Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jay Leno drives the Volt

"Electricity has always been the best way to power a car. They knew that since the turn of the last century." - Jay Leno



Source: Autobloggreen and NBC

Friday, December 18, 2009

Flawed PHEV report has legs

There has never been a shortage of stories in the press denigrating plug-in electric cars. Why? Because people naturally, logically believe electric cars are a good idea. Special interests who preferred to maintain the internal combustion status quo (read oil and auto companies) have long needed to plant seeds of doubt. Via paid consultants, close relationships with universities, a pliant press more apt to reprint a press release than analyze it, and print and television advertising, their negative message has been successfully imparted.

We've seen it all in the press: electric cars are more polluting, less safe, require too much water, will electrocute rescuers after a crash, will spontaneously explode, and will kill the blind. It takes a sustained effort to sow confusion about the obvious benefits of electric cars. Little would have been gained by attempting to expand the reach of gasoline to laptops or refrigerators, so we've long been subjected to a decades-long preemptive assault on electric cars. As electric cars seek a place in the market, expect more such stories.

This week saw the sophisticated version with the release of a National Academies of Sciences study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The press release headline blares: "PLUG-IN HYBRID VEHICLE COSTS LIKELY TO REMAIN HIGH, BENEFITS MODEST FOR DECADES." The report highlights battery cost in 2010 leading to a $18,000 premium for some initial PHEVs, and suggests no lower cost is unlikely to be achieved with economies of scale. Dubious presumptions about PHEV usage lead the authors to minimize any potential petroleum and emissions reductions. Many reports, including presentations at CARB in September 2009, see much more positive indicators on the battery front, and the NRDC/EPRI study that led to the "more polluting" story cited above, actually points to significant emissions reductions with PHEVs. [update: Felix Kramer has published a detailed debunking, as has the Electrification Coalition.]

If you read to the end of the press release, you find out more about who actually issued the report. It was something called the "Committee on Assessment of Resource Needs for Development of Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Technology & Potential Impacts of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles" within the "Board on Energy & Environmental Systems" of the "Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences" of the National Academies of Science. An odd-sounding committee, really, albeit imbued with gravitas. According to the Committee Membership Information, the group contains at least three retired oil and auto company people, academics who do hydrogen research, consultants with oil company ties and one who has served on the National Hydrogen Foundation board and another the retired Vice President Hydrogen Systems for Chevron Technology Ventures, and a venture capitalist immersed in hydrogen. And, of course, a professional environmentalist, a Union of Concerned Scientist scientist, whose work has focused on fuel cells. Stacked deck?

The message from those attempting to derail the inevitable plug on vehicles is always the same - we've got to keep trying everything. Nothing's ready yet. We can't choose winners.
According to the report, a portfolio approach toward reducing U.S. dependence on oil is necessary for long-term success. This should include increasing the fuel efficiency of conventional vehicles and pursuing research, development, and demonstration into alternative strategies, including the use of biofuels, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
CNN picked up the story questioning whether plug-ins pencil out for consumers.

Friday's Washington Post editorializes ignorantly against government support of plug-ins, based it would seem solely upon this report.

One of the many smaller media outlets and blogs to pick up the story got the message. The author of Don’t Believe the Hype About the Plug-In Car, opined:
There’s always the hope that a genius at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or another top school will invent the gizmo that changes everything. But this isn’t Hollywood and technological advances are likely to be incremental. That means no immediate miracles and oil will continue to be a vital part of the economy for the foreseeable future.
In fact it doesn't take a miracle. It takes a clarity of purpose, a willingness to pay attention to the science, and the guts to aim high. We need a focused effort at transportation electrification to work in parallel with the move toward renewable energy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yet another CARB ZEV meeting

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) met on Thursday to discuss the Zero Emission Vehicle regulation and the revisions staff was tasked with exploring for 2015 and beyond. Plug In America President Dan Davids offered testimony applauding CARB's achievements, but faulted the agency for skewed priorities and reliance on unreliable information and projections. Mr. Davids said CARB's resource allocation has favored fuel cells and hydrogen over plug-in electric by 75% to 25%, based on conversations with Legislative Director Jay Friedland. Chair Mary Nichols said that isn't true. CARB staffer Elise Keddie said Friedland had taken back his assertion regarding a 75/25 split. Friedland sent an email immediately for the record clarifying the conversation with Ms. Keddie and indicating he stood by Plug In America's analysis. He is awaiting a response.

The representative from Honda, the most consistently pro-fuel cell automaker, said FCVs are "not yet ready for mass production" and that much work needs to be done "before even slight volume increases." The Nissan rep touted the imminent LEAF, although without the enthusiasm of the Nissan employees I've met over the recent months. Sierra Club, NRDC, UCS and Friends of the Earth each raised serious questions about the direction of the ZEV regulation, signaling a renewed interest in plug-in electric vehicles for the near-term GHG reduction benefit that could be achieved.

CARB's policies do not appear poised to utilize the historic opportunity offered as plug-in electric vehicles are achieving commercialization. Given their professed "technology neutrality," one might expect to see the state agency newly responsible for greenhouse gas reduction policy to aggressively support the zero emission vehicle technology arriving in the market soonest. Yet much of the white paper simply reaffirms CARB's intention to focus on hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles, despite their own belief that even pre-commercialization of fuel cell vehicles remains over five years away. CARB's continued unbalanced allocation of resources is reflected on its website homepage and in the white paper itself (for example, 658 words are devoted to hydrogen infrastructure; 109 to BEV infrastructure.)

Despite CARB's preference for H2/FCVs, its policies have helped bring major manufacturers back to California with plug-in electric cars. CARB ought to recognize that near-term commercialization of plug-in electric cars is happening. The greater near term carbon reduction benefit of plug-in electrics should not be sacrificed to projections of cost and consumer preferences decades hence.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Two new EV initiatives

Two items caught my attention this week. Electrificationcoalitiongraphic

Plug In America has a new ally with the announcement of the creation of the Electrification Coalition. The goal of this high-powered group of corporate executives is nothing less than the complete transformation of our transportation sector, one in which electricity plays the dominant role where possible. Quoting from their website: "electrification is the best path to the fuel diversity that is indispensable to improving the nation’s economic strength, environmental health, and national security." Along with one large automaker (Nissan), infrastructure providers and utilities, FedEx is among the founding members.

Comprehensive does not begin to describe Electrification Roadmap, the report they have issued. Download it.

Bowing to the burgeoning electric vehicle industry in both countries, President Obama and President Hu Jin Tao announced the formation of the U.S.-China Electric Vehicles Initiative. The Initiative is meant to work on joint standards and provide for data sharing as cars roll out in both countries. Public awareness and engagement is one area of specific attention.

With corporate execs and world leaders coming on board, can the cars be far behind?






Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reva to bring new electric car to Iceland

Reva, the Indian electric car company best known for the G-Whiz in England, has signed a deal to bring their new product to Iceland with sales beginning within a year. The NXG and NXR, revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show recently, have a Th!nk City-like footprint, 100 mile range and 65 mph top speed.

Electricity is a more renewable resource than ice in Iceland. This provided hydrogen utopians with the world's best-case scenario for transitioning to a hydrogen economy. Yet after a decade of hydrogen hype and fuel cell fever stoked by car and oil companies, few cars have arrived. None for sale. At one time there were 16 hydrogen cars in Reykjavik. As of July, that was down to 12.
"In the past years, teams from all the big car manufacturing companies visited us and said they intended to market fuel cell-powered hydrogen cars shortly after 2010," said Bragi Arnason, a professor of chemistry at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.
Three hydrogen busses once served regular Reykjavik routes. "The bus project has now been terminated; we are waiting for the next generation to be built," Arnason said.

