Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Aug 01

Mercedes-Benz joins the PHEV fray


Note – Mercedes-Benz makes some head-of-state worthy machines and now it has a ringer sure to ace the test cycles, and get headlines.

In fact, its 8.7-kwh battery is a tad smaller than the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid’s 9.4, but here we go again – claimed AER is a whopping 20 miles. Are miles shorter in Europe?

“MPG” rated by NEDC at over 80 is also sure to get the tech review quick-read stories going – gee-whiz! It’s amazing! … But, jaded spin aside, this is a step in the right direction, and signals a premium maker heading toward electrification …
Mercedes-Benz S 500 PLUG-IN HYBRID (W 222) 2013

By Mark Atkinson

Efficiency equals performance - as the F1 race car (W05 Hybrid)

2015 S 500 Plug-In-Hybrid sits next to its efficient Formula 1 counterpart

Mercedes-Benz has officially started production on its 2015 S 500 Plug-In Hybrid and will be immediately available, at least in Europe for now.

This is the company’s first-ever use of plug-in technology, although certainly not its first hybrid so this isn’t a complete unknown. The system uses a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that by itself produces 333 horsepower and 350 pounds-feet of torque, which is supplemented by an 85 kw electric motor and “high-voltage” 8.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery that can be charged by a socket in the rear fender.

Mercedes-Benz S 500 PLUG-IN HYBRID (W 222) 2013

2015 Mercedes-Benz S 500 Plug-In Hybrid

The total output of 442 horsepower and 480 pounds-feet of torque is nearly identical to that of the standard S 550 model that uses a twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V8 (449 horses/516 pounds-feet). And the plug-in hybrid performs similarly too, doing the 0-60 mph run in about five seconds, but its combined fuel-consumption rating on the European testing cycle is a pretty astonishing 84 mpg (2.8 l/100 km).

Mercedes-Benz says the car can travel a maximum of 20 miles on battery-power alone, up to a maximum speed of 85 mph, and can be recharged in anywhere between two and four hours, depending on charger type.

Other new features include the ability to preset the cabin temperature ahead of time to maximize the battery charge, although that’s already common in rival products. The S 500 Plug-In Hybrid also gets things like LED head-lights and tail-lights and unique wheels to differentiate from lesser trim levels, along with leather seating, four-zone climate control and an enormous list of active and passive safety features you’d expect in a six-figure German limo.

Speaking of prices, the Plug-In Hybrid starts at around $146,000 U.S. (108,944 euros) in Germany, including a 20 percent VAT. No word on North American pricing or availability yet, but we’ll let you know if that changes.


Jul 31

Volt does well, significantly outperforms Leaf in IIHS crash test


Note: Nissan has been doing better in the sales arena than Volt of late. Whether a negative crash result and losing a recommendation from Consumer Reports will have an effect.


By Mark Atkinson


The Nissan Leaf performed poorly during the IIHS small front overlap crash testing, but its battery pack did survive unharmed

The Chevrolet Volt came out of the IIHS’ recent round of small overlap front crash testing with an acceptable rating, something that can’t be said for its closest rival, the Nissan Leaf.

“Driver space in the Volt was maintained reasonably well, and data taken from the dummy indicate a low risk of significant injuries,” said an IIHS press release. “The story’s different for the Leaf. Significant intrusion left little survival space for the dummy, meaning likely knee and leg injuries.

“The Leaf is rated poor. The Volt has an optional forward collision warning system and qualifies for Top Safety Pick+.”

Despite their varying performance, neither had any post-crash safety issues with their battery packs or electrical systems.

The only other “green” car being tested was the Ford C-Max Hybrid, which also earned an acceptable score an the regular Top Safety Pick kudos.

And only hours after the IIHS gave its news, Consumer Reports withdrew its recommendation of the Leaf.

A crumpled Leaf.

“Our long-standing criteria for recommending vehicles stipulates that a model score well in our testing, have average or better reliability, and perform adequately if included in crash tests performed by the government, and/or the [IIHS],” said CR of both the Leaf and Mazda5 which also fared poorly.

CR also noted the Nissan Leaf’s 16 inches of intrusion into the lower passenger compartment as one of the major reasons it was dropping the recommended rating.

The small overlap test, introduced in 2012, “… replicates what happens when the front corner of a vehicle collides with another vehicle or an object such as a tree or utility pole. In the test, 25 percent of a vehicle’s front end on the driver’s side strikes a rigid barrier at 40 mph.”

IIHS, Consumer Reports.


