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Roundup: BMW Hydrogen to Electric; Tesla PHEV GM & Incentives; BYD Production; Honda's Doubts
Feb 4, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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Excerpts from some of the top news stories we're tracking: BMW is backing off hydrogen and talking about electric cars; Tesla's second car will be available as a PHEV; GM raises expected price of Volt, promotes tax credits; Honda and GM face off on PHEVs; BYD sees a PHEV on sale in China at the end of this year.

BMW RECONSIDERS HYDROGEN: though the company continues to promote its Model 7 hydrogen internal combustion engine, it is now finally distancing itself from this direction. The ranks of the hydrogen holdouts continue to dwindle as alternatives become more compelling and governments are no longer willing to promise increased resources and dispensations on near-term MPG improvements.

BMW Sees Slow Hydrogen Progress, Eyes Electric Car Posted by John O'Dell Feb 1, 2008 9:55 am­GreenCarAdvisor/­203

Fuel for BMW Hydrogen cars is scarce and likely to remain so, company says. In yet another blow to those who hope to see hydrogen become the world's preferred automotive fuel sooner rather than later, BMW – long a hydrogen proponent – now says it doesn't see much chance of widespread commercialization of the fuel over the next 15 to 20 years. While it will still keep experimenting with liquid-hydrogen fueled internal combustion engines, BMW now is working on an electric car as well, the German automaker's clean technologies director, Jochen Schmalholz, told Australian journalists this week.

Battery Bimmer Not Certain

As for an electric Bimmer, the company is developing a prototype, he said, but is "not really convinced it will work for BMW. But if it makes commercial sense and it makes sense to our customers, then we will do it. Even if BMW doesn’t go into production with its own model, Schmalholz said he said agrees with GM Chairman Rick Wagoner that electric vehicles will be a reality within the next 5 to 10 years.

TESLA'S PHEV: We've previously reported that Tesla's Board Chair, Elon Musk, said PHEVs were now a possibility. Now, days after delivering its first Tesla Roadster, Tesla's CEO sees a market opportunity for what he, like GM, calls a "range-extended vehicle" rather than a PHEV.

Tesla to make gas-electric car CNET Posted by Michael Kanellos February 1, 2008­8301-11128_3-9863202-54.html

Tesla Motors, the people who put the all-electric car on the map, are going to work with gas too.

The San Carlos, Calif.-based company will produce two basic types of its Whitestar sedan, due toward the end of 2009. One will run completely on batteries. The other will be a range-extended vehicle, or REV, CEO Ze'ev Drori said in an interview. In an REV, a small gas motor recharges the battery pack while the car is being driven. The battery pack on these types of cars only goes about 40 to 50 miles on a charge, but because it gets recharged while driving, the range of these cars will be longer.

"It is more than research. We intend to have it as part of the offering," Drori said. "The Whitestar can be all-electric or it can be an REV."
The gas-electric version of Whitestar will cost a little less than the all-electric version, Musk added, but the difference will be fairly minimal. Building a gas-electric isn't cheap. Automakers have to insert generators. The battery pack also requires different cells.
Whitestar is expected to sell in the $50,000 to $70,000 range, depending on the configuration (some of the all-electric cars will have bigger batteries than others and vary in price, for instance). The car will likely compete against luxury sedans from companies like BMW. Later, Tesla will also come out with an economy car, Musk said.

INCENTIVES: Two stories on General Motors' plans: the news here is that GM is sticking to its late 2010 goal (though Green Car Advisor's John O'Dell translates that to a 2012-model car in early 2011; that the vehicle may cost closer to $40,000 than the previous $30,000-range target, and that the company may put its muscle behind efforts to gain new federal incentives that will lead to economies of scale and reduced prices for mass-produced cars.

GM plans to build 'tens of thousands' of Chevy Volt plug-ins, official says David Shepardson / The Detroit News Thursday, January 31, 2008­apps/­pbcs.dll/­article?AID=/­20080131/­BIZ/­801310505

WASHINGTON -- General Motors Corp. plans to build "tens of thousands" Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid electric cars by 2011, a senior executive said today.

