The Truth About Cars » lithium-ion http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 10 Dec 2014 17:21:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » lithium-ion http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Fourth-Gen Toyota Prius To Receive AWD, New Battery Packs http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/fourth-gen-toyota-prius-to-receive-awd-new-battery-packs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/fourth-gen-toyota-prius-to-receive-awd-new-battery-packs/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=866362 Though it may be a while before the fourth-generation Toyota Prius leaves the assembly line, it may be worth the wait as far as batteries and drivetrains are concerned. Automotive News reports the new hybrid will have two choices for battery power. According to senior managing officer of powertrain development Koei Saga, both a low-cost […]

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2014 Toyota Prius

Though it may be a while before the fourth-generation Toyota Prius leaves the assembly line, it may be worth the wait as far as batteries and drivetrains are concerned.

Automotive News reports the new hybrid will have two choices for battery power. According to senior managing officer of powertrain development Koei Saga, both a low-cost nickel-metal hydride unit and a larger-capacity lithium ion pack — for longer electric-only range — will help provide power. Though Saga was cagey regarding economy numbers, he claimed that the new packs’ economy would “surprise everyone.”

Meanwhile, the power won’t be directed toward just the front wheels. Saga says there’s a possibility that AWD could be in the cards for the new Prius, which will be underpinned by the company’s Toyota New Global Architecture.

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Renewable Energy To Power Tesla Gigafactory http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/renewable-energy-to-power-tesla-gigafactory/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/renewable-energy-to-power-tesla-gigafactory/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 11:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=752585 Sometime this week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk will announce everything there is to know about the EV automaker’s Gigafactory, from location and price tag, to its heavy reliance on renewable energy sources. Autoblog Green reports the Gigafactory will be “heavily powered” by solar and wind energy sources, with older battery packs storing the collected energy. […]

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Sometime this week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk will announce everything there is to know about the EV automaker’s Gigafactory, from location and price tag, to its heavy reliance on renewable energy sources.

Autoblog Green reports the Gigafactory will be “heavily powered” by solar and wind energy sources, with older battery packs storing the collected energy. Meanwhile, the factory will mass-produce finished battery packs from raw lithium sources, with the aim of generating 30 gigawatt-hours annually. By taking advantage of economies of scale, costs should be reduced by 30 to 40 percent in the same timeframe needed to bring the $35,000 Model E from the drawing board to the showroom floor.

As for where the $2 billion-plus factory will be built, one rumored location is Nevada. Aside from the obvious solar power available for Musk’s green aspirations, the state also houses the sole commercial brine pool lithium production facility in the United States at this time, though more could be brought in from Wyoming’s recently discovered underground lithium brine in the state’s Rock Springs Uplift formation if needed.

Finally, funding for the Gigafactory could come from a number of sources, including new stock and alliances with other companies interested in what the factory — and the future — has to offer.

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Does Dan Akerson Know GM’s 200 Mile Range Battery is Vaporware? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/does-dan-akerson-know-gms-200-mile-range-battery-is-vaporware/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/does-dan-akerson-know-gms-200-mile-range-battery-is-vaporware/#comments Mon, 23 Dec 2013 14:00:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=685642 The hagiographic article by Bloomberg/Business Week on outgoing General Motors CEO Dan Akerson did exactly what Selim Bingol and the other PR honchos in the RenCen towers wanted it to do. With other news agencies and blogs amplifying the puffery and pulling quotes, the article got GM and Akerson a lot of good press. One […]

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The hagiographic article by Bloomberg/Business Week on outgoing General Motors CEO Dan Akerson did exactly what Selim Bingol and the other PR honchos in the RenCen towers wanted it to do. With other news agencies and blogs amplifying the puffery and pulling quotes, the article got GM and Akerson a lot of good press. One of the quotes that got pulled the most was Akerson’s reference to a “moon shot” project giving GM’s next generation extended range electric vehicle a 200 mile range on battery power, based on breakthroughs in battery technology. It may be more of a moon shot than Akerson let on, since GM has cancelled its contract with that battery’s likely supplier, accusing it of “material misrepresentation”.

In the Business Week article, it says:

Although GM has hinted that it’s working on a next generation of electric vehicle, Akerson says it’s aiming for a compact car that can go 200 miles on a charge and carry a generator, too. While it will be similar to the Volt, engineers are working on generators that could run on gas, diesel, or natural gas. The increased electric range is coming, in part, from advances in battery chemistry. GM is planning to bring the model out in 2016, for about $30,000, according to a person familiar with the idea who asked not to be named because the plans aren’t public. It’s a project that the company doesn’t want to say much about but signifies how it’s been trying to move past inventing things to putting inventions into showrooms. “We want it to be a moon shot so we can surprise the competition,” Akerson says.

That part about the company not wanting to say much about the project and citing an unnamed source is rather cute in the context of a high profile article that was based on weeks of exclusive insider access given to the Business Week writers. What’s also kind of curious is that GM’s “200 mile battery” was not really news, so citing an unnamed source seemed superfluous. In September, at an event at GM’s Tech Center battery lab, GM’s vice president of global product programs, Doug Parks told the Wall Street Journal that the company was developing a next generation electric vehicle that has a 200 mile range and would cost about $30,000, though the cost of the batteries today would make meeting that price point impossible. Last March, Akerson himself told an energy conference about the project. “There will be breakthroughs in battery technology, they’re on the horizon,” Akerson told a session at the IHS CERAWeek energy conference which was broadcast on CNBC.com. “We’re actually developing a car today which is really anathema to the way the auto industry works: We’re running a dual play on the technology to see which one will succeed. One will result in” a 100-mile range, “the other will be a 200-mile range.”

Just like his comments in the recent Business Week article, Akerson’s remarks last spring about a 200 mile battery sparked a flurry of news reports about a potential GM EV with such a range. Many of those reports speculated that the battery in question was a lithium ion cell being developed by Envia, a battery startup claiming to use a special cathode and unique silicon carbon nanocomposite anode to produce a battery with a remarkable energy density of 400 watt-hours per kilogram. The level of energy density would indeed make a 200 mile range EV possible. The speculation was founded on the fact that in 2011 General Motors had invested $17 million through its GM Ventures arm to take an equity stake in Envia, resulting in GM Ventures president and GM chief technology officer Jon Lauckner having a seat on the Envia board. In late 2012 the automaker and Envia signed a contract for the battery company to start supplying GM in 2016. Because of the long lead time and validation needed in the auto industry, the contract had very tight deadlines, needing a final design for the battery by 2014.

However, the fact is that by the time Akerson, Parks and Bloomberg’s unnamed source went public with the 200 mile battery project, GM already had doubts about the Envia battery and was in the process of canceling the contract. In an extensive investigative article on the Quartz website, Steve LeVine outlines the history of Envia, how it touted the breakthrough performance of its battery design, based on research at the U.S. Dept of Energy’s Arpa-E program, though it had never manufactured any batteries. GM embraced the company, signing a multi-million dollar contract as well as investing in the company only to find their potential supplier unable to meet deadlines specified in the contract. It turns out that their battery’s outstanding performance only lasted for the first few charge/discharge cycles and then fell off, continuing to decline.

Levine shows that by March of 2013, right around the time that Akerson started touting the 200 mile battery, at their first quarterly meeting specified in the supply contract, GM expressed concern that their own testing showed the Envia battery not meeting claimed performance specs. Envia asked for patience saying that the tight deadlines in the contract weren’t giving them enough time to properly develop the battery. By July, GM’s representative was accusing Envia’s founder, Sujeet Kumar, of making “material misrepresentations during contract negotiations”. GM could not reproduce the Arpa-E results and the automaker was not happy that Envia had claimed a proprietary anode composition when in fact “the anode material is not Envia’s.” GM gave Envia “a failed grade for this quarter.”

In early August, Envia received the following in a letter from General Motors:

Envia has failed to move the project forward or replicate the results on a timetable that could conceivably support the vehicle development process. In fact, Envia was unable even to replicate prior reported test results even when utilizing the third-party anode that had purportedly been utilized in the Arpa-E test battery.

The letter continued that GM was “well within its rights to terminate the December 2012 agreement.” By late August, the contract was cancelled. Envia is currently mired in litigation with former CEO Atul Kapadia, who negotiated the contract with GM, over his firing and with Kapur’s previous employer over intellectual property issues related to battery technology.

While all of this was going on, GM was still talking about a 200 mile battery. To be fair, Akerson did say they were working on two tracks, with more than one battery supplier, and LeVine points out that it’s not likely that GM would have committed to the idea of a 200 mile range EV without having additional battery suppliers under consideration. Still Akerson’s most recent comments to Business Week seem odd in light of the backstory on Envia, almost as though he’s been out of the loop. Akerson’s subordinates recognized Envia’s shortcomings fairly early on, while he continued to reference the project as though there were no problems.

For more information on the topic, Steve LeVine examines the chemistry and physics of Envia’s battery chemistry here, and Gigaom’s Katie Fehrenbacher does her usual thorough job looking at the litigation that surrounds the company here.

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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Tesla Awards Panasonic 4-Year $7 billion Battery Cell Contract Anticipating 500% Increase in Production http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/tesla-awards-panasonic-4-year-7-billion-battery-cell-contract-anticipating-500-increase-in-production/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/tesla-awards-panasonic-4-year-7-billion-battery-cell-contract-anticipating-500-increase-in-production/#comments Thu, 31 Oct 2013 09:00:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=638393     Panasonic Corp., which already is the largest supplier of lithium ion batteries for the electric car industry, has announced that it has signed a new contract with Tesla to supply battery cells for the Model S and upcoming Model X electric vehicles. The Japanese company will supply 2 billion 18650 form factor lithium-ion cells […]

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Tesla Motors has used exclusively Panasonic lithium ion battery cells since it started selling electric cars.

Tesla Motors has used exclusively Panasonic lithium ion battery cells since it started selling electric cars. 2010 photo.

Panasonic Corp., which already is the largest supplier of lithium ion batteries for the electric car industry, has announced that it has signed a new contract with Tesla to supply battery cells for the Model S and upcoming Model X electric vehicles. The Japanese company will supply 2 billion 18650 form factor lithium-ion cells worth up to $7 billion over the next four years. Panasonic has been Tesla’s exclusive supplier of battery cells since it started selling its first EV, the Tesla Roadster.

