DETROIT–Magna International Inc. is teaming up with Ford Motor Co. Ltd. to build a battery-electric vehicle for the North American market. The two companies revealed here yesterday they have been working for more than a year on a project to develop and build a compact car that would arrive in showrooms sometime in 2011.

“I think we are within striking distance of bringing a viable electric vehicle to market,” Magna co-chief executive officer Don Walker said in an interview after the announcement at the North American International Auto Show.

Unlike current hybrids, in which an on-board electric motor complements the main gasoline engine, the new generation of electric autos will be powered by batteries.

Magna said the vehicle will have an-board battery charger capable of plugging into a 110- or 220-volt standard outlet and will be able to recharge in eight hours, depending on the voltage of the outlet.

“We have leading-edge technology and the interest is there in this from consumers, governments, the car companies and parts suppliers. It’s also very exciting for Ford and Magna.”

Walker added the two companies are projecting volume of between 5,000 and 10,000 vehicles in the first year but that could climb depending on fuel prices and government support for consumer incentives.

Ford, which is also struggling in the current industrial turmoil that threatens the survival of its North American rivals, said the car will have a range of about 160 kilometres without using any gasoline and without affecting performance.

“The Ford BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) is expected to offer consumers a familiar driving experience,” the automaker said in a statement. “It will operate similar to a conventional vehicle but with smoother acceleration, less noise and zero emission.”

The drive to green cars is a dominant theme at this year’s show as automakers combat higher fuel prices and environmental concerns. General Motors Corp., Chrysler LLC and Toyota Motor Corp. are among the companies unveiling as many as 50 concept and production models that boast different forms of power.

Aurora-based Magna, one of the world’s biggest auto-parts makers, will be responsible for the powertrain and battery modules for the unnamed Ford vehicle.

“In an ideal world, we’d like to make everything associated with the electrification of the car,” Walker said.

The company is playing a key role in engineering for integration of the electric propulsion system and other systems.

The project has involved Magna’s research and developments centres in Michigan, Austria and its Aurora headquarters.

“The technology has really moved quickly in the last few years around lithium ion batteries and we’ve been a leading-edge player,” said Ted Robertson, Magna’s executive vice-president for new product creation.

The two companies, which would not disclose project costs, have not decided where they will assemble the vehicle. However, Magna is considering building a battery plant for the project, Walker suggested.

Magna will also try to secure contracts to build other components in the vehicle since it already has the capability to produce most auto parts from frames to seats and instrument panels.

Walker said Ford and Magna had been talking about an electric car for two years before his company showed the Detroit-based auto giant its capabilities. Ford decided about a year ago to pursue a project with Magna.

“We’ve known Ford has been interested in being a greener company for years,” Walker said. “Bill Ford Jr. (Ford’s executive chair) has been pushing that a long time.”

Ford also told several thousand journalists at the show that his company plans to introduce a battery electric commercial van in 2010 and a new generation of hybrid models, including plug-in versions in 2012.

“Ford is heading in the direction America and our customers want us to go, which is green, high-tech,” he said.

“I think that is where society would like to see the entire industry go and Ford is going to lead that charge.”

Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice-president of product development, said the company and Magna share the same vision for “the potential of electrification in transportation.”

“This partnership leverages the technical expertise of two global companies to achieve a common goal, delivering a no-compromise, zero-emission, battery powered car for the retail market,” he said.

Magna chair and founder Frank Stronach has shown a keen interest in recent years in alterative propulsion vehicles beyond the traditional fuel combustion engine.

 

Walker also confirmed Magna is pursuing electric vehicle projects with other automakers, although he would not elaborate.

“We have a lot other projects but not of this (Ford) magnitude,” he said.

 

DAVID COOPER/TORONTO STAR

Don Walker, CEO of Magna International, with a cutaway of a joint Magna-Ford car they are going to build, at the North American International Auto Show on Sunday Jan. 11, 2009

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Among the small clutch of green autos on view at the Detroit auto show early next year, Toyota will be debuting an as-yet-unnamed all electric car concept. This is meant to demonstrate the company’s commitment to electric, a move which only makes sense, seeing as the whole “peak oil” thing is pretty much destined to make the gas guzzler obsolete. Still, the car arrives without much fanfare or details — all we really know is that it’s all electric and that it’s smaller than a Prius. This comes after the Japanese automaker’s push into electric fuel cell development and their stated intention to have an EV on the market alongside the next gen Prius hybrid in 2010. Of course, we all thought we’d have flying cars by 2010, but the industry’s inability to produce a robust all-electric motor has certainly put the kibosh on that once great dream.

Update: When we initially posted this item, we ran it with a pic of Toyota’s iQ (a perfectly reasonable move in lieu of the fact that Toyota has yet to release a picture of the car). After Engadget Spanish turned us on to a more suitable image, we moved the iQ car after the break.

[Via Wired]

It turns out that weaning the auto industry off gasoline isn’t as simple as turning out electric cars from a factory.

Auto industry executives say they will couple their first mass-market electric cars with a big dose of community outreach, with the hope of making the new generation of vehicles more desirable and convenient to consumers.

Car companies intend to target places where governments are willing to provide incentives to purchase plug-in electric cars and install charging stations. Utilities, too, need to be involved so that the grid doesn’t become stressed by a rush of cars.

