The Truth About Cars » Green http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 22 Oct 2014 19:11:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 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 » Green http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/green/ Capsule Review: 2014 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/capsule-review-2014-subaru-crosstrek-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/capsule-review-2014-subaru-crosstrek-hybrid/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 12:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=835961 Subarus shine when the sun does not. That reputation has been built on the back of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive so that in places that freeze, Subarus are everywhere. Given the concerns of the customer base and a corporate commitment to sustainability, a hybrid Subaru seems like an obvious slam dunk. That’s why it’s surprising it […]

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Subarus shine when the sun does not. That reputation has been built on the back of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive so that in places that freeze, Subarus are everywhere. Given the concerns of the customer base and a corporate commitment to sustainability, a hybrid Subaru seems like an obvious slam dunk. That’s why it’s surprising it took so long to get one, even with some ties to Toyota. The XV Crosstrek is the first Subaru to go hybrid. It’s definitely the Subaru of hybrids.

2014 subaru xv crosstrek hybrid

What that means is that you’ll find a familiar 2.0 liter boxer four and all-wheel drive in the Crosstrek Hybrid. Added to that is a 100.8 volt, 13.5 kW battery pack that tucks .55 kWh of stamina under the cargo area floor. You lose just 1.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seats, which is a nice trick compared to what happens in some other hybrid-ized cars. The combination of 2.0 liter boxer with compression bumped to 10.8:1 (from the standard 10.5:1) and electric motor makes the hybrid the most powerful Crosstrek there is. Total combined output is 160 hp vs. 148 hp for the gas-only model. More significantly, the total system torque is 163 lb-ft and you’ve got it all at 2,000 rpm. That beats the heck out of making those opposed pistons flail to 4,200 rpm for  the 145 lb-ft of the non-hybrid. The electric motor is cleverly integrated into the AWD system, a move that keeps the center of gravity the same as the gas model and doesn’t cut into passenger space.

The best Subarus are niche Subarus. The rowdy WRX and Crosstrek Hybrid are the gold and silver medalists on the lot. It says something about the Impreza platform’s versatility and quality. I haven’t forgotten the BRZ, it’s just not as good as the other two. The coupe gets a bronze because it’s not as versatile as the other two and still lacks the power it really deserves. Sales have increased every month since January 2014, when Subaru started keeping  track of Crosstrek hybrid sales. The model cracked 1,000 in May, and the total sits at 2,700 so far.

rear view of 2014 subaru xv crosstrek hybrid

The $27,000 price for the the XV Crosstrek Hybrid I drove is close to reasonable. The entry price is $25,995, and with $825 of destination you’ve got the $26,820 bottom line. That’s for a car with cloth seats, no sunroof, and Subaru’s typically half-dismal audio system. If you want the nice stuff like leather and navigation, you’re looking at the $29,295 Hybrid Touring.

The more basic car has got it where it counts, though. It’s not stripped by any means, and the audio head unit easily connects to devices with Bluetooth and streams audio while allowing the steering-wheel audio buttons to control playback. This without stabbing at a touchscreen or dealing with voice prompts. The hands-free isn’t perfect – people I called asked me to repeat a lot of stuff because of audio quality. Three knurled dials give easy control over the HVAC and automatic climate control is standard for the hybrid. The steering column tilts and telescopes, and a rear view camera is also standard. The hatchback layout is useful, with a liftover height that’s easily managed even if you’re shorter, and that’s despite the 8.7” of ground clearance. That’s only 1/10″ shy of an F150 4×4. Other cars this size trading for this price carry more amenities, but none of them are all-wheel drive hybrids.

side view of 2014 subaru xv crosstrek hybrid

Interior materials don’t feel $27K nice, but the design and ergonomics of the Crosstrek cabin present well. Visibility out is what now passes for good, and the controls are all easy to operate. Some, like the shifter, feel a little flimsy (wiggle that silvery piece of trim!), but the Crosstrek Hybrid is not a hard car to use, and that’s a happy thing.

Practical matters aside, this is the best driving Crosstrek, and all the changes made to the Hybrid should be mirrored across the range. The suspension has been retuned, which explains its good wheel control and buttoned-down feel in corners. It works well with the quick electric power steering, which is good on weight and direct feel. Other changes include thicker floor sections and increased sound insulation, both measures that increase the feeling of refinement.

2014 subaru xv crosstrek seats

The Crosstrek Hybrid is unique in that you’re getting all-wheel drive as part of the deal, and the improvement over gas-only Crosstreks is a bump to 29/33 mpg city/highway from 25/33. Pardon me for feeling like that’s a miniscule increase and that the 30 mpg average I observed is what all Crosstreks should be returning already. There are very few other all-wheeler hybrids, and they’re all more expensive. Luxe options like the Lexus RX 400h and Audi Q5 hybrid or the significantly larger Toyota Highlander hybrid aren’t directly comparable. A used second-generation Ford Escape Hybrid (or Mercury Mariner) is likely the closest actual competitor.

The rest of the Crosstrek Hybrid is bang on with the desires of its target customers. The batteries and motor don’t cut into the usefulness of the hatchback layout. There’s a good-sized cargo area behind the rear seats, and since those seats also fold, you’ve got one useful little tadpole on your hands. Moreover, the space inside the Crosstrek is comfortable for four, a bit squeezy for five. The rear seat legroom is probably the biggest sticking point. A quintet of tallies isn’t going to like it very much, but the Crosstrek is great for three or four average grown-ups. It’s even better for one or two smaller-statured folks with a big ol’ dog fogging the windows.

2014 subaru xv crosstrek hybrid cargo area

Another happy thing is the way the electric motor bolsters the 2.0 liter engine’s torque delivery and flattens out bandy feeling you often get from CVTs. The presence of paddle shifters to toggle between fake ratios feels really out of place. That’s money that could have gone into making the door panels padded so your elbow doesn’t fall asleep. At least with torque to go, the Crosstrek doesn’t have to wind up the engine so much to make forward progress. It’s a more relaxed way to get to speed, and it makes for a more refined Subaru. One annoyance, a major one, is the momentary hesitation upon taking off as the system fires the engine. It makes the car feel slow-witted, and it doesn’t build confidence when you’re trying to make a quick move in heavy traffic.

The hybrid system makes distinct shudders when the flame is blown out or fired up. You won’t get very far on electric-only, which generally seems to only operate in traffic jams. Subaru says the hybrid will crawl in an electric-only mode, but I found that the engine fired almost all the time when I wanted to move even a few feet. The Crosstrek hybrid is a few software tweaks away from greatness, but that doesn’t stop it from being good. The chassis feels solid, the steering is well-weighted, and the braking transitions from regen to friction very smoothly.

I was surprised to come away from the Crosstrek Hybrid so impressed with it. I’m not generally a fan of hybrids, and one that’s so obvious about what it’s doing SHOULD have put me off. Instead, it was charming. Clearly, I’m not the only one who’s been taken in by this car’s talents. If only all Crosstreks were this good.

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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 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 […]

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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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Town And Country Update: Road Trip http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/town-and-coutry-update-road-trip/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/town-and-coutry-update-road-trip/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:00:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=808074 I last wrote about my 2013 Town and Country S at the end of November when it was just three months old and had only 1500 miles on the clock. At that point the big van had yet to be used for anything more than ‘round the town mommy duties and a single jaunt up […]

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I last wrote about my 2013 Town and Country S at the end of November when it was just three months old and had only 1500 miles on the clock. At that point the big van had yet to be used for anything more than ‘round the town mommy duties and a single jaunt up to Toronto in search of a Japanese supermarket, but I reported then that the van was performing flawlessly. Today, eight months later, and thanks in part to a whirlwind road trip that added slightly more than 2000 miles in just four full days of driving, the T&C’s odometer shows 6400 miles and I have greater insight into the vehicle’s true nature. Naturally, it’s time for an update.

I am a veteran road-tripper. I began as a child, riding in the back seat of one my father’s many Oldsmobiles and I can tell you from brutal experience what it is like to be locked in a car with your brothers and sisters for days on end. Fortunately, my Kodachrome-colored memories of the ‘70s have little in common with the way families travel today and the Town & Country S is a true product of a better, brighter era. Chrysler offers a great deal of technology on all their vans, sometimes standard and sometimes at an additional cost, and one of the particular advantages of the S model is that, among other things, it already comes equipped with a Blue Ray DVD player and two overhead flat screen monitors. To be honest, had the video system not been included as a part of the package that netted me a swankier interior and better looking wheels, it is not something I would have paid extra to purchase at the time, but now that I have it I can’t imagine living without it.

