The Truth About Cars » Infrastructure The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:28:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (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 » Infrastructure DOT Dozen Call For Congress To Focus On Long-Term Of Infrastructure Funding Mon, 28 Jul 2014 10:00:52 +0000 New Mexico bridge ramp construction

Alongside 11 former U.S. Department of Transportation secretaries, current secretary Anthony Foxx urged both houses of Congress to find a long-term solution to the funding of the U.S. Highway Trust Fund beyond what is under consideration at present.

According to Autoblog, Foxx notes that while he and his comrades — going back 35 years and 7 presidents in total — are hopeful the upcoming funding bill will go through, he states that the current unpredictability of the crisis-to-crisis method of governance over the past few years “is no way to run a railroad, fill a pothole, or repair a bridge.”

The DOT Dozen are calling, instead, for Congress to consider the long game regarding the nation’s infrastructure: 100 million new people and 14 billion tons of additional freight by 2050. There, they see some hope among the Beltway leadership to come up with ideas to remedy the issue, though finding consensus within the houses will take some time.

In the near term, Foxx explains that as much as $1.8 trillion will need to be spent by 2020 to bring surface infrastructure up to an adequate state, including the group of structurally deficient bridges whose number is great enough to connect Miami with Boston if laid end-to-end.

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California Receives Majority Of $7M US Energy Department Hydrogen Funding Fri, 30 May 2014 12:00:09 +0000 Honda FCX Clarity At Shell Hydrogen Fuel Pump

A new gold rush in California is coming to the fore as private and public investments push hydrogen fuel cell technology forward, and the U.S. Department of Energy is the latest to enter the arena.

Autoblog Green reports the DOE will be delivering $7 million in funding for the development of “lightweight, compact, and inexpensive advanced hydrogen storage systems that will enable longer driving ranges and help make fuel cell systems competitive for different platforms and sizes of vehicles,” the majority of the funds to land in California. Pasadena’s Materia will receive the most of the California-bound taxpayer dollars, with $2 million to help reduce the cost of storing compressed hydrogen through the use of “a novel resin system” aimed to replace carbon fiber composites in storage tanks.

The latest round of funding comes on the heels of similar investments into hydrogen storage and fueling infrastructure, including a $27.6 million grant by the California Energy Commission to FirstElement Fuel Inc., the startup founded by former General Motors and Hyundai exec Joel Ewanick. The only non-California recipient was PPG Industries of Greensboro, N.C., who will like supply its glass fiber tanks to the sole public fueling station outside of the new gold rush, located in Columbia, S.C.

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BMW: China To Be Largest EV Global Market By 2019 Thu, 29 May 2014 12:00:10 +0000 2014 BMW i3 01

Though Chinese consumers have been slow to adopt electric vehicles thus far, BMW believes China will become the largest global market for EVs by 2019 at the earliest.

Bloomberg reports the automaker entered into a joint venture with municipal power company State Grid Shanghai, installing public charging infrastructure at the city’s former World Expo site as one of 46 such sites around the city to be installed by the end of 2014. The charging equipment will be compatible with products made by BMW, SAIC and BYD et al, while Tesla owners will have to use Supercharger stations instead.

Meanwhile, BMW will begin deliveries of the i3 in China this September, being sold in showrooms alongside the i8. BMW China CEO Karsten Engel says he expects only 1,000 will arrive in showrooms this year due to lack of supply, while BMW overall will sell over 400,000. The Bavarians join fellow Germans Volkswagen and Daimler in producing EVs for the Chinese market to help boost adoption among consumers. Currently, 70,000 total EVs are on the road in the nation, far behind the Chinese government’s goal of 500,000 by next year.

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Obama Administration Delivers $302 Billion Transportation Funding Proposal Before Congress Wed, 30 Apr 2014 11:00:52 +0000 Syracuse Road Construction - Utah DOT

A $302 billion, four-year plan to fund the U.S. Highway Trust Fund — and, in turn, any road and transit projects on the table during the period — was brought before Congress by the Obama administration through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports the proposal would add $87 billion on top of what is currently in the trust fund in order to bring much-needed dollars to the many bridges and transit systems seeking rehabilitation while creating “millions of jobs” and, thus, boosting the economy, according to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. The fund, currently subsisting on gasoline and diesel taxes, would be funded by a temporary tax increase on overseas earnings by companies, which is the method proposed by President Barack Obama back in February 2014 in his budget request.

Meanwhile, both houses of Congress are seeking six-year funding proposals, though none have any financial resources to draw upon thus far. Further, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have claimed there currently are not enough votes to raise the 18.4-cent tax levied per gallon of gasoline to boost the trust fund’s coffers. One such proposal, made in 2012, failed due to being unable to decide upon a funding source, resulting in a two-year stop-gap measure funded through general tax revenue to keep construction projects moving forward.

The proposal also requested an increase in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s maximum fine for automakers who fail to issue recall notices on defective vehicles in a timely manner. The current maximum fine of $35 million would rise to $300 million “to ensure when a violation occurs it is more than a rounding error,” Foxx explained.

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Dr. Z Expects a Decade of Disappointment For Fuel Cell Technology Wed, 22 Jan 2014 11:00:10 +0000 DieterZetscheIAA2009

At a round-table discussion with reporters during last week’s Detroit Auto Show, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche proclaimed that any consumer wanting to be green with fuel cells had better be prepared for a decade of disappointment with the technology.

Zetsche said there were cost issues with the process for creating fuel cells — Daimler’s three-way dance with Ford and Nissan to bring a market-ready fuel cell vehicle by 2017 was done to help spread the cost while accelerating development — as well as a lack of vehicle volume to help further drive down costs, while the few hydrogen fueling stations around the globe aren’t doing anything to help widespread adoption; there are only 10 such stations in the United States alone, eight of which are in Southern California.