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Since Tesla has used 200 million cells over the past two years, the contract indicates a significant ramp up of production is planned, a five-fold annual increase. Tesla has said that it expects to deliver about 21,000 Model S cars this year and that the Model X crossover will go on sale at the end of 2014.

 

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First Drive Review: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/first-drive-review-2014-honda-accord-hybrid-with-video/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 10:00:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=612689 As of October, the most fuel-efficient mid-sized sedan in America is the Honda Accord. Or so Honda says. After all, Ford has been trumpeting a matching 47 MPG combined from their Fusion. Who is right? And more importantly, can the Accord get Honda back into the hybrid game after having lost the initial hybrid battles […]

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2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007

As of October, the most fuel-efficient mid-sized sedan in America is the Honda Accord. Or so Honda says. After all, Ford has been trumpeting a matching 47 MPG combined from their Fusion. Who is right? And more importantly, can the Accord get Honda back into the hybrid game after having lost the initial hybrid battles with their maligned Integrated Motor Assist system? Honda invited us to sample the 2014 Accord Hybrid as well as a smorgasbord of competitive products to find out.

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

I have always been a fan of “elegant and restrained” styling which explains my love for the first generation Lexus LS. That describes the 2014 Accord to a tee. Like the regular Accord, the hybrid is devoid of sharp creases, dramatic swooshes, edgy grilles or anything controversial. This is a slightly different take than the Accord Plug-in which swaps the standard Accord bumper for a bumper with a slightly awkward gaping maw. In fact, the only thing to show that something green this way comes are some  blue grille inserts and  LED headlamps on the top-level Touring model.

This means the Accord and the Mercedes E-Class are about the only sedans left that sport a low beltline and large greenhouse. Opinions on this style decision range from boring to practical and I fall on the latter. I think the Ford Fusion is more attractive but the Hyundai Sonata’s dramatic style hasn’t aged as well as its Kia cousin’s more angular duds. The Camry failed to move my soul when it was new and it hasn’t changed much over the years. This places the Accord tying with the Optima for second place.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Despite sporting an all-new interior in 2013, you’d be hard pressed to identify what changed over the last generation Accord unless you owned one. Instead of radical design buyers will find incremental improvements and high quality plastics. The dash is still dominated by a double-bump style dashboard with the second binnacle housing a standard 8-inch infotainment display. With manufacturers moving toward slimmer dash designs the Accord’s remains tall and large. For hybrid duty Honda swiped the Plug-in’s tweaked instrument cluster with a large analogue speedometer, no tachometer, LED gauges for battery, fuel and a power meter. Everything else is displayed via a full-color circular LCD set inside the speedometer.

Front seat comfort is excellent in the accord with thickly padded ergonomically designed front seats. There isn’t much bolstering (as you would expect from a family hauler) so larger drivers and passengers shouldn’t have a problem finding a comfortable seating position. The product planners wisely fitted adjustable lumbar support and a 10-way power seats to all trims.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Speaking of trim levels, in most ways (with the exception of that driver’s seat), the Accord EX serves as the “feature content” base for the hybrid. This means you’ll find dual-zone climate control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, standard Bluetooth, a backup camera, keyless entry/go and active noise cancellation.

Thanks to a wheelbase stretch in 2013, the Accord hybrid sports 1.3 inches more legroom than the last Accord and is finally class competitive with essentially the same amount of room as the Fusion and Camry and a few inches more than the Koreans. The Accord’s upright profile means getting in and out of those rear seats is easier than the low-roofline competition and it also allows the seating position to be more upright. Honda’s sales pitch about the low beltline is that it improves visibility for kids riding in the back, I’m inclined to believe them. As with most hybrids, there’s a trunk penalty to be paid but thanks to energy dense Lithium-ion cells the Accord only drops 3 cubic feet to 12.7 and I had no problem jamming six 24-inch roller bags in the trunk.  Honda nixed the folding rear seats, a feature that the competition has managed to preserve.

2014_Accord_Hybrid_Touring_043, Picture Courtesy of Honda

Infotainment, Gadgets and Pricing

Base Accords use physical buttons to control the standard 8-inch infotainment system and sport 6 speakers with 160 watts behind them.  Honda wouldn’t comment on the expected model split of the Accord, but I suspect that most shoppers will opt for the mid-level EX-L which adds a subwoofer, 360 watt amp, and adds a touchscreen for audio system controls. The dual-screen design struck me as half-baked when I first sampled it in the regular 2013 Accord and although I have warmed up to it a bit, I think it could still use a few minutes in the oven if you opt for the navigation equipped Touring model.

Honda’s concept was to move all the audio functions to the touchscreen thereby freeing the upper screen for some other use like the trip computer or navigation screen. The trouble is the lower screen simply selects sources and provides track forward/backward buttons meaning you still have to use the upper screen to change playlists or search for tracks. That minor complaint aside, the system is very intuitive and responsive. Honda’s improved iDevice and USB integration is standard fare on all models and easily ties with the best in this segment.

2014_Accord_Hybrid_EX-L_ Picture Courtesy of Honda

Starting at $29,155, the base Accord Hybrid is the most expensive mid-sized hybrid sedan by a decent margin especially when you look at the $25,650 starting price on the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. However, the Accord Hybrid delivers a high level of standard equipment including standard Pandora smartphone app integration and Honda’s Lane Watch system. Lane watch still strikes me as a little gimmicky since the Accord has such small blind spots and the best outward visibility in the segment already. Instead of stand alone options Honda offers just three trim levels. The next step is the $31,905 EX-L model which adds leather seats, a leather steering wheel, upgraded audio system with two LCD screens, memory driver’s seat, power passenger seat, moonroof, a camera based collision warning system and lane departure warning. While the base model is a little more expensive than cross-shops, the EX-L becomes a decent value compared to comparably equipped competitive hybrids.

Working your way up to the top-of-the-line $34,905 Touring model the Accord is no longer the most expensive in the class, that award goes to the $37,200 loaded fusion. At this price the Accord is less of a bargain compared to the competition, although you do get full LED headlamps and an adaptive cruise control system. In comparison the Camry spans from $26,140 to $32,015, the Sonata from $25,650 to $32,395, Optima from  $25,900 to $31,950 and the Fusion from $27,200 to $37,200. How about the Prius? Glad you asked. The Prius that is most comparable to the base Accord Hybrid is $26,970 and comparably equipped to the Accord Touring is $35,135.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Being the drivetrain geek that I am, what’s under the hood of the Accord hybrid is more exciting than the Corvette Stingray. Seriously. Why? Because this car doesn’t have a transmission in the traditional sense. Say what? Let’s start at the beginning. The last time Honda tried selling an Accord hybrid, they jammed a 16 HP motor between a V6 and a 5-speed automatic. The result was 25MPG combined. The 2014 hybrid system shares absolutely nothing with the old system. No parts. No design themes. Nothing.

Things start out with the same 2.0L four-cylinder engine used in the Accord plug-in. The small engine is 10% more efficient than Honda’s “normal” 2.0L engine thanks to a modified Atkinson cycle, an electric water pump, cooled exhaust gas return system, and electric valve timing with a variable cam profile. The engine produces 141 horsepower on its own at 6,200 RPM and, thanks to the fancy valvetrain, 122 lb-ft from 3,500-6,000 RPM.

The engine is connected directly to a motor/generator that is capable of generating approximately 141 horsepower. (Honda won’t release details on certain drivetrain internals so that’s an educated guess.) Next we have a 166 horsepower, 226 lb-ft motor that is connected to the front wheels via a fixed gear ratio. Under 44 miles per hour, this is all you need to know about the system. The 166 horsepower motor powers the car alone, drawing power from either a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, or the first motor/generator. Over 44 miles per hour, the system chooses one of two modes depending on what is most efficient at the time. The system can engage a clutch pack to directly connect the two motor/generator units together allowing engine power to flow directly to the wheels via that fixed gear ratio. (Check out the diagram below.)

Front Wheel Drive Biased

Pay careful attention to that. I said fixed gear ratio. When the Accord Hybrid engages the clutch to allow the engine to power the wheels directly (mechanically), power is flowing via a single fixed ratio gear set. The fixed gear improves efficiency at highway speeds, reduces weight vs a multi-speed unit and is the reason the system must use in serial hybrid mode below 44 mph. There is another side effect at play here as well: below 44 MPH, the system’s maximum power output is 166 horsepower. The 196 combined ponies don’t start prancing until that clutch engages.

So why does Honda call it an eCVT? Because that fits on a sales sheet bullet point and the full explanation doesn’t. Also, a serial hybrid can be thought of as a CVT because there is an infinite and non-linear relationship between the engine input and the motor output in the transaxle.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Let’s start off with the most important number first: fuel economy. With a 50/45/47 EPA score (City/Highway/Combined), the Accord essentially ties with the Fusion on paper and, although Honda deliberately avoided this comparison, is only 3MPG away from the Prius-shaped elephant in the room. In the real world however the Accord was more Prius than Fusion, averaging 45-46 mpg in our highway-heavy (and lead-footed) 120 mile route and easily scoring 60-65 mpg in city driving if you drive if like there’s an egg between your foot and the pedal of choice. Those numbers are shockingly close to the standard Prius in our tests (47-48 MPG average) and well ahead of the 40.5 MPG we averaged in the Fusion, 35.6 in the Hyundai/Kia cousins and 40.5 in the Camry. Why isn’t Honda dropping the Prius gauntlet? Your guess is as good as mine.

Due to the design of the hybrid system, I had expected there to be a noticeable engagement of the clutch pack, especially under hard acceleration when the system needs to couple the engine to the drive wheels to deliver all 196 combined ponies. Thankfully, system transitions are easily the smoothest in this segment besting Ford’s buttery smooth Fusion and night and day better than the Camry or Prius. Acceleration does take a slight toll because of the system design with 60 MPH arriving in 7.9 seconds, about a half second slower than the Fusion or Camry but half a second faster than the Optima or Sonata and several hours ahead of the Prius.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

At 69 measured decibels at 50 MPH, the Accord hybrid is one of the quietest mid-sized sedans I have tested scoring just below the Fusion’s hushed cabin. This is something of a revelation for the Accord which had traditionally scored among the loudest at speed. When driving in EV mode (possible at a wide variety of highway speeds) things dropped to 68 db at 50 MPH.