Now Mitsubishi's iMiev and Reva are poised to begin the viable zero-emission transition in Iceland.

[Sources: autobloggreen.com and eenews.net]

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nissan sketches electric commercial vehicle; envisions electric ambulance

Nissan has released an official sketch of an electric urban delivery vehicle that looks closer to viable than many EV concepts that have appeared at auto shows over the last few months. It is a somewhat stylized take on the NV200 light commercial gasoline van Nissan sells in Japan and Europe.

The press release from Nissan highlights the potential use as an ambulance which could drive directly into a hospital. One time when I took a friend to an emergency room in my Th!nk City I realized hospital emergency areas would be designed differently if EV ambulances existed. How absurd that critical care cases are transported through a plume of toxins between the ambulance and medical attention. Significant moments wasted because the internal combustion vehicle can't drive directly into the hospital.

Yet another benefit of EVs. Yet another market.

[Source: AutoBlogGreen.com]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Al Gore plugs electric cars on Daily Show

Al Gore has probably been presumed to be a long-time booster of electric cars, but it hasn't always been so. Like many, he couldn't see past the dirty, coal-produced power many plug-ins would utilize, despite the environmental benefits. Now he's sees a EVs a'comin'.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Al Gore Extended Interview Pt. 2
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Friday, October 30, 2009

GM CEO: FCVs 10X more expensive than electric

GM CEO Fritz Henderson sat down with reporters and editors from the Washington Post yesterday. No real news on the Volt, but his comments on Fuel Cell Vehicles should cause a stir. Anyone at CARB in Sacramento paying attention?
Post: Is GM pulling back on its hydrogen car?

Henderson: "Are we putting resources into it? Not as much. . . . We spent through the mid part of this decade a reasonably high portion of our research and our development money on hydrogen fuel cells. We put 100 vehicles into the market. Consumers have tested them . . . We've learned a lot. The vehicles work. The issue is always cost, 100 percent cost. [He put the cost of the vehicles at upwards of $400,000.]

"It's still a ways away from commercialization. No question."
[Source: Washington Post]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

GM reveals electric car production number in 2010....for India

GM recently entered into a 50/50 partnership with Reva, the Indian electric car company, to produce an electric version of the Chevrolet Spark. Reva has been selling small EVs in India and England for the past few years.

According to a report in the Business Standard of India, GM plans to sell 4000 electric Sparks in India in 2010. That's about 10% of the total number of gas-powered Sparks GM will sell this year in India.
For GM India, our investment into this project can be covered if we can sell (the electric version) between 10-15 per cent of all the Spark vehicles sold in India,” GM India Vice-President (Sales & Marketing) Ankush Arora said.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Self-fulfilled prophesy: Toyota FT-EV II concept

Toyota is always saying consumers just don't want an electric car. Range is too short and too much is different about EVs, Toyota contends.

If merely plugging in is too much change, do they expect people to take seriously an EV that requires an entirely different way of piloting the vehicle?

Why, really, are they showing a concept electric car with less than half the range of Toyota's own decade-old RAV4 EV?

Is it too much to suggest that fifty-mile range and "joystick-like controls that feature a steam-punk design motif" is meant to confirm the negative notions about electric cars Toyota wants consumers to believe?

Yanquetino gets it right in his comment on the autobloggreen.com story:
Translation: "EVs are punishment cars."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Conservatives pledge on electric car plugs

Tom McGhie, Financial Mail reports:
The political battle for the electric car vote stepped up a gear last week when the Conservative Party pledged that owners of battery-powered cars would be guaranteed an overnight charging point.
Source: thisismoney.co.uk

Monday, October 5, 2009

Toyota/Fuji Heavy EV Rumors

Toyota is knocking plug-in cars at CARB and in the press and touting impossible to deliver near-term hydrogen fuel cell commercialization. But it may have a Plan B. "Toyota Motor Corp is considering working with affiliate Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd to develop its electric vehicles," according to Mainichi newspaper as reported by Reuters. Fuji Heavy makes Subaru, which began limited sales of the Plug-in Stella in Japan in June. Toyota owns 16% of Fuji.

Neither Fuji nor Toyota commented, but the Tokyo stock market saw Fuji Heavy's shares up 4.4%.
Citing an unidentified source, the paper said engineers working on electric cars at Fuji Heavy would merge with Toyota's electric car team. Fuji Heavy would shift its battery procurement in the future to Panasonic EV Energy, a battery joint venture between Toyota and Panasonic Corp.
Toyota may not want plug-in electrics to challenge gas-only hybrids, but it could be seeing data on real world Plug-in Stella performance that suggests plug-in cars are ready for prime time.

Source: Reuters

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Toyota reveals all you need to know about fuel cell cars

Much has been made of late of Toyota and other automakers claims they will commercialize hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in 2015.

Of course, we've heard these promises/predictions before. An SAE Research Report in 2001 stated that "several automakers have pledged the introduction of fuel cell vehicles, including buses, by 2003-2005." DaimlerChrysler, for example, predicted the industry would be selling 100,000 fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) by 2004. In 2007 GM spokesman Scott Fosgard told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that by 2012 there will be about 10,000 hydrogen vehicles on the market from a variety of companies. I don't think so.

But Toyota's announcement itself should sow seeds of doubt. According to Green Car Congress:
During his presentation at the recent California Air Resources Board (ARB) ZEV Technology Symposium, Tatsuaki Yokoyama, from Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, said that Toyota aimed to reduce the cost of fuel cell vehicles to 1/10 of the current level by design and materials improvement by commercialization in 2015.
Toyota aims to chop the present-day cost of fuel cell vehicles by 90%. In 5 years.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nissan's big number: 20,000

Nissan will start taking orders for the upcoming all-electric LEAF next Spring. And they are building to meet expected initial orders for 20,000 cars, according to an Automotive News report picked up by AutoBlogGreen. The report states that Nissan will launch the Leaf next year in the states of Tennessee and Oregon, along with San Diego, CA; Seattle, WA; and the Phoenix/Tucson region in Arizona. The Bay Area, or at least Sonoma County, should be on that list, and I'll assume it was an oversight. Once the Smyrna Tennessee plant is up and running, in 2012, Nissan foresees production of 150,000 electric cars a year. Game changing.

[Source: AutoBlogGreen]

Monday, September 28, 2009

FoxNews called out on misinformation about plug-in cars

Media Matters for America is watching FoxNews so you don't have to. The media watchdog is pointing out misleading reports about the government loans secured by Tesla and Fisker recently aired on the "fair and balanced" network.
In reports on FoxNews.com, America's Newsroom, and Your World, Fox News repeatedly advanced misinformation about Department of Energy loans recently granted to Fisker Automotive and Tesla Motors to support development of fuel-efficient vehicles, suggesting that those funds would be ill-spent. The false or misleading claims include: that the loans will be used to build cars that cost $89,000 and $109,000; that the loans will finance foreign manufacturing; and that Fisker and Tesla are European companies.
Here's one of the FoxNews stories:



See the full report here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

BMW considers extending MINI-E leases


The MINI-E program is going well enough that BMW is considering allowing leases extensions, Richard Steinberg the program manager said at CARB's ZEV Technology Symposium today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Iceland Prez pops hydrogen bubble; Looking to electric cars

The last, best hope of hydrogen and fuel cell for vehicles is down for the count. After grand ambitions and lofty rhetoric, reality has set in. Iceland was to be the test platform. But ten fuel cell cars and a Shell filling station do not a transformation make.