"We're not doing the Volt to sell 500 or 1,000 (vehicles)," Jonathan Lauckner, GM's vice president for global program management, said today at forum sponsored by the Center for American Progress here. "We're talking about tens of thousands and more than that within the year."

Lauckner reiterated GM plans to start production of the concept electric vehicle by the end of 2010.

The Volt will be able to meet the commuting needs of 78 percent of drivers, who travel less than 40 miles a day, he said, adding that. GM plans to sell the car "around the world."

A version of an energy bill passed by the House would have given consumers a $3,000 tax break to buy a plug-in hybrid. Lauckner said federal tax incentives would be "very helpful."

The incentives prompt consumers to adopt new technology early on, Lauckner said. The tax breaks, however, were dropped from the final version of the energy bill over an objection by the oil industry to rolling back some of their tax breaks.

GM also confirmed remarks made byVice Chairman Bob Lutz in an interview earlier this week that the Volt was likely to cost more than the earlier target of $30,000.

"He said, 'Maybe it's closer to 40 (thousand) than 30," Lauckner said an interview after the forum. "We're still fairly early in the program. We haven't sourced the battery yet."

GM Urges Tax Incentives to Boost Plug-Interest, Restates Intent for High-Volume Volt Production Posted by John O'Dell Feb 1, 2008 3:02 pm­GreenCarAdvisor/­204

GM's global programs veep says the federal government needs to get plugged-in, so to speak, and realize that tax incentives are going to be necessary to get people to buy the first generation of advanced technology electric vehicles – cars such as the Chevrolet Volt.

Without tax rebates or write-offs, the vehicles are simply going to be too expensive for most people and demand will never get to the point that economies of scale kick in and technology costs drop, GM's John Lauckner said during an energy forum this week at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Despite the costs, GM still intends to launch its eagerly anticipated Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid car with a bang – "tens of thousands" of vehicles – rather than a whimper. "It's not a niche market," he said.

That's not news – GM executives have said all along that they planned a hefty roll-out for the Volt.

What's important is that the company is still saying it and, in speeches such as Lauckner's, publicly sticking to its guns about starting production in 2010 – albeit the end of the year rather than the beginning, which could mean introduction of the car as a 2012 model early in 2011.

Lauckner said battery costs for vehicles such as the Volt, which will rely on lightweight lithium ion batteries that are still under development, will be very high initially but will fall as technology improves and volume grows.

Auto and battery industry experts estimate that it now costs about $1,500 for each 10-mile increase in a hybrid or all-electric vehicle's range on battery power alone.

HONDA VS. GM FACE-OFF: Another story about the event reported by the Detroit News includes a report and video showing (hydrogen holdout) Honda debating PHEVs with GM. Others participating include Jim Kleisch, recently moved to Union of Concerned Scientists (see our September 2007 analysis of his PHEV studies when he was at the American Council on Energy Efficiency­calcars-news/­526.html ). All of the participants seem to accept the idea that customers for for plug-in cars will base their decisions primarily on payback. In fact, it's clear that hybrid buyers want to pay for the "environmental feature" (and see studies done at UC Davis and elsewhere confirming that hybrid buyers don't sweat the math.)

The green-eyeshade skeptics see no need to take with a grain of salt a $15K price increment for mass-produced PHEVs over HEVs or to factor into their calculations buyers' understanding (or hope) that we'll soon be in an end-of-business-as-usual environment in which:

  • steps to electrify cars will receive substantial incentives
  • oil prices will rise well beyond current levels
  • electricity will come from increasingly renewable sources. In that context we find the comments by Honda's John German, pre-disposed toward hydrogen, that '“efforts to force feed [plug-ins] in the short-term are diverting resources” from finding a long-term strategy on reducing global warming emissions' are breathtakingly short-sighted.

