ban cars that emit over 225g/km of carbon dioxide in London, but it won't make any difference to the ambient atmosphere. It's more important to make sure that all cars are fitted with particulate filters than to reduce the CO2.

Is hydrogen power the best long-term fuel solution?
Hydrogen only makes sense if it's produced from a regenerative source. If you produce it from electrolysis, the efficiency is just 50 percent. We don't know how to produce or transport it efficiently, which means that it's better to use regenerative energy for other things. I don't think it will be an alternative in the next 30 years. It doesn't make sense.

Gas and diesel will still be around in 30 years' time. Both will survive because we need to extract both the heavy and the light fuels to achieve the maximum efficiency from our oil. We have to use our energy in the best way.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

London Calling: Congestion Charge Recharges Electric Cars

London could soon replace California as the electric car capital of the world. Thanks in large part to Mayor "Red Ken" Livingstone, who enacted London's much criticized congestion charge policy in 2003.

The policy, which exempts electric cars from hefty daily taxation, is resulting in increasingly significant vehicle choices for English consumers. India's Reva was first into the market with the G-Wiz. The French Mega City appeared next from NICE (No Internal Combustion Engine). Sakura Battery Co is offering a line of EVs, including the Italian Maranello4 microcar. Despite being low-speed vehicles about which safety concerns have been raised, they have months long waiting lists. Limited ranged, lead-acid battery based cars, they have nonetheless proven the demand of even less than perfect electric vehicles.

Norway's Th!nk Global views London as a first market when it relaunches the Th!nk City in 2008. ZAP, maker of the 3 wheeled Xebra, "has passed Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) inspection, allowing it to be driven on roads in the United Kingdom," according to recent news reports. Its UK marketing plans are, however, unknown. And Tata Motors, an Indian industrial giant, is "working on an electric version of the Indica for the overseas market, slated to be launched by 2009," according to the Hindu Business Line.

To facilitate these EVs, Charging stations are being put in place by local councils, making even short range electric cars viable for commuters.

And now major automakers appear almost ready to get in on the action. Daimler is set to be the first on the street with 100 test vehicle SMARTs in 2008. Mitsubishi could be the first with cars for sale if the UK distributor has its way.

Daimler Smart ForTwo electric trials are set to begin in London, according to the Financial Times. Corporate and public-sector fleets will get to lease 100 test cars for a pilot period of four years. Yet Daimler's intention is more ambitious.
If the tests turn out as Daimler hopes, the company plans to begin commercial production in 2010, before the end of the pilot. “We want to test it and get it into production,” Mr [Anders] Jensen, head of the Smart brand team, told the Financial Times on Wednesday......The brand chose London for the pilot in part because of its network of free public recharging stations.
The first cars will utilize NiMH batteries, as do the Toyota test platform Plug-in Priuses at the University of California. From where I sit (in the driver's seat of a NiMH powered Toyota RAV4 EV) this seems eminently practical. Sacrificing some of the energy density and range in Lithium for the robust proven long-life and reliability of Nickel batteries makes tremendous sense. Hopefully GM's and others' gamble on Lithium in the first rendition of their new EVs will prove correct, but getting trouble free cars on the road quickly is what we need. NiMH is the risk-free pathway.

Mitsubishi's i-MIEV, an electric city car (using Lithium) about which much has been written (see EVWorlds report from Tokyo,) is meant to go into production in Japan for Japan in 2009. According to Autocar.co.uk, "the firm’s British importer is currently lobbying hard to add the car to its UK product portfolio as early as possible." The i-MIEV would make available for the first time in the UK a full-function, highway-capable electric car, if still very small by American standards. It is projected to cost between £15,000 and £20,000, a pricey $30-40,000 at today's weak dollar. Still I suspect there would be greater demand than initial supply. There is a market for cool and clean at the low and high end.

G-Wiz (depending on model)
Cost: £6600 - £8900 ($13,600 - $18,400)
Range: 40-48 miles
Top speed: 40-50 mph

MEGA City
Cost: £10,500 - £11,000 ($21,600 - $22,700)
Range: 40miles
Top speed: 40 mph

Smart ForTwo:
Cost: unknown
Range: 110km (68miles)
Top speed: 115km/h (71.5mph)

Mitsubishi i-MIEV
Cost: £15,000 - £20,000 ($30,000 - $40,000)
Range: 160km (100 miles)
Top speed: 130km/h (80 mph)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Oil Flirts Again with $100 a Barrel

NY Times late Wednesday:
Oil prices flirted with the symbolic $100-a-barrel level in overnight trading.
Crude oil futures briefly rose above $99 in overnight trading and an Energy Department report showed that inventories fell slightly last week, leaving investors wondering how soon oil will be nudged above its inflation-adjusted record of $102. Crude settled in New York trading at $97.29, down 74 cents.

Andy Grove Advocates Disruption

In the Wall Street Journal Online, The Informed Reader, Andy Grove, onetime CEO of Intel, discusses corporate "cross-boundary disruption," such as Apple moving into the music business.
As a suggestion, Mr. Grove says General Electric Co. could benefit from a cross-boundary disruption by building an electric car. Neither auto makers nor energy companies seem willing to exploit new energy sources or reduce the U.S.’s dependence on foreign oil. GE has the money and expertise to build both an electric car and the machinery needed to charge it. — Robin Morone

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

GM's Bob Lutz Queried

US News and World Report interviews GM's Bob Lutz.

So of all the different technologies GM is working on, how would you prioritize them?

Electric. Advanced hybrid. Plug-in hybrid. Advanced clean diesels. And far out, there's hydrogen.

Monday, November 19, 2007

LA Times Op-Ed Poses Real Choice Facing California

The op-ed in today's LA Times (We Need Voltswagens in the print edition; Bring back the electric car online) deserves attention from the public and state policy makers. Sherry Boschert, author of Plug-in Hybrids, is publicly posing the stark question as it needs to be asked: Will CARB push for cars capable of zero-emission driving for today's consumers using available, affordable, tested battery technology or will they support mere research programs even proponents say won't be marketable for a generation.