Zetsche is more optimistic on the autonomous vehicle front, however, noting the unexpectedly rapid development in the technology. Mercedes-Benz has taken the lead in the space with the new S-Class and its Distronic cruise control system with automatic braking, which can pilot a car on its own for up to 60 miles with a few adjustments to its onboard technology.

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Foreigners May Pay Toll to Storm the Autobahn Tue, 10 Dec 2013 12:00:10 +0000 autobahn

If you happen to live outside of Germany, you may soon find yourself paying a toll to do your best Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise impressions on the Autobahn.

The reason? While residents living in the nine countries surrounding Germany make extensive use of the Autobahn in their travels, the Germans are left footing the bill for maintenance on the famous infrastructure. Since foreigners don’t pay taxes to Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government has opted to enact a toll aimed at non-German citizens in order to share responsibilities.

The plan has detractors, of course, ranging from Austria’s transport minister Dores Bures threatening to take Germany to the European Court of Justice over the toll, to German auto club ADAC stating that even the potential revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover all the Autobahn’s maintenance costs.

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EVs Too Pricey For Most Consumers Mon, 02 Dec 2013 13:20:13 +0000 2012 Nissan Leaf, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Based upon a survey of 1,084 conducted by Boulder, Colo. firm Navigant Research, it would appear most won’t be in the market for EVs anytime soon due to the price of admission being too rich for their blood… for any EV.

According the survey, 71 percent plan to spend less than $25,000 on their next car with 43 percent of the 71 aiming for under $20,000; thus, the only EV or plug-in available within their range (after price cuts and credits) is the 2013 Nissan Leaf at $22,150.

Aside from price, familiarity is another obstacle for EV and plug-in adoption rates. The most familiar to the masses? The Chevrolet Volt, though only 6 percent are intimately familiar with the $26,685 (after credits) plug-in. However, the survey said that 67 percent of consumers loved the idea of hybrids, while 61 percent also loved the idea of EVs.

Finally, 40 percent of the populace sampled would be interested in charging stations in the vein of Tesla’s Supercharger, so long as they paid next to nothing (if at all) for the privilege; only 16 percent surveyed would pay more than $2 for a 15-minute recharge.

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Rotten Roads Ahead: U.S. Infrastructure Is Falling Apart Wed, 13 Feb 2013 17:48:27 +0000

The U.S. transportation system is in danger of falling apart, and will take down the economy with it, Bill Shuster, chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation Committee, said today while Reuters was keeping notes:

“If we don’t deal with this issue at some point, as I said, we will reach a tipping point and the transportation system may not recover and we will fall behind the rest of the world.”

According to Shuster, the U.S. transportation system has already “gone from being one of the top three, four (or) five systems in the world to now we’re 23 or 24, so we need to act.”

A recent study from the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated the United States needs to spend $2.75 trillion to maintain and improve its infrastructure by 2020.

The ASCE gave America’s roads a D-

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US House Committee Blasts National Toll Road Bank Proposal Fri, 14 Oct 2011 14:31:17 +0000

A top congressional leader on Wednesday made clear his opposition to President Obama’s idea of spending $10 billion to create a national infrastructure bank (view details). The bank, part of the White House jobs bill, would offer public subsidy for the financing of “public private partnerships” — which most often would take the form of a toll road. The chairman of the US House Transportation Committee said at a hearing the president’s plan would not advance.

“A national infrastructure bank is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives,” Chairman John Mica (R-Florida) said. “If you want a recipe to put off job creation, adopt that national infrastructure bank proposal.”

Opponents called the proposal a “distraction” from the issue of a long-term highway program reauthorization bill which would include funding for state-level toll road banks. Already, thirty-two states have their own infrastructure banks which have financed $6.3 billion in loan agreements along the same lines as the proposed federal bank.

“Many people are skeptical that bureaucrats in Washington would have any idea which transportation projects are most deserving of receiving a federal loan,” Highways and Transit subcommittee Chairman John J. Duncan, Jr (R-Tennessee) said. “This skepticism is why Congress has already established the state infrastructure bank program in SAFETEA-LU.”

In addition, the US Department of Transportation already provides federal credit for transportation projects under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which has offered $8.4 billion in project finance. Dozens of other financing mechanisms are offered by the Federal Highway Administration.

“Why build one when you could build two for twice the price?” Representative Howard Coble (R-North Carolina) said sarcastically.

Democrats offered the only backing for the bank idea.

“Before Wall Street destroyed the economy, I had said, ‘Well, I really don’t see the need for an infrastructure bank — most of the states have good credit and they can go out and borrow on their own at very good rates,” said subcommittee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon). “But that isn’t the case any more. The states need guarantees, they need help, many are against their borrowing limits, and most of the banks generously bailed out by Congress — not by me, I didn’t vote for it — aren’t lending. Credit and bond markets are tight.”

DeFazio only supports the use of the bank only for water, sewer and energy projects. He does not support tolls on existing interstates.


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Credit Ratings Agency Warns of Tolling Troubles Thu, 15 Sep 2011 14:59:38 +0000

Toll roads at one point appeared to be unstoppable. Steady growth in traffic yielded rapidly rising profits, especially for pioneers in the field such as Australia’s Macquarie Bank where executives became so rich from deals that included the leasing of US roads that it was dubbed the “millionaires’ factory.” That all changed when the recession took hold and motorists scaled back on the mileage driven each year. Losses began to mount, and as a report released last week by Fitch Ratings argues, the dynamics for tolling may not improve in the near future.

