Green Update: If We Build It, They Will Come

September 29th, 2009

The Cars

Think CityWe talked about “Volt Contenders” back in March; one of these was the Think City, a less than Volt-sized EV that may be coming to production in the US in 2011. The Detroit News reviewed a pre-production version (around $30K in Europe, not cheap!) and found the car “almost adequate” for driving around the city: good interior space, OK acceleration, easy and quick recharging. The top speed was only 63 mph, however, and so accelerating onto a freeway was something akin to exercising a death wish. Passing? Passing what? But the car is good for the city and for short hops. Still not the “electric car for the masses… [which] no one has offered yet.” Figure another two years at least for that.

Myers NMG2Myers Motors has been around for a while. They are trying to make a splash with another pint-sized machine, this one a glorified motorcycle really, again for in-town use. The three-wheeled, two-passenger NMG2 will go on sale late in 2010, and the company is running a contest for a name (no maligna gasolina?). The car has a 60-mile range, will do 75 mph and costs less than $30K. I like it. The letter from Myers’ president (on the website) makes the point that some 70 million people commute alone and drive less than 40 miles to work. That sounds like a reasonable niche market—if they can be convinced to ride in an enclosed three-wheeler.

E-Wolf E2 Concept, Ferrari-killer

E-Wolf E2 Concept, Electric Ferrari-killer

E-wolf E1 Electric Roadster, for 150-lb driver

E-Wolf E1 Electric Roadster, for 150-lb driver

At the other end of the madness scale is a concept from German firm E-Wolf called the E2, supposedly to evolve as a supercar in two years (544 hp, 2000 lbs, “to compete with the likes of Ferrari in the performance arena”). Well, guys, judging from the E1 which was shown at Frankfurt (150 hp, 1100 lbs, “can only accommodate drivers weighing up to 150-pounds”), you’ve got a ways to go.

Volvo V70 Plug-inMore practical, maybe, is Volvo’s move to put more plug-in hybrids on the streets and a fleet of test cars. The firm announced it would start selling plug-ins by 2012 and showed a V70 with two charging ports—one in front for home charging, the other at the rear for fast-charge (1.5-2.5 hours) stations.

The Power

In order to get electric cars to a sizable market, you must have power companies that not only feed the grid but use the product. Otherwise, it’s a Catch-22. The New York Times reports that

FPL Group, the company that includes Florida Power and Light, and Duke Energy, which serves 11 million people in the South and Midwest, together operate about 10,000 vehicles. And they said this week that by 2020 all new purchases of fleet vehicles will be plug-in hybrid or all-electric.

Clearly, that is putting one’s money where one’s mouth is. The ridiculous situation with ethanol is just the opposite: Farm-state senators (Ben Nelson, D-Neb., among them) are pushing to increase the amount of blended ethanol in gasoline to 15 percent, while the automakers are fighting it, citing the many cases where too much ethanol damages or disables engines.

It isn’t bad enough that we use corn almost entirely for ethanol, which is terrible for all kinds of environmental, agricultural and economic reasons. The industry has been totally unwilling to commit to biofuels or cellulosic ethanol, and is now getting set to inhale some $787 million in federal money for biofuel research, which it would not do on its own. Instead of priming the biofuel pump, federal money is serving as a substitute for private capital and encouraging the farm states to continue their misguided policies. End of rant, for now.

Applause, however, for GM which announced last week that it was partnering with the Reva Electric Car Company of India to develop the market for electric vehicles in India. Well, why shouldn’t they, you ask, with over a billion people as a market? RECC, we understand, has done work on infrastructure, biofuels and has test marketed electrics in many countries as well as India. Working on alternative propulsion strategies and fuels, GM has also reached out to world markets. It could be an ideal combination: Volts in Mumbai!

How soon can we expect EVs to penetrate the market for short-commute cars in our cities? We know you have an opinion.

—jgoods

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