On the ground at the LA Auto Show, and on the air (Honda here and BMW here) automakers tout hydrogen & fuel cell vehicles disingenuously as "ready for the world when the world is ready." Behind the scenes they lobby to lower the numbers of these million dollar babies they must produce to meet their zero emission vehicle obligations. As Martin Zimmerman of the LA Times recently wrote in an otherwise gushing review of the Toyota FCHV recently, "Maybe, as some critics like to say, hydrogen is the fuel of the future and always will be."

It's past time the public, environmental organizations and policy makers got hip to the automaker con game and all got on the same page advocating plug-in cars. I look forward to CARB's response.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Th!nk on the Move

Aftenposten TV news clip of the new Th!nk City here including shots of the assembly line and interview with CEO Jan Olaf Willums. The report mentions a price for the car and monthly charge for the battery, but more than that I couldn't comprehend. How's your Norwegian?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sierra Club California Weighs in for Electric Cars at CARB

The California Air Resources Board's (CARB) monthly meeting today included the adoption of the State Alternative Fuel Plan. The analysis by the California Energy Commission (CEC) and CARB of the smorgasbord of non-petroleum alternatives was mandated by AB 1007. And quite a buffet it is. When I told CEC Commissioner James Boyd a couple of weeks ago at the plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) UC Davis press event that I felt battery electric vehicles (BEV) were not fairly represented, he told me that each "fuel" feels slighted, so they must have done something right.

But it seems clear to me some were more slighted than others. The biofuel folks weren't complaining about their designation as the short term best hope for greenhouse gas and petroleum reduction. Advanced biofuels, plug-in hybrids, hydrogen and fuel cells received the long-term plaudits in the Plan. Natural Gas felt the most aggrieved, and a number of representatives of NG made public comments today asking for greater recognition. And they didn't hesitate to go after the favored alternatives. They pointed out in public comment the particulate flaws in biofuels and the issues unresolved, cost undiminished and promise unfulfilled of hydrogen and fuel cells. Usually NG and hydrogen appear wedded at the hip. H2 is most often produced by cracking natural gas, even if the talk is all about "renewable" hydrogen. A crack indeed.

No one has a bad word to say about plug-in hybrids these days, and they receive favorable mention in the Plan. Not so for full-function battery electric vehicles, which fall victim to extremely unfavorable predictions about their cost, mostly batteries, far into the future. In the Plan, they inexplicably don't fare much better in economic terms than outrageously expensive fuel cell cars, which nonetheless remain the preferred darling, even if the date of commercialization is decades away. Board Member Sperling suggested that the long term prospects of FCVs ought trump the near term benefits of competing technologies.

What was most welcome by this advocate of transportation electrification was the statement by Sierra Club California's Bill Magavern. He questioned the continued preference for hydrogen and fuel cells in the Plan. He proposed that a more logical scenario than any appearing in the document was a pathway from PHEV to BEV. As battery costs drop with the expected market penetration of plug-in hybrids, full BEVs should become marketable true zero emission cars much more rapidly than appears likely with fuel cells. And of course the electric infrastructure is already in place and getting cleaner and more renewable. I couldn't agree more.

Although this Plan was approved, it was referred to by staff as a mere "snapshot" in time of an evolving landscape. Board Member Supervisor Roberts asked for staff to prepared clearer statements of the relative benefits and efficiencies of the various "fuels" and Chair Nichols said she expected biennial if not annual reviews and revisions. While an important statement of the way CARB and CEC see alternative fuels today, it does not seem to be a defining document that binds the alternative fuel options to be pursued in the future.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Renault to Build Electric Cars in Israel?

Associated Press is reporting out of Paris (via Forbes.com) that Renault is "studying a possible plan to build a manufacturing plant for electric cars in Israel, a company spokeswoman said Wednesday." Shai Agassi, an Israeli entrepreneur whose Project Better Place is looking at infrastructure and battery schemes to facilitate electric cars, could be involved in a partnership, according to Renault spokeswoman Rochelle Chimenes.

Volt Project on Track, Says Lutz

Bob Lutz of GM is in LA. He's meeting with journalists and electric drive advocates. The first report I've seen from the LA Auto Show regarding the much anticipated Volt, in the UK's Guardian, says Lutz expects to see road-tests of "a street-drivable" Chevy Volt by the end of Q1 2008. Now talking specifically about a November 2010 showroom launch.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

IEEE: Will CARB Take Part in Plug-in Car Revival?

The IEEE Spectrum Magazine for November 07 touts on its cover "Battery or Fuel-Cell Cars? A California Cabal Will Decide." Interesting choice of headlines. Surely a strong argument can be made that something approaching a cabal turned a practical electric-cars-on-the-road mandate into a research and development program for hydrogen fuel cells vehicles.

Carmakers are desirous of delaying the inevitable but problematic move to electric drive. Oil companies shut out of electric markets are exploring biofuels and hydrogen as potential markets they could control. Academics awash in government and corporate grants analyse and research biofuels and hydrogen. The problem with electric is it is here now. Proven, ready to market. No significant need for research. Batteries could always use a nudge, but the 100+ mile battery has existed for over a decade. Price needs to come down by a factor of one or two, not a factor of 100. Economies of scale, baby!

Facts are facts. Not five years ago we had thousands (about 6000) of battery electrics as daily drivers for consumers like you and me and utilities' fleets like PG&E and SCE. Thanks to Plug In America's predecessor DontCrush.com, about 1000 of those cars still drive today on the original batteries using existing electric infrastructure. Their owners love them, and when one appears on the used car market it sells for more than the $42,000 original MSRP.

Also today, instead of thousands more electric cars envisioned by the original ZEV mandate, we have about 200 one million-dollar hydrogen FCVs functioning as demo vehicles, limited by the lack of infrastructure, and lasting the limited 2 to 4 year life of their fuel cell stack.