“Fitch tracks data on toll roads, bridges, and tunnels across its ratings portfolio,” Fitch analysts wrote in the report, Downshifting: US Transportation Reacts as GDP Growth Flattens. “Traffic declined year over year as much as 10 percent during the Great Recession. Sustained positive growth in traffic commenced in February 2010. The most recent Fitch data indicates that growth in traffic volumes began slowly declining on tolled facilities, heading to zero growth in second-quarter 2011.”

The US Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported a similar decline in commercial transportation services for both goods and passengers. Despite some recovery, the index remains below pre-recession levels. These transportation statistics mirror figures for consumer spending which began recovering early last year only to falter this March. Growth in consumer spending for the second quarter of 2011 was under 0.1 percent.

The credit ratings agency argues activity in the economy at large and the in the transportation sector are directly linked. When someone gets a job, he generally gets in his car to drive to work. When stores sell goods, the supplies, raw materials and final product are usually transported by truck. When unemployment is high and sales are low, such transportation activity drops.

“Higher oil and other commodity prices account for some of the change in consumer spending,” the analysts explained. “Unlike past downturns, these prices are increasingly influenced by external factors as well as US demand. Consumers are reacting to increased prices and a weak labor market with belt tightening.”

Fitch will not downgrade any existing credit ratings for toll roads because these operations have a monopoly position that enables them to recover from downturns by hiking tolls that many motorists have no choice but to pay.

“Tolled facilities have experienced low and even negative traffic growth since 2007,” the analysts stated. “Revenues have grown at a much higher rate as facility operators reacted to the downturn by raising rates to preserve financial and operational flexibility.”

The ratings agency warned that sustained periods of low economic growth imperils the financing of deals built with healthier traffic and economic forecasts in mind.

“Most public infrastructure facilities should be able to weather little to no growth scenarios over the next three to five years,” Fitch wrote. “However, there are a number of issuers whose escalating debt profiles could pose a problem in the medium term. Newer toll facilities generally have such debt service profiles… Stand-alone, concession-based facilities, originally financed in 2006 – 2008 when expectations for future economic growth were very high, will be more vulnerable.”


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How Much Do You Pay To Park? Thu, 14 Jul 2011 19:02:33 +0000

Colliers International has come out with its 2011 parking survey results for North America [PDF] and the world [PDF], and you might be surprised by what people pay on average to let their car sit somewhere. The global expensive parking crown (on a monthly basis) goes to London’s West End, which runs a cool $1,014 per month… by comparison, the US average is $155.22 per month. On a daily basis, Copenhagen takes the cake with $73.11, with the highest daily rate in the US coming to $41 per day in Midtown Manhattan. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

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Better Place Opens First European Battery Swap Station, Expands To Australia Wed, 29 Jun 2011 00:30:31 +0000

Though it doesn’t get the play it deserves in the auto media, Project Better Place is one of the most ambitious, potentially disruptive plays anywhere in the world of cars, uniquely positioning itself to eliminate the biggest shortcomings of electric vehicles. TTAC was on hand when the “end-to-end” EV services firm opened its first battery swap station in Israel, and now the firm has launched its first European swap station in Denmark. Better Place’s single model, the Renault Fluence Z.E won’t be widely available in either of the two initial launch markets until later this year, but having sold over 70,000 of its initial order of 100k units from Renault, Better Place is keeping its foot on the gas… er, juice.

Earlier this year, BP signed a deal with GM’s Australian division Holden and several suppliers, to develop large, rear-drive sedans based on the (Zeta Platform) Commodore. At the time, we noted

This project is highly significant on a number of levels. First, battery-swap-enabled large sedans operating in Australia could show the way forward for the US, by breaking stereotypes about EV size, capability and operating environments. Second, the project marks the first sign of flirtation between General Motors and Project Better Place’s battery-swap-based business.

And that initial challenge, proving that BP’s battery-swap infrastructure can provide “unlimited range” EV motoring at relatively low costs (thanks to its unique battery-leasing arrangement) outside of tiny, densely-populated markets like Israel and Denmark, is one that the firm is eager to conquer. And so BP is building on pilot testing in Canberra, Australia, by announcing that the first Fluence Z.Es will begin arriving Australia in the middle of next year. Cars will first arrive in Canberra, and Australia-wide sales will follow, and according to the firm’s press release

By 2013 Better Place will give Australia the largest electric car charge network in the world, which is expected to outpace current deployment plans in market-leading countries including the US and China.

If Better Place can build momentum and create a viable market for its EV scheme in Australia, there’s no reason it can’t do so in the US. Keep an eye on these guys…

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Oregon: Study Finds Light Rail System Rarely Used Tue, 17 May 2011 13:47:23 +0000

A study released earlier this month by the Cascade Policy Institute questioned whether pricey mass transit options in Portland, Oregon are really being used by the public. The city has been a leader in securing funding for various forms of passenger rail and trolley systems. The Obama administration, for example, pledged $745 million in federal gas tax dollars to pay for the construction of a $1.5 billion, 7.3 mile light rail project connecting Portland to Milwaukie. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has singled out the city’s priorities as for praise.

“By adding innovative transit opportunities, Portland has become a model livable community, a city where public transportation brings housing closer to jobs, schools, and essential services,” LaHood wrote in March.

The Cascade Policy Institute wanted to verify the claim that the TriMet transit system was able to move more passengers than a standard bus line. The researchers did so by attending five special events where use of mass transit would make the most sense, including the final playoff game for the Portland Trail Blazers. The events were spread throughout the year to examine the effects of different weather conditions on transit use. City officials have never made a study of this sort.

“This is important because transportation planners at Metro, TriMet, ODOT and other agencies routinely make multi-billion-dollar decisions based on travel surveys, computer models or simply their own personal beliefs about how people should travel,” Cascade President John A. Charles, Jr wrote in his report. “They rarely have any direct knowledge of how people actually travel under specific conditions of time, mode availability, parking pricing and geographic constraints.”