General Motors is already coordinating with industry partners, community leaders, and utilities to ensure that the apparent strong demand for the Chevy Volt–due in November 2010–will have the infrastructure to back it up, said Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director of the Chevy Volt.

“We are looking at communities that exist that are willing to put all the pieces together,” Posawatz said at the Electric Drive Transportation Association’s Conference & Exposition earlier this month. “To me, the Volt is a remarkable product. But, if the other stuff–the communities, etc.–isn’t there, then we run the risk of failing.”

Private-public partnerships
The financial industry bailout bill (separate from the auto industry aid package that failed to pass Congress) helps clear the cost hurdle for plug-in electric cars. Depending on the size of the battery, consumers and businesses can get up to a $7,500 tax credit starting next year.

But that financial incentive isn’t quite enough to rapidly spur mass adoption, say auto companies.

Municipalities or states could create incentives to install charging “pedestals” in urban neighborhoods or other public spaces. Similarly, businesses or parking lot owners could install charging ports.

With a good charging infrastructure in place, auto makers hope that mainstream consumers–rather than only adventurous bleeding-edge buyers–will have a positive experience with plug-in electric cars.

 

A charging pedestal from Coulomb Technologies.

(Credit: Martin LaMonica/CNET Networks)

Nissan, for example, is readying what it considers a mainstream sedan, with the usual amenities of modern cars like on-board navigation and heated seats. That’s a break from electric cars that are already available, such as the pricey, $109,000 Tesla Roadster or existing neighborhood electric cars that can’t go highway speed.

Because it is a mainstream product, Nissan will stage the car’s initial introduction in the fall of 2010 in region’s that have the right infrastructure in place, said Mark Perry, director of product planning for Nissan Americas. That will help it prepare for “mass market” availability in 2012, he said.

It is establishing “public-private partnerships” with governments and utilities in an effort to ensure things like favorable permitting and available inspectors for charging stations, Perry said. So far, it has agreements with Tennessee, Oregon, and Sonoma County, Calif., to set up a network of charging stations in public places.

“As we think about the individual consumer, you don’t want it to be an open question–Ok, I want an electric vehicle, what do I do? We want to have those answers,” said Perry. “It’s not a technical hurdle. It’s more a coordination and logistics hurdle.”

Nissan is considering a battery swapping program, something that start-up Better Place plans to set up in a number of countries, Hawaii, and the San Francisco Bay Area. The idea is to avoid the problem of a car’s limited battery range by having a network of spots–they would resemble car washes–where drivers can swap fresh batteries in for depleted ones.

Other auto makers are taking a similar region-by-region approach. Mitshubishi’s electric subcompact, the iMiev, has been testing a fast charging infrastructure with seven Japanese utilities capable of replenishing battery charge to 80 percent in 30 minutes, said David Patterson, senior manager for research and development at Mitsubishi Motors in North America.

The cars will be available commercially in Japan next summer. Mitsubishi also plans to run tests as fleet vehicles with California utilities Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison.

Smart charging
Utilities, meanwhile, need to be involved in electric car roll-outs to hammer out technical standards and ensure that the grid won’t be over-taxed by the added load of electric vehicles.

The Electric Power Research Institute said in a study that the the U.S. power grid could accommodate many electric cars, all while improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A spike to 60 percent market share in 2050 of plug-in electric vehicles would use between seven and eight percent of grid-supplied electricity, it found.

 

 

Click on the image to see a photo gallery from the Electric Drive Transportation Association’s Conference & Exposition earlier this month.

(Credit: Martin LaMonica/CNET Networks)

However, an analysis from the Oak Ridge National Laboratories found that rapid penetration of plug-in vehicles could require construction of dozens of more power plants if utilities can’t control when vehicles are charged. If millions of consumers recharge their cars during peak times, such as early evening, utilities might not be able to meet demand with existing power plants.

The technical solution to this problem is so-called smart charging software which will allow utilities to remotely control when vehicles are charged and at what pace.

During the Electric Drive Transportation Association’s Conference & Exposition, General Motors and smart grid start-up GridPoint remotely dialed into GM’s Warren, Mich., testing labs and altered the charge rate on a Volt. GridPoint earlier this year bought V2Green, which developed software specifically for utilities to deal with electric cars.

“The last thing you want to do is charge on peak,” said GridPoint chief strategy officer Karl Lewis, who warned that on-peak charging could lead to higher electricity prices. “We envision a compact between the utility and the consumer to incentivize consumers to do off-peak charging.”

A utility could, for example, offer what’s called time-of-day pricing, where consumers would get cheaper rates to charge a vehicle after midnight when demand is low.

On a technical level, the protocols and standards for charging electric cars en masse still aren’t settled. For example, auto makers are waiting for guidelines from the Society of Automotive Engineers International on fast-charging methods, which can make a significant difference in charge time.

Using a car charging device at 240 volts will fill the Chevy Volt’s batteries in three hours, versus eight hours if out of a standard 120-volt U.S. household socket.

Building a “geek squad” to install 240-volt charging boxes at people’s homes is one example of the services that will smooth the way for electric cars, said GM’s Posawatz. “There are a lot of opportunities and possibilities for different people in the value chain,” he said.

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