Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Mar 16

Trump Extends For One Year MPG Rules Review Obama Had Tried To Lock Down


As expected, the Trump administration said today it would re-open review of tough federal mpg and emissions standards that had been finalized under the Obama EPA.

For the past few months clouds have been brewing over what the New York Times reported could lead also to an attack on California’s right to set its own clean air rules, and advocates have been lining up to preemptively counter the perceptive attack.

Under the new U.S. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who like Trump questions man-made climate change, the agency will allow automakers another year to make their case on why rules should be weakened.

At present, federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules call for an ostensible “50 mpg” or more on average by 2025, although that is done under simplified testing, and the real number on window stickers may average in the high 30s. Today the average is about 25-26 mpg.

A White House official told reporters today that the carmakers doing business in the U.S. were right to decry what was perceived as a power play by the Obama administration. Under Obama’s orders, the EPA moved ahead of an April 2018 deadline to lock in final determination of a “midterm review” for 2022-2025 rules.

A total of 18 automakers had petitioned Trump to reconsider, and as a letter by the Auto Alliance to Pruitt observes, they feel they were handled improperly.

Excerpt from a letter by the Auto Alliance to Scott Pruitt, Trump’s new EPA administrator who has a history of opposing the EPA in his prior career.

Meanwhile environmental and consumer advocates have said they want a “place at the table” in what may be an intense struggle between ideologically and politically divided factions.

Among those wasting no time to comment today was Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union.

“The Administration should reconsider today’s action. The EPA finalized the standards after a thorough study of costs and benefits,” said Baker-Branstetter. “A decision to withdraw the standards is nonsensical, as it would merely funnel more money to oil companies at consumers’ expense and halt the progress that can be made in both savings for consumers and vehicle efficiency. The standards already take the cost into account, and the record shows that they are a reasonable, cost-effective approach to improving fuel efficiency and lowering consumers’ expenses.

“EPA conducted a robust review of these standards for nearly two years, taking into account the input from automakers, including thousands of pages of technology and cost assessments, and concluded that the standards were appropriate,” Baker-Branstetter continued. “By rejecting the EPA’s final determination now, its new Administrator is signaling the agency plans to weaken the standards instead.”

As for California, Mary Nichols, chairman of California’s Air Resources Board said she would consider fine-tuning rules to a point.

“We’re not going to refuse to participate in the newly-reopened review process,” Nichols said in a phone interview. “We’ll be there and we’ll be active.”

This said, Nichols does not believe California should be expected to cease its own stance in favor of clean vehicles.

How things might affect Tesla which defiantly stands as an all-electric carmaker also remains to be seen.

“We have the technical and legal ability to run a program that recognizes where electrification of vehicles is headed,” she said. “We’re trying to put together a mix of incentives and regulations to move the entire industry in this direction. This is what we’re going to do.”

It is believed a major legal fight will ensue if Trump makes an unprecedented attack against California. The state – which influences as much as 30 percent of the U.S. car market – otherwise does stand as a de facto rulemaking body. Automakers recognize this, and the Trump administration does too, so even if EPA rules were reduced, carmakers would still have to design, market and sell vehicles made for California rules.

SEE ALSO: Will US Consumers Benefit From Strong MPG Regulations?

That, to some, is a threat that will need to be eliminated, though today’s announcement did not touch on this.

But while others have called the Trump EPA’s initiative an attack, a moderate tone is otherwise being issued. Automotive News reported U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and former GM executive said carmakers don’t want to gut EPA rules.

Rather, the review will allow automakers to air views they feel they were deprived of initially by Obama’s heavy handed maneuver to lock in rules before leaving office.

This story that touches on hundreds of billions of dollars, and that stands to affect the kinds of cars Americans will buy into next decade is only now just beginning.


Mar 15

How Many Tesla Model 3 Buyers Will Be Eligible For $7,500 Federal Tax Credits?


More than the most anticipated electric car of 2017, Tesla’s Model 3 may be the most newsworthy car of any type, but the odds of anyone getting one for under $30,000 may be close to nil.

Tesla has said the 215-plus mile EV will be priced from $35,000 and some news stories initially fluffed up the notion that after adding in a destination fee, and subtracting a $7,500 federal tax credit, some buyers may net it for the high 20s. To be sure, as we’ll delve into below, a certain number of buyers will get a $7,500 credit, but Tesla’s eligibility for the federal credit should be gone before any $35,000-plus-destination Model 3s are sold.

