Friday, December 26, 2008

Snow falls, Tango plows in Spokane

It's one thing to read about a Prius powering a home during a blackout.

Check out this video showing an unexpected benefit to the torc, power and design of the Tango electric car.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Clean coal

Just a the coal companies go on the air with ads that could be Obama campaign commercials, down to the Yes We Can (make coal clean,) the real world intrudes.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Toyota on concept EV: Just for show

A bit more information today on Toyota's small EV. The message, from spokeswoman Jana Hartline, is don't expect more information. There will be no press conference devoted to the vehicle at the Detroit Auto Show, where it will simply be displayed.
“It’s a concept we are bringing to the show basically to confirm our interest in electric vehicles,” Hartline told the Detroit Free Press.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Toyota to display a concept EV

The press release couldn't be shorter.
TORRANCE, Calif., Dec. 22 -- Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. will display a battery electric vehicle concept at the 2009 North American International Auto Show. This display marks the world debut of this concept vehicle.
It's hard not to be snarky. Toyota will display a concept EV! My six year old Toyota RAV4 EV electric car continues to perform flawlessly and gaslessly.

Toyota could provide global leadership today with plug-in cars. They've had the technology for over a decade. Instead they seem determined to let others be first.

Meanwhile Toyota will continue to sell only petroleum burning cars. Still, even Toyota is facing hard times. It is reporting its first loss in 70 years. Almost $2 billion.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Biofuels surge under Obama?

Obama's choice for Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, apparently can't be faulted for his dedication to dealing with climate change. Praise for the nomination ranges from Greenpeace to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But in a cabinet filled with ethanol boosters, his coziness with corporate sponsors of biofuels research makes me wonder what solutions to the climate crisis will get top priority, and top dollar after January 20th. Chu's biggest "get" was half a billion dollars from BP for biofuels research at UC Berkeley. Is Steven Chu BFF With BP? in Mother Jones magazine recounts his story and raises questions:
"Chu's role in creating the Energy Biosciences Institute may inform his approach to governing the Department of Energy, a major governmental underwriter of research, and one that will face pressure to partner with corporations in pursuing technological solutions to climate change. As the incoming Obama administration prepares to spend liberally to develop cleaner sources of energy, the structure of corporate-government partnerships will determine how the profits of that research return to taxpayers, and how rigorously scientists evaluate the downsides of controversial technologies such as biofuels."
Corporate sponsors have an outsized influence on universities these days. UC has done lots of work on fuel cells because the auto makers came up with the dough. UC is doing consumer studies today that exclude battery electric cars but include hybrids and fuel cell vehicles. Can you spell Toyota? Berkeley will do lots of biofuels research because BP came up with the money.

Bush threw one billion dollars at hydrogen and fuel cells. Industry and universities have been feeding at the trough, but actual contributions to reducing global warming or petroleum dependence have been less than negligible.

Just when it seemed the overhyped promise of biofuels was diminishing, it may prove to have a second life under Obama.

Plug-in advocates are going to have our work cut out for us.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama's cabinet drunk on ethanol?

Obama's cabinet is looking very friendly toward ethanol, The Hill reports. Vilsack from Iowa at Agriculture, Salazar from Colorado at Interior, Daschle from South Dakota at HHS and likely Transportation nominee Ray LaHood are all big ethanol boosters. Chu at Energy, while critical of corn ethanol, has been an advocate for cellulosic.

I can't help but wonder who will be sitting at the table who understands and believes in transportation electrification. Will "flex-fuel" once again subvert the necessary transformation of the American auto industry?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Build My Dreams, BYD

The announcement that BYD, the Chinese battery giant turned automaker, has actually begun selling its plug-in hybrid, is pretty big news.

Shares rose about 15% on the Hong Kong stock exchange Monday. Earlier this year Warren Buffet invested over $200 million in the company (10% share). As most automakers plan for lower sales in 2009, BYD plans to double its sales to 350,000 units, including 10,000 plug-in hybrids. BYD intends to have cars on the road in the US within two years. Including an all-electric car.

As the automakers attempt to negotiate the uncertainties of the current economic environment, could it be the Chinese who bring plug-ins to the masses?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Beyond Detroit: Think halts production; appeals for govt help

Think Global, the Norwegian electric car maker, has halted production of its electric City car, generating fears of a possible bankruptcy. As reported by Reuters, "Like many other car companies, privately-held Think said it had difficulties in obtaining working capital and that automotive suppliers offered tougher terms on parts." It has asked the Norwegian government for $100-200 million to see it through the crisis.

Hybrid batteries doing fine

There's good news in Jim Motavalli's Greentech report in the NY Times about NiMH batteries in hybrids. The batteries have gotten cheaper, and they have proven robust and long-lived. Toyota reports a tiny percentage of replacements - 350 packs out of hundreds of thousands of 2nd generation Priuses. Yellow Cab in Vancouver has about 100 hybrids, some having racked up as many as 300,000 miles. Yet only 3 or 4 have been replaced, according to the company's general manager.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

And Ford makes three

In Congressional testimony last week, Alan Mullaly, head of Ford, committed the company to developing plug-in cars.
Next month at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, we will discuss in detail Ford’s accelerated vehicle electrification plan, which includes bringing a family of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles to market by 2012. The work will include partnering with battery and powertrain systems suppliers to deliver a full battery electric vehicle (BEV) in a van-type vehicle for commercial fleet use in 2010 and a BEV sedan in 2011. We will develop these vehicles in a manner that enables it to reduce costs and ultimately make BEVs more affordable for consumers.
Nominally, at least, the Detroit 3 are now on board.

Musk v. Fisker

The Wall St Journal's new glossy mag, WSJ, reports on the rivalry between Tesla's Elon Musk, and Henrik Fisker. A bit of scratching and clawing.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bailouts and Beemers

The deck of cards, some might say house of cards, that is the American economy is being shuffled. A generation of deregulation has culminated with free-market ideologues and corporate chieftains begging for salvation from the federal government once-despised as mettlesome.

Billions to bailout financial giants has been followed by a plea from the one-time Big Three. Hoping the broader crisis would provide cover for the effects of years of bad management and undesirable product, the over-compensated execs from Detroit flew in separate private jets to DC seeking a handout. As one commentator put it, it was as if three men in top hats and tails sat down to feast at a soup kitchen.

None can deny the importance of the auto industry to the American economy, but no one was in the mood to pay obeisance to the once-powerful supplicants. Bankruptcy itself seems to be on the table. Wagoner, Nardelli and Mullaly sat down to find Republicans sensing an opportunity to kill off the unions, and progressives willing to let it happen to bitch-slap the high-flying execs. Many would like to see a bailout with strings to drive retooling for plug-in cars. Plug In America is making it easy to let your Congressional representatives know how you feel at

But some relief from November's economic doom and gloom could be seen in the string of announcements that suggest plug-in cars are truly coming to market within the next few years. GM went on the air with advertisements for the Volt, a full two years before it's release date. Some see greenwashing, some a continuing commitment to electrics in troubling times.

