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


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


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.