While some have said the Model 3 won’t even get here before the end of they year, Michigan-based analyst Alan Baum recently upgraded his former 5,000-unit projection to 12,000 units in the last three months of 2017 – from October through Dec. 31.

The Model 3 was the closest thing to a new iPhone release in the world of automobiles.

At issue is the Model 3 is expected to be released first to an incredibly long line of paid reservation holders with more expensive models delivered first, and by the time a base Model 3 shows up, a 200,000 total vehicle cap under federal law will have been reached.

SEE ALSO: Musk: Model 3 Price Will Probably Average $42,000 With Options

First up are to be “Founders” edition cars. Baum’s initially conservative 5,000-unit 2017 sales estimate was based on Tesla’s history of a slow production startup. The Model X exemplified how that worked. Tesla did manage to deliver the first few Model X Founders and Signature series examples starting at the end of Sept. 2015, but for the entire year due to teething problems with the complicated car, it delivered fewer than 300 units by Dec. 31.

The Model 3, thanks to a simpler-to-produce design and an assembly line intended for mass volume, ought to get up and running much quicker, and giving benefit of the doubt to CEO Elon Musk’s optimism citing new production capabilities, 12,000 are now projected.

The (Estimated) Numbers

Where things get fuzzy is Tesla does not report month by month sales numbers, and only confirms volumes later, such as during quarterly earnings reports.

This said, the big picture is clear enough where things ought to stand when Model 3 gets here.

Through December 2016, Tesla had sold 111,753 units consisting of the Model S and X. Beyond that a few Roadsters may also have qualified. That meant it had 88,247 or less to go before a phase-out process begins which we’ll explain in a bit.

For calendar year 2017, Baum estimates 28,500 Model S sales, 16,300 Model X sales, and 12,000 Model 3 sales. These are just projections, but for now going with them, by end of 2017 Tesla may have sold 168,553 out of 200,000 eligible vehicles.

2018 is the year Baum expects things to really heat up, and the remaining 30,000 or so credits will quickly evaporate.

For the year, an estimated 23,800 Model S units would be sold – yes, a decline for Model S is projected, while an increase in Model X sales to 19,500 sales is in turn projected. The Model 3, Baum estimates, could see 105,500 units.

As buyers are aware of the imminent drying up of tax credits, this also may stimulate sales to a point.

What month in 2018 might the last car eligible for the full $7,500 federal credit be sold?

This is anyone’s guess, but Baum estimates maybe 3,500 Model S and X sales per month plus 5,000 Model 3 sales for the first three months in 2018. So, figure a rough napkin estimate of 8,500 units per month through March equaling 25,500 out of a bit over 30,000 remaining, thus by April a threshold could be met.

Where things get fuzzy is Tesla does not report month by month sales numbers, and only confirms volumes later, such as during quarterly earnings reports.

This said, the big picture is clear enough where things ought to stand when Model 3 gets here.

Through December 2016, Tesla had sold 111,753 units consisting of the Model S and X. Beyond that a few Roadsters may also have qualified. That meant it had 88,247 or less to go before a phase-out process begins which we’ll explain in a bit.

For calendar year 2017, Baum conservatively estimates 28,500 Model S sales, 16,300 Model X sales, and 12,000 Model 3 sales. These are just projections, but for now going with them, by end of 2017 Tesla may have sold 168,553 out of 200,000 eligible vehicles.

2018 is the year Baum expects things to really heat up, and the remaining 30,000 or so credits will quickly evaporate.

For the year, an estimated 23,800 Model S units would be sold – yes, a decline for Model S is projected, while an increase in Model X sales to 19,500 sales is in turn projected. The Model 3, Baum estimates, could see 105,500 units.

As buyers are aware of the imminent drying up of tax credits, this also may stimulate sales to a point.

What month in 2018 might the last car eligible for the full $7,500 federal credit be sold?

This is anyone’s guess, but Baum estimates maybe 3,500 Model S and X sales per month plus 5,000 Model 3 sales for the first three months in 2018. So, figure a rough napkin estimate of 8,500 units per month through March equaling 25,500 out of a bit over 30,000 remaining, thus by April a threshold could be met.

It should be noted that while Baum has given Tesla more benefit of the doubt, he is not passing along unfiltered the bold declarations of Elon Musk speaking of total production intended for global production.

“Our Model 3 program is on track to start limited vehicle production in July and to steadily ramp production to exceed 5,000 vehicles per week at some point in the fourth quarter and 10,000 vehicles per week at some point in 2018,” said Tesla’s most recent quarterly letter. “To support accelerating vehicle deliveries and maintain our industry-leading customer satisfaction, we are expanding our retail, Supercharger, and service functions.”

