Archive for the ‘General’ Category

 

Dec 03

November: Volt sales plugging away, Leaf sales still doing better

 

There’s a decent chance the tables could turn between the new 2016 Volt and the by then long-in-the-tooth 2016 Nissan Leaf, but what do they say? Every dog has its day?

Of course a lot depends on how GM positions the new Volt, how it’s priced, how much better it truly is, and how much buyers perceive all this. GM did upgrade it to make it competitive, right?

As it is, the old race is not much of a race at this juncture between the Volt and Leaf both launched the same time.

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Is the value proposition of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf simply better than gen-one Chevy Volt as its sales are now leaving it in the dust, or is there more to it than that?

Since December 2010’s launch of the two alternate visions on weaning away from petroleum, they’ve exchanged places a few times, but Nissan has settled into a stride as most recently evidenced by its 2,687 November sales versus the Volt’s 1,336.

SEE ALSO: Nissan Sells 150,000th Leaf In Time for Its Fourth Birthday

All this year Nissan has been closing a U.S. sales gap, though with the Volt’s 71,867 U.S. sales since launch, it still holds a diminishing lead over the Leaf’s 69,220, having long-since lost the global race with Leaf more than double at 150,000-plus.

For Nissan’s latest U.S. gap closing measure, its November sales are a 34-percent increase over last year and double the Volt’s volume. For Chevrolet, it slipped 30.4-percent from last year’s 1,920 in November 2013.

teaser_Volt1
Kelley Blue Book actually just named the Volt a better buy above the Leaf given all incentives, and the drive experience of the car itself, but everyone watching this car also knows an all-new 2016 model is due.

You may get a deal on a close-out Volt, and they’re discounting it already, and it is a good car already, but this is no ordinary car and improvements mean more in the eyes of would-be buyers.

GM’s first ever “extended-range electric” car is due for a facelift, more range, better economy, it won’t need premium gas anymore, and appears to have room for three to just squeeze in back for five total, instead of four. Or so it’s believed. We’ll find out Jan. 12, 2015 or sooner, and it goes on sale possibly late next summer, give or take.

Is that a recipe for holding out to see what’s next?

Meanwhile, Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn has just said it has a new chemistry that could “more than” double the present Leaf’s range. The battery could actually be built larger to allow for EVs to compete with “petrol” cars and “take the issue of range off of the table,” confirmed Nissan. But so far, there’s been much less news on this topic.

Nordic_Nissan_Leaf2

In follow up yesterday with the Daily Kanban’s Bertel Schmitt located in Tokyo, he confirmed Nissan has not objected to his story that Ghosn is promising a radical improvement on the Leaf’s range not long from now. If his story had been misleading, he said, they’d not have hesitated to let him know.

Actually, it appears accurate, and Nissan may be concerned that if the news of a radically improved Leaf gained traction, and details were filled in, it could chill sales on the world’s best-selling plug-in.

As GM may be finding out, announced future changes to first-gen plug-in cars are not unlike rumors of iPhone 6 when iPhone 5s has been around for while. Plug-in car upgrades are not only mildly eventful like the difference between the 2011 Toyota Camry and 2012 Toyota Camry. Here we have an entire new type of car, and early adopters may have paid more, and learned to live with details – such as range and recharge times, etc. – that the masses have said they don’t want to.

And truth is both these cars – the Leaf and Volt – are due for upgrade, with the Volt changing over first while less attention on this fact is being placed on the Leaf. Thus far.

Also not helping it is the fact GM does not advertise the Volt much if at all outside of California, its largest market, and its marketing efforts have been deeply criticized by early adopting Volt supporters.

All this said, both these cars do meet needs now. We’ve heard from scores of their owners to know that. But, they remain niche players while people waiting on the sidelines want to see what’s next.

So, to answer our opening question which has the best value proposition? That’s a personal decision, but if sales speak louder than words, Nissan is presently winning, whether the deck is stacked against an also-excellent gen-one Volt, or not.