EVs represent a faster way forward according to Iceland's President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. Iceland to working with Mitsubishi to bring iMIEVs in large numbers, and cooperating with other Nordic countries to create a unified market for EVs. Read Jim Motavalli's informative blogpost about his conversation with the President.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Coolest charging station in the world

Norwegian EV activist Leif Egge has become the inaugural user of the first floating recharge station I've heard about. Stena Line is now offering car charging on its Scandanavian ferries. Leif got wine, a good night's sleep and a full charge.

Read his full post here on his excellent website electricaid.org. If you want to get a sense of the international appeal of electric cars, check out the members. Sign up while your there.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Obama announces $2.4 billion for EV projects

President Obama today announced $2.4 billion for battery and electric car manufacturing and deployment efforts. Green Car Congress has the full rundown of recipients.

Congratulations to San Francisco City College for the $500,000 it will receive for educational programs for secondary students; service personnel, and technicians in partnership with Chabot College; Central Shops; Pat’s Garage; and Perfect Sky Inc.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Toyota's First Electric Car?

Huh? Autocar.co.uk is reporting:
"Toyota's iQ-based electric car, due to be launched in 2010, will get its own body style to create a stand-alone model which will become Toyota’s first all-electric car" (emphasis added.)
I'm pretty sure I just stepped out of my 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV. With 69,000 miles on the original battery, it still gets over 100 miles per charge.

Toyota still wishing away it's own achievement. What's that about?

I'll be happy to see Toyota release a car with a plug, but I'm not holding my breath.

[Source: Autocar.co.uk)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Toyota whines about Ontario plug-in rebates

Toyota has a go-slow policy on plug-in electrics. Despite having produced the RAV4 EV - the most useful, robust, and long-lived electric car - Toyota wants to milk its non-grid connected hybrid technology as long as possible before moving on to the next big thing. Ontario has announced a $10,000 rebate for plug-in electrics, and Toyota wouldn't benefit as they delay general release of their own plug-ins. Crying foul, they claim the rebate is back-door support for GM's Volt. Of course, Nissan and Mitsubishi, which have announced plug-in electric cars, will also be able to take advantage.

Toyota was all for policies that benefited its hybrids in California to the exclusion of most other car companies when they got the California legislature to limit HOV access to hybrids that achieve 45 mpg.

Toyota should stop whining and delaying. Were it to release a plug-in hybrid or electric car, it too could benefit from the forward-looking policies Ontario has enacted.

[Source: Leader-Post]

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What’s up with the BMW MINI E?

The BMW Mini E has hit the streets. Barely one year ago, word surfaced that an electric Mini was in the works. In June about 500 cars were placed in consumer and fleet hands in Los Angeles and New York and New Jersey for what BMW calls a "field trial."

Like all the automakers, BMW dabbled in concept electric cars over the years. They produced a small fleet for the Munich Olympics in 1972. Although BMW didn’t sell enough cars in California to be obligated under the Zero Emission Vehicle mandate during the ‘90s, during the past few years it was clear the German automaker would cross the threshold. While its competitors, including Mercedes, were united in their promotion of gaseous hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, BMW developed a liquid hydrogen internal combustion program. You’ve probably heard of it, the Hydrogen 7. Based on the $75,000 – 125,000 7 Series, this million dollar mechanical marvel was advertised as “ready for the world when the world is ready.” More money was probably spent advertising the car than went into the electric Mini program. (see the ad here.) Part of a green full court press has included placing the car with celebrities for a short while. Their stories have appeared in the autobloggreen.com website. The VIP treatment includes, I’ve heard, the rather un-green diesel flat-bedding of the cars overnight for refueling.

Why, if millions are being poured into a few dozen Hydrogen ICE cars and their promotion, should BMW rather suddenly decide to produce 500 electric Minis? The answer lies back with California’s ZEV mandate. The simplicity of the original mandate, a percentage of zero tailpipe emission cars, is long dead and buried. The rules and regulations now are byzantine, a kludge upon a patchwork altered every few years. BMW found that the quickest and cheapest way to get the credits that it will need to accumulate is, of course, to build electric cars. And they found a way to game the system as so many automakers have done before. BMW would get the biggest bang for the buck by placing electric cars by June 30, so there has been a mad scramble to get the last cars out the door as I type. The ZEV program shouldn’t be doling out credits for cars on the road for merely one year. CARB was scammed when the EV-1s were destroyed after a few years. This time they actually got notice of the carmaker's intention. It is past the time for R & D for electric cars. The ZEV program is meant to commercialize ZEVs. As with the NEV fiasco, credit-building schemes are taking precedence over production zero emission vehicles on the road. The complexities of the ZEV program have been counterproductive. BMW is playing by the rules, and one can't blame the corporation for doing what corporations do. It's the rules that stink. Join Plug In America's call on CARB to close the loophole that allows full credit for part-time electric cars here.

Of course, that an electric vehicle program of this size could be slapped together in a year to 18 months is simply more evidence that EVs are ready for prime time. BMW turned to AC PropuIsion for the best electric drive components on the market. The car is essentially a high-end conversion. As with many conversions, space is sacrificed for the battery box. In the case of the electric Mini, that means no backseat. In all regards save the placement of the batteries, the car is certainly good enough to put into production. As with the RAV4 EV, this isn’t the best platform for an EV – it’s too heavy and could be more aerodynamic. But once again we’ve got a 100+ mile range EV that could compete in the market. I drove the car from LA to San Francisco recently. It’s fun and peppy, a sweet ride.

While one has got to celebrate another 500 EVs on the road, even temporarily, the way BMW handled the program and its consumer “pioneers” makes one doubt BMW has any intention of launching a real EV program any time soon. Delivery of vehicles was delayed about 6 months and many cars are being delivered without the appropriate chargers or cordsets. The Mini E team was said to have little familiarity with electric cars, and the enthusiastic dealer sales people had their energy challenged by consumers’ frustrated eagerness and corporate indifference. Pioneers’ inquiries about the applicability of the federal $7500 tax credit continue to be stonewalled. Accountants have suggested BMW could transfer the tax credit, which would have the effect of bringing down the steep $850/month the Mini E is costing its “pioneers.” One logical explanation has these vehicles qualifying for a federal R & D credit permitting them to deduct the full cost of the cars and therefore not eligible for the $7500 tax credit only Tesla purchasers can today use. Only BMW knows and they’re not saying.

As BMW was hustling to get the cars on the road by the June 30th deadline, placing increasing numbers with fleets for a mere $10 a month, at least one enthusiastic “pioneer” was turned away less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to pick up his car. Jeff U’Ren drove a Panasonic Lead Acid EV-1 for a few years. After having that car snatched back and destroyed, he was anxious to get back in an EV. After passing the detailed and time-consuming screening for potential drivers, once again he’d be getting a 100 mile range 2 seater. But his repeated inquiries about the $7500 tax credit and general outspokenness on behalf of the prospective “pioneers” on the Mini E Facebook page seem to have caused BMW corporate to reconsider his “suitability” to participate in the program.

