Electric vehicles present all kinds of challenges to the traditional ways of understanding cars. From design to differentiation, from range to refueling, EVs simply act different than the internal combustion-powered cars we’ve been refining for centuries now. And yet, through consumer incentives and subsidized charging stations, governments seem to be barreling headlong towards the goal of simply replacing our gas cars with electric ones, as if the two were fundamentally interchangeable. Sadly this is not the case, and a study by Project Better Place and PJM Interconnection [PDF] illustrates in stark terms just how costly an unplanned, uncoordinated rush to electric cars can be.
TTAC has long seen stop-start systems (which turn off the engine at idle) as one of the many common-sense technologies that will continue to improve internal combustion engine efficiency at a relatively low cost. Outside of these digital pages, though, the systems have taken longer to gain awareness in the United States, resulting in the lagging adoption rate pictured in the chart above. Up to this point, we’ve assumed that this can largely be blamed on the EPA test’s unwillingness to acknowledge the urban-driving advantages of stop-start systems, pointing to Mazda’s protests on the matter as evidence that government intransigence was keeping the technology out of the market. But recently Mazda has announced that all of its vehicles will get stop-start as standard by 2015, and Ford has said that it will begin offering the technology on “some” four-cylinder models for the North American 2012 model-year… and the rest of Detroit isn’t far behind. So what’s the deal? The EPA hasn’t changed its test… why are stop-start systems finally starting to trickle over?
Thanks to new research obtained by TTAC from the cleantech investment fund Pacific Crest, we now have a better understanding of stop-start technology, and why we’re actually glad it’s taking so long for the systems to get here.
I designed TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey to provide information an average of ten months ahead of the established annual surveys. Early last December we shared with TTAC readers that ”Early data on the Ford Fiesta is not good.” Then, in early March, we stated about the 2011 Fiesta and the 2010 Taurus that ”Ford does not appear to have tested either model thoroughly enough.” The late February release on the TrueDelta site went a step farther, asking, “Is Ford slipping?” The answer last week from Ford: “Yes, but we’re going to fix it.”
While the political battle lines over increasing CAFE standards are being drawn in Washington, with the industry taking on both environmentalists and itself, a line of analysis that’s been around since 2009 is exacerbating the industry’s internal divisions over the impact of CAFE increases. A two-year-old University of Michigan study has been exhumed and expanded upon in a new CitiGroup report which makes a bold claim: CAFE will actually improve both sales and profits for the industry. And with Detroit taking the lead in resisting CAFE increases, one might think that the industry’s “turncoats” like Toyota and Hyundai, who have made marketing-led decisions to support CAFE increases, would be the main beneficiaries of these reports. Not so. According to this battle-line-confounding analysis, the biggest beneficiary of CAFE increases will be… Detroit. Madness you say? You may well be right…
Though the EPA won’t actually announce its 2025 CAFE standard until September, the California Air Resources Board’ insistence on a 62 MPG standard for ’25 has the industry’s analysts and talking heads in something of a frenzy. Smelling the smoke on the breeze, Automotive News [via AutoWeek] trots out a range of interpretations of the proposed 62 MPG standard, from the frightening to the apocalyptic. Cost increases per vehicle for a 62 MPG by 2025 standard are estimated by government agencies at $3,500 “at most,” while Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers reckons they’ll run “as much as $6,400.” Sean McAlinden of the notoriously industry-friendly Center for Automotive Research figures the market will have to shift to 64% plug-in hybrids, at a price increase of $9,970 per vehicle, while the AAM adds that 62 by 20205 “could cut car sales by 25 percent, costing the industry 220,000 jobs.” And the EPA seems to be listening to the rising chorus of grumbles, as the agency’s Margo Oge soothed the locals on a recent visit to Detroit with the words
We will be very mindful — and I underline ‘mindful’ — of the consumer throughout this process. Unless people buy these new clean cars and trucks, and buy them in large numbers, everyone loses.
But if CARB wants 62 MPG by 2025, it will get it from the EPA. Which means the real question is simply how much will the standard actually add to per-vehicle costs? Is the industry inflating its numbers in hope of a teaspoon of federal sugar to help the medicine go down? Is the 62 MPG standard really an industry killer?
Editor’s Note: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Byron Hurd of SpeedSportLife, in his TTAC debut.
There has been an almost-palpable sensation of glee propagating through the various import-leaning car communities I frequent. For nearly two years, they’ve had to sit back and listen to the other guys relentlessly gushing about domestic brand turnarounds. With only a few notable speed bumps, it has been a pretty good run so far for post-bailout Detroit. Market share is up; buyers are coming back; product is improving–a sad state of affairs for the import fanboy. Then, out of nowhere, those cunning deviants over at Motor Trend—known of course for setting the magazine landscape ablaze with their out-of-left-field criticisms and take-no-prisoners, “gotcha”-style journalism—dropped a Molotov cocktail into this Texas-desert-dry landscape of domestic love.