On a conference call, Musk himself projected for the Model 3 by July to be coming off the line at 1,000/week, by August 2,000/week, and by September 4,000/week. In 2018, he anticipates 500,000 vehicles produced, and by 2020, 1 million.

If Tesla’s projections are correct, while some of the much-larger volume of cars than Baum projects will not go to the U.S., the credits could be gone before 2017 is over.

Otherwise, keeping to Baum’s numbers, how many Model 3 buyers in total may get the full $7,500 credit? It could be 12,000 in 2017, and another 17,000 or so in 2018, in round estimated numbers, though as we’ll see below, loopholes or other caveats potentially stand to increase this projection.

About Those Credits

After 200,000 units are hit, under the Trump administration, it’s not believed Congress would extend the credit eligibility for Tesla, though this remains to be seen.

Otherwise, whenever Tesla sells its 200,000th unit, this won’t mean a complete cessation of the credits, but rather the $7,500 tax credit is by IRS law halved for two quarters to $3,750, then it’s halved again to $1,875 for a couple more quarters, then it goes to zero.

The section in the tax law that spells out the 200,000 cap and credits fading away over the following year is under “phaseout period” 26 USC § 30D. Not incidentally, the tax credits will of course phase out for all Tesla models, not just the Model 3.

The 200,000 credit cap under IRS rules is based on units sold – not credits applied for as has been the case, for example, with California state credits which are part of a pool of credits that remains until extinguished. For this federal law, regardless whether consumers’ tax situations make them eligible to apply for credits or not, once 200,000 units are sold, a manufacturer is at the limit.

Anything is Possible

At the present rate of sales, and assuming projections are close, the Model 3 – and all Tesla cars – will begin losing eligibility by spring 2018.

That said, a speculative report based on hints Musk gave that Tesla may effectively game the system leaves open possibilities. Last year, a few Tesla customers and analysts noticed a potential loophole in the IRS rules: the $7,500 credit isn’t cut until the end of the quarter after the one in which a company hits its limit of 200,000 cars delivered in the U.S. Tesla could extend that time period by reaching the limit on the first day of a quarter then deliver Model 3s over the next six months before the credit begins to disappear.

“We always try to maximize customer happiness even if that means a revenue shortfall in a quarter,” Musk replied to comments in an April 3, 2016 post on Twitter.

When asked whether he thinks Model S and Model X tax incentives will exhaust the remaining credits, Musk posted a vague response. “Our production ramp plan should enable large numbers of [new customers] to receive the credit,” Musk wrote.

SEE ALSO: How Long Does The 2017 Chevy Bolt Have Before Federal Credits Begin Fading Away?

How things will go is to a degree yet up in the air, but the Model 3 will likely still be the biggest news of the year, and into 2018, as Tesla projects large volumes not just within the U.S., but to its expanding global markets as well.


Mar 14

Will US Consumers Benefit From Strong MPG Regulations?


As the Trump administration threatens to soften strict mpg rules through to 2025, in question is whether consumers will be winners or losers in the process.

Clear in any case is money is on the line: big money. Carmakers have said federal rules intended to drive average window sticker values up from 25.1 mpg today to the high 30s in the next eight years will cost them over $200 billion, sap profits from high-tech cars they cannot sell, and drive up costs.

That, plus the fact political winds have shifted in an opposite direction from the Obama administration’s stance, has led them to push hard saying their customers will also come out losers if rules are not relaxed.

But not so fast, say consumer watchdogs including the Consumer Federation of America, and Consumers Union. The latter says automaker and oil company lobbyists are sticking to the typical modus operandi of crying foul in the name of the public good. Per usual negotiation practice, it’s implied, big industry interests are actually just throwing what they can on the wall to see what sticks.

SEE ALSO: 5 Takeaway Points From the EPA’s TAR leading to CAFE Midterm Evaluation

As such, the advocates for those with the weakest voices and shallowest pockets in America – consumers, including those with low incomes – have beaten the band that consumers will come out winners if mpg rules for 2022-2025 are left in place.

This they are doing without even touching on whether greenhouse emissions cause global warming. Instead, parsing facts as they see them, consumer advocates say they are championing American consumer interests which automakers have asserted they also defend.

A Regulated Industry

It is true that automakers have to comply with a lot regulations. As those responsible for products that carry human beings around while emitting gases into the air everyone breathes, legislators have held them to very strict account.

