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
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, 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 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 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."