Archive for the ‘General’ Category

 

Mar 12

Audi says it will have a 300-mile range electric SUV in 2018

 

Someone here, himself quoting perhaps Nikola Tesla or Thomas Edison, or someone like that, maybe, famously once said “Audi Schmaudi.”

Profoundly true, within context. But 300 (EU cycle) miles is nothing to sneeze at. That’s more than the Bolt. Where’s GM’s announcement of a 300-mile anything? Then again, how many times more than the Bolt do you think this sport-ute might fetch? Will it be priced above even the Model X? And, will it already be out of date by 2018? Or, less cynically, is this a good sign?

Automobilsalon Genf 2014

By Sarah Shelton

Audi officials announced that the company is working on a new battery electric SUV for 2018, with an estimated range of 300 miles.

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg, member of Audi’s board of management for Technical Development, talked about Audi’s current and upcoming technologies at the company’s annual meeting.

“2014 was the year of technical milestones, tests and records,” said Hackenberg.

Among Audi’s recent developments is the company’s prototype fuel cell vehicle, the A7 h-tron quattro, and the Avant wagon (pictured above with Hackenberg). This concept vehicle combines a diesel engine with an electric motor to create its hybrid powertrain.

SEE ALSO: Audi Concept Wagon Is A Diesel Hybrid

The new SUV, which is still unnamed, will be all-electric. It’s a platform that’s in line with Audi’s long-term goals: to “systematically electrify the drive trains of its entire model portfolio.”

During his speech, Hackenberg gave a few details about what to expect from the all-electric SUV.

“In early 2018, we will launch a battery-powered sports activity vehicle in the large premium segment with a range of more than 500 kilometers (310.7 miles).

Granted this is a generous Euro cycle range estimate. Earlier reports of this vehicle in development had range estimate as high as 435 miles.

Beyond that, and allowing for the possibility Audi is keeping options open in a fluid market of ongoing R&D, Hackenberg continued on what Audi is now preparing for.

“It will have a new, very attractive design, which we are developing especially for the e-tron range and for battery-electric vehicles. This sports activity vehicle will be built on the second generation of the modular longitudinal platform (MLB 2) – our concept for optimal drivetrain diversity implementation. You will hear and see more of this before the end of the year.”

Analysts are expecting the SUV to fall into Audi’s Q6 line, which is the sportier segment of the luxury brand.

“If I see from the engineering side, a Q is probably not the best solution for an electric car with a large range because it has large surfaces and high aerodynamic resistance,” said Hackenberg.

“But if you ask the sales people, everything has to be Q!”

Hackenberg also spoke about the advances in technology that continue to improve electrified vehicles.

“We started with a 25 Ampere hour (Ah) battery, now we have 28 Ah, we have 37 Ah samples for the next-generation of PHEVs and in this big EV I have talked about we will also have a battery capacity of 37 Ah.

“The next-generation has 41 Ah and then 50 Ah. We will see this increase by 2018 to around 2020. And we see that in the road map of the cell producers that there will be still higher capacities.”

Hackenberg talked about the correlation between the battery’s size and the vehicle’s range.

“If you look to the package of the e-Golf, it’s able to run 180 km in the test cycle and that’s with a 25 Ah battery, if you have a 50 Ah battery you can increase range to more than 300 km, which makes things interesting.

“If you take a bigger car, like we are doing, then it should be possible to use a 90 kilowatt-hours battery, which is enough to satisfy most demands of a customer.”

Auto Express

 

Mar 11

Road test: 2015 Kia Soul EV

 

Here’s another Soul review.

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By Larry E. Hall

Come on, you have to admit that those hip-hop dancing hamsters in their baggy clothes that pitched the Kia Soul soon after it went on sale in 2010 were cute. For the introduction of an all-new 2014 Soul, the little guys slimmed down and buffed up at the gym for the commercial’s sound track. Hey, let’s face it, these guys are hip.

And the all-new 2014 Kia Soul that the hamsters were pitching? Like those cute creatures, the urban hatchback also underwent a transformation: A new stiffer chassis, a little longer and wider with suspension upgrades that added a bit more fun to the driving experience.

All this boiled down to a great platform to electrify.

As for the hamsters, a new fully charged ad campaign has them continuing their hijinks as young bespectacled “auto-scientists” conducting an experiment. The result: a totally electric Kia Soul EV plus, one very alluring hamster girl.

Juicin’ The Soul

Check off the Kia Soul as one more choice in a growing list of small battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). Arriving late last fall, the 2015 Soul EV inserts an electric drive system as a replacement for the gasoline powertrain found in the 2014 Soul.

Large vertical taillights and “floating” body color panel inset into the lift gate make it easy to spot a Kia Soul from a distance.

Large vertical taillights and “floating” body color panel inset into the lift gate make it easy to spot a Kia Soul from a distance.

Like most car manufacturers who have added electric cars to their lineups, with the exception of the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3, Kia used an existing model to electrify. Unlike the others, however, Kia didn’t just shoehorn an electric powertrain in the Soul without first thinking about it — the automaker planned for an all-electric version when development began on the second-generation Soul.

This forethought placed the thin battery pack beneath the front and rear seats for optimal weight distribution and a minimal loss of cargo space. To address the additional battery weight of around 600 pounds, five cross beams are used for support.

The drive system features an 81-kilowatt liquid-cooled AC synchronous permanent magnet electric motor that generates 109 horsepower and a respectable 210 pounds-feet of torque. The output is comparable with leading small electric competitors, except the Chevrolet Spark, which produces a lusty 327 pounds feet.

