Green Update–>MINI E, Ford Focus BEV, Nissan V-Platform, Toyota Sai—and More

MINI E

We’re going to give you short takes with headlines today, because there’s a whole lot of news on the green car front. Let’s lead off with Times Online’s Giles Smith, always good for a chortle.

All-electric MINI E is a blast to drive:
Giles says the MINI E goes like “the electric clappers” and actually looks like a car (even though the back seat is full of batteries). A group of 20 cars will go out for a six-month trial in England, with 20 more to test next year. There are many unanswered questions about the future of electrics, among them their styling.

G-WizThe great failure of all electric models to this point has been their weakness in encouraging desire. How much wider a take-up might there have been for the gawky G-Wiz [shown here] if it didn’t resemble something that Laurel and Hardy had just driven through a sawmill? It’s been like the old joke about Superman. If electric cars are so smart, how come they wear their underpants outside their trousers?

Focus BEV to test in London: Ford seems to be on the same page as MINI and is testing out 20 new Focus Battery Electric Vehicles with household drivers for three months. Early next year, a charging infrastructure will be installed. A somewhat different BEV appeared on “The Jay Leno Show” last month.

Michigan needs plug-ins: But it needs the infrastructure and coordinated development, too. Such is the theme of a current Motor City conference with some big-wigs.

“We talk about public utilities. We talk about cars. But we haven’t really talked about them together,” said David Cole, chairman of the Automotive Research Center in Ann Arbor. “What we’re going to be seeing is a merging of these two industries.”

Along these lines, GM’s FastLane Blog has an interesting webchat that featured Tony Posawatz, Vehicle Line Director for the Chevy Volt. We learn particular details about the Volt as well as some considerations about the future of EVs from Felix Kramer of the California Cars Initiative. Worthwhile exchanges in that chat.

There are still plenty of questions about the Volt, many of them critical, as put forward by CNN’s Alex Taylor here. Mainly these focus on cost/benefit issues, and we can’t help thinking the car comes up short.

Nissan V-PlatformNissan’s V-Platform Coming to the U.S., maybe in 2011; to Thailand, India, and China in 2010. And Nissan wants to sell 1 million a year. It’s a low-cost, low-weight car that Nissan’s betting heavily on to compete with the Fiesta, among others—a world car. Nissan also made news by announcing its commitment to a “next-generation battery,” i.e., lighter and less expensive. These will be produced at the New Smyrna, Tennessee, factory and sold to “whoever is interested.” So says CEO Carlos Ghosn.

Infiniti jumps into the electric competition: The firm is reportedly working on a small car to compete with the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series, as is Lexus. The comments came from an “insider” at the Tokyo Motor Show who also claimed that the new car would share powertrains with the Nissan Leaf (which kind of makes sense).

Honda is also considering going electric, per CEO Takanobu Ito. He still likes hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars for the future, but they will be a long way off. One factor influencing his change in strategy may be the poor showing of the Insight against the Prius, at least in terms of sales.

Toyota Sai HybridToyota Sai hybrid launches in Japan: Showing for the first time in Tokyo this week, the Sai is a larger and more luxo Prius, it seems, and is sister to the Lexus HS 250h, which is now on sale in the U.S. Whether it will come here is not known, but the two very similar cars will compete against each other in Japan. What was that old line about the inscrutable Japanese?

DOE funding for three-wheelers approved: Which means, according to Autosavant, that companies like Elio Motors and Aptera can finally get development money. Three cheers, and let this be a counter to Giles Smith’s complaint about weird styling.

For those people that complain that everything on the road looks the same these days, the rebuttal to your complaint is a three-wheeler. All of the three-wheel vehicles in the pre-production pipe look like nothing else on the road today.

Three-wheeled cars certainly don’t look like anything else on the road today. But should they? Do you want cars that look like cars or like airplanes (the Aptera)?

—jgoods

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