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DVD players in cars rival sliced bread for the title of the greatest thing ever invented. Unlike my childhood road trips where, other than fighting with my siblings, the sole form of entertainment consisted entirely of a game where you tried to make the alphabet out of the letters on other cars’ license plates, my kids were treated to a non-stop, four day long Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks animation film festival. Because I don’t mind listening to movies while I drive, I usually play the DVD audio tracks over the stereo system, but for those times I would rather listen to something else Chrysler was thoughtful enough to include two pairs of nice, wireless headphones that work with the DVD system, something that makes it possible for the kids watch movies in the back while the adults enjoy the radio up front. That to me is a real have your cake and eat it too kind of feature and all I can say is “Hooray for technology!”

While my precious, human cargo rode in comfort and silence, I was able to focus on the overall driving experience and my impressions are mostly positive. On the open road the T&C was strong and smooth and although there were no mountain passes upon which to test the vehicle’s climbing prowess between Buffalo and Kansas City, which we visited last week in preparation for our impending move, I found there was always plenty of power on tap whenever I put my foot down. Fuel mileage too was more than satisfactory thanks to the “Eco” mode and, at the end of our trip, the computer showed I averaged an impressive 28 miles per gallon despite the fact that I paid zero attention to maximizing our mileage.

This is the first time I have used the eco button and although I had read nothing about how the system works, I noticed right away that it affected how the van shifted. This was most noticeable on hills when the vehicle’s speed was being maintained by the the cruise control. Without fail, as we began to ascend any grade longer than a few hundred feet, our speed would fall off by three or four miles per hour and the engine would bog until the RPMs went so low as to force a downshift. Then, when the transmission finally kicked down into a lower gear, the engine would roar to life and send the vehicle charging furiously back up to speed before up-shifting yet again and starting the whole process over. This led to an odd sort of leap frogging effect where I would pass cars on the flat only to end up slowing down in front of them whenever we reached any kind of a hill. Then, when the other cars pulled out to pass, the van would downshift and we would end up tearing away again before they could get around us. Frankly, I found this effect annoying and I could tell by the way that other cars crawled right up my backside every time it happened that the drivers around me did too. Eventually, I solved the problem by using the gas pedal to force the engine to kick down sooner and that worked well enough but, truth be told, I would rather have set the speed and then not had to worry about it at all. It would be nice if Chrysler could adjust this with some sort of software update.

With power, economy and the kids all taken care of, the only other thing I can really report on is how the big van felt from the driver’s seat. The last time I drove west of the Mississippi I was in my 300M and the Town & Country compares more than favorably to Chrysler’s other high end offerings. The seats were comfortable and offered more than enough adjustability to ease the aches and pains that cropped up from time to time and I enjoyed spending time in them. Still essentially brand new, there were no annoying squeaks or rattles I can report and I also found that wind noise was non-existent at any virtually speed. I will say that different pavements introduced different vibrations and different tire noises into the cabin but never at a level that caused any real distraction so, overall, from a comfort standpoint, the T&C is great.

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Suspension wise the S model’s sport tuned suspension walks that fine line between firm and jarring in a way the sport tuned suspension on my 300M Special never could. The big van holds the road and inspires confidence without sacrificing comfort. Where the 300M had a tendency to follow tar snakes, ruts and other imperfections in the pavement, the T&C never leaves you fighting for control although, thanks to its higher profile, it is more affected by gusts.

At the end of our second day, with almost 8 full hours of driving behind us and a bare ten miles from our goal, the skies turned dangerously black and it began to rain absolute buckets. The roads turned into rivers and I quickly switched to local radio in order to hear any emergency weather bulletins. The news was not good and there, near the point of exhaustion, on strange roads and with limited visibility, I began to worry just a little for the safety of my family. But the big Chrysler simply shrugged off everything that nature could throw at it and, as the navigation unerringly guided us towards our destination, my fears quickly abated. The vehicle worked so well that there was nothing to take my attention away from the road and, I realized, there was simply nothing to worry about.

In the end, smooth, worry-free operation is what you want from a family vehicle and today, almost eight months after purchasing the Town and Country, I still find the van’s poise and confidence on the road to be utterly remarkable. It is joy to drive and this latest road trip has only strengthened my belief that I have chosen the right vehicle for my family. I simply could not want anything else at this point and, as I tend to keep my vehicles for many years, I am convinced that the T&C will carry us wherever we want, near or far, in style, comfort and safety for a long time to come.

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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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Tesla Fires Back Against Accusations Brought By Lemon Law King http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-fires-back-against-accusations-brought-by-lemon-law-king/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-fires-back-against-accusations-brought-by-lemon-law-king/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:30:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793490 Tesla has fired back against the accusations brought in a lawsuit filed against the company earlier this week by a Wisconsin attorney and self-described “Lemon law King” Vince Megna. Mr. Megna’s client, a physician who took delivery of his Model S in March of last year, alleges that he has had repeated problems with the […]

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Tesla has fired back against the accusations brought in a lawsuit filed against the company earlier this week by a Wisconsin attorney and self-described “Lemon law King” Vince Megna. Mr. Megna’s client, a physician who took delivery of his Model S in March of last year, alleges that he has had repeated problems with the car’s doors and main fuse and that repeated attempts to remedy the problem have met with no success. He is asking that, after four attempts at resolving the issues, the company re-purchase the car under Wisconsin lemon laws intended to protect buyers if a product is faulty and cannot be repaired by the manufacturer.

Tesla’s response, published on their official blog and attributed to “The Tesla Motors Team,” claims factual inaccuracies in the attorney’s statements. The company writes that, although the customer filed an official buy-back request in November 2013, they have continued to work him to resolve his issues, many of which have “elusive” origins. They go on to say that their technicians were unable to replicate customer’s main complaints, problems with the door handles and the car’s main fuse, and that after replacing several of the parts in question without alleviating the situation they began to suspect the car was being tampered with. They noted that all the issues with the main fuse came shortly after the car’s front trunk, which gives access to the fuse, was opened and claim that the part has performed flawlessly since technicians applied a tamper-proof seal to the switch.

Tesla concludes their response by noting that the attorney in question also filed a Lemon Law suit against Volvo in February 2013 on behalf of the same customer and encourages the public to be aware of how opportunistic lawyers can take advantage of lemon laws.

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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 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 […]

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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.

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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

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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.

1916 WOODS Elec 8 31 p 364

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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A 2nd Look at the 2-Mode Hybrid – It Could Have Saved More Gas Than The Prius http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/a-2nd-look-at-the-2-mode-hybrid-it-could-have-saved-more-gas-than-the-prius/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/a-2nd-look-at-the-2-mode-hybrid-it-could-have-saved-more-gas-than-the-prius/#comments Thu, 20 Feb 2014 13:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=743569 The photo illustrating Zombie McQuestionbot’s query about what would it take to get you to buy a hybrid was of a Chevy Silverado hybrid pickup truck. I bet some of you seeing that picture didn’t know that Chevy even sold fullsize hybrid pickups and those of you who are familiar with them, may have dismissed […]

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The photo illustrating Zombie McQuestionbot’s query about what would it take to get you to buy a hybrid was of a Chevy Silverado hybrid pickup truck. I bet some of you seeing that picture didn’t know that Chevy even sold fullsize hybrid pickups and those of you who are familiar with them, may have dismissed the concept. It was called the 2-Mode hybrid system, introduced with great promise and fanfare but in the end it became the Rodney Dangerfield of hybrid drives. That’s too bad. Had the 2-Mode system been embraced by consumers on a wide scale, it might have saved more gasoline than all the Chevy Volts and Toyota Priuses put together.

Actually, the Dangerfield crack isn’t fair to Jacob Cohen, who in real life had a long and illustrious career, once he got his big break on the Ed Sullivan show. In contrast, the 2-Mode hybrid has come and pretty much gone in half a decade. Maybe part of the problem was that instead of first bringing it to the market on pickup trucks, GM introduced it as a package on it’s big body-on-frame SUVs. Perhaps the image of something that consumes combustibles as conspicuously as a Cadillac Escalade does, kitted up with four foot long “HYBRID” decals, evoked too much cognitive dissonance for critics and consumers to swallow but as contradictory as the idea sounds and looks, it made some sense.

There was a time when, unlike Mr. Cohen’s comedic persona, the 2-Mode system actually got some respect. Enough respect that in 2005 both Daimler-Chrysler and BMW joined General Motors in partnering to bring the system to production. There are vehicles from all four of those manufacturers using the 2-Mode system on the road today. Automobile magazine even named it the technology of the year in 2007.

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The 2-Mode hybrid system is based around what is a sophisticated electromechanical automatic transmission. General Motors has long had a core competency in the development of automatic gearboxes. GM developed the first mass produced fully automatic transmission, Oldsmobile’s Hydramatic, and the corporation currently has two divisions devoted just to developing and building transmissions, Hydramatic, which produces gearboxes for cars and light trucks, and Allison, which makes transmissions for big commercial trucks. It was an Allison development for city buses that was the basis of the 2-Mode hybrid.