Power from the motor is directed to the front wheels through a single-speed constant-ratio gear reduction unit. Kia says zero to 60 mph happens in less than 12 seconds and top speed is 90 mph.

Battery size is a major factor in electric driving range. Here, the Soul EV has an edge over the pack of small electrics, where 21 to 24-kilowatt hour battery packs are the norm. Kia opted for a 360-volt lithium-ion polymer battery pack that is rated at 27-kilowatt hours.

Replacing the standard Soul’s gasoline engine, the EV’s drive system features an 81-kilowatt electric motor that sends 109 horsepower to the front wheels via a single speed transmission.

Replacing the standard Soul’s gasoline engine, the EV’s drive system features an 81-kilowatt electric motor that sends 109 horsepower to the front wheels via a single speed transmission.

The Soul EV is good for 93 miles on the EPA cycle. For EV drivers, that effectively offers an additional 10 or 12 miles of driving range compared to Nissan’s Leaf or the Ford Focus Electric.

In fact that EPA 93 mile estimated driving range is tops in the EV world except for the more-than-the-twice expensive Tesla Model S. The MPGe estimate is 120 city/92 highway and 105 combined.

Kia’s lithium-ion polymer battery technology is different from the standard lithium-ion cells in most other EVs, and affords better heat management. Rather than using a liquid-based battery temperature management system to maintain optimum battery performance, particularly in cold weather, the Soul EV uses a battery heating system, which warms up the battery during charging.

Standard is a level 3 quick charge port that will give an 80 percent battery fill in just 24 minutes.

Standard is a level 3 quick charge port that will give an 80 percent battery fill in just 24 minutes.

To optimize battery life, Kia engineers added a heat pump to reduce load on the climate control system.

Standard is a 6.6-killowatt onboard charger and a CHAdeMO DC fast charge port. Recharging time for a fully depleted battery using a 120-volt electrical outlet is 24 hours. The time is cut to less than five hours via a 240-volt outlet, and on-the-go charging from a Level 3 public fast charger will give an 80 percent fill in just 24 minutes.

“Driver Only” button cuts off all climate vents except those around the driver, reducing the amount of energy required to keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature.

“Driver Only” button cuts off all climate vents except those around the driver, reducing the amount of energy required to keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature.

Like several other electric cars, the Soul EV has two drive modes: Drive and Brake. Selecting Brake dials up regenerative braking to capture more of the vehicle’s kinetic energy as electricity. This not only slows the Soul quite rapidly without using the brake pedal, it can add three or four miles of driving range between recharges.

Using climate controls, either heating or cooling, can reduce driving range by as much as 10 miles. To mitigate that, the Soul EV has a novel individual ventilation feature. Activated by a “Driver Only” button, it cuts off all climate vents except those around the driver, reducing the amount of energy required to keep the cabin at a comfortable temperature.

And finally, to squeeze a smidgen more efficiency and miles of range from the drivetrain, there’s an Eco button on the center console. It adjusts certain operations on the EV system, such as sensitivity to throttle input. Think of it as a built-in hypermiler.

Idiosyncratic Design

When Kia restyled the Soul for 2014, they wisely didn’t stray too far from the original. Even though all of the sheetmetal was new, it continued with the same boxy bulldog look with the same abrupt windshield pillar and the slightly canted-back roofline.

The 2015 Soul EV’s exterior has few deviations from its 2014 gasoline-powered donor vehicle, and most of those are aimed at improved aerodynamics — the boxy shape needs all the help it can get to reduce drag. However, there is a dramatic change up front. The small horizontal grille is replaced with a sliding door for the charging ports.

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“Eco Electric” fender badges replace the “Soul” fender garnish found on the standard car, and the EV has its own specific 16-inch alloy wheels wrapped with specially engineered Super Low Rolling Resistance (SLRR) tires. The tires give up some grip but offer 10 percent less resistance than standard low rolling resistance tires, helping to improve range.

Exclusive to the EV are four different two-tone color choices, an inspiration from the 2012 Track’ster concept vehicle.

In other words, the Soul EV is the hippest looking electric five-seat transporter in town.

Green Inside, Too

With the 2014 Soul makeover, inside is where Kia stepped up. The cheap, basic look was cast aside, replaced with styling that is sportier and feels more premium with soft-touch materials in all the right places.

For the EV, the automaker reduced its petroleum footprint by using eco-friendly materials. About 53 pounds of bio-base plastics derived from cellulose and sugar cane are used in door panels, headliner, seat trim, roof pillars and carpeting.

Soul EV‘s dash layout is clean and simple with all controls within easy reach of the driver.

Soul EV‘s dash layout is clean and simple with all controls within easy reach of the driver.

The cabin is roomy for the class and is a comfortable place to hang out like the hamsters do. Backside is 24.2 cubic of cargo space behind the rear seat. Since the battery pack doesn’t intrude into the cabin, the 60/40 spilt seats can be folded nearly flat to offer 61.3 cubes.

Sitting high with an excellent view of the road ahead, the driver can easily grab information from a pair of crystal clear gauges that use Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology.

The driver can quickly and easily see a very accurate driving range and battery displayed by the right instrument panel gauge, as well as the drive system’s operation in a centered LCD display.

The driver can quickly and easily see a very accurate driving range and battery displayed by the right instrument panel gauge, as well as the drive system’s operation in a centered LCD display.

The right gauge has a combination analog and digital speedometer. The left displays an extremely accurate driving range, as well as battery level and an eco-driving guide. A centered LCD displays trip information or audio sources.