The prospect therefore of a yet-higher bar for carmakers to jump over is really nothing new. To date, the U.S. EPA has said carmakers are making the grade with Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules – even staying ahead of the curve in most cases – while simultaneously reporting record sales and profits. For this reason, the Obama EPA said they can stay the course to further reduce pollution and petroleum use.

But with the Obama administration’s move to lock in 2022-2025 rules in January ahead of an April 2018 deadline, Trump and his new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt may lend an ear to carmakers’ arguments and reopen these to review. It’s believed they also may try to legally overturn California’s waiver to set its own strict rules which also make carmakers jump through hoops, and thus cost them money.

Consumer Interests

In a report by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc prepared for Consumers Union, further data was parsed to make the case that consumers stand to save significant money if carmakers continue with ever-tightening rules.

“The price of entry-level vehicles has remained approximately the same over the past 10 years,” says Consumers Union. “The most affordable vehicle among the top 30 sold in 2015 cost the same (in real terms) as the most affordable top 30 vehicle sold in 2005.”

Since 1997, the report found average new car and light truck sales prices have been relatively flat and used car prices have slightly fallen.

This plus unexpected declines in fuel prices have keep money in consumers’ pockets, say the authors of the report, Tyler Comings and Avi Allison.

“If fuel economy had not improved from 2005 through 2015 (i.e. if it had stayed at 20 mpg),” say the authors, “households would have spent 25 percent more on fuel in 2015 than they actually did. By 2015, the average household saved $523 in fuel annually, based on fleet-wide efficiency gains since 2005.”

This in turn, said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, policy counsel for Consumers Union, meant stimulation to the U.S. economy in direct contradiction to the Auto Alliance’s picture that jobs and economic gain will be forfeited.

“Multiplied by millions of new cars each year, that’s billions of dollars going back into our economy, and supporting thousands of jobs. Fuel economy standards are a win-win for everyone,” said Baker-Branstetter.

It’s been said there are three kinds of lies: lies, darned lies, and statistics. Who has the ultimate truth will surely be debated further, but for its part the Auto Alliance, representing 77 percent of U.S. car sellers, begs to differ.

“Over the past 23 years, automakers have added new emission control and fuel-efficient technologies, safety features, connectivity and infotainment technologies and other features drivers increasingly demand,” said the Auto Alliance in a report of its own that has since been removed from its place on its website. “These new features, combined with the growing demand for SUVs and light trucks, caused average new car prices to increase by more than 60 percent since the early 90s.”

At the same time, says the Auto Alliance, average new car prices have indeed gone up.

Source: Auto Alliance.

“In December 2015, the Kelly Blue Book reported the estimated average transaction price for light vehicles in the United States had reached an all-time high of $34,428,” said the Auto Alliance. “As noted in the figure above, as new car prices increased, interest rates dropped dramatically and remained low, making it possible for consumers to continue buying new light-duty vehicles. As a result, the increased vehicle cost was offset by the low cost of capital. In addition, average loan terms have lengthened significantly, approaching seven year terms. While this trend allows consumers to keep their monthly payments affordable, the risk is that the vehicle could depreciate below the remaining loan amount before it is paid off, leaving the consumer ‘under water.’”

It sounds dire, but citing average transactions prices in the abstract can be misleading. Today there are numerous new vehicles priced from the teens to lower 20s, and the aforementioned used car market – representing 70 percent as much more sales in the U.S. – has become even more affordable for those who cannot swing a new vehicle purchase.

What’s more, the Consumers Union report found the the most affordable vehicles among the top 30 sold in 2015 cost the same (in real terms) as the most affordable top 30 vehicle sold in 2005. On the other hand, the most expensive of the top 30 vehicles increased in price by 40 percent over the same period. In short, transaction prices went up in part also because of consumer preferences including for luxury vehicles, but vehicles well below the $34,428 average cited by the Auto Alliance have been available for over a decade.

And, despite average transaction prices increasing, the U.S. car and light truck market saw an all-time high 17.5 million sales in 2016, and auto executives were paid handsomely in six- and seven-figure salaries as they booked all-time-high profits.

But what the automakers are also decrying is the need to splice in hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electric and fuel cell vehicles to their product assortment. These, it’s asserted will be needed to meet CAFE, even though the Obama administration said only 1-3 percent of new cars by 2025 need be plug-in. That is, the existing CAFE rules were written with enough wiggle room to let automakers make the grade with ever-improving non-electrified technologies.

Otherwise, the Obama administration was very much on board with the electrified agenda being mirrored in Europe, China, Japan, and, well, the world including California, USA.