The IEEE article does a decent job of wending through the ZEV morass. Auto makers still want lots of credit for fuel cells, they just don't want to keep to the agreed timetable. That which they don't kill (EVs in 2003) they hope to delay (FCVs in 2008).

However plug-in cars, both plug-in hybrids and electric cars are seeing a resurgence. Every car maker has announced intentions to plug something in. But they certainly don't want a mandate to do it. Groups such as Plug In America are asking for parity for Zero Emission Vehicles of whatever type. They say the point is ZEV miles on the road. ARB Board member and recipient of millions in fuel cell and hydrogen grants Dan Sperling fears parity will lead auto makers to take the cheaper "easy way," battery electric cars. "Automakers might abandon their fuel-cell programs," he said.

"So what" reply proponents of battery electric cars, citing battery improvements that surpass fuel cell advancements and existing infrastructure supplying domestically produced fuel at a fraction of the cost of gasoline. A ZEV is a ZEV is a ZEV, they point out, and even Toyota admits we won't see FCVs in the showroom until 2030 at the earliest. ARB is meant to put ZEVs on the road, driving, meeting real people's real needs. Only battery cars can do that near term. CARB could nudge that process along as the ZEV program is revised early in 2008. The IEEE article contains a germ of hope:
...thanks to today's climate - economic, political and atmospheric - some consumers are ready to trade range for a car that costs less to run and produces less pollution. CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols agrees."People are willing to take a chance..."

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

$98.62

One 11am EST AP report in the NY Times
•U.S. oil supplies fell last week for the third straight period.....
•Stockpiles of gasoline also dropped, the government reported Wednesday...
•Demand for gasoline over the past four weeks was 0.8 percent higher than a year earlier....
•...prices had climbed as high as $98.62 in electronic trading.
•At the pump, gas prices rose nearly 2 cents overnight...
•For the week ending Nov. 2, crude oil inventories fell by 800,000 barrels to 311.9 million barrels, which is 8 percent below year-ago levels, the Energy Department said....
•Stockpiles of gasoline also dropped by 800,000 barrels, or 0.4 percent

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ballard wants out of fuel cells for cars; investors smile

Another sign that fuel cells for cars are history. Ballard Power systems, long time fuel cell hot shot, wants out of the automotive fuel cell business.

The Globe and Mail of Toronto reports
that Ballard is hoping to unload this part of the business on Daimler and Ford, which already own 19% and 11% of Ballard respectively. Once viewed as a business worth billions, soon, it will be interesting to see what Daimler and Ford might be willing to pay.

Investors have spoken. Ballard shares are up 10.5% on the news.

Autobloggreen and After Gutenberg have more to say about it.

Of course years ago Geoffrey Ballard said:
"I doubt I will ever see a hydrogen car for personal consumption in a
showroom. I said this years ago and see no reason to change my mind:
The family-owned, garaged vehicle is the last vehicle that's going to
get a fuel cell. "

$97.07

As the price per barrel goes beyond $97, one story in the NY Times reports:
•Bombing in Afghanistan kills 64.
•Attack on pipeline in Yemen.
•Domestic oil inventory to fall.
•Severe weather forecast for North Sea. Oil platforms evacuated.
•Dollar weak.
•Severe weather shuts Mexican ports, disrupts oil supply to US.

Friday, November 2, 2007

$95.93 a barrel

'Nuf said.

Changes Delay Phoenix

Just as major and mid-size auto makers are announcing what seem to be real electric cars for 2009-2010, for example here (Subaru) and here (Mitsubishi iMiev), newly formed independents are finding it difficult to get product out. TeslaMotors' delays have received attention in the blogs and mainstream media. Autobloggreen is reporting what can only be considered major changes in the Phoenix Motors SUT vehicle. New motor and a smaller Altairnano Lithium battery pack. When existing orders are expected to be fulfilled has not been announced.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Chinese are Coming!

Got2BeGreen reports BYD, a large Chinese firm that is jumping into cars, will be showing a plug-in hybrid, the F6DM, at the Detroit Auto Show. According to this report, it will begin selling next year in China for about $20,000. It is said to be using an iron-based battery, which none of the major world auto-makers is considering.

The Chinese have nothing to lose breaking new ground in the US market. The PHEV and EV market is wide open. Bring it on!!

Corn Belt Mayor Plugs In


GreenOptions blog reports that Mayor RT Rybak of Minneapolis is now driving a plug-in hybrid. His daily drive, a Prius, has been converted.

He's also moving the Minnesota city along a solar fast track. He recognizes that plug-in cars, already cleaner than hybrids or ethanol vehicles and cheaper to fuel, can get even cleaner as the electricity gets greener. It's great to find a progressive Midwestern Democrat who gets it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Mitsubishi Sees 2009 launch for iMiEV EV

Thomson Financial is reporting that Mitsubishi aims to launch its i-MiEV city electric car one year earlier than expected.

Techon blog from Japan gives more details. 16kWh of Lithium betteries. 160 kilometer range.
Mitsubishi Motors President Osamu Mashiko clearly stated "We will commercialize a small electric vehicle in 2009..."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Soot and Spin: Two Plug-in Paradoxes

Required reading: Bill Moore's EVWorld review and Martin Zimmerman's LA Times piece about their test drives of the Toyota Plug-in Prius and the hydrogen fuel cell Highlander FCHV.

Paradox 1 - Soot: There's an apparent emissions paradox with plug-in hybrids (PHEV): Driving longer distances on battery power means more cold starts as the internal combustion engine (ICE) stops and starts up again after the batteries deplete. Cold starts mean more pollution. The catalytic converter that keeps the ICE from being a gross polluter in conventional cars and hybrids however, isn't kept warm by the continual embrace of an ever-churning engine in a hybrid with all-electric range. This catch-22 - you need the polluting engine running to keep the emissions mitigation running - has regulators including the California Air Resources Board (ARB) frowning upon PHEV conversions. It also spreads doubt about the enviro bona fides of plug-ins. Third party converters have spent time and resources tweaking their plug-in hybrids to meet ARB testing written with gasoline-only hybrids in mind.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to offer solutions. A supplemental electric heater comes right to mind. But you have to want to solve the problem. Third-party and DIY converters can't muck with every system on a car. They are busy proving, despite automaker resistance, that the plug-in hybrid concept is worth pursuing. And these advocates have successfully prodded Toyota to dangle a concept PHEV before our eyes.

