The Truth About Cars » Electric vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Electric vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/electric-vehicles/ Opel-Badged Chevrolet Volt Killed In Europe http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/opel-badged-chevrolet-volt-killed-in-europe/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/opel-badged-chevrolet-volt-killed-in-europe/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:01:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=870161 ampera-450x317

The Opel Ampera, an Opel-badged Chevrolet Volt, will be killed off in Europe due to slow sales.

The Ampera will be axed after just one generation – with a new Volt being launched in the second half of 2015, an Opel (and presumably Vauxhall) version will not be produced.

Automotive News Europe reports that Ampera sales slid dramatically in 2013. In Germany, the Ferrari F12 supercar has sold nearly twice as many units as the Ampera.

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Detroit Electric Gets To Work In Detroit http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/detroit-electric-gets-to-work-in-detroit/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/detroit-electric-gets-to-work-in-detroit/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 13:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=853545 Detroit Electric Vice President Doug Moore. Note the used whiteboard in the conference room behind him.

Detroit Electric Vice President Doug Moore in the company’s Fisher Bldg headquarters in Detroit. Note the used whiteboard in the conference room behind him.

When Detroit Electric launched their brand last spring at a gala affair in Detroit’s magnificent Fisher Building they, and the building’s landlord, said that the revived electric car brand would be making its headquarters in a suite on the 18th floor of the historic Detroit skyscraper. They also laid out their plans for assembling cars in southeastern Michigan.

 

When the company announced in November that they were delaying their plans to start electrifying Lotus supplied gliders at a Detroit area production facility, while going ahead with plans to build cars for the European market somewhere in Europe, Detroit Electric North American president Don Graunstadt insisted that the company was still dedicated to having operations in the Detroit area. To see what kind of progress they were having with their headquarters I stopped in at the Fisher Building back then and discovered that their Fisher Building suite was empty, with apparently no sign of any work having been done to set up a business office. We published photos of the empty offices here at TTAC, which got some attention.

Detroit Electric has now announced that they’ll be assembling cars for the European market at a facility in Leamington Spa in the United Kingdom, with sales and marketing for Europe, Africa and the Middle East handled out of the Netherlands. However, company CEO Albert Lam’s statement reiterated their commitment to the Detroit area, saying, “We’re growing our team at the company’s headquarters in Detroit and we are committed to bringing investment and jobs to the Detroit economic area in the very near future.”

Since he mentioned the Detroit headquarters I returned to the Fisher Building today and I’m happy to report that there is now visible activity at Detroit Electric’s Detroit headquarters, with most of their North American staff located there. I also found out, according to company VP for administration Doug Moore, that my November photographs may have given the wrong impression.

Moore said that it was true that at the time I photographed their suite in November they had made no progress on moving into their permanent offices, but that it was due to the landlord’s delays in getting the suite ready and that they actually had staff working then in temporary offices on the Fisher Bldg’s 12th floor. The company vice president came out to speak with me today after their personnel director found me setting up my cameras in their 18th floor lobby. While it wasn’t exactly a beehive of activity – there wasn’t even a receptionist, this time the office did look occupied and behind the entry doors I could see a conference room whose whiteboard looked recently used, covered with automotive jargon.

Moore gave me an update on the company’s current plans. Their plans to sell their SP:01 sports car in the U.S. were contingent on getting waivers, as a small scale manufacturer, on some Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. With those waivers seemingly stalled, they decided to go ahead with European assembly, since a facility on the continent was always part of their long term plans and starting assembly there made more sense than building the cars in the U.S. and incurring the additional customs and transportation costs of shipping them overseas.

Moore said that the company’s second generation sports car, to be based on the Lotus Evora so it will be a larger, 2+2 grand tourer, will be assembled in the U.S., assuming they can get government approval. Moore reiterated that the company’s proposed more mass market four passenger car will be designed and engineered in the United States with final assembly being most likely done somewhere in or near Detroit.

He said, regarding that four passenger Detroit Electric, that the company is pursuing two possible strategies. They are going forward with a blank sheet design at the same time that they are negotiating with a couple of large automakers who might provide gliders for them to electrify.

Concerning their existing Detroit operations, Moore said that they currently have eight employees working in the Fisher Building and that will increase to about a dozen people soon, as he already has been interviewing engineers to augment their design team. By the end of the year Moore expects there to be about 20 Detroit Electric employees to be active in their headquarters. When I asked which corporate personnel are working out of the Fisher Bldg suite, he rattled off the positions for most of their current North American staff, including himself and Graunstadt.

As for when we’ll see actual Detroit Electric cars, Moore said that styling on the SP:01 is currently being finalized, with changes to the front and rear looks of the car from the concept shown in Detroit last year. Job One for assembling the SP:01 in the UK will take place in early September of this year, with ride & drive demonstrations for potential customers and retail sales soon after. I didn’t ask about distribution and dealer networks and Moore didn’t offer any information on those topics. As for the four passenger Detroit Electric, Moore said that they were aiming to launch it in the first quarter of 2016.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Mercedes-Benz Offers “Range ” For B-Class EV http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/mercedes-benz-offers-range-for-b-class-ev/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/mercedes-benz-offers-range-for-b-class-ev/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 10:30:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=851857 mercedes-benz-b-class-ed

Mercedes-Benz is offering a range extender option for the new all-electric B-Class, but it’s not what the name suggests.

The Mercedes-Benz “temporary range extender” is

“A suite of options to further increase your driving range includes added insulation of the doors and roof for to increase climate-control efficiency, along with an electrically heated windshield and a range-extending charge function. By pressing a button on the console prior to charging, the maximum charge level for battery will increased for the next charge cycle. The higher-capacity charge can provide up to 17 additional miles of range…Electric heating of the windshield glass offers quick defogging of the windshield, even on very cold or humid days. Its energy-efficient operation also helps to extend your driving range compared to using the climate control to clear the windshield.”

While the option package is a novel way to maximize available battery capacity, it’s a bit of a misnomer, given that “range extender” is usually given to mean an on-board internal combustion engine that helps increase the driving range of an electric vehicle.

 

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Solar Roadways: A Modest Proposal? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/solar-roadways-a-modest-proposal/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/solar-roadways-a-modest-proposal/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 16:07:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833633 Click here to view the embedded video.

Last week, an amazing video popped up on my Facebook feed. Produced by a small Idaho based startup seeking funding from the public via an IndieGoGo campaign, it offers a glimpse into a possible future where the roads are made out of reinforced glass panels that contain solar cells, microprocessors and LEDs. The company, Solar Roadways, has been working on this product for years and it has already attracted a considerable amount of attention from the tech community. Now, as it seeks money to hire a team of engineers to perfect and streamline the production process, it appears as though Solar Roadways is finally ready for the big time.

The proposal is simple in concept but the implications and the potential costs are vast. The best breakdown I found comes from Singularityhub.com who looked at the project in-depth back in August of 2010 and crunched all the numbers with a mathematical expertise I have no hope of matching. The long and short of it is this: If we were to replace the approximately 30,000 square miles of paved roads, sidewalks and parking lots in our nation with currently available commercial solar panels which offer about 18.5% efficiency, the project could generate approximately 14 billion kilowatts of energy – or about three times what the US currently generates each year. Replacing all our nation’s pavement, however, would require around 5.6 billion panels and, at a cost of around $10,000 per 12’X12’ section, could ultimately cost somewhere on the order of $56 trillion dollars. Factoring in longevity and repairs, Singularity hub’s mathematicians figure that Solar roadways will be about 50% more expensive than asphalt but admit the relative costs may change given improvements in solar technology or a spike in oil prices.

Hard numbers aside, the technology presented is pretty amazing. Tied into a computer network, the LED lighting incorporated into the system could be used for any number of purposes including variable lanes, speed limits, crosswalks, or written warnings. The video also shows how heating elements could be used to keep the roadways free of ice and snow year round, something that might actually ease the coming transition to self-driving cars. Just sitting here thinking about it, it occurs to me that it may even be possible to tie the network into an on-the-road charging network where cars’ batteries are charged as they pass over magnetic fields generated by the roadway itself. Who knows how else it might be used?

It would be easy to dismiss this Solar Roadways as just another hippie dippy, pie in the sky idea but there was a time when many people dismissed the cellular telephone, too. The network was virtually nonexistent and the phones themselves were outrageously expensive, but what seemed only marginally useful back then has transformed modern day society in ways we never imagined. Solar Roadways, it seems to me, could be another leap forward and, while the costs are huge, so too is the opportunity. I’d like to see this go forward.

Solar Roadways’ IndieGoGo campaign has far exceeded its rather modest million dollar goal, but will remain open until the end of the month.

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TTAC Long Term Tesla Part 5: The Mystery Of The Vacaville Supercharger, Or Why I Miss Gas Stations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/ttac-long-term-tesla-part-5-the-mystery-of-the-vacaville-supercharger-or-why-i-miss-gas-stations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/ttac-long-term-tesla-part-5-the-mystery-of-the-vacaville-supercharger-or-why-i-miss-gas-stations/#comments Thu, 08 May 2014 04:01:14 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=817762 img-0288

Vacaville, California. Population 93,899, as of two years ago. Median income $57,667. A series of stripmalls. A Buffalo Wild Wings. And one of Tesla’s Superchargers – the weirdest Supercharger, the Supercharger that I cannot understand the location of, nor the existence of – unless, of course, you’re driving like I was from Napa to San Francisco, and needed a quick charge.