When the road starts winding, the Accord Hybrid handles surprisingly well. Why surprisingly? Well, the hybrid system bumps the curb weight by almost 300 lbs to 3,550 (vs the Accord EX) and swaps in low-rolling resistance tires for better fuel economy. However, unlike the Camry and Korean competition, the Accord uses wide 225 width tires. Considering the regular Accord models use 215s, this makes the Accord’s fuel economy numbers all the more impressive. The Fusion is 150 lbs heavier and rides on either 225 or 235 (Titanium only) width tires which also explains why the hybrid Fusion Titanium gets worse mileage than the base Hybrid SE model. I wouldn’t call the Accord Hybrid the equal of the gas-only Accord EX on the road, but the difference is smaller than you might think.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Helping the Accord out on the road are “amplitude reactive dampers” or “two mode shocks” as some people call them. These fancy struts have worked their way down from the Acura line and use two different valves inside the damper to improve low and high-speed damping performance. The difference is noticeable with the Hybrid having a more compliant ride, and thanks to thicker anti-roll bars the hybrid is more stable in corners. Still, for me, the Accord gives up a hair of performance feel to the Fusion hybrid out on the road. It’s just a hair less precise, not as fast to 60 and lacks the sharp turn-in and bite you get in the Fusion Titanium with its wider and lower profile tires. However, keep in mind that Fusion Titanium takes a 1-2MPG toll on average economy in our tests dropping the Fusion from 40.5 to 38-39 MPG.

The Accord may not be the best looking hybrid on sale, (for me that’s still the Ford Fusion) but the Accord’s simple lines and unexpectedly high fuel economy make the Honda a solid option. Being the gadget hound I am, I think I would still buy the Fusion, but only in the more expensive Titanium trim. If you’re not looking that high up the food chain, the Accord Hybrid is quite simply the best fuel sipping mid-size anything. Prius included.

 

Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and gas at a launch event.

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.2 Seconds

0-60: 7.9 Seconds

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69 db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 45.9 MPG over 129 miles.

 

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-001 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-005 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-006 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Exterior-007 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-002 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Interior-003 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Trunk

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Review: 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2012-toyota-prius-plug-in-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2012-toyota-prius-plug-in-hybrid/#comments Sun, 02 Sep 2012 13:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=457237 Public beta tests are common in the computer world where a group of fanatics pound your beta to death and help you find the problems. In the automotive world this activity is not only rare, it runs contrary to the cash spent on dressing future cars in swirly vinyl. The Prius plug-in is different. Toyota […]

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Public beta tests are common in the computer world where a group of fanatics pound your beta to death and help you find the problems. In the automotive world this activity is not only rare, it runs contrary to the cash spent on dressing future cars in swirly vinyl. The Prius plug-in is different. Toyota built 600 demonstrators and sent them to large corporations, Zipcar fleets and, of course the press. Even TTAC was allowed to drive one for a week. What does that have to do with the final product? And how does it stack up against the Volt, Plug-in Fusion and the 2013 Accord Plug-in? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.

There is little to distinguish the Plug-in from the “normal” Prius save the charging door on the right rear quarter panel and (if you’re in California) and the green HOV access stickers. The lack of distinctiveness is either a benefit or a drawback depending on how loud you want to proclaim your “greenness.” The lack of differentiation made financial sense for Toyota as the Prius is rumored to be redesigned for the 2015 model year. Compared to the beta car, Toyota relocated the charging port to the rear meaning I had to back into parking spots to use some public charging stations. Ever wondered why the LEAF’s port is in the nose? Now you know.

Because the Prius’ chassis was designed for a large battery, no changes to the passenger compartment were required. The cargo area is a different story. The regular Prius operates in EV mode up to 42MPH with a range of two miles if you are extremely gentle on the throttle. The plug-in’s range is 11-15 miles thanks to a bigger battery. Toyota achieved the capacity increase by using denser lithium-ion batteries (instead of nickel hydride) and converting the spare tire area into a battery compartment. The result is an increase in capacity from 1.3kWh to 4.4kWh at the cost of the spare and the jack. The beta car used a 5.2kWh battery pack that was segmented into one 1.2kWh pack and two 2kWh packs. The reason for the change was the three pack arrangement wasn’t as efficient and the beta testers complained there was no way to regenerate power back into the dual 2kWh packs once they were exhausted.

A 3.1kWh jump doesn’t sound like much until you understand how the Prius uses the battery. To preserve the life of the battery, a regular Prius will never fully discharge or charge the battery (batteries “wear” faster when their charge state is at either extreme), reducing the usable capacity to around 0.6kWh. For plug-in duty, Toyota expanded this usable capacity to somewhere around 4.2kWh. In comparison, the Volt’s usable capacity is around 12.9kWh and the 2013 Accord plug-in is 6kWh.

Under the hood you will find the same 1.8L, 98HP engine and “power splitting device” as a regular Prius. The engine and electric motors even put out the same combined 134HP. I know what Prius owners are thinking: Hang on, if it’s the same drivetrain, why is my Prius limited to 42MPH in EV mode? You won’t find the answer under the hood, it’s the battery and the software. The Prius’ traction motor (MG2) is the motor connected to the wheels and depending on how you look at the way the transaxle works (great link for tech-heads at eahart.com), MG2 is doing most of the work when you’re moving forward. That’s why MG2 is an 81HP motor. The “problem” with the regular Prius is the discharge rate. The 1.4kWh NiMH battery can deliver only 36HP peak and 27HP of continuous power. The plug-in’s larger batter on the other hand is capable of delivering 51HP of continuous power. If your power demands exceed the neighborhood of 51HP, then the engine turns on to make up the difference up to 134. This new battery pack has another benefit: greater regeneration capacity. On my daily commute I go over a 2,200ft mountain pass, a regular Prius’ battery would be full around 1,700ft. Because the plug-in was able to regenerate all the way down, I gained 7 miles of EV range to make up for the extra gas it took to get me up the hill in the first place.

The Prius isn’t an EV, and it’s not trying to be a “Toyota Volt” either. Yet, it’s more than just a CARB compliance car as well. Unlike the Volt, Fisker, or even the new Accord Hybrid, the Prius can’t live without its engine. Even for short drives. If you floor the car, the engine comes on, and while the beta car had a slick heat-pump to heat the cabin, the production car uses engine heat like a regular Prius. Instead, the Prius plug-in is a new type of car where locomotion blends two different fuel sources trading a portion of the gasoline you pay $4.35 a gallon for in California for electricity at $0.10-$0.15 per kWh. The coming Ford plug-in hybrids operate in essentially the same way.

Let’s look at these numbers in terms of a commute. I drive 106 miles a day, and my commute involves city, highway and rural mountain roads. Starting with fuel economy without charging: the Volt averaged 33MPG, the Prius averaged 50 and the Prius plug-in averaged 52. (Credit the greater ability to regenerate for the improved figure.) With charging on both ends of my commute, the Volt averaged 40MPG, and the Prius plug-in averaged 72MPG.

According to our calculations, if your commute is under 27 miles total, or 27 miles each way with charging on either end at $0.15/kWh, the Volt is the cheaper vehicle to run. The more expensive the electricity, the better the Prius’s proposition. Even at $4.35 a gallon gasoline. My average rate at home is $0.27/kWh due to my agricultural rate which bumps the operational cost of the Volt higher than the Prius plug-in at anything over a 1-mile distance. Check your rates before you plug-in.

On the road, the plug-in behaves just like a regular Prius thanks to gaining only 150lbs. As you would expect, the low rolling resistance tires deliver moderate road noise and precious little grip. The steering is numb a bit over-boosted, body roll is average and acceleration is leisurely. Is that a problem? Not in my mind. The Prius’ mission is efficiency and not driving pleasure.

When in EV mode, exceeding 3/4 throttle will cause the engine to start, something I still think is a pity. Still, the plug-in is perfectly capable of tacking mountainous terrain in pure EV mode. At speeds above about 50MPH you have to be more gentle on the throttle in order to prevent the engine from kicking in and at 62 the engine starts no matter how ginger you are. If it’s a cold day outside and you’re using the cabin heater, the Prius’ engine will turn on immediately and run to keep the cabin warm. Unlike a regular Prius , if you are in EV mode,  the engine will be essentially idling and generating a small amount of power as long as you keep your speed under 62.

Although the battery and motor are likely capable of speeds greater than 62MPH, the system’s design requires the engine to be spinning. This means that in “EV mode” above 62MPH, the EV battery provides the majority of the energy while the engine essentially idles. In this operation, we were easily getting 180 MPG while on a level freeway traveling 70MPH for 9-10 miles.

With a starting price of $32,000, or $40,285 if you prefer your hybrid fully-loaded, the Prius plug-in has a limited market in mind. You either need to want the latest in Prius tech, or be willing to pay $8,000 to use the HOV lanes for a few years. While I do believe it would be possible to eventually save money vs a regular Prius, it will take an eternity and some serious number crunching. On my commute it would take 300,000 miles for the plug-in to break even with a $24,000 Prius. If your commute is 24 miles a day, then the break even drops to 130,000 miles. But at 24 miles a day, it would take you 20 years. Still, there is that HOV lane to consider. On my route the HOV stickers would cut my daily travel by 30 minutes or  11 hours a month. How much is that worth to you? If your answer isn’t: $8,000, then click on over to our Prius C review. While the Prius plug-in may make sense for a select few, the Toyota’s beta program still succeeded in several ways. Toyota implemented some major changes to the battery systems as a result of the feedback and gained a non-stop flow of reviews in the process. If only Bentley could do the same.

 

Toyota provided the vehicle, insurance and fuel for this review.

Fuel economy average over 583miles: 65

Percent of time in EV mode: 20%

Performance statistics as tested:

0-30: 3.4 seconds

0-60: 10.0 seconds

¼ Mile: 17sec @ 79 MPH

 

2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, rear seats,  Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Prius Plug In Hybrid, charging door, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EV Batteries Set For 70 percent Price Drop By 2025: McKinsey Study http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ev-batteries-set-for-70-percent-price-drop-by-2025-mckinsey-study/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/ev-batteries-set-for-70-percent-price-drop-by-2025-mckinsey-study/#comments Thu, 12 Jul 2012 13:21:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452299 A study by consulting firm McKinsey says that the cost of the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles could tumble by as much as 70 percent by 2025, thanks to a combination of factors. Widespread production of li-on batteries could be one of the main factors. Reuters explains that McKinsey predicts the price of a […]

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A study by consulting firm McKinsey says that the cost of the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles could tumble by as much as 70 percent by 2025, thanks to a combination of factors.