The Cascade team counted a total of 47,666 individual attendees, noting how many headed toward the venue from a light rail station and how many arrived by automobile, bicycle or foot. At best, 21 percent arrived by rail to see the Trail Blazers. At worst, the opening of the Gresham Civic Station saw just 2 percent arrive by rail. On average, rail accounted for just 11 percent of the trips recorded.

“The field research shows that continued use of the phrase ‘high-capacity transit’ by local planners to describe the regional rail program is Orwellian,” Cascade President John A. Charles, Jr. said in a statement. “Light rail is actually a low-capacity system, and the streetcar is simply irrelevant. TriMet’s buses carries two-thirds of all regional transit trips on a daily basis, and that’s the service that should be recognized as high-capacity transit. Unfortunately, bus service is being sacrificed by TriMet in order to build costly new rail lines that carry relatively few people.”

A copy of the report is available in a 1.2mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Light Rail, Streetcars and the High Capacity Transit Myth (Cascade Policy Institute, 5/2/2011)


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House Transportation Committee Blasts Transportation Stimulus Thu, 05 May 2011 14:35:21 +0000

One of President Obama’s signature achievements, passage of $812 billion in stimulus funds at the height of the recession, was labeled a failure by the chairman of the US House Transportation Committee, which had jurisdiction over about eight percent of the projects funded. In a hearing yesterday, Representative John Mica (R-Florida) explained that the money did not end up going to needed infrastructure projects.

“This will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of a government program to stimulate the economy that mankind has ever created,” Mica said. “This is a trillion-dollar lesson.”

Initially, the idea behind the stimulus was to create a $250 billion package with the most of the funding going toward infrastructure projects. The total amount of the package more than tripled, but the funds for infrastructure dwindled to just $64.1 billion. Of that amount, only $27.1 billion went to highways and bridges.

“I could not be more frustrated by the results that I see,” Mica said. “The total stimulus package was $787 billion and that’s been re-evaluated to over $800 billion, and still we have a stagnating economy…. Many of the jobs created were very temporary jobs.”

Committee Democrats defended the stimulus, suggesting the economy would have been in far worse shape had the money not been spent. Mica cited administrative problems with the spending. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) audited how effectively the Department of Transportation (DOT) disbursed grants, particularly for the high-speed rail and “TIGER” grants. Over $9.5 billion was handed out based on vague criteria.

“DOT cannot definitively demonstrate the basis for its award selections, particularly the reasons why recommended projects were selected for half the awards over highly recommended ones,” Phillip R. Herr, director of physical infrastructure for GAO, testified. “Developing internal documentation is a key part of accountability for decisions, and DOT guidance states that officials should explain how discretionary grant projects were selected when projects with the highest priority in a technical review were not funded. The absence of documentation can give rise to challenges to the integrity of the decisions made, and DOT is vulnerable to criticism that projects were selected for reasons other than merit.”

GAO also noted DOT’s failure to measure the potential for long-term benefits when selecting projects.


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Inside Israel’s First Battery Swap Station Tue, 29 Mar 2011 18:13:16 +0000 When Better Place launched their Visitor Center in Tel Aviv, the attending journalists’ fingers couldn’t keep up with all the numbers and the promises flogged by the company chiefs: tens of battery switch stations to be built, hundreds of charging stations to be deployed and a thousand cars to be sold to Israeli customers each month.

Just over a year has passed since these statements made air, and in typical Israeli fashion – most of the goals were not met. Despite promising to begin delivery of cars in the beginning of 2011, Better Place has not sold a single car over the four months that passed since New Year’s Eve. And the number of battery switch stations built in Israel was – you guessed it – exactly zero. Until now.

I couldn’t blame the residents of Kiryat Ekron – a small town located about 20 minutes south of Tel Aviv – for mistaking Better Place’s latest effort for an automatic car wash. Examined up close, Better Place’s first commercial car battery switch station still looks like a carwash for the yuppie: it’s a white, square structure with an appropriately modern rounded-rectangle tunnel attached to it, standing in the backyard of a gas station.

But before we talk about switching batteries, let’s talk about cars. Namely, let’s talk about the Renault Fluence Z.E, which Better Place sets to be its most important car in Israel. So far, Better Place has only demonstrated their solution to the public using a fleet of converted Renault Lagunas – one of which I briefly drove last year. The launch of the first Israeli battery switch station was the first opportunity for me to meet the nearly-finalized prototype of Better Place’s flagship in person.

Unsurprisingly, it’s based off the Renault Fluence – which in its turn is a bigger, four-door version of the Megané, targeted mainly at developing markets outside of Europe. While the Fluence is formally a compact car – despite being quite large for its segment – its electrified sibling errs ever further towards midsize in the automotive wardrobe, having been extended by a few inches in order to accommodate the battery somewhere underneath the rear seats. Interior dimensions seem to have remained the same, while trunk space was slightly compromised in the conversion process.

While Better Place didn’t let us drive the cars ourselves, performance figures seem to be adequate – just over 10 seconds from 0 to 60 mph and an electrically (no pun intended) governed top speed of about 90 mph – all that from an engine putting out about 90 horsepower and 167 ft-lb of torque. Interestingly, according to Better Place officials, the entire battery pack weighs just under 660 pounds, while Renault itself gives a more optimistic 550 pound weight figure.

The battery switch process itself is thoroughly unexciting, which must mean great praise for Better Place’s work in developing the concept. The driver only needs to flash his Better Place RFID card at the machine, drive into the rather narrow tunnel and find something to occupy himself with during the upcoming 3 minutes. The car slides into position, slightly lifted – then an underground robot grabs the battery, disappears – and returns with a fresh one. All of this is invisible to the technologically impaired driver, while the geekier amongst us can watch the entire process streamed live on a TV planted outside.