Two-Mode Full Hybrid GM-DCX Cooperation

GM 2ML70 hybrid transmission

A conventional single mode hybrid system, like Toyota and Ford developed independently, uses a planetary gear arrangement to connect both a combustion engine and one or more electric motors to a single driveshaft. Conventional hybrids can run on pure electric drive, combustion drive, or a combination of the two. That mode is known as “input split mode”. A second hybrid mode called “compound split mode” is more suitable for highway speeds, and always uses the combustion engine to drive the wheels, aided by the electric motors.

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Is “sophisticated” another word for “complicated”?

In the late 1990s, Allison developed a 2-mode hybrid transmission system for transit buses, now called the H 40/50 EP Series, that by now has been installed in over 5,000 buses around the world. Their latest hybrid transmission model is the H3000, for medium and heavy duty trucks.

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Allison H40 EP hybrid transmission. Note “Electric Drives” embossed on the case.

With Toyota’s Prius gaining traction in the market and giving that company some green cred, GM decided to implement a variation on the Allison design that would initially be used in fullsize rear wheel drive body on frame trucks and SUVs and later developed in FWD form suitable for passenger cars. What would become known as the GM 2ML70 transmission (in the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 and the Mercedes-Benz ML450 BlueHybrid it’s called the Allison AHS-2) added four fixed gear ratios to the mix. It has two 82 kW (110 hp peak) three phase permanent magnet AC motors, three planetary gear sets, and four selectively engaging friction clutches. A dampener replaces a conventional automatic’s torque converter.

Two-Mode Input and Compound Split Transmission

The transmission operates as two different continuously variable transmissions in one case. Electronic controls coordinate the electromechanical symphony, switching between the two modes to provide the ideal power, torque and fuel efficiency for the circumstances. One feature of the 2-Mode system making it particularly suitable for pickups and SUVs is that it allows moderate towing capabilities. Another advantage is that by locating the motor/generators where they are in the power chain, it amplifies their torque output the same way a conventional transmission amplifies the torque of an internal combustion engine, allowing the use of more compact motors, making it possible to fit it all inside the dimensions of a conventional automatic transmission. A more complete explanation, courtesy of About.com and Wikipedia is can be downloaded here (Word doc), and one suitable for transmission mechanics can be found here.

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GM and their partners were hoping for a 50% improvement in city gas mileage, with a lesser but significant increase in highway mileage. The system was introduced on 2008 Chevy Tahoes and Cadillac Escalades. Reviews from the time uniformly praise the system as working seamlessly and smoothly, yielding a real world improvement in fuel economy of about 25%.

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Despite the technical success of the system and the significant fuel savings, a lot of observers scratched their heads at GM’s strategy. What was getting headlines at the time were hybrids that were earning EPA ratings with big numbers, not SUVs that got 20 mpg. A hybrid SUV seemed like a rolling oxymoron. The thing, though, is that there was some reason to GM’s strategy if you look at the American fleet. The pickup trucks upon which those hybrid SUVs were based represent the largest segment of America’s fleet of cars and light trucks. Fullsize pickups are the best selling vehicles in America and have been for decades. They’re also the part of the fleet that gets the worst fuel economy. Improving the fuel economy of pickups from 15 mpg overall to 20 mpg saves a lot more fuel than improving the mileage of a compact car by a similar percentage. The small car is already getting better mileage so the same percentage increase is a smaller amount of saved fuel. Over 100 miles, going from 15 to 20 mpg saves 1.66 gallons of gasoline. Over the same distance, going from 30 mpg to 40 mpg saves half that amount, 0.83 gallons.

BMW's version. Note the AWD transfer case.

BMW’s version. Note the AWD transfer case.

Getting American pickups a 25% real world improvement in fuel economy would save huge amounts of fuel. Because it was pretty much a bolt in replacement for a conventional Hydramatic product (the 300 volt battery pack was mounted under the back seat), implementation was relatively simple, also allowing for the use of normal all wheel drive transfer cases.

However, when the latest generation of GM fullsize pickups were introduced in late 2013, they didn’t include a hybrid variant and none is planned. GM also stopped development on a front wheel drive version of the transmission. Chrysler discontinued the few models offering the 2-mode system and in mid 2009, Daimler and BMW  withdrew from the partnership. The 2-Mode today, if it’s known at all, is known as a bit of a technological dead end, not a tour de force. Considering that the thing worked and indeed saved significant amounts of fuel, what went wrong?

Two-Mode Hybrid Transmission Display

In a word, money. Well, mostly it was money, in a variety of ways, but there were other factors. To begin with, the 2ML70/AHS-2 is possibly the most sophisticated transmission ever made for a passenger vehicle. It was expensive to develop (the operational software to coordinate all that activity can’t be very simple) and expensive to build, which is why GM solicited partners in the project. I’ve seen the figure $10,000 cited as the manufacturer’s cost for a single transmission. A hybrid Silverado started at just under $40,000, a substantial increase over a similarly equipped four door Chevy pickup with a conventional drivetrain, just as the United States was about to enter one of the deepest and longest economic recessions in its history. Also, the first 2 Mode vehicles were introduced to the market in late 2007, for the 2008 model year, as General Motors was already on its inexorable path to bankruptcy. During 2008 and then going through the bankruptcy many programs’ development budgets were slashed or, like the Cadillac V8, were eliminated altogether.

Money wasn’t the only issue. The 2-Mode system went into production the same year that GM revealed that they were working on the Chevy Volt, an extended range electric car. A lot of the public and media’s attention that the 2-Mode hybrids could have gotten went instead to the higher profile Volt project. Inside GM, resources were being shifted. As a matter of fact, some of the same engineers who developed the 2-Mode system were granted patents that are at the heart of the Volt.

In addition to the paradox of trying to market a big SUV or pickup as an environmentally conscious consumer choice, GM’s marketers faced the fact that the 2-Mode system worked well at saving fuel in real life, but didn’t show outstanding results on the EPA test cycle. The 2013 Chevy Tahoe hybrid was rated by the EPA at 20 mpg in the city and 23 highway, which doesn’t sound very impressive compared to 16/23 for the conventional Tahoe. Apparently, advertising a 25% increase in real world gas mileage isn’t as appealing as touting big empeegees. New ICE technologies like direct injection and variable valve timing have come onstream, and with 6, 8, 9 and 10- speed transmissions coming on line, V6 and even V8 powered trucks can get very impressive government ratings, without the added cost and complexity of the 2-Mode system.

Since then, hybrids of all sorts, including million dollar supercars like the McLaren P1 and the Porsche 918, have proliferated. The idea of a $40,000+ luxury hybrid SUV doesn’t seem so outlandishly contradictory these days. I was at a Toyota media ride & drive for the new Highlander that Bark M reviewed here at TTAC recently and they told us that the hybrid Highlander starts at $47,900. The idea of an Escalade or Tahoe hybrid seemed to offend some folks just a few years ago, but Toyota only offers the hybrid drivetrain on the Highlander’s most expensive, Limited, trim level. The 2013 Tahoe hybrid, in a bigger, more expensive class of vehicles, started at $53,620, not that much of a stretch from what a Highlander Hybrid costs just a year later. From behind the wheel of a new Highlander hybrid, the big GM hybrids seem less silly than they did just a few years ago. Maybe they were just ahead of their time.

I wouldn’t write the 2-Mode off as some kind of technological dead end. One thing that’s true after over a century of people making cars and trucks is that what is old often becomes new again. Technologies and designs formerly rejected can be improved and implemented as materials science and control devices improve. I won’t be surprised if we see the 2-Mode hybrid or something similar appears at some time again in the future.

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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Cadillac Reports 43% Of Dealers Will Not Sell ELR http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/cadillac-reports-43-of-dealers-will-not-sell-elr/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/cadillac-reports-43-of-dealers-will-not-sell-elr/#comments Thu, 20 Feb 2014 12:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=748921 A niche vehicle is one that serves a very specific set of buyers with a vehicle that’s defined by a specialized and uncommon or unique role; and is often knowingly sold in low numbers to satisfy that dedicated group. Sometimes it’s to test a market: The Miata created its own niche in the 1990’s, and […]

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A niche vehicle is one that serves a very specific set of buyers with a vehicle that’s defined by a specialized and uncommon or unique role; and is often knowingly sold in low numbers to satisfy that dedicated group. Sometimes it’s to test a market: The Miata created its own niche in the 1990’s, and became a role model for modern product, like the S2000 and BRZ/FRS. Other are more esoteric niches, like the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet. Sometimes, niche cars bring buyers to a brand that they would not have thought about before.

Currently, one of our most popular niches is the hybrid segment, dominated by the Toyota Prius. Chevrolet threw their hat into the ring, inadvertently, with the Volt. Though primarily an electric car, it does run the gas engine as a series hybrid with engine lockup if needed for maximum efficiency. The sales have been mediocre, pushing just over 23,000 units in 2013. The Prius? It sold over 145,000 units in the same time period..

Is it any wonder, then, why 43% of Cadillac’s dealers aren’t willing to take the up-market, $75,000 (before $7,500 Federal tax credit) Cadillac ELR? It’s a niche of a niche. And it’s an expensive one for dealers to take a risk on. 