These vehicles say the carmakers, are the most expensive, least profitable, they nonetheless will still have to build them, and so something has to give.

The Auto Alliance has otherwise opposed the attempt by Obama to lock in rules, as expressed in a letter sent to the new head of Trump’s EPA:

Excerpt from a letter by the Auto Alliance to Scott Pruitt, Trump’s new EPA administrator who has a history of opposing the EPA in his prior career.

Plug-in vehicle advocates have meanwhile presented plenty of evidence that carmakers are at the same time talking a limp-wristed approach to actually marketing and selling advanced-tech cars. This decade some have been sold in limited markets, and advertising has been limited or non-existent. Further, independently franchised dealers are not always compensated enough to incentivize them to get on board with plug-ins – which thanks to subsidies and low operation costs – can make a solid economic proposition for more than the 0.9 percent of consumers that now buy them.

Meanwhile the authors of Consumers Union’s latest study and others have noted none of this has stopped carmakers from lining their pockets as they have, and unsaid, but implied is greed and political opportunity are the real motivators.

A chart by Consumer Union.

Whatever is the case, the car industry, while patting itself on the back for safer and cleaner cars, does have a history of resisting change with the argument that it would be too expensive or stall sales. Other innovations that have been resisted over the years include seatbelt anchor points, 5 mph bumpers, catalytic converters, airbags, and more.

It is the nature of the game for them to attempt to reduce expenses, and maximize profits, but in question is whether consumers will lose, or if has been argued for the above mentioned innovations before, they will benefit.

Advocates saying yes observe that even base model cars benefit from trickle-down tech. Regulations pushing to raise standards at the upper level, it has been argued, have led to a windfall for those buying average conventional vehicles.

For their part, the authors of the study said staying the course for 2022-2025 will benefit consumers yet again.

“While the prices of new and used cars have remained flat or have fallen in real terms, low-income households are under increasing financial pressure from higher prices of other household goods and stagnant wages,” said the authors. “The Consumer Price Index, which tracks inflation of consumer goods, finds that the average prices of all goods have increased by about 50 percent over the last 20 years. Education and gasoline prices have risen even faster. Higher prices have been accompanied by stagnant wages for the two lowest quintiles, a combination that leaves low-income households behind in an otherwise growing economy.”

War of Words

Going forward, many more points and counter points are expected to be brought to the table in a battle for the true spin on what is best for all interests.

The carmakers are saying they do have consumers’ best interests at heart, and that it is in their best interest to continue innovation under natural free market principles.

SEE ALSO: CAFE’s Midterm Evaluation For 2022-2025 Could Electrify Automakers One Way Or The Other

Advocates say regulations further stimulate all automakers to try even harder, and as they have to date, they will continue to do so as carmakers will ultimately find a way to make it work for them.

Time will tell how this goes.


Mar 13

Tesla Bringing Stored Solar Power to Kauai – Video


By Jon LeSage

The Hawaiian island of Kauai has contracted with Tesla’s SolarCity and Solar Energy subsidiaries to solve the problems of limited sunlight and dependency on fossil fuels.

Tesla created a 13 megawatt “solar farm” to generate electricity onto solar panels. That power is stored in a 52 MWh Tesla Powerpack setup. This provides a power source that can collect energy during the day and deliver it to the power grid during evening hours. That clean power will take away the island’s need for fossil fuels to meet energy demand.

Tesla says that this solar project represents the first time a public utility contracted for a system of this size that stores and delivers solar energy after sunset. The utility, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, and Tesla believe the project will reduce fossil fuel usage by 1.6 million gallons per year.

The state of Hawaii has committed to bring in more renewable energy through its Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Plan.

The two primary utilities that service the power needs of the state are Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. and the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. The Hawaiian Electric Industries has set the goal of tripling distributed solar by 2030.

Tesla and Southern California Edison opened up the world’s largest battery storage facility in early February.

SEE ALSO:  Tesla Opens World’s Largest Battery Storage Facility With Utility Company

The facility at the SCE utility’s Ontario, Calif., station hosts about 400 Tesla PowerPack units on a 1.5-acre site. It can store enough energy to power 2,500 homes for a day or 15,000 homes for four hours, the companies said.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants Tesla to play its part in fighting climate change with electric vehicles, solar energy through its SolarCity company, and energy storage products and grid-storage plants through Tesla Energy.


Mar 10

7 Green Cars Of The Future: What We’ll Be Driving In 2025?


By Larry E. Hall

Travel to almost any major city in the world and you’ll find a familiar sight: a sheen of brown haze that hovers over the city called smog. Much of this smog comes from cars, SUVs and pickup trucks — those mechanical gasoline or diesel powered things most of us drive everyday.