The “Supercharger” in question is really just a line of Supercharging units – the tall white holders that you get your power from. Next to it is a gigantic, billowing generator (I think) that makes a sound like a jet engine. And that’s it. The phrase “Supercharger” in the past had become synonymous with a performance accessory for supercars. If you’re a weirdo like me, you associate it with some sort of Tesla experience – a “place” where you take your car that has an “experience” attached to it. Instead what it is is a peculiar charge-bank in a strip mall.

The chargers themselves worked…strangely. When I parked and plugged my car in, with three other cars next to me, I charged at 100 miles per hour (of course, this denotes how much juice you get in a given amount of time, not the traditional measurement of velocity). This kicked up slowly to 150 “mph” once another car left. This was totally fine – I was spoiled by the speed of the Freemont Supercharger, which at my last trip was able to get me to 320 miles per hour of charging.

The Vacaville Supercharger has a bigger problem, though – culture. On the Supercharger Promise Scale, it succeeds only in being able to give you a place to go to the bathroom (a 5 minute walk across the parking lot) and a bite to eat (a vending machine with some candy in it). The scenery is weird – you’re by the highway, there’s a Coldwater Creek Outlet and some other stores, and nothing else.

In short, the Supercharger feels horribly out of place. As did I charging my car. People would walk past the line of Teslas, running their hands on them, or slowly drift by gawking and staring me in the eyes as I waited for it to charge. I don’t mind, really – hands are fine, at least they’re not keys. It just felt a spectacle.

As a functional “charger”,  it worked well– and as far as travelling to/from Napa, it was about as perfect it could be. It also brought up the interesting definition that Tesla needs to make between a SuperCHARGER and a Supercharging STATION – a secondary term that doesn’t exist yet, but should.

I am frustrated that Tesla seems so ardently unable to follow through on the basic statements on their website. While their definition of Supercharger is a very fast charger, the pictures they use on the website suggest beautiful, scenic chargers – not a line of weird stalls alongside a strip mall, or awkwardly sandwiched next to the sales office at HQ. In the same way that gas stations function as refueling facilities for both the car and the driver, the Supercharger should be a station not a charger – especially since you’re there for a lot longer than it takes to fill a car’s gas tank.

If the Tesla network is to grow illustriously and truly make a go of being an alternative to gasoline, they have to provide more of a service at a Supercharger. Yes, it’s great that I can get back 50% of my power in 20-30 minutes. However that’s 20-30 minutes I’m sitting around in the car – messing with the screen, twiddling my thumbs – that would be a lot better spent stretching my legs. And no, saying “it’s by a strip mall” is not a sufficient answer.

Considering the amount of care and attention to detail put into the Model S, the Superchargers – at least based on my experiences in Vacaville and Fremont – feel deficient. No doubt they’re expensive to install and maintain, and would be even more so if you added actual services on top of them, but perhaps now is the time for Tesla to make the next step. Sorry, Elon, but I shouldn’t be missing gas stations. And I am.

I realize that sounds immensely bratty – but the basic existence of the gas station is one that is there to partially support the driver. Even if it’s just to have a pee, grab a drink, stretch your legs and then get driving, it’s an experience that is unglamorous but necessary. And until Musk recreates it for the Tesla, it’s something that will effect my willingness to take particularly long drives.

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Beijing 2014: Daimler and BYD Introduce Denza EV With 300KM Range http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/2014-beijing-auto-show-daimler-and-byd-introduce-denza-ev-with-300km-range/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/2014-beijing-auto-show-daimler-and-byd-introduce-denza-ev-with-300km-range/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:41:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=806674 DENZA_at_Auto_China_2012_11 (1)

The first fruits of Daimler and BYD’s Shenzhen BYD Daimler New Technology Co. joint venture is on display at the Beijing auto show this week. The partnership intends to blend BYD’s latest battery technology with more than a century of manufacturing experience at the maker of Mercedes-Benz automobiles. Schedule to launch on the Chinese market in September of this year, the Denza is a five passenger car with a 115 hp (86 kW) electric motor that has a top speed of 93 mph and a range of up to 186 miles (300 km). Produced at a factory in Shenzhen, the Denza was jointly designed in China, reflecting the Chinese government’s policy requiring foreign automakers to establish joint technical centers in China and to share technology with their Chinese partners.

denza-logo_100386966_m

Recharging times are stated as 7 hours with conventional mains voltage and less than an hour with high speed chargers. The lithium ion phosphate battery pack is rated at 47.5 kWh and apparently in response to some Teslas catching fire, Denza publicity stresses how the battery pack is located underneath the body for safety and that it will automatically disconnect and quickly discharge safely in the event of an accident. Since the average driver in China travels 50 to 80 kilometers a day, with a 300 km range, most customers will only have to recharge a couple of times a week.

denza03 (1)

One feature that I look forward to see if it makes it to production is the fact that the show car has suicide doors in the back and no B-pillar.

The Denza will have a starting price of RMB 369,000, about $60K at current rates, though there are subsidies from the Chinese national and local governments that reduce that price by about 1/3. In addition to those subsidies, the Denza will benefit by being exempted from many of the policies that Chinese cities have implemented to reduce congestion and pollution. Owners will be able to get a license plate in Beijing without participating in the mandatory lottery, and Shanghai and Shenzhen wave registration fees for Denza owners’ plates.

DENZA_at_Auto_China_2012_11 (1) denza02 BYDDenzaVoorkant-630x350 ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? denza-logo_100386966_m denza03 ]]>
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Junkyard Find: 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Electric Sport http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1988-chevrolet-sprint-electric-sport/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/junkyard-find-1988-chevrolet-sprint-electric-sport/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 13:00:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=788522 12 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNow that it’s possible to buy electric cars that actually do what cars are supposed to do, we mustn’t forget the very lengthy era— say 1970 to just a few years ago— during which all manner of optimistic-yet-doomed companies converted various econoboxes into lead-acid-battery-based EVs. Every once in a while, I’ll spot the remains of such an EV at a junkyard; we saw a junked EVolve Electrics 1995 Geo Metro EV conversion last year, and now a different Denver yard has given us this ’88 Sprint “Electric Sport.”
06 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sprint aka Cultus wasn’t a bad choice for an electric vehicle, being lightweight and cheap.
01 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinElectric motors are worth money, either as working motors or as sources of valuable scrap copper, so the one in this car is long gone.
18 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe remnants of the battery tray may be seen in the rear cargo area.
17 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSomeone grabbed the no-doubt-modified instrument cluster, too.
07 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBonus points to anyone who can track down the company that built the Electric Sport Sprint!

01 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - Electric 1988 Chevrolet Sprint Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Tesla Hires Renault-Nissan Communications Director http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/tesla-hires-renault-nissan-communications-director/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/tesla-hires-renault-nissan-communications-director/#comments Thu, 13 Mar 2014 12:35:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=770985 tesla-model-s-10

In preparation to enter the Chinese market while battling state governments of direct sales, Tesla has hired Renault-Nissan communications director Simon Sproule to the role of vice president of communications and marketing for the EV automaker.

Bloomberg reports Sproule’s experience gained from stints with Microsoft, Jaguar, Ford and Renault-Nissan may be of benefit to Tesla, according to AutoTrends Inc. principal Joe Phillippi:

In many respects he’s got the perfect background. He’s been on the tech side, he’s been on the international auto side and he works for a CEO with peripatetic qualities who runs more than one company.

Sproule will be responsible for marketing Tesla to Europe and China — who aim to increase sales of its Model S 55 percent through exports to the two markets this year — while aiding in the fight with various state regulators over direct sales to customers, including this week’s blow-up between the automaker and New Jersey.

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Plus ça Charge: 1916 Woods Dual Power, An Early Gas/Electric Hybrid of Surprising Sophistication http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/plus-ca-charge-1916-woods-dual-power-an-early-gaselectric-hybrid-of-surprising-sophistication/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/plus-ca-charge-1916-woods-dual-power-an-early-gaselectric-hybrid-of-surprising-sophistication/#comments Sat, 22 Feb 2014 17:10:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=743553 IMG_0002

Full photo gallery here.

Reading Alex Dykes’ review of the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, I was reminded of something by Alex’s description of the Accord’s drivetrain layout. Unlike the Toyota and Ford parallel hybrid systems (similar in function but arrived at independently), or the Chevy Volt’s Voltec drivetrain (a different spin, no pun intended, on the same basic idea that allows the Volt to operate mostly in pure electric or serial hybrid modes), which all connect electric motors and a gasoline engine to a planetary gearset, the Accord now uses an inline serial/parallel hybrid system, a concept that actually goes back a century to the Woods Dual Power automobile.