 

Edmunds reports that 410 out of Calliac’s 940 dealers will not take delivery of the new ELR, an fairly astonishing 43%. With fuel prices relatively low and a high sticker price, there appears to be little demand for the ELR, and dealers are keen on it. Jim Vurpillat, Cadillac’s global marketing director, told Edmunds in an interview that dealers “might look at (ELR) and say, ‘Ok, if I sell one of these, I got to have service charging stations, special training, a sales area. I have to buy special tools… If they don’t think they will sell more than one or two units a year, they would do the numbers, and it is probably not worth it.”

The cost for the training, additional tools, and other EV equipment can total $15,000 according to Edmunds. It’s just too costly of a chance for many Cadillac dealers to take. Most sales are expected to be in California, Dallas, Miami, and New York City, says Vurpillat. In Austin, Texas, our single Cadillac dealership has had one in stock.

But, at which point do we look at this as no longer chasing a niche, but falling into failure? Is it nearly half of your dealer network saying “no, thank you”?

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Just In Time For Christmas, The Driveable Lego Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/just-in-time-for-christmas-the-driveable-lego-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/just-in-time-for-christmas-the-driveable-lego-car/#comments Fri, 20 Dec 2013 13:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=684402 An Australian entrepreneur and a Romanian inventor have teamed up to construct an air powered car built completely of Lego bricks (sans tires and wheels) that has proven capable of running at speeds in excess of 10mph. The car features four interconnected engines and uses a whopping 256 pneumatic pistons. The mechanics would appear to […]

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Click here to view the embedded video.

An Australian entrepreneur and a Romanian inventor have teamed up to construct an air powered car built completely of Lego bricks (sans tires and wheels) that has proven capable of running at speeds in excess of 10mph.

The car features four interconnected engines and uses a whopping 256 pneumatic pistons. The mechanics would appear to be similar to steam piston engines that this author once worked with, with compressed air taking the place of high pressure steam. Air would flow from a pressurized tank, enter the piston chamber via some sort of valve gear and force the piston through its stroke. No combustion is necessary.

The project is one of those crazy things that can only happen over the internet. The car was originally proposed in an online conversation between two people who were literally half a world away from one another and crowd-funded after forty people responded to a late night proposal on Twitter. The car was built in Romania and then shipped to Australia where it was reassembled and then tested. There are no plans at this time to build another.

Video Used by permission of Storyful.com

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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 […]

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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 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 […]

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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 ‘ 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 […]

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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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QOTD: They Want How Much For A Cadillac ELR? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/qotd-they-want-how-much-for-a-cadillac-elr/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/qotd-they-want-how-much-for-a-cadillac-elr/#comments Fri, 11 Oct 2013 19:55:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=621833 Pricing for the Cadillac ELR has been announced, and the swoopy Caddy coupe with the Voltec powertrain has been stickered at an astonishing $75,995, not including the $7,500 federal tax credit as well as other incentives. One can make the argument that there will be a market for a premium plug-in that wealthy buyers can […]

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Pricing for the Cadillac ELR has been announced, and the swoopy Caddy coupe with the Voltec powertrain has been stickered at an astonishing $75,995, not including the $7,500 federal tax credit as well as other incentives.

One can make the argument that there will be a market for a premium plug-in that wealthy buyers can write off as an expense in one form another, personally, I think GM is out of their mind.

While the ELR gets a more powerful powertrain, Cadillac’s CUE system, improved regen braking capabilities and Batmobile-esque looks, the nearly $76k sticker price puts it within a few thousand dollars of the Tesla Model S 85 kWh Performance model. Fans of the Voltec powertrain can argue that the plug-in system is superior with respect to range and not being stranded on the side of the road, but I’d argue that in the green car space, nothing can touch a Tesla as far as image, cachet and status are concerned. And many people shopping for such a car are cognizant of that. I’m not sure that the ELR, positioned as a “green flagship” for Cadillac can command that kind of money.

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Fisker’s Dept of Energy Loan to be Auctioned Off Today http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/fiskers-dept-of-energy-loan-to-be-auctioned-off-today/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/fiskers-dept-of-energy-loan-to-be-auctioned-off-today/#comments Fri, 11 Oct 2013 19:39:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=617561 The United States Department of Energy will today auction off Fisker Automotive’s loan from the federal government, on which the moribund hybrid car startup defaulted. Last month the department said that it would hold the auction after “exhausting any realistic possibility” that it could recoup all of the $168 million still that Fisker still owes. […]

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The United States Department of Energy will today auction off Fisker Automotive’s loan from the federal government, on which the moribund hybrid car startup defaulted. Last month the department said that it would hold the auction after “exhausting any realistic possibility” that it could recoup all of the $168 million still that Fisker still owes.

 

Purchasing the debt could be the first step to revive Fisker, which hasn’t built any cars in over a year. The company hasn’t yet gone through bankruptcy, as investors are covering its day to day expenses, but it cannot pay millions of dollars in outstanding bills and it has laid off most of its employees. Company founder designer Henrik Fisker, resigned last March, citing differences of opinion on the company’s future.

Though the federal government is currently undergoing a partial shutdown, the auction will proceed as planned today.Bidders had until Monday of this week to tell the DoE that they planned to make an offer. To qualify to bid, potential buyers had to offer at least $30 million, with a mandatory 10% down payment when placing the bid. That would be the least part of restarting Fisker, which analysts say could cost a half billion dollars or more. Fisker Automotive and the law firm handling its restructuring, Kirkland & Ellis, could not be reached for comment.

The winner of the bid process could be named as soon as next week. The DoE originally extended Fisker a credit line of $528 million under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program in 2009, but the department froze it in mid 2011 after Fisker failed to meet production benchmarks specified in the loan. Of the $528 million allocated, Fisker drew down $192 million before the freeze.

So far this year, at least three possible buyers of Fisker have surfaced. German investment group Fritz Nols AG, according to sources, was one of the companies that submitted a bid to the DoE. Another team that includes Bob Lutz and Chinese auto supplier Wanxiang Group also submitted a bid. That group had previously tried to buy the entire company for $20 million. It’s not clear if that attempt is related to VL Automotive, an enterprise of Lutz’s that’s selling the Destino, a Fisker Karma whose hybrid drivetrain has been replaced by a supercharged LS9 V8 as used in the Corvette ZR1. It’s also been rumored that Henrik Fisker might try to purchase the remains of his namesake company.

Buying the DoE loan would be just the first step in a long process to revive the company. Fisker currently owes suppliers about $80 million, including about $10 million owed to Valmet Automotive, a Finnish company that assembled the Karma under contract. Analysts say that restarting Karma production would cost at least $50 million and reviving the development of the Atlantic, Fisker’s proposed $50,000 sedan, would cost about half a billion dollars.

Any purchaser would also have to settle Fisker’s outstanding debts related to the former General Motors assembly plant in Wilmington, Delaware where Fisker planned to build the Atlantic. The company owes about a million dollars in various local taxes and because it missed a deadline to pay, the company has forfeited a break on future county property taxes.

At the time this was posted, ~3:00 PM EST, there has been no news released about the auction results. The Department of Energy’s public affairs office is still operating during the partial government shutdown, TTAC has contacted that office, and we’ll update this post if they release any information by the close of business today.

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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 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 […]

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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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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 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 […]

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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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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 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 […]

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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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Want To Know What’s Wrong With Fisker? Here Are Two Reports http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/want-to-know-whats-wrong-with-fisker-here-are-two-reports/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/want-to-know-whats-wrong-with-fisker-here-are-two-reports/#comments Mon, 17 Jun 2013 12:14:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492370   Fisker is at its last gasp. After burning through $1.4 billion, “the company is out of cash,” writes Reuters, “for months, key investors have been footing the car maker’s day-to-day expenses to keep it alive in diminished form.” Reuters has an in-depth report on what went wrong at Fisker. Reuters also has the one […]

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Fisker is at its last gasp. After burning through $1.4 billion, “the company is out of cash,” writes Reuters, “for months, key investors have been footing the car maker’s day-to-day expenses to keep it alive in diminished form.” Reuters has an in-depth report on what went wrong at Fisker. Reuters also has the one sentence version:

 

“Executives simply couldn’t orchestrate the complex dance that leads from a design sketch to the production and sale of a profitable car.”

 

Read the Reuters in-depth report by their Detroit reporters Deepa Seetharaman and Paul Lienert.

 

And if you want to know how Fisker even bungled a rescue by China’s Geely, a deal cut by Joel Ewanick, working as a consultant, then Reuters has another report for you. Read how Ewanick already had convinced Geely Chairman Li Shufu to put $250 million into Fisker, which would also have provided Geely with U.S. production for Volvo and Geely as part of the bargain. Read how wires were crossed with another team scouring China for money.

Should you ever think of putting money into a startup carmaker, read these reports first.

