Thursday, November 29, 2007

First New Th!nk City Rolls Off Line

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

Saturday, November 24, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2007

London Calling: Congestion Charge Recharges Electric Cars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Oil Flirts Again with $100 a Barrel

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

Andy Grove Advocates Disruption

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

GM's Bob Lutz Queried

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

LA Times Op-Ed Poses Real Choice Facing California

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2007

Th!nk on the Move

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sierra Club California Weighs in for Electric Cars at CARB

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Renault to Build Electric Cars in Israel?

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

Volt Project on Track, Says Lutz

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

Thursday, November 8, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


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

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Ballard wants out of fuel cells for cars; investors smile

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

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

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

Autobloggreen and After Gutenberg have more to say about it.

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


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

Friday, November 2, 2007

$95.93 a barrel

'Nuf said.

Changes Delay Phoenix

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