Electric Vehicle


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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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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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While Tesla has made the biggest splash with its Roadster, a number of other companies have been busily developing their own electric-powered droptops, including Protocar. You may remember Protoscar as the builders of a wacky Porsche 911-based Shooting Brake from a few years back. In any case, the Swiss firm is back, and they’re teasing the public unveiling of their LAMPO concept car ahead of its debut at next week’s Geneva Motor Show.

The LAMPO is an all-wheel-drive electric cabriolet that uses lithium ion power to extract 268 horsepower and 440 Nm (325 pound-feet) of torque from its two electric motors. Protoscar says the LAMPO (“lightning” in Italian) has a 32 kilowatt-hour battery pack that should yield a range of 200+ kilometers (about 125 miles). However, the company seems to be most proud of its “interactive GPS-based ‘range estimator'” as well as its so-called “intelligent charging” capability. At the moment, Protoscar says the LAMPO is configured to draw its power from a photovoltaic plant in Tuscany, with the goal being to have the car as an integral part of a self-sustaining transportation and energy system. Official (if confusingly worded) press release after the jump, high-res gallery of teasers below.

IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced its membership in the EDISON research consortium, a Denmark-based collaborative aimed at developing an intelligent infrastructure that will make possible the large scale adoption of electric vehicles powered by sustainable energy.

The EDISON effort (Electric Vehicles in a Distributed and Integrated Market using Sustainable Energy and Open Networks) consists of IBM, Denmark’s largest energy company DONG Energy, the regional energy company of Oestkraft, Technical University of Denmark, Siemens, Eurisco and the Danish Energy Association. Due to the environmental benefits of the electric vehicle technologies, the research will be partly funded by the Danish government.

Market introduction and investment plans in Denmark will result in upwards of 10% of the country’s vehicles being all electric or hybrid electric during the coming years. In order to minimize CO2-emissions linked to electrified transport, global attention on vehicles and infrastructure that will maximize the use of renewable energy for mobility has increased. To achieve this on a large scale, electric vehicles require smart technologies to control charging and billing and to ensure the stability of the overall energy system.

“Denmark, the host of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change conference and the most energy efficient country in the EU, further underscores its ambitions here with the Edison project announcement,” said Guido Bartels, General Manager of IBM’s Global Energy & Utilities industry. “There is already broad consensus that both wind energy and electric vehicles have enormous potential for a sustainable energy future — bringing the two together promises to be a winning combination.”

The first step of the consortium is to develop smart technologies to be implemented on the Danish island of Bornholm, designed to function as a testbed. The island has 40,000 inhabitants and an energy infrastructure characterized by a large proportion of wind energy. Creating a testbed on the island will allow researchers to study how the energy system functions as the number of electric vehicles increases. The studies will be simulation-based and will not impact security of supply on the island.

Within the project, researchers from IBM Denmark and from IBM’s Zurich Research Laboratory will develop smart technologies that synchronize the charging of the electric vehicles with the availability of wind in the grid. IBM has also contributed a hardware platform to the Technical University of Denmark that will be used for large-scale real-time simulations of the energy system and the impact of electric vehicles. When completed, the project will contribute to reaching the political objective of increasing the share of renewable energy in overall energy consumption.

“Electric vehicles are one of the technologies we can use to incorporate renewable energy into transportation,” said Danish Minister of Climate and Energy Connie Hedegaard. “That is why we are making it possible for electric cars to enter the market in order to replace conventional fuel. Projects like Edison show how it’s possible to create sustainable solutions in real life.”

While various companies have announced initiatives in Denmark that will contribute to the overall adoption of an electric vehicle system, EDISON will address the entire end-to-end process to make the system possible — this includes ensuring overall grid stability and supporting the increased use of renewable energy. The smart technologies developed within EDISON may also be applied to the management of other types of decentralized batteries throughout the grid.

“Electric vehicles have enormous potential for creating a cleaner energy system as well as a cleaner transport system,” said Tim Mondorf, Nordic Business Development Executive, Energy & Environment at IBM. “We look forward to creating a working, intelligent management system first on the real-life test laboratory of the island of Bornholm, and in the longer term for Denmark as a whole.”

IBM is working with clients in nearly 50 Smart Grid engagements across emerging and mature markets. More about IBM’s vision to bring a new level of intelligence to how the world works — how every person, business, organization, government, natural system, and man-made system interacts, can be found here: http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/presskit/26094.wss

About IBM:

For more information on smart utilities at IBM visit: http://www-03.ibm.com/industries/utilities/us/index.html

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A coalition dedicated to paving the way for plug-in electric cars in communities launched on Tuesday, highlighting the technical and economic challenges to electric transportation.

Project Get Ready is spearheaded by think tank the Rocky Mountain Institute and includes a few municipalities, utilities, and nonprofits as members. It counts automakers, including General Motors, and technology companies as advisers.

The group’s goal is to accelerate plug-in electric car adoption by helping communities create multi-year plans for adoption. It will initially work with three communities–Raleigh, N.C.; Portland, Ore.; and Indianapolis, Ind.–and convene with over 20 communities later this year to share information.

Electric vehicles were a major theme at this year’s North American International Auto Show and there’s been a great deal of interest in electric cars, like the Chevy Volt, years before their release.

But communities need to actively prepare for the new technology in order to meet President Obama’s goal of getting 1 million plug-in electric cars on the road by 2015–one-half of one percent of the U.S. auto fleet.

Consumers need to get accustomed to daily charging and many areas, such as cities, will need to have public charging stations. Initially, plug-in electric cars will be more expensive than gas-only cars. Also, there is some concern over how much the additional load of plug-in electric cars will bring to the power grid.

“Our hypothesis is that the challenges can best be overcome by focusing on city and community readiness,” said Laura Schewel, project manager and consultant with the Rocky Mountain Institute. The plan is to create a “menu” of techniques for addressing common barriers, such as high upfront cost, and to demonstrate that there is consumer demand, she said.

Mayor Charles Meeker of Raleigh said that plug-in electric vehicles tie into the company’s economic development plans and goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce imports of oil.

The city has one plug-in electric vehicle and intends to increase that number to 15 or 20 within a year. It hopes to build eight charging stations in the downtown area, funded through parking fees and by partnering with utilities. It is also applying for federal government loans, according to city officials.

The Indianapolis area is eager to test plug-in electric vehicles because the region’s auto companies intend to manufacture batteries and components for electric vehicles, said Paul Mitchell, a representative with the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.

“We believe this can create jobs and investments,” he said. “This is part of our stimulus strategy by taking advantage of this new paradigm.”

The region is working with two utilities to test smart-grid technology to control when and how quickly plug-in cars are charged so that they don’t stress the grid, Mitchell said. One of the challenges to adoption is developing a regulatory model that allows utilities to invest in smart-grid technology, he said.

Charging a plug-in electric vehicle takes about as much electricity as three plasma TVs and set-top boxes, according Joe Barra, director of customer energy resources at Portland General Electric. He said that since most vehicle charging will happen at night at off-peak times, the utility won’t need to substantially change its power generation.

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