In early 2009 BMW will put 500 electric Minis (using an AC Propulsion drive system) on the road in LA and NY for a one-year lease-only trial reminiscent of the ZEV mandate era cars in California that were ultimately crushed. Only time will tell if this is a one-off to meet regulatory obligations or a new direction for the German automaker that’s been pursuing the lonely road of liquid hydrogen.

Nissan/Renault is clearly in the forefront, pursuing plug-ins globally. Chairman Carlos Ghosn has gone further than any auto exec in making an alternative fuel choice for the future and it is unambiguously battery electric cars. Commitments have been made for tens of thousands of cars within a few short years for Israel and Denmark in cooperation with Shai Agassi's Better Place. At the LA Auto Show Ghosn and Governor Ted Kulongoski announced an agreement that will make Oregon the first state to see Nissan electric cars, beginning in 2010. Portland's electric utility has already begun installing charging insfrastructure. Nissan foresees full-scale marketing of EVs in 2012.

The San Francisco Bay Area is also making a play to become, in Mayor Gavin Newsom's words, "the electric vehicle capitol of America." The mayors of the region's three largest cities announced, along with Better Place, a move to aggressively promote plug-in cars.

The recent halving of gasoline prices poses a challenge. With the global economic downturn, oil may not return to $100 or more a barrel quickly. Many a move toward alternative fuels has died on the shoals of lower petroleum prices. Look for investments in ethanol to slow, and plants to close. But even at $2 a gallon, electricity is competitive, and in the national interest. It is up to us to keep the pressure on Congress and the automakers to find creative ways to bring plug-in vehicles to market quickly.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Boy, these guys don't make it easy to feel the slightest sympathy for the plight of US automakers. The lineup of CEOs at the Congressional hearings yesterday reminded me of tobacco execs not so long ago denying cigarettes cause cancer. Rick Waggoner had the chutzpah to say their problems are rooted in the credit crisis. A little contrition for bad product and management might have gone some way toward greasing the money chute. Now they've got Republicans craving bankruptcy to kill off the unions, and progressives willing to let it happen to bitch-slap the high flying execs. Not a pretty picture.

At the very least, any bailout ought be tied to retooling for plug-in cars. Plug In America has a simple way to let your Congressional representatives know you want to see "No Bailout Without Strings." Click here to send a letter to your representatives.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dodge EV bests Dodge Challenger

We first heard about Chrylser's plug-in car plans at the end of September. Less than two months later Chrysler's EV guy Lou Rhodes held an impromptu drag race against his own best gasoline sports car. It doesn't surprise that the electric car outpaced the competition. That such a car was ready to show so quickly does.

How about tying the billions of bailout dollars to EVs on the road by the end of 2009? No one doubts that a base of early adopters is chomping at the bit for plug-in cars.

Check out Dan Neil's LA Times blog and view the race.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Two More Teslas Delivered

Chris Paine, director of Who Killed the Electric Car? and Linda Nicholes, President of Plug In America, took delivery on Wednesday of their Tesla Roadsters. Chris directed filming of the long-awaited event at Tesla's Santa Monica showroom. And, Chris blogs about it at on his Revenge of the Electric Car site.
[Thanks to Paul Scott for the photo.]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What about the Pickens Plan?

The good news about electricity as a transportation fuel for cars is finally breaking through to the mainstream. GM’s centennial celebration in mid-September saw the unveiling of the production version of the Chevrolet Volt, still scheduled for appearance in showrooms in November 2010. Hundreds of articles were published asking if the Volt can save GM. GM’s bad boy Bob Lutz even appeared on the Colbert Report, to mixed result. (Video embedded below post.) Other automakers are watching closely, with announcements heralding their own electric intentions.

Hydrogen and fuel cells remain decades from meaningful deployment, even their supporters concede. For the foreseeable future, ethanol remains dependent on corn. Meanwhile, in a back to the future moment, T. Boone Pickens is spending tens of millions of dollars promoting CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) as the bridge fuel to get the U.S. off petroleum in the short term. If it were 1976, he would be right.

The Arab oil embargo and price increases of the ‘70s pushed the U.S. away from using petroleum to generate electricity. Today, less than 2% of American electrons are produced with oil. Diverse, American sources of energy have made the electric grid essentially resilient and secure, immune to petroleum’s price volatility or politics.

For reasons political and economic, cars and trucks and busses remained tethered to petroleum. Before greenhouse gasses became a global concern, before we came to terms with the inevitable limits of fossil fuels, natural gas would have been a logical fuel alternative to petroleum. Had national and economic security trumped the power of oil and auto companies, a large percentage of cars would run today on cleaner, cheaper, domestic natural gas. A few billion dollars a week wouldn’t leave the country, and we would all understand the value of choice.

But we find ourselves in 2008. While less polluting than petroleum, burning natural gas emits significant carbon. Natural gas, like petroleum, is not forever. And today natural gas is a critical fuel for electricity generation. And making electricity is simply a more efficient use of this resource. As Joe Romm wrote at his Climate Progress blog:
We currently use natural gas to produce 22% of our electricity.” Most of that electricity comes from gas burned in combined cycle gas turbines at an overall efficiency of up to 60%. Why in the world would the federal government — or anyone else — spend billions and billion of dollars on natural gas fueling stations and natural gas vehicles in order to burn the gas with an efficiency of 15% to 20%? Natural gas is simply too useful and expensive to squander in such a fashion.
Pickens’ plan includes lots of wind-generated electricity, ostensibly to replace the natural gas he would divert to vehicles. One can’t, however, simply replace gas generation with wind. But we can use the electricity generated with each to power plug-in cars.

Pickens plan can be viewed as a logical criticism of Al Gore’s plan for 100% renewable electricity within ten years because it doesn’t do anything about our petroleum dependence. Gore’s group’s TV ads, (almost as ubiquitous as Pickens’,) have recently begun to mention petroleum addiction but still offer no solutions.

To the plethora of petroleum alternatives served up during the past few years – hydrogen, fuel cells, biodiesel, ethanol, electricity - Pickens’ plan resurrects the fuel discarded since 2000 by Ford, GM and Toyota. As if Americans weren’t confused enough already. The truth remains vehicles are electricity’s killer app.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Curbside EV Charging Comes to Portland OR

Curbside EV Charging Stations are sprouting in Portland Oregon. Full story here.

Hat tip to David W.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

San Jose/Tesla deal announcement Wed.