Almost bizarrely, the day after Mr. U’Ren was told not to go to the dealer to pick up his assigned car, and long before any data has been accumulated from the EV test fleet, BMW announced it would launch the BMW City in 2012, a 3-door hatchback pure electric car with 100 mile range. As reported in Car & Driver “According to BMW chairman and CEO Norbert Reithofer, the City is designed specifically for the U.S. market to meet California’s Zero-Emission-Vehicle (ZEV) requirements that call for large-volume manufacturers to sell ZEVs by 2012.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Oregon incentives to shift from hybrids to plug-ins

Oregon's House has passed a bill to end the $1500 tax credit for conventional hybrid vehicles on the last day of 2009. After that point only plug-in vehicles qualify. House Bill 2180, which passed overwhelmingly,
Creates specific tax credit for purchasers of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and related equipment.

Limits tax credits for gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles that are not designed for electric plug-in charging to vehicles purchased before January 1, 2010.
Source: StatesmanJournal.com

Sunday, June 7, 2009

More pooh from Toyota

Toyota pushed its innovative "21st century" car development into full gear in the early 1990s under company chairman Eiji Toyoda.

"Developing a commercial electric vehicle at that time posed a slew of challenges," the official said. "That is the case even today."

...a battery pack's ability to hold a charge and its durability vary by temperature and driving conditions, the automaker points out.
Full story "Future of 'green' cars begins with the hybrid" in Japan's leading newspaper, The Asahi Shimbun.

Toyota pooh-poohs the plug

In the wake of Secretary Chu's defunding hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles, Toyota continues its assault on the inevitable plug. They don't want to be rushed into it. Automakers the world round have had 100 years to suck every ounce of profit possible from the internal combustion engine, and Toyota intends to get at least a few decades out of its lead in gasoline-only hybrid vehicles. Somehow battery plug-in cars within thousands of dollars of cost competitiveness "enter the world of Star Trek" according to Bill Reinert, who nonetheless trumpets hydrogen fuel cell cars only a few hundred thousand each from any semblance of marketability.

Irv Miller of Toyota says of plug-ins "this dog won't hunt." Yet he cites the example of his own wife as one for whom it could work.

See the NY Times Wheels blog for more.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Plug-in cars: Moving Forward

I write a column for the Electric Auto Association newsletter, Current EVents. Here's my June column.

The trajectory remains clear, and the pace has quickened. Plug-in cars are inevitable. Nissan appears intent on opening up a market for mid-price range electric cars within two years. Mitsubishi has begun to manufacture the iMiev in the thousands for the Japanese market. GM may be in bankruptcy but remains unwavering in its commitment to have the Volt in some showrooms by November 2010. The other carmakers domestic and foreign have less firm but well press-released plans for plug-ins. The open question is what forces will drive the process and therefore at what pace. Veteran automakers, oil companies, and federal and state governments have been both the prime movers and obstacles to plug-in cars in the past and they remain so today. GM waxed hot and cold on the EV1. California’s ZEV mandate put EVs into consumers’ hands, only to be eviscerated by automaker and oil lobbying, federal intervention, and CARB’s capitulation to well-funded hydrogen hype.

However, the power relationships have shifted somewhat. In the past industry ultimately called the shots. Today the federal government holds the cards. The taxpayer is financing the American automakers’ survival and their future. Will we get our money’s worth?

President Obama has stated a commitment to 1 million plug-in cars by 2015. Policies and incentives are in place that could get us there. The federal consumer tax credit awaits major automaker cars that can claim them. It’s far from a slam dunk. Automakers and major environmental organizations stood behind the President as he unveiled a new national regime of higher CAFE and greenhouse gas emission standards. The plan calls for 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for light trucks and SUVs by 2016; no automaker lawsuits; and California subscribes to the national program through 2016. Rulemaking will determine the extent to which this new regime will promote plug-in cars beyond the initial tens of thousands that seem slated to appear from the majors beginning with MY 2011. I suspect without some explicit direction from the top, prodded from those of us below, the automakers will do everything to achieve the requirements with conventional vehicles, eschewing the greater near term cost and long-term benefit of transitioning toward plug-in electric drive components and batteries. Toyota, the automaker arguably best positioned and most experienced in the ways of electric drive, has scarcely hidden its intention to go slow on plug-ins while touting small incremental mileage gains on the gasoline-only Prius and the green glitz of an optional solar roof.

Energy Secretary Chu’s decision to defund hydrogen fuel cell vehicle programs was an unexpected and welcome decision. It hasn’t led to an immediate abandonment by the automakers of this long over-subsidized initiative, but it will help put a stopper in the drain on resources accelerated under President Bush. As high officials of CalEPA and CARB got wind of Chu’s analysis of H2 and FCVs, they reportedly went to DC and lobbied furiously if unsuccessfully to pull him back. California hasn’t blinked in its commitment to Schwarznegger’s pet project, the hydrogen highway. “Energy” companies are poised to receive the lion’s share of $50 million dollars to install a few more H2 filling stations. Despite this ongoing investment and years of institutional neglect of plug-in technology, more than ten times the number of electric cars are driving around than FCVs and more than twenty times the number of EV charging stations exist in California.

The National Hydrogen Association (members include Chevron, GM, Shell, Toyota, Honda, CARB and UC Davis), the California Hydrogen Business Council, and the US Fuel Cell Council are not happy with Chu’s cuts. But their dreams haven’t yet been sunk. In addition to the California funds there is federal stimulus money, $41 million by mid-April, being doled out to their projects, many of zero environmental benefit. Such as the $1.1 million Anheuser-Bush will receive and $1.3 million FedEx will get to replace grid-connected zero emission battery forklifts with fuel cell forklifts. The total for fuel cell forklifts this round is $10.8 million, resulting in a net emissions and petroleum increase as grid electricity is replaced with non-renewable hydrogen hauled in diesel trucks.

On the federal level the signs are that biofuels will get great and sympathetic attention. Secretary Chu is a big advocate, having brought in hundreds of millions of oil company dollars for biofuel research to the universities with which he has been affiliated. Under Obama’s plan flex-fuel vehicles will continue to garner enhanced credits despite decreased mileage and fuel unavailability. The politics of ethanol and the dream that our greenhouse gas, particulate and petroleum problems can me mitigated away incrementally with fundamentally unchanged vehicles makes the push for electric drive more difficult.

The push for hydrogen fuel cell and ethanol vehicles is essentially driven by the corporations with an interest. It is consumers who are driving the demand for plug-in cars. Although the future of plug-in cars looks brighter than ever, our work is cut out for us. No plug, no deal!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Volvo PHEV in 2012


The web is filled with news of Volvo's partnership with Swedish energy company Vattenfall to bring a plug-in hybrid to market in 2012. Big news: it's a diesel plug-in hybrid.

Left Lane
Jalopnik
Wall St Journal (subscription required.)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Snarky CNBC report on "obsessed" Mini E driver

The first consumer with a Mini E lease, Peter Trepp, was interviewed on CNBC. The vroom- obsessed anchor concludes with an erroneous and unprofessional "gotcha" about coal. The report exudes such bias, you may want to let CNBC know how you feel here.











Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Still pimping for hydrogen

Secretary Chu may have acted on the science, but the Terminator hasn't gotten the termination memo.
Reporter: Are you satisfied with the number of hydrogen stations and vehicles we have today?

Schwarzenegger: I wouldn't be here if I was. I'm hungry! I want more cars, more stations, and not just in California. I think Washington has to get with it. . . We will find the partners and we will build the stations. We always march forwards.

Electric car agitation in Norway

In Norway, the effort to find a means to get financing so Th!nk can fulfill existing orders for thousands of vehicles took to the streets on Tuesday. A 50-electric car parade took the issue right to the Trade and Industry Department in downtown Oslo. A concrete proposal for a Guarantee Institute for Electric Vehicles was presented to the government.