Additional EV drivetrain information can be found on the 8-inch center touchscreen that features the navigation and Kia’s UVO infotainment systems. UVO can do everything from showing maximum driving range on top of a map to displaying how much juice is used when headlights, windshield wipers and turn signals are operating.

:  Rear seat comfort is pleasing with a surprising amount of legroom for a compact hatchback wagon.

: Rear seat comfort is pleasing with a surprising amount of legroom for a compact hatchback wagon.

From UVO smartphone apps you can check current charge status, remotely start or stop charging and see the car’s location. Other apps connect with favorites such as Pandora, iHeart Radio and Yelp.

Kia offers two versions of its electric car: the base Soul EV and the Soul EV+ (Plus), both very well equipped.

The base model has an MSRP of $33,700, plus $850 destination charges, not including any federal or state incentives. Standard features include a rearview camera; heated outside mirrors; tilt-telescoping steering column; heated steering wheel and front seats; power windows; navigation and infotainment system; Bluetooth connectivity; and a six-speaker audio system with USB and auxiliary jacks.

Our Soul EV+ test driver had a sticker price of $35,700 plus, the $850 destination charge. It threw in leather seating; heated and vented front seats; heated rear seats; power-folding exterior mirrors; fog lights; and park-assist for the front and rear.

Chargin’ Down The Road

“Range anxiety” is a term now firmly imbedded into the electric car lexicon. The 2015 Soul EV eases that anxiety, and we found that 100 miles was easily the norm. After learning to use the B mode effectively, we tallied 110 miles on day four with the wagon, ending the day with the dashboard indicating 4 miles of range remaining.

The only time the EV failed to live up to its claimed rating was during a couple of hours of play time. That consisted of several zero-to-60 test runs as well as determining what kind of cajones, if any, the little electric-box-on-wheels had on one of my favorite backcountry roads with lots of twisties.

Large vertical taillights and “floating” body color panel inset into the lift gate make it easy to spot a Kia Soul from a distance.

Large vertical taillights and “floating” body color panel inset into the lift gate make it easy to spot a Kia Soul from a distance.

As it turned out, the Soul EV was more fun to drive than I anticipated. The battery pack’s mass was offset by its placement under the floor, and the low center of gravity gave a planted feel through corners with scant body lean. Combine that with engineering changes to the suspension and additional torsion rigidity, and other small EVs seem uninteresting and detached. That said, the steering is not tuned for sportiness, but the key words are, it’s fun to drive.

Electric motors deliver all their torque instantly, so the Soul had an always-eager feel around town with the single-speed transmission aiding in direct linear velocity.

Don’t be put off by its leisurely 0-60 mph spec of around 11 seconds. The Soul EV might take a couple of extra seconds to get to full highway speed from a complete standstill, but all-out sprints like that are rare. When already traveling at 50 or 60 miles per hour, immediate power is readily available to push the wagon to its top speed of 90 mph.

Whether traveling on the Interstate or in town, this is a very quiet vehicle with minimal electric motor whine compared to other EVs. Also appreciated, when bumps or potholes were encountered, we weren’t bothered too much.

Compliance Vehicle?

When the Soul EV arrived, Kia said it would only be available in California, Oregon, Maryland, New Jersey and New York — all states that follow California’s zero emission mandate for automakers — and would expand sales to other states later on. That indicates this is a compliance electric vehicle.

Initially, it was only on sale in California and Oregon. Since then, the automaker quietly added Washington State in February — one dealer — and hasn’t commented about additional availability.

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It may not be your cup of tea, but the Soul EV has an unmistakable quirky charm, which by its self will attract perspective EV buyers. Add the 93 mile (or more) driving range, spacious interior and the fun-to-drive factor, and it is a contentious competitor to all the other small top-selling electric cars: Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen’s E-Golf. Perhaps even BMW’s i-3.

In my opinion, the Soul EV, for the reasons above, is by far the best small electric car I have driven. If Kia ever decides to expand nationwide, it has the potential to cut into the Leaf’s market dominance.

Yes, the Soul EV’s base price is close to the Leaf’s top-end model, but it does have a boatload of standard features. And, for those who prefer leasing, the preference of most EV buyers, Kia’s best deal is $249 a month for 36 months compared to the Nissan’s $199 per month (California).

But wait, the Kia Soul EV has something the Nissan Leaf and all the others just can’t offer — fun lovin’, cool, hip hamster spokesmen.

 

Mar 10

1500-hp Koenigsegg hypercar is a PHEV

 

Don’t bother asking about its carbon footprint or AER. While they may be respectable if you toned this car’s pace down on your way to a latte or some shopping in town, that’s not what this is mainly about.

It looks like quite the piece of engineering though.

Koenigsegg-Regera-Hybrid-Hypercar1

By Sarah Shelton

At the Geneva car show, Swedish carmaker Koenigsegg is giving the world a look at is new supercar: the 2016 Regera.

The Regera is the latest addition to the current hypercar trend: insanely potent exotics driven by a hybrid powertrain. It’s a class that caters to the fortunate and affluent few that want unrestrained muscle and are not limited by budgets under $500,000.

Already on this grid are supercars like the McLaren P1 and Ferrari LaFerrari.

It’s evident that companies like Koenigsegg are operating in a reality most of us don’t visit. The Swedish carmaker describes its previous One:1 and Agera RS (priced at $2.8 million and $1 million, respectively) as having “surprising levels of practicality.”

Even so, it’s hard to deny that the Regera is a remarkable plug-in hybrid, with jaw-dropping performance and some unusual components.

Koenigsegg calls it the world’s fastest accelerating production car, capable of reaching 400 kph (249 mph) in under 20 seconds.

