Electric Cars


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Although Mitsubishi is testing the iMiev electric car in fleets throughout the world, official production isn’t intended to start until 2010. To meet its production goals, Mitsubishi is adapting the car to different world markets. At the Geneva auto show, Mitsubishi showed off a prototype that meets European legal requirements. It also features a refinement necessary for the U.S. introduction: left-hand drive. Along with the iMiev, Mitsubishi showed off a sport version concept with a more powerful motor.

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RUF Automobile and Siemens Corporate Technology, the research arm of Siemens, debuted their all electric car concept at the Geneva Motor Show this week.

The Greenster like its name suggests is designed to look like a roadster vehicle of yesteryear complete with plaid seats. But the tech speaks to the 2000s interest in green technology.

Siemens is providing technology for the car’s power train which includes the motor/generator, the power electronics, and the interface with the car’s battery.

The Greenster concept car displayed at the Geneva Motor Show had only one motor. But the Pfaffenhausen, Germany-based company said in a statement that the street-version, which the company plans to start selling in 2010, will actually have a dual-motor system.

The electric vehicle will be able to recharge in less than an hour when plugged into a 400V outlet. The company made no mention of how long the car might take to recharge if the street version is made to plug into household outlets, which fall between 100-240 volts depending on the country.

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Kurt Neutgens is hoping to sell you an electric Mustang for just over $75,000. A few years ago he quit his mechanical engineering job at the Ford Motor Company and founded Plug-In Motors.

Working out of his garage on a shoestring budget, like the very first automotive pioneers, it did not take him very long to take a stock Mustang, pull the engine out, add 2450 batteries, and add an electric engine to convert the car to run of volts instead of gallons.

It actually seems very simple to do when you think about it, but there was a great deal of engineering involved to convert everything that once ran on the gasoline engine, like the air conditioning, to now run on the batteries, Neutgens said.

The good news is that at the current cost of household electricity in Colorado, it only cost about $2.30 to run the car for 100 miles.

The bad news is that the car has a range of only about 80 miles, and that it takes 11 hours to recharge it when plugged into a standard household 110 volt outlet.

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Neutgens recommends that potential buyers recharge the car from their 220 volt dryer outlet which considerably decreases the recharge time.

So how does the car drive?

Like a standard Mustang with a bad case of the hiccups.

For those of you familiar with any of the Toyota or Honda hybrids you’ll feel right at home behind the wheel of the E-Stang.

You sit down behind the wheel, adjust the mirrors, put the key in the ignition, and turn it. Nothing happens except that the car starts to softly hiccup as it builds brake pressure.

Next, simple flip the switch on the new computer like center display to drive, and step on the gas. The E-Stang whirls away quietly. In my short drive around the neighborhood I was able to test the 0-50 time which was a somewhat leisurely 9.11 seconds.

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Neutgens claims a faster acceleration time but you will very quickly drain the battery if you get on the volts too much.

And that’s really the one big downside to this or any other current electric car. As you drive it you become hyper-sensitive to the state of the cars batteries. “Will I make it back home,” always seems to hang like an unspoken question in the air.

“We see it as an around town car,” Neutgens said when I asked him about this fear of running out of juice.

One interesting feature of the E-Stang is the ability by the driver to adjust the amount of regenerative breaking. The car has a sliding switch which allows the driver to dial in little (or a lot) of regenerative braking.

With the switch set to the highest position you hardly need to touch the brakes to stop the car. It’s a bit strange at first, but you get the hang of it quickly.

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Neutgens is in Denver and Boulder this week taking orders and giving potential buyers E-Stang rides. He has targeted Colorado customers because this state has “by far” the best tax incentives to buy plug-in cars.

In fact Neutgens says that if you make enough money, given the generous local tax incentives, the car will not just pay for itself, but actually make you money.

You can test drive the E-Stang yourself at Lakewood Ford in Lakewood on Friday, February 27 and Saturday, February 28, as Neutgens will be giving rides and taking orders.

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Adding another economical vehicle to the long line forming at the Geneva Motor Show, Magna Steyr will debut its Mila EV concept, Automotive News reports. The Austrian parts supplier and automobile manufacturer doesn’t plan to sell the vehicle as shown, but intends to use the Mila as a sales piece for its technology expertise.