Jul 30

Toyota’s long-range FCV is named after the future; Elon says the future will have 500 mile EVs


The future is in sight, but is your 2020 vision truly clear?

Not to be bothered by those expensive-battery, short-range EVs that consumers just won’t buy, Toyota has presented its hydrogen-powered solution.

And then, in the other corner, you have Tesla. We know what it is all about.

Who is right? Or are they both destined for greatness?

Source Says Toyota FCV Concept To Be Called ‘Mirai’


Despite some discussion as to whether Toyota would be well served to identify its fuel cell vehicle with its “Prius family,” it appears the FCV Concept’s name will be Mirai.

Toyota has not made an announcement that this is the case, but according to Bloomberg citing an unnamed source, the vehicle will be so-called nearer to its going on sale in California in late 2015.

Assuming Mirai to be what Toyota calls its first FCV four-seater, we’ll learn in time what it has in mind, but Mirai is not a completely contrived set of otherwise meaningless phonemes.

SEE ALSO: Toyota Preparing For ‘The Next 100 Years’ With Fuel Cell Vehicles


Mirai is a Japanese word meaning “the future,” and it’s the name of several prominent people according to Wikipedia.

That Toyota might call it after a word speaking of times ahead would dovetail with its massive banner at this year’s New York auto show declaring Toyota’s fuel cell efforts are preparing for the “next 100 years.”

The company has been signaling a bullish intent and has conspicuously sidestepped much in the way of a concerted effort to push battery electric cars, or plug-in hybrids.

It does have the limited-market Prius PHEV, and the to-be-discontinued limited-market RAV4 EV, but Toyota has said hydrogen is more viable and will better meet consumer expectations not wanting a perceptive step backwards.

SEE ALSO: Toyota Defends Its Plans For Fuel Cells


To date California has but 12 fuel cell stations. In 2013 California Governor Jerry Brown approved a new law providing $20 million per year to build out 100 stations by 2024.

For the time being, and until further notice, the feed stock for hydrogen will mostly be natural gas. Early adopters may be asked for somewhere around an estimated $69,000 as priced in Japan for the Mirai.

Unknown is if manufacturer-subsidized leases will help make this competitive with the $499 per month Hyundai Tucson FCV, and the next Honda FCV to follow its Clarity.

Daimler has also said it will join the fray after much delay in 2017.

Elon Musk Believes 500-Mile Range EVs Possible Soon

By Mark Atkinson


Elon Musk.

Elon Musk.

Not content to let Tesla rest on its laurels with the highest 265-mile EPA-rated range of the Model S 85, company CEO Elon Musk figures making an electric vehicle with over 500 miles of range wouldn’t take long to develop.

Musk, who was being interviewed by Auto Express, said Tesla could do it “quite soon, but it would increase the price. Over time you could expect to have that kind of range.”

SEE ALSO: 2015 Cadillac ELR to Get More Range

One reason Musk is reasonably sure of that success has to do with Tesla’s proprietary lithium-ion batteries, which he says are have the greatest energy-density of anything yet on the market, and nearly twice the density of the popular Nissan Leaf. But beyond batteries, other factors like wind- and rolling resistance, and other efficiencies play a big role in getting more than double the range of the 24-kwh Leaf.

The easy suggestion would be to simply add more cells to the system, but the radical weight gain as a result would work against itself in acceleration, handling and braking.

Musk also said flat-out that any kind of hybrid — like the range-extenders in the Volt or i3 — is completely off the table, and that Tesla’s growing “supercharger” network will be more than capable of handling charging duties in the meantime.

SEE ALSO: Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid Review – Video

“We’ll always be pure electric,” he said. “We’re going to keep improving battery technology, and even with Model 3 we’ll expect a range of over 200 miles with a price of around $35,000.”

Speaking of battery technology, Tesla is still mulling which of five U.S. states will be the future home of the company’s planned battery-pack factory.

Auto Express


Jul 29

Preprare for the return of the (good) Karma, and at least another model in three years or so


Remember Fisker? The series hybrid startup that never could win the popularity contest with Tesla in the room?

Well, its rich new Chinese owners which bought it at a fire sale price have looked this horse in the mouth and found some QC issues.

These, say the company, it aims to fix, and – can we surmise? – Tesla and GM and BMW and, well everyone selling plug-in electrified vehicles will hear from Fisker again?


By Mark Atkinson

In addition to hopefully re-launching the Karma, Fisker Automotive’s new owners intend to introduce a second plug-in model within the next three years.