Along with the smog comes carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas that scientists say is a primary cause of climate change. Added to this calamity is urban growth that is becoming the new way of life, and with it challenges to transportation. In America, city streets are already clogged, and the once “rush hour” traffic now starts at 5:00 a.m. and ends at 7:00 p.m.

But things could be on the verge of getting better. A new wave of innovation led by carmakers and automotive-tech companies promises to transform the driving experience. Don’t worry, the car won’t disappear, it will just be powered by different energies, and in some cases, take on new shapes.

Concept cars are how manufacturers work out ideas for the future. In an attempt to solve the issues of pollution and crowded streets their ideas of cars of the future are they will be smarter, nimbler and safer. They also will be self-driving, monitor the person behind the steering wheel and even communicate between themselves to avoid collisions.

Here are seven concept cars that could quite well be what we’ll be driving in 2025. There’s even one car that is currently in a vehicle sharing pilot program, and one that doesn’t have wheels and tires, but is shaped like a very large tire.

Catch a ride in a future car.

1. Volkswagen NILS

The Volkswagen NILS — an electric commuter car for the urban world of the future — was designed and engineered to offer a dynamic driving experience, while generating neither emissions nor noise. The blueprint followed a Formula 1 car with a driver in the middle. A lightweight 20-horsepower electric motor is slung out back driving the rear wheels, and the design features four freestanding 17-inch tires and wheels.

That blueprint may not qualify the NILS as a performance machine, but it is lightweight. Assembled from aluminum, polycarbonate and other lightweight materials, the car weighs just 1,015 pounds. A minimalist cabin features a seven-inch TFT display that indicates speed, range, and energy flow. A second display, which is snapped into the A-pillar, is a portable navigation and entertainment unit.

Thanks to a 40-mile range and a top speed of 80 mph, the NILS would be the ideal vehicle for most commuters, and a reflection of a new era.

2. Chevrolet EN-V 2.0

Chevrolet’s second generation EN-V 2.0 (Electric Networked-Vehicle) may look like designers crossed a ladybug with a Transformer robot, but the two-seat electric vehicle can scoot around cities at up to 25 mph for around 25 miles with energy from a lithium-ion battery. The prototype car was developed to show the possibilities for alleviating concerns surrounding traffic congestion, parking availability, air quality and affordability for tomorrow’s cities.

While the diminutive EN-V 2.0 has a standard steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedal, it also contains a full complement of cameras, lidar sensors and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2X) technology to make many or all of the driving decisions while the driver rides hands-free. Further, it has features that consumers demand such as climate control and personal storage space.

In 2015 the EN-V 2.0 began a vehicle sharing pilot program launched by General Motors and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Sixteen cars are in the program, and if you visit Shanghai before the end of this year, share a ride. The EN-V 2.0 opens up an exciting future vision of multi-modal transport.

3. Mercedes-Benz F 125!

While it’s difficult to predict what the automotive landscape will look like in 2025, this much is nearly certain: Mercedes will still be building luxury cars for those fortunate enough to afford them.

Designed to represent what a luxury four-passenger car could look like in 2025, the F 125! is an F-Cell plug-in hybrid. Electric power for the four motors, one in each wheel, is generated on board by the F-Cell fuel cell. The research vehicle conceptually employs a 10 kWh lithium-sulfur battery pack that can be inductively charged. Combined, the motors produce 231 horsepower and deliver all-wheel-drive traction that Mercedes is calling e4Matic.

With the use of lightweight fiber-reinforced plastic, carbon fiber, aluminum and high-strength steel, weight is kept to a minimum. The car has autonomous features, can automatically change lanes and navigate traffic jams without driver involvement. Mercedes says the F 125! can travel up to 31 miles on battery power alone, before switching to power from the fuel cell. Then the car can travel an additional 590 miles on hydrogen power before refueling is necessary.

4. Nissan PIVO 3

As you might have guessed, Nissan’s PIVO 3 concept follows PIVO 1 and 2. But unlike its forbearers, the automaker would like to produce this pint-size urban electric vehicle that seats three. The PIVO 3 may not be able to “crab walk” like its immediate predecessor, but it has some slick tricks of its own.

First, its two doors slide open like a minivan’s to allow ingress and egress in tight parking spaces. The futuristic cabin places the driver’s seat forward and to the center, flanked by two passenger seats. Power is provided by individual in-wheel electric motors, with energy provided by a Nissan Leaf-inspired lithium-ion battery pack. Rear-wheel steering allows the PIVO to practically spin on its axis, and Nissan says the roughly 10-foot-long EV can make a U-turn on a road only 13 feet wide.