SEE ALSO: McLaren’s Track-Only Hybrid Now In Production Form

The twin-turbocharged 5.0-liter V8 is downsized, but still track-certified. Adding the output from the internal combustion engine to the three electric motors (one crank-mounted and two driveshaft-mounted) yields a combined output of 1,500 horsepower.

The 9.27 kilowatt-hours battery pack rests in the center tunnel. It’s cooled with liquid-filled lines that connect to the radiator and an electrical air conditioner. The underlying chemistry wasn’t named, but Koenigsegg rates the Regera’s all-electric range at 50 km (31 miles).

As a plug-in hybrid, either the engine or an external source can recharge the battery pack. In addition to the normal powertrain settings, including an all-electric mode, a Battery Drain Mode is also available. By selecting this within 30 miles of your final destination, the system drains the battery so it’s ready to be plugged in and fully charged.

Koenigsegg Regera Hybrid Hypercar Direct Drive Transmission

Koenigsegg Regera Hybrid Hypercar Direct Drive Transmission

Digesting these specs, Koenigsegg clearly wants to ensure that the Regera lives up to the Swedish translation of its name: to reign.

Whatever you call the car, don’t label it as a hybrid, said Koenigsegg. The company listed the car’s lightweight design and innovative powertrain as examples of traits that clash with the traditional hybrid definition.

It should be noted, though, that the Regera isn’t the lightweight champion of hypercars: its 3,589-pound curb weight is heavier than the LaFerrari (3,200 pounds) and the McLaren P1 (3,300 pounds).

But the Regera does stand out for having one of the most unusual slushboxes: the Koenigsegg Direct Drive Transmission (KDD).

Koenigsegg Regera Hybrid Propulsion System

Koenigsegg Regera Hybrid Propulsion System

“The KDD manages to create direct drive to rear axle from the combustion engine without the need of multitude gears or other traditional types of variable transmissions, with inherently high energy losses,” explained Koenigsegg.

“During highway travel, for example, the KDD reduces drivetrain losses, compared to traditional transmission or CVT by over 50%, as there is no step up or step down gear working in series with the final drive – just direct power transmission from the engine to the wheels.”

In other words, it’s a single-speed transmission. Christian von Koenigsegg, company owner and architect behind the Regera, recognizes that this gearbox is not what most are expecting.

“This is of course very different to what people are used to in sports cars,” said Koenigsegg. “It’s nice to shift down, hear the engine howl and then shoot off. However, given the massive electrical support and the power of the internal-combustion engine over 2500 rpm, the experience is otherworldly. At low rpm, the engine will still feel truly monstrous as the combined torque is unbelievable. The fun of shifting down and planning for the acceleration is quickly forgotten and not missed. It needs to be experienced.”

Koenigsegg Regera Hybrid Hypercar (1)

Another innovative and entertaining feature is the Regera’s robotics. Using hydraulics, the Dihedral Synchro Helix Doors swing up 90-degrees, the mirrors tuck in, the front hood lifts up and the rear hatch raises … all with the click of a button or smartphone.

For visibility, Koenigsegg has also replaced conventional daylight running lights (DRL) with a scattered set of LEDs resembling the night sky. Koenigsegg calls it the Constellation DRL.

The Regera is expected to cost around $1.8 million, with a production run limited to 80 handcrafted units.

 

Car and Driver

 

Mar 09

Should we, could we, would we reform the $7,500 federal tax credit?

 

It was a challenge touching on what I could here. Apologies if I left out any critical details.

I know people here are all over the map on this subject. Here’s some background as well as present details.

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Like any legislation brokered between stakeholders and lawmakers, the present federal tax credit of up-to $7,500 for buyers of qualified plug-in electrified vehicles involves compromises, pros, and cons.

That it has been a boon to the nascent industry is widely agreed upon and proponents note that since December 2010 when just three plug-in cars were for sale in the U.S. that number has grown to 21 and counting. But whether the system is as fair or good as it could be – or should be overhauled or dismantled altogether – has been contended.

Chief among proponents who’d like to see the system updated is President Barack Obama. This year for his proposed budget he again floated the idea of converting the tax credit to a point-of-sale rebate and raising the cap to $10,000. And, he added to these ideas he first asked for in 2011 by proposing incentives for more types of alternative-fuel vehicles.

This article – while only brushing on salient subtopics of a broad subject – relies in part upon an in-depth interview with a highly placed industry stakeholder who’s been involved with these issues from the beginning.

Favors Higher Earners?

Although all income levels may benefit, critics have observed the tax credit has often catered to higher wage earners.

Early adopters of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt – as just one example – had average household incomes of $175,000 and other plug-in buyers have been from the six-figure league.

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The way the plug-in tax credit rules are now, buyers hoping to claim a full $7,500 tax credit tend to need a decent middle-class income. It can be well below $100k-plus, but the system has seen the relatively better off benefited and plug-ins are bypassed by “the masses” as an inexpensive “game changer” is hoped for in due time.

Of course there are other big reasons for this including battery costs hurdles, but with regard to the tax credit being an economic stimulus, there are two sides to this observation. Many have said that the current state of affairs is as it should be: of necessity new technology costs more, so it makes sense to sell products to those who can appreciate and afford it.

On the other hand, there’ve been those who cite Henry Ford and his Model T, and say the idea of selling affordable cars in volume, and making profits through raising economies of scale and selling more units is a better objective. Unless leasing the car, a tax credit instead of a rebate precludes lower income earners; it assumes one makes enough money to pay enough taxes to get the credit.