Magna, which produces the BMW X3 and Chrysler 300C, designed the Mila with flexibility in mind. As a result, the chassis allows for multiple powertrains and drive configurations. In Geneva trim, a 67-hp electric motor powers the four-door hatchback to a range of just below 100 miles. Its lithium-ion battery recharges in just 2.5 hours.

We’ll bring you more pictures and information on the Magna Steyr Mila EV when the Geneva Motor Show beings next month.

Creating a well functioning smart grid – cyclically connected to smart vehicles and buildings and houses, as well as personal and public renewable energy systems – will be no small infrastructure feat. Utility providers, technology innovators, neighborhood councils and local governments will need to come together to provide needed support — both monetarily and ideologically.

Although U.S. President Obama and the recently passed stimulus plan are pushing the renewable, electric energy revolution forward, residents across the nation might need more motivation to make the leap from fossil fuel users to plug-in pioneers.

A new project, headed by “think-and-do” tank the Rocky Mountain Institute, is offering to help city leaders provide community members with that extra inspiration. The initiative, Project Get Ready, supplies a menu of strategies that are meant to help cities prepare for the “plug-in” transition. According to RMI, problems related to individual hesitancy toward purchasing electric vehicles and investing in the infrastructure itself, can “be overcome if cities/regions become ecosystems that welcome electric vehicles.”

To create such an ecosystem, incentives need to be put in ranging from financial incentives, to “luxuries” (like parking spots), advertising, job training, education, service, and more.

Project Get Ready has attracted coalition members including automobile makers, technology and utility companies, nonprofits and more, who are all willing to help embolden cities to recreate their energy landscapes. The idea for this initiative was born after RMI’s Smart Garage Summit, a three-day charrette, at which constituents discussed how best to break the catch-22 implementation problem cycle and create a more collaborative relationship between smart building, energy and vehicle production.

Currently community members in Portland, Ore.; Indianapolis, Ind; and Raleigh, N.C. have agreed to work with Project Get Ready. RMI states that it plans to have community leaders in at least 20 cities working to make their areas plug-in ready, and would like to see 2 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet be electric by 2015.

So what makes a city ready? Since each community is different, says Laura Schewel a consultant at RMI, the members will be allowed you to pick and choose what strategies will suit their communities best. These strategies include working with banks and dealers to offer low-interest loans for plug-ins to fast-tracking permitting for charging stations (see full list of barriers and strategies here). Schewel said, ideally, they’d like to see cities pursue the following hypothetical timeline:

June 2009: Convene a group of stakeholders from ALL sectors, sign on to a local readiness charter. Pick one “coordinator” or “champion” for the program. For example, in NC, the non-profit Advanced Energy is the coordinator.

By the end of 2009: have plans to convert or buy several hundred vehicles from city and corporate fleets. (Actual number depends on size of city). Start breaking ground on first 30 charge stations to test. Have funds raised to continue infrastructure deployment and citizen education.

2010: Get some factory-made cars, as well as lots of retrofits and NEVs. High profile people should drive them. Have a viral marketing campaign (eg: college kids at the NASCAR race, with a PHEV giving test drives and practice plug-ins, talking up the technology). Start a local certified retrofit outfit. Execute many other menu items.

2011: Ramp up the factory made cars. All menu items fully in place . Citizens should be buying cars by this point in big numbers.

2012: By end of 2012, RMI hopes for at least 0.5 percent of registered vehicles to be plug-ins.

2013/2014: Learn from snafus, adapt, improve. Help citizens buy cars!

2015: 2 percent!

Project Get Ready is ambitious indeed. But it is inspiring that a handful of cities already have project leaders starting in on the process. These members see that, although there will be hard work and upfront costs, in the long run, a well-connected grid system will help enable the renewable energy revolution.

Personally, what I think would be truly inspirational, would be to see that 2 percent of vehicles also become the only personal vehicles on the road. Perhaps by 2015 we can also aim to create the complete streets, public transit and high speed rail options that will decrease the need for personal vehicles altogether.

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A 200C? Is Chrysler messing with our heads? With Chrysler CEO Jim Press putting on his best game face despite the openly dour moods of some Chrysler executive staff, out rolled a bevy of well known Chrysler vehicles augmented with pure-electric drivetrains.