The automakers, including Toyota, that are not interested in rushing to market with plug-in cars never tired of suggesting that conventional gasoline-only hybrids are cleaner than plug-ins. Yet according to Bill Moore's report in EVWorld on Toyota's own PHEV Prius, Toyota solved the cold start dilemma with "a vacuum bottle of sorts on the Prius that stores a heated fluid for up to three days and is used to pre-warm the converter, thus reducing cold start emissions." (UPDATE: Felix Kramer of Calcars informs me that the vacuum bottle is standard on 2004-2008 Prius.)

Toyota undoubtedly was testing this and perhaps other solutions even as they toyed with CARB's emissions sensitivities to retard regulators' interest in plug-ins. After all the system gaming of the ZEV mandate over the years, it is past time for CARB to recognize an automaker ploy to delay the zero-emission possibilities of plug-in options for what it is. The commonsense truth that emissions decrease with greater electric drive capability has been willfully confused for years now by automakers. CARB ought to tap into some of its bottomless reservoir of technological optimism applied to hydrogen and fuel cells when considering obstacles to plug-ins.

Paradox 2 - Spin: The automakers don't want regulators telling them what to do, even if they are going to do it. And they don't want consumers demanding that which they don't (yet) want to produce. The automakers aren't simply toying with regulators, as in the emissions example, to forestall regulations. They are, of course, spinning journalists, and thus, the public, to manage expectations and desires. Thus we endure the paradox that the less complex, less expensive, nearer-term useful vehicle (EV/PHEV) is perceived as not yet ready, yet the impossibly costly and complicated and inefficient and useless in the real world car (H2/FCV) gives off the whiff of green perfection and inevitability.

Automakers have ensured that perceived problems, technological and otherwise, with plug-ins have received outsized attention. They could make PHEVs and EVs today, but they don't want to. Large problems regarding hydrogen and fuel cell technology, get diminished. They may or may not ever market FCVs, but they hold out the promise of the "perfectly green" car. Plug-in cars have been under attack while a love affair with hydrogen and fuel cells has been well promoted.

To take one example, batteries. The NiMH batteries (same chemistry as in every Prius, including the PHEV under review here) which take my Toyota RAV4 EV over 100 miles using 10 year old technology and existing electric infrastructure and cost perhaps $20,000 in minimal production numbers, aren't considered ready for prime time and are often said to be too expensive. (Both California regulators and automakers make this claim.) Yet somehow hydrogen & fuel cells, lacking infrastructure and costing perhaps $1 million per car, offer enough promise to warrant advertising (here, here, here, here) and significant state resources.

Toyota, the biggest hybrid manufacturer, has been compelled to respond to the commonsense plea for a plug-in hybrid. Thus the PHEV test drive for journalists. But they need to manage expectations. They ensured that its plug-in hybrid did not receive too much undiluted attention by pairing the PHEV for demonstration with, again, its oft-test driven FCHV. And that's why a mere two cars will be tested in California over three years, studied by UC researchers, with $1 million in state funding, to determine consumer reaction.

We can see how this plays out in how both Bill Moore and Martin Zimmerman wrote about their visit to Toyota's proving grounds. Toyota ought to be pleased with the tone of both stories. Both came away with a sense that the near-term viable vehicle, the PHEV, still has work to be done, while the long-term vehicle of questionable viability was truly fabulous. Bill Moore writes:
Toyota may still be learning on the PHEV Prius, but it clearly has its act together on this vehicle (the Highlander FCHV).
Now Zimmerman:
Truth be told, I think I was a bit spoiled by the hydrogen fuel-cell Toyota Highlander I tried out just before the Prius test runs...It was smooth as silk and brimming with torque.
Both reporters recognize that these fuel cell gems, seductive though they be, aren't going to be sold in showrooms any time soon. Zimmerman writes:
Too bad that there are only a few dozen in existence and that if you could actually buy one -- which you can't -- it would have a sticker price of about $1 million. Maybe, as some critics like to say, hydrogen is the fuel of the future and always will be.
Now Moore:
...for all the FCHV's advances, it seems everyone at Toyota recognizes that fuel cells remain a distant dream. Even if Toyota succeeds in lowering costs to 1/100th of their current level, while improving the durability of the stacks to the equivalent of 150,000 miles, the problem of infrastructure and sustainable hydrogen production present daunting obstacles...
Both reporters gave us honest, useful stories about the cars. I am thrilled that Toyota is working on a plug-in. I am thrilled that each writer put hydrogen and fuel cells in some context.

However, unfortunately green-minded consumers are again left confused. What is possible? What is preferable? What can, what should, car companies be making?

"Let one hundred flowers bloom" said Vijay Vaitheeswaran recently in San Francisco to promote his book Zoom, The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future. It is unfortunate that environmental organizations and concerned writers continue to take Chairman Mao's advice when considering the choices facing us. Surely if we study and fund and chat about all the options before us - biodiesel, ethanol, hydrogen, fuel cells, electricity - we will find our salvation, they suggest. I'm afraid not. We haven't got the time or money.

Electric cars have been so beaten up over the last decade that often electricity isn't even considered an alternative fuel. As in this NY Times story entitled Challenging Gasoline from a few days ago. Yet the hard cold reality is that unless we begin to move to grid electricity for most driving, none of the the other fuels will ever stand a chance of contributing to the end of the petroleum era.

Friday, October 26, 2007

$92.22

NY Times reports:

Oil Prices Continue to Rise

$91.86 per barrel at Friday's close.