Widespread production of li-on batteries could be one of the main factors. Reuters explains that

McKinsey predicts the price of a complete lithium-ion battery pack could fall from between $500 and $600 per kilowatt hour now to about $200 in 2020 and to $160 by 2025. If gasoline prices hover around $3.50 per gallon or higher, automakers that purchase batteries at $250 per kilowatt hour could offer electrified vehicles that can compete with cars and trucks powered by advanced internal-combustion engines, which are now significantly cheaper.

Consumer electronics manufacturers are also expected to help make battery technology more viable, as their R&D could lead to faster charging times and longer battery life. While Apple is cited as one of the pioneers of improving li-on batteries, a more apt analogy might be that of laptop computers; 15 years ago, laptops were bulky, cumbersome and heavy with utterly dismal battery life. Today, a MacBook Air with 7 hours of battery time can be had – maybe not cheaply, but available to a broad segment of the market. It’s inevitable that EV batteries are destined for the same progression, but widespread adoption isn’t necessarily guaranteed.

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Next-Gen Toyota Prius Targeted For Stateside Production In 2015 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/next-gen-toyota-prius-targeted-for-stateside-production-in-2015/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/next-gen-toyota-prius-targeted-for-stateside-production-in-2015/#comments Mon, 30 Apr 2012 15:07:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=442155 With a rising yen and forecasted sales of 200,000 units, Toyota is looking to kick Prius production into high gear on North American shores. The challenge for Toyota appears to be sourcing all the components needed to build hybrid drivetrains in the United States. According to Automotive News “Toyota already is scouting suppliers capable of […]

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With a rising yen and forecasted sales of 200,000 units, Toyota is looking to kick Prius production into high gear on North American shores.

The challenge for Toyota appears to be sourcing all the components needed to build hybrid drivetrains in the United States. According to Automotive News

“Toyota already is scouting suppliers capable of delivering inverters, electric motors and batteries from the United States in anticipation of the move, said Koei Saga, senior managing officer in charge of drivetrain r&d at Toyota.”

Currently, most of those parts have to come from Japan or South Korea. Initially, they may have to be imported to the future North American Prius plant, but the goal is for a local supply base. Toyota currently builds the Camry Hybrid stateside, but with imported components. Aside from cost factors, a big advantage of a local parts base is for the sake of “resiliency” – any natural disasters in Japan would not affect inventories like the 2011 tsunami/earthquakes did.

Also of note is the North American emphasis on lithium-ion equipped versions of the Prius. While only the plug-in uses a lithium-ion battery, (and base versions will continue to use a Nickel-metal unit), this would suggest that Stateside production would focus on more advanced versions of the Prius, or more plug-in versions. Presumably, the Prius c and “base” versions of the standard car would continue with the less advanced battery.

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Two Injured In Explosion At GM Battery http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/two-injured-in-explosion-at-gm-battery/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/two-injured-in-explosion-at-gm-battery/#comments Wed, 11 Apr 2012 16:20:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=439353 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. One was treated at the scene for injuries, while another was taken to hospital […]

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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.

One was treated at the scene for injuries, while another was taken to hospital with injuries that were not life threatening. According to authorities, a battery exploded after undergoing “extreme testing”. The lithium-ion batteries were said to be unrelated to those used in the Chevrolet Volt (seen above, undergoing testing).

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Another Plugin Problem: A123 Warns Of “Potential Safety Issue” With Fisker Karma Battery http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/another-plugin-problem-a123-warns-of-potential-safety-issue-with-fisker-karma-battery/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/another-plugin-problem-a123-warns-of-potential-safety-issue-with-fisker-karma-battery/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2011 16:20:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=423570 In the ramp-up to the launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, a great debate seized the engineering community: was Nissan opening itself to problems by not including a active thermal management system for the Leaf’s battery pack, or was Chevrolet’s liquid-cooled approach simply adding unnecessary complexity? Well, thus far, the verdict seems to […]

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In the ramp-up to the launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, a great debate seized the engineering community: was Nissan opening itself to problems by not including a active thermal management system for the Leaf’s battery pack, or was Chevrolet’s liquid-cooled approach simply adding unnecessary complexity? Well, thus far, the verdict seems to be in Nissan’s favor. Though Leaf has been troubled by some dissatisfaction with its real-world range, the Volt has endurd the first technical semi-scandal of the plug-in era, when federal regulators found that ruptured coolant lines could cause fires. Now the liquid-cooled approach is hitting its second challenge, as Fisker’s battery supplier A123 Systems is warning in a letter [PDF] that

some of the battery packs we produce for Fisker Automotive could have a potential safety issue relating to the battery cooling system.

Ruh-roh!

In its warning letter, A123 explains

Specifically, certain hose clamps that are part of the battery pack’s internal cooling system were misaligned, positioned in such a way that could potentially cause a coolant leak. Over time, it is possible that in certain rare circumstances, this coolant leak could potentially lead to an electrical short circuit.

There have been no related battery performance or safety incidents with cars in the field. However, A123 and Fisker are committed to safety and are taking immediate, proactive steps to prevent any issue from occurring.

We have developed a confirmed repair for this situation. In the short time since recognizing this potential safety issue, the root cause was quickly identified, a fix has been developed and corrective action is well underway.

In total, fewer than 50 customer cars are involved in this action.

Bloomberg adds that the problem has been caught relatively early, as Fisker is still producing just 25 Karmas per day at Valmet’s contract-manufacturing plant in Finland. Production is scheduled to hit 60 units per day sometime next year. Meanwhile, A123 is also preparing to start supplying batteries to Chevrolet’s Spark EV, so GM is probably breathing a sigh of relief that it’s catching battery problems before that contract starts. Still, these early issues with battery cooling systems are tipping the debate in favor of the cheaper, less-complex passive cooling approach… for now, anyway. When Summer arrives and temperatures rise, we’ll be keeping an eye on the Leaf fleet to see if problems pop up there.

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This Is The Chevy Volt’s Post-Crash Safety Protocol http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/this-is-the-chevy-volts-post-crash-safety-protocol/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/this-is-the-chevy-volts-post-crash-safety-protocol/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2011 22:18:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420867 TTAC has received the following protocol, developed by GM in the wake of the June Volt fire at a NHTSA facility in Wisconsin, from a GM source and has confirmed its legitimacy with a second GM source. Though the procedure may be refined based on the findings of NHTSA’s latest round of tests, it gives […]

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TTAC has received the following protocol, developed by GM in the wake of the June Volt fire at a NHTSA facility in Wisconsin, from a GM source and has confirmed its legitimacy with a second GM source. Though the procedure may be refined based on the findings of NHTSA’s latest round of tests, it gives a good picture of what GM currently does to ensure the safety of Volt driver and passengers as well as rescue workers, towing company workers and salvage yards. And, I have to say, it puts some of my fears about this safety scare to rest. It hadn’t occurred to me that GM’s Onstar system could provide opportunities to respond to crashes in real time, and apparently the system provides a wide variety of data with which GM’s “corporate SWAT team” can tailor its response to any Volt crash event. Hit the jump for the full procedure.

  • Chevy Volt sends Onstar message of just occurred crash event.
  • Onstar team notified of Volt crash and immediately implements standard crash protocol to assist vehicle operator
  • Onstar immediately pulls key crash criteria from crash notification, i.e. vehicle speed, vehicles conditions (rollover), etc
  • Onstar team notifies Volt Battery Team Leader of crash event including key vehicle conditions
  • Volt Battery team leader works with Onstar to ping Volt and check additional data if appropriate (higher severity crash events, battery data, etc)
  • Volt Battery team Leader determines if high crash severity standards met for depowering or if there is any question about battery severity level.  If yes to either, Battery team representative is sent to crash site
  • Volt Battery team works with Volt advisor to contact Vehicle Owner and/or determine vehicle location
  • Volt Battery representative obtains approval from owner and then proceeds to investigate the crashed Volt and depowers battery if deemed necessary
  • Post Crash Volt stable and ready for disposition

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Volt And Consequences: GM Responds To NHTSA Volt Investigation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/volt-and-consequences-gm-responds-to-nhtsa-volt-investigation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/volt-and-consequences-gm-responds-to-nhtsa-volt-investigation/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2011 17:25:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420395 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 […]

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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.

A recent GM press release on the issue was accompanied by a conference call to reporters [transcript in .doc format here], in which GM’s top product executives, North American President Mark Reuss and Product Development Boss Mary Barra, gave GM’s perspective on the flap. But in a key passage, Barra confirmed that the most reasonable criticism of GM is essentially legitimate, as she confirmed that GM had not fully developed post-crash safety procedures before putting the Volt on the market.

Three weeks after the [initial NHTSA side-pole] test, the Volt caught fire.  This vehicle crash test was conducted before GM had finalized its battery depowering procedure.  We have learned that significant electrical charge, or energy, was left in the battery after the test.  When electrical energy is left in a battery after a severe crash it can be similar to leaving gasoline in a leaking fuel tank after severe damage.  It’s important to drain the energy from the battery after a crash that compromises the battery’s integrity – or you risk potential fire.

That’s why we have developed a process to depower the Volt’s battery after a severe crash.  We have been using the protocol since July of this year and we have now shared this process with the NHTSA and are working to extend this process and the needed equipment to those who handle or store vehicles after a severe crash.

Unable to deny that it should have had post-crash protocols in place before launching its first lithium-ion battery-powered car, GM seems to be trying to broaden the issue to extend beyond the Volt. Said Barra

But I also have to put this into the proper perspective:  Battery safety isn’t just a Volt issue. This is an issue we’re already working within the industry.  In fact, we are currently leading a joint electric vehicle activity with the Society of Automotive Engineers and other automotive companies to address new issues such as a process and protocol for depowering batteries.

The problem is, this does appear to be a Volt issue. Between the Nissan Leafs already on the road and the Prius Plugins that Toyota has been testing for years now, there are no documented thermal events that I’m aware of. Furthermore, the loss of battery integrity that the Volt experiences in side impacts seems to be caused by the lack of a steel battery case, which Nissan fits to its Leafs. Though it’s not clear what post-crash procedures Nissan has proliferated, it seems that its decision to protect its batteries with steel casings maintains battery integrity in government crash testing, eliminating the risks seen in the Volt.