From a grow-the-market standpoint, if the idea of proliferating plug-in electrified vehicles (PEVs) is a rationale for a credit, say those in favor of a rebate at time of sale, wouldn’t that help put more people in more cars and speed the process? Wouldn’t that incentivize automakers to make more down-market products sooner?

So far, the first scenario is how the political winds and industry sensibility has gone, and this has possibly reinforced its sense of validity for many observers.

What’s More Egalitarian?

Arguments in favor of a point-of-sale rebate – such as 5,000 pounds offered in the UK, for example – would mean consumers would not have to front the money. They’d also not have to wait many months to over a year to get it back – assuming they do get it back and did not miscalculate. And a rebate would mean consumers would not be effectively penalized just because they do not earn enough money, it’s been said. Even retirees with money saved, but low income, are inadvertently penalized.

2014-Chevrolet-Volt-Dealer

Effectively, the system is skewed to those with the income to buy a plug-in car at a premium over a roughly comparable internal combustion engine vehicle.

This has been said to defy one of the fundamental tenets of a so-called “economical car.” If the purpose is to save consumers money on the sale, it’s been argued that the ones with lower earnings are the ones who most need such a perk. And it’s been said if plug-in cars are meant to save on operational (fuel/energy) costs, likewise lower income people are the ones who need the breaks the most.

As mentioned, an exception could be if a consumer leases the car and the leasing company – which recoups the $7,500 credit – credits the lessee and lowers the payment. Nissan Leaf lessees for example can get the full $7,500 credited, and up to 85 percent do lease Leafs says IHS Automotive. But others, such as Chevrolet Volt lessees, do not normally get the whole $7,500 off of the lease deal and 49 percent lease the Volt.

The federal tax credit has been castigated as often as praised, and critical observers have pointed to Obama’s goal for the U.S. to be first to put one million PEVs on the road, and do it by the end of 2015.

Presently, there have been just over 300,000 PEVs sold and the U.S. is not on target, the administration has conceded. Reasons for why this is go way beyond whether the credit has been effective, but for his part, Obama has asked for a point-of-sale rebate and higher cap to help meet this goal.

Bipartisan Origins

The federal tax credit for plug-in vehicles originated with bipartisan support at the end of the Bush era. It was thus done in a Republican-controlled White House, but democrats including Obama did support it.

SEE ALSO: Bush Senior Buys a Chevy Volt

The first bill that allowed for plug-in cars did so two years before the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt were launched in December 2010. That was H.R. 1424, and subsequently with Obama in the White House, H.R. 1 amended the rules, reducing the dollar cap to $7,500 – it had been up-to double the $7,500 for large high-GVWR types of vehicles.

Rationale For the Credits

The idea of propping up the plug-in industry built on the precedent of a lower dollar amount tax credit for regular non-plug-in hybrids that since ended in 2010.

It was recognized these and other alternative-fuel vehicles were good for American national interests and reasons supporting them were like a multi-legged stool.

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It would be correct to say desire to curb controversial and politicized issues like “climate change” were part of it, but despite critics who focus on this to invalidate alternative vehicles, this was not the only reason.

Reasons justifying taxpayer dollars supporting the electrification of transportation were basically three-fold: energy security, economic security, environmental sustainability.

This was how the consumer tax credit for plug-ins – one line in larger bills – was sold to both sides of the legislature once upon a time. Industry stakeholders – automakers, utilities, environmentalists and other interests – weighed in on what has become a measured compromise.

Briefly, “energy security” speaks to curbing dependence on oil – a global, fungible commodity. The U.S. does not have control of the market price of this commodity, and involvement in the Middle East, wars, and now terrorism have been blamed on geopolitical factors arising from this vulnerability.

SEE ALSO: Eight States Aiming For 3.3 Million Zero-Emission Vehicles By 2025

By contrast, electricity is domestically sourced. It’s been said you will never see a supertanker pulling into port with a load of electricity.

As for “economic” benefit, plug-in cars are seen as new energy technology which nations of Europe, plus China, India, and Asia are also attempting to develop. The idea of America taking a leadership role in a technology with vast potential was appealing to lawmakers who agreed to incentivize the industry and consumers.

bill-nye-prius-tailpipe-313

And with regards to “environmental” benefit, electrical energy is considered cleaner on a well-to-wheel basis – even when using coal and regulations are seeing the grid getting cleaner every year. So, not only is electricity domestically produced, it can be made by renewable sources like hydro, wind, and solar. Even if “climate change” remains a hot topic, say proponents, the fact that “air pollution” affects lives and entails huge costs is undisputed.

In short, before plug-in cars were castigated before the 2012 elections as the province of one ideological group, it was understood there was something in it for everyone, now, and for future generations. Thus, the up-to $7,500 credit was carried forth from the Bush era into the Obama era.

How The Credit Works

Contrary to any misconceptions out there, the plug-in credit is against one’s own earnings, and does not amount to welfare from other peoples’ money. News of an early Volt owner being harassed by a pickup truck driver asking how he liked the car the pickup drivers’ tax dollars helped fund tell of this undercurrent still with us.

The base tax credit is $2,500 and above 5 kilowatt-hours taxpayers may claim on their IRS return $417 per kilowatt-hour not to exceed $5,000. This is how we get the “up-to $7,500.” It’s been an unsubstantiated rumor that General Motors had something to do with this and the cap was effectively 16 kilowatt-hours, the same as the first Chevy Volt. Cars with bigger batteries like the 24-kwh Leaf or 60-85-kwh Model S are still capped at $7,500.

