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.
Is the Chevy Volt a flop? It’s a question that plenty of folks both inside the industry and beyond seem awfully curious about, and one that I’ve tried to stay away from until we had some strong data to go on. And with nine months of 2011 under our belt, we’re starting to get a sense of where the Volt is going… and it’s not been all reassuring news. Jalopnik notes that such unloved GM models as the Buick Lucerne and Chevy Avalanche outsold the Volt last month, but failed to look at the important stuff: production as compared to deliveries, and inventory. Jalopnik does quote a Cars.com inventory figure of 2,600 Volts on dealer lots, although the latest data we have from Automotive News [sub] shows 1,400 units in the national inventory as of September 1… which at that point constituted a 121-day supply. Add in the 1,644-unit differential between Volts built and Volts sold in September, and the estimated Volt inventory across the nation should be closer to 3,000 units. We will be sure to update when AN gets new inventory numbers, but for now, the signs aren’t promising.
The main tool for the government’s crusade to get one million plug-in cars on the road by 2015 is the “Qualified Plug-In Electric Vehicle Tax Credit,” a credit that returns between $2,500 and $7,500 to purchasers of a qualifying vehicle. To qualify for the minimum $2,500 credit, a vehicle must have a traction battery with a minimum of four kW/h, and the credit adds an additional $417 in credits for every kW/h above the minimum. Why? Well, you might think that it’s because the DOE has done its research and determined that larger battery packs deliver more social benefits… at least until the 16kW/h limit (the exact size of the Chevy Volt’s battery), where the credit tops out at $7,500. But according to new research by Carnegie Mellon’s Jeremy Michalek, that basic assumption doesn’t appear to be true at all. In fact, his latest paper argues that the government would actually be better off subsidizing smaller, not larger, battery packs.
With the environment taking an ever-larger place in automotive advertising, it’s interesting to note that Fisker’s latest brochure puts green in its place: behind sexy. Of course these sultry images [via BusinessInsider] aren’t free from environmental overtones, featuring taglines like “designed to get you hot, not the planet,” but it’s clear that Fisker is more heavily relying on the most traditional tool in the advertising playbook. Why? For one thing, even though Fisker is delivering Karmas, the EPA has not yet certified its efficiency rating… so we don’t even know how environmentally friendly it is yet. For another the Karma’s main rival, Tesla’s forthcoming Model S, is pure electric and therefore more appealing to wealthy environmentalists. Finally, unlike environmental messaging, sex doesn’t remind people that Fisker was the beneficiary of over half a billion dollars in government loans. Plus, sex is still, well, sexy. The more things change, the more they stay the same…
Toyota may not be making pure EVs widely available next year as some outlets are reporting, but it will start offering a different kind of plug-in car in 2012. We’ve already heard about Toyota’s experiments with a bi-directional charger that could serve as a backup power source for your home in an emergency, but Toyota is taking the car-as-powerplant theme a bit farther next year, as Automotive News [sub] reports
Next year, Toyota Motor Corp. will start offering AC electric outlets as an option on its popular Prius hybrid so drivers can plug in household appliances — from computers to refrigerators.
The idea was born from watching victims of Japan’s March 11 earthquake using the Toyota Estima hybrid van as a source of emergency electricity when the power was knocked out.
It is the only Toyota model currently offering a standard AC outlet.
But Toyota wants to add them to the Prius next year and eventually across the hybrid lineup. One hitch: It will be offered only in Japan initially. Concerns about different voltages and safety regulations are keeping the technology off export models at least at the start.
Toyota may be only offering the system in Japan at first, but this step offers a fascinating insight: clearly Toyota believes consumers would rather take electricity out of their cars than put it back in. It’s a new interpretation of the plug-in concept and one that, as a blogger who’s always looking for on-the-go laptop power, I can certainly appreciate.
Every time I drive a hybrid – EVERY time – someone asks: “so where do you plug it in?” It’s as if more than 10 years of hybrid sales in the USA have gone by without the public knowing that a hybrid is not an electric car. Finally, however, Toyota has announced there will be a hybrid Prius on sale in the US where the answer isn’t “um, you don’t, the gas goes in over there.” Now the answer will be: “you plug it in up here and put gas in back there.” Yep, the 2012 Plug-In Prius is coming, so be prepared for blank stares as passers-by try to process the information. Toyota tossed us the keys for a week’s drive in a pre-production version so we could see what the hype is all about.