GM and its Korean battery partner LG Chem have signed licensing agreements with the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, giving the two firms access to Argonne’s proprietary lithium and manganese-rich metal oxide mix for use in lithium battery cell cathodes. The material will need “several years of testing” according to The General, but could extend battery life, increase charging voltages and storage, and make Li-ion cells safer. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu says GM’s agreement with the publicly-funded lab
gives General Motors the ability to use cutting-edge battery technology throughout its supply chain. The licensing of this technology will also spur the renewal of the American battery industry, creating hundreds of new jobs where they are needed most.
But that’s not quite the whole story. According to press releases, GM’s deal with Argonne allows the automaker to
to use Argonne’s patented composite cathode material to make advanced lithium-ion batteries
But LG Chem’s agreement allows the Korean firm
to make and use Argonne’s patented cathode material technology in lithium-ion battery cells
In short, a publicly-funded lab has licensed technology in a way that appears to deepen the (partially) government-owned automaker’s dependence on a foreign firm. Confused? So is the mainstream media. And so, to some extent, are we.
Science fiction author Charlie Stross recently penned a blog piece on the future impact of autonomously computer-driven cars. Let’s call them “robocars.” I’ve pondered this before and Stross’s post is the perfect jumping-off point for a discussion of the many issues standing between science fiction and the robocar future. Let’s take a look.
Yes, I can muster some appreciation of Econolines of yore. But the painful reality is that the current E-Series is an ugly, primitive and inefficient pig virtually unchanged since 1974. The fact that the American light truck sector hasn’t had the same revolution that European design influences have had on passenger cars is a mystery. Case in point: Ford’s Transit (not Connect) vans are a (several, actually) giant development leap ahead of the Econoline, offering FWD, RWD and AWD variants in three wheelbase lengths, numerous configurations, and driven by the most advanced diesels that can get well over 20 mpg. The Transit outsells Mercedes Sprinter in Europe. What the hell is Ford waiting for? Read More >
What you see above is the cutaway of the Ford 5.0L mill, taken from the 2010 New York Auto Show. Formerly known as the Coyote V8, the 5.0-packed 2011 Mustang GT hit the showroom floors, winning rave reviews with every journalist lucky enough to get their hands on one. While blogging for TTAC at the New York Auto Show, I hit up the Five-Oh engine displays at the Ford booth. It was a thoroughly technical and suitably beautiful exhibit. Only problem was, it gave away a secret that nobody should know. Camera in hand, I did the deed: a picture tells a thousand words, but this TTAC Editorial still needs about 800 words to go with.
After the watching the OPOC engine run and shooting some exclusive video for TTAC, I was introduced to CEO Don Runkle.
Read More >
Predicting the future is a risky business. Lincoln Steffens, muckraking journalist and admirer of the Soviet Union said, regarding the then young USSR, “I have been over into the future, and it works.” Steffens apparently wrote that before he actually visited the workers paradise in the early 1920s. A decade later he regretted that endorsement.
Music writer Jon Landau’s prediction was a bit more accurate. “Last Thursday, at the Harvard Square Theater, I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock and roll future and its name was Bruce Springsteen.” Landau was soon to edge The Boss’ original manager, Mike Appel, out of the picture, took over management of Springsteen’s career and production of his music, and did everything in his power to make his prophecy a self-fulfilling one.
Earlier this week I believe that I saw the future of transportation and stationary power and its name is OPOC. That stands for “opposed piston opposed cylinder”, a new engine architecture being developed for production and licensing by EcoMotors, a Troy, Michigan startup.
Just in time for today’s tour of Michigan’s “battery belt,” the Obama Administration has released a study [full PDF here] of its electric vehicle stimulus efforts which concludes that the money was all well spent. Though the report covers a number of programs, from the ATVM “retooling loan” program which is backing companies like Nissan, Tesla and Fisker, to charging station subsidies, the major accomplishment of these billions of dollars is encapsulated in a single claim:
By 2012, thanks in part to the Recovery Act, 30 factories will be online and the U.S. will have the capacity to produce 20 percent of the world’s advanced vehicle batteries. By 2015, this share will be 40 percent.
As you can see from one of the report’s graphs (above) the US will achieve this 40 percent share of the world’s EV battery production just as two-thirds of the cost is beaten out of the things. And because batteries don’t follow Moore’s Law, it’s all diminishing returns from there. So what happens come 2015?
Jim Sikes’ Prius high-speed dash to fame or infamy is a media hype-fest, with wild swings in sentiment from Toyota bashing to Sikes trashing. The rush to judgment is innately human, and Sikes certainly makes an easy target. But in the process, very little effort has been made to analyze what actually happened, or what might have actually happened, on the basis of the facts rather than Jim Sikes’ financial history and sexual proclivities. Read More >
And the data beat goes on. I asked Edmunds if they had updated model information to filter out the spike of UA reports to NHTSA after the 9/29/09 Toyota mat recall in order to improve my attempt at coming up with a model-specific UA rate. Not only did they oblige, but they already did all the work! A big hat tip to Edmunds, who has taken a lead in the quest to make sense of the data as well as the whole UA fiasco. Read More >