The NY Times is reporting that Wednesday morning will see the announcement of a deal that will see Tesla's second electric car, the sedan, built in San Jose.
On Wednesday morning, the company will announce a deal to lease 89 acres of land in San Jose, Calif. to build a company headquarters and a 600,000-square-foot plant to produce the battery-powered Model S sedan.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Conference confirms plug-in fever

Once again, a conference on plug-in cars. Coming on the heels of the Google/Brookings event in Washington, D.C., Plug-in 2008 in San Jose, California witnessed a noon-time address by new heavy-weight convert, Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel. Grove brings some needed high-profile gravitas to the community of electrification advocates. One week earlier, former Vice President Al Gore issued his well-received challenge to make the American grid 100% renewable in ten years. Grove made it clear one thing was glaringly missing from Gore’s plea: dealing with our national petroleum addiction. All the wind farms and solar panels in the world won’t do anything to lower the outflow of hundreds billions of dollars annually or decrease our pump-fueled funding of Islamic fundamentalism unless we build cars that can use that cleaner electricity. I wish I knew what’s holding Gore back from full-throated support for plug-in cars.

The conference attendees heard the now familiar if increasingly impassioned representatives of the utility industry trumpet the benefits of electricity for transportation. Infrastructure newcomers Coloumb and Better Place were well-represented, offering their proprietary schemes to become the consumer interface to plug-in cars. A number of startups showed off their porposals to retrofit the existing fleets of petroleum-fueled vehicles, giving some hope to Andy Grove’s ambitoious desire to create millions of plug-in conversions before the automakers deliver.

Representatives of GM stoked the clamor for the Volt, and a Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid sat on the show floor. But neither car, GM execs made clear, will appear for sale on a showroom floor for more that two years. Meanwhile, GM is hedging its bets by continuing to invest in the dream of cheap, cellulosic ethanol and the hallucinogenic pipe dream of hydrogen fuel cell SUVs. As America downsizes and SUVs go unpurchased, GM’s diehards put inefficient if zero-emission H2/FCV Equinoxes in advertisements and a few dozen driveways to which they remain tethered by unavailable fuel. (By way of contrast, this weekend I will drive my RAV4 EV 135 miles from my home, plugging in to a dryer plug at a campground five miles down a dirt road a dozen miles from the metropolis of Plymouth CA, population 1070. I will pay nothing for my 300 mile road trip.)

Attesting to consumer desire for plug-ins, hundreds of people flooded the Plug-in 2008 auditorium for the low-cost “public” event, which included Plug In America’s Chelsea Sexton participating in a panel discussion. Automaker announcements keep coming, feeding hope that your next car will be a plug-in hybrid or more likely all-electric car. Nissan and Renault have now promised tens of thousands of EVs on three continents by 2011. And a new competition has opened up among the Germans, with BMW announcing an electric Mini and Daimler promising an electric Smart and Mercedes sedan. There’s never been a better time to head down to your local dealership and let them know until they offer a plug-in car, you’re not buying. No plug? No deal. (Put the bumper sticker and your car and let everyone know.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Al Gore Joins Call for Electric Cars

Buried in Al Gore's challenge today calling for a 100% renewable electric grid within ten years is a call for plug-in electric cars. This represents a big change in his thinking, and will hopefully quickly push political and environmental leadership to coalesce around policies to push plug-in cars into the market as quickly as possible.
We could further increase the value and efficiency of a Unified National Grid by helping our struggling auto giants switch to the manufacture of plug-in electric cars. An electric vehicle fleet would sharply reduce the cost of driving a car, reduce pollution, and increase the flexibility of our electricity grid.
Full speech available here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Oil hits $140 a barrel; it's time for plug-ins

It was January 2nd this year when oil hit $100 for the first time. Today it reached $140, and OPEC warns it will only get worse, and soon.

Instead of biting the bullet and facing the need for plug-in cars quick, "solutions" put on the table by the presidential candidates wouldn't have an impact as soon as required to meet carbon and petroleum reduction or national security goals. To say nothing of consumer's need for cheaper transportation fuel. Domestic oil producers apparently aren't extracting domestically where already approved but clamor for access to the coast. Even if Congress authorized coastal and ANWR exploitation as McCain now supports, the impact would be too late and too little. I'm pleased to hear McCain promoting electrics, but his battery contest proposal would at best have a medium term impact.

We need to see policies that will push electric cars and plug-in hybrids with available battery technology. The $9000 incentive California put on the table in the 90s for electric cars wasn't enough to interest automakers. Today, were product available, such an incentive would see consumers lining up for cars they once might have snubbed as range-deficient and over-priced.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Overflow crowd at DC plug-in conference

News of oil by the barrel and gas by the gallon reaching new highs had been dominating TV and print, so it was perhaps not surprising that the Google/Brookings Plug-in Electric Vehicle Conference saw overflow crowds. The speeches and hallway chatter suggested plug-in vehicles have finally caught the attention of industry bigwigs and policy makers. Auto makers, electric utilities, battery makers and advocates all found themselves under one roof in the nation’s capital, and all said regarding plug-in vehicles it is a matter of “when” not “if.”

Many of the speeches sounded notes long trumpeted by advocates at Plug In America and the Electric Auto Association. The benefits to the environment were repeatedly mentioned, and the national security rationale for plug-ins was brought to the fore. The state of the grid was discussed by advocates and utility executives. Some concern was voiced about the day tens of millions of cars charge up from and contribute to the grid. Yet there was near unanimity that the utility infrastructure can handle the plug-in cars being introduced in the near term.

Politicians from both parties, both long-term advocates of alternative fuels and long-term defenders of every auto maker misstep, found themselves largely in agreement. Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Orrin Hatch, and Democratic Congressmen John Dingell and Jay Inslee spoke to the attendees, with each recognizing the need for policies promoting grid electrification of automobiles.

GM President Tory Clarke's concluding keynote on Thursday kept expectations up for the November 2010 release of the Volt. Bill Reinert of Toyota played the contrarian, forecasting a return, albeit temporary, to $2/gallon gasoline. The President of Ford bored plug-in proponents with tweaks to the internal combustion engine and appeals to the feds for hand-outs.

Fred Smith, CEO and Founder of Federal Express summed up the hopefulness expressed by many speakers and attendees about the broad possibilities for plug-ins beyond passenger vehicles. The possibility of plug-in trucks to reduce the ever-increasing fuel costs for a package delivery service are very attractive, he asserted. And, when his interviewer referred to plug-in hybrids, he insisted that all-electrics be part of the conversation and the commercial vehicle mix. When a questioner challenged him to move from rhetorical support to issuing an RFP for actual vehicles, he didn’t flinch.