Directly connected to the engine’s output shaft of the 2014 Accord Hybrid is a motor/generator whose own output shaft is in turn connected to an electronically controlled clutch. Behind the clutch is another electric motor that drives the wheels without the use of a transmission. At low to moderate speeds, when it’s not operating on battery power alone, the Accord operates as a straight serial hybrid, like a diesel-electric locomotive. The engine drives the generator, which powers the second electric motor and there is no physical connection between the engine and the driven wheels. At higher speeds, the clutch engages and the combustion engine and motor/generator start contributing mechanical power to the system via the armature shaft of the primary drive motor. The new Accord Hybrid’s drivetrain layout reminded me of a car built almost a century ago, the 1916 Woods Dual Power. I sent Alex a link to a post I’d written about the Woods car last year for Hemmings, and when he agreed that the systems were similar I thought I’d share a description of the Woods hybrid with our readers here at TTAC. In the year or so since that was published I’ve learned more about the Woods company’s history, so this is a good opportunity to update that information.

planview

Clinton Edgar Woods, it could be said, wrote the book on electric cars, literally. Okay, so he published it in 1900 and there wasn’t as much to write about then as there is more than a 110 years later, but Woods was indeed an electric vehicle pioneer. The MIT graduate started his first electric car company, American Electric, in 1896, which two years later merged with the Indiana Bicycle company to become Waverly, a company that produced electric automobiles until 1916. In 1897, Woods started a new company under his own name in Chicago, producing five models of electric cars but the company was not profitable. A group of financiers including Chicago’s Samuel Insull, who founded Commonwealth Edison, and New Yorker August Belmont, along with a syndicate of Canadian Standard Oil investors, staged a takeover of Woods’ company to use as a vehicle to challenge the taxicab monopoly of the Electric Vehicle Company. They bought Woods’ patents and recapitalized the company at a value of $10 million, calling it the Woods Motor Vehicle Company, keeping Clinton Woods on as a consulting engineer.

1906 WOODS Elec b4

Later advertising would claim that they were the first company to sell an electric automobile. Perhaps the oil interests were hedging their energy bets but in any case they were hoping to be able to use Woods’ expertise. However, after a 1901 reorganization Woods left the firm, apparently to become a car dealer.

1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 23

Over the course of about two decades, the company would go on to sell about 13,500 passenger and commercial vehicles, including electric cars, gasoline powered cars and gasoline/electric hybrids. Long before the federal government encouraged the development of EVs, Woods was selling electric trucks to the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 24

That production figure would probably make Woods Motor one of the most successful electric car companies before the modern era. The last car they sold, the Woods Dual Power, may not have been a commercial success but it was a remarkably sophisticated machine whose features are echoed in many modern hybrids besides the obvious similarities in layout with the latest Accord Hybrid.

1910 WOODS Elec 7 p 18

By 1915, two developments sounded the death knell for the early EV industry. First, in 1912 Cadillac introduced Charles Kettering’s electric self starter, making it possible for large numbers of women (who didn’t have the upper body strength to hand crankstart a car) to drive. Women drivers were an important, perhaps primary, market for the early electric car industry. Secondly, Henry Ford moved production of the Model T to his new Highland Park plant and in 1913 started using a moving assembly line, producing over 300,000 cars that year, significantly driving down the manufacturing cost and retail price of gasoline powered automobiles. Compared to Ford, the growing General Motors, and Studebaker, makers of electric cars and trucks were boutique manufacturers, they simply couldn’t compete with volume manufacturing.

Woods had made electric cars and they had made gasoline cars. To stay in business the company decided to make a car that used both power sources. While a technically clever idea with some marketing potential, a small volume car company making a novel car that involved the cost of both an electric drivetrain and a gasoline engine just as Mssrs. Ford and Durant were making conventional automobiles even cheaper may not have been the best strategic business move, but had they not gone with the hybrid you wouldn’t be reading this, then, would you?

The drivetrain of the 1916 Woods Dual Power was the brainchild of another inventor named Roland S. Fend. Though there are differences, the Woods production cars were based on a patent of Fend’s that was assigned to the company. Fend was an acknowledged expert on EVs in his day, also consulting for early EV maker Baker, Rauch & Lang

dualpowerdrivetrain

Advertised as “a self-charging, non-stalling, two-power car with unlimited mileage [range], adequate speed, and greatest economy,” the Dual Power was said to have the advantages of both gas and electric power, with the disadvantages of neither. It was faster than most other electric cars, it was easier to operate than gasoline cars, it had no clutch or gear selectors, and it didn’t necessarily need a charging station. The Dual Power even had a great logo, though in an age when some still called automobiles horseless carriages, it surprisingly used a team of two identical horses to represent the two different power sources. It’s a fantastic period logo, but it’s still a little odd.

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The concept behind the Dual Power hybrid was that gasoline powered cars, in order to have reserve power for passing or hill climbing, had to be equipped with engines that are bigger and more powerful than needed in regular driving. Electric cars needed to carry around heavy extra batteries for reserve power. Fend’s idea was that the combination of a less powerful gasoline engine and an electric drive with a smaller motor and fewer batteries would be a greater whole than the sum of its parts. Each power source could propel the car at low to moderate speeds, while they could be combined when more power was needed.

The Dual Power has a 14 horsepower, 68.7 cubic inch L-head four cylinder engine supplied by Continental. It was connected to a compound-wound electric motor. Woods Motor called it a dynamotor, what we would call a motor/generator. DC compound motors have both series and parallel (also known as shunt) windings, providing adequate starting torque while still allowing accurate speed control. It was made by General Electric and rated at 48 volts at 60 amps (~6 horsepower). The electric motor was connected to the output shaft of the engine with an electromagnetic clutch manufactured by Cutler-Hammer. A battery pack made of purpose built lead acid cells supplied by Exide was rated at 115 amp-hours at a five hour discharge rate. It was about half of the size and weight of the battery packs used by conventional EVs then. The output shaft of the electric motor was connected to a driveshaft running to the back axle. While Fend’s patent shows gearboxes in the power chain before and after the electric motor, the Woods Dual Power had no transmission. The layout in Fend’s patent with gearing before and after the electric motor is similar to GM’s recently aborted 2-Mode hybrid. It also didn’t have an Entz magnetic transmission, as used in the Owens Magnetic car from the same era, even though Wikipedia says it did. That error may be attributable to the fact that the Owens Magnetic is better known than the Woods Dual Power because well known car collector Jay Leno owns an Owens Magnetic.

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There are three and a half Woods Dual Powers known to exist. The half car, coincidentally is a Woods body mounted to the chassis of another early alternative energy vehicle, a Stanley Steamer (though in the early days, electricity and gasoline were actually alternatives to steam engines). One complete Woods car, the subject of a preservation project, is owned by a Los Angeles county museum and is on loan, displayed at the Petersen Museum. Another, said to be restored and in operating condition, is owned by the  Louwman Museum in the Netherlands. The Woods Dual Power photographed here is in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum, in original, unrestored condition, with just 11,085 miles on the odometer, though the car is not currently operational.

When it was operational, how did the Woods Dual Power work? With the clutch engaged, the combustion engine would drive the car, with torque passing directly through he electric motor’s armature shaft. With the clutch disengaged and the engine not running, the electric motor powers the car.  That much was clear.

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Finding out exactly how the Woods Dual Power worked, though, was a bit of a task. To begin with, with only three existing Woods powertrains, it’s not like you can find an expert on the marque at any big car show. It’s not a 1969 Camaro, or even an Isetta. Fortunately, I was able to find a sales brochure (PDF), a period guide to automotive electrical equipment for car enthusiasts, and some old trade journals that explained how the Dual Power worked and how it was operated.

Matt Anderson, the transportation curator of the Ford Museum, graciously gave me access to their car, a 1916 Woods Dual Power Model 44, for these photos. It has simple controls: a steering wheel mounted with long and short control levers, one for each of the powerplants, a brake pedal on the floorboard, and a backup pedal below where the driver sits. The dashboard contains a Stewart Warner “magnetic type” speedometer/odometer/trip meter along with a combination ammeter and charge indicator.

To operate the Dual Power, first an ignition switch on the steering column is turned on. The sources say that it’s a locking switch though the example at the Henry Ford Museum doesn’t use a key. That switch closes electrical connections in both the combustion engine’s ignition circuit and part of the circuit for the main solenoid that’s between the traction batteries and the electric motor. For safety, all high-voltage switching was done with solenoids. The longer of the two levers on the steering wheel is moved forward. That completes the main solenoid circuit, allowing electricity to power the motor, getting the car moving. Moving the lever farther forward changes the position on a shunt field control rheostat near the motor under the floorboard and as the field resistance on the motor changes, the speed increases. Moving the lever back towards its idle position decreases speed.

Once the Woods Dual Power was moving, the gasoline engine could be engaged at any time. Electric drive was generally used up to about 15 MPH. If more power was needed, just moving the shorter lever on the steering wheel to a forward position would start up the gasoline engine. That lever controlled the throttle on the carburetor. Also, moving it off the stop activated a circuit that engaged the magnetic clutch between the engine and the motor. Electricity to activate the clutch was provided either by the battery or by the motor/generator when the car was running on gasoline power.

Since the ignition circuit on the Dual Power is activated when the car is first switched on, with the relatively powerful electric traction motor already rapidly spinning, the engine on the Woods Dual Power was claimed to fire up immediately as soon as the clutch was engaged, faster than with the much weaker electric starters on conventional cars of the day. I suppose this feature would be comparable in some ways to a modern stop-start system, starting the engine when needed and shutting it off when the car was standing still. The company also claimed that the Dual Power could not be stalled. Whenever the combustion engine was driving the car, the electric motor was already spinning at engine speed even if it wasn’t energized. If the engine started to stall, power could be sent to the electric motor to assist the engine by just moving the control lever forward.

The best selling electric cars then were made by Detroit Electric and had a top speed of 20 miles per hour. With both control levers all the way forward, the Woods Dual Power had a top speed of 35 MPH, a significant improvement.

Once the car was moving forward, the gasoline engine had enough power and torque to keep it going at moderate speeds and the control lever for the electric part of the hybrid could be adjusted so that the electric motor was no longer driving the car. In those conditions, the “dynamotor” was generating more current than it was drawing, so the Woods Dual Power could theoretically recharge its own batteries while it traveled. In that aspect, the Woods Dual Power is like the extended range Chevy Volt.