Meanwhile, there is one question that nags at me. In the wake of the June fire at a NHTSA facility, GM shared its post-crash safety protocols. But the latest Volt fire, which happened a week after NHTSA, DOE, DOD and GM engineers test-ruptured a Volt battery, “sparked a fire of a wooden structure” at the DOD’s Hampton Roads facility. Here’s what’s not clear: whether that battery pack was subjected to GM’s post-crash protocols. If it was, this fire proves that GM doesn’t have a handle on this problem, and that its safety procedures are insufficient. If the post-crash protocols were not followed, NHTSA, DOE and DOD were incredibly stupid to store a battery pack they knew might catch fire in a wooden building. Furthermore, GM’s communications team has yet to clarify whether this latest fire was caused because safety procedures were not followed intentionally. One way or another, this needs to be clarified, even if it makes the government testers look foolish.

Based on GM’s reaction, deploying top executives, offering loaner cars, and vigorously defending the Volt in the press, it’s clear that The General takes this situation incredibly seriously… which is why I’m a little shocked that it hasn’t cleared up the circumstances of the most recent fire. After all, the Volt is easily the most controversial car in America, and based on my experience on Cavuto yesterday, it’s clear that many hope to use this investigation as the final nail in its coffin. But there is still much we don’t know about these thermal events, and what we do know indicates that they are not an immediate danger to owners and drivers.

So where is the danger? Clearly to the afore-mentioned rescue, salvage and towing workers… but also to the Volt’s sales. The Volt already has marketing challenges based on its price and association with the bailout. Even the hint of a fire risk is going to add the Volt’s sales headwind, making it even tougher to meet its goal of selling 45,000 units in the US next year. Meanwhile, the White House’s goal of putting 120k Volts on the road next year is pushed even further out of reach.

In short, this does not appear to be the death blow that Volt-bashers were hoping for, and GM appears to be handling the situation as well as can be expected. But this incident does highlight the downsides to pioneering new technologies, and shows how just one overlooked detail can create huge PR issues.

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NHTSA Triggers “Thermal Events” In Volt Batteries, Opens Formal Investigation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/nhtsa-triggers-thermal-events-in-volt-batteries-opens-formal-investigation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/nhtsa-triggers-thermal-events-in-volt-batteries-opens-formal-investigation/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2011 22:48:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420060 NHTSA has has opened a formal defect investigation into the Chevrolet Volt, on the grounds that  Intrusion in a crash may damage the battery, which may result in a substantial thermal reaction and fire We knew that NHTSA was already looking in to this type of defect after an earlier test incident, but the official investigation resume [PDF] […]

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NHTSA has has opened a formal defect investigation into the Chevrolet Volt, on the grounds that

 Intrusion in a crash may damage the battery, which may result in a substantial thermal reaction and fire

We knew that NHTSA was already looking in to this type of defect after an earlier test incident, but the official investigation resume [PDF] lists three separate thermal events that have occurred as a result of NHTSA tests. Hit the jump for the official explanation of this sequence of events.

On May 12, 2011, NHTSA performed a NCAP side pole impact test, followed by a post impact rollover test on a Chevrolet Volt. In connection with that testing, NHTSA has identified the potential for intrusion damage to the battery
which may result in a substantial thermal reaction and fire. Twenty-one days after the May 12, 2011 testing, delayed thermal heating and pressure release resulted in a fire that consumed the Chevrolet Volt and three other vehicles in close proximity at the test facility.

During the week of November 14, 2011, NHTSA performed follow-up battery-level tests to simulate the incident. NHTSA performed three tests simulating the mechanical damage to a battery pack observed from the first incident. Two of the three tests produced thermal events, including fire. Because of these test results, NHTSA has opened this investigation to examine the potential risks involved from intrusion damage to the battery in the Chevrolet Volt, in coordination with the agency’s ongoing review of the emerging technology involved in electric vehicle

A more extensive NHTSA press release notes

NHTSA is not aware of any roadway crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries. However, the agency is concerned that damage to the Volt’s batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire. NHTSA is therefore opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts, which could experience a battery-related fire following a crash. Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern.

GM’s response [via Phil Lebeau/Twitter]:

The Volt is safe & doesn’t present undue risk as part of normal operation, right after a severe crash.

This is the defense that GM has been using throughout this NHTSA/Volt fire investigation, and to some extent it bears a lot of similarity to Toyota’s defense against the test results trumpeted by Professor David Gilbert. The argument is that the investigator is creating defects through conditions that would not exist in normal use. The problem with GM’s position is that the safety protocols it wants NHTSA to follow in order to not prevent these kinds of fires apparently haven’t been circulated. As GM’s spokesman put it last week

We had a process [for draining the battery] internally but I don’t believe it was shared with anyone. The incident with NHTSA raised awareness that we had to develop a procedure and alert all stakeholders.

And based on the fact that NHTSA’s press release on this defect investigation lists the agency’s tips for post-crash safety procedures for plug-in vehicles, it seems that this is its major concern. What’s strange is that GM made quite the fuss about its Volt first responder training (see video at top) when the car was launched. That this issue, and the necessary safety protocol response to it, seemed to slip through the cracks when that program was developed is not encouraging.

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About Those Chevy Volt Safety Protocols… http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/about-those-chevy-volt-safety-protocols/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/about-those-chevy-volt-safety-protocols/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2011 20:38:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418981 I caught hell from a number of TTAC’s Best and Brightest five days ago, when I blogged about the Chevrolet Volt fire at a NHTSA facility but failed to initially note GM’s response. At the time, GM’s Greg Martin said GM has safety procedures for handling the Volt and its battery after an accident. Had […]

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I caught hell from a number of TTAC’s Best and Brightest five days ago, when I blogged about the Chevrolet Volt fire at a NHTSA facility but failed to initially note GM’s response. At the time, GM’s Greg Martin said

GM has safety procedures for handling the Volt and its battery after an accident. Had those been followed, there wouldn’t have been a fire.

At the time, a number of readers accused me of bias for not including Martin’s response at first. Eventually I conceded that this was some worthwhile perspective for the story, but I cautioned that it only represented the opinion of one GM employee. Whether or not NHTSA actually followed those procedures remained an open question… until now. Automotive News [sub] is reporting that NHTSA couldn’t possibly have followed those procedures, nor indeed could anyone else, for the simple reason that GM failed to share them with anybody. So not only is the NHTSA fire being blamed on the fact that government regulators were not given the necessary safety procedures, but it turns out that rescue workers, salvage yards, towing companies and the like were not taught how to discharge the Volt’s battery either. In other words, this NHTSA crash was an important eye-opener for the Volt team.

GM had trained a number of rescue workers prior to the rollout, showing how to disconnect the Volt’s batteries and rescue occupants without running the risk of electrocution. But the NHTSA fire was caused because the Volt’s battery wasn’t fully drained before being put in storage, and this key safety step managed to escape the rescue training as well. Says GM’s Rob Peterson

We had a process [for draining the battery] internally but I don’t believe it was shared with anyone. The incident with NHTSA raised awareness that we had to develop a procedure and alert all stakeholders.

GM’s EV engineering honcho Jim Federico adds

The fire occurred because the battery wasn’t completely discharged after the test… GM developed its battery depowering process for the Volt after NHTSA’s test.

Though not as bad as a technical defect, this oversight is certainly a bit embarrassing to GM, which now has to endure the lectures of folks like Clarence Ditlow of the Naderite Center For Auto Safety, who rants

I can’t conceive that they didn’t have a standard operating procedure in place for handling a wrecked vehicle before the car went on sale. NHTSA and GM should have established protocols in place before it went on sale.

And you have to admit, he has a point…

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Chevy Volt Catches Fire After Crash Test, Investigation Under Way http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/chevy-volt-catches-fire-after-crash-test-investigation-under-way/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/chevy-volt-catches-fire-after-crash-test-investigation-under-way/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2011 16:45:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=417782 The Chevy Volt fire rumors started early this week, when the utility company Duke Energy told its customers to stop using their Chevy Volt home chargers after an October 30 fire. At last word, NHTSA said that No conclusions have yet been reached regarding the cause of the fire. We are continuing to monitor the situation. But […]

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The Chevy Volt fire rumors started early this week, when the utility company Duke Energy told its customers to stop using their Chevy Volt home chargers after an October 30 fire. At last word, NHTSA said that

No conclusions have yet been reached regarding the cause of the fire. We are continuing to monitor the situation.

But it seems that the investigation is coming home, as Bloomberg just reported that a Chevy Volt caught fire at a NHTSA facility, shortly weeks after being crash tested.

The Volt caught fire while parked at a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing center in Wisconsin, three weeks after a side-impact crash test, said an agency official. The official, as well as the three other people familiar with the inquiry, said they couldn’t be named because the investigation isn’t public.

The fire was severe enough to burn vehicles parked near the Volt, the agency official said. Investigators determined the battery was the source of the fire, the official said.

Ruh-Roh!

GM’s response came from spokesman Greg Martin, who insists that the Volt would not have caught fire had NHTSA followed GM’s post-crash safety protocols.

In June, GM and NHTSA both crashed a Volt and could not replicate the May fire, Martin said. GM has safety procedures for handling the Volt and its battery after an accident. Had those been followed, there wouldn’t have been a fire, he said in a phone interview.

“There are safety protocols for conventional cars,” Martin said. “As we develop new technology, we need to ensure that safety protocols match the technology.”

The Volt has received NHTSA’s top safety rating based on crash testing, although in the side impact test, some metal did apparently penetrate the Volt’s battery. Whether or not that’s related to this latest fire, whether NHTSA did in fact follow post-crash procedures and other key details remain unconfirmed at this time. The government is in contact with other automakers currently selling or planning to sell cars with lithium-ion batteries as its investigation rolls on.

UPDATE: GM Chief EV Engineer Jim Federico writes

First and foremost, I want to make this very clear: the Volt is a safe car. We are working cooperatively with NHTSA as it completes its investigation. However, NHTSA has stated that based on available data, there’s no greater risk of fire with a Volt than a traditional gas-powered car.

Safety protocols for electric vehicles are clearly an industry concern. At GM, we have safety protocols to depower the battery of an electric vehicle after a significant crash.

We are working with other vehicle manufacturers, first responders, tow truck operators, and salvage associations with the goal of implementing industry-wide protocols.