 

Dec 02

Ghosn says Nissan has battery chemistry that could make for affordably priced 250-mile EVs

 

Back story – Yesterday I got an e-mail from Bertel Schmitt who’s now running a startup publication with Edward Niedermeyer. Bertel spends time in China and Japan. He was up late watching Nissan’s chief on a Japanese program and got an exclusive. Which he shared with me.

Here it is. What this could mean for the Volt, assuming it proves true is of course unknown. FYI, Leaf is rated on the ultra liberal JC08 cycle at 228 km (141 miles) (yeah right!) – and originally had been 200 km (124 miles). The main point is if they have the chemistry, upsizing to a true 200-250-plus mile BEV of Leaf proportions will be less cost and bulk than what Tesla has now.

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Following an unintentional disclosure by CEO Carlos Ghosn, Nissan has confirmed it will “very soon take the issue of range off of the table.”

The company is otherwise still being vague, not ready to show what it has, but Ghosn suggested a near-ready battery to enable affordable electric cars good for as many 250 miles (400 km) depending on configuration, and how it’s tested.

The implication is furthermore that the new chemistry has more power per volume so increasing range to beyond Tesla proportions would just be a function of making a battery pack a bit bigger in volume, but it would presumably still be smaller than a Model S pack.

Whether the Nissan Leaf will get the battery, as is believed, or it and other Renault and Nissan vehicles will get it, as would be likely, is not being disclosed.

According to Bertel Schmitt of the Daily Kanban, who spoke with contacts at the company, Nissan appears slightly worried it could put a chill on present EV sales.

But, they won’t deny the story now that the boss let the cat out of the bag.

An online transcript of the interview is not available, reports the Daily Kanban.

An online transcript of the interview is not available, reports the Daily Kanban.

The revelation came on a late-night airing of Tokyo Business News Channel where Ghosn was pressed by the host on what Nissan is going to do.

Host: Is Nissan working on new batteries?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Host: Can you tell us more?

Ghosn: “No.”

Host: Will the range double?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Host: That means more than 400 kilometers?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Ghosn’s one-word oblique answers could be interpreted a few different ways, but the implication and context suggest Nissan is putting the finishing touches on a commercially ready battery that could make the big-heavy, expensive pack in a Model S look old-tech.

Given that “400 km” is considered “double” range indicates the Japanese interview is contemplating cars as tested under Japanese government rules which tend to be optimistic next to U.S. EPA numbers. Nissan’s Leaf certainly does not now have a 124-mile range in the U.S., but given high energy density, ability to compete with “petrol” cars’ range is being considered.

Ghosn’s answers also dovetail with a report in May, where Nissan’s Andy Palmer said Nissan has high energy density “game changing technology” to push Leaf to at least 186 miles to combat fuel cell vehicles selling on just this issue – short range for the buck with present EVs.

SEE ALSO: ‘Game Changing’ Batteries To Enable Up To 186-Mile Range Nissan Leaf and New Infiniti EV

To gauge Ghosn’s comment, Schmitt followed up with Jeff Kuhlman, Nissan’s head spokesman, who added to the notion that this new battery chemistry is not some far-off science project.

“[w]e continue our R&D efforts because we believe that we can do more with battery electric, and very soon take the issue of range off of the table,” said Kuhlman. “In other words, cars with a comparable range to today’s petrol vehicles.”

Today’s “petrol vehicles” actually have more than 200-250 miles range but Kuhlman did not elaborate.

As it is, for those who say present range is too short – such as Toyota and car shoppers sitting on the sidelines – this objection may be answered not so long from now.

Even Toyota has quietly suggested EV range may soon be solved, and an unidentified Japanese engineer told the Daily Kanban “Commercial applications could be no more than one model cycle away.” Despite all its talk over fuel cells, Toyota is working on improving EV batteries, as we also have reported.