One couldn’t help leaving the conference with the excitement of feeling part of an idea whose time has come.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Google spurs electric car videos,'s campaign for plug-in cars, has issued a call for short videos. If you've got one, explain how it works for you. If you want one, explain why.

Videos are beginning to show up on youtube.

Jeff U'ren drove an EV1 for three years....well, the vid tells the tale.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tom Friedman on Gas Prices, Honesty, Obama, and Electric Cars

Tom Friedman of the NY Times has been hammering away at the bi-partisan disaster that is the US energy policy for years now. One cornerstone of the policy is cheap gas. Pandering politicians have ensured the true cost of gas remains shrouded in tax policy and the defense budget. Now the pressures of a changing global market have provoked a precipitous rise in gasoline prices for the heretofore protected American driver. Friedman says it's time for some truth telling. We need to pay more for gasoline to keep up market pressure for more fuel efficient vehicles. Good policy according to Friedman would keep gasoline from ever dropping below $4/gallon.

That may seem an unlikely campaign platform for any politician hoping to be elected, but the gas price holiday dust up suggests American voters may be ahead of their leaders. Sen. Obama was not blown away by his opposition to the gas holiday.

Next, Friedman hopes, new leadership will choose the right policy, one that leads us to electric cars.
We need to make a structural shift in our energy economy. Ultimately, we need to move our entire fleet to plug-in electric cars. The only way to get from here to there is to start now with a price signal that will force the change.

Barack Obama had the courage to tell voters that the McCain-Clinton summer gas-giveaway plan was a fraud. Wouldn’t it be amazing if he took the next step and put the right plan before the American people? Wouldn’t that just be amazing?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Electric cars back on track?

The tide appears to be turning. Electric cars are in the news almost daily. Large manufacturers and startups are responding to changing circumstances and customer preferences. Oil has passed $120 a barrel. The NY Times headlined "As Gas Costs Soar, Buyers Flock to Small Cars." GM lost $3.25 billion in the first quarter. Something’s got to give.

In perhaps the biggest news, on May 13 amidst a generally downbeat report, Nissan announced a serious, forward-looking effort to make electric cars an important part of their automotive portfolio. The announcement has been reported quite positively everywhere, including the NY Times here and the Wall St. Journal here. Even stories that got much wrong, such as The Independent of London, England, here, concluded "the electric car is probably the [alternative] with the greatest potential."

Sales and profits are declining for automakers in established markets. "It is going to be a tough year for the whole industry. Every single element of our environment is negative," said Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn, who also heads the automaker's French partner Renault. After turning Nissan around during his 5 year tenure at the once beleaguered Japanese automaker and naysaying hybrids and electric cars a mere two years ago, Ghosn is moving both automakers toward a leadership position in zero-emission vehicles worldwide. The Nissan plan envisions hundreds of vehicles in 2010, with general sales in various markets including the U.S. to commence in 2012.

This year Renault announced a partnership with Project Better Place to manufacture electric cars for Shai Agassi’s ambitious plan to create discreet markets, beginning in Israel and Denmark. The first prototype debuted in Tel Aviv in May, and it was announced that hundreds of cars would appear in a pilot program in 2009, with a rollout of thousands in 2010.

Smaller automakers continue to make the news. Tesla had a red carpet grand opening for its first showroom and service center in Los Angeles. Tesla has come to terms with its mistaken decision to introduce the Roadster with a two-speed transmission that delayed production a year or more. As of May, two Roadsters have been delivered, and the expectation is that 300 will be in customers hands by the end of 2008. The luxury electric sedan codenamed Whitestar is slated for 2010.

Th!nk of Norway has begun producing cars again, and sales are slated to begin soon in Scandinavia, Switzerland and France. Th!nk has opened an office in California, and announced its intention to begin sales in 2009. Small regulatory hurdles still need to be overcome before the mini-car that turned me into an electric car advocate can be offered in the U.S.

An unusual entrant into the EV arena, Aptera, a three-wheeled futuristic electric car, continues to stir excitement, and would appear to be more than science fiction. Popular Mechanics took the car for a spin, and a video (available on my blog here) shows various members of the team at work developing the car. With an announced price under $30,000, hundreds of prospective owners have shelled out $500 for a reservation. Who knows how many would want the car if it appears as reported in the next Star Trek movie.

Automakers once completely dismissive of battery electrics, are getting on board, at least rhetorically. Smart has begun testing a small electric fleet in England. Audi here and BMW here are reported to be taking another look at all-electrics.

Still, with all the activity, showrooms remain devoid of a highway-legal electric car. Consumers in the market for a new car are trapped into purchasing a somewhat more efficient gasser. Despite ever increasing gasoline prices and looming environmental and political disasters based on our petroleum addiction, governments are taking only small steps and major automakers seem intent on squeezing every last dollar out of internal combustion.

A race, even a reluctant race, to offer electric cars, is a major about-face.
Let’s hope Nissan’s announcement is spurring its competitors to reappraise the potential of the market for electric cars.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Obama on cars

Today Barak Obama appeared on Meet the Press. (full transcript here.)

MR. RUSSERT: How long before our automobiles are off of gasoline oil and, and using something like an alternative fuel?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, I, I think that if we decided right now that we were going to make the kind of investment I've proposed--$150 billion over 10 years--then I think at the end of the decade we could have a auto industry that has significantly reduced our consumption of oil by as much as 35, 40 percent. And the technologies exist right now for plug-in hybrids. You know, we should continue to investigate the possibilities of electric cars. The problem is is that we have not been serious about it, and Detroit ended up making investments in SUVs and large trucks because that's where they perceived a competitive advantage and that's where they felt they could make the most profit. I think it was a mistake for them not to plan earlier. Now we're seeing a huge growth in fuel-efficient cars that is benefitting the Japanese automakers, and Detroit is getting pounded some more. And I think that we can make those cars here in the United States. By the way, that's going to be our expert market over the future. China already has higher fuel efficiency standards than we do. If we want to compete for those markets, then we're going to have to invest in technology. The government can help, but the automakers have to make some changes. And I didn't say that just in front of environmental groups, I went to Detroit and said it in front of the automakers. That's the kind of truth telling we need from the next president.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Aptera: incredible becomes believable

The Aptera electric car, so futuristic looking it will appear in an upcoming Star Trek movie, is becoming more believable with each passing day. Extremely lightweight, it will be able to get decent range out of a relatively small lithium battery pack. Three-wheeled, it will not be speed limited like four-wheeled NEVs.

They produced a short video from inside their Southern California base station. Check it out.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Plug-in Rally in Sacramento

Stefano Paris, plug-in car and renewable energy supporter and renaissance man, has made a video of Plug In America's rally in Sacramento outside CARB last month. Check out the video, and his extremely useful website on plug-ins here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

LA Times: CARB's Sperling Conflicted

Check out today's LA Times piece by Ken Bensinger on CARB Board Member Dan Sperling, here.

