Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Nov 17

GM engineers bullet-resistant CNG tank for bi-fuel Impala


Will we be seeing more CNG cars being that “clean natural gas” is so plentiful these days?

Is this car good reason to buy GM’s version over a do-it-yourself conversions?

This is of course more of that “all of the above” approach. Others might like to see the effort spent on electrification.

I’m on assignment this week at Toyota’s FCV preview, and the LA auto show. Any FCV questions, please let me know – Thanks, Jeff

By Phillippe Crowe

Chevrolet has gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of the Impala’s natural gas tank.

The company stated being able to take a bullet and withstand fires from multiple directions sets apart the compressed natural gas (CNG) tank in the 2015 Bi-fuel Chevrolet Impala from less-strenuous testing of other natural gas-powered vehicles.

height=”409″ />Chevrolet explained a large piece of cast aluminum helps protect the tank valve and connection from certain side impacts while sheet metal plates on either side of the tank help protect it from loose objects in the trunk or rear seat.

“We designed this system for those ‘what if’ situations,” said Nichole Kraatz, Impala chief engineer. ”The customer shouldn’t even know it’s there. They shouldn’t even think about it. CNG should just be another fuel they use to power their vehicle.”

SEE ALSO: 2015 Chevrolet Bi-fuel Impala Runs On Biogas

According to Chevrolet, durability and safety testing at the tank’s normal operating pressure of 3,600 PSI and higher subjected it to normal and extreme situations, exceeding federal requirements and CNG industry guidelines. The company gave these test protocols as examples of what the tank can withstand:

  • The industry-standard Bonfire Test confirms the CNG tank’s pressure relief valves are operational and help prevent the tank from rupturing in a fire. In addition to placing the tank about four inches above a steady 800-degree Fahrenheit fire, General Motors’ engineers added trunk, back seat and underbody fires to test the pressure relief valves’ ability to sense heat on all sides of the tank. And the tests were done at two different fuel levels.
  • In the Penetration Test, the tank is filled to its service pressure and is shot with a 7.62 mm armor piercing bullet. In order to pass the test, the bullet has to pass completely through one side of the tank without exiting out the other side. The goal is to have the tank maintain the bullet hole only as the weak structural point, without rupturing.
  • Front barrier, side impact and rear impact crash tests were conducted on the Bi-Fuel Impala. Some aftermarket CNG-conversion kit manufacturers conduct only a barrier test.

The tank also undergoes long-term structural integrity tests equivalent to 15,000 pressure cycles and hydrostatic bursting tests of up to 8,100 PSI, added Chevrolet.

The Bi-fuel Impala runs on both CNG and gasoline; it is available to order now through all Chevrolet dealerships in the US and Canada with delivery expected at the end of this year.

Chevrolet stated the all-steel trunk-mounted CNG tank holds approximately 7.8 gallons, sufficient for about 150 miles of driving after which the Impala seamlessly switches to gasoline power.



Nov 14

Perks of pure electric cars


Have you noticed BEVs are outselling plug-in hybrids of late? Not just Leaf vs. Volt – though Volt still holds an edge in total sales in the U.S. – but the aggregate total.

Below is a list of eight perks to electric cars. Can you add to them? Is anyone here tempted to go EV, and leave the EREV behind? Or add to the EREV? With gas prices where they are below $3, predictions of how things will go next year are being made, but this could be anyone’s guess.

If the new Volt gets close to 50 miles range, it will all the more be able to claim some of the following benefits, and it is already the top-e-range plug-in gas-electric car made.


There are now a baker’s dozen electric cars for sale in the U.S., but many people are still learning about them.

This is understandable as they’re yet a relatively new type of car, for now only the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, BMW i3, Ford Focus Electric, and Mitsubishi i-MiEV are sold nationwide, and the rest are available to limited markets.