Actually many automakers are working on the next best thing – though most say a breakthrough is not on the near horizon – and in addition to the objection of sub-100 mile range for average priced EVs today, is also recharge times.

Tesla and others have been working on recharging faster than today’s Supercharger and DC fast chargers which replenish 80- percent charge in under 20-30 minutes. Different chemistries which can recharge faster have also shown promise.

So where does that leave Nissan? While Ghosn is not known to exaggerate in the extreme, and two officials suggest it’s just a matter of time, Nissan has yet to truly and unequivocally reveal its hand.

Daily Kanban

 

Dec 01

Volt named KBB Electric/Hybrid Car Best Buy for 2015

 

The first-generation Chevy Volt may be on its way out, but adding to a long list of awards since the beginning of the four-year-old car, it just nabbed Kelly Blue Books’s 2015 Electric/Hybrid Car Best Buy Award.

In doing so it edged out the Nissan Leaf which was also launched 2011, as well as the also-aging Toyota Prius regular hybrid, and the relatively new BMW i3.

Chevrolet-Volt-White
 

That the Chevy Volt stands atop our list of Electric/Hybrid Best Buy contenders after four years in the marketplace is a testament to its virtues. The Volt might not be the newest entry in a group that includes the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and Toyota Prius, but a clever powertrain and exceptional value helped Chevrolet’s gasoline/electric wondercar secure the win.

 
Helping it along is the full $7,500 federal tax credit, and fact that the Volt’s 38 miles EPA-rated range spans the gap between a pure battery electric car and hybrid better than any plug-in hybrid on the market.

The i3 may be trendy, but it’s about $11,000 pricier, says KBB, and if you want the range-extended car with small, short-range gas engine, add $4,000.

The Volt also comes in $1,600 less than the plug-in Prius when factoring a ZEV credit in California, its largest market, says KBB. The plug-in Prius is only rated for 11 miles range, and its top electric speed is less, and a firm accelerator push will kick the gas on. Not so with the Chevy which despite the haters still saying so, it is an extended-range electric vehicle.

Adding onto all the rest is KBB appreciates the driving dynamics of the Volt.

Mash the rightmost pedal, and the wonders of electric propulsion become clear. The Volt accelerates with silky effortlessness. Carry some of that speed through an unclogged onramp, and you might be surprised by the Volt’s willingness to play. No, this electrified Chevy isn’t a sports car, but there’s more fun here than the green veneer might suggest.

And as icing on the cake, the looks and style also got points.

Ok, we’ll admit it. Style counts. Especially among electric and hybrid cars, a compelling design tends to correlate with acceptance from the buying public. On that count the Volt strikes a smart balance between futurism and familiarity. Techy-looking energy usage readouts and sci-fi startup/shutdown sound effects co-exist with comfortable seats, a usable capacitive touch instrument panel, and a surprisingly accommodating cargo area. Provided you don’t need more than four seats, the Chevy Volt delivers a good mix of style and substance.

 
All told, not bad for the grandfather of thi type of vehicle that’s still teaching the whippersnappers a lesson.

And they’re going to retire it soon, and we’ll be seeing a new version believed to be better.

KBB

 

Nov 28

First drive review – 2016 Toyota Mirai – Video(s)

 

Does anyone here have a time machine? If so, can you fast forward to 2030 and let us know how the Mirai and its several Lexus and Toyota siblings are doing?

More likely, if you could, you’d see how EREV tech is going, but is the Mirai the anti-Volt? It’s (also) a four-seater, alternative energy car, positioned as a vision of its Japanese maker’s idea of the future.

Following are more details. The so-called “powers that be” including CARB, DoE, state governments, and governments and regulators in other nations also know about Tesla and other plug-in cars, but they are moving forward with this agenda. What will it all mean five, 10, 15, 20 years out?