The UC Davis Institute he heads took in millions from auto and oil companies in the years prior to his appointment by Gov Schwarzenegger. At last month's Board Meet, Sperling spearheaded a proposal to cut the number of zero emission vehicles required by the ZEV program. Spirling has been a major proponent, along with the automakers and oil companies, of shifting the program's emphasis from near-term battery electric cars to decades-away hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. A one-time supporter of electric cars, he says in the article,
"I lost funding [for the institute] from the Detroit car companies for many years, and I realized I should not be taking those policy positions unless it was really well-grounded," he said.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Luxurious greenwashing, Lexus-style

Check out my snarky post on Lexus' greenwashing. Quoting myself,
Lexus is taking hybrid hype to the next level, the penthouse.....At one time Toyota was content to let the Prius subliminally lower consumers' green expectations from electric cars to hybrids which use gasoline-generated electricity to raise efficiency. Lexus has gone literal - "h" is the new green lifestyle. Instead of actually manufacturing and marketing the greenest vehicles Toyota has already proven they could produce....

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Is NRDC drinking the hydrogen kool-aid?

The following guest blog post is by Earl Killian who often blogs at Joe Romm's . Biographical information below the post.

Is NRDC drinking the hydrogen kool-aid?

Imagine for a moment that the world had rejected wind and solar energy, and instead decided to wait for a hydrogen fusion research program to reach fruition. Where would we be today? Fortunately for the world, wind and solar are growing rapidly, while hydrogen fusion research remains speculative at best. But when it comes to cars, the hydrogen kool-aid seems to be working and putting research before solutions.

Roland Hwang is an NRDC policy analyst working on transportation energy issues. In his blog he writes:

Originally conceived of in 1990, the California ZEV program has morphed over time from just an electric car mandate to incorporate a broad spectrum of clean, advanced technology vehicles, such as hybrids. 2008 required another tune up based on the opinion of the Air Board’s own independent technology review panel which said that fuel cells cars are not ready for mass commercialization.

There’s a contradiction in those two sentences. If the ZEV program is a “broad spectrum of clean, advanced technology vehicles,” then why does it need a “tune up” because “fuel cell cars are not ready for mass commercialization”? The answer is that the ZEV program has in reality bcome a hydrogen fuel cell research program, apparently even in the mind of the NRDC. And to make his point Hwang stretched the original goal of 8,333 ZEVs per year into “mass commercialization.” Hwang went on to write,
That is, they reduced the fuel cell requirement by 17,500 cars, but strengthened the program by requiring 58,000 plug-in hybrids.

That sounds good, but he never discusses the possibility, so often found in the pre-meeting comments submitted, of getting the plug-in hybrid numbers by taking the dirtiest cars off the road instead of the cleanest ones. At the very least, CARB could have converted their hybrid requirements into a plug-in hybrid requirement, instead of taking from the small ZEV numbers.

Hwang also never considers whether CARB is leading or following the market on plug-in hybrids. If it is following, then it is simply giving the automakers credit for something that plan to do otherwise.

CARB’s reduction in ZEV deployment guarantees that the automakers will spin the tiny number of ZEVs now required as being “uneconomic”. By the estimates presented at the meeting, 1,667 additional vehicles per year will cost the automakers and additional $147 million, so they expect them to lose $88,200 per FCV. BEVs in contrast could be sold at a profit.

Why does the NRDC ignore Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and pretend that only hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can satisfy a ZEV goal? One would expect the NRDC to understand that hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs), even if the research someday reaches fruition (fuel cells have both lifetime and cost issues in the foreseeable future), make it two to four times harder to solve our greenhouse gas emissions problem, and can do so only by using up unnecessary wildlife habitat.

If the hydrogen for FCVs comes from steam reformation of methane (11,888 g CO2e/kgH2), then greenhouse gas emissions per mile for a 50 mi/kgH2 vehicle are 238 g/mi. The 2008 Toyota Prius is 242 g/mi today. If FCVs are to be better than a Prius, the hydrogen must be produced from renewable energy.

California’s own Hydrogen Highway Blueprint Plan estimates that hydrogen FCVs will require more than 4000 BTU/mi (1172 Watt hours per mile) of renewable energy. Even a boxy SUV built with decade old technology (the Toyota RAV4-EV) uses only 302 Wh/mi, according to the EPA’s Fuel Economy website. If powered by renewable wind and solar, extra Watt hours translate into extra land use for solar and wind farms. FCVs will therefore be wasteful of land and our renewable electricity investments. But FCVs are still in research, and perhaps the final result will be more efficient than California’s blueprint allows? Let us look at what might be possible if FCVs achieve all of the aggressive goals set for them.

Because a FCV is essentially a BEV where some (but not all) of the batteries/capacitors have been replaced by a hydrogen tank and a fuel cell, and the plug is optional (but probably desirable), it is straightforward to compare the vehicles. Use an identical 260 Wh/mi for motor to wheels efficiency. For a BEV, this gives 300 Wh/mi at the garage plug (as seen on the RAV4-EV). The DOE’s FreedomCar’s goal for fuel cells at their peak efficiency is 20kWh of electrical output per kilogram of hydrogen fed into it. Thus to power the wheels one mile we need 13g of hydrogen (or 77 mi/kg). FreedomCar’s goal is still a ways off (most similar sized FCVs are less than 50 mi/kg). Next, according to NREL, “An efficiency goal for electrolyzers in the future has been reported to be in the 50 kWh/kg range, or a system efficiency of 78%.” Thus 13 g/mi of hydrogen to operate a FCV of the future requires 650 Wh/mi of renewable electricity. This is better than the 1172 Wh/mi in the Hydrogen Highway Blueprint Plan, but still a factor of two higher than the BEV requirement. Wouldn’t this additional land be better used toward solving our electricity greenhouse gas emissions, instead of wasting it on inefficient FCVs?

Earl Killian is a software engineer and microprocessor architect who is also passionate about finding solutions to the global warming crisis confronting us. He graduated from MIT in 1978 (B.S. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), and has most recently worked for MIPS, QED, SGI, and Tensilica, all silicon valley companies engaged in creating microprocessor products. He was a co-founder and CTO of QED, and held the title Director of Architecture at each of the other companies. His microprocessor work has resulted in 23 patents issued so far. Earl Killian and his wife drive two battery electric vehicles, fueled by sunlight from the photovoltaic panels on their home.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

CARB's Conflict of Interest

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Fuel Cell Partnership (CFCP) have become inseparable. The Green California Summit taking place next week in Sacramento appears to provide one more small example.

