May 17, 2011 (From the CalCars-News archive)
In this first in a series of extended posts this week, we give you our digest of the more newsworthy, thought-provoking, and perhaps overlooked developments of the past month. We've divided this post, focused on vehicles, into sections: Chevy Volt/PHEVs from Toyota, Ford, Jaguar, and other vehicle news.
WANT TO KNOW WHAT PLUG-INS ARE ARRIVING? Ward's Auto surveys the plug-in vehicles heading to market -- just ignore the bewilderingly sensationalist headline, "'Spectacular Failures' Await Electric Vehicle Industry." http://wardsauto.com/ar/failures_electric_vehicle_110330
CHEVY VOLT & RELATED NEWS
VOLT & LEAF "TOP SAFETY PICKS:" Both new cars, tested for the first time by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, join the 80 vehicles with the highest crash ratings http://green.autoblog.com/2011/04/26/chevy-volt-nissan-leaf-earn-top-safety-picks-in-first-iihs-elec/
VOLT AND LEAF SALES FIGURES: See May and cumulative numbers at http://www.plugincars.com/nissan-leaf-sales-overtake-chevy-volt-april-107126.html . (Critics who cite their still-small volumes as proof already that they're market failures don't understand that carmakers are ramping up against long lists of eager customers.)
IBM'S ROLE IN VOLT DESIGN: IBM VP Meg Selfe tells the software development story. An intriguing pointer to future applications: each Volt has its own unique IP address (online ID number). http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4215735/IBM-tells-story-behind-Chevy-Volt-design. A longer video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjjASGV36mw&feature=related
CHEVY VOLT'S "MOUNTAIN MODE:" An informative discussion by Nick Chambers about the implications of GM's approach to reserving additional battery power to drive up mountains at full-speed. Plus diverse comments from the driver community that's exploring this feature to optimize electric use and for save some EV miles for times when they're most handy. It includes notes from both Felix Kramer and Ron Gremban. http://www.plugincars.com/chevy-volts-mountain-mode-vastly-underrated-yields-new-driving-strategies-107176.html .
MICHIGAN BATTERIES AND GREEN JOBS PLUS NEW ENGINE FOR VOLT: LG Chem, which aims to gain a quarter of the world's plug-in battery market by 2014, is hiring 200 people for its Holland, MI plant, reaching 400 in 2013. And the Volt's off-the-shelf Austrian GM engine will be replaced with a (presumably optimized) US-made engine in mid-2012. http://gm-volt.com/2011/04/15/lg-chem-opens-ochong-battery-plant-expects-major-market-share/
HIGH-PROFILE VOLT: Michigan Senator Carl Levin is the first Member of Congress we've heard of to get a Chevy Volt. http://www.heritage.com/articles/2011/04/08/dexter_leader/news/doc4d9e05eff306f509719083.txt
PHEVS FROM TOYOTA, FORD, JAGUAR
TOYOTA DENIES HOPEFUL RUMORS: Here's the chronicle of a new Toyota PR snafu -- but first some background. On Earth Day, Toyota opened its website to signups for a PHEV next spring. Though it's taken a long time, we're delighted to welcome Toyota to the party -- and we believe the car, if priced well, could succeed well. Register at http://www.toyota.com/upcoming-vehicles/prius-plug-in/ . We were gratified when Plug In America's Marc Geller noted the irony of Toyota calling it "the prius everyone's been waiting for," and for his musing on the claim that this is "The first-ever plug-in Prius." http://plugsandcars.blogspot.com/2011/04/first-ever-plug-in-prius-really.html (When the 2004 Prius came out, CalCars saw that Toyota could build a PHEV. Our conversions showed what was possible, and helped build public awareness and support for PHEVs -- in the face of the years of dismissive comments from Toyota we chronicled at http://www.calcars.org/carmakers.html .)