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Once the gasoline engine was running, the electrical system could be charged or discharged “at will” at any speed between 10 MPH and about 30 MPH, or at least that’s what the company claimed. Keeping the batteries moderately charged by the gasoline engine also extended battery life by preventing the gassing and sulphating caused by overcharging or fully depleting the charge. One could say that this was an early version of battery conditioning, an important feature of most modern electric vehicles.

Another feature of modern EVs that the Dual Power had was regenerative braking, what the company called “dynamic braking”. To slow the car, the driver would return the electric control lever to its original position, allowing the motor/generator to generate electricity and slow the car as the motor was spun by the car’s forward motion. If engine braking was needed or desired, the driver throttled back the engine with its control lever but kept the clutch engaged, then returned the engine control to it’s stop, disengaging the clutch and shutting off the engine as the car came to a full stop.

Regenerative braking was advertised as working above 6 miles per hour. To come to a complete stop the car’s mechanical brakes were activated with a foot pedal. An interesting safety feature of the car was that if the driver didn’t want to use the hand controls to slow the car, or more importantly if they didn’t have time, the brake pedal could be used by itself instead. In addition to activating the mechanical brakes, the floor pedal also closed the gasoline throttle, disengaged the clutch, and returned the field control rheostat to its minimum position, initiating regenerative braking. According to one source, the foot pedal could also be used to control the speed of the motor when operating on electricity. As with other early electric cars, advertising for the Woods Dual Power emphasized how women would find it easy to operate.

Since there was no transmission, to go backwards, the polarity of the power to the direct current electric motor was flipped so the motor spun backwards. There was also an interlock device that would not allow the operation of the reverse pedal unless the brake pedal was fully depressed. Stepping on the reversing pedal also disengages the magnetic clutch, allowing the gasoline engine to continue to run while the Dual Power is reversing.

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In a recent post I asked, if General Motors’ 2-Mode hybrid system for pickups and SUVs worked so well at saving fuel, how did it fail at the market, discontinued in the next product cycle? Well, just like the 2-Mode vehicles, the Woods Dual Power was relatively expensive, $2,650 in 1916 dollars. While much cheaper than the $9,000 Owens Magnetic, in 1916 you could buy almost four Ford Model Ts for the price of one Woods Dual Power. The Woods hybrid returned gas mileage that would be remarkable today, a reported 48 MPG, but economy generally has never been a big selling point with people who can afford expensive cars.

Another reason why it didn’t succeed was that the Dual Power was not as smooth, nor as reliable as advertised. For the 1917 model year, there was some reengineering in response to customer dissatisfaction, including using a larger, 95 cubic inch engine from Continental. Though faster than other electrics, the Dual Power could easily be overtaken by the far less expensive Model T, which could cruise at 40 mph, 45 if the driver was brave or stupid.

Maybe an even bigger engine or a more powerful electric drive would have made the Woods Dual Power more competitive with conventional cars. Being superior to electric cars at a time when the first generation of EVs were already in decline as the technology of gasoline engines improved and the cost of gasoline powered cars declined was not good enough. Though they planned to make between 650 and 750 Dual Power cars a year, a fraction of that number was made and Woods Motor Vehicle Company went out of business two years after introducing the hybrid.

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Still, the Woods Dual Power had features associated with modern hybrids and extended range hybrids like regenerative braking, stop-start, charging on the fly, and battery conditioning. It was an elegant, well thought out design whose simple operating controls belied the complexity of the electrical components, solenoids and mechanical linkages that actually operated and coordinated the machinery, gas and electric. While it may not have been superior to the conventional automobiles of the era, the Woods Dual Power’s hybrid drive system in fact did work. That Woods Motor Vehicle Co. was able to get it to do so 100 years ago, using solenoids and mechanical linkages rather than digital computer controls, was an impressive technical achievement and worthy of inclusion in a world class car museum like The Henry Ford. In that recent post about another hybrid system, the 2-Mode transmission now abandoned by its inventor, General Motors, and GM’s partners in developing the technology, Daimler, Chrysler and BMW, I said that you never know, sometime in the next century the 2-Mode system might return on passenger vehicles (the Allison truck and bus transmission the 2-Mode is based upon has been a commercial success). Perhaps 100 years from now, someone will introduce some kind of transportation device and an older person will ask a similar question as I did, “Doesn’t that operate a lot like the Accord hybrid?” and someone even older will chime in, “Or the Woods Dual Power.”

In the 1980s, General Motors tried saving fuel through cylinder deactivation. It was a pretty high tech thing and and befitting as such, GM introduced it on a Cadillac engine called the V8-6-4. Today, cylinder deactivation is commonplace across the industry and it works pretty much seamlessly. Back then, control and actuation devices weren’t so good. Cadillac buyers ended up with rather rough running engines, something that badly damaged the brand for decades, though the V8-6-4 was available for just one model year. Old ideas are indeed sometimes a bit early for their times and worth a second look when materials science and technology improve.

I’d be intrigued what would happen if someone made a modern replica of the Dual Power drivetrain. The Accord Hybrid is similar, no doubt, but it also includes a second electric motor that normally operates as a generator. The Woods car has only one motor/generator. It would be interesting to see how something directly analogous to the Woods Dual Power would work. Maybe use one of the turbocharged 3 cylinder liter motors that are proliferating in the automotive world, connected via a clutch to something smaller than the traction motor in the Tesla Model S, with a correspondingly smaller and lighter lithium-ion battery pack. Control it with a computer just like modern hybrids are controlled so you just have to step on the gas and brake pedals, not fiddle with steering wheel mounted controls, and so the batteries are maintained in a healthy state of charge without the driver’s attention needed. It might not be as quick as a Model S, but I bet it could move a compact or midsize car around safely in traffic, maybe even smartly. It would be interesting to see how it would stack up in terms of fuel and electricity consumption and range with modern hybrid designs.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

1916 WOODS Elec 8 31 p 364 1916 WOODS Elec 8 31 p 365 1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 23 1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 24 1903 WOODS Elec Cat p 27 1906 WOODS Elec b4 1910 WOODS Elec 7 p 18 woodsdualpowerlogo 2579442558_5d24d52959_b diagram dualpowerdrivetrain electric_vehicle_advertising_1900s IMG_0002 IMG_0007 IMG_0010 IMG_0011 IMG_0015_l IMG_0017 IMG_0018-1-_r IMG_0019_l IMG_0026 IMG_0027 IMG_0028 IMG_0029 IMG_0030 IMG_0032 patents phantom planview woods1910

 

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Capsule Review: 2014 Tesla Model S P85+ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/capsule-review-2014-tesla-model-s-p85/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/capsule-review-2014-tesla-model-s-p85/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 14:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=734233
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Electric vehicles tend to get a pass from many reviewers, who are content to overlook major faults in favor of a great drivetrain. Years back, I did a review of the Nissan Leaf for EcoModder, an eco-enthusiasts site dedicated to fuel-friendly modifications and electric vehicle (EV) projects. In retrospect, I was far more impressed with the fact that it was just an electric car than the car itself. A Leaf is still a rebodied Nissan Versa with illusions of green responsibility. It’s neat, but it’s not that outstanding if you look at it simply as another car.

But that’s a lot of what Tesla has been about, waves of hype and media attention. Personally, I kept a fair amount of distance from the Tesla news and drama. Part of me simply doesn’t care, I am only really curious in the car that comes out of the debacle. And the car happens to be a genuinely good one. The styling is dead sexy, this car has fantastic lines in the glowing “Tesla Red Multi Coat” paint (there’s no sexy name for the color, sadly).

The brakes are mean stompers, aided by the regen braking in the rear. Though very heavy, you almost never feel the weight; it’s too low in the chassis to make itself known in all but the tightest corners. The interior is comfortable, with great visibility. The overall ergonomics are the polarizing aspect inside, with Tesla making a giant leap of faith by forcing a giant touch screen on Model S buyers, but it was hard to find fault with it.

Even though it’s been described again and against, the driving experience – devoid of gasoline, piston-actuated thrust, and multigear transmissions, is startling in how it delivers a near-silent freight train of torque from the rear wheels. What most publications can’t tell you is how you have to alter your own sensory perceptions when driving this car at speed.

We all have a method for gauging velocity without looking at the speedometer. Driving by feel – that is, the sights, sounds, and tactile feedback – is something that even the most marginally interested driver has developed. The more keen among us have an inner monologue based on all of these inputs. For instance,  practically any other road car, you see the “25 MPH” sign in yellow, ratchet down into the right gear for that corner and listen to the engine note fall, feel the chassis bite and the tires dig in to the pavement, and you know you’ve hit the right velocity for this corner.

With the Model S, your only option is through the tires, trying to sense speed with the increasing tire noise. And it’s not a bad thing, because the rest of the driving experience is so unique. Torque, 450 foot pounds of it, is always there. Always. A gasoline engine has to receive your input, open the throttle blades, pull air into the cylinders with fuel, squishbangblow, then transmit that power to the transmission… driveshaft… differential… axles... and you then still have to wait for the engine to hit its powerband. The Tesla bypasses everything and just throws down massive amounts of torque straight to the wheels. Up to its gearing-limited 130 mph top speed, it only begins to lose thrust as it approaches the aerodynamic drag of triple digit speeds.

Thanks to the low center of gravity, the Model S conceals its substantial mass quite well. The only time you get to feel the weight in action is in the tightest of corners, when the chassis’s neutral disposition gives way to mild understeer. The steering ratio is surprisingly quick, with decent road feel. Our P85+ came equipped with Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires that offered monumental amounts of grip.

