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Green Update: More EVs and Hybrids Coming

March 6th, 2012

BMW ActiveE

Audi’s E-tron is coming into production later this year as an R8 with four electric motors to give you 313 hp and 502 lb-ft of torque. You can probably get this thing on a limited lease, but if you’ve got the bread, you can buy this sled.

As long as we are still in cloud cuckoo land, consider the Porsche 918 Spyder, which we have reported on before. For $845,000, you will get a hybrid that

promises a top speed of 198 m.p.h., fuel economy exceeding 70 m.p.g. and lower carbon emissions than a Prius. Between its race-bred V-8 and electric motors, the plug-in Porsche will kick out roughly 730 horsepower and is said to be capable of 0-to-60 m.p.h. acceleration in just 3.2 seconds, yet travel up to 25 miles on electricity.

More German stuff at slightly lower cost: BMW’s ActiveE (photo above) has been made available to a lucky few (700) on the coasts for testing. One report praises the car for its “near-gymnastic dexterity” and its remarkable braking system that applies progressive and strong braking force as you take your foot off the accelerator. This is called “one-pedal drive,” and could be the future for EVs.

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Green Update: Bill Ford Says Car Networks Are Coming

February 28th, 2012

Bill Ford at Mobile World Congress

At a speech before the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Ford Motor Co.’s Executive Chairman Bill Ford (Henry’s great-grandson) made some notable remarks about how the future will need to accommodate 4 billion cars on the road by mid-century. (We already have about a billion.)

While people around the world keep buying cars at a rapid pace, traffic jams are endemic, seemingly endless and growing: 100 miles in Sao Paulo, for instance, lasting 2-3 hours a day. You heard about the one in China lasting 11 days? Elsewhere, “the cost of congestion to the economy in England through lost time will rise to around $35 billion (€26 billion) annually by 2025. In Germany, sustaining a town of 300,000 people is estimated to require 1,000 truck deliveries daily.”

So Bill Ford proposes collaboration between public and private transport, government and the telecommunications industry, to develop an interconnected network whereby cars, bicycles and pedestrians will be part of some giant integrated system to control their movements, especially in gridlocked cities. A business opportunity here? Oh yeah.

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Green Update: Rising Gas Prices Become Political Football

February 21st, 2012

retail gas prices

The hot topic is once again the cost of gas and how it’s rising. This occurs every summer, and particularly in summers before presidential elections, as happened to G.W. Bush.

Well, gas prices are going up again, approaching $4.00 in some parts of the country. And they will likely go higher and hurt much more. Gas-pump anger is rising.

You could blame the disruptions in Iran, Syria and other Middle East trouble spots. You could blame the oil companies. You could blame Obama, and the Republicans are coming out in force to do that.

Newt Gingrich is the loudest, of course: Obama’s energy policy has been “outrageously anti-American.” Rick Santorum is the craziest: Obama’s “radical environmentalist policies” are what’s driving up the price of gas.

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Green Update: Tesla’s Model X EV Crossover

February 14th, 2012

Tesla Model X, doors open

Describing a car with all its doors open, somebody once said, “It looks like an unbuttoned double-breasted suit.” So does the Model X with its “falcon-wing doors.” These are gullwing doors hinged to fold inward as they rise, permitting easier entry.

Car and Driver called it “mostly a gimmick,” which it is. I would not want to be inside this car in a rollover. Otherwise it is basically a Model S, but stretched to take 7 passengers. Buyers can choose AWD with a second electric motor driving the front wheels and 0-60-mph times (maybe) of 4.4 seconds.

Two batteries are available—with 60 or 85kWh, giving a range of about 215 or 270 miles, respectively. The car is going to be 10-12 percent heavier than the Model S sedan, which already weighs 4,700 pounds. So the S should perform a bit better, unless you get the AWD model.

Prices will be in a range similar to the S, from about $49,900 to $97,900, depending on options, batteries, etc., and this includes the federal $7,500 tax credit. But Model X won’t be available until 2014. Still, Tesla is taking $5,000 deposits and has already gotten several. The S will start selling in July.

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Green Update: Our Fuel Economy Standards and Tradeoffs

February 7th, 2012
Honda CRX

Honda CRX: the next economy car?

As fuel economy becomes a top concern of car buyers, confusion predominates over how it’s measured and how best to achieve it. I don’t know a way through this morass (who does?), but a return to some basic principles of physics in auto design might help.

The EPA over time has developed a complex set of rules and testing procedures, some of which are difficult to reconcile—like testing with ethanol-free gasoline when 10 percent of virtually all gas contains ethanol, which reduces mileage. A recent article suggests that at least some cars get much better mileage on the street than their EPA ratings suggest.

The agency has become a political football, with the Wall Street Journal calling it “federal poison.” Mitt Romney, declaring that CO2 is not a pollutant, wants to kill all existing fuel economy standards. Now, dioxin in food has become an issue—properly so, I think—but to many, the EPA represents regulation gone wild.

To an outsider, the EPA’s Office of Transportation has become almost impenetrable. Finally, U.S. rules for measuring emissions and economy are very different from those in Europe and Japan, which makes an unlevel playing field in the global auto economy.