Better Place says that the stations are designed to be modular and compatible with several different vehicles and that 15 batteries are stocked in every station at all times. Even though that doesn’t sound like a lot, Better Place claims that the calculations they’ve made found this to be the optimal number. 8 more switch stations are in construction, and the company set 40 stations throughout the country as its initial goal, despite initially promising 70 stations by the end of 2010. According to company officials, they found that 40 stations provide a complete coverage of Israel, and that more stations may be installed in the future according to answer demand in key locations.

Shai Agassi, the company’s charismatic CEO and founder, was as optimistic and ambitious as usual. “You’re seeing the second Apple”, he announced in the press conference that followed the switch demo. This time, however, Agassi and his team were significantly less keen on throwing promises around – only committing to starting distribution to customers on Q4/2011.

Despite already announcing its pricing schemes in Denmark in the beginning of this month, Better Place refuses to reveal Israeli prices at this time. An internal Better Place memo which leaked to the Israeli press, however, sets the price of the Renault Fluence Z.E at 123,000 NIS, or about $34,500. That may sound like a lot of money for a compact car, but consider that in heavily taxed Israel, the bestselling car – the Mazda3 – is only some $800 cheaper, while lacking much of the equipment that the tax-reduced Fluence Z.E is expected to carry standard.

As fleet sales account for more than 60% of the new car market in Israel, Better Place is aiming to sign contracts with the country’s most prominent rental and lease companies in which it guarantees buyback of its vehicles after three years in service in exchange for a commitment by the companies to price the Fluence Z.E closely to internal combustion competitors.

If the Danish pricing schemes are of any indication, Better Place is expected to offer several different plans for various mileages. In Denmark, the most expensive plan – allowing for unlimited mileage –costs the user about 400 euros (or about $550) per month, while the most basic – allowing for up to 12,000 miles per year – costs from 200 ($280) to 250 ($350) euros. Considering Israel’s slightly higher gasoline prices, the appropriate plans in the Holy Land will likely cost more compared to Denmark.

And if those prices sound a bit high to you, it’s probably because they are. A very rough calculation puts one month of Denmark-priced gasoline for an average compact car travelling 12,000 annual miles very close to the price Better Place offers for that mileage, and perhaps even slightly higher. It seems that Better Place’s main lure would be the ‘unlimited’ packages. On its end, Better Place doesn’t try to refute this claim, only going as far as promising running costs “comparable or lower” to those of equivalent gasoline vehicles.

One of the most interesting points brought up in the press conference was the compatibility of Better Place’s charging points with third party cars. The company was keen to emphasize that the charging points, of which a 1,000 have already been installed in public and private parking garages, are designed according to a “standard”, which will allow non-Better Place cars to be charged using their current infrastructure. Agassi went as far as claiming that the company doesn’t view fixed-battery EVs as competition since they only target drivers travelling short distances. Agassi was also reluctant to answer journalists’ questions regarding specific models, but said that the company is in “negotiation” with several local dealers regarding possible cooperation.

As I was standing next to one of the Fluence Z.Es parked by the curb, a curious passerby interrupted my photoshoot. “Nice looking car,” he said. “What’s the engine’s displacement?” “It’s electric,” I dutifully replied. “Oh, cool”, he noted as he continued to circle the car. “So how big is the engine?”

“Our target is for people to say it’s a car”, said Agassi in his opening statement. Did they succeed in that? The answer is a resounding yes. Better Place and Renault have managed to create a car that looks, feels and refuels like your average Camry, and for that they deserve credit. Unfortunately, that’s not the toughest challenge the company has to face. The jury is still out on the viability of Better Place’s model in real life, and in an industry as conservative, the company isn’t going to have an easy time proving the skeptics wrong.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The State Of The EV Infrastructure Edition Thu, 17 Mar 2011 20:23:55 +0000
Good news! Google Maps will now point you to the nearest “electric car charging station” if you search for same, reports CR.

[Google] is working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is developing a database of available charging stations (known as EVSEs, or electric vehicle supply equipment) around the United States. Installers of EVSEs have the option of having their stations displayed as public. When we were charging the Nissan Leaf at our facility, not a public venue, our chargers showed up on the Leaf’s navigation system; The navi in the Leaf is designed to remember sites at which it had been charged.

The bad news? Well, just look at that map. Unless you live in California, you don’t need Google to tell you where the nearest charging station is, you need a clairvoyant to tell you where one might someday be built. If you’re still struggling to understand why EVs need to be tested on a local level before the federal government spends more money subsidizing them on a national level, look no further.
[UPDATE: The screen grab above is not comprehensive. Surf over Google Maps for a closer look at EV charging stations in your area]

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Rear-Drive Holdens Meets Battery-Swap In Australia Thu, 24 Feb 2011 22:06:34 +0000

For most Americans, the appeal of electric vehicles is somewhat blunted by the fact that they tend to be small, European-style hatchbacks rather than large, red-blooded “American-style” sedans. But what if large, rear-drive electric sedans were developed, using battery-swap technology that could allow battery-leasing business models and instant range-extension? Might Americans rethink a few of their long-held stereotypes about EVs?

Well, the United States isn’t the only nation facing this dilemma, and unlike the US, Australia is actually doing something about it. Australian automotive suppliers, Air International, Bosch, Continental and Futuris, have teamed up with Project Better Place to develop seven “proof of concept” Holden Commodore-based rear-drive electric sedans that could be the first of their kind [press release here in PDF] in a joint venture called EV Engineering. The project is part of Australia’s effort to revamp its automotive industry by 2020.