 

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Honda Will Be Late To The Chinese Hybrid Revolution http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/honda-will-be-late-to-the-chinese-hybrid-revolution/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/honda-will-be-late-to-the-chinese-hybrid-revolution/#comments Fri, 14 Jun 2013 14:44:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492081   Everybody was betting big on electric cars in China. Everybody thought China will be the world’s biggest market for EVs. It was a bluff. At the Shanghai Auto Show in April, the smart money suddenly was on hybrids. Insiders expect that the Chinese government will extend bigger subsidies to buyers of hybrid cars, after […]

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Everybody was betting big on electric cars in China. Everybody thought China will be the world’s biggest market for EVs. It was a bluff. At the Shanghai Auto Show in April, the smart money suddenly was on hybrids. Insiders expect that the Chinese government will extend bigger subsidies to buyers of hybrid cars, after the big electric car revolution in China turned out to be a bust. This is good for Japanese carmakers – for some at least.

Honda will delay Chinese production of hybrids for up to three years while it develops local sources for cheaper components, Affordability is critical,” a Honda spokeswoman told Reuters

The wire thinks the sudden retrenchment is because “Toyota Motor Corp said last month it was trying to source key hybrid components in China to make hybrids more affordable. Toyota said it was planning a joint venture in China with a local supplier to produce batteries for gas-electric hybrid cars.”

Reuters confirms again that “Toyota – and other automakers in China, both indigenous Chinese and foreign – gear up to try to kick-start sales of “conventional” hybrid cars in China in anticipation of policy changes aimed at boosting sales of hybrid vehicles.”

Under the old policy, China offers generous subsidies for EVs and plug-ins, but finds few takers. A change of mind towards hybrids is widely expected. Says Reuters:

“A growing number of industry insiders and experts believe Beijing will boost purchase subsidies significantly for conventional hybrids as early as this year.”

The Chinese car market tilts heavily towards cars that don’t use much gas (or “oil,” as the Chinese like to say,) but the Chinese also like a deal. Incentives on hybrids would blow that segment wide open. However, the government won’t incentivize imports from Japan, hence the race for local sources.

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Hyundai Apparently Wants PSA’s Hybrid-Air System http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/hyundai-apparently-wants-psas-hybrid-air-system/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/hyundai-apparently-wants-psas-hybrid-air-system/#comments Fri, 22 Feb 2013 16:35:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=478592 Is Hyundai eyeing PSA’s compressed-air hybrid system? If you believe the scuttlebutt out of France, the answer is yes. While PSA is heavily touting this new technology as a possible CO2 emissions savior, their technical partner Bosch has been much more cautious. Bosch cautioned that “…Unspecified technical challenges have yet to be overcome before a […]

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Is Hyundai eyeing PSA’s compressed-air hybrid system? If you believe the scuttlebutt out of France, the answer is yes.

While PSA is heavily touting this new technology as a possible CO2 emissions savior, their technical partner Bosch has been much more cautious. Bosch cautioned that “…Unspecified technical challenges have yet to be overcome before a commercial launch…“, a statement which is at odds with PSA’s ambitious 2016 launch schedule for this technology.

One theory being floated by industry experts (off the record of course) is that this technology is akin to the Volt – a “green vehicle” enticement that PSA can use in the event that it needs to raise bailout funds. At the very least, it is a symbol of what PSA can be capable of.

Hyundai has bucked the trend of fully embracing EVs, with hydrogen being a central focus of its zero-emissions strategy. Even its hybrid lineup is relatively sparse. The compressed-air technology and any notion of technology sharing in itself would be out of character for the Hyundai of Toyota (as opposed to another era, when the cars were Fords and Mitsubishis), but stranger things have happened.

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The Truth About Tesla’s Charging Stations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/the-truth-about-teslas-charging-stations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/the-truth-about-teslas-charging-stations/#comments Tue, 25 Sep 2012 16:52:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451848 Tesla has officially launched their long-awaited “Supercharging” network last night to a star-studded crowd in Southern California. (We assume it was star-studded since our invitation got lost in the mail.) The EV network promises to enable Model S and Model X owners to charge 150 miles of range in 30 minutes. What about your Roadster? […]

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Tesla has officially launched their long-awaited “Supercharging” network last night to a star-studded crowd in Southern California. (We assume it was star-studded since our invitation got lost in the mail.) The EV network promises to enable Model S and Model X owners to charge 150 miles of range in 30 minutes. What about your Roadster? Sorry, you aren’t invited to this charging party. Have a Tesla and a LEAF? You’ll have to be satisfied with separate but equal charging facilities as the Tesla proprietary charging connector restricts access to Tesla shoppers only. Is this class warfare or do we parallel the computer industry where connectors come and go with the seasons?

What’s the big deal with charging? Let’s go over the Model S’s charging time chart and you’ll understand. From a regular 120V wall outlet the Model S will gain 4-5 miles per hour of charging and consumes about the same amount of power as a space heater. Charging at 41 amps, the car gains 31 miles per hour and consumes as much power as TWO average electric clothes dryers. Charging at 81 amps (a service that many homes with older wiring or smaller services cannot support) the Model S gains 62 miles an hour and consumes more power than an average home’s A/C, dryer, washer, stove, oven, lights and small appliances put together. With a range of 300 miles and a 10 hour charge time at the 41A rate, it’s easy to see why fast charging stations are appealing. Tesla’s Supercharger’s specs are yet to be revealed, but by the numbers it is apparent the system is delivering a massive 90kWh charge which is likely 440V DC at around 200A. An hour of charging at that rate is 70% of the power that my home uses in an entire month.

Is this a Tesla issue? No, it’s an EV issue. If you expect your EV to drive like a regular car, modern EVs are a delight. If you expect your EV to refuel like a regular car, we’ve hit a snag. But it’s more complex than that, you see, only three of the four Model S trims support DC fast charging and the only other EVs on the market with a DC charge port are the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Except they don’t use the same connector or the same standard. Oops. Adding more complications to the mix are the EVs with no DC charge connector like the RAV4 EV, Volt, Prius Plug-In, Accord Plug-In, Focus, Active E and Coda while the new Chevy Spark is rumored to début a third standard: the SAE combo plug.

Of course, if you think of your car like you think of your cell phone, this makes sense as the phone you bought last year wont use the same charger as the phone you buy today. If you think of this in car terms however it’s like buying a new car and finding out that most of the gas stations have a nozzle that won’t fit your car.

Back to those Tesla charging stations. Tesla opened the first four in Southern California and announced two more stations will go online in October with stations in Las Vegas, Northern California and Oregon by summer 2013 with the 100 station network being complete by 2015. If that network sounds familiar then it should, because the recent settlement in the California vs NRG lawsuit means there will be 200 new CHAdeMO stations in California over the same time frame in addition to the 8 already installed and the 75 commercial stations planned or under construction. It isn’t just California on the CHAdeMO bandwagon however, the Department of Energy claims there are over 113 CHAdeMO stations in the USA and a 1,200+ unit installed base in Japan.

What does this mean to Tesla owners? Until Tesla creates a CHAdeMO to Tesla charging adapter cable (much like they have a J1772 to Tesla cable for use at public AC charging stations), Tesla owners will be restricted to regular AC charging or the smaller Tesla only charging network. On the flip side, Tesla is promising the Tesla charging stations will be free to Tesla owners, positioned next to trendy restaurants and you won’t have to mix with the Leaf owning rabble. You can also feel superior because Tesla’s newer standard charges 80% faster than the 50kWh CHAdeMO connector.

What does this mean to LEAF and i-MiEV owners? It means this is just the beginning of a standards battle. If you bought an EV before this raft of new J1772-connector-toting models, you know what I’m talking about. While CHAdeMO has the lead now, depending on what standard the rest of the industry supports this could change rapidly.

What about the rest of us? If we continue to build more battery electric vehicles and continue to develop batteries that are more and more power dense, you can expect even the snazzy Tesla charging connector to be outdated on a few years. If you expect an EV SUV to deliver 300 miles of electric range, AWD, decent performance, mild off-road ability and Range Rover quality luxury trappings, then expect it to have a battery that is 50-100% larger than the Model S’ massive 85kWh pack. This means you have to either take all the charging rates and nearly double them, or you have to develop a charging method that charges 50-100% faster to keep the same performance.

Of course, just like LEAF owners experience battery degradation caused by repeated use of DC quick charge stations, Tesla owners should be mindful that batteries don’t last forever and the faster you charge them the shorter their life will be.

 

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Eco-Friendly Supercars: A Fool’s Errand? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/eco-friendly-supercars-a-fools-errand/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/eco-friendly-supercars-a-fools-errand/#comments Fri, 03 Aug 2012 16:54:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=455415 In the eternal quest to adhere to “sustainability”, Lamborghini will apparently be fitting the Aventador with a start-stop system and cylinder deactivation. Am I the only one that finds the recent trend of eco-friendly supercars ridiculous? We can argue over their relevance in today’s wider world, what direction they should take (lightweight and pure, like a […]

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In the eternal quest to adhere to “sustainability”, Lamborghini will apparently be fitting the Aventador with a start-stop system and cylinder deactivation. Am I the only one that finds the recent trend of eco-friendly supercars ridiculous?