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Its name in Japanese means “future,” and more than just another new car, Toyota says the 2016 Mirai is a symbolic first step toward a “Hydrogen Society” for the “next 100 years.”

Whether the company’s first production fuel cell vehicle will be the future as Toyota has said suggesting an eventually prominent technology, or a future as Toyota has alternately and more-conservatively said, is an open question.

The mid-sized car will launch in its home country in a few months, and European deliveries are scheduled for around September 2015. Deliveries for the U.S. are to follow in late 2015 in California, and to spread from there – possibly next to five states in the New York-Boston region – then to more markets, ultimately nationwide, as infrastructure comes online over the years.

Sales will be limited to allow for yet-scant refueling stations to be built, but governments around the world are at work on this, with progress varying as the long-promised hydrogen potential appears to be starting in earnest.

SEE ALSO: Toyota Preparing For ‘The Next 100 Years’ With Fuel Cell Vehicles
Toyota’s inaugural FCV will join cars available now by Honda, Hyundai, and pending by Daimler, Volkswagen, and possible more. General Motors says it is standing on the sidelines, but if it sees success, could be ready with a product too.

Meets Customer Expectations

 

The Mirai is a form of all-electric car, but fueled by gaseous hydrogen which combines with air in its fuel cell stack to produce electricity and emit water vapor.

It emits no hydrocarbons or greenhouse gases thus satisfying emissions mandates and environmental concerns. Criticism has been it only shifts the CO2 upstream in the energy chain, and this is correct, said the U.S. Energy Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy, Steve Chalk. However, he said, compared to gasoline, producing hydrogen from natural gas yields about half the CO2.

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The Mirai’s design is to evoke “the transformation of air into water.” Air is taken in through the large front grilles on either side and liquid and vaporous water exit the tail pipe.
 

Meanwhile, the Mirai refuels in 3-5 minutes just like everyone is already accustomed to. It may be driven up to 300 miles upon fill-up of its high-pressure hydrogen tanks, a range comparable to what everyone is accustomed to.

Yes hydrogen keeps “Big Oil” in business, but in the launch market of California it will come from 33-percent renewable sources, and 67-percent natural gas. FCV advocates say this will shift toward more renewables, and open to discussion is whether FCVs are a veritable Trojan Horse, as the most cynical might opine, or a bright new start.

SEE ALSO: Toyota Defends Its Plans For Fuel Cells

In response to debates over fuel cell viability, Toyota says it is open to the conversation – ideally with mutual respect for opposing views. The automaker’s view is battery powered cars are OK for short-distances, but rather limiting given present range, recharge times, costs, while more energy dense fuel cells bypass these issues, and will only get better.

Quixotic?

 

Because FCVs demand no perceptive operational step backwards, and require no new behaviors be learned by customers, Toyota’s top leadership says hydrogen – the “most abundant element in the universe” – is something to place their bet on.

And a bet it is, with Toyota admitting as much. To help present this new solution, the automaker flew in its Chairman of the Board, Takeshi Uchiyamada, an engineer who led the original Prius project, and the present Prius project leader, Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso.

Don_Quixote_Sacho_Panza

These two dignitaries led off presentations to a large conference room full of media last Monday, and began the “conversation” on why they believe Mirai is the future.

Uchiyamada said hydrogen, though now mostly produced with natural gas, can also be produced with “wind, solar, geo-thermal and bio-waste.”

“When compressed, it has a much higher energy density than electric batteries, and is easier to store and transport,” he said.

And from history, he said the gaslight predating electric lights used hydrogen.

“Hydrogen was deemed the easiest and cheapest to produce and among the safest to use,” he said, and there’s no reason we can’t bring this plentiful element back today through innovation and resourcefulness.

After Uchiyamada presented the grand vision, Ogiso took a light-hearted stance, even allowing for some seeming self-deprecation for the company that’s actually quite proud of its achievements. Ogiso kidded that Toyota hears the critics, but aims to prove them wrong.

