If General Motors has anything to say about it, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. will be the first early adopter markets for its plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt. The company is currently working with the local municipalities to flesh out the details. The goal is to make tax incentives for purchasing electric cars and build an infrastructure that’ll support them. San Francisco is already part of the way there since they, along with San Jose and Oakland, have already endorsed Better Place’s $1 billion plan to put electric grids in the Bay Area. Of course, GM’s deeds aren’t exactly selfless — after all, more markets mean more potential Volt customers — but if this is what it takes to foster an eerily silent rush hour, we’re all for it.

ETROIT (CNNMoney.com) — Ford wants to roll out a fleet of hybrid and plug-in cars over the next several years, but it does not want to go down the road General Motors is taking with the Chevrolet Volt.

The Volt, which is expected to go on sale late next year, will use purely electric power to drive the wheels, and a gasoline engine will only be used to generate electricity for longer range. But Ford engineers believe that using a gas engine that way won’t deliver both the fuel economy and performance customers want.

Instead, Ford wants to build fully electric vehicles – with no gas engine at all – as well as advanced hybrids, including plug-in hybrids, where the gas engine drives the wheels directly. Ford believes vehicles like these will better meet real-world needs.

“We just felt that regular hybrids, along with plug-in hybrids and full electric were just better alternatives for our customers,” said Barb Samardzich, Ford’s vice president for global powertrain engineering in an interview at the Detroit Auto Show.

Customers who want all-electric drive can simply buy one of Ford’s upcoming electric vehicles, she said. The automaker plans to introduce a new battery-only electric commercial van in 2010 followed by a new all-electric small car in 2011. The electric car is expected to travel about 100 miles on a charge.

Drivers who want longer range can buy a hybrid or plug-in hybrid where gasoline power pushes the wheels much of the time. Fuel economy for a plug-in hybrid, according to Ford, would be about 120 miles per gallon.

Ford has said it would introduce several “next-generation” hybrids, including a plug-in, by 2012. “Next-generation” hybrids will have more advanced battery technology than today’s hybrids, Ford said, allowing for more efficient performance and less reliance on the gas engine.

Plug-in hybrids will operate like today’s hybrid vehicles – with both gasoline combustion and electricity driving the wheels – but they will be able to take in additional electric power by plugging into an outlet, which allows for such extremely high fuel economy

Electric plan

Ford experimented with its own prototype extended-range electric vehicle, like the Volt. Ford’s was called the Edge with HySeries drive. It used a hydrogen fuel cell instead of a gas engine to generate extra power, but the principal was essentially the same.

But to provide acceptable performance once plug-in power is depleted, Ford engineers believe a gas engine would have to be too large to provide the kind of long-range fuel economy customers want, Samardzich said.

The alternative, she said, would be to use an engine so small that performance would be compromised.

Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director for Chevy’s Volt program, disagreed with Samardzich. He insisted that the Volt will perform fine even when electric power was being generated by the car’s fuel-efficient 1.4-liter engine.

“The only minor issue is in an extreme elevation,” he said, “somewhere in Colorado, up a steep grade.”

Posawatz called that a “less than 1% of the time issue” and said it was comparable to what drivers would feel with any small-engined car.

The Volt will by driven by pure electric power and will be able to travel up to 40 miles on plug-in power alone before needing to generate electricity on board. Chrysler has also said it is planning to have a line of such vehicles beginning next year.

Because 40 miles is farther than most Americans drive on the average day, GM and Chrysler boast that their vehicles could potentially go weeks needing little gasoline at all – if any.

Also, by starting with an extended range-electric vehicle, GM is maintaining maximum flexibility to follow where the market leads, Posawatz said. A vehicle like the Volt can easily be sold as a pure-electric vehicle by simply taking out the engine.”

“It’s much harder to go the other way,” he said.

A conservative approach

Ford’s plan for a purely plug-in electric vehicle by 2011, followed by a plug-in hybrid in 2012, would put it behind the plans of GM and Chrysler. Those carmakers, as well as Japan-based Toyota and Nissan, have already announced plans to have plug-in electric vehicles on the market as early as next year.

“Ford, I think, is playing a bit of a card game,” said James Bell, editor of the automotive Web site Intellichoice.com.

Ford is betting that gas prices probably won’t rise sharply in the next few years, Bell surmised. In the near term, the carmakers’ so-called EcoBoost engines – turbocharged engines with highly sophisticated fuel injection systems – will provide the greater fuel economy Americans want as gas prices rise gradually.

“If gas prices go down, Ford’s going to look like the cat with the canary in its mouth,” Bell said.

Ford also simply tends to be more conservative, by nature, than GM, said Michele Krebs, a columnist for Edmunds.com’s AutoObserver.com Web site.

All of these plans are driven by future, stricter federal fuel economy standards, not by natural consumer demands, she said. Despite a lot of media buzz around electric vehicles, consumers would ordinarily only buy them when the price and capabilities genuinely met their needs.

“We’re moving into that era when it’s going to be legislated, so consumers will have to get on board,” she said. To top of page

General Motors has decided to manufacture its own battery packs for its new electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt.

“GM is getting back in the battery business,” CEO Rick Wagoner announced Monday.

The company also announced Monday that it has chosen LG Chem to provide the lithium-ion cells for the battery packs GM plans to manufacture.

GM announced in September that it had chosen a battery supplier, but would not reveal which company that was. LG Chem and A123Systems have long been involved in the development of the lithium-ion cells for the Volt’s E-Flex electric drive train. While some speculated on other companies getting the contract, it should be no surprise that one of the developers was chosen to be the supplier.