Holden is only peripherally involved in the the $26m JV, providing engineering support and use of its proving grounds, according to, but several former Holden executives are heading the project. And the project is almost entirely privately-funded as well, with a mere $3.5m coming from the Australian government’s now-defunct green car innovation fund. The project has no plans to put EV Commodores into production, but each participating supplier will use the vehicles to develop know-how around large, rear-drive electric vehicles, a segment that does not yet exist in the marketplace. The idea is that, down the road, the research will help Australia become the global auto industry’s source of rear-drive EV technology and experience.

The projects goals, beyond building the seven prototypes, are:

1) Deliver zero emissions motoring when powered by renewable electricity and greater than 30% reduction in CO2 emissions when powered on grid average electricity.

(2) Deliver the same high standards of safety and feature available in this class of vehicle while delivering comparable performance.

(3) Be designed for a manufacturing cost equivalent to top selling petrol vehicles in this class, without battery. (Batteries will be included as part of monthly electric vehicle charge network subscriptions, replacing petrol costs.)

(4) Be capable of accessing both EV charge spots and ‘battery switch’ stations for unlimited range extension. Additionally, the project will help to develop electric vehicle engineering skills and components within the Australian supplier industry for potential export to car makers globally, with opportunities including battery pack design and thermal management systems.

This project is highly significant on a number of levels. First, battery-swap-enabled large sedans operating in Australia could show the way forward for the US, by breaking stereotypes about EV size, capability and operating environments. Second, the project marks the first sign of flirtation between General Motors and Project Better Place’s battery-swap-based business. Though Holden is not an official partner, there’s no doubt that GM will be keeping a very close eye on the project, especially given its possible applicability to the United States. Thus far, only Renault has officially signed on as a Better Place vehicle supplier. Finally, by spurring on development of an EV based on Australia’s best-selling car,  Better Place strengthens its position in the Australian market, which could also inspire more interest from American governments and automakers in the batter-swap business.

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The Battle Of The EV Business Models Thu, 17 Feb 2011 20:31:04 +0000

Consulting firm Accenture took a look at a number of EV pilot programs in hopes of gaining some insights into how exactly the rise of plug-in vehicles will change the automotive industry, the refueling infrastructure and the customer experience [full PDF here], and came away with some interesting conclusions. First, the study finds that the market models for plug-ins will vary from region to region. That’s good news for the automakers, as it makes it less likely that they will be forced to comply with standards set by a single firm dominating a global market model. On the other hand, the regional variations in market models (more on the models themselves shortly) will worsen one of the major challenges of plug-in proliferation, namely scale. The study finds that scale, along with cost and grid control are the three factors that pilot programs can not provide insight into, and all three require “creative” solutions. And here’s where business-as-usual in the car business gets blown wide-open: the business models, rather than the vehicles themselves, are where the real competition is. So, what are the models?

Accenture identifies three basic models which, with some variations, are being tested around the globe: teh Public charging infrastructure, the private charging infrastructure and the so-called “end-to-end model.” The firm summarizes the pros and cons of each as follows:

In short, the public model is the government-led “investment in the public good” aimed at accelerating EV adoption, a model we’ve seen in a number of the US-based pilots. The private model assumes a return on investment purely on the charging infrastructure. Accenture found that both public and private charging infrastructures tend to have a higher grid impact, and because home recharging is expected to remain the main source of EV power, their impact will likely be limited. The “end-to-end model,” on the other hand seems to be the winning formula, by integrating vehicle, service and infrastructure costs (which frees pricing options), limiting grid impacts, and offering a convenient customer experience that is not dissimilar from the familiar cell phone model. One of the key advantages to this model is that it allows EV “service providers” to disaggregate the cost of the battery, lowering a key barrier to consumer acceptance (battery depreciation), using batteries more efficiently and charging a fixed fee for “mileage plans” not unlike cell phone plans where consumers purchase “minutes.”

Accenture concludes that the public model best addresses scale, while the private model best addresses costs and grid control, while “end-to-end” is the only model that addresses all three. This would seem to be a fairly ringing endorsement for the oft-dismissed (by the auto industry, anyway) Project Better Place, which is the only real player in the “end-to-end” model. Of course, Accenture hedges considerably by saying the models will receive varying levels of support by geography and that all three will continue to evolve, but it’s fairly clear that “end-to-end” shows the most long-term promise.

Unfortunately, the rise of “end-to-end” EV “service providers” would essentially spell the end of the auto industry as we know it. EVs generally present challenges to the product differentiation the industry currently competes on, but an end-to-end solution explodes every traditional value in the industry. After all, automakers will not only need to develop batteries, but infrastructure as well to survive as an “end-to-end service provider.” Dealers won’t be able to stay alive on the backs of their service departments. Consumers will be forced to think rationally about their vehicle usage in order to purchase a service agreement, destroying the prevalent consumer perspective that decades of marketers worked so hard to cultivate.

Electric vehicles are generating a lot of excitement, but the vehicles themselves are actually something of an afterthought. A refined infrastructure business model is what will take EVs from their early-adopter ghetto and into the mainstream, a task Project Better Place is currently launching in Israel. The exciting part: a year from now, we will have some idea of whether or not the “end-to-end” model really works in the real world (well, Israel, anyway). If it does, that infrastructure model could have a greater impact on the world of cars than any actual car. It’s a brave new world…

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Marin County Bans “Smart Grid”: Will The EV Market Suffer? Fri, 07 Jan 2011 16:24:46 +0000

As one of California’s leading bastions of privileged liberalism (2009 per-capita income: $91,483) , Marin County is probably one of the top counties worldwide in terms of EV market potential. But apparently the local government isn’t ready to tap its unique combination of money and idealism to become a leading market for electric cars. Even as Californian EV activists are being forced to install second power meters to separate EV charging from home electricity use in order to take advantage of lower electricity rates for EV charging, the NYT reports that Marin County has banned the use of “smart meters” which would allow more widespread EV adoption.