We can argue over their relevance in today’s wider world, what direction they should take (lightweight and pure, like a McLaren F1 or obese but rapidmissiles like the Bugatti Veyr0n) and what even qualifies as a supercar when there are record numbers of Ferraris and Gallardos being built, to the point where they no longer turn heads in major urban centers.

One thing we can agree on is that the supercar, in all its forms, is the absolute zenith of what the automobile can achieve in terms of performance and technological achievement. That doesn’t mean that they can’t strive for greater efficiency. I see no negative effect on making cars more efficient. But it must be done in the right way, rather than in a manner that panders to the pseudo-religious zeitgeist that demands we be “green” without ever really explaining why, beyond a bunch of theoretical doomsday scenarios that would send us back to pre-Industrial agrarian communities (which is a positive development for some hairshirt green types…but that’s another topic). That path is why we have all kinds of technological solutions which impose significant weight penalties while returning minimal gains in fuel consumption and emissions reduction.

Nowadays, you can’t attend a Porsche product demonstration without hearing their spiel about a committment to the environment and the planet. It’s so transparently contrived and disingenuous that it’s almost nauseating. My driving partner and I sat through it at the 2013 Porsche Boxster launch, and after a minute of dealing with the start-stop system, we promptly hit the “Off” button. On the other end of the spectrum, we have silly systems like GM’s eAssist, which are pseudo-hybrid systems that don’t give the car a competitive advantage in terms of “MPGs”, but take up weight and space.

The one true path to creating a “greener” supercar – or any car – is light weight. There is no way around it. Yes, cars have become heavier, and despite what the auto-dork purist crowd will tell you, it’s not all bad; you probably won’t be horribly mutilated or killed in an impact anymore, and they’re quite nice places to be, what with satellite radio and heated  and cooled seats (which are apparently more efficient than using the climate control system) – but something has to give.

Imagine if the next Acura NSX didn’t have a hybrid system; just an Earth Dreams V6, making 350 horsepower (say we sacrifice some efficiency in the name of power) but the car was radically light weight – kind of like what Honda did last time around. Yes, the NSX wasn’t terrible fuel-efficient by our standards, but the powertrain and the mindset behind it, is now 20+ years old. What could be done with current knowledge in the fields of engines, aerodynamics and lightweight construction, minus the heavy battery packs and hybrid motors?

The NSX is a supercar that can theoretically be driven every single day. The Aventador isn’t. Focusing on a efficiency for a car that will be used sparingly seems like a foolish misallocation of brainpower and resources. Even if it does get 11 mpg around town (likely less with all the revving at stoplights and burst of acceleration the cretin owners are likely to engage in), it’s on the road for perhaps a couple of hours at a time, once or twice a month. The net gain in carbon emissions is inconsequential. The V12 engine is an endangered species, and anyone looking for that carnal blast of noise would be let down by the pedestrian drone of a V6 once the cylinder-deactivation system kicks in.

This is why the Lexus LFA is so admirable. There is a contingent that cannot look past the numbers, and can only type out a spastic admonishment that “(Insert supercar here, or a Nissan GTR) would smoke this thing”. The accomplishment at hand is lost on them, as well as those who rightfully appreciate the amazing, hand-crafted V10 and gorgeous styling. The LFA mostly exists as a test bed for carbon fiber vehicle construction, a way to justify the costs of all of this R&D in the guise of a halo car marketing exercise for Toyota and Lexus.

Subsequent breakthroughs will allow us to have our cake and eat it too; all the safety and supplemental comforts that we are used to, with no drop-off in performance and efficiency. It is expensive, difficult and time-consuming, which is why most car companies are unable to explore radical solutions for reducing mass at this time. And lest we forget how pleasing it is to drive something free of unnecessary mass, light on its feet, with sharp reflexes and the unparalleled feeling of not knowing where you end and the car begins.

The likelihood is that we’ll continue to see more of these measures, like start-stop systems and hybrid drivetrains in the dream machines of tomorrow. In some cases, like the Porsche 918 and the Acura NSX, they do exist in the name of pushing the performance envelope. In the case of the Aventador, they are a naked PR move to appease a contingent of people who are not going to be Aventador customers, and often have a reflexive distaste for “the rich”, without ever realizing that they too are human beings, with insecurities and regrets and a hankering for escapism through consumption. Which is what compels them to buy the Aventador in the first place.

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This Swede (Second From Right) Allegedly Bought Saab http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/this-swede-second-from-right-allegedly-bought-saab/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/this-swede-second-from-right-allegedly-bought-saab/#comments Sat, 09 Jun 2012 10:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=448135 Even after its death, Saab is still good for some excitement. Today, the Wall Street Journal breathlessly reported that an “electric-vehicle consortium buys Saab assets.” When you click on the link in Google, you get your assets handed to you via a rude 404: Page not found. The same is happening with many sites that […]

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Even after its death, Saab is still good for some excitement. Today, the Wall Street Journal breathlessly reported that an “electric-vehicle consortium buys Saab assets.” When you click on the link in Google, you get your assets handed to you via a rude 404: Page not found. The same is happening with many sites that reported a sale of Saab’s assets to a company called National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), which is as Swedish as chopsticks.

What is behind those missing links? Who is the nice man who goes thumbs up next to China Communist Party Polit Bureau member Li Keqiang? And why has he allegedly just bought Saab?

Trollhättan’s newspaper TTELA reported yesterday (translation via The :Local) that “the sale of assets of bankrupt Swedish automaker Saab is complete.” The source was Trollhättan’s city manager Annika Wennerblom who told the Trollhättan newspaper that the deal is done. Hope springs eternal and makes a bad editor. Even worse, an unchecked story raced around the globe, leaving a string of 404s in its wake as editors hastily yanked the erroneous story.

Hours later, Trollhättan spokesman Peter Asp, called the news “Wennerblom’s own speculation that went awry.” He stated that “neither she, nor our local councilor Paul Akerlund, nor I have been informed that the administrators have completed their work.”

Now, NEVS spokesman Mikael Ostlund only wants to “confirm that NEVS is interested in buying Saab Automobile’s assets.” This is old hat. The allegedly Swedish company National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) had been rumored for a while as a bidder for the Saab assets that are on the block in a bankruptcy sale. What is more interesting is who is behind that freshly minted National Electric Vehicle Sweden.

It is two shadowy companies.

One company, often played into the foreground, is a  low profile Japanese investment company named “Sun Investment LLC.”

The other company is National Modern Energy Holdings. According to media reports, this company is registered in the British Virgin Islands, but is in turn owned by a Hong Kong based company named China Dragon Base Holdings.

“And behind it all stands the Swede Johan Kai Jiang,” writes TTELA, happily translated by our friends and fans at Saabsunited.

Here he is. Alleged Swede Kai Johan Jiang became famous for turning garbage into power. Literally.

Kai Johan Jiang was born in 1965 in China’s Shandong province. As Jiang Dalong, definitely not as a Kai Johan. Later, Jiang became a minor celebrity in China. His Beijing-based Dragon Power Group received an RMB 28 billion ($4.4 billion) loan from the Chinese state-owned enterprise China Construction Bank, which provided the capital for the National Bio Energy Company, a subsidiary of Dragon Power, to construct biomass plants across the country.

Later, Dragon Power was renamed to State Power Group, Ltd., and Kai Johan Jiang is the Chairman of that Chinese power company. State Power Group sounds confusingly similar to China’s energy moloch State Grid, and Jiang likes it that way. Writes China Daily:

“Chinese energy giant State Grid Corp, through its subsidiary National Bio Energy and China’s Dragon Power Group Ltd have invested in a Swedish bio-energy joint venture called NBE Sweden. “Our investment in cellulose-based ethanol production in Sweden is aimed at developing technology for biomass power generation projects in China,” said Kai Johan Jiang, chairman of Dragon Power Group and National Bio Energy Group Ltd China.”

You follow?

In this 2004 picture, Kai Johan Jiang, (right) explains the garbage to power process to Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress.

A year later, Kai Johan Jiang is seen with a Chinese government delegation led by Liu Qi, member of the CCCPC Polit Bureau, Secretary of the Party Committee of Beijing Municipality, touring a biomass power plant in Denmark.

In this 2010 picture, “top leaders Liu Qi, Liu Yandong and Guo Jinlong, etc. listen to Chairman Kai Johan Jiang’s report at the 13th China Beijing International High-Tech Exposition.“ We already met Liu Qi. Liu Yandong is a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo and State Councilor, Guo Jinlong is Beijing Deputy Party Secretary and mayor of Beijing.