Whatever the back-room talk may have been, it has been benignly stated that there was a “choke point,” and a cap had to be put on it in light of political realities – Congress would not have gone for more, and $7,500 was the negotiated limit.

Further, each manufacturer was allotted a threshold of 200,000 plug-in vehicles it could sell in the U.S., which will take several years, and so far the highest – Nissan and GM – have sold in the mid-70,000 unit range. According to the IRS, after a carmaker passes 200,000 sales, following that quarter when this occurs, the tax credit phases out over the 15 months following and eventually buyers will not be able to claim a federal credit on that carmaker’s products.

Oil Subsidies

While true the tax credit does deprive the tax base of potential revenues, whether liked or not, myriad tax credits are a reality in the American political landscape that do favor special interests and political ideals. Globally, many other nations are incentivizing plug-in vehicles as well.

50026687._S8E0830_oil_rig_Long_Beach

For those who disagree consumers should be even able to claim a credit against their own earnings, it has been documented the oil industry takes far more annually directly or indirectly than the entire plug-in tax credit system may cost the U.S. for the duration of the program.

It’s been estimated that the most the present plug-in consumer tax credit may cost federal coffers in lost tax revenues is $15 billion and this assumes that all eligible automakers sell all 200,000 per manufacturer and all consumers claim 100-percent of the $7,500.

SEE ALSO: The Oil Sands’ Surprising New Nemesis: Plug-in Vehicles

This will not happen, as not all consumers are eligible for 100 percent of $7,500. So it’s expected to cost less, but by contrast direct and indirect subsidies to the petroleum industry have been estimated from $10 billion to $52 billion per year.

According to Oil Change International, U.S. subsidies to the fossil fuel industry amount to $37.5 billion annually.

Further, these dollar amounts do not account for untold billions in costs for “externalities” taxpayers face because of the fossil fuel industry including climate/environmental, health impacts, and more.

Unfair?

Beyond the up-to $10,000 and make-it-a-rebate suggestion by Obama, others including lawmakers, business professors, and ordinary plug-in advocates of all stripes have suggested various other ways to tweak the system for equity and accomplish goals.

A core question from the beginning was what is the U.S. trying to accomplish? The U.S. does not have a unified energy policy. The flip-side of the it’s-not-egalitarian argument is the compromise legislation we now have was not done strictly for consumers, so the notion that we need to make things easier on consumers could be said to be somewhat one-sided.

Really, although consumer interests were considered, it was industry stakeholders who may have had a louder voice in framing the consumer tax credit.

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And it does serve them. If you are Nissan or General Motors or Tesla, etc., you can advertise your respective car with a net effective discount lopped off. Your buyers may see benefit to them, and this is true, but you know it benefits you if they buy more of your product.

The idea from the beginning was to give a leg up to relatively expensive battery powered cars so the industry could grow. When H.R. 1424 and later H.R. 1 were written, assumptions of manufacturer battery costs were factored along with need to start educating consumers and marketing these vehicles against a 100-year incumbent – the internal combustion engine wedded to the entrenched petroleum interests.

So, some have said, a point-of-sale rebate, while nice for consumers, was not the only reason, and further, it may not be desirable.

One concern – among too many to document – is the present tax credit may be better than a rebate. A rebate it was said would be more difficult to administer, potentially more expensive therefore, burdensome, and impractical.

If a rebate were proposed, how would that work? Would dealers give the consumer the cash off, then apply to the government for reimbursement? Would the government then need to have a very large pool of money like a cash-for-clunkers program?

Such fund pools have been known to dry up, and it did cross the mind of industry stakeholders that the monies could go away before the mission of getting the industry on its feet was accomplished. By contrast, the up-to $7,500 tax credit which does not sunset lets consumers claim credits from their own earnings – thus no massive fund needed, or large program to manage.

As Things Stand

Whether that argument holds water for you, or more elegant solutions could circumvent and create greater equity, the president is a member of the minority party and the Congress and Senate have bigger fish to fry.

Aside from numerous reports on infighting and other budgetary issues this year, tax reform has been on the table for a few years now. Whether the plug-in credit is reformed before the tax code is overhauled is in doubt, say insiders.

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Further, with the fossil fuel industry finding new legs with horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing, “energy security” already being declared by some – plus other points of disagreement – many legislators cast a doubtful glance at the present plug-in tax credit.

Proposals to eliminate the federal tax credit have been called for in the course of overhauling the tax code, even as plug-in proponents might ask for more.

It’s been said if the tax credit were cut off, we might still see plug-ins continue, while others have said it could kill if not severely set back the U.S. market which constitutes around three-quarters of 1-percent share of the 16.4-million annual passenger vehicle market.

That the plug-in industry has benefited thus far is unquestioned. That reform would be welcome by some is also true, while even among some plug-in supporters, the idea of needing tax breaks has been called wrong on principle.

Further, automakers, it has been said, have had four years to get going, and California-rules “compliance cars” and slower than hoped for growth is a reality. Aside from a few leaders – notably Tesla, Renault-Nissan, General Motors and Ford being standouts – driving the industry as much as anything are tightening global, federal, and California mpg and CO2 rules.

SEE ALSO: Is a 200-Mile EV the Next Automotive Benchmark?

So, it’s effectively been a whip driving progress as much if not more than the carrot-on-the-stick that is the tax credit.

Really the market is a nuanced multitude of variables with the tax credit being just one. Its help plus other drivers has brought the industry to where at least three if not five automakers could have 200-mile, mid-30s priced battery electric car by 2017. Meanwhile the Volt is the first PEV pending its second-generation, and many global automakers are doing more and momentum is increasing.