The Model S’ stability control system also deserves a fair amount of credit for not being too intrusive while effectively managing the gratuitous amount of power put down the by EV drivetrain. Most stability systems will hunker a car back down into line,  heavily braking wheels strategically to pull the car back in line. The Tesla system simply feels like it guides the car with an invisible hand. It’s able to adjust torque output with exemplary speed and precision. Expeienced drivers will find it relatively easy to walk up to, but not exceed, the limit of the rear wheels on corner exit. Traction control can be turned off (and exploited pretty easily in the dirt), but stability control cannot.

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Of course, it’s possible to find fault with the car. As someone who had a GameBoy by age five and grew up in the tech-era, I like the large touch screen for most things. And most of the Tesla buyers are from the same era, though a few years older and a few times wealthier. These are buyers who like tech, and it brings a wealth of new options with what you can do with a car’s control systems. But, at times it’s picky and finicky when you attempt to control chassis options.

The ride height is adjustable, but it would mysteriously lock out “low” when parked for photos. While setting the car up for a photo shoot, took five minutes of fiddling to get the running lights and accent to stay on with the driver’s door shut. While auto-on headlights handle daily use just fine, a simple headlight switch would be very welcome. Other operations, like HVAC, nav, and radio all work very well. After an hour or so, I could easily adjust HVAC controls as easily as my own car.

In one of the car’s more overlooked quirks, the Model S offers almost no internal storage. There’s door pockets and a glove box, but that’s it. It lacks a center console, and there’s a large and open shelf along the front floor board to the dash, but no cubby holes to keep things organized. Though Tesla was smart enough to fit Michelin Pilot Sport tires, this car REALLY needs better seats. That attention needed at the throttle is hard to summon when you have to use your right knee against the center stack to brace yourself. There is not enough bolster for how capable the car is.

One other thing I couldn’t help but notice was the size of the panel gaps, particularly around the hood. Not many outlets have mentioned this detail, but it’s one that I expect buyers in this price bracket to be cognizant of this if they’re coming from a BMW or Lexus.

But, Tesla is incrementally updating these with new features. And that’s something that really impresses me about the ownership experience. Elon Musk and Tesla genuinely cares about this car and its owners. They listen, they adjust, they accept criticism and do right. Not only does the Model S represent a new frontier for the automotive world , but it also represents a change in the mentality an automaker has towards the satisfaction of its customers. The Model S’ firmware is regularly updated, refining the car every time.

But as it sits, the Tesla Model S represents the best realization of the electric car that we’ve had in a production car. There’s no green illusion: no tree infographics, no ZERO EMISSIONS sticker package. It’s a car that happens to be electric, not just an electric car. And it’s damn good.

Photos: Phillip Thomas

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Chicago 2014: Kia Soul EV Debuts http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chicago-2014-kia-soul-ev-debuts/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chicago-2014-kia-soul-ev-debuts/#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2014 16:10:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=735049 kia-soul-ev

 

While sister brand Hyundai has yet to offer an EV, Kia will step up to the plate and offer an electric version of the Soul, with a range between 80-100 miles via a 27 kWh battery pack. The Soul EV puts out 109 hp and  210 lb-ft of torque, relatively tame figures for an EV. Level 1 and Level 2 fast charging is supported, with provisions for DC fast charging and even conventional outlet charging, which can take as much as 24 hours. On the other hand, charging via a 50 kWh charger can provide 80 percent juice in as little as half an hour. Notably, the battery pack lies flat, so you only have to give up 5 cubic feet of cargo room and a 3.1 inches of leg room to attain a zero-emissions Soul.

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Cops Nab Electric Leaf Owner Before He Can Ride Free On Your Nickel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/cops-nab-electric-leaf-owner-before-he-can-ride-free-on-your-nickel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/cops-nab-electric-leaf-owner-before-he-can-ride-free-on-your-nickel/#comments Wed, 04 Dec 2013 15:56:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=671122 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The owner of a Nissan Leaf was arrested in Georgia last week for stealing 5 cents worth of electricity after he plugged his car into the exterior outlet at a local middle school while his son was playing tennis.

 

According to Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, 11 Alive, the car had only been plugged in for a few minutes when a police officer arrived and informed the man that he was committing theft and directed him to unplug the car. Later, after verifying the school had not given the man permission to use the outlet, the officer pursued an arrest warrant. The man was arrested by two deputies who appeared at his home 11 days later and spent more than 15 hours in the DeKalb County Jail before making bail.

Advocates of electric vehicles will decry this as police over reach and argue that amount of energy involved was negligible. The police, on the other hand, have taken a tough, no nonsense approach and, in their opinion, theft is theft no matter how little was stolen. I’m left asking is this what our society has come to? What kind of dumbass figures that he can charge his car for free wherever he stops? On the other hand, what kind of cop is petty enough to chase a guy down for a nickel? I wonder, would the cops have rolled in on this guy if he had “stolen” water from the drinking fountain at the side of the school to fill a leaky radiator? Clearly, the only ones who are going to win this battle will be the lawyers.

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Tokyo Motor Show: Are The Japanese Really Back? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/tokyo-motor-show-are-the-japanese-really-back/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/tokyo-motor-show-are-the-japanese-really-back/#comments Mon, 25 Nov 2013 15:30:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=663562

Three of the world’s most important auto shows began last week. Since my invitations to the various press events must have been lost in the mail I, like virtually everyone else in the world, followed them over the internet. I’m OK with that, really. I hate fighting the crowds and by the time a show closes high resolution photos of the most important cars are always all over the world-wide-web, anyhow. With the photos are the journalists’ impressions. Some are good and some are bad, but they all make me think. For example, there’s this article from the Top Gear website on the Tokyo motor show that asserts, on the strength of the cars at this year’s show, “Japan is back.” Hold on – Really?

To be sure there were some important and exciting cars at this year’s Tokyo motor show. Honda showed us a new NSX and the S660 sport compact that compares favorably to the Beat kei class sports car that Honda produced back in the last century. Nissan showed us the amazing three-seat, electric “Bladeglider,” a hotted up Nismo GTR and the retro themed IDx. Toyota’s performance car offerings came in the form of the Lexus RC and a convertible FT86. While Toyota ripped the top off of their Toybaru twin, Subaru went the opposite route and gave baby some back with their Cross Sport. So far as I could glean, that was about it for cars intended to stir the hearts and minds of enthusiasts. That would have made for a pretty small show though, so augmenting the really interesting stuff were was a whole slew of hybrid/electric/gas, etc SUVs, sedans and city cars intended to appeal to the masses.

Click here to view the embedded video.

From my perspective what we got are some new toys of the uber rich, two small cars that my all-American ass won’t fit into, a couple of modifications on a car I probably won’t buy anyhow and one wanna-be-retro Nissan that might actually have some possibilities if they don’t screw it up with a powertrain that serious enthusiast wouldn’t want. The emphasis on products with hybrid or alternative energy powertrains and other technical innovations says some good things about state of Japanese industry and the many different body styles on display indicates that the Japanese have noted the success of Korean cars’ design language and are finally looking somewhere other than Mercedes for inspiration, too. Good news for sure, but does any of it mean Japan is back?

For me, the glory days of Japanese cars happened roughly between 1985 and 1995. The cars of that era had good, solid lines and, while the designs weren’t daring, they did have their own unique sense of style. There was technical innovation too and it came wrapped up in practical packages. Real performance was offered across all the price ranges and the variety of new cars was enormous. There was something there for everyone and if you could not afford a Twin Turbo Supra or a Turbo 300ZX, you could, at the very least, take home on of the good looking down-market alternatives: the AE86 Twin-Cam Corolla or the 200SX Turbo. Today, that wide aray of choices is no longer a part of Japan Inc.’s current line-up.

I’m not sure why that is, but in the process of writing this article it suddenly hit me that the cars on display at this year’s Tokyo motor show says something about how our society has become ever more divided over the past couple of decades. It doesn’t take an economist to point out that the rich have gotten richer and the rest of us poorer. The market reflects that reality. The rich get supercars, those of us in the middle get family trucksters and the odd toy while the unwashed masses receive battery powered practicality. The choices are gone and fun is being increasingly reserved for those who can afford it. It wasn’t that ay 20 years ago and the sad truth is that Japan isn’t anywhere close to being back. But then, none of us are, are we?

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast, he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Elon Musk Buys 007 Submarine, Will Attempt To Make It Functional http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/elon-musk-buys-007-submarine-will-attempt-to-make-it-functional/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/elon-musk-buys-007-submarine-will-attempt-to-make-it-functional/#comments Fri, 18 Oct 2013 13:42:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=626753 800px-TSWLM-LotusEsprit

Elon Musk, the real-life Tony Stark of our times, has quite the extensive résumé: Founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors; billionaire investor of projects and businesses such as SolarCity and the preservation of Nikola Tesla’s lab; inventor of the Hyperloop rapid mass transit concept; 007 cosplayer…

Yes, you read that right: Musk is a huge fan of the man who loves his martinis shaken and his women to have double entendre naming schemes. So much so, in fact, that he now has one of Bond’s most awesome vehicles ever conceived.

In a double exclusive with our friends over at Jalopnik, the secret buyer of the Lotus Esprit Mk I-cum-submarine from the 1977 Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” was Musk himself, who paid nearly $900,000 for the privilege of owning one of the most famous vehicles in the history of film, beating out another bidder in a duel worthy of a Bond film (or so we would hope). The star car — or, rather, the star submarine — was originally lost in storage limbo, then discovered, spruced up, and put up for auction by Canadian auction house RM Auctions in early September of this year.