ElectricAid, Norstart and Bellona, along with politicians from the left and the right and the Green Party, Greenpeace and the Norwegian Environmental Union demonstrated support for a loan guarantee program. An answer should be forthcoming shortly.

They broke it, we own it

Looks like GM's imminent bankruptcy will result in the US government holding a 70% stake.

NY Times

Monday, May 25, 2009

First Electric Mini Delivered!

Peter Trepp in Southern California is the first consumer to take delivery of their electric Mini. The USA Today story begins:
"Peter Trepp just can't keep his foot off the accelerator of his new Mini E."
Peter blogs about his electric Mini at www.petersminie.blogspot.com/.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Toyota spokesman on PHEVs at EVS

You can smell the PHEV procrastination. Asked by the reporter when the plug-in Prius on display will be available in Norway, he replies:
"This is the first demonstration program. We have a small number of vehicles in Paris, France and in the UK and we're involved in gathering some data to understand how consumers actually use these vehicles...We will start much bigger scale demonstration... 100 vehicles in Strassbourg, and it's intended a 3 year trial to understand how consumers react, how they use the vehicle, to gather information and this will enable us to decide the best way to configure the vehicle and then we can make decisions about marketing. No decision about introduction of plug-in hybrid vehicle. The whole reason is we have to do the trial to better understand consumer requirements..."




[Source: Electricaid/Norstart]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chu speaks on hydrogen and fuel cells

Sounding a lot like Joe Romm in Who Killed the Electric Car.
TR: The hydrogen fuel-cell program has been scaled back in the proposed budget, and the emphasis has been changed from transportation to buildings.

SC: That's right.

TR: It used to be thought, five to eight years ago, that hydrogen was the great answer for the future of transportation. The mood has shifted. What have we learned from this?

SC: I think, well, among some people it hasn't really shifted [laughs]. I think there was great enthusiasm in some quarters, but I always was somewhat skeptical of it because, right now, the way we get hydrogen primarily is from reforming [natural] gas. That's not an ideal source of hydrogen. You're giving away some of the energy content of natural gas, which is a very valuable fuel. So that's one problem. The other problem is, if it's for transportation, we don't have a good storage mechanism yet. Compressed hydrogen is the best mechanism [but it requires] a large volume. We haven't figured out how to store it with high density. What else? The fuel cells aren't there yet, and the distribution infrastructure isn't there yet. So you have four things that have to happen all at once. And so it always looked like it was going to be [a technology for] the distant future. In order to get significant deployment, you need four significant technological breakthroughs. That makes it unlikely.
From an interview with Kevin Bullis of Technology Review, here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tom Hanks on his electric car


Tom Hanks' letter to the editor of the New Yorker about his electric car, a Toyota RAV4 EV.

RE: THE ROAD AHEAD
A letter in response to Peter J. Boyer’s article (April 27, 2009)

MAY 18, 2009
Peter J. Boyer, in his otherwise spot-on piece about the car industry, assumes that I once leased G.M.’s sadly fated EV1 electric car and, like other drivers of that twin-seat rocket of a vehicle, watched the emission-free car be wrested from my garage, towed away, and busted up into pieces of metal, glass, and rubber smaller than razor blades (“The Road Ahead,” April 27th). Luckily, I did not. The source of Boyer’s slight inaccuracy may have been the documentary film “Who Killed the Electric Car?,” which used a clip of a visit I made to the “Late Show with David Letterman,” during which I claimed to be saving America one electric car at a time. However, by the time I began shopping for an all-electric car, in 2003, the EV1 had already been yanked from showrooms as if the car had never existed. Instead, I found what was purported to be the very last electric car available for sale in the state of California—a Toyota EV. It had four doors, a rear hatch, room for my family, including a dog in the back, power windows, A/C, a great sound system, and the fastest, most effective windshield defroster known to mankind. When the car companies collectively, and, to some, diabolically, decided to take these cars back, the electric vehicles disappeared. But not mine. I have the pink slip. I own that car, and it is still driven every day, albeit by one of my crack staff of employees. My electric car recently crossed fifty thousand miles on the odometer with its original battery but without so much as a splash of gasoline.

Tom Hanks
Los Angeles, Calif.
Source: The New Yorker

Monday, May 11, 2009

Minneapolis gets EV Ready

Minneapolis will be getting 18 electric cars from Ford, and stimulus funding will be used to install charging points, as reported in the Twin Cities downtownjournal.com

Electric Minis only weeks away from delivery

Four hundred fifty electric Minis will hit the road in the next few weeks in California, New York and New Jersey. The leasees, who will have the car for one year, are chomping at the bit. Bill Nye the science guy will put aside his gas-guzzling Prius for twelve months. Ex-EV1 drivers will be among those taking advantage of their first opportunity to get back in an electric car. Ken Bensinger reports on a gathering in LA.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Chu kills fed fuel cell funding

The New York Times reports:
Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, once hailed by President George W. Bush as a pollution-free solution for reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, will not be practical over the next 10 to 20 years, the energy secretary said Thursday, and the government will cut off funds for the vehicles’ development.
It's about time. Gotta wonder what they're thinking about their pet project now in Sacramento. California does seems determined to be the last supporter of hydrogen and fuel cells left standing. There's still time to reallocate AB118 money being flushed away on a few hydrogen stations. CEC, CARB, anyone listening?

Source: NY Times

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Report shows bioelectricity yields more miles per acre than ethanol

It has been suggested before that it just might be more efficient to turn crops into electricity than biofuel, and here's a study that proves that to be the case.

According to the study co-sponsored by the Carnegie Institution for Science, "Bioelectricity was the clear winner in the transportation-miles-per-acre comparison, regardless of whether the energy was produced from corn or from switchgrass, a cellulose-based energy crop. "

"The internal combustion engine just isn't very efficient, especially when compared to electric vehicles,” says Elliott Campbell, lead author and professor at UC Merced. “Even the best ethanol-producing technologies with hybrid vehicles aren't enough to overcome this."

“Some approaches to bioenergy can make climate change worse, but other limited approaches can help fight climate change,” says Campbell. “For these beneficial approaches, we could do more to fight climate change by making electricity than making ethanol.”

And it's all here in this cool graphic. Click it to see it larger.











[Source: Carnegie Institution for Science]

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oil makes us impotent

“I had a surprising call this week,” the author Richard North Patterson told the audience that had gathered last weekend as part of the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. It was former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Patterson’s new novel, “Eclipse,” is based on the case of the Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Mr. Clinton spoke of a phone call he had made 14 years ago to Gen. Sani Abacha of Nigeria, asking him to spare Mr. Saro-Wiwa from the hangman.

Mr. Clinton said General Abacha “was very polite,” but “he was cold,” Mr. Patterson related. “Clinton took away from that, among other things, that oil and the need for oil on behalf of the West and other places made Abacha, in his mind, impervious.”

The event’s moderator, the Nigerian novelist Okey Ndibe, added an unexpected epilogue. A friend in the Abacha cabinet said the general later boasted: “All these pro-democracy activists run to America and expect America to save them. But the U.S. president himself is calling me ‘sir.’ He is scared of me.”