As I stated in my testimony before CARB's Zero Emission Vehicle Program meeting last week, to understand the conflict of interest
one need look no further than the CARB homepage, where hydrogen and fuel cells – not ZEVs - receive prominent placement, with no equivalent recognition of battery electrics. The same members of staff that administer the ZEV program and make recommendations to this Board are charged with promoting and administering the hydrogen highway and fuel cell projects. A bias toward one technology is reflected in the titles and job descriptions of many staffers who wrote the recommendation you are considering today that give a fuel cell vehicle more credit than a battery electric vehicle with the same range.
At the upcoming Summit, CARB and the Fuel Cell Partnership share booth #1001. Not in the sense that ZAP and Global Electric are housed at a booth divided into A and B. No. On the floorplan, booth 1001 is simply "CA Fuel Cell Partnership & CA Air Resources Board."

It would be a different matter if this were two government agencies sharing space to save taxpayer money. But this is a government regulatory agency cohabitating with a group dominated by the regulated corporations, including auto manufacturers, energy providers, and fuel cell technology companies.

Ever since Alan Lloyd chaired both CARB and the Fuel Cell Partnership at the time of the disastrous 2003 vote that eviscerated the ZEV Mandate, and perhaps before, something has been fundamentally wrong about the relationship. The mission of CARB's Zero Emission Vehicle program appears to have been corrupted. Once the goal was to bring zero emission vehicles to market, and the result back then was thousands of electric cars on the road. Now CARB is content to shepherd a research program, gambling on technologies - hydrogen and fuel cells - that with every passing day disappear further over the horizon. This relationship jeopardizes achieving California's clean air, carbon and petroleum reduction goals and it is time for the legislature to look into it.

Tesla to sell Roadster in Europe

Governor Schwarzenegger can expect delivery of his $100,000 electric Tesla Roadster within a few months. His pals in the Old World won't have to wait too much longer before they can buy their own, for a cool €100,000 ($156,000.) The Roadster will be sold in Europe beginning in Summer, 2008, CEO Ze'ev Drori has told the Financial Times.

The upstart California auto maker decided to offer its vehicles in Europe for a number of reasons. Favorable tax treatment of electric cars as well as other incentives are among the measures the continent hopes to employ to lower carbon emissions. The weak dollar also makes Europe an attractive market. Although the chassis and body are made in the U.K., with no plans for a right hand drive version the English rich and royal are out of luck.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Sandia Labs Researcher Says Electric Makes More Sense

Sandia Labs Researcher Ben Cipiti has penned a short piece entitled An Unbiased Approach to Evaluating Transportation Fuels in which he extols the virtues of plug-in cars to meet our environmental and national security goals. He correctly identifies the problem bedeviling consumers, policy makers and, perhaps, auto makers.
Many of us want to know what we can do to make a difference. Yet with so much varying information about energy alternatives, it has become difficult to choose which technologies really make sense and which will be a waste of research dollars.
He briefly recaps the problems with ethanol and hydrogen and concludes:
Of the alternative transportation options, electric vehicles coupled with increased use of renewables and other clean sources of energy will be the most efficient way to reduce pollution and eliminate dependence on foreign oil. We need to look at all of the issues to concentrate funding on the solutions that make sense.
Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Some of the Facts : Automakers Comment to CARB

The Large Volume Manufacturers, the automakers with obligations under the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Zero Emission Vehicle Program, have made a joint comment about the staff proposed revisions that will be voted on Thursday March 27 in Sacramento. It can be seen here (comment #121) along with 187 other public comments (overwhelmingly asking for a stronger mandate for plug-in cars) on the CARB website. Despite the various positions advanced by each automaker independently, they overcame their differences to say they “remain very concerned” that “provisions being proposed by Staff are overly stringent.” The letter states that the Staff recommendation has increased the volume of ZEVs and PHEVs required from 2012-2014 and this would result in additional costs of up to $3.4 billion. An accompanying chart shows the increases.

But the explanation is disingenuous. The chart compares the November 2007 Concept Paper to the February 2008 45-day Notice, which results in a possible increase of 630 zero-emission vehicles. Yes, 630 vehicles over a three year period from 2012 to 2014. What is missing in this presentation is the ZEV Program requirements endorsed by CARB in 2003, the requirements as they stand now. Back then, when the intention was to kill the electric car, automakers signed on to an “alternative path” replacing battery electric vehicles with fuel cell vehicles. An obligation to manufacture a meaningful percentage of electric cars dropped down to a required 250 FCVs by 2008, then 2500 by 2012, and then 25,000 by 2015. But what happened to the 25,000 ZEVs in the automaker’s plea? Absent of course, since including it would make clear that the staff revision in fact lops off 90% of the 2003 ZEV requirement. The automakers bemoan a supposed 25% increase, while ignoring what is actually a 90% reduction.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Electric Subaru: Tell 'em what you think

Subaru has brought some R1e electric mini-cars to NY. They have a program with Tokyo Electric Power Company that has been testing vehicles in Japan since 2006. Now, they're at the NY Auto Show, and two of them are joining the New York Power Authority fleet. Much like the Th!nk City that NYPA also tested, the cars have a 50 miles range with a 65 mile per hour top speed. Any interest in such a car? Subaru wants to know. Visit the bottom of their R1e webpage here to send them comments.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Electric Coops Use Aptera EV in Ad

Touchstone Energy Cooperatives has made an ad touting its preparedness to deliver electricity whatever needs it in the future.

Hattip to Domenick Yoney - AutoblogGreen

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Automakers Losing Religion; CARB Keeps Unfounded Faith

The expense and impracticality of hydrogen fuel cell powered cars is beginning to dawn on the major automakers. Batteries will do within a few short years what H2 advocates can only dream. The Wall Street Journal reports GM, Toyota Doubtful on Fuel Cells' Mass Use.
Top executives from General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. Tuesday expressed doubts about the viability of hydrogen fuel cells for mass-market production in the near term and suggested their companies are now betting that electric cars will prove to be a better way to reduce fuel consumption and cut tailpipe emissions on a large scale.
Further evidence that the action is in electric cars and the batteries that will energize them: General Electric has invested $4 million in Th!nk Global, and $20 million in A123. Business Week reports GE plugs into electric car investments. And Th!nk has debuted a larger concept car, which it has developed with an unnamed major automaker. Green Wombat has more info here.

Pretty soon it might be down to BMW and Honda advertising the dream, with the California Air Resources Board acting as enabler. CARB staff is recommending lowering once again the required number of zero emission vehicles - this time by a mere 90%! Honda, the supposed H2 true believer, is actually given an incentive to produce fewer of its much touted Clarity FCV.