Monday’s announcement follows mixed December news on the Chevy Volt’s progress. It was reported that because of the financial crisis facing the company, the plant for the Chevy Volt engine may be put on hold. GM followed that news up with an announcement that bringing the Volt to market is one of the company’s highest priorities.


GM’s Chevy Volt.

(Credit: GM)

Batteries have long been the technological hurdle in developing electric cars, the major showpieces for many car companies at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Initially, GM had planned to purchase the battery packs–as well as the cells–from an outside supplier, but eventually it “decided that strategically it’s in the company’s best interest to move into the pack business,” said Bob Kruse, GM’s executive director of North American Engineering Operations.

The planned plant will manufacture the T-shaped battery packs for the Chevy Volt, which GM plans to make available by the end of next year. The Volt runs on batteries for 40 miles and then an on-board internal combustion engine runs a generator to recharge the batteries.

GM also tested batteries from A123 Systems, which lost out to LG Chem as a supplier. Kruse said that A123 Systems is in consideration for future work.

Construction of the plant is contingent on GM receiving tax incentives from the state of Michigan to build the facility, Kruse said. Right now, most battery production is done in Asia.

“I think there’s an opportunity to create a supply base here in the U.S. but it’s going to require some government leadership to say this is strategic,” he said.

In tandem with the announcement, GM has also signed a deal with the University of Michigan to open a battery lab in the state. It will be the largest battery lab in the U.S, according to GM.

Automakers are able to work on low volumes of electric cars, but the industry lacks enough skilled personnel to manufacture on a large scale, said Anne Marie Sastry, a professor at the University of Michigan.

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.

GM calls the Volt an extended-ranged electric vehicle to distinguish it from plug-in hybrid electric cars. PHEVs run primarily from an internal combustion engine, which is augmented by battery power. An extended-range electric vehicle like the Volt or the Fisker Karma is driven by the batteries. The internal combustion engine charges a generator to replenish the batteries.
Chevy Volt back
A front view of the Volt. The car’s design changed significantly from the concept car to this production version. The changes on the exterior were done to improve the aerodynamics and to ultimately improve the mileage, hitting GM’s target of 40 miles on the batteries. The internal combustion engine will extend the range to “hundreds of miles,” according to GM.
Chevy Volt front
Closer to commercialization is the Think City, an all-electric town car from Think of Norway. The vehicle will be made available in the first quarter next year in Scandinavia, with a new lithium ion battery; the company has plans to bring the car to the United States in 2009 or 2010. The range is expected to be more than 100 miles and have a top speed of 65 miles per hour. EnerDel and A123 Systems are the battery suppliers.
Think City
The Think City will have a clear glass hatchback. The European version will have a back seat, suitable for children. The U.S. version is not expected to have back seats but rather storage space.
Think City back
The battery pack for the Think City is very large, compared with the car, and fits under the seats. Even with improvements in going to lithium ion from nickel metal hydride batteries (now used in the Toyota Prius), the size and cost of batteries remains one of the biggest obstacles to adoption.
Think City battery
On the smaller scale of all-electric cars is one from Global Electric Motorcars, a Chrysler company. Auto start-ups like Tesla Motors don’t like the fact that most people’s image of electric cars is golf cars or utility vehicles. But fleets are a very good use of electric cars because the range is well-understood, and they can be charged daily.
Global Electric Motorcars
Columbia ParCar has added models to its electric utility vehicles equipped with solar panels. This cart has Kyocera solar panels that can generate 261 watts. That’s enough to get between 2,200 and 2,700 “solar miles” over the course of a year, according to a representative
Columbia ParCar

This is the “gas tank” lid on auto start-up Miles Electric’s “neighborhood sedan,” which has a top speed of only 25 miles per hour.

Its current cars have lead acid batteries, but it will be releasing a five-person, all-electric sedan in 2011, with fleet testing in 2010.

Those cars, which will look like Toyota Camrys, will drive at speeds of more than 80 miles per hour and have a range of 120 miles.


Miles Electric's gas tank
The absence of charging stations and charging standards are one of the barriers to the broader use of electric cars. Coloumb Technologies will install a network of charging stations in San Jose, Calif.

nother important piece of infrastructure required to make electric cars widespread is so-called smart-charging technology.

General Motors and smart-grid start-up GridPoint on Wednesday demonstrated an application in which a utility can remotely change the charge rate and other variables of electric cars plugged into the grid.

In this demonstration, people from GridPoint dialed into General Motors’ Volt lab in Michigan and changed the charge rate to 1,200 watts.

This sort of remote control is considered vital because it will allow utilities to even out the load on the grid and potentially avoid having to build more power plants, or bring dirty auxiliary plants online, to meet demand for electric cars.

GridPoint is also developing technology that will eventually allow utilities to draw on stand-by power stored in many cars’ batteries.


GridPoint app
Even with the U.S. automakers rushing their electric cars to market, the Toyota Prius remains the one to beat. Toyota said earlier this year that it will have a plug- in electric Prius, like this demo model, on the market in a few years. It plans to start with fleet testing in 2010.
Plug-in Prius
There are battery-powered vehicles at the opposite side of the size spectrum. Odyne makes a hybrid electric power train for large trucks. General Electric is also using massive battery packs for huge dump trucks and trains.
Odyne truck

With so much of the industry focused on all-electric or plug-in electric cars, talk of fuel cell vehicles has quieted down. That’s partly because of technology barriers–storing and producing hydrogen–and the lack of hydrogen distribution.

Still, the large car companies, including Daimler, which has a functioning fuel cell car available for leasing, are continuing their fuel cell programs.


Daimler fuel cell