But despite tepid automakers and consumer concerns of range anxiety, it’s notable that all-electric vehicle (EVs) are vying well against plug-in hybrid (PHEVS). There are only eight PHEVs compared to 13 EVs on the U.S. market – although Toyota’s RAV4 EV and Honda’s Fit EV are going away, and new EVs are pending.

SEE ALSO: October 2014 Dashboard

This year through October, EVs have sold just less than 50,000 cars, PHEVs were a bit below 48,000, and in September, Americans bought their 250,000th plug-in car since their inception.

According to Tom Saxton, chief science officer of Plug In America, the salient points he likes to observe can be boiled to a simple message.

SEE ALSO: Plug-in vehicles now at 600,000 sold worldwide


“Plug-in electric vehicles are more fun to drive, more convenient to fuel, and less expensive to operate than gas cars,” says Saxton.

To add details to these points, and include a few more while we’re at it, following are eight perks to going EV.

Low Operating Costs


Ford Focus Electric.

Ford Focus Electric.

EVs are three-times more efficient on average than a typical internal combustion car meaning big savings. A Nissan Leaf for example, gets an EPA rating of “mile per gallon equivalent” of 129 city, 102 hwy, 115 combined.

Factoring average utility rates, estimated electricity costs to run it are about equal to a gas car if the gas car owner bought gasoline for 73 cents per gallon.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Nissan Leaf Review – Video
Rates do vary across the U.S. but a little effort taken to look deeper could be time well spent.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has extensive data on EVs, and tools to help drill down and calculate costs and efficiency.


One of the most obvious perks is that EV drivers need never buy gasoline again. Usually home charging gives enough range to manage a day’s driving, so this also means no stopping and waiting.

“I think the biggest stealth benefit of driving an EV is being able to charge at home,” says Plug In America’s Saxton. “People often think that’s a negative when in fact it’s much easier than going to a gas station, particularly if you charge in a garage shielded from the elements.”

Whether there’s ever a “wait” time for EV batteries that do take longer to replenish than a liquid fuel tank is open to one’s perspective.

“For daily driving, you only need to charge at home, or perhaps at work. Either way, there’s no waiting,” says Saxton. “It takes about as much of your time as plugging in your cell phone.”

Obviously if public charging is used, then a wait could be involved, but this can be worked around by timing things so charging is done while you shop or are at work, as the case may be, and assuming it’s available.

“The best way to use an electric vehicle is for local driving within the single-charge range of the vehicle, so that you never have to wait for a charge,” says Saxton. “It just happens while you’re doing something else.”

High current chargers like “level 3” 480-volt DC chargers or Tesla’s free Superchargers for its Model S mean replenishing 80-percent usually in under 30 minutes.

Less Maintenance


Tesla "skateboard" chassis.

Tesla “skateboard” chassis.

The electric drivetrain of an EV is simpler. It requires no tune-ups, oil changes, spark plug replacement, and so on that internal combustion engines require.

Brakes also need not be replaced as often because regeneratve braking spares the friction pads from being used as hard.

The rest of the cars are however pure automotive, with HVAC, power accessories, infotainment, and all other hardware, so this aspect is about on par with conventional cars.

But anyone who’s maintained cars before knows what’s under the hood can be be a cost and time waster if something goes wrong. EVs simply have less there to go wrong.

Environmentally Friendly


Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

EVs emit nothing. Cars do not get much cleaner than that. There’s been a load of obfuscation out there about the source of electricity however, and it seems never a day goes by without a commenter writing something about “dirty coal” under articles about EVs.

SEE ALSO: Is Electricity A Clean Energy Source?

Fact: EVs are still cleaner than most cars, even if powered by a straight coal-powered grid, which is typically not the case. If it were the case, a Leaf powered by pure coal-generated electricity would equal the emissions of a 30 mpg car, and the U.S. average for gas cars is 26 mpg.

But most grids have multiple sources, and all are getting cleaner. As gas cars age however, their emissions tend to go up, so EVs are recommended by numerous science-citing advocates.

They and their electricity sources add up to a proposition that is clean and getting cleaner.