“I cannot help but think that to some people, our collaboration-our adventurous road trip, must seem quixotic; idealism without regard for practicality. I, of course, would not agree with that, but at least I know who is Don Quixote and who is Sancho Panza,” said Ogiso reading a script written by Toyota’s U.S. communications team. “Uchiyamada san said earlier that hydrogen, and hydrogen fuel cell technology will be a societal and economic game changer and that it will be the fuel for the next century. Frankly speaking, I think I feel a little more optimistic than that. I believe this technology is going to change our world; and sooner rather than later.”

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Toyota anticipates the critics, and put this image together to show the media. Ogiso san (left), Uchiyamada san (right).

But while Don Quixote and Sancho Panza may have been delusional, Toyota says it has its eyes open, and mind clear. And, it means business. In March it reportedly had just less than $60 billion in cash – well more than Ford, GM, or VW – and is floating this hydrogen enterprise, even if its sacrificially priced $57,500 Mirai makes no significant payback for well over half a decade as infrastructure and consumer perceptions begin to match the vision.

 

For all those who say this is but a “compliance” car, Toyota observes it began work on hydrogen fuel cells 22 years ago, five years before the 1997 launch of the first Prius in Japan, before California’s current Zero Emission Vehicle mandates to which EVs now “comply.”

In that time it has radically improved efficiency, cut costs, and borrows much hybrid hardware from the Prius and Camry hybrids – including a nickel-metal hydride battery, not li-ion – to make it close to cost-effective. It has meanwhile accrued 10 million test miles on vehicles around the world.

SEE ALSO: Toyota Further Explains Fuel Cell Viability

Ironically, or paradoxically or both, Toyota’s $57,500 price for the Lexus-grade Toyota Mirai is just $100 more than the $57,400 40-kilowatt-hour Tesla Model S that was canceled last year due to insufficient pre-orders.

Toyota says its fully loaded $57,500 Buck Rogers mobile with a Prius twist may be eligible for up to $13,000 in subsidies bringing it to around $45,000 – assuming due-to-expire federal subsidies are renewed next year – and it will be launched before Tesla’s “$35,000″ Model 3.

Dimensions are very close to the 2015 Camry. Wheelbase: 109.4 inches; length: 192.5 inches; width: 71.5 inches; height: 60.4 inches; tires: 215/55R17.

Dimensions are very close to the 2015 Camry. Wheelbase: 109.4 inches; length: 192.5 inches; width: 71.5 inches; height: 60.4 inches; tires: 215/55R17. Its 0-60 time is 9 seconds, top speed is 111 mph.

A 36-month lease for $499/month with $3,649 due at signing could mitigate cares for Mirai first adopters.

For now, fuel will be included, as regulators haven’t yet established a metered price. How much per mile will it cost once they start charging? Toyota is sketchy on this, but is estimating close to what a very efficient hybrid would cost – not as cheap per mile, say, as a Nissan Leaf.

Driving the Future

 

We drove the Mirai on two successive days when most media got in it only once for an orchestrated drive with a Toyota-approved minder. Our first drive was minder-free, and a nice hour-long loop from the Pacific Coast Highway into Newport Beach neighborhoods. There we got to see who gave a second glance in car-conscious Southern California at one of only five Mirais on the road. A few appeared to notice the unusual looking car.

2016_Mirai_driving
 

As we reported last week, it’s a lot like a Prius that handles a bit better with good drivability. Instant torque of 247 pounds-feet helps it feel more stout than its 155 horsepower would suggest. Light steering and low center of gravity make it entertaining enough, but it’s no sport sedan. Weight is 4,078 pounds – about 600 pounds less than a Model S.

The operational sound is unique, with the hydrogen pump whirring away to the minor accompaniment of a quiet electric motor, wind and tire noise.

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Most drivers will soon become familiar with the well-equipped, refined interior. One addition is a button to the left of the steering wheel to let the driver force compressed air through the fuel cell stack to purge water before parking. This prevents drips on the garage floor and freezing in winter.