The fact that Swede Kai Johan Jiang wasn’t always a Swede becomes obvious in a few seconds. The rest can be found through a few hours of googling and some phone calls. The true scandal is how many dewy-eyed Saab blogs keep polishing the Swedish charade. They stress that Kai Johan Jiang was “a senior adviser for Volvo,” they look the other way when the newly minted Swede appears on the side of Politbureau members. They write that the senior adviser worked for Volvo from “1993 through 2000.” They forget that the senior adviser’s career started at a youthful age of 28. They also forget that Kai Johan Jiang is China’s conduit into western energy infrastructure. They also overlook that the former Volvo adviser  Kai Johan Jiang is also “an economic adviser to the Shandong provincial government on policy matters.” That job however, is performed under his Chinese name Jiang Dalong.

Here, Kai Johan gives an interview to a Swedish TV station.

The keep-Saab-alive blogs also play up that Japanese venture capital company, possibly knowing that it is hard to get information on a Japanese company. Unless you are in Japan.

Even then, this one is a hard nut to crack. Simply because “Sun Investment LLC” does not exist, at least not as a Japanese corporation. Not surprisingly, because there is no LLC in Japan. There is, however, a company called Ippan Shadanhojin Taiyo Keizai No Kai, a.k.a. “Sun-based Economy Association.” It was founded last year in Tokyo with a Sanefumi Sammy Shoji as a partner. Shoji, who twitters as @Samdog45, is not a deep-pocketed financier. Shoji-san graduated in 2003 from the Tokyo University as a Master of Planetary Science, then he was hired out of school by Goldman Sachs. He left in 2009 in the wake of the Lehman shock that severely thinned the herd of bankers and patrons of Roppongi bars.  Shoji dabbled for two years in the “boutique clean technology/investment firm” by the name of Japan Core Partners, before helping to launch the “clean technology-focused venture capital firm” that is erroneously called Sun Investment LLC.

Art this point, a little excursion into the byzantine world of Chinese capitalism is in order. Companies in Hong Kong, the Virgin Islands and oddly enough Japan are favorite vehicles for investments in China. The bulk of “foreign” companies investing in China are companies registered in offshore tax havens, financed with recycled money from China. These companies also are a favorite stepping stone for Chinese companies that want to invest elsewhere without immediately rubbing it in that they are Chinese.

Because Caribbean-registered, and even Hong Kong based companies have the onus of fast money, smarter Chinese ventures like to use Japanese companies as alleged parents. Often, after a little scratching on the Japanese lacquer, the Chinese veneer comes through.

Ippan Shadanhojin Taiyo Keizai No Kai is the perfect vehicle for this. The office of the company is on the 6th floor of a fancy Tokyo building near the Japanese Emperor’s residence. One wrong step, and you land in the Emperor’s moat. More than 100 tenants are in this building. Taiyo Keizai No Kai  resides in the same office as Japan Core Partners. They share phone and fax. The address is also used as the secretariat of the Biomass Expo 2012. The same company occasionally organizes get-togethers with Chinese business interests.

The “Taiyo Keizai No Kai” can loosely be translated as “Sun Ecology Group”. An “Ippan Shadanhojin” is an intermediate company, halfway between profit and non-profit. (On its Facebook page, the sunny company bills itself as a non-profit, a perfect partner for Saab.) Typically, an “Ippan Shadanhojin” represents Cayman-based Special Purpose Vehicles in Japan. This is not a deep-pocketed investment company. It is a stand-in for someone else. Taiyo Keizai No Kai has as much history and experience as National Electric Vehicle Sweden, i.e. the history and experience of a toddler. Draw your own conclusions.

Back to our main man, the Swede from China. In an interview, Kai Johan Jiang remembered his days in poverty in rural Shandong province, and said that he does “not care that much for personal wealth.”

He is the perfect man to invest into Saab. As history shows, Saab is the ideal vehicle to destroy wealth.

 

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Blind Spot: Digging Deeper Into GM’s Fuel Economy Record http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/blind-spot-digging-deeper-into-gms-fuel-economy-record/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/blind-spot-digging-deeper-into-gms-fuel-economy-record/#comments Thu, 19 Apr 2012 16:43:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=440871 Old habits die hard. Whether it’s GM’s desire to slice-and-dice its fuel economy achievements to make them look better than they are, or our instinct to correct the record, it’s all just a little bit of history repeating. GM, like most of the Detroit automakers, has never had an easy time marketing its fuel economy achievements. With […]

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Old habits die hard. Whether it’s GM’s desire to slice-and-dice its fuel economy achievements to make them look better than they are, or our instinct to correct the record, it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.

GM, like most of the Detroit automakers, has never had an easy time marketing its fuel economy achievements. With a huge percentage of its sales and an even higher percentage of profits traditionally coming from full-sized trucks and SUVs, GM has had to respond to rising gas prices with some questionable claims. Perhaps the most infamous: 2008’s campaign touting the assertion that Chevrolet sold more cars getting 30 MPG on the highway than Honda or Toyota. Not only did this claim ignore the most accurate measures of fleet-wide efficiency, but it also stretched the truth rather badly. When TTAC’s readers analyzed this claim, they found that Chevy was counting different bodystyles as different models, effectively “double counting” cars like the Aveo (which was counted the four- and five-door models as separate cars). When the same counting technique was applied to Toyota’s model range, it was shown to have even more 30 MPG-capable cars than Chevy, essentially invalidating what was already a fairly marginal marketing claim.

But since 2008, the pressure has only mounted on GM to show improvement in its fuel economy. Though gas prices aren’t higher than they were back in the Summer of ’08 (yet), GM’s bailout has created a new kind of pressure. As I pointed out in a December 2010 NY Times Op-Ed, President Obama’s green justification for the bailout seemed to be something of a mirage. With gas prices then falling and pickup and SUV sales picking back up, Detroit was hardly living up to Obama’s vow that

This restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short term, will mark not an end, but a new beginning for a great American industry. An auto industry that is once more outcompeting the world; a 21st-century auto industry that is creating new jobs, unleashing new prosperity and manufacturing the fuel-efficient cars and trucks that will carry us toward an energy-independent future.

Now, not only is GM facing pressure put on it by a President who seemed to offer fuel economy leadership from Detroit as a public reward for the public’s investment, but gas prices are also beginning to rise once more. And though GM has absolutely improved its fuel economy in the meantime, it still significantly lags the rest of the industry on an objective fleet-wide basis. And what’s worse, it’s marring its modest but admirable achievements by falling back on the old “most models over 30 MPG” chestnut.

In a post titled “Digging Into GM’s Fuel Economy Record” at his new “BTW” blog, GM’s VP for Communication Selim Bingol resurrects GM’s pre-bailout canard by arguing

GM has been selling a lot of fuel-efficient vehicles in many different sizes and styles – and more than you may think.

Just look at March.  We sold more vehicles in the United States that deliver an EPA-estimated 30 mpg or better on the highway than ever before – more than 100,000 – and the figure includes cars like the Chevrolet Camaro V-6 and crossovers like the GMC Terrain.

It might surprise you to know that these results make GM far and away the leader among the “Detroit” Three automakers, and we’re not that far off the pace set by Toyota.

So, instead of “more models over 30 MPG than Toyota,” GM is claiming 30 MPG option leadership over its Detroit competitors. And, to its undying credit, it’s not misleading the public by double-counting models this time around. Thanks to its genuinely improved offerings, GM legitimately has 12 options rated at over 30 MPG on the highway. On the other hand, the fact that GM sells more 30 MPG cars than its Detroit competitors is, as Bingol admits, at least

partly a function of our scale.

But although Bingol makes a more credible case for the “more models over 30 MPG” claim than his predecessors, achievements like these don’t get better with age. For one thing, the competition has moved on: Hyundai, for example, now reports the percentage of its sales that are rated at 40 MPG on the highway… some 41% as of March. Bingol as good as admits that GM is still playing catchup when he notes

Of course, 30 mpg is not the goal line.  We can and will move the needle higher because customers and our CAFE commitments demand it.  Soon enough, 40 mpg will be the new 30.

Here’s the thing: it already is. GM is touting a claim that might have been impressive four years ago… had it been accurate. Today, with well over 20 models available with at least 40 MPG highway ratings, it’s a yawner.

But not only has the industry moved on since 2008, the market has as well. Thanks to the rise of sites like TrueCar and Edmunds, consumers have access to more data on new cars than ever before. And since transparency has improved in the auto market, there are now far more accurate ways to compare manufacturer fuel economy than existed in 2008. With the fuel economy leader Hyundai self-publishing its sales-weighted fleet fuel economy numbers, TrueCar has stepped in to provide similar data for the entire industry. And isn’t the best way to compare fuel economy by measuring what the manufacturers actually sell?

By this measure, however, GM does not come out looking like an industry leader. In fact, as a manufacturer, GM doesn’t even make the industry average fuel economy. And its greatest deficit is in the car segments, where it’s nearly two MPG off the industry average. Moreover, GM’s rate of improvement in March was one of the lowest in the industry, which means it’s actually falling behind the competition. By brand, the picture is similar: each of GM’s brands comes in below the industry average, with truck-free Buick coming the closest at just .1 MPG off the mean.