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Review: 2012 Infiniti M35h Hybrid http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2012-infiniti-m35h-hybrid/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2012-infiniti-m35h-hybrid/#comments Wed, 14 Sep 2011 18:15:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=410589 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 […]

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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.

Not too long ago Infiniti dropped off a new M56x at my doorstep, at that time I didn’t much care for the styling, commenting: “Every time I approached the car I felt as if an enormous box-fish was going to devour me.” While the Infiniti M still looks hungry to me, seeing more of them on the road has perhaps warmed me up to the design and I find the form more attractive than before. As we often point out on TTAC, style is terribly subjective and subject to our own personal leanings, so take my opinion with a grain of salt if you like the look. My informal lunch group’s opinions were mixed with some loving the flowing curves and some preferring sharp creases in their sheet metal alá Cadillac and Mercedes.

Inside the M35h (and much like the M56x) there is little to find fault with. But there is also little to identify this M as the hybrid that saves the world and your testosterone. The only change to the well put together cabin for hybrid duty is the charge/power gauge in the cluster replacing the engine temperature gauge found on other M models. The center stack, nav system and trim are all the same (with the hybrid specific software teaks of course) and there are no blue back-lit hybrid badges, EV mode buttons, or displays with growing leaves to be found. This is the sleeper hybrid if there ever was one.

The lack of hybrid bling does not mean the M35h lacks tech, quite the contrary. The M35h gets the same suite of standard and optional gadgets as the base M37, not a bad list to pull from. The 7-inch standard infotainment screen does everything but navigation, iPod and USB integration with Bluetooth speakerphone is standard as is the 6-speaker Infiniti auto system with a single in dash CD player and XM satellite radio. Opting for the $3,350 “premium package” gets you Infiniti’s easy to use navigation system with a high-resolution 8-inch display, Bose 5.1 channel surround sound system with speakers in the seat backs, voice controlled functions, heated steering wheel and cooled front thrones and active cabin nose canceling.

Should you desire the latest in driving nannies, Infiniti is happy to oblige with radar cruise control, collision warning and prevention, lane departure warning and prevention and an accelerator pedal that fights back. The accelerator pedal is perhaps the nanny that people will find the most fault with, especially if you are an aggressive driver. The feature can of course be turned off, but if dialed up to full-on German-au-pair, it will fight you hard, forcing the pedal back at you if you’re driving uneconomically or if it thinks you are getting too close to a car, or if it feels like it needs to stop the car NOW. While I dislike the thought of a car that drives for me, honestly at least half the drivers on the road need this pedal stat. Not that we condone distracted driving, but if you needed to, this car could help you accomplish the feat more safely.

The hybrid system is where the M35h departs from the regular M or the hither-to-normal hybrid. Until recently if you bought a hybrid in North America, you had one of three systems. Honda’s weak-sauce Integrated Motor Assist system just puts a motor between the engine and transmission and is essentially a start/stop system with some extra oomph. GM/BMW/Mercedes developed a crazy-expensive and crazy-complex 2-mode hybrid system which seems to be dying a slow death in the market [Ed: until CAFE rescued the investment]. And lastly we have the original true hybrid system, the Toyota/Ford system which uses a planetary gearbox to allow the engine, motor or both to drive the vehicle. Infiniti took a different approach to “hybridification” by removing the torque converter from a regular 7-speed automatic transmission and in its place stuffing a slim electric motor with two clutch packs (similar to the Hyundai/Kia hybrid system). These clutch packs are what make the Infiniti system innovative and different from the Honda IMA system.


Starting at the front of the car and working your way back, you first find a Nissan 3.5L V6 engine running on the Atkinson cycle (like most hybrids) putting out 302HP and 258lb-ft of twist. After the engine sits a dry clutch pack that allows the engine to start and run while decoupled from the electric motor. Next up we have a 360V AC motor that’s good for 67HP and 199lb-ft directly coupled to the Nissan 7-speed automatic transmission. Located inside the rear of the transmission is a wet clutch pack that allows the engine and motor to be connected with one another to charge the batteries with the vehicle stationary (it also slips to help make gear changes smoother). Decoupling the V6 reduces mechanical losses boosting the electric drive efficiency; this is an area where Honda’s system suffers. Behind the rear seats a 1.4kW lithium-ion battery, wedged where you’d put the 5th bag of golf clubs (Infiniti says a quartet of golfers can still be accommodated and they kindly print a diagram in the trunk to tell you how to manage it). And the final  change is a tall 2.6:1 final drive ratio allowing the V6 to spin leisurely on the freeway (1,600RPM at 60MPH).

Hybrid systems like Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive combine the motor and engine numbers in a way that is not simple addition (google is you must know why), however Infiniti’s system is easy to figure: the peak number is achieved where the HP and torque curves of the engine and motor meet, making the M35h good for a combined 360HP at 6,500RPM and approximately 410lb-ft at 5200RPM. Note: Our combined torque number is an estimate as Infniti does not officially list a combined rating; the “online” 457lb-ft numbers floating around are not accurate according to Infiniti because when the V6’s 258lb-ft peak does not align with the motor’s 199lb-ft peak.

The high torque of the electric motor from very low RPMs make the M35h far faster than the numbers on paper would imply, we easily recorded 5.2 second runs to 60MPH with our lowest taking only 5.03 seconds. The low 1.9 second sprint to 30MPH (the M56 takes 2.3) is perhaps the most telling number because by the time the spedo crested 100 the M35h had lost its lead on the V8 powered M56 clocking a 13.5 second ¼ mile at 103MPH (vs 13.4 at 106 for the V8). Part of the reason the performance is so good is the weight gain, at only 276lbs heavier than the M37, the M35h manages to be 99-lbs heavier than the M56 and slips in just below the AWD M56x on the scales. (The Lexus GS450h is only five pounds heavier.) Stoplight racers be warned however, that after a few 0-60 runs the battery and motor heat up enough that the control circuitry puts the kibosh on at least a portion of the electric assist and by the 6th back-to-back 0-60 run our times had risen to 6.2 seconds.

If you drive the M35h on a normal commute and not a track day, the EPA claims you’ll achieve 27MPG city, 32 highway and 29 combined. In our 7 days and 820 miles with the M35h we averaged a quite respectable 29.1MPG (excluding our track adventures, photo shoots, etc) in our mixed driving of mostly California freeway and rural mountain highway. Our numbers were no doubt buoyed by moderate traffic and a general inability to exceed 72MPH on the highways in the SF Bay Area. Infiniti claims the system will allow you to drive electric only up to 62MPH but in reality there didn’t seem to be much of an upper limit for the EV functionality provided you were gentle on the go-pedal. This is also a key area where the M35h differs from a Prius, to drive at 65MPH, the Prius has to use the engine because of the design of the transmission, the M35h on the other hand just disconnects the engine from the equation. While on a level highway with the cruise control set to 67MPH the hybrid system would switch in and out of electric only mode fairly often with my daily commute spending some 19% of the time in “EV mode” (22% for the lifetime of the car) as figured by the trip computer.

Since the M37 delivered some 22MPG on the same commute, the efficiency gain is noticeable. Thankfully hypermiling skills were not required to achieve our test numbers, but perhaps more strangely a daily jaunt testing all the hypermiling skills from Prius forums didn’t appreciably bump the numbers either. Since Infiniti opted to keep the grippy all-season tires from the non-hybrid M, and thanks to the nearly perfect weight balance, it was possible to test the economy figures on some of my favorite mountain roads. When driven this way the economy certainly drops like a rock (17MPG for that trip), which may sound bad, but put in perspective the lighter G37 convertible scored 11MPG on the same route.

What’s the M35h’s competition? By my estimation it competes most directly with the Lexus GS450h, a sedan that is not long for this world. Since the 2013 GS450h has yet to be announced officially, a comparison to the current hybrid GS is all I can offer. In this match up the GS offers a suitably swish cabin that has aged well but is a definite step behind the M35h’s silver-dist rubbed goodness (the 2013 GS I was able to preview at Pebble Beach has a competitive cabin, but is not a substantial step above the M35h). The GS is also significantly behind the M when it comes to fuel sipping delivering only 22/25/23 (city/highway/combined) EPA numbers, a substantial 26% lower than the 27/32/29MPG numbers Infiniti scored. If that weren’t enough of a shot across the bow of the company known for their hybrid tech, the M also wears a 20% smaller CO2 footprint, if you care about that sort of thing. Driving pleasure in the GS is limited by the CVT that is the heart of the Lexus Hybrid Sybergy Drive system, but that may be balanced out by the M35’s less polished transitions between gasoline and electric power.

With a base price undercutting Lexus by $5,250 and offering more interior room, a real transmisison and improved economy I’d take the M35h over the GS450 any day. Unfortunately like most hybrid cars the M35h has less of a value proposition when compared to its own non-hybrid brethren. The M37 which is cheaper, delivers 8/10ths the speed, 8/10ths the fuel economy and perhaps 11/10ths the luxury feel due to the sometimes quirky nature of the hybrid clutch packs the M35h uses. At the end of the day the M35h is far from a leather clad disappointment like other luxury hybrids, but as long as the M37 is available for sale, I just don’t see the M35h enjoying a place in my garage.

Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad. For out Facebook peeps, here’s what you wanted to know: Jason M: Smugness level is similar to a Prius, 1/2 the economy but 2X the car. Andy A: No paddle shifters. Clay C. I tried, but BlendTech doesn’t carry a car-sized blender. Phillip W: We never reached battery depletion levels, try as we might. This is easier in Toyota hybrids because putting the car in N disconnects the generator, the M will still connect the generator whenever it feels like it, N or not. Mirko R: Yes. Marc C: Mileage depends greatly on how you drive, we did however average 29.1 which is the combined EPA number in mixed driving, moderate speeds, moderate acceleration. Sergio P: No idea what the batteries will sell for, my dealer didn’t know either. J S: Not quite sure why Autoblog thought it was more refined than the Lexus system. Infiniti’s solution is perhaps more interesting, and it is newer, but it isn’t as smooth. Given the choice, I’d take the Infiniti.

Infiniti provided the vehicle for our review, insurance and one tank of gas.