Neat To Drive

Fiat 500e.

Fiat 500e.

EVs benefit from lessons learned in conventional automotive engineering; they’re quiet and provide a drive experience unlike conventional cars.

They handle and brake and accelerate normally, for sure, but the sum total feels different with the quietness, just press-and-go acceleration, and maximum torque from a standstill.

The Model S is in a category of one in that it’s genuinely quick by any standard. All EVs are novel, and – while there are exceptions – many anecdotal accounts have drivers saying once they’ve gone EV, they do not want to go back.

Warm Fuzzy Feeling


Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive.

Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive. This newly launched car will be available nationwide early 2015.

Let’s be honest. Some people want to feel like they are part of the solution, and not part of the problem. EVs are kind of like voting. Some may feel disenfranchised, and say why bother, what’s the difference? Others say, it starts with me.

If you’re in the latter category, and want to do what you can to reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, an EV can’t be beat.

Cheap To Acquire


Chevy Spark EV.

Chevy Spark EV.

With the exception of the Tesla Model S, electric cars can be had at relatively reasonable prices as new vehicles go.

The average new car price is $32,000 and an entry EV can be a couple thousand or more below this. If your federal tax situation will permit, you can recoup the one-time $7,500 federal tax credit and states that add on to this can tally even more off the net price.

Bottom line is EVs may be had for below $20,000 or low 20s although the buyer will have to pay up front before recouping anything back.

Alternately, inexpensive lease deals can be available so shop and ask questions.

Accounts of people trading out a gas-consuming car and leasing a Leaf for the $200-300 they used to pay just at the pump abound.

SEE ALSO: Should You Buy or Lease a Plug-in Car?

These deals do involve varying degrees of money down, but they may net out to a monthly bill not a whole lot more than a family plan for a smartphone.

Leasing also eliminates concerns over reselling the car, or depreciation assuming you turn it back in at the end of the lease, and don’t buy it outright.

2015 Nissan_Leaf_1


Nov 13

Could this MIT spinoff’s new lithium-metal battery one-day enable a double EV-range Volt?


General Motors’ new LG Chem chemistry for the 2016 Volt is 20-percent more energy dense, but a team of scientists under an awarded professor say they have what one analyst says could make gas engined cars no longer necessary.
Or rather, they now want to commercialize it.


Massachusetts-based SolidEnergy Systems Corp. says it has developed a lithium-metal battery with around twice the energy density of the cells in Tesla Model S that needs no thermal management, thus cheaper.

The MIT spinoff says its battery cells demonstrated volumetric energy densities at high as 1,337 Wh/L when tested by another MIT spinoff, A123 Systems, which performed an independent third-party analysis.

By doing away with liquid coolant and metal hardware normally needed to control temperatures for the low-volatility chemistry, SolidEnergy says pack costs could be cut to $130 per kilowatt-hour compared to $300-$500 more commonly paid today.

What’s that catch? None yet, except that batteries take time to develop from lab stage to automotive-ready stage, and for those wanting 400-mile range EVs with $30,000 sticker prices, this chemistry is unfortunately in the lab stage.

A likely early use will be in portable devices aside from more involved automotive propulsion applications.

A likely early use will be in portable devices aside from more involved automotive propulsion applications.

Encouraging is the fact that SolidEnergy Systems is run by students of Donald Sadoway, a John F. Elliot Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT named to TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World list.

According to Design News, which reported the story, and interviewed Sadoway, an analyst and other knowledgeable commentators, Sadoway has also had one of his battery projects funded by Bill Gates, and he describes it as “extreme electrochemistry.”

The actual concept is not new however. It is a revival of chemistry shelved decades ago because it was deemed too much a fire hazard, but the company says it has solved former problems.

In the 1970s electrolytes were unstable in the presence of metal electrodes, so less energetic but more stable graphte was used for li-ion batteries in use today.