A little context: oil at its lowest this year? $50.48 a barrel on January 18, 2007.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Plug-in hybrid by who?

The Fisker Coachbuild name meant nothing to me, but I'm not really an auto geek. We recently read that this premium automobile design company intends to offer a luxury plug-in hybrid.

In a joint venture with Quantum Technologies, retaining the Fisker moniker, Fisker Automotive now has a one page website. It sort of shows the vehicle, appropriately if obnoxiously dubbed ECO-CHIC, they will debut at the Detroit Auto Show. Autobloggreen took me to Carscoop for what they describe as "the first official image." Intending to sell for under $100,000, an initial production run of 15,000 trumpeted in their press release would be most welcome by the market waiting for plug-in cars.

Something more affordable would be nice, but if it's got a plug on it, Plugs and Cars says "Bring it on!"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

WSJ on Electric Possibilities

Joseph White, Wall St Journal Detroit bureau chief, is writing about electric cars again, this time about the majors. He's in Tokyo reporting from the big Japanese Motor Show.
Hybrid or All-Electric? Car Makers Take Sides
Nissan-Renault continue talking up small all-electric cars. Toyota and GM are continuing down their differing hybrid paths. Honda, the quintessential internal combustion company, is lobbing criticism at hybrids, a market Toyota exploited better than Honda. White suggests Honda is lining up with Nissan, seeing a future not in hybrids but rather electric cars. Perhaps the lithium batteries upon with Honda depends to make it's FCV function will actually see the light of day in a full-function battery electric car.
"My feeling is that the kind of plug-in hybrid currently proposed by different auto makers can be best described as a battery electric vehicle equipped with an unnecessary fuel engine and fuel tank," [Honda President and CEO Takeo] Fukui said at the company's research-and-development center.
Is Honda's Fuel Cell vehicle a battery electric with an unnecessary, expensive, impractical, inefficient fuel cell stack and hydrogen storage tank?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Toyota Plugging in with Nickel Metal Hydride

Popular Mechanics got a look and briefing on Toyota's own plug-in Prius. And they said it couldn't or wouldn't be done. Or it would take Lithium to make it worthwhile. Well, surprise, surprise:
"Toyota has the knowledge and experience with nickel metal hydride. And we have to use the battery we know best, in terms of overall performance," said [Yoshitaka] Asakura [Project General Manager of Toyota's Hybrid Vehicle System Engineering Development Division.]

The prototype PHEV's use two current generation Prius battery packs sandwiched together and modified to deliver a greater ability to charge and discharge. In a presentation, Asakura said the prototypes can operate on electric power for a range of about 7 miles..."
I hope someone tells Mr Asakura about the NiMH batteries Toyota used in the RAV4 EV. Actually achieved over 15 times greater range back in 1997.

Toyota • Moving Backward?

Well, let's just say catching up with itself.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

BMW H2 BS

Terry Tamminen, Arnold's green guru, showed up at the Santa Monica AltCar Show in a BMW Hydrogen 7. Mr. "Lives Per Gallon" ought to be ashamed to lend his name to BMW's greenwashing. But of course he's been hydrogen's biggest booster, despite its inefficiencies and impracticalities. You can't beat a free car and free fuel. Especially a super luxury car that switches to gasoline with the flick of a finger.

The gasoline-only production version of this car, the 7 Series, is available today for between $75,800 and $122,600. With hydrogen as a fuel option, the car is so expensive and made in such limited numbers it has no MSRP and is not rated on the EPA Green Vehicle Guide for 2007 or 2008. (The 7 Series has get a combined sub-20mpg and has an air pollution index of 6 out of 10. For comparison purposes, the 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV plug-in electric car has a mpg(equivalent) of over 100; and a best possible air pollution index of 10.)

Despite an advertising budget that rivals available models, the Hydrogen 7 is not for sale. This car is advertised on hip television shows, Stewart and Colbert for example, with the clever tagline "Ready for the world when the world is ready." As if the world needs to catch up to BMW's environmental leadership! In reality, pricey Madison Avenue green gloss for the disntinctly ungreen line of beemers.

And some say electric cars are too expensive. Hell, even the Tesla Roadster must cost less than half the Hydrogen 7 and it can be filled up for a few bucks virtually anywhere.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Oil Hits New High - Nears $90 per Barrel

NY Times reports Record Price of Oil Raises New Fears.

Tesla Battery Biz Put on Back Burner, Th!nk To Get Energy Elsewhere

Back in May Tesla announced it would be selling batteries to Th!nk Global for its revived City electric car. Seemed a great synergy at the time. Now CNet is reporting that Tesla won't be supplying Th!nk with batteries after all. Tesla Energy Group is on hold, while TeslaMotors concentrates on getting the delayed Roadster produced.

Th!nk Global has therefore had to to look elsewhere for batteries. A deal was announced yesterday with EnerDel, an Indiana subsidiary of Ener1 and Lithium battery manufacturer. This means if Th!nk has settled on Lithium for all the new cars, it won't be producing until late 2008. The deal calls for prototype batteries to be delivered in March 08 and preproduction batteries in July. If, on the other hand, they still intend to produce cars with the Swiss Zebra battery, perhaps cars will start rolling off the Norwegian assembly line sooner. Time, increasing amounts of it, will tell.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

WSJ Online on TeslaMotors

Joseph B White, Wall Street Journal's Detroit bureau chief, takes Tesla seriously and respectfully. His column in Monday's WSJ Online explains what's going on with the Silicon Valley automotive startup so many hope will push electric to the fore.

Other than one stupid paragraph about the EV1 and RAV4 EV that repeats the conventional received wisdom on why we have no plug-in choices - "GM EV1 and the electric Toyota RAV4 struck mainstream customers as geeky, slow and impractical" (really? Mainstream customers knew about the EV1 and RAV4 EV? The EV1 was slow? The RAV4 impractical?)- the article is well worth the read.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Chinese Electric Car in 2008?

I've long heard rumors of Chinese auto makers developing an electric car. It makes lots of sense, given Chinese battery production.