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Pushed and pulled along against an entrenched oil-based paradigm, the plug-in industry grew last year in the face of declining gas prices, and declining regular hybrid sales.

So, would federal tax credit reform be desirable? Maybe. Or maybe plug-in advocates should be thankful for what they have in a world full of compromises, conflicts of interest, no guarantees of fairness, and politics as usual?

Or maybe not. This discussion could go on and on and there are more points that could be made than the few we’ve merely touched on.

 

Mar 06

Plug-in news round-up

 

Actually, there’s more news, but we’ll leave it at this …

Magna Steyr Shows Off Plug-In Hybrid Sports Car Concept

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By Phillippe Crowe

Magna is showcasing a plug-in hybrid sports car concept at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show.

Called the MILA Plus, the sporty concept is said to have an all-electric range of 47 miles (75 km) and a vehicle weight of 3,351 pounds (1,520 kg), achieving CO2 emissions of 32 grams per kilometer.

The MILA Plus is powered by a three-cylinder gasoline engine combined with two electric motors: one between the internal combustion engine and the transmission to drive the rear axle, and one on the electric front axle. Yes, this arrangement results in an electric all-wheel-drive system.

Total output is 268 horsepower and 428 pounds-feet of torque. Performance is said to be 0-62 in 4.9 seconds, and in all-electric mode 0-50 in 3.6, suggesting this may be as fast as it goes in all-electric mode.

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The actual purpose of the car that looks kind of generically cool, and boasts features superior to many production vehicles is relly just a rolling showcase of what Magna can do.

“Magna’s broad range of services – from engineering to diverse product capabilities to full-vehicle contract manufacturing – helps support our customers as they continue to be challenged with the changing dynamics of the automotive industry,” said Günther Apfalter, President Magna Europe and Magna Steyr. “The MILA Plus vehicle concept illustrates our value proposition and advantage within the global supply base.”

The MILA name is not new to the company as it has been used for other concepts, but this plug-in hybrid concept, the MILA Plus, is described as featuring advanced technologies and flexible manufacturing processes with a focus on eco-friendliness.

SEE ALSO: Magna’s Plug-and-Play Electric Vehicle

The whole structure of the concept is comprised of an extruded aluminum space frame and has been designed to allow for the use of components and systems from large series production… In other words, it has been designed to accept numerous current drivetrains from various manufacturers Magna is involved with.

To help with structural rigidity, the concept integrates its high-voltage battery into the space frame while lightweight plastic body panels are used due to their corrosion resistance and styling flexibility.

Oregon Launches First Mileage-Based Fee Program For U.S.

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By Sarah Shelton

With its new program debuting this July, Oregon will become the first state to collect road use fees through mileage instead of fuel.

The program will charge drivers a road use fee based on how many miles they drive, instead of using a state tax built into gas prices. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the sponsor of OReGO, will be analyzing the program to see if the fees can lead to a “fair, reliable source of revenue to fund transportation projects.”

“We are seeing a growing trend in the number of electric and hybrid vehicles on our roads, which has led to a significant fall in critical gas tax revenues being collected for road maintenance,” said François Gauthey, President of Sanef ITS.

The New York-based Sanef ITS specializes in toll roads and other road charging programs, and is working with ODOT on the OReGO program.

“To improve and maintain America’s roadway infrastructure, the transition from a gas tax to a distance-based road usage charge solution is a critical evolution,” Gauthey said.

“Moving forward, creating a sustainable but fair system for collecting revenues is essential for future sustainability of critical transportation networks.”

Though the program launches this July, it doesn’t mean that over the summer all Oregon drivers will be converting to this system. The first phase of OReGO will begin with only 5,000 volunteers.

After signing up, volunteers install a small electronic device to track the number of miles driven. Using this data, OReGO will charge volunteers 1.5 cents per mile. Drivers will also get a credit for any fuel taxes paid at the gas pump, so they won’t be charged twice for road usage fees.

Individuals with either personal or commercial light duty vehicles are eligible for the program.

Under the OReGO program, the amount drivers will pay in comparison to fuel tax depends on the efficiency of their car. The more fuel efficient the car, the more the OReGO program will cost them.

For cars that get 20 mpg or less, it’s cheaper to sign up for OReGO. Using the national average of 13,000 miles driven per year, a vehicle that gets 15 mpg will pay $21.66 in fuel tax each month, but only $16.25 to OReGO.

On a vehicle rated 25 mpg, the monthly costs flip to $13.00 paid fuel taxes. Because OReGO is mileage-based, this fee remains the same at $16.25 per month.

SEE ALSO: Professors: Stimulate Sales With Taxes Instead Of Subsidies

The issue of funding road maintenance costs using a fuel tax versus a mileage tax has been debated in other states as well.

California Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D, recently addressed the California Transportation Foundation on the issue.

“While it’s great our air is cleaner as cars have become more efficient and less dependent on gasoline, it’s clear we must now move forward to the next generation of transportation funding,” said Atkins in February.

“It could take any number of forms.

“You’ve heard vehicle mileage, you’ve heard vehicle license fee, there’s a way you could attach it to insurance – people pay insurance on a regular basis. Either way, it’s a fee that we have to figure out how best and the easiest way to collect it.”

Atkins estimates that by finding a solution to charge drivers about $1 a week, a fee could raise $1.8 billion for transportation funding in the next five years.

In Minnesota, legislators began debating a bill last month that would prohibit the state from funding any research into mileage-based road usage fees. Republican Rep. Bob Barrett, the bill’s author, said the GPS tracking used for this type of research is a privacy issue.