The company turned to a part solid, part liquid “biphasic electrolyte” which uses an ionic liquid and a polymer in the vicinity of the positive electrode and stability and thermal runaway are no longer a concern.

The biphasic electrolyte utilizes a solid polymer on one side, and a solid polymer and ionic liquid on the other side. (Image: SolidEnergy Systems Corp.)

The biphasic electrolyte utilizes a solid polymer on one side, and a solid polymer and ionic liquid on the other side. (Image: SolidEnergy Systems Corp.)

Instead, room temperature performance is improved, while providing a substantial increase in energy density – for example the new Chevy Volt’s battery is 20-percent improved, a more-typical increase level.

Sadoway told Design News that what’s needed next are people who can scale up from lab to production, but he believes they have the technology in place.

Specific performance numbers have not been published however, so while vouched for anecdotally by the distinguished professor and his team, experts are on hold before getting overly excited.

If all goes to plan, Thilo Koslowski, vice president and distinguished automotive analyst for Gartner Inc., told Design News this could be a “Holy Grail” relegating internal combustion engines to no-longer relevant status.

And while saying there is not enough published data to start celebrating, Elton Cairns, professor of chemical engineering at the University of California-Berkeley and developer of fuel cells for the Gemini space program in the 1960s said, “Conceptually, there’s nothing wrong with the idea.”

So, it’s wait and see, and could be just a matter of time.

Design News, Press Release


Nov 12

Tesla salutes Vets with camo-wrapped Model S on Veterans Day


Tesla has been described is being on a recent tear to hire veterans.

So, yesterday being Veterans Day, what do you suppose it rolled out …?


Tesla is an American company operating on American soil, manufacturing and exporting American cars built by Americans.

See a theme there? And in keeping with that, the company stylized a Model S in camouflaged colors with patriotic military insignias for Veterans Day, as it wages an ongoing campaign for the hearts and minds of U.S. vets – to hire them.

“We want to be known throughout the veteran community as a great place to work,” said Arnnon Geshuri, Tesla’s vice president of human resources, in an interview with the San Jose Mercury News. “Veterans are a great source of talent for Tesla, and we’re going after it.”

Veterans Day Project ‪#‎TeslaVets‬ wrap and design by SSCustoms.

Veterans Day Project ‪#‎TeslaVets‬ wrap and design by SS Customs.

The Model S was on site at the automaker’s Fremont, Calif. manufacturing facility to host more than 300 veterans and their families for a factory tour.

This tour was a special perk too, as not unlike Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, tours are not generally available – though maybe it’s not as secretive as the home to Ooompa Loompas, but probably close to being just as cool.

The photos you are looking at are from Tesla’s Facebook page, and it also tweeted a salute as well as posting info on the military network, Rally Point.

Photo by SSCustoms.

Photo by SS Customs.


Nov 11

World’s quickest EV and a quicker … bicycle?!


Happy Armistice Day! And here on a slow news day, we have hope – in the form of what gets young automotive engineering student stoked – breaking speed records and building cool EVs that can lead to them going to work at OEMs and innovating for passenger vehicles.

And then, you have other entertainment filed under mindless, or fascinating, you choose, coupled with the ever-present desire to defy death and stimulate the adrenaline. In this case, a bicycle which is otherwise an environmentally friendly conveyance had – not an electric motor – but a 4.5 kN rocket strapped to it. The student EV video shows an astonishing acceleration run, but the bike is off the charts quick, like being fired from a cannon. Not sure what good it is, but it does do away with the need to pedal, that’s for sure. …

Grimsel EV Sets Pending World-Record 0-62 mph in 1.785 seconds


The former 0-100 kph (0-62 mph) world record of 2.134 seconds was just unofficially beaten with a 1.785-second run by “Grimsel,” an all-wheel-drive, European student-built EV racer nearly twice as quick as the Tesla Model S P85D.

The point here is not that Tesla’s car is slow – it is not. Rather, one point could be the lightweight one-person racer is a leading indicator of what gets the blood flowing for aspiring engineers who could go on to design cars of tomorrow – evidenced also by a long list of corporate sponsors.