Source: New York Times

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

FT: EV subsidies a waste

Yesterday's Financial Times had a great companion piece to the idiocy in today Post. The UK announced a £5000 incentive for EV beginning in 2011. After recognizing that the intent of such a subsidy is to "encourage early adopters of the technology, helping electric car manufacturers achieve economies of scale," author Richard Pike suggests a reason to oppose it is that "it would cost more than £150bn to subsidize Britain’s entire car fleet," a proposal no one has made.

Read it here.

WashPost: Volt Caused GM's woes

Charles Lane is a member of the editorial page staff of the Washington Post. Here are some gems from his screed against the Volt, and electric cars in general, in today's paper:
"GM wouldn't be in quite so deep a hole if it had not sunk a billion dollars, and much of its corporate reputation, into a not-very-realistic plug-in electric hybrid vehicle known as the Chevrolet Volt."
"Unless and until gas prices shoot up, you'd be crazy to buy one of these much-ballyhooed vehicles..."

"To be sure, the green-leaning Obama administration has not ruled out allowing a restructured GM to continue pouring (federal) money into the Volt. But I hope it won't. The Volt and other electric vehicles could gobble up more subsidies than ethanol."

"Indeed, to the extent that we use more electric cars, we reduce the demand for petroleum, which drives down the price of petroleum, which makes electric cars less competitive with gas-burning ones."
Essentially he saying that even the success of the electric car ensures its failure. Wow.

Read the entire (hit) piece here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chu on higher gas prices

From an exchange about gas prices between Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Florida Republican Cliff Stearns during a House hearing on the proposed climate bill:
Stearns to Chu: Last September you made a statement that somehow we have to boost the price of gasoline to the levels of Europe, which at the time exceeded $8 per gallon. As Secretary of Energy would you speak for or against any measures to raise the price of gasoline?

Chu: The Secretary of Energy, especially now in today's economic climate, would be completely unwise to want to increase the price of gasoline. We're looking forward to reducing the cost of transportation in the American family. This is done by encouraging more fuel efficient cars. This is done by developing alternative forms of fuel like biofuels that can lead to a separate source, an independent source of transportation fuel.

Stearns: You can't honestly believe that you want the American people to pay for gasoline at the prices the level in Europe.

Chu: No we don't.

Stearns: Your statement that gas prices ought to rise to the level of Europe, doesn't that sound a little bit silly, in retrospect, for you to say that?

Chu: Yes.

[Source: SF Streetsblog]

Friday, April 24, 2009

Goodbye GM, Hello Tianjin-Qingyuan Electric Vehicle Company?

I write a monthly column for the Electric Auto Association newsletter, Current EVents. Here's my April column.

As March came to a close, the Obama administration found GM and Chrysler’s restructuring plans “not viable.” GM CEO Rick Waggoner was pushed out and the company got sixty days to get its act together. Chrysler was told to consummate with Fiat quickly or else. At the same time, the value to the economy and environment of a major push for plug-in cars as part of the recovery hasn’t sunk in at the top. Obama should take extraordinary steps to empower the electric upstarts to prove their mettle. A billion dollars of loans and grants directly supporting Tesla, Th!nk, Fisker and Aptera, for example, would get cars on the road and allow the plug-in project the chance to more quickly advance to economic viability without the legacy burdens carried by the majors. And these days a billion dollars is barely a rounding error in the money going to prop up the American auto industry.

While the American government is deep in the morass of Detroit’s legacy, the Chinese leadership may have turned to face the future. As reported in the NY Times, “Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.” BYD already has a plug-in hybrid for sale in small numbers in China, and has Warren Buffet-infused plans to market PHEVs and EVs in the US within a few years. Tianjin-Qingyan Electric is poised to offer an all-electric car in China before the end of the year for less than $30,000, before any incentives. Given the much lower production costs in China, the first Chinese company to pass American certification could place an EV on the market in the US that would cost a consumer under $20,000 (after incentives.) That would be a game changer.

Can I charge my new EV here?

At the moment only Tesla is putting cars on the road, at the rate of about 20 per week. But other cars, including the MINI E, will be out and about soon, and stimulus money abounds, so the question of public EV infrastructure is much discussed. The EAA is taking the lead, along with Plug In America, to get it done right. A major error of the ZEV mandate period, no single connector standard, will be overcome once the SAE Standards Committee finally approves the new protocols. That process has been too slow, already resulting in new cars with differing connectors on the road.

A new opportunity and complication has appeared with startup companies appearing that wish to offer competing subscription-based public charging networks. The EAA and Plug In America are working closely with these companies to ensure adherence to some basic principles: universal access, interoperability and maintaining needed legacy infrastructure. In the future, any plug-in car must be able to charge at any public charger.

New public charging infrastructure, however, won’t bring us electric cars. And while I can testify that it is useful to have public access chargers, people with RAV4 EVs in places like Long Island, Hawaii, and Nova Scotia have gotten along fine without. The effort to get cars to market must remain our focus. Stop in at a car dealer today and let them know: No Plug? No Deal!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Honda Kills CNG Home FuelMaker

Honda has pulled the plug on its wholly owned subsidiary Fuelmaker, which made the device for home CNG (compressed natural gas) vehicle refueling, calling a loan, and throwing Fuelmaker into receivership.
All Fuelmaker employees were abruptly fired without severance or warning, and given just a few hours to gather up their belongings and leave the premises. All Fuelmaker operations were suspended without notice to dealers, clients or suppliers. All assets were immediately placed on the auction block for liquidation.
Huh? Wasn't Honda the big promoter of CNG? The only car company offering one in the US, the CNG Civic? Wasn't the home fueling device meant to blaze the path to a home hydrogen fueling device?

Edwin Black does the reporting on the machinations around FuelMaker's bankruptcy last week. Read about it here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Who wants a Th!nk City?

Automakers the world over, large and small, are in the crapper. The financial crisis has hurt those that sell gas guzzlers and electric cars. Electricaid.org in Norway is trying to support its native EV company, Th!nk, and the efforts to offer the Th!nk City in the U.S. as soon as possible with its "Get Me A Th!nk" campaign. My first electric car was a Th!nk City so I'm biased. That little car made me an EV advocate. If you are interested in buying a Th!nk City, sign up by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Saab Story

Unlike other countries, including the US, the conservative government in Sweden is opting to let Saab sink or swim without government aid. GM took the distinctive Swedish brand into the toilet, and is now preparing to cut it loose. The people of Trollhatten are now surprised to find their main source of employment abandoned by both its corporate parent and national representatives. Read Sweden Says No to Saving Saab in the NY Times.

This does make me wonder about the suggestions Sweden might be more hospitable to Th!nk.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tata says Norway first; Th!nk says tata to Norway?

Tata says Norway first for electric Indica, later this year, as Th!nk ponders leaving Norway for lack of gov't support. What's up with that?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

$49,900 after tax credit

Elon Musk has disclosed the intended price of Model S, even if the car itself must spend another week under wraps. And another two years before production cars begin to roll off an assembly line. According to the Tesla newsletter "the Model S will have an anticipated base price of $57,400. After a federal tax credit of $7,500, the effective price will be $49,900."