Plug-In Hybrids: The Future of Cars Center for Ameircan Progress February 1, 2008. Report and video at:­issues/­2008/­02/­future_of_cars.html

America today faces the challenges of global warming, rising emissions, and dependence on oil. To meet these challenges, “the automobile industry can no longer exclusively rely on oil as fuel for our vehicles,” said Jonathan J. Lauckner, a Vice President at General Motors, at a Center for American Progress event yesterday. Plug-in hybrids may be just the answer we need.

Lauckner joined John German, Manager of Environmental and Energy Analyses at American Honda Motor Company; Jim Kliesch, Senior Engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists; and Jack Deppe, Energy Storage Consultant of the Office of Vehicle Technologies at a panel moderated by Daniel J. Weiss, Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at CAP in discussing the future of plug-in hybrid and other electric cars.
Commercialization of plug-ins depends on these batteries, noted Kleisch. There are still questions about battery technology. Deppe argued that there are “no batteries now that are inherently safe,” and durability over the life of the vehicle has not been proven. In addition, plug-in recharging relies on convenient access to electrical outlets. Consumers who lack access to outlets in urban parking garages or street parking in front of their homes would find it difficult to recharge plug-in hybrids.

Although Lauckner argued that plug-in hybrids could last long enough to meet “design guidelines of 10 years and 150,000 miles,” no battery yet has shown that level of durability and reliability. Furthermore, the $1000 per kilowatt hour cost of lithium batteries would be a significant burden to the consumer, requiring government incentives or tax rebates for consumers who purchase plug-in hybrids to speed their adoption. Honda’s German argued that “efforts to force feed [plug-ins] in the short-term are diverting resources” from finding a long-term strategy on reducing global warming emissions.

Despite these concerns, plug-in hybrids offer part of the solution to the need to reduce oil use and global warming emissions. The panelists agreed that easing the financial burden on both consumers and manufacturers would require government help, either by funding research and development and process technology, or by offering consumer tax rebates. Other issues, such as safety and durability of batteries, will need to be solved with future innovation and development.

In the long run, plug-in hybrids are just one weapon in a larger arsenal of tactics to fight global warming and oil dependence. The United States must embrace the coming energy opportunity and lead the world in implementing a comprehensive strategy to reduce global-warming emissions

2-PRONG APPROACH: The Chicago Tribune comes up with this new play on words for its article on the wave of interest in PHEVs. The story includes GM, AFS Trinity and Karma; the news is a timetable from Chinese manufacturer BYD, which had previously said it would have 60-mile range PHEVs at the Shanghai Olympics and hoped to sell them in the US around 2010 (see­calcars-news/­900.html ) now says it will sell them in China late this year.

2-prong approach 2008 shaping up to be the year of the plug-in at auto shows By Rick Popely | TRIBUNE REPORTER February 3, 2008­business/­chi-green_jp_tran_2-3feb03,0,5485660.story

Seldom talked about two years ago, plug-in hybrids are popping up all over the auto-show circuit.

Even the Chinese, who are poised to enter the U.S. auto market, are getting into the act. BYD Auto Co., which hopes to sell cars here in three to five years, used the Detroit Auto Show to display a prototype sedan it says can run 60 miles on batteries developed in-house and another 190 miles on a gas/electric system.

BYD said the F6 DM (dual mode) sedan will go on sale in China in the fourth quarter for $20,000 to $30,000. The batteries fully recharge in nine hours on household current and can get a 50 percent recharge in 10 minutes with a BYD high-voltage charger.

BYD Auto, a subsidiary of one of the world's largest manufacturers of rechargeable batteries for cell phones and other portable devices, began building cars in 2003. The F6 DM uses ferrous batteries, with no lithium content, that BYD says are high-energy density and low cost. BYD also developed the motors and software for the system.

The company, which sold 100,000 cars last year, says the dual-mode system costs about $6,000.

And then there's the Fisker Karma, a plug-in luxury sedan projected to go on sale at the end of 2009 with a 50-mile range on lithium-ion batteries. Then a 4-cylinder gas engine takes over. Fisker says the base price will be $80,000.

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