 

Toyota’s relatively compact, power-dense 370-cell solid polymer electrolyte fuel cell stack resides beneath the front passenger seats. Toyota has defied conventional engineering wisdom by devising a fuel cell design that does away with a humidifier, something previously considered necessary. It’s also still at work to reduce approximately 40 grams of required platinum used to convert hydrogen and air to electricity, and is researching less costly replacements for the precious metal.

The two 10,000-psi (70 MPa) carbon-wrapped hydrogen tanks with 5.0 kg capacity are made in-house, and have been repeatedly crash tested to prove efficacy and safety. These are among the most expensive components, next to the fuel cell stack and hardware, and making them itself saves Toyota some pennies.


 

Is flammable hydrogen a worry? Toyota has fired a 50-caliber bullet at the filled H2 tank. The gas escaped, but no explosion occurred with the gunshot wound. The crash tests proved the tanks were tougher than the surrounding car.

Under the hood it looks like an engine may be there, but that’s just the power distribution unit and related hardware under a beauty cover, and the electric motor also resides down low for the front wheel-drive car.

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Say what you will about the car’s looks. Some may like it, others don’t but it may not matter, because this car is about what it is, not what it isn’t.

For those who find it less than beautiful, it does look better in person, though some angles have made people scratch their heads.

We spoke with a couple Toyota representatives who personally divulged they do not think it’s that attractive, adding the design was finalized in Japan. The flowing lines are supposed to symbolize the elegant and sustainable notion of air converting to water vapor.

But will what some detractors think of its looks make or break anything? Toyota is limiting sales to just 200 units by end of December 2015, and 3,000 more units by end of December 2017. That’s just 1,500 per year for its first two full years.

Is this quixotic? A science project? Or is there method to the madness?

Heated rear seats are comfortable, leg room is sufficient.

Heated rear seats are comfortable, leg room is sufficient. Why did Toyota make it a four seater, not five? It says: 1) the vehicle is narrow inside and they thought to make two wider, more comfortable seats, rather than attempt to accommodate three in back, and 2) extra passenger weight could reduce the range from the 300 mile benchmark.


 

The company that forecasts a hydrogen society says its Mirai is raring to go, and while Toyota did not announce it, we were told by a high-level Toyota rep that two more fuel cell vehicles are under development. It was not said what these would be, or when they’d arrive, but a crossover or SUV would be likely, and it appears Toyota is merely biding its time.

Its Mirai benefits from good-to-go technology, and will teach lessons to the automaker to begin refining the formula.

The Next Prius?

Toyota could be said to be resting on its Prius laurels. Uchiyamada observed the word “Prius” means “to go before” as though to suggest a grand plan by a master chess player, as it now makes its move with the “future.”

Toyota globally sold 1 million hybrids its first decade, despite its first-generation 1997-2003 Prius having looks many (also) considered ungainly. Toyota admits it had skeptics at its corporate headquarters for the hybrid science project, and one may wonder whether the grand plan was really a happy accident.

On a global basis, here’s the latest count of H2 stations:
 Germany is going from 15 to 50 stations in 2015 and 1,000 by 2020; Japan is increasing from 17 stations to more than 100 by 2016; Korea aims for more than 160 stations by 2020; UK will have 15 stations by 2015, with goal of 65 by 2020; Denmark is committed to 15 new stations by 2020 as part of a national renewable network program. Currently, there are only 10 active hydrogen “demonstration stations” in California. In September 2013, California approved assembly Bill 8, setting aside more than $200 million in funding through the California Energy Commission, the CEC for as many as 100 new stations; 20 by the end of 2015, And 40 by 2016.