“I don’t know if we want government to be that involved in our private lives, to know where we’re going and when we’re going,” said Barrett.

In Oregon, the future of the OReGO program will depend on the success of this first stage. There is no end date built into the program, leaving it up to the legislators and voters to develop the next step.

EDI Converts GM Pickups To PHEV

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By Phillippe Crowe

California-based Efficient Drivetrains, Inc. has developed a PHEV drivetrain for pickup trucks.

Efficient Drivetrains, Inc. (EDI) explained their conversion offers 100 percent OEM performance and 100 percent zero emissions during city and highway driving, while also reducing emissions and fuel use by up to 80 percent.

The PHEV system has be shown on a GM pickup truck, but other EDI literature shows this system can be adapted to other OEM pickup trucks.

SEE ALSO: Hybrid And Electric Tech Moves To Silicon Valley

The PHEV pickup offered by EDI has 30-40 miles of all-electric range. The vehicle also features a series-parallel extended range of 300 miles, bi-directional charging, 50-120 kilowatt of grid reliable exportable power, and enough battery capacity to operate vehicle accessories and job site work tools without idling the base diesel engine.

EDI explained it built their PHEV drivetrain system in response to increasing pressure from the utility industry to green their fleets using electricity as a primary fuel.EDI_Dually_FullSystem_web-01

“The light duty truck class is an important and high-volume vehicle category for fleet owners. The creation of a PHEV version with power export is an integral step towards significantly reducing emissions and fuel consumption for the utility and telecom industries,” said Charlie Travis, head of sales and business development at EDI. “We’re thrilled to be a key contributor to the greening of America’s fleets.”

Interestingly, EDI’s PHEV lineup can be used to store electrical energy for other purposes without affecting driving range; EDI’s Power Drive allows the vehicle to generate useful power for up to 12 hours idle-free as well as also being capable of charging other pure electric vehicles when needed.

Unfortunately, EDI did not reveal MPG or eMPG ratings for the GM conversion.

Volt leads Leaf n cumulative sales by a nose

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The Volt, it was said in Detroit at the gen-2 reveal, is the U.S.’ best-selling plug-in car!

Yes, but, Nissan is catching up, it was said.

Yes, but Volt’s number one, and we’re going with it, it was essentially said in reply.

And it’s still true. The Volt is the U.S.’ best-selling plug-in. By two units.

Since Dec. 2010 to February, Nissan has sold 74,590 Leafs and Chevrolet has sold 74,592 Volts.

The Leaf has been selling close to double the cars per month of late as everyone and their brother waits for the second-gen Volt which will set the record back in line.

Last month the Volt sold 693 to the Leaf’s 1,198. So, this being the end of the first full week, it may be that the Leaf has surpassed the Volt.

But really, does it matter? No, some will say. But will they enjoy seeing a turnaround this summer when a new Volt shines next to a five-year-old Leaf? Odds are good this could be the case.

Have a nice weekend.

 

Mar 05

February Volt and plug-in sales cruise along

 

It will be interesting to see how the numbers look this summer when gen-2 is launched…

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Chevrolet recorded 693 Volt sales in February and this in a shorter sales month would be a case of steady as she goes. Same would be true of Nissan which recorded 1,198 Leaf sales last month.

The Volt last month sold the lowest number since August 2011 at 542 units as interest gains for the 2016 Volt due for release in a few months.

February’s 693 sales thus also represents an uptick and the Volt just leads the plug-in gas-electric chart by 90 units ahead of the Ford Fusion Energi.

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By contrast, in January, Nissan broke an 18-month streak of setting records and came plummeting down 65 percent from December to 1,017 sales and 14.5 percent down year over year.

February’s 1,198 is an uptick over January but again no records were set as Nissan attributed lost business to wintry conditions.

“Tough winter weather in several key markets held EV sales back in February,” said Brendan Jones, director, Nissan Electric Vehicle Sales and Infrastructure. “As we head into spring, we look forward to seeing more dealership traffic so shoppers can experience firsthand the benefits of the all-electric Nissan Leaf.”

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As for other reasons why sales are what they are, many come into play. Among these, low fuel prices may have played a small part, but unlike regular hybrids, plug-in electrified vehicles have bucked a declining trend related to fuel prices that regular hybrid experienced.

During 2014, plug-in car sales increased as these vehicles allow drivers to utterly forego using gas part time or full time as the case may be – thus these vehicles are about more than just saving on gas.

February is also not known to be a strong sales month in general.

“Like January, February is difficult to evaluate sales trends since it is typically a modest sales month because automakers sought in December to bring consumers into showrooms to reach annual goals,” says the HybridCars.com Dashboard. “As a result, sales early in the year tend to decline and the numbers along with myriad other factors reflect this.”

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SEE ALSO: What Do We Know About the 2017 Nissan Leaf?

Both the Leaf and Volt were launched December 2010. They really are dissimilar products but share the fact they plug in, are alternatives and as things would have it, the public did see a sort of sales race even if their makers deny any deliberate race exists.

It’s not believed Nissan will offer the second-generation Leaf for at least another year but the Japanese automaker has so far been more resistant to its equally long status in its product life cycle.

If there is one, the Leaf is doing better. It’s been marketed better, more people understand its simple all-electric drivetrain, and it costs a few thousand less than the Volt.

Further, Leaf leases are cheaper and it has stood as the mainstream go-to EV in the United States at this price level.

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When the 2016 Volt is launched around this summer – and if fuel prices rise as some predict – we shall see how the comparison fares as many other variables come into play in the nascent industry besides.

 
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