However, both Lu Guanqiu, chairman and founder of Wanxiang Group Co., which bought Fisker during a bankruptcy auction earlier this year, and Pin Ni, president of the company’s U.S. unit, are still unsure of when the original $100,000 Karma luxury sedan will reenter production.

According to Automotive News, there are plenty of obstacles to consider, including fixing around 250 “bugs” in the current Karma, securing quality components and figuring out how to eventually transfer production from the Valmet facility in Finland to Fisker’s new operations in Delaware.

“Our goal is to fix all the issues and get the car back on the road,” Ni told AN through an interpreter. “But this car has to be a good car. It cannot be a car with problems.

“We want to make this car in the United States. This too is determined. But it terms of a detailed plan we are still evaluating.”

One huge problem that stalled the Karma’s original production run and eventually led to Fisker’s bankruptcy was that supplier A123 Systems went under too and couldn’t supply the lithium-ion battery packs anymore. But now that Wanxiang Group owns both Fisker and A123, that shouldn’t prove to be an issue moving forward.

And as you’ll recollect, self-made billionaire Guanqiu is fulfilling a long-denied dream to go big in the car business, and “burn as much cash as it takes to succeed, or until Wanxiang goes bust.”

Does Elon have anything to worry about? (assuming he means it when he says Tesla invites competition).

How about GM and the others? (who may not feel as Silicon-Valley-enlightened about embracing more competitors?)

Automotive News


Jul 28

Is GM planning a Sonic EV for 2016?


Note – This story regarding a Sonic rumor is from The Truth About Cars.

Whether TTAC, a VerticalScope site, indeed did report “the truth” about an all-electric Sonic variant in 2016 as part of GM’s plans remains to be seen.

Initially I was hesitant to run the story before finding the source, but TTAC’s Derek Kreindler assured me he’s keeping the source confidential, but believes it is reliable, and knows better than to print baseless conjecture.


According to an undisclosed source, GM will launch a Sonic EV, presumably with LG Chem “200-mile range” batteries.

Last week we reported LG did confirm some kind of battery – implicitly with superior cost, possibly better energy density than what’s now used in the Volt.

The TTAC story has been picked up by others saying this will be GM’s promised Tesla Model 3 fighter – a Sonic to go against Elon and Company’s version of a BMW 3-series competitor.

2015 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback
Hatchback Sonic.

“The Sonic EV will also be built in Michigan, which will allow GM to gain regulatory credits for selling a pure EV that is also made in America,” wrote TTAC’s Kreindler.

Did you read any unequivocal statements or hedging in that? Nope he said affirmatively it “will.”

So do you believe it? How about you folks from Missouri?


Stranger things could happen, and who knows if this is all GM has up its sleeve? We hear lack of confidence in GM from some of you, but GM has said it does not want to officially telegraph what it’s actually up to – whether that be a convenient put-off, or true, is unknown.

Assuming the benefit of the doubt, there may be a Sonic EV in 2016. If so, no doubt EV fans will hope they sell it in more than states than just Oregon and California.

P.S., a new Volt bashing piece came out titled, “The very expensive death of the Chevy Volt” if you want to check it out. The piece says the Volt might cost $200,000 per unit to build, and taxpayers are forced to subsidize them, among other observations.


Jul 25

Review and video: 2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid


Last fall I drove this competitor to the Cadillac ELR and Tesla Model S in Oregon back to back with all other U.S. Panameras. Last month, I had it five days to get a greater feel.

I have an idea what some of you may say about this, but will let the article and video speak for themselves … I will add that next to the extravagant 388,000-Euro ($500k) French Exagon EV, and million-dollar Rimac, this is not crazy expensive. And maybe the German upscale brands think alike too? What will BMW do for an encore to the i8? In 2016 for its 100th birthday, BMW may very well shoehorn a bigger gas engine into it to make – like this Porsche – a V6 PHEV. To reportedly be called the i9, it will be much faster and lighter, but not cheaper.

Otherwise, like everything else at this stage, people hope to see more — trickle down, cost cutting, variety.


Blending part-time electric drive and posh performance, Porsche’s 2014 Panamera S E-Hybrid may be the greenest car yet offered by the automaker from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.

Last fall as the proud brand launched this, its first plug-in sedan, it had dug out the history book to remind all that its e-pedigree dates to Nikola Tesla’s day, when in 1898 Ferdinand Porsche developed an electric car, and in 1900 the first functional hybrid.


In September last year Porsche also launched an ultimate limited-edition plug-in hybrid for this era, the 918 Spyder, but for now its large, rear-wheel-drive plug-in Panamera luxury performance sedan is as close to mainstream as it gets.