The most recent PR mishap echoes what followed not long after, when media trumpeted reports that Toyota would shift entirely to hybrids. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/14/automobiles/14toyota.html . Toyota issued a denial, explaining its plans to offer a hybrid VERSION of every car they made. (Many were disappointed, and we're still waiting for hybrids in some Toyota models... ) Fast forward to May 2011, when Japan's leading financial newspaper reported that the entire Prius line would become PHEVs. Alas, the company said it wasn't true, as reported by Zach McDonald. http://www.plugincars.com/toyota-denies-reports-all-priuses-will-be-plug-107158.html . Then Toyota went beyond a neutral denial to comments reminiscent of its old put-downs. Sharon Silke Carty (formerly at AP and USA Today and now at AOL Autos), reports them saying, The added benefits are too small to justify the extras. "We see this market as being a small percentage of our hybrid market," says John Hanson, a spokesman for Toyota. "We don't see it as a car for everybody." http://autos.aol.com/article/toyota-wont-make-plug-ins-standard-on-prius/ . Jim Motavalli's report at BNET said "Officially, Toyota said that's bunk -- but it shouldn't be." He went on to describe how it would be a smart, forward-looking strategy. http://www.bnet.com/blog/electric-cars/all-priuses-should-be-plug-in-hybrids-by-2014-8212-no-matter-what-toyota-says-now/4171
GOOGLE & FORD TEAM UP FOR "SMART" PHEVS: At its I/O conference, Google described its project with Ford to use its "Prediction API (Application Programming Interface) to enable cars to understand driving patterns and thereby optimize the vehicle's performance. In our comment at http://evworld.com/news.cfm?newsid=25777 , we explore some possible benefits. (Where will we see these innovations? We're also still waiting to hear details of Ford's PHEV production plans.) Reports and screenshots at http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13746_7-20061837-48.html and http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/smart-takes/ford-supplements-analytics-with-google-predictive-api-ev-optimization-on-deck/16239 (In a related development, Toyota has announced it will partner with Microsoft for its "cloud-based" next-generation telematics services and programs connecting vehicles, people, and buildings.) http://pressroom.toyota.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=2961&view_id=35924
JAGUAR'S HOT PHEV: Jaguar plans to build 250 million-dollar C-X75 PHEV supercars using new Formula 1 technology. It gets a very respectable 99 grams/km of CO2. Will some viewing the three-minute video conclude this car is worth paying ten times the cost of the Fisker Karma for a PHEV sportscar?
Jim Motavalli asked for our comment before we'd seen the video (which promises "technology migration"). He reported, There probably wouldn't be any plug-in hybrids were it not for the tireless advocacy of Felix Kramer of CalCars.org. He welcomes the new Jaguar to the family. "Automakers that choose electric motors to boost performance are also shifting away from fossil fuels and helping to reduce costs for transportation electrification," he said. "So they get the world's thanks for being "incidentally green." http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/transportation/blogs/jaguars-hot-hybrid-super-performance-with-a-green-gloss
OTHER VEHICLE NEWS
EVS AS POST-TSUNAMI RESCUE VEHICLES: An amazing and little-noticed story: when local gas pumps lost electricity, Mitsubishi and Nissan EVs were still able to travel around Japan's hard-hit northern regions. (Reminds us of Hurricane Rita in 2005: with cars fleeing the coast creeping along in massive traffic jams, the hybrids didn't run out of gas. Could this be a preview of plug-in cars' roles at times of future disruptions? http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/08/automobiles/08JAPAN.html
ELECTRIC CAR FIRE WHODUNIT: When engineers, hobbyists and companies began converting Priuses, advocates and automakers worried a fire could set back the entire industry. There were a few sad episodes (including Neil Young's high-profile Linc-Volt), but the cars and the batteries were exonerated. Recently a fire in Connecticut took out a Chevy Volt and 15-year-old converted Suzuki SUV. The investigation continues, but all the damage to the Volt came from outside, and given GM's intensive focus on safe design, it looks like the Volt is off the hook. John Voelker dissects the media coverage. http://www.greencarreports.com/blog/1058475_electric-car-fire-flaming-garage-shows-media-ignorance
To respond to any future incidents and put any hysteria in perspective, here's a bookmark: the National Fire Protection Association's report on vehicle fires mostly from liquid fuel tanks after accidents (including cars, trucks and other highway vehicles; boats and ships; railroad and mass-transit vehicles; aircraft; and agricultural, construction and yard vehicles). Though the numbers of fires and deaths are happily half of what they were in the 1980s, in 2009, they still totaled 190,500, with 265 civilian deaths, 1,455 civilian injuries and $1.1 billion in direct property damage. http://www.nfpa.org/displayContent.asp?categoryID=953&itemID=29658