Green Update–> The Future Is Not Now

Fisker Karma

So much is happening with green vehicles that, as we have said before, this report can only give you a partial view. Still, the big talk today is that the Feds (through DOE; press release here) gave Fisker $528 million in a low-interest loan to develop a next-generation plug-in hybrid (around $40K after tax credits, says Autoweek) and to continue development of the twice-as-expensive Karma (right). You won’t see the “family-oriented” plug-in, to be called Niña, until 2012. We wonder if Fisker—like Columbus’ ship, namesake of this new project—will still be in existence then.

Volkswagen L1 ConceptLooking even further down the road, Volkswagen announced that its L1 Concept 1-liter hybrid TDI vehicle (in the works since 2002) would become available in 2013. This is really futuristic stuff: Called “the most fuel-efficient automobile in the world,” the super-light carbon-fiber and aluminum L1 is predicted to “achieve 189 mpg [some stories say 240 mpg] on the combined cycle while emitting just 39 g/km of CO2.” Driver and passenger sit in tandem, and the car uses a 7-speed transmission to reach 100 mph, fairly slowly. This from the company that brought us the Bugatti Veyron.

2010 Kia SorentoFrankfurt showed Kia’s new 2010 Sorento 1.7-liter turbodiesel hybrid, which impressed Evelyn Kanter, who noted that, once again, we won’t get this car in North America and it won’t get to Europe till 2013:

Like so many of the great new green cars I saw in Frankfurt, these are for Europe. Like the Lexus FL-Ch hybrid hatchback, sibling Toyota’s newest hybrid, the Auris, and all those good looking and efficient little Pugeot [Peugeot], Renault and Citroen cars.

That exclusion didn’t keep Ford from talking green at Frankfurt. It makes hybrids of course, like the Fusion and Escape and others for the world market, but the company stressed that present-day improvement in traditional technologies has also been its goal. So it touted its EcoBoost engines, which can provide 20 percent better fuel economy, and its C-Max car, coming in late 2011 after the new Focus debuts. C-Max a small 7-passenger minivan that tgriffith discussed here.

BMW Mini EBMW, we learn, has 450 Mini E electric cars doing a year’s trial in metro New York, New Jersey and Los Angeles. To get its 240-volt rapid recharger certified in N.J. has been a nightmare of approval and compliance problems. Imagine what happens when and if the car, or any 240-volt car, goes national. The two-seater Mini E has a huge battery and is basically a test-bed for new technology and BMW’s commitment to electric car development.

GM ran an interesting webchat last week with its departing R&D head Larry Burns, a big proponent of hydrogen fuel cell technology. Among the provocative things Burns said:

The beauty of hydrogen is that it can come from a wide variety of sources. Natural gas is an excellent source to get started (As I mentioned earlier, large amounts of hydrogen from natural gas are already used in the production of gasoline.) Very importantly, any source of renewable energy—biomass, wind, solar, geothermal—can be used to make hydrogen cost competitively with gasoline at $2.50 to $3.50 per gallon equivalence.


I’ve seen a tendency for people to promote one solution over another. They seem to think the question is batteries vs. fuel cells. Or fuel cells vs. biofuels. I have become convinced we need all three. Like I said earlier, it’s “and” not “or.” Unfortunately, many of the players have a vested interest in a single solution. Therefore, they over-promote one and criticize the others.

The big question, I think, is when: When will these solutions (take your pick) start to become viable in numbers/applications that can support a real market? What are your thoughts?


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