If you want to see the future of the electric car, you have to go back a hundred years. In 1900, over a quarter of all new automobiles ran on battery. City cars? Around a third of the buggies of Chicago, Boston, and New York City were electric. They were decimated by cars running on smelly and flammable gasoline, because people wanted to drive fast and long distances. Hundred years later, little has changed. Ten to 20 years from now, something might change. (Read More…)
Two GM employees suffered injuries at the company’s Warren, Michigan battery research facility following an explosion and a small fire. Emergency crews were called to the scene at 8:45 A.M Wednesday, and found a small fire as well as two injured employees.
A123 Systems will be replacing battery packs built at their Livonia, Michigan plant that contain prismatic cells – the same type used in the Fisker Karma. The recall is estimated to cost A123 about $55 million. The defective batteries are linked to the recent problems experienced by Fisker Karma owners, according to A123 CEO David Vieau.
Last May, the Nissan Leaf was the hottest thing on the green radar. Limited production and a long waiting list for the press meant that Nissan was lending out Leafs (Nissan tells us that is the correct way to pluralize a Leaf) 62-hours at a time. With my long commute and lengthy 120V charging times, this meant a review with only 217 miles under our belt (read our three-part review here: 1 2 3). Now that a few thousand Leafs have found homes in Northern California and I had practiced my “range anxiety” breathing techniques, I was eager to see if the ultimate green ride was also a decent car beyond the batteries.
I was originally hesitant to jump on the Tesla Roadster “bricked batteries” bandwagon, and my initial story was written with a sort of cautious neutrality. Further context will be provided by the details that have surfaced in the 24 hours since the story broke. Hope you’re ready to dive in to it all.
A few years ago I was let in on a secret: Toyota’s dreams of world domination hinged on capturing hip young buyers interested in green tech and high fuel economy. Of course, Toyota’s hybrid plans have been the worst kept secret since In-N-Out’s “secret menu” and as a result, the green Gen Y boys and girls I know in Berkeley have been excited for years about a “baby Prius”. Well kids, the blue spaceship landed in La Jolla and Toyota invited us down to take a drive. Does a hybrid Yaris with more MPGs than you can shake a stick at have what it takes help Prius become Toyota’s best-selling nameplate? Let’s find out.
General Motors announced changes to the Chevrolet Volt’s design after a NHTSA investigation into why a Volt caught fire following crash testing.
The changes will go into effect once production restarts at the Hamtramck, Michigan facility, but customer cars already sold will follow a different protocol.
The National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seeking:
“All records, documents, internal and external documentations between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and General Motors between June 1, 2009 and December 1, 2011. These requested records shall include communication regarding the Chevrolet Volt, also known as the Chevy Volt.”
That’s a lot of paper if the request will be granted. (Read More…)
GM is close to having a fix for the Volt battery that had a tendency to go up in flames after a crash. Meanwhile in Washington, senators are getting the grill ready. (Read More…)
With NHTSA opening a formal defect investigation into the Chevy Volt, GM is moving to defend its rolling lightning rod (no pun intended) and allay consumer fears about its safety. Yesterday I briefly appeared on Fox Business’s Your World With Neil Cavuto show to talk about what the intro to my segment referred to as “the hybrid from hell” and the “killer in your garage.” I tried to explain that the danger to consumers was basically nil, and that the real concern is for rescue, towing and salvage workers. And I would have explained why NHTSA’s tests still leave some serious questions open, but my “fair and balanced” approach meant that my segment ended up being extremely short. So let’s take the opportunity now to look past the hysteria and pinpoint the real issues with NHTSA’s investigation into the Volt.
The trouble with EVs is that they need batteries. Batteries are expensive and heavy, they deplete quickly and are prone to early death. Japanese carmakers and universities are assaulting the problems head-on. They have batteries that go twice as far and live twice as long. But there is a new problem … (Read More…)
Let’s face it, hybrids are boring. They are slow, complicated, come with hard tires and soft suspensions, sloppy handling, and they look weird. We’ve heard the story before: this hybrid is different. First Lexus gave us the GS and RX hybrids claiming V8 performance with V6 fuel economy, but the result was more like V6 performance with V6 economy, not really a great sales pitch. Still, hybrids sell well and with Infiniti marching towards mainstream luxury success they “need” a hybrid. Of course, with Infiniti aiming to be the “Japanese BMW”, performance is obviously a prime concern, so the claim from Infiniti that the M35h will deliver “V8 performance and four-cylinder economy” was expected. But is it another case of leather clad disappointment? Let’s find out.
As I noted in an earlier piece on the macro-level issues with EVs, it’s dangerously misleading to assume that electric cars can simply replace internal combustion-engine vehicles without a basic re-think of nearly every way in which we relate to our cars. That’s true in terms of consumer-end issues like refueling grid impacts and “range anxiety” but it’s also true in terms of manufacturer-end issues like development and differentiation. It’s even true for the auto media.
One of the giant re-thinks spawned by EV development is in how manufacturers make their vehicles reflect their brand values and stand out in the marketplace, as the electric motor in (say) a Ferrari EV wouldn’t be as fundamentally different as an electric motor in (say) a Kia. This, in turn, makes reviewing EVs extremely difficult, as they all display similar power attributes, weight challenges, single-speed transmissions and battery ranges. So when you are asked to drive a pre-production EV from a major manufacturer, the major question in the mind of the conscientious reporter is the same as the question that drove the vehicle’s development: how is this vehicle different than any other EV? In the case of the Golf blue-e-motion, the answer to that question reflects the challenges of developing a major-market electric vehicle.
Further on today’s results conference at Nissan, I could regale (or most likely bore) you with what you will hear from just about any Japanese carmaker, and possibly from non-Japanese carmakers as well: Last year was a good year, the March 11 tsunami makes this year a challenging year, but what will not kill us makes us stronger, and in ancient China, crisis and opportunity were one and the same.
Now this is Nissan and Carlos Ghosn who has bet a farm in France and one in Japan on the future of the electric car. Ghosn made a few points today that are well worth noting. He talked about nukes, CO2, blackouts – and batteries.
What was the problem of EVs again? It’s the battery. Too expensive. Empty too fast. Also known as price and range.
Japan’s Sumitomo Electric thinks they have a solution, in the true sense of the word. Their molten salt battery is said to cost about 10 percent of the price of lithium ion batteries. It also holds twice the charge. (Read More…)