Alas, Musk was a bit disappointed that all the Esprit did was look pretty and float, but since this is Musk we’re talking about (via Tesla’s PR department)…

It was amazing as a little kid in South Africa to watch James Bond in “The Spy Who Loved Me” drive his Lotus Esprit off a pier, press a button and have it transform into a submarine underwater. I was disappointed to learn that it can’t actually transform. What I’m going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real.

If his SpaceX can successfully dock with the International Space Station, and his Tesla can make EVs cool (the first was based off the Lotus Elise, no less), then Musk can make this impossible dream possible. We look forward to seeing his car arrive at San Diego Comic Con 2014 via Pacific Beach in all of its glory.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Still Not Ready For The Rental Counter: EV Rentals Fail To Thrive http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/still-not-ready-for-the-rental-counter-ev-rentals-fail-to-thrive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/still-not-ready-for-the-rental-counter-ev-rentals-fail-to-thrive/#comments Tue, 15 Oct 2013 19:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=624593 Tesla_Supercharging_in_Gilroy

Tis better to own a Leaf or an S than to rent one, it seems. According to Enterprise Holdings Inc., known for driving around in cars wrapped in branded brown paper for some reason, customers who rent electric-only vehicles from their lot soon return their sustainable rides for a one with a sustainable range based on the number of (gasoline and diesel) fuel stops along the way.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Enterprise Head of Sustainability Lee Broughton note that while customers were “keen” to give electric power a go, range anxiety led many a renter to return the car for one where they know the infrastructure is there to meet. On average, a renter will spend almost two days with an electric-only car versus a week with a conventional road warrior. Currently, the St. Louis-based rental car business has 300 electric cars in their overall fleet, all Nissan Leafs. The figure is down 40 percent from the target of 500 of the cars set by Enterprise back in 2010.

Despite the overall lack of demand in this emerging rental market due to lack of infrastructure and larger-capacity batteries for extended range, competitor Hertz added the Tesla S to its Dream Cars lineup in September for their customer base in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The daily rate to feel like Elon Musk is $500; Enterprise offers the S in their Exotic Car Collection for $300 to $500 in the same locations, with three currently in the lineup available. The Leaf offered by Enterprise goes for $55 to $140 a day depending on location.

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Just What Assets Does Fisker Have to Buy? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/just-what-assets-does-fisker-have-to-buy/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/just-what-assets-does-fisker-have-to-buy/#comments Sat, 12 Oct 2013 13:30:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=621809 The Fisker Karma's battery pack and drivetrain, supplied by Quantum Technologies

The Fisker Karma’s battery pack and drivetrain, supplied by Quantum Technologies

The Department of Energy today is auctioning off the paper for the $192 million it loaned to Fisker Automotive as part of the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program. An obvious question is why would anyone want to buy that debt? Many of the press reports about the sale say that by purchasing the debt, a buyer could ultimately gain control of Fisker’s assets including intellectual property, like the extended range hybrid drivetrain and controls thereof. While Fisker may indeed have assets with some value, I’m not sure that anyone’s going to spend at least $30 million, the minimum bid required by the DoE, to be able to duplicate the Fisker Karma’s drivetrain.

I can understand why Bob Lutz, either participating or not with Wanxiang, would want access to the Karma’s design as he’s apparently had no problem selling every LS9 powered Destino, based on the Karma, that he and his business partners have been able to build. Henrik Fisker is a talented designer so it wouldn’t be too surprising if the Fisker Karma survives the Fisker car company. The Karma could become a latter day Graham-Paige Hollywood or Nate Altman era Avanti II. For their part, Wanxiang might prefer that Fisker stays intact and resumes production. Wanxiang already bought battery maker A123, which supplied the Karma, so they have an interest in keeping the startup automaker alive.

Quantum Aggressor, which features a hybrid drivetrain

Quantum Aggressor, which features a hybrid drivetrain

It’s conceivably possible that if Fisker owned something novel in the way of electric drivetrains or control systems for EVs and hybrids, that might be a way of acquiring the latest EV or hybrid tech on the cheap.  Control systems for hybrids are not inexpensive to develop. Seamlessly integrating gasoline engines and electric motors is not easy. At the recent Toyota Hybrid World Tour, the point was made that software was the most expensive part of the Prius’ development. For pure electric vehicles, motor control, regenerative systems and battery management all require complex software to operate properly. To save money on EV development, Toyota itself has a partnership with Tesla, who provide motors and battery packs for the electric version of the RAV4. Still, I have to wonder if Fisker Automotive owns any EV or hybrid technology that’s worth risking $30 million. That’s because Fisker doesn’t own the technology behind the Karma’s drivetrain.

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Quantum Aggressor’s “Q Force” drivetrain, note the similarities to the Karma’s “Q-Drive”

Fisker itself doesn’t own much in the way of EV or hybrid technology. Fisker’s “Q-Drive” serial hybrid drivetrain was developed and exclusively supplied by Fisker partner Quantum Technologies. As a matter of fact, Fisker Automotive came into being as the result of a chance meeting at a Range Rover dealership between Henrik Fisker and Quantum Technologies CEO Alan Niedzwiecki, which led to a lunch for the two men in early 2007. General Motors had just announced the concept for the Chevy Volt, which for the most part operates as a serial hybrid, electric drive plus a range extending on-board gasoline engine to drive a generator to power the electric motors. Quantum had developed a similar drivetrain for the U.S. military. When Henrik Fisker told Niedzwiecki of his plans to design gasoline cars built in China, the Quantum CEO said, “Why don’t you design a car around my drivetrain?” Fisker responded by saying “Let’s start a company!”

Quantum was the exclusive supplier of the Karma’s drivetrain, which uses a GM sourced Ecotec four cylinder gasoline engine to power the car’s generator. A Quantum affiliate also supplied Fisker with the photovoltaic roof on the Karma, that kept the parked car ventilated on sunny days and theoretically could extend range on sunny days by a few miles.

As a result of all of this, it’s unlikely that anyone could put the Karma back into production without the active cooperation of Quantum. It’s also unlikely that anyone is going to risk $30 million to have access to technology that another company owns and controls.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Toyota City’s “Ha:Mo” – The Harmonious Mobility Network http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/toyota-citys-hamo-the-harmonious-mobility-network/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/toyota-citys-hamo-the-harmonious-mobility-network/#comments Fri, 11 Oct 2013 15:33:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=621401 Click here to view the embedded video.

Earlier this week, as I was looking for photos to illustrate my Vision of the Future, I stumbled across a photo of the Toyota i-Road, a three wheel electric vehicle that tilts its way through corners in the same was a scooter or motorcycle might. The i-Road debuted at the Geneva Motor Show in 2012 and despite what I am sure must have been a great deal of attention at the time, I had never heard of the vehicle. As I read more about it I found information about the Toyota “Ha:Mo urban transport system” that is currently undergoing trials in Toyota city and was stunned to find that, with a few notable exceptions, the program bears a striking resemblance to the future I had laid out in my previous article. The future, it seems, is already here. Too bad it is going to fall flat on its face…

Ha:Mo, which is Japanese shorthand for “Harmonious Mobility Network” is Toyota’s vision for the future of transportation; a combination of public and private transportation that relies upon public transportation, shared electric vehicles and a computer network that relays traffic information directly to drivers in real time. The crux of the Ha:Mo system is a Zip Car like system that allows you to check out a vehicle at your starting point and then drop it off at a station near your destination. Toyota appears to be serious about making the idea work and the company is dramatically expanding the program by increasing the number of electric assisted bicycles already available at Ha:Mo rental stations and by opening and additional 17 new sites close the city’s main train stations. Their website states that vehicles can be rented for just 200 yen for the first ten minutes of use and for 20 yen per minute thereafter. Sounds promising, right?

As a guy who has kicked around Japan a lot in my life, including an exchange trip to Toyota city where I lived with a local family for several weeks, I am left wondering how this can actually work. Efficient, effective public transportation is already plentiful in Japan and most Japanese cities are already built around it. Look at a satellite image of Japan and you will quickly note that most train lines are surrounded by a sea of houses. The population drops dramatically as you move away from the rail lines and people who live further out commute to the train stations by bus, bicycle or scooter. Almost every train station, large and small, offers some sort of secure bicycle and scooter parking for a modest fee and so it seems silly to me that someone would rent a vehicle for their commute when they either don’t need one or are already using their own.

Visitors to a Japanese city who need to travel outside of the downtown core will generally use the subway, be met by friends or take a taxi. Taxis in Japan are not cheap, but they are safe, convenient and clean and almost always have drivers who have extensive knowledge of the local area. I rode in a lot of taxis while I was in Japan and my average fare was about 1200 yen, usually 580 for pick up and some slight charge per fraction of a kilometer, and for my money I got a worry free ride, the chance to look out the window and door to door service. When you account for the fact that there is no tipping in Japan it’s a real bargain.

My conclusion then is that Ha:Mo will fail in Japan because the country already has an effective public transportation system. It is, I think, also doomed to fail in the United States for the exact opposite reason. Most cities offer no effective public transportation system and, the way things are going, never will. Seattle is a great example. Seattlites have been clamoring for a light rail system for just about as long as I can remember. There have been numerous schemes put forward, millions of tax dollars have been expended for planning and today they only have a link between the SeaTac airport and downtown to show for all their efforts. Sure, people can drive over to the main rail links and ride the full-size Sounder commuter trains into downtown, but as long as I have to drive my ass into Everett I might as well stay warm and happy and drive the rest of the way to Seattle. Having the ability to rent an electric bicycle or scooter isn’t going to make the experience any better.