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Green Update: California Law Requires More Clean Cars by 2025

January 31st, 2012

Los Angeles smog

Manufacturers are behind it, dealers hate it, but the California Air Resources Board (ARB) recently approved a plan to require automakers (those accounting for about 97 percent of new light-vehicle sales) to sell increasing volumes of electric, plug-in hybrid, or fuel cell powered cars by 2025. The target is 15.4 percent of all new cars.

That would translate to 1.4 million such cars (out of over 30 million total) on California roads. Smog emissions would be down 75 percent by 2025, global warming gases by 34 percent. These goals are similar to what the federal EPA standards proposed last year.

ARB, established by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1967, sets the rules to protect air quality in the state. The agency is unique among the states, but others can follow its regulations and standards. Ten other states have plans to adopt the new California Advanced Clean Cars regs, which could double the number of “zero-emissions” vehicles (ZEVs) on U.S. roads.

Naturally, the green groups love it. So do the major manufacturers, with reservations, though the costs of new technologies to implement the claimed $4-6,000 fuel savings over the life of the car would add about $1,900 to the price of a new car in 2025.

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Green Update: The Volt’s Troubles *UPDATED

January 24th, 2012

Chevy Volt, front

*UPDATE: Some House Republicans charged in a Wednesday hearing that NHTSA delayed investigating the Volt’s battery fire, basically to protect General Motors, the Volt’s reputation, and President Obama’s reelection campaign. Dan Akerson, GM’s chief, and David Strickland, NHTSA Administrator, bore the brunt of the contemptuous assertions of Darrell Issa, R-Cal., who typically holds hearings where there is always smoke but no fire. Akerson called the Volt entirely “safe, a marvelous machine,” and drove one to the hearing. He also said the car was not designed “to be a political punching bag, and, sadly, that is what it has become.”

We might as well say it out loud: The Chevy Volt has been a fiasco for GM.

Now dealers are refusing to take on more Volts, even though NHTSA has given the car a clean bill of health after investigating battery fires supposedly caused in side-impact crashes. Volts are no more prone to such fires than other cars.

Just as Volt sales were beginning to improve (slightly), somebody cried “Fire!” in a crowded theater, and that has really put the kibosh on sales. Once again, GM has had to backwater on its sales targets, now saying it will simply build as many cars as customers will buy.

The pace and frequency of anti-Volt stories has been picking up, as some find it a timely excuse to bash the Obama administration for backing the car in the first place. But the political problems with the Volt are fleabites; the real wounds were caused by GM’s complete failure in marketing the car.

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Green Update: Prius Camper Takes Togetherness to a New Level

January 17th, 2012

Car camping in Japan must be like much else in the country: squeezing more people into limited space. According to what I’ve read, this Prius Camper thing can sleep 4 (maybe 5) in very close quarters. Imagine for yourselves the sounds, smells and scrunches of such an overnight.

Anyhow, a company called Campinn showed off the concept at the Tokyo Auto Salon. The “Relax Cabin” will reportedly cost the Prius owner around $52,000—which can buy a lot of motel rooms. Or gasoline for a normal-sized RV.

But if you are addicted to living in your car and don’t mind being laughed at, on or off the grid, the Prius camper could do it for you. Whether your car will have enough power to get out of its own way—with all that extra weight added—is a question still to be addressed. Whether it will be stable on the road is something we rather doubt.

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Green Update: VW E-Bugster Concept, A Squashed Bug?

January 10th, 2012

Good gracious, we’re always stepping on the toes of Volkswagen designers, particularly those who did the 2012 Beetle, the car we love to hate. But that car may be gaining some small momentum with buyers, as some 1,530 stepped into new Beetles in December 2011.

Well, at the Detroit show, VW unveiled an all-electric concept that squashes the Bug even further. But, somehow, this one works, especially when you compare it to ugly potential competitors like the MINI Coupe. It looks like a German Schuco toy car I used to have when I was five.

It looks as though some hot-rodder had taken the Beetle to a chop shop (which some may well do). The E-Bugster has a fixed roof and an electric motor with 114 hp and 199 ft-lbs of torque—enough to move it smartly down the highway. Range is said to be about 100 miles. The press release notes:

Holistically, Volkswagen calls the electric drive unit used in the E-Bugster “Blue-e-motion,” and it will be found in future products such as the Golf Blue-e-Motion.

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Green Update: Where Are We Going with Electrified Cars?

January 3rd, 2012

The Ray: Kia’s first production EV

My old hometown paper, arbiter of liberal truth and exposer of Congressional dysfunction, has actually praised the recent move by Congress to abandon the tax credit for ethanol (and the import tariff). Still more astonishing, the Washington Post proposed abandoning the $7,500 tax credit for buying electric cars and the $1,000 credit to buy a charger.

And you know what? They were right. While the auto companies still keep pushing out new ones (see Kia above) and putting out battery fires, EVs and other electrified vehicles haven’t had a very good year. The Financial Times offered a good summary of the industry’s problems.

I would love to see a big chunk of money going to subsidize R&D for battery technology, for instance, or alternative fuels. The Internet and the Interstate Highway System are often cited as socially useful instances of government support. But it’s wrong to back products that people cannot or won’t accept.

More supply of better cars may be the answer in Europe, but it won’t do the job here. The demand equation is different, and people are not going to pay premium prices for cars that don’t deliver the U.S.-style performance/convenience they want. Meanwhile, Americans show little outrage at the story about Chevy Sonics delivered with missing brake pads.

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