Archive for the ‘Green Updates’ Category

Green Update: There’s Gas… and Then There’s Gas

April 17th, 2012

CNG-powered Ram pickup

We’ve heard a lot about the natural gas revolution lately—you know, the immense resources of gas just waiting to be fracked out of places like Pennsylvania and Western Canada, not to mention parts of China, Europe and Central Asia.

There are literally trillions of cubic feet of the stuff locked away in rocks under the surface in the U.S. alone. However, the extraction and environmental costs will be huge. It’s the same deal with shale oil, which requires much refining.

With gasoline prices heading north of $5 a gallon, Americans (at least some) will continue to trade in their SUV swizzlers and vans for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. And they will be driving less. So oil imports will be reduced—a trend already happening—and so will greenhouse gas emissions, slightly.

But gasoline prices are determined on the world oil market, and they will continue to rise as functions of supply, demand, geopolitics and speculation. The biggest factor will surely be rising demand from China, India and other developing countries. One blog claims we presently use three billion gallons of gasoline a day on this earth.

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Green Update: Hybrid Unpopularity Survey Questioned

April 10th, 2012
2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

A somewhat flawed Polk survey shows that only 35 percent of hybrid buyers would buy one again. If you take Toyota Prius owners out of the mix, “hybrid loyalty drops to under 25 percent.”

The survey also reports that hybrid owners are looking to other kinds of vehicles, including higher-tech gasoline-powered cars, to get fuel costs down. Yes, we all know that new 4-cylinder turbo technology has improved. We also know that gas-powered cars cost a lot less than cars with batteries.

If initial cost and return on investment are the only factors, well, of course you won’t buy a hybrid or EV. If gas prices continue to rise, the cost differential will rapidly get smaller and ROI will improve.

Hybrids are also supplemental cars for many people; they fill a different role as second cars. Further, Polk doesn’t say how it measured its “repeat purchases.” Is the current hybrid owner buying another hybrid or replacing the hybrid already owned? As one commenter here (IT guy) put it: “how many people buy two consecutive Honda Fits?”

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Green Update: Fisker Nina, Now Called Atlantic, Breaks Cover

April 3rd, 2012

Fisker Nina/Atlantic

People need to give Fisker a break. We told you last December about the financing debacle, and now, with a new car being announced, most auto writers are bringing it up again, along with the battery problems the Karma has faced.

The Fisker Atlantic (formerly the Nina) will be finally revealed (so far, it’s been mostly photos) in a press conference tonight and then at the New York Auto Show, opening Wednesday. This is to be Fisker’s smaller, half-price Karma (around $50K, we hear, before tax breaks), and will likely be made at the company’s Delaware plant.

The car is slated to use a BMW 2-liter turbo four rather than the GM turbo that the Karma uses for charging. A crossover and a coupe may come later. Look for the car to appear in late 2013. It looks beautiful.

Slamming Fisker is easy; producing an entirely new plug-in hybrid from scratch is not. The company has never failed to come clean about its problems, and while there are no shortage of critics laughing at Fisker’s Green Luxury concept, if it gets the Atlantic right, there will be buyers.

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Green Update: Using Smartphones in Cars

March 27th, 2012

Smartphone in car

The NHTSA is currently trying to figure out how or whether to ban handheld devices like smartphones from use in cars. And the automakers are supporting such a ban or at least some restrictions.

But they are also very concerned that such a ban might force them to redesign their built-in systems. What a shame that would be.

No one should be surprised that a recent British study confirms that smartphone use while driving is much more dangerous than driving drunk. With a test group of 17-24-year-old drivers fooling around on Facebook, their reaction time slowed by about 38 percent. (Blood alcohol at the legal limit slowed reaction time by 12.5 percent.)

They missed “key events,” wandered out of lane, and failed to respond to speed changes by a car in front. About 25 percent of drivers admitted to texting or social networking while driving. I’ll bet it’s more in the U.S.

None of this, in fact, is very surprising. Nor is it surprising that mobile multitasking, as much as some people love it, is clearly addictive and distracting. If you’ve observed how young people operate with these devices, you get the picture.

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Green Update: Why Do EVs Cost So Much?

March 13th, 2012

Tesla battery

The high cost of EVs and most hybrids is owing to the batteries, as most of you know. And 65 percent of Americans simply won’t pay the extra cost of an EV over a gas-powered car.

We did a story last month about Tesla’s “bricked” Roadsters, wherein the cost of replacing the battery (photo above) was claimed by the factory to be about $40,000, or 37 percent of the car’s original cost. For the Volt, I’ve heard a replacement battery cost of anywhere from $8,000 to $13,000.

And there are other associated costs with new technology, including the up-front cost of engineering, tooling, marketing and small production runs. Sure, these get reduced or amortized over time, but in the beginning, not.

Another “opportunity cost” for the buyer may be the government-sponsored tax credit. This could become an automatic add-in to the car’s price—as one of our commenters has claimed (scroll to Randy here). So in fact the federal $7,500 tax credit, in his scenario, goes into the carmaker’s pocket. The buyer gets the rebate but pays $7,500 more for the car. If true, that is a sick scam that ought to be investigated.

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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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