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If I can figure out that Ha:Mo is dead before it starts, it seems like the pros at Toyota who actually do this sort of thing for a living should have reached the same conclusion the first time it came up in a meeting. Why they failed to kill it remains a mystery to me. Despite my experience in-country, I can’t claim to have any special understanding of the Japanese mind but I do know that Japanese industry is replete with projects like this. It is one of those odd peculiarities of the Japanese, they are always looking for the next latest, greatest thing and their companies aren’t afraid to use real money to back a long shot. For now, Ha:Mo lives. The only question that remains is whether or not I can get my ass back to Toyota city and score a ride in an i-Road before they pull them off the rental lots.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Grandpa Ronnie Visits The Battery Show and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/grandpa-ronnie-visits-the-battery-show-and-electric-hybrid-vehicle-technology-expo/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/grandpa-ronnie-visits-the-battery-show-and-electric-hybrid-vehicle-technology-expo/#comments Fri, 20 Sep 2013 11:00:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=523921 IMG_0002

When a major EV and battery expo takes place at the same time as EV charging station maker Ecotality files for bankruptcy, it’s a good question as to how much of the EV and hybrid vehicle industry is truly sustainable and how much exists solely to chase government incentives, but there is no question that it’s a substantial industry, even if, according to the most optimistic forecasts, cars and trucks with electric drive will never make up more than a fraction of annual sales.

Over 300 battery vendors and tier 1 and tier 2 vendors to the battery and EV industries had displays this week at The Battery Show and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo, held just outside of Detroit in Novi. To be honest, there wasn’t really much news generated at the combined shows, which were pretty much trade shows with booths from companies eager to do business. A lot like the SAE World Congress, I came home with more logo inscribed pens than with breaking news.

As most of the vendors were involved with selling motors, wiring, insulating films, welding systems, powder pulverizers, battery management systems and other components, equipment and processes that go into making hybrid or electric vehicles, there were only a handful of actual cars and trucks at the event, one of them being a medium speed electric vehicle (top speed: 60 kmh / 36 mph) called the ZD, from the Shandong Xindayang Electric Vehicle Co. Ltd. of Huangyan, China, part of the XDY group.

It comes with a 10.8 kw/h battery, and a DC motor rated at 6 kw continuous, 18 kw maximum, which work out to about 8 and 24 horsepower respectively. It has 82 Newton meters of torque, ~60 ft lbs. It’s decently equipped, as you can see at their charmingly Chinglishy web site. Their representative told me that the ZD isn’t for sale yet in the United States but the company has a dedicated website for potential distributors.

779ff1be-3759-4272-a585-c737191f80f5My daughter-in-law is finishing up nursing school and had clinicals to do, so I was assigned the very pleasant task of babysitting my grandson, Aryeh Leib, named after my late father, Leonard. Aryeh has gone to a bunch of car shows and car events with me and he’s usually pretty cool about riding around in his stroller. That leaves my hands free for shooting photos and video.

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Aryeh is a very cute child. Don’t take my word for it.Forget yellow Lamborghinis. As babe magnets, PMY Gallardos must surely pale beside toddlers. IMG_0007a_l

Still, a 16 month old child has a limited amount of patience and by the time I came across the booth with the little white ZD electric car, Aryeh was beginning to fuss. I wanted to take some photographs of the EV but he really didn’t want to stay in the stroller, so I let him play in the little hatchback, much to the amusement of the nice, albeit English impaired, Chinese lady staffing the booth.

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Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view on cars at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Nissan to Start Selling California ZEV Credits, Joining Tesla http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/nissan-to-start-selling-california-zev-credits-joining-tesla/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/nissan-to-start-selling-california-zev-credits-joining-tesla/#comments Fri, 30 Aug 2013 19:13:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=503305 Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 9.43.17 AM

Tesla recently released financial figures that the company says demonstrate profitability. According to Automotive News, analysts have pointed out that some of Tesla’s revenue comes not from selling cars but rather by selling zero-emission credits to other car companies that want to do business under California’s clean-air regulations. If they want to sell cars in California, companies have to comply by either producing ZEVs or by obtaining credits from companies that make those vehicles. Now Nissan Motor Co, whose Leaf is the best selling electric car of all time, has joined Tesla in selling those credits. Tesla was able to sell those credits because they only make electric vehicles. Makers of conventional cars and trucks buy the credits to theoretically offset the pollution caused by those cars. Since Tesla has no such conventionally polluting cars to offset, they can sell their credits. Nissan executive VP Andy Palmer told reporters earlier this week that at this point Nissan has sold enough Leafs to cover its own needs to comply with the California Air Resources Board‘s rules and will now start selling surplus credits to other automakers. “We’ve got carbon credits to sell, and we’re selling them — California ZEV credits.” No details were forthcoming on time, price or to whom Nissan will sell their credits.

In the first half of 2013, Tesla brought in $119 million, or 12 percent of its revenue, from ZEV credit sales. Each Tesla Model S accrues as many as seven ZEV credits for the EV startup. Each Leaf sold in California and the other states that participate in CARB’s program, earns 3 credits. CARB has no say in how much a company can charge for the credits and their customers do not have to be disclosed.

“While Nissan has been approached by other automakers regarding emission-credit transactions, these discussions and the outcome of any transactions is held in strict confidence by all involved parties,” David Reuter, a spokesman Nissan, said.

Since the end of 2010 when it went on sale, Nissan has sold about 75,000 leafs around the world, with California being one of its biggest markets, and it expects to sell at least 20,000 in the U.S. this year, about double what it sold in 2012.

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Chief Engineer: Next Gen Prius Will Get Better Gas Mileage, Cost Less http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/chief-engineer-next-gen-prius-will-get-better-gas-mileage-cost-less/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/chief-engineer-next-gen-prius-will-get-better-gas-mileage-cost-less/#comments Thu, 29 Aug 2013 10:23:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=502089 toyotahybridpresser

Toyota’s Satoshi Ogiso and Bob Carter address the global media gathered in Ypsilanti for Toyota’s Hybrid World Tour press event

The chief engineer for Toyota’s Prius program, Satoshi Ogiso, who is also managing officer of Toyota Motor Corp, gave some hints about the next generation of Toyota’s highest profile hybrid car at a presentation held as part of Toyota’s Hybrid World Tour, a press event that gathered together all of Toyota’s hybrid cars sold around the world for the first time in one place, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, not far from Toyota’s large R&D center in Ann Arbor.

Ogiso, who oversees product planning and chassis engineering for Toyota, said that while the company continues to work on fuel cell cars and expects to be selling 10,000 or more fuel cell cars a year by the 2020s, Toyota is committed to the concept of hybrid cars that combine electric motors and combustion engines. Due to refinements in Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, the next Prius will get “”significantly better fuel economy in a more compact package that is lighter weight and lower cost, Ogiso said.

“The performance of this next generation of powertrains will reflect significant advances in battery, electric motor and gas engine technologies,” the Toyota engineer said. He also said that while hybrid components will get smaller, the footprint and interior dimensions of the Prius will remain the same.

Comparing a 10% gain in fuel economy to sprinter Usain Bolt taking a second off his world record in the 100 meter dash, Osigo said that Toyota is aiming at 55 mpg for the next Prius, compared to 50 mpg for the current model. In response to a question about when that next Prius will arrive in showrooms, Osigo gave the standard ‘can’t comment on future product plans’ response but then pointed out that the first three iterations of Toyota’s flagship hybrid were spaced six years apart, hinting strongly that the new Prius will be launched in 2015.

That car’s traction batteries will have a higher energy density, and its electric motor, though smaller, will put out more power. Toyota is also aiming for a thermal efficiency of 40% for the gasoline fired combustion engine, which would be the world’s most efficient.

Future models of the Prius may also feature a wireless charging system that Toyota will being testing next year.

Ogiso said that the next Prius will be the first Toyota to use the company’s New Global Architecture platform and it will have a lower center of gravity and better structural rigidity.

Ogiso also addressed other alternative energy developments at Toyota, including hydrogen fuel cells and supercapacitors. While Toyota is already planning production fuel cell cars within the next decade, supercapacitors, which are used in Toyota’s TS030 LeMans racer, also on display at the event, are not yet ready for use in a street car.

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Tesla Faces Trademark Issues With “Model E” In U.S. and “Tesla” in China http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/tesla-faces-trademark-issues-with-model-e-in-u-s-and-tesla-in-china/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/tesla-faces-trademark-issues-with-model-e-in-u-s-and-tesla-in-china/#comments Fri, 23 Aug 2013 20:10:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=500626 chinesetesla

Chinese businessman Zhan Baosheng’s “Tesla” web site

Tesla Motors faces trademark issues in the United States and China as it tries to expand its lineup of cars and countries where it is sold. According applications found at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s web site, on August 5th, Tesla filed three trademark applications for use of the name “Model E” in three categories, “automobiles and structural parts therefore,” automobile maintenance and repair services, and apparel. With merchandise sales being an important part of car marketing today, additional filings to cover apparel and similar logoed items are standard practice. Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk hinted at a Model E in an interview with Jalopnik, “There will definitely be more models after the S and X. Maybe an E :).”