The Air Resources Board could probably find a way to lead by prodding early commercialization of battery ZEVs, but instead it appears to be regulating itself into irrelevancy.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Th!nk thinks bigger

Th!nk CEO Jan Olaf Willums made a return appearance at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco this week. He sat down with Todd Woody, Business 2.0's Green Wombat. The small 2 seater Th!nk City is rolling off the Norwegian assembly line and 500 cars are set for March delivery. Cars will be delivered in London and Paris and Scandinavia. The strategy of delivering cars to urban centers with incentive programs bodes well for California cities, especially if CARB comes up with better incentives for battery electric cars.

Equally exciting are the plans for a larger 4 or 5 passenger car in partnership with an established auto maker. Referring to Tesla's planned White Star, Willums said,
"We won't compete with Tesla," says Willums. "The Tesla will be more a BMW; we'll be more the Volkswagen."

Friday, February 15, 2008

On Prius

There's much I should be blogging these days and hopefully will shortly. The pathetic CARB staff ZEV recommendations (here); Bob Lutz's latest inanity about inefficient windshield wipers effect on electric cars' range; London's step backward on the congestion charge. I'll get to them.

But for now, enjoy a pointed chuckle. Check out the blog Stuff White People Like on the Prius. Reminds me to blog about that Lexus ad campaign casting a spell around the letter h. How to spin a false green consciousness around a gasoline burning luxury automobile.
Over the years, white people have gone through a number of official cars. In the 1980s it was the Saab and the Volvo. By the 1990s it was the Volkswagen Jetta or a Subaru 4WD stastion wagon. But these days, there is only one car for white people. One car that defines all that they love: the Toyota Prius.

The Prius might be the most perfect white product ever. It’s expensive, gives the idea that you are helping the environment, and requires no commitment/changes other than money.

Friday, February 1, 2008

BMW Hammers One More Nail in Hydrogen Coffin

Even as BMW clean car honchos tour the globe with the Hydrogen 7, the German automaker could be coming to terms with reality. According to Drive, an Australian magazine
The head of BMW's clean-energy technology, Jochen Schmalholz, says hydrogen-powered cars are still 15 to 20 years away from being on the road "in significant numbers" and revealed the German maker is also working on an electric vehicle.
With only 5 liquid hydrogen filling stations in the world available to fuel the 100 Hydrogen 7s - "Distribution is the biggest hurdle to the hydrogen car," Schmalholz says - it could be dawning on BMW that it would be better to develop cars for the electric infrastructure already in place around the world.
He says BMW is also working on an electric car but a decision on production is yet to be made.

"We will only bring this [electric car] if it makes sense," he says. "At the moment we are not really convinced it will work for BMW. But if it makes commercial sense and it makes sense to our customers, then we will do it."
Let BMW know.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Toyota Snags a RAV4 EV

The storyline is meant to be changing. From Who Killed the Electric Car? to Who Revived the Electric Car? Now that automakers seem to be reevaluating plug-in cars, you'd think the era of automakers taking extraordinary steps to keep electric cars from private ownership would be over. You'd be wrong. As GM talks up the Volt, it ensures EV1s at museums and universities not be returned to the road as electric cars. As Toyota gets headlines for suggesting it will offer a few fleets a few plug-in hybrids in 3 or 4 years, it does what it can to take the myth-busting RAV4 EV out of private hands.

In mid-January a 2002 RAV4 EV south of San Francisco came to the end of its five year lease. The leaseholder chose not to buy out the lease, and returned the electric car to the dealer. Very few RAV4 EVs have been returned to the dealer when the lease ends. Most people have been so pleased with their electric Toyota that they choose to buy the car outright. Some, recognizing the market for the cars, pay the $27,000 balance only to turn around and eBay the car, earning a quick $5,000 to$15,000. Why this leaseholder simply turned in his electric car to his Toyota dealer is unknown.

But Eric Doebert, a salesman at Magnussen Toyota in Palo Alto, knew there was still interest in the car. The dealership did well with the RAV4 EV during the brief period it was offered, selling twenty one of the $42,000 electric SUVs. And as soon as the word got out that a used RAV4 EV had been returned and would be offered for sale, the calls of interest began to pile up. Ordinarily when a leased car is returned the dealer gets first dibs - if they choose they can buy the car and sell it.

Since no leased RAV4 EV had ever been returned to the Palo Alto dealer, Doebert was unprepared for Toyota's unusual next steps. The Toyota computer had a block on the car - the dealer couldn't buy the car. The dealer wanted to work out something with Toyota due to the great interest in the car. They simply wanted to do a little business, sell the used electric car. But Toyota refused. I know that at least once before a leased car was returned to another dealer, and ultimately that RAV4 EV was resold to a private party. Apparently Toyota decided that would not happen again.

So just before closing time on Thursday January 24th, without any notice and after the sales and used car staff had left, Toyota corporate in San Ramon sent two of its agents to retrieve the car. The lot boy gave up the keys, and the staff returned the next morning to find a good sale on a great Toyota had been denied them by Toyota.

The situation isn't as bad as it might have been. Toyota agreed with Plug In America in 2005 to stop destroying RAV4 EVs, and I trust that this car will remain "in service." But it won't be driving around the San Francisco Bay Area, taking someone to work, some kids to school, heightening interest in plug in cars and proving the viability of electric cars. RAV4 EVs in private hands prove daily that electric cars are not dead yet.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

First Production Tesla Roadster on its Way to US

Tesla has sent a letter to those who have ordered one of its Roadsters with some good news. The first Roadster is on its way. All necessary EPA, DOT and NHTSA approvals have been received. And series production begins in March, beginning at the rate of one per week.

The much discussed problems with the original 2 speed transmission will be resolved with an interim one speed so as not to delay early production. Initial acceleration will slow from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds to 5.7. This laggard will be replaced later this year by a new one-speed that will achieve the original design specs once testing is completed. The cars' transitional transmission will then be replaced free.

Tesla stores in LA and Menlo Park are under construction and will be open when cars are delivered to provide service.

And what should be an exciting Q&A session for owners will take place on January 30.

And Motortrend is the first of the big car mags with a review, here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Government, Renault and Agassi: Making Israel a Better Place for Electric Cars

Shai Agassi's ambitious Project Better Place takes a step forward today in Israel. The government will announce its support for the venture which has been developing between Agassi and Renault to bring electric cars to the virtual island that is Israel. Carlos Ghosn, chairman of Nissan and Renault will participate in the announcement.

As I have commented before, there is no better proving grounds for EVs than Israel. No oil. Lots of cars but no great distance to travel. Intellectual and financial resources aplenty.

Agassi's project focussing on the infrastructure side with its talk of charging points and battery swapping has long struck me as interesting, well-intended, but suffering from some misconceptions endemic to those who think about this stuff but don't drive an electric car.