This is not to say that GM hasn’t made improvements. As Bingol points out, GM sells a far more balanced mix of cars, trucks and crossovers than ever before. By segment, GM’s offerings beat the industry average for Large Cars, Large and Small Trucks and Large and Midsized SUVs. In fact, TrueCar shows that GM’s Midsized SUV offerings are by far the most efficient in the industry, at 24.1 MPG compared to a 21.9 MPG average.

Though these are clearly signs of movement in the right direction, they’re not enough to give GM a credible claim to fuel economy leadership… even among the Detroit automakers. But then, that was fairly apparent from the moment The General dusted off an ineffective marketing claim from  2008. Thanks to the relatively slow run-up in gas prices, pickup and SUV sales are remaining strong and GM needs their profits far more than it needs to become a fuel economy leader. But if the market experiences another Summer ’08-style rush towards high-efficiency cars, GM is going to have to come up with a better pitch to economy-minded consumers. And ultimately, it’s going to have to work harder than everyone else if it ever wants to make good on Obama’s promise of fuel economy leadership.

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Blind Spot: It Ain’t Easy Being Green http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/blind-spot-it-aint-easy-being-green/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/blind-spot-it-aint-easy-being-green/#comments Tue, 17 Apr 2012 22:04:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=440444 When government, media and industry agree that a trend exists, it’s generally taken as fait accompli. After all, these three institutions wield immense cultural power, and together they are more than capable of making any prophecy self-fulfilling. But there’s always a stumbling block: acceptance by the everyday folk who actually make up our society. And […]

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When government, media and industry agree that a trend exists, it’s generally taken as fait accompli. After all, these three institutions wield immense cultural power, and together they are more than capable of making any prophecy self-fulfilling. But there’s always a stumbling block: acceptance by the everyday folk who actually make up our society. And when a trend is taken for granted, the ensuing rush to be seen as being in touch with said trend often generates more heat than light. Such is the case with the trend towards “green cars.” Few would deny that they are “the future,” but at the same time, there’s been precious little examination of how this future is to be realized. And when such examination does take place, it tends to raise more questions than it answers.

Case in point: the Union of Concerned Scientists recently published a report examining just how “green” the “greenest” cars available, namely electric cars, are. By examining the average C02 emissions of the various regional power grids, they are able to show on a roughly apples-to-apples basis how carbon-efficient EVs are in comparison to their gasoline-sipping cousins. And their findings show that in broad swathes of the US, pure-electric cars are little better than hybrids like the Prius in terms of average C02 emissions.

This ACS report is something of a dual-edged sword. On the one hand, it makes an important point about EVs: that they are only as environmentally-friendly as the grid from which they draw their power. This fact has long been ignored by policymakers who take the “greenness” of EVs for granted and create uniform national EV stimulus, as if EVs were uniformly “green.” On the other hand, the ACS clearly has a pro-EV agenda, and its report concludes that

There are no areas of the country where electric vehicles have higher global warming emissions than the average new gasoline vehicle.

Given that EV offerings are currently limited to the Compact and Subcompact segments, this is hardly a fair comparison. And since the EPA includes cars like the Bentley Continental GTC as a “subcompact,” a fair comparison would take some real work. To be fair though, the UCS is correct when it points out that 45% of Americans live in the coastal regions where relatively clean grids offer strong environmental incentives for EV use. More importantly, those areas which have dirtier grids tend to be the same regions (the South and Midwest) where geography and development patterns create more practical disincentives for EV use. For this reason, the somewhat disappointing results of the study are unlikely to dramatically hurt the nascent EV market.

Still, this geographical distribution has important consequences for public policy. For one thing, it points out the futility of a nationwide EV incentive program, at least as an environmental policy. Luckily, this reality seems to have taken hold in D.C., where EV-only incentives are being broadened to include multiple fuels and encourage local solutions. On the other hand, the fact that EVs are a hot trend means local governments are often more anxious to show off their trend-awareness than craft sensible policy based on local realities.

For example, Colorado has one of the least “green” grids in the country, and yet its state government has been one of the most aggressive in handing out EV tax credits. Prior to 2010, Colorado allowed Tesla buyers to take up to $42,000 in credits. Today EVs get a $6,000 incentive in addition to the $7,500 (soon to be $10k) federal credit, and a local group has received half a million dollars in federal grants to promote EVs in the state. Given that Colorado-based EVs emit equivalent emissions to a 33 MPG combined gasoline car (think: Hyundai Elantra), this is proof that hopping on a PR-driven bandwagon often outweighs the actual benefits of such “environmental” policies.

But, in a profoundly ironic twist, Colorado may well become a leading market for EVs… and not just because of its generous government incentives either. In fact, Colorado’s relatively dirty grid actually makes it one of the cheaper states in which to operate an EV. In its cost analysis of individual cities, the UCS finds that Colorado Springs’ 2.4 cents-per-mile operating cost for a Nissan Leaf is one of the cheapest in the country, especially when compared to cities with the best emissions scores. Though there’s not enough evidence in this study to support a direct link between the cost and cleanliness of electrical grids, it’s no surprise to find that they do trade off with each other to some extent.

This is one of the key takeaways from the report for the simple reason that running cost, rather than pure environmental benefit, is what will drive the EV market beyond its early adopter niche. And as utilities invest in ever-greener powerplants in hopes of improving the environmental performance of EVs, running costs will rise. And as EVs become more popular, increased demand on the grid will further drive up prices. This tradeoff encapsulates the dilemma of all EV stimulus: the hoped-for environmental benefits are dependent on the mainstream economic viability of EVs, which in turn depends on cheaper (rather than cleaner) power and much, much cheaper EVs. The UCS report’s conclusion attempts to square this circle by pushing EV adoption as the overriding concern, noting

Of course, cleaning up the nation’s electricity production won’t deliver large reductions in the transportation sector’s emissions and oil consumption unless electric vehicles become a market success. While they are now coming onto the market in a much bigger way than ever before, EVs still face many hurdles, including higher up-front costs than gasoline vehicles. Lower fueling costs for EVs, however, provide an important incentive for purchasing them, and our cost analysis of 50 cities across the country shows that EV owners can start saving money immediately on fuel costs by using electricity in place of gasoline.

While this is true enough, it fully ignores how the market works. For one thing, the fuel savings touted in the report are in comparison to an “average gasoline compact vehicle,” and therefore fails to account for most of the market segments. Consumers buy cars that fill their needs, and many Americans need cars larger than a compact. Furthermore, though those savings are estimated to be as much as $1,220 per year (for a Nissan Leaf), these savings do not include amortization of the EV’s up-front cost premium. Consumers will see “immediate savings” on fuel costs, but will be far behind on total ownership cost for years.

Currently the EV market is truly a “green” market, as potential EV consumers are currently motivated by the desire to reduce their carbon emissions. But EVs simply won’t have much of an impact on national emissions until they offer the kind of “green” that actually motivates consumers: money, in the form of real savings. As long as federal and state governments focus, as the UCS has, on carbon emissions, EVs simply won’t find much of a market. If, as the UCS claims, reductions in transportation-sector C02 emissions require mass EV adoption as a prerequisite, the carbon question is currently little more than a distraction. Environmental benefits must give way to economic reality, lest all of the possible “green” benefits of EVs remain a permanent mirage.

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Ontario Cutting Electric Vehicle Subsidies, $43 Million In Savings Expected http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/ontario-cutting-electric-vehicle-subsidies-43-million-in-savings-expected/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/ontario-cutting-electric-vehicle-subsidies-43-million-in-savings-expected/#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2012 18:14:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=436938 Ontario’s 2012 budget was released this morning, and while the United States under the Obama administration seems intent on boosting subsidies for alternative fuel vehicles, including EVs, those in the Great White North’s most populous province are able to see the writing on the wall with regards to EVs. Two programs, designed to encourage EV […]

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Ontario’s 2012 budget was released this morning, and while the United States under the Obama administration seems intent on boosting subsidies for alternative fuel vehicles, including EVs, those in the Great White North’s most populous province are able to see the writing on the wall with regards to EVs.

Two programs, designed to encourage EV charging station infrastructure and provide generous tax rebates to EV owners (as much as $8,500 for vehicles with a 20 kWh battery like the Fisker Karma) are being merged. Despite the provinces vision to have one out of every 20 vehicles on the road in 2020 powered by electricty, only 200 grants have been handed out under the Electric Vehicle Incentive Program and only six charging stations have been built. That’s in a province with an estimated 7,000,000 vehicles on the road, and a far cry from the projected 350,000 EVs that were supposed to be on the road in 8 years time.

Details of the merger are murky, but the move is expected to save $43 million dollars for the cash strapped province over three years, but the news merited only a brief blurb in the addendum to the 2012 budget.

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