Now Autobloggreen has a report out of China involving BYD. I recalled hearing in 2005 that BYD acquired a license from Ovonics to manufacture NiMH batteries. But I was disappointed if not surprised when it was stated clearly in the press that they were acquiring "the nonexclusive right to manufacture, use and sell Ovonic Battery's proprietary NiMH technology-based batteries for nonpropulsion applications."

Now, using Lithium (a Chinese product without lead!), we get a name, F6E, and a photo. Unfortunately the article suggest the car will be solely for the domestic Chinese market. Seems to me the Chinese ought to capture the American market for electric cars before the majors get off the dime.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Subaru to Show EV in Tokyo

Another auto maker is suggesting the future is with electric cars.

CNet is reporting Subaru will be showing an electric car prototype at the Tokyo Auto Show later this month. Unlike many electric prototypes - Nissan's Pivo comes to mind - the G4e looks like it could appear in showrooms today. Story includes a photo and gives some stats: Lithium batteries, 125 mile range, but no word on whether it's actually to go into production.

Cnet's story raises two important questions. Will a mainstream producer of an electric car spell trouble for the small companies - Tesla, Th!nk, Miles, Phoenix - hoping to enter the EV space abandoned by the majors?

And, will consumers accept a sub-200 mile range car?

Clearly, the first major to offer an EV will have a tremendous market advantage. Whether any are truly brave enough remains to be seen.

On the range front, most of us who have experience with OEM electrics know 125 miles is more than adequate. There are at least a few thousand ex-EV1, EV+ and Th!nk City drivers waiting for the opportunity to buy a 75 -150 mile range EV. Bring 'em on!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Charging Cars in England, Fast Charging in Norway

Business Green Blog in the UK reports on a plan to install 250 EV charging stations in England. Elektromotive is making a sleek charge point with a tiny footprint.

CNNMoney reports on a cooperative effort of Aerovironment, AltairNano and two European partners demonstrating fast charging on a converted full size 5 passenger Fiat Doblo in Norway.

It's no coincidence these reports are out of England and Norway. Both are seeing serious electric vehicle activity. The congestion charge in London has spurred electric car availability and sales. Th!nk Global will be selling its electric cars in Norway again soon.

As a daily driver of a Toyota-built electric car here in California, I'm all in favor of public charging stations and fast charging. But although lack of public charging and fast charging are often cited as a problem inhibiting EV acceptance, until we have electric cars in showrooms, neither really matters. In reality, public charging is as close as the nearest outlet. Ultimately, the market and citizen action will take care of both once cars are available.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Toyota, too, Says No

"Automakers get it this time, calling for up to a 40% increase to 35 mpg by 2022, the first increase since 1985. In a business where product plans are set six, eight and even 10 years in advance, 2022 is closer than it would appear."

- Irv Miller, V.P., Toyota, in Open Road Blog, the official Blog of Toyota responding to NY Times Columnist Thomas Friedman's Et Tu, Toyota?
This quotation tells us all we need to know about what the auto industry would like the future to look like. Simply put, even 15 years from today, they foresee nothing better than petroleum burning vehicles with ever so slightly better mileage. As an industry they must oppose even the meager Congressional call for 35mpg by 2020.

Were plug-in hybrids and electric cars added to the automakers' fleet mix they could achieve astounding CAFE standards. But that is not what they envision or work for. Such grid-connected options, which would lower automobiles' role in global warming, pollution and petroleum dependence, may be inevitable, but the automakers' self-interest remains postponing that day.

Government regulation such as the California ZEV Mandate or the price of petroleum could still push automakers toward grid-connected electric drive, but corporate self-interest is still perceived to be connected to the internal combustion engine. Better to keep CAFE standards low and fuel options limited to petroleum.

Now I don't believe we'll be without options come 2022. There will be numerous plug-in choices available. But politicians and industry continue to play the political game as if there weren't serious consequences, squandering time and resources.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ghosn Suggests Renault City EV

Puregreencars.com reports Renault's (and Nissan's) Carlos Ghosn sees electric city cars in their future. Three to four years away, apparently. Seems like further confirmation of my previous Nissan post (cnet), and the rumors of a renewed interest by European automakers in electric city cars.

The question for us in the USA is whether plans will include cars that meet the peculiar and unique legal requirements which limit the availability of many more fuel-efficient, interesting vehicles.

Unfortunately, it remains in the foreign automakers' interest to sell us their biggest product. Let's face it, even the perceived eco-leaders such as Toyota oppose higher CAFE standards here as they push high-profit, low-mileage Tundras and Sequoias. Don't take my word for it. Read Thomas Friedman's Oct 3rd column in the NY Times Et Tu, Toyota?
Toyota, which pioneered the industry-leading, 50-miles-per-gallon Prius hybrid, has joined with the Big Three U.S. automakers in lobbying against the tougher mileage standards in the Senate version of the draft energy bill....“Toyota wants to keep its green halo and beat G.M. in the big trucks, too,” said Deron Lovaas, vehicles expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Does Nissan Get It?

Cnet reports "Nissan bets on electric cars, not biofuels."
Minoru Shinohara, senior vice president and general manager of the Technology Development Division at Nissan says making a car run on biofuels is, of course, easy, but the benefit of easily available, affordable electric fuel, will trump ethanol or biodiesel, at least for city cars. "The most important thing is availability of fuel," Shinohara said.

Interestingly, he says Nissan is not so excited about plug-in hybrids. An all-electric car is certainly technically much simpler than a PHEV, and perhaps ultimately less expensive to produce.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

VW Coming Up PHEV? Why Not UP EV?

VW's announced "Up Concept" city cars could have a Plug-in Hybrid version. Autoblog and Left Lane News are reporting VW will be showing a PHEV UP at the LA Auto Show.

Small enough to be labeled "tiny" in DailyTech.com's headline. Only 18 inches longer and one inch wider than my beloved 53 mile range Th!nk City that Ford confiscated in 2004.