Smart meters, which communicate electricity use wirelessly to the power company would allow EV charging to be easily separated from home use, but they also raise a number of issues that Marin County simply doesn’t want to have to deal with. Privacy, health risks from electromagnetic frequency radiation, and radio communication interruptions are all cited in the Marin County ordinance [PDF here] which bans installation of the smart meters in unincorporated areas of the county. The upside for EV enthusiasts is that this affects on 70k of the county’s 260k residents… but again, knowing Marin County, the county’s numerous rural mansions are probably a huge part of its potential base of EV support. And the towns of Fairfax and Watsonville have already banned smart readers, as has Santa Cruz County, another prime EV market. Time to start rethinking those running costs?

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California Legislative Analyst Blasts Public Private Partnership Fri, 24 Dec 2010 15:30:48 +0000

The California legislature’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) blasted a public-private partnership deal between the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and investors for the development of Doyle Drive. The plan was to give a private company, Golden Link, a 30-year lease on this vital southern route to the Golden Gate Bridge to perform needed renovation to the route. The state would pay the consortium $173 million for finishing the road, followed by $28.5 million in “availability payments” each year the road is open.

“Overall, our analysis finds that the Golden Link agreement does not meet all the goals Caltrans intended and is not likely to be a good fiscal deal for the state,” Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor wrote. “In light of these findings, we think that the state should consider not signing the contract with Golden Link, and instead build the project with a more traditional approach.”

The total cost of the project is estimated at $594 million on the partnership model, while traditional methods would cost around $490 million — not counting a number of potential cost overruns on the riskier partnership model. In terms of bearing risks, the deal put state taxpayers on the hook if any discoveries of endangered species threatens roadside construction. It offered no guarantee that the companies undertaking the project would finish on time. Because the interest rates that will apply are not yet known, the analyst was unable to estimate the final cost with more certainty.

“Based upon our own analysis, we disagree with Caltrans’ conclusion that the agreement results in a lower lifecycle cost,” Taylor wrote. “As described in detail in another section below, we have concluded that a traditional design-bid-build procurement would be less expensive in this particular case than under the Golden Link agreement.”

The analyst recommended dropping the public-private partnership contract. A copy of the letter is available as a 450k PDF at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Public Private Partnership letter (Office of the Legislative Analyst, 12/22/2010)


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What’s Wrong With This Picture: The Modern Speedbump Edition Mon, 20 Sep 2010 19:36:51 +0000

Discovered by Discover Magazine, this “speed bump” in a Vancouver BC parking garage is the creepiest application of the “trompe-l’œil speedbump” technology to date. Apparently,

the girl’s elongated form appears to rise from the ground as cars approach, reaching 3D realism at around 100 feet, and then returning to 2D distortion once cars pass that ideal viewing distance. Its designers created the image to give drivers who travel at the street’s recommended 18 miles per hour (30 km per hour) enough time to stop before hitting Pavement Patty–acknowledging the spectacle before they continue to safely roll over her.

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China’s Government Worried About Unbridled Auto Industry Growth Sun, 05 Sep 2010 06:14:48 +0000

If you think China’s auto growth is scary, then you find yourself in rare agreement with China’s central government. China’s 30 (!) major (!) auto makers had a production capacity of 13.59m vehicles by the end of 2009. Chinese bought 13.64m units. This year, it will be much more. By July, Chinese had already made and Chinese had already bought more than 10m units, according to data released by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Chinese buy more than just cars. They have bought (well, leased) enough land, buildings and machinery in order to more than double car output by 2015. With the current expansion and investment plans exercised, China will have production capacity for a mind-blowing 31.24m units by the end of 2015. That according to Chen Bin, head of industrial coordination at the National Development and Reform Commission, the nation’s economic regulation agency.That’s more than six (!) times the U.S. production in 2009, and three times the U.S. auto production in the heydays of 2007. You are not the only one to get worried now. Even China’s NDRC thinks that might be a bit much.

The production capacity in place could exceed demand, a worried Chen said at the International Forum on Chinese Automobile Industry Development in Tianjin. Unchecked expansion of China’s auto industry must be “resolutely” stopped, said Chen Bin according to China’s state news agency Xinhua.

The comments weren’t as much directed at the automobile industry as they were at parts of the Chinese government. Encouraged by the industry healthy profits and economic benefits, local governments had been making “blind” efforts to open new factories and expand capacity, Chen said. Twenty-seven of the country’s 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities have plants that are able to produce finished vehicles.

Chen is worried about excess capacity inviting vicious competition, and hurting profits. Bringing out the big guns, Chen warned that unchecked growth may even threaten sustainable development of China’s economy.

Unrealistic output quotas for auto makers, and preferential land and tax policies for car makers must stop, said Chen in the direction of provincial governments that cut those deals.

Mind you Chen is talking about going easy on adding more capacity on top of  the 31.24m units, for which planning and building is already under way. Chen is most likely more worried of competition than of a lack of demand. Using a – for Chinese tastes – moderate annual growth rate of 20 percent, China could buy more than 40m cars in 2015.

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The Charge Of The Light Brigade: Charge EVs, Charge! Tue, 15 Jun 2010 10:47:54 +0000

Japan appears to be serious about EVs. Evidence: Japan’s increased focus on chargers. The hard part of EVs is not to build them. The tough issue is where to charge them. And how quickly. Whether you live in Manhattan or Tokyo: As a city dweller, you hardly can put a charging station on the street or into the underground parking garage. The average suburbanite in Tokyo already has a hard time just finding a parking space (proof required if you want to buy a car). A charging station? What charging station? So the Japanese are busy building them. No wonder: 67 percent of the Japanese live in cities. (In the U.S.A. it’s even more: 82 percent.)  Who’s leading the charge for chargers?