Specifications as tested
0-30: 1.9 Seconds
0-60: 5.0 Seconds
¼ Mile: 13.5 Seconds @ 103MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 29.1 MPH
Miles Driven: 820

 

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GM, LG Team Up For “Single Purpose” EVs. Will Mark Reuss Let His Kids Drive One? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/gm-lg-team-up-for-single-purpose-evs-will-mark-reuss-let-his-kids-drive-one/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/gm-lg-team-up-for-single-purpose-evs-will-mark-reuss-let-his-kids-drive-one/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2011 15:44:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=409000 GM tightened its ties with Volt battery cell provider LG this week, announcing a deal to jointly develop next-generation electric vehicles. GM, along with the other Detroit-based OEMs, have been seeking closer ties with their suppliers, and as the JoongAng Daily reports, this deal helps LG at a time when the Korean conglomerate has been […]

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GM tightened its ties with Volt battery cell provider LG this week, announcing a deal to jointly develop next-generation electric vehicles. GM, along with the other Detroit-based OEMs, have been seeking closer ties with their suppliers, and as the JoongAng Daily reports, this deal helps LG at a time when the Korean conglomerate has been struggling

Two of LG’s pillars – LG Electronics and LG Display – are floundering. LG missed the boat on smartphones and persistently-low prices of display panels have plagued LG Display.

LG officials are hoping the EV project will give it momentum.

And though it’s no surprise that GM wants to move into the pure-EV market, its gamble on the extended-electric Volt has backed it into something of rhetorical corner.

LG President Cho Juno tells JoongAng that

This partnership is strategically important for LG’s future. We fully support GM’s goal to lead the industry in the electrification of the automobile.

Of course, the Volt represents an aspect of “the electrification of the automobile,” but based on media reports it seems that the deal is aimed at “jointly designing a range of electric vehicles from the bottom up.” That indicates that GM is making a bigger bet on pure-electric cars. But given GM’s Volt marketing emphasis on “range anxiety” and recent quotes by GM North America boss Mark Reuss, the firm will have to overcome its own anti-pure-EV rhetoric if it ever wants to market pure EVs in the US. A few months ago, Reuss told a crowd at GM’s Spring Hill plant, not far from where the first pure-electric car from a major OEM, the Nissan Leaf, will be built that

(The Leaf) has a finite range and requires infrastructure and charging to run it, where the Volt is really an extended-range electric vehicle. The Volt can really be the only car you own. You better be living within a certain range for the Leaf. … It’s a lot different market, a lot different car and a completely different driver.

I’m not sure if I’d put the Leaf in the hands of my three kids. Say, what if they can’t charge it? What if they get to school and can’t charge it? The Leaf is a single-purpose car.

At the time, this was understandable: Nissan and its partner, Renault, have made a huge global gamble on the pure-electric car. With the extended-range Volt leading GM’s electrification efforts, all of The General’s marketing eggs were in the “range anxiety” basket. But when short-term prerogatives conflict with long-term strategy, a little care becomes necessary. And when GM finally brings a pure-electric car to the US, Reuss is going to have to explain why he would let his kids drive it, and not the Leaf. That might not be easy…

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Your Tax Dollars At Work… On Korean Battery Dependence http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/doe-licenses-technology-to-deepen-korean-battery-dependence/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/01/doe-licenses-technology-to-deepen-korean-battery-dependence/#comments Fri, 07 Jan 2011 04:37:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=379778 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 […]

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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.

Though the mainstream media reports (not to mention Secretary Chu) seem to treat LG Chem as an afterthought in this deal (if they mention the Korean connection at all), the artist formerly known as Lucky GoldStar Chemical is the glue that holds everything together. The Korean chemical giant currently ships Lithium-ion cells (the actual “batteries”) from Korea to Michigan, where GM then uses them to assemble battery packs (in which multiple cells are linked together and managed) for the Chevy Volt. In 2012, LG Chem’s wholly-owned US subsidiary (known as Compact Power, but referred to in the Argonne pressers as “LG Chem Michigan, Inc”) will open a Li-ion cell manufacturing plant on Holland, Michigan which will eventually manufacture cells using Argonne’s technology for the second-generation Chevy Volt.

Those cells will be assembled into battery packs by GM, which is apparently why The General had to sign a licensing agreement to use Argonne’s technology. Of course GM will be testing and evaluating those cells in cooperation with LG, but otherwise, The General’s main role in this announcement appears to be to give a patriotic sheen to a move that cements its dependence on its Korean partner.

After all, without a GM deal to announce, it would be tough for Secretary Chu to tout “the renewal of the American battery industry” by licensing a publicly-funded technology to a Korean company. After all, if LG Chem’s Michigan plant makes it part of the “American battery industry,” wouldn’t every foreign automaker with a US production facility count as “the American auto industry”? Clearly, the Detroit talking points about how it doesn’t matter that transplants hire Americans because “profits don’t stay here” are going to need some recalibration.

And Chu wasn’t the only person hyping this licensing arrangement to gloss over some inconvenient realities. Jeff Chamberlain, who heads Argonne’s Energy Storage Initiative, had this to say:

It is especially gratifying to know that the commercialization of this Argonne-cathode is helping the development of an emerging U.S. battery manufacturing industry, as well as the creation of new American jobs.

The goal of Argonne’s battery research is to support the U.S. automobile industry… The added benefits of this endeavor are the potential creation of U.S.-based green jobs, lessening U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

American jobs? Sure. The American battery “assembly” industry? OK. But as far as American “manufacturing” and “independence” goes, this deal appears to fall way short. Instead of fostering a true “American battery industry,” this deal merely ensconces a Korean firm at the base of a supply chain that, according to Chu (as well as GM, the Argonne lab and all EV proponents), will supply the future of the automotive industry. It’s one thing for local governments to incentivize the production of transplant manufacturing plants, but it’s quite another for the federal government to do so under the guise of helping an automaker it partially owns.

But this isn’t the first time LG Chem has received assistance from the US government to make Detroit dependent on its cells. After all, its “transplant” factory in Holland, MI is being built using $151m in recovery act funds. Nor is GM the only US-based automaker to slouch towards dependence on the Korean firm: Ford will be using LG Chem battery packs in its forthcoming Ford Focus EV. Where GM simply relies on LG for the basic components of battery packs, Ford will rely on the Koreans for the whole assembly as well as the cells that make it up (but then, Ford’s Focus EV is heavily foreign-firm-dependent in other ways as well).

In fairness, no American firm offers the kind of Li-ion cells needed for automotive applications… which is a problem we’d hope a publicly-funded institution like Argonne (not to mention Recovery Act dollars) would be focused on addressing. For all the support the Obama Administration has given the EV sector, it’s more than a bit galling that none of it has been focused on addressing America’s shortcomings at the base of the EV supply chain. No amount of red-white-and-blue- or green-washing can cover for the fact that any future American EVs will now be dependent on a foreign firm.

Alternatively, America could make its peace with the fact that it’s trading one malignant foreign addiction (Oil) for a more benign but no less foreign dependence. After all, Foreign  auto firms hired thousands of Americans over the last several decades to build the cars that Detroit wouldn’t or couldn’t. But if that were to happen, all the bailout-era rhetoric drawing a distinction between the “American” auto industry and the “foreign” transplants would be revealed as the thinly-disguised protectionism it really was. And this announcement would not be used as evidence of the strength of “American” battery and auto industries.

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VW’s Martin Eberhard Promises 500 Mile Range EVs By 2020 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/vws-martin-eberhard-promises-500-mile-range-evs-by-2020/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/vws-martin-eberhard-promises-500-mile-range-evs-by-2020/#comments Fri, 13 Aug 2010 16:50:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=362906 Not long ago, we explored the possibility of Audi taking out Tesla with its forthcoming brace of e-Tron electric sportscars. What we didn’t realize fully at the time, is how directly VW is going after Tesla. At a recent visit to Volkswagen’s Silicon Valley Electronic Research Lab though, I was shown the slide above, which […]

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Not long ago, we explored the possibility of Audi taking out Tesla with its forthcoming brace of e-Tron electric sportscars. What we didn’t realize fully at the time, is how directly VW is going after Tesla. At a recent visit to Volkswagen’s Silicon Valley Electronic Research Lab though, I was shown the slide above, which represents the battery packs for the forthcoming e-Tron and e-Up EVs… and it suddenly hit me that Tesla founder Martin Eberhard was applying Tesla’s multi-cell strategy at Volkswagen, essentially duplicating Tesla’s work with the backing of a major OEM. Now, Eberhard is talking to Autocar, and he says that his Tesla-style multi-cell powerpacks could offer 500 miles of pure electric range within ten years. If he’s right, the other OEMs who are focusing on prismatic Li-ion cells are in for a rude surprise… and Tesla had better start making some progress.

Tesla’s major technological innovation comes down to the idea of massing numerous “18650” cells in a temperature-controlled battery pack. Though many dismissed the strategy when only Tesla was working on it, Volkswagen is clearly now a believer in the approach, and they’ve got a good case for it. The main arguments for 18650 cells are that they are the most common cell type, new chemistries always debut in the 18650 format, they offer the lowest price and highest energy density, and offer the most flexibility in terms of packaging.

VW also argues that redundancies allow the multi-cell design to offer more reliability and safety… although cost is likely to have been a major issue as well. But perhaps the most important issue is the scaleability and flexibility of the 18650 approach. VW gave us a picture of the kind of progress they’re able to achieve by simply plugging new 18650s into the existing battery pack design:

Clearly progress is being made, but Eberhard’s warning that a mature electric vehicle won’t be ready until 2020 should be well-heeded. It’s not a great sign that Tesla’s founder is warning that we’re ten years away from EV maturity while his former firm is rushing an EV sedan to market in the next two years. But the real challenge of VW’s gamble on Eberhard is to the Nissans, GMs and other firms jumping onto the prismatic Li-ion cell bandwagon. VW has made a bold gamble by betting on a cell strategy that other major OEMs were content to dismiss as Silicon Valley vapor. If an affordable 500-mile EV comes out of it, fortune will have truly favored the bold.