But the PIVO 3’s biggest trick comes from its electronic gizmos. Drivers can call into play what Nissan calls an Automatic Valet Parking (AVP) system. The system not only finds a parking space, but the car drives off on its own to park and charges itself, and then returns when called by a smartphone. The downside is this only happens in AVP-parking lots of the future, say 2025.

5. Toyota Fun Vii

Toyota’s Fun Vii is unlike any futuristic concept car we’ve ever seen. The exterior is made of touch-screen panels that can be changed, based on the owner’s preferences, with a simple download of a smartphone app or by uploading an image to Facebook. When introduced to the media, Toyota president Akio Toyoda said, “A car must appeal to our emotions. If it’s not fun, it’s not a car.”

The fun continues inside the 13-foot long, three passenger Fun Vii, which stands for “Vehicle Interactive Internet.” Like the exterior, whatever visuals you would like to see on the inside can be wirelessly painted in real time. Then there’s the holographic “navigation concierge” lady with a cute little hat that pops out of the dashboard. She can guide you around the vehicle’s features or help find your way from one place to another. Since the car is networked with all the other cars on the road it drives itself. And if all that is not enough fun, the Fun Vii can instantly convert into a video game.

Toyota has no intention of building a production version just yet, but says the Fun Vii is an example of technologies that it could incorporate into vehicles in the future.

6. Immortus Solar Car

“Inspired by the world portrayed in post-apocalyptic movies,” the Immortus is a solar-electric concept car from Australia’s EVX Ventures, a collaboration between the electric vehicle research group at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, and a group of Australian engineers who have designed and produced award-winning solar racing cars. No word as to why the car is named after a Marvel Comic’s villain.

Electricity to power the car is generated from 75 square feet of silicon photovoltaic cells on the roof. On a sunny day traveling at about 50 mph, the Immortus can be driven more than 340 miles. Drop the speed to a constant 37 mph and the range is effectively to infinity on solar power alone. The car also features a plug-in powertrain with a 10 kWh lithium-ion battery that can supply enough juice for an additional 250 miles of emissions-free driving.

The Immortus is not a small car — slightly longer and wider than a BMW 6 Series Coupe — with interior space for a driver and passenger with modest luggage capacity. However, it weighs in at just 1,212 pounds. That means the power-to-weight ratio and acceleration time are comparable to a Mazda MX-5 Miata.

The idea of a car that can run on its own power forever sounds crazy. Stay tuned.

7. Volkswagen Hover Car

Automobile companies aren’t the only folks that can design concept cars to work out ideas for the future. Volkswagen, which translates to “people’s car” in English, launched The People’s Car Project in China, which invited Chinese consumers to submit ideas for cars of the future. One of the three design winners was Wang Jia, a student and resident of Chengdu in the country’s Sichuan province. She envisioned a tall, narrow, easy-to-park, emission free two-seater shaped like a very large tire.

Jia’s inspiration for a propulsion system came from The Shanghai Maglev Train, which can hover along special rails using electromagnetic suspension. Volkswagen brought the idea to life in a short video. In the video, Jia’s parents take the tire-shaped hover car out for a spin through Chengdu. The narrator points out a number of the imaginary car’s features, including a joystick controller, autopilot, and a collision-avoidance sensor. Simon Loasby, head of design at Volkswagen Group China commented, “It was the ultimate in dreaming because a full-scale version of the car doesn’t exist.”

The Volkswagen Hover Car isn’t as farfetched as it might seem. The technology to produce the car and road infrastructure is available today. And after watching the video — you did watch it, didn’t you? — who wouldn’t want to take a spin in Jia’s Hover Car?


Mar 09

5 Alternative Cars We’re Looking Forward to This Year


Carmakers in the U.S. now have more than 60 hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles on offer and more are coming.

As gas prices have dropped and Americans have shown their preference for larger conventionally powered SUVs, crossovers, and trucks, anything from the alternative segments that scratches that itch is welcome.

Out of a slew of new alternative vehicles due this year, we’ve picked five newcomers that stand to do this in some ways, or otherwise broaden horizons.

Nissan Rogue Hybrid

Revealed alongside a refreshed conventional and very popular Rogue sibling, the hybrid version of Nissan’s crossover could prove welcome in its own right.

Priced a bit less than the only other direct competitor, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, the Rogue is due in first dealers in April according to analyst Alan Baum, and promises more choices for buyers in what has proven a desirable type of vehicle.