Global Infrastructure Progress Report:
Germany’s increasing from 15 to 50 stations in 2015 and 1,000 by 2020; Japan’s going from 17 stations to over 100 by 2016; Korea aims for more than 160 stations by 2020; UK will have 15 stations by 2015, with goal of 65 by 2020; Denmark is committed to 15 new stations by 2020 as part of a national renewable network program. Currently, there are only 10 active “demonstration stations” in California. In September 2013, California approved assembly Bill 8, setting aside more than $200 million through the California Energy Commission to fund as many as 100 new stations; 20 by the end of 2015, and 40 by 2016.


 

Speaking off the record, a high-level Toyota rep observed Toyota is a company that tends to do it right the second time, citing the Prius as an unflattering example, and in a way the corporate heads did not refer to the Prius with their glowing visionary rhetoric.

It was generation-two Prius (2003/2004-2009/2010) that took off after morphing to the now “iconic” love-it-or-leave-it jelly bean shape that became a darling of Hollywood, and other enviro-conscious people. This car built on ground plowed by the original Prius, aided by significantly increasing fuel prices, and finally turned a profit for the patient company as it inspired new Toyota and Lexus hybrids. The company’s hybrid sales ballooned from 1 million in decade one to seven million by 17 years. Toyota now says it hopes the Mirai – and perhaps subsequent models – will follow a similar path, albeit hampered by presently negligible, but increasing refueling stations.

To strengthen the appeal, the Mirai is designed like a Lexus with Toyota badge and owners will get white glove treatment with a personal hotline they can call with questions or concerns. Toyota thought of making the Mirai a Lexus, but decided to put the parent company’s nameplate on instead.

2016_Mirai_front

Unknown is how durable the first cars will be. A rep from the U.S. Energy Department said Toyota’s 2011 fuel cell stacks were good for at least 2,500 hours or 75,000 miles. Problems such as delamination of the platinum and a couple other technical issues were cited as failure points. Toyota says it has made major strides since then, but we’ve not seen durability estimates for the Mirai’s fuel cell hardware.

“Power take-off” is an optional CHAdeMO plug used in reverse to back-flow power to the home.

“Power take-off” is an optional CHAdeMO plug used in reverse to back-flow power to the home.

It will be fully covered with an 8-year/100,000-mile fuel cell system warranty, 5-years/60,000-miles for other powertrain components, and 3-years/36,000-miles for the rest of the car.

First buyers are expected to be adventurous forward-thinking people, and it doesn’t hurt that after assumed state and federal tax credits the car will net out for what a nicely equipped 2011 Chevy Volt did. Is the Mirai the anti-Volt?

Not sure, but it is $14,000 cheaper than a Tesla Model S, it’s just as high-tech if not arguably more. Probably not helping things is it has much lower speed and performance, and most agree it’s not as pretty.

But it’s been engineered and tested by a company with a long track record for quality, with far-deeper pockets, and eyes will be on where this all goes. Toyota projects a revolution in slow motion will unfold over the next 15 years.


 

Bottom line: The company that introduced the Prius now offers the “future” as a catalyst for the Hydrogen Society, but many questions remain.

These include whether sufficient infrastructure will come as promised, whether myriad hydrogen viability debates may be be unequivocally settled, and perhaps also, one might ask, what would Don Quixote think?

 

Nov 27

Thankful for the Chevy Volt

 

Today is Thanksgiving, and hopefully we have many more things to be thankful for, but with no exaggeration, we can be grateful for several facts surrounding the Volt.

transparent-volt
 

It exists: That GM took a chance and weathered a perceptive storm for the past several years is something we can be thankful for. Chevrolet has sold over 70,000 since December 2010 and it’s still the top-selling plug-in car in the U.S.

It inspired: Funny, for all the negative words levied against the Volt by politically motivated, or otherwise often-biased viewpoints, it sure has paved the way for a lot to follow. To date, no plug-in gas-electric car yet has its electric range. Mockers have spoken, but the Volt is still standing, and imitation, they say, is a real form of flattery.