Sure would make a sweet all-electric city car! I say 75 mile range sub-$25K and they've got an urban green dream machine. Easy parking and super cheap to refill.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ethanol Boom Busting

Check out today's NY Times story Ethanol’s Boom Stalling as Glut Depresses Price.
...the ethanol market is suddenly plagued by a glut, in part because the means to distribute it have not kept pace. The average national ethanol price on the spot market has plunged 30 percent since May...And if the bust becomes worse, candidates for president could be put on the spot to pledge even more federal support for the industry...

The ethanol boom was set off when Congress enacted an energy law in 2005 that included a national mandate for the use of renewable fuel in gasoline...Already, ethanol producers are poised to outpace that mandate...As ethanol supply increases over the next 12 months, the challenge will be to find a home for it,”...Because ethanol is corrosive and soaks up water and impurities, it cannot be shipped through the country’s fuel pipeline network. So it must be transported by train, truck and barge, a more expensive transportation network that is suddenly finding it hard to keep up with the surge in ethanol production....Gasoline wholesale marketers have been slow to gear up ethanol blending terminals, in part because they had to invest simultaneously in equipment to manage low sulfur diesel and tougher product specifications.
Even "overproduction" will never result in enough ethanol to fuel a significant portion of America's cars. California still has only one, yes one, E100 station. Hundreds of state fleet flex-fuel vehicles now use more gasoline and cause more emissions than the gasoline-only vehicles they replaced. (We can thank Arnold for that "green" purchase.)

And blending ethanol into gasoline is complicated, and ultimately merely perpetuates our petroleum addiction.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tesla - Longer Range, Later Delivery

CNet is reporting some good and some not so welcome news about the Tesla Roadster. Seems the batteries are performing better than expected, and range is back up to about 250 mile per charge. But another delivery delay has been announced. Cars will not hit the road until early next year. Personally I'd trade range for earlier delivery, but of course it doesn't work that way.

Simply getting on the waiting list for the car once cost $50,000. Now, for only $5,000 you can tell your friends you're waiting for one. But don't expect to receive your car for at least a year.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Someone videotaped me

A few months ago I attended an eco-event in Fairfax, CA with my electric car. Someone seems to have videotaped me and posted it on youtube.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Co-op America Really Gets It! - Plug-ins YES; Ethanol NO!

Co-op America has cut through the hype and hyperbole about "clean" cars. They did an excellent issue of their magazine analysing the pros and cons of hybrids, plug-ins, electrics, bio-fuels of all types and hydrogen with a Consumer Reports type objectivity. They found
"the truth is, not all of the "new" fuels are created equal. In fact, some are nearly as bad as gasoline in their environmental impacts, and others can't be scaled up in a meaningful way without creating other problems.
Not surprising to us, electricity came out on top - cleanest, cheapest, most infrastructure-ready. Now they are taking their findings one step further. They are mounting a campaign to move the automakers away from ethanol and toward plug-ins.

Read about it:
Plug-in Hybrids 'Yes,' Ethanol 'No:' Largest-Ever Push Mounted to Drive GM, Ford to Shift From Ethanol to Plug-in Hybrids
Take Action:

Tell Ford and GM: Ethanol is Not the Answer!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dissipating Doubt

From the pricey ads in national magazines devoting serious space to the Volt to today's announcement about the plug-in hybrid Saturn Vue, GM is compelling me to take their expressed interest in plug-in cars seriously. As announced in Frankfort and reported in Detroit, GM hopes for a 2009 release of the first Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid SUV. Leaving wiggle room, "2009-ish" brand general manager Jill Lajdziak said Thursday.

While GM is looking to achieve 40 miles all electric range with the Volt toward the end of 2010, the Vue is meant to have 10 miles all electric range. Seems piddling, but if it goes on sale in less than 2 years it will be an historical turning point.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Worst Cars Ever: TIME and Dan Neil Trash EV1

Along with a host of the filthy, the ugly and the dangerous, Time and Dan Neil declare the EV1 one of the 50 worst cars ever. Had they wanted to include a crappy electric car, they had plenty to choose from. But no, they picked what might have been the best electric car ever, and said even it sucked.

Dan Neil, the LA Times writer who naively blames consumers for the lack of electric cars in the market in the film Who Killed the Electric Car?, knows better now. He knows we need to move toward plug-in cars, and he knows the "perfect" electric car won't drop down from heaven one day. Had the EV1s been sold to consumers rather than leased, confiscated, and destroyed, they'd be very in demand.

If we are very lucky, some company will come out with a car with the decade-old EV1 specs considered unmarketable in this peculiar smackdown - 140 mile range without gasoline, miata-sized, fast. Does anyone out there truly believe this car couldn't sell for $50,000 or more now?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Coal Into Cars: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

The Ugly

Coal sucks, there's really no two ways about it. Extracting it is ruinous of the landscape and burning it has disastrous environmental consequences. It should be perhaps our last fuel of choice regardless of how it's used. But not all use of coal is alike.

The Good

About half our electricity comes from coal, and that will change, at best, slowly as we move to renewables. But we need to keep in mind that when we're talking about cars, even coal-generated electricity results in lower greenhouse gas emissions compared with petroleum. The EPRI-NRDC Plug-in Hybrid Study makes clear that under every scenario studied, every region will yield reductions in greenhouse gases as we increase the number of plug-in cars. That includes the worst, most coal dependent areas. Of course as our efforts to green the grid take effect, and that's happening already, plug-in cars yield even greater reductions in GHGs. And ultimately, you can get no cleaner car than an electric car using wind or solar generated electricity.