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Fiat/Chrysler EV Program Loses Battery Supplier A123 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/fiatchrysler-ev-program-loses-battery-supplier-a123/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/fiatchrysler-ev-program-loses-battery-supplier-a123/#comments Fri, 13 Aug 2010 16:07:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=362904 Just weeks before Chrysler filed for bankruptcy last year, it announced a battery partnership with A123 Systems, which would have provided Lithium-ion batteries for Chrysler’s ENVI lineup of EV vapor. Needless to say, the ENVI program disappeared after bankruptcy, but A123 stuck around and was rewarded with the supply contract for Chrysler’s only prospective EV […]

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Just weeks before Chrysler filed for bankruptcy last year, it announced a battery partnership with A123 Systems, which would have provided Lithium-ion batteries for Chrysler’s ENVI lineup of EV vapor. Needless to say, the ENVI program disappeared after bankruptcy, but A123 stuck around and was rewarded with the supply contract for Chrysler’s only prospective EV project, th Fiat 500 EV. Now, the Freep reports that A123 has withdrawn from the Fiat 500 EV project, and its CEO tells Bloomberg that

a competing vendor had been willing to take the business at a lower price and that the program had been “significantly diminished.”

It’s not clear if A123 was upset with a reduction in  planned Fiat 500 EV volume, or if the partnership’s downgrade from a “full line” of ENVI EVs to the 500 EV project represented the unwanted volume reduction. In any case, Chrysler CEO still planns on selling 56k EVs per year by 2014, and it’s strange that A123 would give up that long-term volume opportunity. But, according to A123, another automaker has more serious plans to grow EV volume, and A123 will be concentrating on that partnership. What program is that? Where does this leave the Fiat 500 EV? Is A123 in even more trouble than Chrysler? As usual with EV programs, there are more questions here than answers…

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Nissan Leaf Battery Packs Break The $400/kWh Barrier http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/nissan-leaf-battery-packs-break-the-400kwh-barrier/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/nissan-leaf-battery-packs-break-the-400kwh-barrier/#comments Wed, 05 May 2010 22:28:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=355470 AutoblogGreen‘s Sam Abuelsamid earns a tip of the blogger’s hat today for making sense of a fascinating nugget in a Times of London piece on the Nissan Leaf. The revelation by Nissan EV honcho Andy Palmer to the British paper that Leaf battery packs cost £6,000 (about $9k) to produce could have been missed, buried […]

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AutoblogGreen‘s Sam Abuelsamid earns a tip of the blogger’s hat today for making sense of a fascinating nugget in a Times of London piece on the Nissan Leaf. The revelation by Nissan EV honcho Andy Palmer to the British paper that Leaf battery packs cost £6,000 (about $9k) to produce could have been missed, buried as it was near the bottom of the story. Not only did Abuelsamid catch it, he calculated that the Leaf’s 24 kWh lithium-ion battery costs break down to a staggeringly cheap $375 per kWh. How cheap is that, relatively speaking? Apparently cheap enough to send Li-ion startup A123 Systems’ stock to record lows according to the WSJ [sub]. More price-comparison context and some insight into how Nissan might have beaten those costs down after the jump.

Not convinced that Nissan’s claimed kWh price is really that big of a deal? Consider that just about six months ago, GM claimed that it could get lithium-ion prices down to $500/kWh by the Spring of 2011. In support of this claim, GM’s John Lauckner bragged that:

We’ve already seen significant reductions in the cost of batteries even since the start of the Volt program. At this point, we’re hundreds of dollars below the $1,000 a kwh benchmark

At the time, Ford said the cheapest Li-ion packs it could find were in the $700/kWh range, and these were manufactured exclusively in Asia. Even the hybrid king Toyota scoffed at GM’s prediction, with since-ousted VP Irv Miller laying on the sarcasm with a firehose:

I’ll buy all those batteries that anyone can provide me right now. Our numbers are about three or four times that, so maybe we’re missing something

So how has Nissan been able to drive so much cost out of such a crucial automotive component? For one thing, signs are pointing to a building oversupply of lithium-ion capacity. Earlier this year Deutsche Bank said it was already seeing large-volume bids of about $400/kWh for lithium-ion packs… although for all we know, they were talking about the Leaf. According to a study also published earlier this year by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants,

Planned investments [in lithium-ion battery production] will thus result in significant overcapacity between 2014 and 2017, especially in the US and in Japan. Given the announced investments, capacity in 2015 will already reach 200% of the demand projected for 2016. In addition, not all investments have been announced; as-yet unknown investments by key players will lead to further overcapacity, and national subsidies will stimulate even more investments.

Which means li-ion firms could be preemptively cutting costs in order to line up long-term business. Nissan and its battery partner NEC have had a joint venture to develop lithium-ion packs since 2007, so they may also have simply stolen a march on the competition. Moreover, Nissan’s efforts to build the Leaf and its battery packs have been heavily subsidized my several governments. Nissan has received $1.6b in Department of Energy retooling loans for US Leaf and battery production, while the UK battery assembly plant (which produces at the £6k price point) has received a $30m grant from the British government, and about $300m in financing from the European Investment Bank. If the automotive lithium-ion battery market is in fact headed for oversupply, these incentives will only drive prices down and companies like A123 out of business.

The final piece of this puzzle lies in the Leaf’s battery pack itself. As a pure EV, the Leaf will likely face less battery stress than a hybrid or extended-range EV like the Volt, since the battery won’t be fully discharged as often. Possibly because of this, Nissan has decided not to fit the Leaf with active thermal management, which almost certainly helped keep costs down. On the other hand, if Leafs have problems in the Southern California summer heat, those savings could come back to haunt Nissan.

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Volt Birth Watch 183: A Crucial Clarification http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/volt-birth-watch-183-a-crucial-clarification/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/volt-birth-watch-183-a-crucial-clarification/#comments Tue, 19 Jan 2010 20:36:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=342328 In case you were wondering, Ed Whitacre’s assessment that the Volt will “make a margin” at a price point “in the low 30s” is the GM Chairman/CEO’s second big lie in as many weeks. Well, lie might be a bit harsh. Gross and willful misrepresentation is probably more accurate. GreenCarReports‘ John Voelcker got in touch […]

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Busted! (courtesy:indiatimes.com)

In case you were wondering, Ed Whitacre’s assessment that the Volt will “make a margin” at a price point “in the low 30s” is the GM Chairman/CEO’s second big lie in as many weeks. Well, lie might be a bit harsh. Gross and willful misrepresentation is probably more accurate. GreenCarReports‘ John Voelcker got in touch with a GM spokesman who confirms what we all pretty much knew from the get go: GM “has not officially announced final Volt pricing, a price in the low 30’s after a $7,500 tax credit is in the range of possibilities.” In other words, we’re back to the same old $40k-ish number that GM execs have been throwing around for ages. Unless GM is talking about the electric-only (non-range-extended) Volt that Bob Lutz recently confirmed. But what about the margin thing?

The only real explanation for any reduction in Volt build costs would probably come on the battery side, and sure enough GM has already bragged that it will get Li-ion packs down to $500 per kw/h within the next year or so. Of course Toyota has basically laughed off this possibility, saying they’d buy up any of these mythical battery packs if they were actually available.

But mass production is a wonderful thing. Maybe, just maybe, GM could order enough battery packs from its Volt Li-ion supplier LG Chem to bring the price down, right? Wait, what’s that? GM has just signed a deal with an all-new batter supplier called  SB LiMotive (a JV between Bosch and Samsung)? “We have been conducting joint research into automotive batteries with SB LiMotive and there is a strong possibility that the company will be chosen,” a GM source tells the Chosun Ilbo. “However, that does not mean we will change our supply orders from LG Chem.” Huh? Unless these (relative) newcomers have come up with something that A123, BYD, LG Chem, Panasonic and the other big battery firms aren’t aware/capable of, how does it makes sense for GM to not stick with LG Chem and work out the costs of the already-chosen battery pack? Color us confused.

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The Cost Of Additional Porsche (Li-ion) Lightness: $132/lb. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/the-cost-of-additional-porsche-li-ion-lightness-132lb/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/the-cost-of-additional-porsche-li-ion-lightness-132lb/#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2009 19:54:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=336726 Never one to shy away from expensive options, Porsche has announced that beginning in January 2010, a lithium-ion starter battery will be optional in the 911 GT3, GT 3 RS, and Boxster Spyder. Porsche is the first automaker to offer a li-ion SLI (starting, lighting ignition) battery, and given its cost, €1,904 (US$2,900), it may […]

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the gold-plated porsche battery

Never one to shy away from expensive options, Porsche has announced that beginning in January 2010, a lithium-ion starter battery will be optional in the 911 GT3, GT 3 RS, and Boxster Spyder. Porsche is the first automaker to offer a li-ion SLI (starting, lighting ignition) battery, and given its cost, €1,904 (US$2,900), it may stay that way for a while. The new pack weighs 6 kg (13 lb), which is 10 kg or 22 (lb) lighter than a conventional 60 Ah lead battery.  That works out to $132 per pound saved, based on European pricing. US pricing has not yet been announced. That sounds like a bargain compared to some of Porsche’s other pricing shenanigans. Ask the fellas in the paint booth to leave off the masking tape on a certain number of exterior and interior pieces to make them body colored, and they’ll ask you a mighty $13,545 for their (non)effort. Only a company that has the cojones to do that would to try to take over VW. I digress. More battery lightness after the jump:

Green Car Congress offers these additional details:

The 12.8V, 18 Ah lithium iron-phosphate pack from Gaia is delivered as a separate unit together with the car and may subsequently be fitted as an alternative to the regular, conventional starter battery. The cars are delivered with both batteries; while the lightweight battery offers a very high standard of everyday driving qualities, Porsche says, its starting capacity is limited at temperatures below 0 °C (32 °F) due to its specific features.

So actually, your Porsche as delivered with both batteries will be 13 pounds heavier! Ok, I get it, you pop it in on warm days when you’re heading for the track. A cheaper option might be to pump 3.5 fewer gallons of gas. Or clean out the glove box. Or start going to the gym more often.

With its nominal capacity of 18 Ah, the lithium-ion battery, through its specific features, offers a level of practical output and performance not only comparable to that of a 60 Ah lead battery, but better in many cases, Porsche says.

On a conventional car battery only about 30% of the total capacity is actually available for practical use due to the configuration of the system, while this restriction does not apply to the lithium-ion battery. Delivery of power by the lithium-ion battery throughout its useful charge range is likewise significantly better, providing its full power, for example, when starting the engine almost independently of the current charge level.

After the engine has started, the new Porsche battery shows further benefits in the charge process, being able through its smaller internal resistance to take up more power than a conventional battery and thus re-charge more quickly.

Based on going rates for Li-ion battery, the price for Porsche’s latest addition to the option list looks right at home. And compared to the body colored trim pieces, it’s the bargain of the century.

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