If you live in a state that adds further incentives for plug-ins, such as Texas or California, you're looking at perhaps $45,000. Not bad.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Think Again

It's on. The press release announces "...a team of Think personnel are meeting with representatives from the state of Michigan and seven other states to discuss options to bring electric vehicle manufacturing jobs to the U.S." tomorrow. According to the communication "U.S. sales of the TH!NK city will commence in mid-2010."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Gen. Wes Clark lobbies for ethanol

Wesley Clark, retired general and one-time presidential candidate, once headed Wavecrest, a company that produced an awesome electric bike. Now he heads the ethanol industry trade group Growth Energy. The ethanol industry is struggling. Plants are shuttering and plans for more put on hold. The debate on the relative value of corn ethanol and its environmental impact continues unabated. But the lobbying must go on, as reported in the NY Times blog Green Inc.
Today retired General Wesley Clark, a onetime presidential candidate who now is the co-chairman of an ethanol industry group, asked the Environmental Protection Agency to raise the limit on how much ethanol can be blended into gasoline. The limit is 10 percent; General Clark and his group, Growth Energy, want the amount raised as high as 15 percent.
On Thursday CARB logically indicated that "lifecycle emissions" need be calculated in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, potentially disadvantaging ethanol. I expect Gen. Clark will be seen in Sacramento shortly.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Think recalls announcement

ASG Renaissance, the firm that sent out the notice regarding Think's plans, has sent out another message recalling the previous message.

Who knows.

Think announces US plan

Think of Norway is set to announce plans for US manufacture and sales. Think personel will be meeting with representatives of Michigan and seven states on March 12th to discuss options for manufacturing. According to the media advisory U.S. sales of the TH!NK city will commence in mid-2010. The Think City will have a range of 112 miles and a top speed of 62mph.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mitsubishi PHEV concept to be unveiled

Mitsubishi plans to show a concept plug-in hybrid at the Tokyo Auto Show. Larger and more upmarket than the all-electric iMiev scheduled to be sold in Japan shortly, there no information yet on what flavor hybrid Mitsubishi will employ. Production is at least three years away.

[Source: autocar.co.uk]

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Auto sales continue slide

Reuters reports:
U.S. auto sales dropped by more than 41 percent in February to the lowest level in almost three decades as deepening economic uncertainty drove Americans away from big purchases and new debt despite aggressive discounts from major automakers.

General Motors Corp, which is racing to complete a restructuring plan this month to keep it from bankruptcy, led the sinking industry lower with a 53 percent drop in sales.

The results mark the 16th consecutive monthly drop in auto sales...
Ford down 48%.
Chrysler down 44%.
Toyota down 37%.
Honda down 38%.
Nissan down 38%.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

Fisker hits the tube

Fisker Automotive is running a TV ad in LA. Deliveries of the luxury plug-in hybrid Karma are set to begin this fall.



Thanks Stefano for the heads up.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Renault Swears off Hybrids and Hydrogen

Chief operating officer Patrick Pelata has confirmed Renault is diverting all research and development money away from hybrid and hydrogen technologies toward electric cars, according to Autocar.co.uk.
Pelata's vision is that a third of Renault's line-up will be electric within a decade. He has also promised that it will have three battery-powered models on sale by 2011: an electric Kangoo van, a Clio-sized five-seat hatch and a larger saloon designed primarily for Israel but which would also be sold across Europe.
All three new models will use NEC lithion-ion batteries, jointly developed with Nissan, and have a range of at least 100 miles.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fuel cell merry-go-round

Because there are are so few of them, to keep the dream alive fuel cell vehicles need to be schlepped around. CARB and the automakers need a "travel provision" that gives California ZEV credits to fuel cell vehicles even when they have relocated to other states.

Now that Volkswagen's 16 FCVs have done their required duty at the Beijing Olympics, they have moved on to Sacramento. The VW press release boasts that along with the eight FCVs already housed at the California Fuel Cell Partnership, "these 24 vehicles create the largest fleet of fuel cell cars from a single manufacturer at one location anywhere in the world." Awesome or pathetic?

VW also brags "These vehicles logged nearly 50,000 miles in Beijing - with zero harmful emissions." That's about 3000 miles each. I log that amount every two months or so on my electric car. SCE could log 50,000 miles every week or so with its Toyota RAV4 EV fleet.

Mary Nichols recently decried the ideological/theological debate between battery and H2/FCV advocates saying "from the point of view of a regulator, this is madness. We know that we need both." But the truth is we don't know that. We can't know that yet. But we know plug-in cars are in the pipeline. They're coming. We know that electric vehicles can do today much of what needs to be done with all the benefits fuel cell cars can only, less efficiently, promise. We know that without plug-in vehicles California can not achieve its GHG reduction goals. And we know that consumers are anxious for plug-in cars. The only madness here is a regulator digging in its heels against all evidence.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Volt guy drives a Tesla

To Dr Lyle Dennis, a NY physician, the GM Volt seemed a good idea so he started a website, gm-volt.com. It's become a big deal, although I doubt he's quitting his day job. He has even come to be a citizen-envoy to GM. Tesla Motors seems to have decided he could use a day with a Tesla. They shipped a car to a mid-town Manhattan garage and when Dr Dennis showed up and spoke the secret password, he was given a set of keys and a partially charged Roadster.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Just Business

Harper's Magazine has a profile of an oil fixer, the sort of middleman without whom we don't get our daily dose. It's not a pretty picture, but it's how the oil business works. The profiled fixer, Ely Calil, is a well-connected businessman. While he continues to be an operator in oil, he sees an new opportunity to make money on his connections to potentates and oil executives.
"One of his most promising investments is a company called Green Holdings, which is in the emerging field of carbon trading: buying rights to pollute from cleaner businesses and selling them to dirtier ones. The firm has struck deals in China and India, and Calil has traveled regularly to both nations on the company's behalf, hoping to establish business ties and build political support. It is an ironic turn indeed that Ely Calil, who grew so rich off the excesses of the carbon era, should now stand to profit still more from the long struggle to clean them up."
The story is available as a pdf here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nissan EV in Fall, 2010

Nissan is telling Tennesseans that their state will be included in a Fall, 2010 launch of an electric car. The Chatanoogan.com reports on a luncheon at which Mark Perry, director of product planning and strategy for Nissan Americas, discussed the automaker's intentions. His inclusion of fast charging as well as California's existing EV Charging infrastructure, suggest Nissan has learned some lessons from the ZEV mandate days. Nothing he says sounds utopian or implausible, which is a good start.
Mr. Perry said there will be some expense in outfitting garages to power the electric vehicles. He said that could range from a couple hundred dollars to up to $2,000 depending on the arrangement and current capacity of the garage.

He said plans are underway for adding charging stations along major highways and at malls and other public places. He said California already has 660 electric vehicle charging stations.

A fast charge takes 26 minutes, he said. He said merchants may want to supply charging stations so they will have the occupants of the vehicle as potential customers for those 26 minutes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The "grand and lovely futility" of Honda's FCX Clarity

Dan Neil has another must read article in today's LA Times. He heaps praise and digs the grave of Honda's fuel cell marvel. I'd really like to hear what the other Dan, CARB Board Member and hydrogen fuel cell stalwart Dan Sperling, thinks upon reading it.

It is the most expensive car he's ever driven; he figures about $2 million. It is limo-spacious and drives electric-smooth. It is extremely well-appointed down to the walnut wainscoting and eco-friendly plush fabrics.

The 200 Angelenos who get to lease Honda's limited-production show dog will be impressed. Honda will be pleased, as it gets greater CARB ZEV credits.

But Dan, uniquely among auto journalists, is not taken in by the elegant and sophisticated trappings.
Hydrogen fuel-cell technology won't work in cars. It's a tragic cul-de-sac in the search for sustainable mobility, being used to game the California Air Resources Board's rules requiring carmakers to build zero-emission vehicles. Any way you look at it, hydrogen is a lousy way to move cars.
He runs through the numbers and shows the lousy efficiency of hydrogen compared to electricity. And challenges hydrogen advocates to a duel: "I'll meet you on the field on honor. Calculators at dawn."