It’s been updated: On January 12 we’ll see the whole 2016 generation 2 Volt that’s been previewed in part to the point that we know it is better. The new Volt will build on lessons learned, and will have more electric range, further distancing itself from the followers, and better fuel economy on regular gas. It appears to be a five-seater of some sort, more aesthetically pleasing, on a new platform, and more refined inside and out.

It’s been vindicated: The Volt started as what some called a veritable pipe dream shown at the 2007 Detroit auto show. For all you who’ve been Volt followers through the years, and believed in the idea, it appears you are being proved right, even if the Volt did not sell as well as early GM forecasts projected.

One thing we can’t yet celebrate however is the Cadillac ELR is the only other EREV and there are no crossovers, SUVs, other Voltec vehicles on offer. Given that the new Volt is being built, there’s more reason to hope that more variants may eventually come in time, even if this also has not gone according to earlier hopes.

To be sure, there is much more to see happen, but there’ve been those who’ve said GM should or would cancel the Volt, and it appears that is not to be.

Where it’s all going from here with new competition, and even new technologies being floated now and pending is something we have yet to see.

But the Volt has been a larger than life car, that ironically so few people understand or know about even today.

Let’s hope the 2016 Volt is more successful at getting people’s attention.

Meanwhile, we can be thankful for the Volt because more than just a car, it is a veritable cause on four wheels.

I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving and can remember to be thankful for all those other things besides.

 

Nov 26

Audi show cases plug-in hybrid A7 FCV

 

So, you have your battery electric cars, your hybrids, your fuel cell vehicles, your plug-in hybrids, and … your plug-in hybrid fuel cell vehicles?

Yep, Audi says its A7 h-tron plug-in hybrid fuel cell vehicle (is that PHEVFCEV?) is not vaporware, but it is ready to launch it when it sees the market is ready.

IMG_5137

The vehicle is essentially a converted A7, maybe the slowest A7 bodied car out there, but this showpiece has an 8.8-kwh battery from the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron plug-in hybrid to let it run electrically.

As you may know, the FCVs are basically like a kind of hybrid but without the ICE. Audi has done the likes of Toyota, Honda, Daimler, and Hyundai one better by promoting the hybrid FCV to plug-in status.

It’s “e-quattro” all-wheel drive with two motors individually power the front and rear wheels. These motors are rated at 113 horsepower – boostable to a temporary 152 horsepower.

Top speed is a 111 mph, 0-62 mph is 7.1 seconds, range is 310 miles, and the four H2 tanks are under the hood. Where else?

The “technology demonstrator” is interesting, if you are not put off by fuel cell technology.

audi-a7-h-tron-quattro

Audi’s name has now been added to all the automakers who are either launching product or making moves to do so.

We asked GM what it thinks, and a rep said GM has the technology to jump in if it wants. He personally sees these FCVs as compliance cars, and infrastructure as too little to make a market.

On this latter point we observed powers that be aim to change all that.

On a global basis, here’s the latest count of H2 stations:

Germany has committed to going from 15 to 50 stations in 2015 and 1,000 by 2020

Japan is targeting an increase from 17 stations to more than 100 by 2016, with major government support.

Korea has a goal of more than 160 stations by 2020.

The UK will have 15 stations by 2015, with a target of 65 by 2020.

Denmark is committed to 15 new stations by 2020 as part of a national renewable network program.

Currently, there are only about 10 active hydrogen fuel cell “demonstration stations” in California.

In September 2013, the state of California approved assembly Bill 8, setting aside more than $200 million in funding through the California Energy Commission, the CEC for as many as 100 new stations; 20 by the end of 2015, And 40 by 2016.

GM’s rep said basically if the company sees a market – like perhaps Toyota and Honda and Hyundai are busy investing in along with government agencies – it’s prepared to dive right in.

That’s the GM report. This was about Audi.

Any bets on what the alternative energy space will look like in a decade from now?

 
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