I've long believed the problem is lack of cars not "fuel." My first electric car was a 50 mile range 57 mph top speed Th!nk City. Not quite a real car in the conception of the average American. Not what I wanted for my next car in 2001. But I gave it a shot as by then the automakers were no longer making available the better EVs I'd come to covet. I came to realize my little Th!nk had its considerable benefits and limitations. But the problem was certainly not availability of "fuel." Electricity is ubiquitous. Even 220 volt power in a 110v world was obtainable tapping in to friends' dryer outlets.

Raising a couple of hundred million dollars not to build electric cars struck me as peculiar. But the plan is becoming clearer as at least one car maker appears to be buying in. As reported in the NY Times today here:
The idea, said Shai Agassi, 39, the software entrepreneur behind the new company, is to sell electric car transportation on the model of the cellphone. Purchasers get subsidized hardware — the car — and pay a monthly fee for expected mileage, like minutes on a cellphone plan....Renault and Nissan will provide the cars.....Mr. Agassi’s company, Project Better Place of Palo Alto, Calif., will provide the lithium-ion batteries, which will be able to go 124 miles per charge, and the infrastructure necessary to keep the cars going — whether parking meter-like plugs on city streets or service stations along highways....
Where these batteries will come from hasn't been announced. But certainly if the energy storage isn't the responsibility of the automaker, the car becomes quite affordable. If Agassi has a better place to get batteries, and can leverage the investments into a profitable financing scheme for the energy, he could be on to something.

Jerusalem Post report here.

Financial Times report here.

Friday, January 11, 2008

CARB Races to Rescue Faltering Hydrogen Highway

In meetings reminiscent of Dick Cheney's energy confabs, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols convened energy companies and auto makers to try to save California's buckling Hydrogen Highway. As reported in the San Jose Mercury News today, Friday, January 11,
"We are getting strong expressions of support from them to increase their level of commitments, including financially," said Mary Nichols, who chairs the Air Resources Board, talking about the energy companies. "We can't discuss the details of this at this point."
Even the hydrogen filling station at the Fuel Cell Partnership itself closed when the lease lapsed on December 31.

Now the state is promising to throw good money after bad. As the state declares a budget emergency,
The Air Resources Board said it will reissue bids for the projects in the next few weeks and will add money to help upgrade two existing stations. There is already $7.7 million set aside for the competitive projects from past budgets. An additional $6 million is being requested for future projects in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget, which he released Thursday. [emphasis added]
This "hydrogen hiccup" should be taken as an opportunity to smother a failed, diversionary research project. It is a shame that California agencies charged with cleaning the air, lowering carbon emissions, and reducing our petroleum dependence continue to hallucinate a hydrogen future and throw taxpayer money at oil companies and auto makers forestalling truly viable zero emission plug-in vehicles. Mary Nichols ought to return the ZEV program to its original mission - near-term commercialization of practical, economic zero emission vehicles. That means battery electric cars. The Board should take such action at its meeting in March when it considers revisions to the Zero Emission Vehicle Program.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hydrogen Implosion in California

The San Jose Mercury News reports on roadblocks appearing on Schwarzenegger's much ballyhooed Hydrogen Highway. Planned stations aren't opening and existing stations are closing. California utility giant PG&E has turned down $1.5 million in state funds to open a retail hydrogen station in San Carlos.
PG&E officials said they've shifted hydrogen to the back stage and now consider it a distant technology, with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids moving to the front of the line.

"This is a significant change in attitude. People are simply refusing to participate, even if they get money from the state. If state officials don't step in, the hydrogen highway could collapse," said V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.
This is very good news. The long term gamble on hydrogen and fuel cells made with public money by the Air Resources Board ought finally receive serious scrutiny. The ZEV program became an expensive research project. The ARB ought return the ZEV program to its original mission - commercialization of practical, economic zero emission vehicles. That means battery electric cars.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

And now, Toyota's turn

An anonymous commenter on my previous blogpost asks,
"GM has alway said that the battery might not be ready.... GM never lied about it but like always lots of people like to knock GM. Why not pick on Toyota for a while."
I've got no problem picking on Toyota, too. Toyota continues to use the Prius to cover a multitude of sins. They are selling larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles than ever; they slap a hybrid drive into a $100,000 Lexus, achieve minimal fuel savings, and earn more green kudos all while continuing to spread disinformation about the value of true electrification by advertising their hybrids as half electric cars "you never have to plug in." Of course the truth is you can't.

But unlike GM, Toyota hasn't promised a plug in car. They haven't had to. (Although they built a damn good one when they were forced to. Read all about it here.) While I have no doubt Toyota will release a plug-in car as soon as someone else does, until then they will join the "batteries aren't ready" chorus.

It truly is, not surprisingly, all about the bottom line. Every automaker wants to continue selling only internal combustion engine cars (hybrids included) because they believe that is the best route toward the greatest profitability in the near term. Needless to say this hasn't proven true in GM's case. They couldn't have been in worse shape had they continued even very limited production, and sale, of the EV1. It would have been their Prius, only better.

GM CEO Waggoner Sows Doubt about Volt Debut Date; Volt Ads Continue Unabated reports on an online chat with GM CEO Rick Waggoner.
General Motors might not be able to hit its target to have its breakthrough electric-powered car the Chevrolet Volt in production by 2010...

GM has already started to build advertising campaigns around the Volt, even though in the best-case scenario it is years away from production. It is seen as a way of trying to change public perceptions about the fuel efficiency and environmental responsibility of the U.S. automaker, which is more closely associated with large SUVs or pickup trucks.
Not the way to mark the 100th anniversary of the company. If GM wants to be believed, they need to do more than flap their lips, run hopeful ads and buy dinner for bloggers.

They ought to have used the 100th anniversary to deliver even a few real electric cars, something they actually know how to build. Hell, they could simply sell the few EV1s they still have running around. They could encourage museums and universities with donated, disabled EV1s to rebuild them as electric cars and allow them on the roads. They could make a preliminary, limited run Volt without waiting for "perfect" batteries - say something like the NiMH that worked quite well in the EV1 (and still do in our RAV4 EVs.)

Had GM taken any such actions, some of the continuing disbelief might be dissipated.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Oil Hits $100 a Barrel

NY Times reporting:

Oil prices reached the symbolic level of $100 a barrel for the first time on Wednesday, a long-awaited milestone in an era of rapidly escalating energy demand.

Crude oil futures for February delivery hit $100 on the New York Mercantile Exchange shortly after noon New York time, before falling back slightly. Oil prices, which had fallen to a low of $50 a barrel at the beginning of 2007, have quadrupled since 2003.

Shortly after 2:30 p.m., futures were trading at $99.47, up $3.49 on the day.