But this is no wasted effort on Honda's part. When battery electric cars appear in the competitions' showrooms, Honda will take out the fuel cell and H2 tank and greatly increase the battery storage already in the vehicle. Honda will be ready to go electric. Of course consumers are ready today. As Dan concludes his piece: "Just bring me one that I can plug in."

Full article available here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ethanol blues

NY Times reports:
As recently as last summer, plants that make ethanol from corn were sprouting across the Midwest. But now, with motorists driving less in the economic downturn, the industry is burdened with excess capacity, and plants are shutting down virtually every week.

...In the meantime, plans are lagging for a new generation of factories that were supposed to produce ethanol from substances like wood chips and crop waste, overcoming the drawbacks of corn ethanol. That nascent branch of the industry concedes it has virtually no chance of meeting Congressional production mandates that kick in next year....

...Carlos A. Riva, president and chief executive of Verenium, a company working to produce ethanol from sugar cane waste, said that solving the technological hurdles for this type of fuel was “not a slam dunk.”

...“Cellulosic ethanol is something that is always five years away and five years later you get to the point where it’s still five years away,” said Aaron Brady, an energy expert at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consulting firm.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nissan, Tesla, expect govt loans for EVs

Nissan and Tesla are both well on the way to receive loans from the federal government to support their electric car manufacturing plans. Nissan applied for a loan to upgrade its Smyrna, Tennessee plant to assemble electric cars and build a new facility for battery production, according to an Automotive News report appearing in Autobloggreen.

Yahoo Finance reports that Tesla is expecting a $350 million DOE loan to set up a factory to build their as yet unseen Model S 4-door sedan. The big reveal is scheduled for March 26.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And GM follows suit; 10,000 cut

GM cuts 10,000 salaried workers worldwide, including 3,400 of its 29,500 salaried jobs in the United States.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Nissan cuts 20,000 jobs, EV plans threatened?

Nissan has joined the world's automakers with bad news. They'll be cutting 20,000 jobs worldwide. They joined Toyota, posting an annual loss, for the first time in nearly a decade. Nissan's Carlos Ghosn had become a major industry advocate for plug-in cars, with a fairly aggressive plan for multiple platforms within a very few years. A launch next year in Oregon had been announced previously. Nissan and sister company Renault have been the automotive backbone to Better Place's attempt to rejigger the automotive market. Will the worldwide economic downturn cause a general plug-in postponement?

According to Business Week, "the company will suspend its current business plan, announced last May." But the same report states that "production of an electric car will still start in late 2010; the car will be mass-marketed globally by 2012."

In related EV news, GM announced today that Bob Lutz will be retiring a year before the Volt's scheduled release. He had previously vowed to stay on through the November 2010 launch.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tesla Roadster does Dan

The Tesla Roadster made sweet sweet love to Dan Neil one recent weekend.
"God has grabbed me by the jockstrap and fired me off his thumb, rubber band-style. Wow."
For comparison's sake we get a detailed and fascinating blow-by-blow of the labored, mechanical foreplay required for an internal combustion engine to thrust forward the Porche he left for dead.

Neil is lyrical about everything you want to know about the performance ("explosively quick") and packaging ("[t]he Tesla interior is rather bare and ungracious") of the most anticipated electric car ever.

What's important is that after a weekend with the Roadster, he can see the future.
"...the Roadster is here now, a divine spark, an animating lightning stroke of a whole new kind of car industry."
You can read the full piece in the LA Times here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

GM Promotes an Electric Car

It was only 13 years ago. Still looks good.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sit and Spin in a Th!nk City

Electricaid.org was created when Th!nk looked to be on the ropes late last year. Now it seems only good news is coming in. They are reporting that thousands of charge points will be up and running by summer. And the Swedes are investing in the company and ordering cars, including the Royals, according to a Norwegian story translated by Autobloggreen. The ElectricAid folks were recently given a car for the weekend, and made a video of their experiences. Norwegian engineering and humor at its finest!

Monday, February 2, 2009

How Ford got back in the EV game

Ford has done it's share of electric cars, including the Ranger EV and Th!nk City that were its ZEV mandate cars in the '90s. The #2 US automaker has made a few plug-in hybrid Escape Hybrids that have been in a test fleet at Southern California Edison for about 18 months. Plans for a 2012 general release of the PHEV Escape did not wow anyone. Still no firm numbers, nor irrevocable commitment. Electrification, a buzz-word at rival GM, didn't appear to be gaining much headway in Dearborn.

Of course Ford needed some plan to deal with last year's high gas prices. The surprise appearance at the Detroit Auto Show last month of an electric Focus may be evidence of a new day (again) at Ford. As reported in today's Detroit News story Ford's electric car project charges ahead, Canadian supplier Magna International surprised the American automakers by quickly producing an electric Focus on their own dime and driving to Ford's front door last September.

As with the BMW MINI E, what is stunning, if not surprising, is how quickly a decent fully electric vehicle can be put on the road. While GM takes the time to make a ground-up new PHEV vehicle, Ford and others could get the EV show on the road more quickly using existing platforms. All eyes are fixed on 2011.

Of course all this electric car hoo-ha bubbled back to the surface with last year's gas prices, now receded. I can't help thinking the electric boom we saw in Detroit last month was the result of plans laid half a year earlier, when even millionaire OEM executives were aware of, if not afflicted by, $100 fill-ups (when they weren't flying around in the corporate jets.) The likelihood of somewhat tighter emissions standards nationwide with the arrival of Team Obama has meant automotive alternatives aren't completely off the automakers' table for now. But the economic crisis could end up a lost opportunity to begin the needed shift to plug-in cars. If Team Obama is convinced it's more important for Detroit to just sell cars, than sell the right cars, we could lose yet another decade. As the article rightly mentions, there is a great upside for the automakers to sell some electric cars. "Building electric vehicles gets the emissions monster off their backs, and it also helps their fleet fuel economy average in a big way," according to skeptical industry analysit Jim Hall.

Lisa Drake, Ford's chief engineer for hybrid programs was extremely impressed with the electric focus Magna dropped off. But there's a hint of the possibility of delay.
"We were modeling $10 a gallon. We were modeling $12 a gallon. We decided we need to be ready the next time this comes around."
High gas prices or not, neither the industry nor the environment nor consumers can wait for "next time."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Multi-nation survey reports consumers want electric cars. Now.

A large survey, 4000 people in eight countries, has discovered what many of us have been saying all along. There is an existing market for electric vehicles, especially among those who can afford the extra cost of limited-production new technology vehicles. The only problem? There are no cars for sale. A Business Week blog reports on the survey by the Munich based consultants Bain & Co.
“Consumers would be buying now if there were products,” says Gregor Matthies, a Munich-based partner at Bain who specializes in the auto industry.
For years BMW disparaged electric cars, and poured money into liquid hydrogen ICE vehicles and promoted them ad nauseum. I drove one of those, and although luxurious (it's a $100,000 7-series before the hydrogen,) it was lumbering and slower off the line than my RAV4 EV.

Yet it took BMW less than one year to make an electric car. A friend called me while behind the wheel of the MINI E last night and it is, not surprisingly, a hoot to drive. After the onslaught of advertising for the doomed Hydrogen 7, we've yet to see much in the way of promotion for the eminently buildable and marketable electric MINI. Is this limited, one year, lease-only release testing the waters? Or merely a way to meet ZEV mandate obligations?