This is the work of the Auburn Hills automaker’s ENVI division, the play on letters taken from the first four of the word “environment”, a Chrysler project that the brand hoped would be the envy of rivals.
Chrysler had previously shown three of its ENVI EVs on September 23 of last year, when CEO Bob Nardelli showed up to an CNBC interview with a trio of electric vehicles, and then later that day at Chrysler’s world headquarters to a gathering of automotive journalists, wowing viewers and onlookers and simultaneously giving new hope to Mopar fans and alternatively to critics of the production Chevy Volt who didn’t find it as sporty as the concept version shown last year.

The appropriately named Dodge Circuit, simply dubbed EV at that time and painted yellow instead of today’s orange, is about as sporty as cars come, having been built off of the backbone of a Lotus, while the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EV and Chrysler Town & Country EV also received new paint schemes for Detroit, and no doubt some unmentioned upgrades. The Auburn Hills-based automaker showed another electrified Jeep that it hasn’t shown before, however, and the zero-emissions Patriot might be its most doable EV yet. None are for sale, for the time being at least, but the company has big plans. But a 200C?
It didn’t take long for the Detroit auto show floor to get swept up in speculation, some of it negative regarding the announcements lack of any real mainstream product to boost upcoming sales and other talk about just what the 200C represented. Was it the new look of the long anticipated 300C replacement, expected to bow at this year’s North American International Auto Show, or possibly a rear-drive replacement for the much criticized Sebring? Chrysler staffers on hand denied any connection to the 300C, stating that the 300C is so gorgeous it’ll knock our socks off, while another insider made it pretty clear that this indeed was the Sebring in prototype trim.

No doubt we’ll have to wait for the Chicago or New York shows to find out for certain, although Chrysler did say that ” the concept provides a clear view of what we’ll see in a next-generation Chrysler performance sedan,” in a press release, so place your bets as to which current model it will replace.
So what is the 200C EV? As the latter half of the name divulges, it’s an electric car using the same powertrain already integrated into Chrysler’s other show cars. True, but while the aforementioned models may be more readily available than the 200C EV, the stylish four-door sedan gives greater hope for Chrysler having a stronger presence in the critically important midsize car market.

In concept form it’s a rear-drive sedan created by shortening the chassis of a current production 300 sedan, and due to its ENVI drivetrain can sprint to 60 mph (62 km/h) in a mere 7 seconds. Although performance was front and centre during its introduction, its powertrain being highlighted, the 200C EV boasts an upscale cabin that would go far to help people forget the current Sebring. It is “free of switches and levers,” says Chrysler, “with all vehicle functions and features managed via a panoramic multimedia touch screen, a passenger-dedicated portion of the screen dubbed ‘techno-leaf,’ and a stowable tablet PC,” said Chrysler in a press release.

“The Chrysler 200C EV embodies our passion for problem solving by combining the best of engineering and automotive design,” added Ralph Gilles, Chrysler vice president of design. “With the 200C EV, we were able to maximize the effectiveness of the ENVI powertrain with the stunning, wind-cheating vehicle shape, while pushing toward the future with the avant-garde interior and advanced in-vehicle connectivity.”

A series hybrid rather than merely a full-electric vehicle, the 200C EV can commute up to 40 miles on battery power alone between recharges, and if your daily drive takes you further it can extend to a 400 mile range via a small gasoline engine and on-board electric generator. Volt anyone? As if GM had hopes of hanging onto its “reverse hybrid” idea for long, it looks as if Chrysler at the low end and Fisker at the high end have plans afoot.

The all-electric Dodge Circuit can manage a longer range under electric power at 150 to 200 miles, depending on your driving style. It’s unknown which ENVI vehicle will go into production, but the automaker has plans to put one in showrooms in 2010, followed by three more by 2013, although it’s unlikely the three that are added will be current body style Chryslers. It does show, however, that the brand is thinking into the future.

“Chrysler’s broad portfolio of electric vehicle prototypes clearly demonstrates that we are well on our way to bringing electric vehicles to our consumers’ garages,” stated Frank Klegon, Chrysler executive vice president for product development.

Chrysler actually has plans to put 500,000 EVs on the road by 2013, a combination of ENVI developed vehicles and those produced by its GEM division, which makes neighbourhood transports not much larger than golf carts.

The combination of ENVI-modified production models and the new 200C EV caused Chrysler co-President Jim Press to say, “.there’s evidence here of ongoing investment in the future.”