Its distinguishing characteristic over 10 other Panamera variants sold stateside is it can travel 15 miles electrically which may be enough for some commuters who still want a spacious, potent car.

In regular hybrid mode, fuel economy is better than many other sedans in this class.

Its $99,000 entry point also happens to be on the low side of the Panamera family – and any one of them can easily accrue tens of thousands of dollars more in options, with a packed Panamera Turbo S Executive fetching somewhere over $250,000.


So, the E-Hybrid is a relative bargain. And whether you buy that, it is a frontrunner. As a member of the Volkswagen Group since 2012, last year Porsche said it aims to eventually have a hybrid-flavored example of every model it makes over the next several years.

Just this week, Porsche announced the next E-Hybrid, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid. Porsche said this $75,405 SUV will be available in November.

While not wooing too many customers from Tesla, sales of all Panamera versions are up. Of 3,125 sold in the U.S. from January 2014 through June, the E-Hybrid accounts for 481.

But exclusivity can be a good thing, so let’s look further.

Plug-In Hybrid


One unique feature is the E-Hybrid utilizes an 8-speed transmission – during hybrid mode, or when only the electric motor is driving, and this differentiates it from simpler, and cheaper to build, single-speed EVs.


Main power is supplied by a 333-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged six used also by VW/Audi siblings. Paired with the engine to the transmission is an electric motor adding 95 horsepower and 229 pounds-feet torque from 0-1,700 rpm.

Combined gas-plus-electric output for the roughly is 416 horsepower and 435 pounds-feet torque which is good for 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds.

The electricity is stored in a 9.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, which is a little bigger than the 7.6-kwh pack in a Ford Fusion Energi, and smaller than the Cadillac ELR’s 16.5-kwh pack which will be upgraded to 17.1 later this year.


Despite giddy pre-production media drive reports last year from Europe, citing 31 all-electric miles, and over 50 mpg, the EPA rates it at 16 miles “electric plus gas” or 15 miles all-electrically. Its MPGe is 50, and in hybrid mode, it’s rated for 23 mpg city, 29 highway, 25 combined.


Porsche estimated last year it would beat the outgoing non plug-in, but that car was rated 22 city, 30 highway, 25 combined.

For a heavy German flagship this is efficient but not stellar next to the slightly heavier – and for now extinct – 2012 Fisker Karma rated at 54 MPGe, 33 miles electric range, and arguably the closest thing in concept to the E-Hybrid.

The big-on-the-outside, small-on-the-inside Karma series hybrid however was embarrassingly classified by the EPA as “subcompact.” It was also slower, had numerous build issues, and the Porsche, well, it lives up to the family reputation for design and engineering.

Three Operation Modes



Another thing unique about the plug-in Porsche is, unlike any other plug-in hybrid, it can use its engine to recharge the battery on the fly. If you want to burn extra fuel for this convenience, you need never plug it in if you time it right.


This proved useful as Porsche did not supply a charge cord perhaps because its included Universal AC charger is a multi-piece affair. By pressing the E-Charge button however, the E-Hybrid replenished its pack within 40 miles – downshifting and letting the revs rise helps the process.

The range meter for the U.S. spec car complying with EPA reality stops going higher after 15 miles, and the car says E-Charge is no longer possible.


Assuming usable charge, E-Power mode is default upon start up. This is how the car runs as a part-time EV and staying in this mode is a lot easier, than say, with a Toyota Prius PHEV.


Porsche created a plainly discernible detent feel in the accelerator pedal to let drivers know when they are about to call upon gasoline-fed horses. E-Power allows up to 30 percent power, as indicated on a meter and pressing harder instantly kicks the engine on.

When the battery is depleted, the car operates as a conventional parallel hybrid.


And that engine does come in handy in the third mode – Sport. This as well as a Sport Plus mode that tightens the suspension maximizes performance when, like Kermit the Frog, you decide “it ain’t easy being green.”

Actually, being arguably green is easy with the E-Hybrid, but you have a choice.


The E-Charge mode itself burns more fuel, and full boil utilizing gas-plus-electric power can see mpg momentarily plummet to less than half its EPA rating.

If anyone is wondering whether the car reduces system horsepower from full when the battery indicates zero miles range, it doesn’t. Even with “0” shown, full throttle digs into reserve juice for maximum-rated electric-plus-gas power.

Uber Luxe


One thing the Germans have pretty well dialed is how to deliver a superbly comfortable, sporty experience.


Inside the richly appointed Panamera are safety technologies, infotainment, high-tech cruise control, 360-degree camera viewing, capability to control some e-functions by remote smart phone app, and in short, all the panache most people would want.