Fortune [via CNN]‘s Alex Taylor III is clearly as disappointed as I was with Joe Nocera’s toothless, vaguely pro-Volt piece in last Sunday’s NY Times, and he’s riled up enough about it to lay down a savage call-out the Volt hype machine. In fact, it’s a less scientific, less comprehensive (and, by virtue of the passage of time, less speculative) version of a piece my father wrote in 2008, comparing the then-undelivered Volt with the also unlaunched 3rd gen Prius and Plug-In Prius. Taylor’s foil for the Volt is the plug-in Prius, which now arrives in less than a year, and in the eyes of the longtime industry writer, the contrast is stark:
Volt enthusiasts like to recite the fact that the Volt can go 35 miles on battery-power and then shift seamlessly into gasoline-engine mode, saving on gas and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. It is an impressive technological improvement but one that is already obsolete.
The Pope is working on his green creds. When the German Pope Benedikt XVI will come to Germany in September, he will wave at the faithful from a plug-in hybrid. Made in Germany, of course. Mercedes is putting the finishing touches on a new popemobile. Based on the new M-Klasse, it is powered by a 60 hp hybrid module. The lithium io battery will supposedly be rechargeable in 60 minute, allowing the Pope to travel for 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) on heavenly electrical power alone. Once depleted, the ICE kicks in.
Why no pure plug-in? (Read More…)
Three times now, GM has planned to build a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of its Theta-platform crossovers, once with the Saturn Vue, once with the Buick “Vuick” and now, according to Reuters
General Motors Co has canceled plans to develop a plug-in hybrid vehicle based on the current Cadillac SRX crossover platform, deciding the project was not financially viable, three people with direct knowledge of the project said.
While two of the sources said the plans could still be revived on a future platform, they and two others familiar with the matter said engineers involved had been reassigned to other projects.
Back in early days of the program, the plan was to bring a Vue PHEV to market as soon as 2010, but the death of Saturn (and other difficult-to-identify issues) forced a change of plans. The Buick version was literally laughed out of consideration in what was the first-ever Twitter-based future product killing. But given that hand-picked members of the public were driving mules nearly two years ago (see video), we figured enough development had been done that GM essentially had no choice but bring the troubled Theta PHEV to market. Today’s cancellation of the SRX version is therefore just a little confusing…
The previous day’s usage had left me in a pickle. With the 12 miles left and only nine-and-a-half hours charging time at 120V. Of course if I constantly had to remind myself, if I had a 240V charging station at home this would be a non-issue as the Leaf would have been completely full. However, my situation as it was, the Leaf was perhaps a hair over 40% charged when I left for work with the range indicator displaying 59 miles, hopefully enough for my 57 mile drive.
Since I needed all the juice I could get to make it to Burlingame I decided to forgo the pre-heating and let the Leaf charge to the very last second. Fortunately this morning was a hair warmer than the day previous being a brisk 40 degrees. Unfortunately the temperatures and humidity conspired to fog the windscreen. Without sufficient power to make it to work and use the defogger, I chose to defog the old-fashioned way: windows open.
Speaking at Nissan’s Smyrna, TN electric car factory, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood noted that his staff is working with Congress to make federal tax credits for plug-in car purchases available as a rebate on the dealer level, saying
We’d like for people to get a $7,500 rebate on the day they buy the Leaf. We’re doing a lot of talking about it. When you give people that incentive to buy a battery-powered car, they’ll do it. We know these incentives help.
Speaking to Automotive News [sub], LaHood even went as far as to argue that the new direction for the tax credits, which were previously only claimable when filing taxes, would be successful for the reason that it would make the credits more like the Cash For Clunkers program. Apparently LaHood has completely forgotten how riddled with waste, inefficiency, fraud, confusion, delays, unintended consequences and all-purpose madness that program was. And that’s just scraping the surface. Foolish as it is to subsidize vehicles during the “fleecing the early adopters” phase of a new technology rollout (perhaps we should be saving stimulus for the inevitable “trough of disappointment”?), making those credits available at the dealer level is even worse, increasing the hype and incurring C4C-like downsides along the way.
Our second day with the Leaf gave us a chance to really dive into the charging realities of driving an electric vehicle. Most of us are used to filling up our car when the tank is empty or well on the way to empty. If you are shopping for an electric car, throw this mentality out with the oil changes. Think of your car like a 1990s cell phone: plug it in often if you want to be able to use it later.