Grimsel’s builders – the 30-person team from ETH Zurich and Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts – are awaiting official confirmation by the Guinness Book of World Records for the quickest EV run of 1.785 seconds

The car they developed in under one-year’s time has a carbon-fiber chassis and also blazes around corners and brakes very hard.


Together, they’re pushing the edge of EV development, and Grimsel has won many categories at the Formula Student international competition last summer. The team has been at it for several years and has fielded several cars, learning and evolving as it goes.

The former record of 2.134 seconds was held by an electric car built by Delft University of Technology.


The videos showing the run for the car as light as a motorcycle but with 1,200 pounds-feet torque was over in less than 30 meters and almost look anticlimactic – sort of like a 0-25 mph run in distance, but much quicker, and all over too soon.

Grimsel is a 370-pound vehicle (168 kg) putting out 200 horsepower (147 kW) through four AMZ M4 wheel-hub motors. Each are rated at 50 horsepower (37 kW) and these yield that astronomical 1,200 pounds-feet.

The car’s monocoque chassis was developed by the team, and has torsional stiffness of 4,500 Nm (3,319 foot-pounds) and weighs just 40 pounds (18.3 kilograms).


AMZ Racing 

Rocket Bicycle Goes 0-333 KPH in 4.8 Seconds



When one thinks of a “bicycle,” normally cardiovascular health and zero emissions sustainability come to mind, but such is not the case with Francois Gissy’s rocket-powered two-wheeler.

On skinny tires and spoked wheels, a video shows his long-wheelbase 560-horsepower bike leaving a 650-horsepower Ferrari 430 Scuderia like it’s standing still in a drag race, and his insane creation just cracked 207 mph (333 kph).

This beats Gissy’s last record in November of 177 mph, and his latest acceleration run hitting 1.96 gs was accomplished with three small thrusters powered by concentrated hydrogen peroxide.

An interview with Gizmag revealed Gissy – described by the publication as a “madman” – is doing it for the adrenaline rush, and challenge, obviously not the environment.


The bike accelerates like it does not just because it has 4.5 kN (around 560 horsepower) of thrust, but because it’s comparatively featherweight and there’s no tire slippage or danger of a wheelie with the push from the rocket motors.

His next feat if he can find sponsors will be to create a bike called “Spine Crusher” to propel him to 249 mph (400 kph) in 2.0 seconds.



Nov 10

Leno: early EVs ‘killed’ because they were seen as women’s cars


GM may have been castigated once upon a recent time as the evil corporation that killed the electric car, but for their first go-around in history, Jay Leno says EVs were killed off because they were considered women’s cars.


This was revealed during a brief video where Leno is being interviewed while driving his 1909 Baker Electric around his modestly outfitted garage which houses his little car collection. (That any car aficionado would love to have!)


Not known to have any discriminatory views against women, and now a definite fan of the Chevy Volt, Jay appears to be speaking of facts. Women in the early 20th century did not constitute the buying power of today, did not drive to the degree that they now do, and EVs were “extremely popular” with them, he said.

Why? Women did not have to crank-start them, Leno observed, gas cars were dirty and smelly, and EVs were smooth, quiet, and avoided all the muss and fuss.

The marketing and the accessorizing of the electric car to appeal to women appears to have been a deal breaker for men, Leno observed.

And as we know, history took a turn toward the internal combustion engine – which also combined with inexpensive and potent gasoline made for powerful, fast, long-legged vehicles.

The electric starter came along on a 1912 Cadillac (does that mean GM helped kill the first electric car too?) and in time handled objection number one.

But now with EVs coming back, the paradigm is entirely different. Men and women buy them, the Volt has helped erase bad feelings from the latest forced EV die-off, and we’re pretty sure the new Volt will not come with a flower holder accessory, or a vanity mirror and face powder dispenser on the door like Leno’s Baker has.