Our $131,000 as equipped model had optional flow-through A/C ventilation to all four seats through the high-quality perforated leather, as well as heat.


All four occupants seats had individual climate controls, and other features including ambient LED lighting, ashtrays, center fold-down armrest, and more to provide a first class flight.

If anti-establishment Tesla prides itself on elemental simplicity, the Porsche is a pinnacle of tradition, ensconcing you like you’re in the cockpit of a private jet on wheels with myriad buttons up and down the center console.

It’s not much different than previous Panameras – inside or outside – but attention to detail and thoughtful touches abound – like map pockets that extend out, and ingenious flip-out dual cup holders on the passenger’s side for driver and co-rider.

Front and rear leg room is so plentiful, we’re convinced the new “Executive” class Turbo and 4S siblings with 5.9 inches of extra rear leg room are essentially limousines, while the E-Hybrid is merely large and comfortable.


On the instruments, the “acid green” needles match the massive same-color brake calipers and exterior badge accents.

If a 20-something had bought day-glo spray paint and done up his slammed Civic like this, you might think it was a bit much, but the unsubtle gesture by a six-figure status symbol suggests over-the-top is just enough for those with a license to be audacious.

Driving It


Superlatives aside, the E-Hybrid is a study in contrasts. Yes, it’s quick, but its curb weight ranging from 4,613 to 4,950 pounds makes it the pudgy kid in the family, especially next to the snarly Panamera GTS and Turbo bruisers.


But really, it’s the health nut in the family, and can run a little farther without gas than a Prius plug-in hybrid. When using gas, it makes a Maserati Quattroporte or some thirstier Mercedes S-Class sedans seem wasteful, and an Aston Martin Rapide’s rear seats appear crunched.

In a parking lot its weight is felt under sub-5-mph turning, and you’ll want to take care navigating the wide, long car into sometimes narrow or squeezed parking spots.

We did verify 15.1 miles e-range sedately driving between 25-45 mph, and while encountering some stop-and-go, and a hill or two, and EPA ratings are fairly realistic if you take it easy.

Speed up, and the car will show its underlying fun potential Porsche is loathe to engineer out of anything with its name on it. Despite weighing 629 pounds more than a non-hybrid Panamera S, Porsche has proven again it knows how to tune a suspension.


Paddle shifters let you optionally take a measure of control, and reversing thrust is easy and controlled with 360 mm front / 330 mm rear diameter brakes and powerful monobloc 6- and 4-piston binders.

Not hurting these performance parameters was our car had upgraded 20-inch wheels, and fat Pirelli P-Zero summer tires – two inches larger, and wider than base. Low rolling resistance rubber need not apply for this hybrid.

Also in the for-what-it’s-worth boasting rights category, the E-Hybrid is the fastest regular production plug-in car sold in America. Its 167 mph top speed exceeds even Teslas, though the quickest 130-mph Model S P85+ will out-sprint it to 60.

Value Proposition?


The S-E-Hybrid is trying to offer everything from zero-emissions frugality to gas-swilling, tire straining indulgence in one package, but the question is: is this indeed a good thing, or not so much?

As one of only seven plug-in hybrids sold in the U.S., it for now gives a certain “other” status buyers will either take a shining to, or they’ll still pass on it.


Like any luxury purchase, it’s the sum of so many tangibles that add up to an intangible subjective impression. Porsche knows its reputation is sterling, and its pedigree lets it produce a car that if GM were to try the same, it would be publicly tarred and feathered.

The notion of a “performance hybrid” or “luxury hybrid” is catching on, but to both sides of the aisle – the purely eco conscious, or the pure performance car aficionado – the mixed messages do make some take pause.

But the car could be great for some. If the other more focused Panameras weren’t there to compare, it would be a performance benchmark.

As for the electric range, if you have charging at your destination, you could get it to 30 miles round trip, and at the end of the day, you’re driving a Porsche.

Further, the Panamera is competitive against diesels and regular hybrids from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes.

Bottom line is if you can be happy with a 90th percentile member of a line of sedans that are themselves among the sportiest in their class, you might like the E-Hybrid.


If however you want maximum performance, the economy next to a 21-mpg combined 4S is only a little better, and it’s the E-Power you’ll need to decide whether you can live without in exchange for a sharper AWD car costing $700 less.

At this level, does 3-4 mpg even matter, or is it about the experience? Right, it is about the experience, and which experience you value more – techno cool, cutting edge, or all the speed you can get – is what you will need to decide.

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