The RAV 4 in its first year has vaulted to near the top of the hybrid sales charts, often being in second or third place and nudging other perennial favorite hatchbacks and sedans out of the way in the process.

Nissan’s Rogue Hybrid with 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine, electric motor, and lithium-ion battery promises 176 total horsepower.

Helping it along, as is the case for the 32 mpg combined RAV4 is all wheel drive availability.

Rogue Hybrid front drive models are estimated 33 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined. AWD models are estimated at 31 city, 34 highway, and 33 combined.

Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid

Also taking on a Toyota product, the Ioniq plug-in hybrid tackles Toyota’s all-new Prius Prime, and hits it on all points – range, mpg, price, and arguably styling.

Hyundai’s car is actually one of three Ioniq variants. The battery electric and hybrid version are launching now, and the yet-to-be priced PHEV is based on the hybrid’s 1.6-liter, electric motor and li-ion powertrain.

MPG in hybrid mode is expected in the middle 50s, and electric range from the 8.9-liter battery is expected to be 27 miles.

SEE ALSO: Which Looks More Competitive: Toyota Prius Prime, or Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid?

Performance may be about the same as the Toyota – adequate in a 0-60 mph dash perhaps around 10 seconds, but not amazing – but this vehicle promises to save fuel and cut emissions very effectively.

Many owners will have enough electric range to keep the gas engine off entirely in daily driving. The gas engine will make a long-haul trip also near the top of the charts in energy efficiency among petrol burners.

As for styling, the Ioniqs look more conventional while otherwise parroting the design of Toyota’s Prius upon which they were benchmarked.

A unique dual clutch auto instead of a CVT transmissions may also gather fans who prefer that type better.

Also unique also is a 12-volt starter battery packaged with the li-ion unit, under lifetime warranty, and capable of being “jump started” by the bigger battery if needed.

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Shoosh! Don’t tell anyone. The Pacifica Hybrid due in dealers as soon as this month is really a plug-in hybrid.

In its efforts not to stress its usual minivan constituency overly much, Chrysler is calling alternative version of its already released Pacific simply the Pacifica Hybrid, but it does plug in.

Alternative energy enthusiasts may otherwise shout to the hills that this is the most efficient such seven-passenger gas-electric vehicle in existence, and by a large margin.

The Pacifica’s 32 mpg rating in hybrid mode and 33 miles gas-free electric range puts it ahead of even small-engined, midsized sedans.

Powering it is a V6 Pentastar engine and electric motor plus 16-kWh battery with 248 horsepower for enough get up and go.
Assuming this vehicle takes off in the marketplace, it also stands to goad others to follow and that will be great for those wanting to see more large vehicles saving fuel like this one will.

Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid

Based on the Niro Hybrid which comes in three trims ranging from 43 mpg to 50 mpg, the plug-in version due as soon as October raises the bar one step further.

Based on a 103-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine plus 43 horse electric motor, the PHEV Niro adds an 8.9 kWh battery for as much as 27 miles potential range.

Exciting also is the Niro may be priced relatively low as PHEVs go, while coming in a popular compact crossover package.

As a division of Hyundai, Kia is part of the twin companies’ attempt to rise in the alternative energy space, so this one is being made by someone who knows they have something to prove.

Hopefully it will meet the bill as it otherwise broadens choices in a contemporary styled design.

Tesla Model 3

Saving the best for last, the all-electric Model 3 has been the talk of the town since last year and it’s believed well more than half a million people have reservations on it.

This unprecedented interest is spurred by a car that promises maybe three-quarters or more of what a Tesla Model S offers at maybe half the price.

At least that’s the ostensible proposition for the EV to be priced from $35,000 plus destination and with at least 215 miles on tap.

In reality, the first models that may be delivered by October, according to analyst Alan Baum, are expected to be top-drawer Founders’ editions given first to employees, friends and family. Expect other higher level trims to also be delivers ahead of any base models, assuming those come along eventually.

Tesla’s Model 3 otherwise stands to overshadow the 238-mile range Chevy Bolt in that it is highly configurable.

Expected are all wheel drive and larger battery versions with performance to fit in a company that says it does not know how to make slow cars.

What the top end of the pricing will be has been speculated, but more is to be revealed in a second unveiling closer to launch.

Baum projects 5,000 units may be delivered by year’s end. If however an aggressive ramp up outlined by CEO Elon Musk on a conference call comes to pass, even more than this could arrive for Tesla’s first high-volume car.

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