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The future of the American auto industry is getting off to a slow start.

The Energy Department has $25 billion to make loans to hasten the arrival of the next generation of automotive technology — electric-powered cars. But no money has been allocated so far, even though the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan program, established in 2007, has received applications from 75 companies, including start-ups as well as the three Detroit automakers.

With General Motors and Chrysler making repeat visits to Washington to ask for bailout money to stave off insolvency, some members of Congress are starting to ask why the Energy Department money is not flowing yet. The loans also are intended to help fulfill President Obama’s campaign promise of putting one million electric cars on American roads by 2015.

“Politicians are breaking down the door asking why the money isn’t being sent out,” said Michael Carr, counsel to the Senate Energy Committee, which oversees the Energy Department.

It is a question that Lachlan W. Seward, director of the program, says he hears a lot these days. “We’re moving with a sense of urgency,” said Mr. Seward, who also oversaw the Chrysler Loan Guarantee Board from 1981 to 1984. “But at the same time we are trying to do this in a responsible way that reflects prudent credit policy and taxpayer protections.”

Energy Department staff members said they were still sifting through loan applications, dozens of which arrived on the filing deadline of Dec. 31. On top of that, another $2 billion is coming to the department from the $787 billion stimulus package. That money will be used to develop the advanced battery technology needed to power electric cars, batteries more durable, safer and cheaper than anything available today.

Until now, the program has gotten caught in the shifting priorities of two administrations. The program was not funded until September 2008. Then, the Bush administration considered using the Energy Department fund to help bail out G.M. and Chrysler, an idea that was later rejected. After that, President Obama had to name a new cabinet. As soon as Steven Chu took office as energy secretary, some members of Congress started applying pressure on the fund.

Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, wrote Secretary Chu on Jan. 23, two days after he was sworn in, to say the agency is “under an obligation to issue the loans as soon as possible.”

Senators Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, who have led a bipartisan effort to increase fuel-mileage standards, followed with a letter calling for an “aggressive timeline” in issuing loans.

In response, Dr. Chu announced last week that the first loans would be made by late April or early May, adding that the program’s paperwork would be simplified and more staff would be hired.

There are complicating factors. Money can be given only to companies and projects that are deemed “financially viable.” G.M. and Chrysler, which have applied for a combined $13 billion from the Energy Department, must wait until the end of March for the Obama administration to decide whether the companies’ restructuring plans would make them viable.

The program’s small staff — around a dozen part- and full-time employees — must also sort through complicated proposals, up to 1,000 pages long. Many of the applicants have lined up members of Congress to pressure the department. Meanwhile, smaller companies say they fear the bulk of the money will be directed to the Detroit automakers.

Still, with credit markets tight, the program represents a rare source of financing to develop electric-vehicle technology.

“No one else out there will take on this risk,” said Mr. Seward. “It reminds me of the time at the dawn of the auto age when you had hundreds of companies making hundreds of kinds of cars and then they all coalesced. We are back in that era of invention again.”

The Energy Department has whittled the initial 75 loan applications, which seek a total $38 billion, down to 25 for a second round of reviews. General Motors is requesting $8.3 billion, earmarking a portion for the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid. Ford Motor is asking for $5 billion for a variety of electric car retooling programs and Chrysler, a unit of Cerberus Capital Management, is asking for around $5 billion. Even Nissan said it has submitted an application for one of its American plants that meet the program’s criteria.

Other applications are coming from battery developers. A123 Systems has asked for $1.8 billion to build a next-generation battery plant in Detroit, and Ener1, a maker of lithium-ion batteries, is asking for $480 million.

“Failure is not an option,” said Charles Gassenheimer, chief executive of Ener1. “We are confident we would build batteries without government help. But government help is necessary to launching the business in a mass way in the United States.”

Japan, Korea and China are currently the leaders in producing the batteries used in cellphones, computers and other portable electronics.

Advanced Mechanical Products, a Cincinnati company that converts Saturn Sky sports cars into electric vehicles, has asked for a $20 million loan. Stephen Burns, the company’s chief executive, even dropped off his application by driving one of the all-electric cars to the agency and giving members of Congress a ride.

“Getting the money would be a big step for us,” said Mr. Burns. “We can function without it. But with it, we’d be on steroids.”

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