Tesla may run into problems using Model E, though. Thirteen years ago, Ford Motor Company sued a company called the Model E Corp, claiming that it would cause confusion with Ford’s trademark on the name Model T. That case in a Michigan court was dismissed for lack of standing. Records at the USPTO show that Ford subsequently cancelled or abandoned applications for a trademark on Model E. Initially, when the news broke about Tesla’s applications, a Ford spokesman said that the Dearborn automaker would likely not challenge Tesla’s use. However, a later statement from Ford said that the company will review Tesla’s application and have no further comment on the matter at this time.

Tesla is also having difficulty entering the Chinese car market because a local Chinese businessman already secured rights to use the name Tesla in the world’s largest car market. Tesla Motors had hoped to open a company owned showroom in Beijing by the beginning of 2014, but that plan has now been delayed while they work out the intellectual property issue. The Tesla showroom has posters of the Model S, but no brand signs. A Tokyo-based Tesla representative said that the company had begun taking reservations for the Model S in China.

The “Tesla” trademark was registered in China to a Guangdong businessman named Zhan Baosheng in 2006, according to a trademark agency representing him, in both English and Chinese characters. Zhan also owns the teslamotors.com.cn domain name (and similar domain names) where he appears to promoting his own electric cars. Not only is he using the Tesla name and a Chinese-language slogan ‘Te Si La, Live For Electricity’, he’s also using the T shaped Tesla logo. Experts familiar with Chinese trademark issues say that Tesla may have no other choice than pay Zhan for the use of the name. According to published reports, the EV maker offered him $326,000, but Baosheng is holding out for $32 million. Last year Apple Inc. paid $60 million for the Chinese rights to the name iPad. As a backup plan Tesla has registered the name Tuosule, which phonetically reproduces their brand name.

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Tesla S Sets NHTSA Crash Testing Score Record, Goes to Eleven (Well, 5.4 Stars to be Exact), Breaks Roof Testing Machine http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/tesla-s-sets-nhtsa-crash-testing-score-record-goes-to-eleven-well-5-4-stars-to-be-exact-breaks-roof-testing-machine/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/tesla-s-sets-nhtsa-crash-testing-score-record-goes-to-eleven-well-5-4-stars-to-be-exact-breaks-roof-testing-machine/#comments Wed, 21 Aug 2013 19:35:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=500168 model-s-five-star-safety-rating

Chart courtesy of Tesla Motors

While General Motors is thumping its chest because the new fullsize pickups from Chevrolet and GMC are the first to earn an overall 5 star crash test rating since the standards were upgraded two years ago, Tesla is trumpeting the NHTSA crash testing results for their Model S, saying that the luxury EV achieved the best safety rating ever of any car tested by the highway safety agency. Not only did the Model S earn an overall five-star rating, but the Model S earned 5 stars in every testing category. While 5 is the maximum rating that NHTSA publishes, manufacturers are provided with the overall Vehicle Safety Score, whose scale goes higher, and Teslas says that the Model S’ VSS was 5.4 stars, the highest ever achieved.

The EV company says that score is the best of any recorded by every car sold in the United States, a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants. It also is better than all SUV and minivans as well. The company attributes the high scores in part to a more effective front crush zone made possible by the fact that there is no engine up front in the Tesla, which is driven by a fairly compact electric motor mounted near the rear axle. Another feature that the company claims makes the Tesla safer is a double bumper installed on cars ordered with an optional third row seat for children. Side impact performance, significantly better than the five star rated Volvo S60, is attributed to multiple aluminum extrusions nested in the Model S’ side rails.

The Model S performed particularly well in the rollover test because the location of the vehicle’s traction battery under the passenger compartment results in a very low center of gravity. During normal testing the Model S could not be made to roll over so the test had to be modified. The results indicate that the Model S will protect its passengers from rollover risk about 50% better than other top rated vehicles.

Should the Model S be made to roll over, the roof should protect the occupants well. During roof crush testing, the Model S broke the testing machine after withstanding more than 4 times the force of gravity. Tesla attributes that high performance to B pillar reinforcements attached with aerospace graded fasteners.

In announcing the results, Tesla said that while their initial testing showed that the Model S would achieve the 5 star rating when tested in standard locations, they verified that even if the car was tested at its weakest points, it would still earn the maximum rating. No doubt because fire safety has been an issue that was raised with the Chevy Volt and the Fisker Karma, Tesla’s press release on the Model S crash results also stressed that the car’s lithium-ion battery experienced no fires before, during or after NHTSA testing. The “after” was a reference to a fire that broke out in a Chevy Volt three weeks after it was crash tested by NHTSA in a fully charged condition.

Tesla also said that they are unaware of any fatalities that have happened in real world collisions involving either the Model S or the Tesla Roadster.

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Production of 2014 Chevy Volts Begins, Along With a $5,000 Price Cut http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/production-of-2014-chevy-volts-begins-along-with-a-5000-price-cut/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/production-of-2014-chevy-volts-begins-along-with-a-5000-price-cut/#comments Tue, 06 Aug 2013 16:06:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=498417 voltparade_r

General Motors announced that the 2014 edition of the Chevy Volt will start rolling off the assembly line at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant today. They also announced that when those new Volts arrive at dealers in a few weeks they’ll be $5,000 cheaper than the 2013 model. The move is in response to price cuts and lease deals on competitors’ EVs. After Nissan cut the price of the Leaf by $6,400 in January, its sales are up 300% from last year for the first half of 2013, just barely outselling the Volt. In July, Ford lowered the price of the Focus Electric by $4,000 and the recently launched Fiat 500e and Chevrolet Spark EV are offering $199/month leases.

The base MSRP on the 2014 Volt’s Monroney label will read $34,995, plus $810 to get it from the factory to the dealer. After applying the $7,500 federal tax credit, that puts the effective price of the Volt at $27,495, about what a nicely equipped Chevy Cruze would cost. One of the criticisms of the Volt has been that it’s expensive compared to the Cruze, with which the Volt shares a platform.

So far this year, Volt sales are up 9% to 11,463.

GM said that it has made “great strides” in reducing the manufacturing cost of the Volt, though no dollar figures were released. GM execs have said that the 2nd generation Volt, scheduled to go on sale in 2015, will cost them between $5,000 and $10,000 a unit less to build than the current model.

Apparently one reason for the current price cut is how people now use the internet to shop for cars. The lower MSRP is expected help the Volt show up in consumers’ search results. “Before, if you were going to price-shop a hybrid or a plug-in, the Volt didn’t even show up because of price point,” GM spokeswoman Michelle Malcho said.

Though the recent price cuts have raised the sale of EVs and PEVs, they’re still a small fraction of the market. Total U.S. sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids were 41,447 units for the first six months of the year. Chrysler sold more Darts that that figure, and the Dart isn’t exactly moving up the sales charts in its segment.

Chevy dealers were already discounting the Volts they had in stock and GM itself is offering rebates of $4,000 on 2013 Volts and $5,000 on the 2012 models still in stock, so the price cut is not going to have much of a real world effect on transaction prices. Truecar.com reports that the average transaction price on the Volts that were s0ld was $38,578, with a total average incentive per car at $10,489. The dealer part of those incentives are essentially subsidized by a GM bonus program for dealers who hit company determined sales objectives.

 

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Increased Sales Prompt Ford to Double MKZ Hybrid Production to 40% of Total for 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/increased-sales-prompt-ford-to-double-mkz-hybrid-production-to-40-of-total-for-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/increased-sales-prompt-ford-to-double-mkz-hybrid-production-to-40-of-total-for-2014/#comments Thu, 18 Jul 2013 18:39:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495686 All-New 2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

When the Lincoln MKZ was introduced, Ford Motor Co. took the unusual step of pricing the MKZ Hybrid the same as the non-hybrid version of the car, $35,925. Assuming that would mean a good take rate for the Hybrid, Ford production planners for the 2013 model year set the mix at 20% for the gas-electric MKZ. The take rate turned out to be so good that for 2014, 40% of MKZs made will be hybrids. That’s what Raj Nair, Ford’s group vice president of global product development, said at the automaker’s Dearborn campus on Tuesday. Hybrid sales in the U.S. market overall are up 18.3% for the first six months of this year, compared to 2012, and Ford has been benefiting from that surge. Ford’s share of the hybrid and EV market is now close to 16%, a huge improvement of 12% over last year. The C-Max, Fusion and MKZ hybrids have given the company a strong presence in the hybrid market. Ford attributes part of it’s overall U.S. market share increase of almost 1% over 2012 to electrified vehicle growth. For the first six months of 2013, Lincoln sold 3,090 MKZ Hybrid models, an average of 515 cars a month, but now that production delays that hampered the revised MKZ’s launch have apparently been overcome, for the 2nd quarter sales exceeded 715 units each month, closely matching the current build rate at Ford’s Hermosillo, Mexico assembly plant.

Source: The Detroit News

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Tesla Confirms Battery Swap For Model S http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/tesla-confirms-battery-swap-for-model-s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/tesla-confirms-battery-swap-for-model-s/#comments Tue, 18 Jun 2013 17:13:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492564 batteryswapTesla’s long-rumored battery swap technology will get its first reveal Thursday night, according to a Tweet from Elon Musk himself.

The Tesla battery swap project has been in the works for some time, with the Model S apparently having the capability for battery-swapping from the get-go. There are a few issues that come into question here; what kind of technology will be used to help swap a 1,200 pound battery in under 5 minutes? What level of automation will be used? How does this conflict (or complement) with the whole Supercharger network? We’ll have to wait until Thursday to find out.

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