The Bad

There is a major push at the federal level to subsidize the coal industry to produce liquid coal as a replacement for petroleum. It is touted as part of a move toward independence from foreign oil. Support knows no party. Like subsidies for ethanol, it's a regional matter. As a replacement for gasoline, there is probably no worse choice than coal-generated liquid fuel. As the Scientific American editorial "Worse Than Gasoline" states:
"...the polluting properties of coal - starting with mining and lasting long after burning - and the large amounts of energy required to liquefy it mean that liquid coal produces more than twice the global warming emissions as regular gasoline.....driving a Prius on liquid coal makes it as dirty as a Hummer on regular gasoline."
Lessons

There's a lesson here we can apply to our choices regarding biofuels, too. The energy required to make biological matter into liquid fuel certainly tips the balance against ethanol, just as it does with liquid coal. However, as the Environmental Entrepreneurs report on Costa Rica recommends, biomass crops into electricity is a beneficial strategy.

We can make electricity many ways, some better than others. But in the end, there is no further pollution using the electricity, whether in iPods, toasters, light rail, or cars. If we must use coal, make electricity, don't turn it into a liquid fuel we still have to burn. If we find it advantageous to use biomass or even corn for energy, make electricity with it.

It bears repeating again and again - the worst electricity is better than petroleum. And only electricity offers us the possibility of truly zero emission transport.

It's the plug, stupid.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

EV Briefs, and Black Rock City & EVs

A few items before I head out to Black Rock City for two weeks. Out in the desert as part of Burning Man, our encampment, Snow Koan Solar, is setting up a solar photovoltaic EV Charging Station (at 7:30 and Desert) for electric scooters, golf carts, sofas and barstools. We'll also be taking Burning Man art projects off petroleum generators by switching them to solar electricity.

Although Black Rock City probably has the worst air in the west during its brief annual existence, it is where I had my first electric transport epiphany. The electric sofas and scooters were so much cooler - and quieter - than the gasoline powered stinkers that predominate. As Burning Man attempts to go green, here's to hoping they become the first American City to ban the internal combustion engine within its borders. We may need ICE vehicles to get there (gas cars will serve for long distance travel even as EVs come to market, I believe) but they should be parked and forgotten. Feet, pedals and electric motors only will make for a much more pleasant and greener event. Back after Labor Day.

Google Guys Th!nk it Over

Recently I posted about how Google.org gets it. Their Rechargeit.org campaign really makes the connections between renewable power and plug-in cars. The founders of Google have made personal investments in Tesla as befits dotcom billionaires, and they're converting Priuses to plug-in hybrids for the company fleet with battery maker A123. Now the relationship with EVs may be going further still. A number of websites (webpronews.com, pandia.com) are reporting that Google may be getting more involved with Th!nk Global, the reinvigorated Norwegian electric car maker. Google founder Sergey Brin drove one of the 2001 Th!nk City cars when Ford brought them to California to meet its ZEV Mandate obligation. I did, too, until Ford confiscated the cars and sold the company.

I believe Google would find Th!nk City electric cars a great fit with Google.org’s intentions. The plug-in Priuses are almost doubling the fuel efficiency of Google standard Prius fleet, getting 74 MPG rather than 41 MPG. That's great, but because most driving down Silicon Valley way is on the freeway for rather short distances, the plug-ins don’t do much all-electric driving and the MPG isn't approaching the much touted 100MPG. The Th!nk City could do the 20 – 50 mile round-trips without petroleum, using only the power from Google’s solar array. I hope Google is realizing that their plug-in hybrid fleet could probably mostly be all-electric cars. And with Google's clout, they could make the cars a reality

GM Getting Lots of PHEV Ink; Rolls Out 100 H2 FCVs – Huh?

GM has been getting a lot of attention
with its plug-in intentions. Contracts for lithium batteries for the plug-in hybrid Saturn Vue and the Chevrolet Volt have received much press. Still no truly firm date for either car, but GM has been stoking the expectation fire.

At the same time, they are looking for 100 consumers to take on a $1 million hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. They will join the one Honda Fuel Cell car currently in private hands in Southern California. The participants in Project Driveway will have to be located in Westchester, NY, Washington DC or Orange County, CA, places with hydrogen fueling stations. If drivers have to pay for fuel, this may become Project Permanently Parked in the Driveway, as the price of H2 is about four times that of gasoline.

If GM truly believes what it’s saying about the electrification of cars and the future of plug-in technology, it ought to announce the shelving of its fuel cell program for the time being. GM hasn’t got the resources or good will banked to do both plug-in and fuel cell roll-outs, and it knows only one of those has a near term prospect for success. We’ve all got electricity at home and work right now, and we’d like to use it for our cars.


Toyota’s first Plug-in Prius to Use NiMH

Toyota is postponing its Lithium Priuses and rolling out a few NiMH plug-in Priuses for testing purposes. Hard to say what the Lithium issues are, as GM and A123 are reporting Lithium batteries all but ready to go. Perhaps Toyota’s battery division is having problems. Perhaps Toyota, as hybrid leader, doesn’t want to get too far out front. It’s hard to believe Toyota will allow GM to be the plug-in leader. Of course, the Volt remains a desire at this point, not yet a reality. I hope to drive the Toyota built plug-in Prius coming to nearby UC Berkeley, and will give a full report. But let's be clear: Toyota could have NiMH plug-in cars on the road in large numbers already - both all-electric and plug-in hybrid - but has chosen not to. My RAV4 EV with NiMH batteries is going strong after more than 5 years and over 50,000 miles. Hundreds of thousands of Priuses with NiMH batteries are on the road without battery issues.

EPRI-NRDC Study Out; Electricity Better, If You Want It To Be

The oft-postponed EPRI-NRDC plug-in hybrid study was unambiguous – moving to electricity for cars would yield a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. And in most places other toxic emissions would be lower as well. But the study managed to find a few places were a few people might be exposed to slightly higher levels of one toxin or another, and thus refused to make the bold statement required to help move environmentalists toward a sane position on plug-in cars. See for yourself at www.epri-reports.org/

Vectrix - Awesome ZEV Maxi-Scooter Available Now

The Vectrix made its debut in San Francsico. Using NiMH batteries, it provides the range and the zip missing from most electric scooters. At a price, of course, but a state rebate of $2000 for Zero Emission Vehicles will apply.