According to The Nikkei [sub] “companies big and small see a golden opportunity in providing chargers for this impending wave of cars.”

JFE Engineering has developed a high-speed charger that can fill an electric car battery to 50 percent capacity in just three minutes. That takes a lot of Amps, and to prevent the lights from going out in the neighborhood, the company buffers the power in a high-capacity storage battery that can also discharge very rapidly. Their charger meets the specifications of the proposed CHAdeMo standard. It costs about $50,000, installed, “roughly half the usual amount,” as the Nikkei says.

Nissan developed a rapid charger that goes for only $15,000. The maker of the Leaf wants to install the charger at 200 dealerships an sell it to others.

Yokohama-based Hasetec has a whole line-up of rapid chargers. They added a medium-speed charger that requires 90-120 minutes to fill a car’s battery, and cost about $20,000. They see a niche at operators of parking lots and amusement facilities.

Itochu thinks “green” and “distribution.” They want to install solar panels Japan’s ubiquitous FamilyMart convenience stores, and combine them with an Itochu Enex charger.

Distribution is a huge challenge. For some reason, the most logical choice (gas stations) doesn’t range on top. The charger folks seek places with a higher dwell time, such as shops, parking garages, and amusement parks. Especially for shops, the concept is attractive: If the car isn’t full charged, shop some more.

Research company Fuji Keizai says the Japanese market for chargers should be $100m by 2015. Want to get your share of the EV market? Build chargers.

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Ford And Taxpayers Giving Away 4,600 EV Home Chargers, Nissan Not So Much Thu, 03 Jun 2010 16:29:00 +0000

Worried about the high MSRPs on most of the electric vehicles scheduled for launch over the next year? Don’t forget to include the cost of buying and installing a home charging station. Nissan reckons the charger for its Leaf will cost about $2,200, including a home electrical inspection [er, that's a medical marijuana grow...] and installation. Oh, and it won’t be Nissan coming into your home: Aerovironment, a firm otherwise best known for its Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, has the contract to supply and install the Leaf’s charger. Coulomb Technologies supplies the home charger for Ford’s first EV, the Transit Connect EV, and according to Automotive News [sub], they’re partnering with Ford to give chargers away to the first 2,000 buyers of the electric-drive delivery van. But, as usual with good news in the EV sector, the charger giveaway is actually being funded by tax dollars…

The chargers are being given away as part of Coulomb’s ChargePoint program, which seeks to improve EV infrastructure in nine US regions. That means the free chargers are only available to customers in or around

Austin, Texas, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Fla., Sacramento, Calif., the San Jose/San Francisco Bay Area, Redmond, Wash., and Washington DC

Which is kind of ironic considering the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturer’s (which Ford is a member of) recently lambasted a regionally-based infrastructure development bill, arguing that it

risks resulting in federal resources becoming overly concentrated in a small number of communities, which could establish electric cars as boutique vehicles… Electric cars and their infrastructure should be available to everyone nationwide, not just people in select communities.

Ah well. In any case, $15m of the ChargePoint program’s $37m budget is being paid for by a stimulus bill grant (via the Department of Energy’s Transportation Electrification Initiative), and Coulomb hopes to fund the rest of the program with money from local governments. In return for the free Ford/Coulomb publicity, free chargers for early adopters, and a free sense of green self-satisfaction, the ChargePoint program will conduct a two-year study of EV and charging network use for the government.

And though the fairness and efficacy of government subsidies for home-chargers is debatable, it’s not likely to let up anytime soon. There is currently a federal tax credit worth half the value of a home charger installation (up to $2,000) which is set to expire in December of this year. That will help Nissan and GM, which do not have access to a government-funded charger-giveaway program like Ford’s (although local governments like Los Angeles are also rolling out home-charger subsidies). Look for that credit to be renewed before the end of the year, as governments the world over have clearly signed on to the idea that EVs are worth being subsidized from every possible angle. And considering that costs for installation could, in some cases, reach all the way to $10,000, home chargers are going to need all the help they can get.

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And Now, The Charger Wars Tue, 04 May 2010 06:44:07 +0000

Did you ever arrive in a foreign country, and the plug of your battery-depleted cell phone did not fit? Or worse, it did fit, and the charger went up in smoke? That’s nothing compared to the impending EV disaster. Buy an EV, and you will find yourself between the battle lines of plugs, voltages, and technologies. Imagine the horror: Guided by your GPS, you limp into a charging station on the last watts in your battery, and their round plug doesn’t fit your square socket.

The Japanese government has set a goal of 5,000 high-speed charging stations in place nationwide by 2020, writes The Nikkei [sub]. Some say that this is a mere shadow of the approximately 50,000 gas station in Japan that serve cars with a much bigger range. Other say that this is Japan’s move to establish a fait accompli in the worldwide race to establish a global standard for charging technology.

In Japan alone, all kinds of companies are entering the charging business. They range from established charger manufacturers such as Takaoka Electric and Hasetec  to Nissan which wants to install proprietary charging equipment at 200 group dealerships (nice traffic generator…) Even trading houses like Marubeni want in on the game.

Toyota, Nissan, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and 155 other companies and associations formed a consortium in March to promote the Japanese standard, dubbed CHAdeMO. Earlier in the year, Japan has been making moves to set ECE standards for electric vehicles.

The U.S. and European countries have their own ideas and their own technologies. Setting the standard “would give their automakers an advantage in the market for electric vehicles,” says the Nikkei. Ain’t that the truth.

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