Archive for the ‘General’ Category

 

Feb 26

Are FCVs a great idea? Here’s five reasons why they’re not

 

This only skims the surface believe it or not.

Is there any wonder why the public is just going with it, whether it be good or not so much?

Or, maybe FCVs really are a good idea …?

Mirai_centered
 

With a third major manufacturer due to begin offering subsidized fuel cell vehicles in California this year, the public’s imagination has been alternately captivated by FCV’s potential or in cases incensed over the alleged effrontery.

To say it’s been a controversial topic for some would be an understatement. But beyond Honda, Hyundai and soon Toyota, at least five more automakers are working toward a nationwide hydrogen future with the blessings of policymakers and regulators.

Further, many observers are on board with the message of these different kinds of electric vehicles that refuel in five minutes or less, go hundreds of miles on a tank, and emit nothing but water vapor.

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

Pushing against the tide, critics meanwhile allege conspiracy to keep “big oil” and other entrenched interests in business, questionable cost-benefit analyses, questionable well-to-wheel analyses and more.

Given that FCVs involve myriad interlaced scientific variables projected into an unknown future, many on the sidelines may also find their minds going numb if they try to wade into all the details and what-if questions.

So, perhaps not unlike other endeavors which have proponents and detractors at odds over claims of wholesomeness – or not so much – onward we go toward a “Hydrogen Society” as plug-in battery powered vehicles also race to get better.

Summed up, FCV selling points center on increasing infrastructure, economies of scale, cutting costs, and developing ways to capitalize upon the universe’s most widely available element.

“Mercedes-Benz is working hard to harness the power of the most abundant element in the known universe.” says the German automaker in just one example of glowing marketing speak. “In other words, zero-emission hydrogen power. 0.0 emissions that means it is invisible to the environment.”

Sounds great, right? But could FCVs be a Trojan Horse? That is, could their natural-gas derived, publicly funded hydrogen agenda be something embraced by many who focus on the benefits while undesirable ramifications remain undetected or overlooked?

SEE ALSO: Two Dozen Automakers Are Looking For the Hydrogen Highway
So go the accusations of critics while so many more see the glass at least half full and due to get fuller still – as renewably sourced hydrogen, say proponents, comes increasingly online.

To comprehensively tackle all issues would be more than one article could adequately cover. What’s more, unity on the subject even among those with a solid grasp of the science and myriad variables besides has thus far not been achieved.

So, just to provoke discussion and further inquiry, following are some points to ponder by various critics.

Infrastructure Dilemma

 
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In the U.S., a few publicly funded initiatives are underway to construct refueling stations in California and various states around the country whose legislators agree to zero emission mandates driving the fuel cell agenda.

With little more than a dozen stations in California, the infrastructure today is next to nothing, and what’s pending is being built at high costs which of course vary depending on size of the facility.

SEE ALSO: Northeast Plans for 10,800 Fuel Cell Vehicles In Next 10 Years
A Sept. 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) says costs are expected to drop, but summing a number of variables, it quantified costs at over a couple million dollars per station.

Hydrogen Station Cost Calculation (HSCC).results are reported through a station classification system that takes into account the degree of station market readiness, station capacity (in units of average kilograms [kg] dispensed per day), and volume of stations produced. Source: NREL.

Hydrogen Station Cost Calculation (HSCC).results are reported through a station classification system that takes into account the degree of station market readiness, station capacity (in units of average kilograms [kg] dispensed per day), and volume of stations produced. Source: NREL.

“These results suggest that significant cost reductions will be achieved by the 2014–2016 timeframe when typical new stations resemble EC stations, with a capacity of 450 kg/day and a capital cost of $2.8 million per station.”
 
In a June 2014 piece in the Motley Fool, investment writer Adam Gates cites infrastructural costs as one reason why “automotive fuel cells have no future.”

SEE ALSO: Toyota Announces East Coast ‘Hydrogen Highway’ for ‘Mirai” FCV
“The cost of building a hydrogen infrastructure to replace petroleum and natural gas would be an estimated $200 trillion,” wrote Gates. “Compare this to the cost of a smart electric grid, $338 billion to $476 billion, which would impart $1.4 trillion to $2 trillion in economic benefits.”

Other estimates are out there, but given hydrogen cars are wedded to the refueling station like a gas or diesel car would be, the build out, say critics, will be a costly one next to an already existing electrical grid for plug-in battery powered vehicles.

Questions Surrounding Hydrogen

 
Honda_FCV_Concept-668
 
Unlike batteries which store electrical energy from an external charge, fuel cells are not an energy source. Instead, fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity.

Reliance on hydrogen gas puts FCVs on similar footing with internal combustion vehicles but with extra complications.

“Fuel cells solve NONE of the current problems of our fossil based system and introduce additional issues,” says Vermont-based Daniel Hoviss, Putney Town Energy coordinator and contributing author for Green Energy Times in a brief on why “fuel cells are a bad idea.”

Hydrogen, he observes, must somehow be extracted and offers questionable value. Despite it being abundant, the light, small hydrogen molecule does not readily clump together in nature like, say, oil. It takes lots of energy to get this means of making energy.

Further, the energy itself could be used for electric cars, and the natural gas often used is itself a potential fuel.

Beyond the questionable energy intensive nature of acquiring large volumes of hydrogen, he says, are costly and energy intensive steps in handling and transporting the gas.

“Fuel for the fuel cells needs to be transported usually by tanker or truck – this uses fossil fuel,” says Hoviss. “It is inefficient when compared to the existing electric grid. Electric distribution will only get better as smart grid and low loss super conductors are installed on the grid.”

Further storage is a major issue even before it’s pumped with special air-tight pumps into cars at 10,000 psi, says Hoviss.

“Hydrogen fuel distribution systems need to remain under pressure, and never leak. Remember hydrogen is explosive. They will need to pump the hydrogen into large underground insulated tanks or above ground insulated storage containers. Those cost big bucks,” he says. “And then hydrogen is pumped again (never leaking) into personal automobiles and trucks, this pumping needs to be under high pressure, to store enough fuel on board to allow reasonable travel distance.”

Beyond this, the ultra-high pressure hydrogen must be kept super cold at around -160 degrees and Hoviss contends this takes a lot of energy to maintain these temperatures.

“At every step in the manufacture and distribution and storage and consumption of fuel for fuel cell transportation, there are energy losses, brought about by the conversion or transportation of this fuel,” observes Hoviss. “When you look at the electric grid as a potential fuel source, powered in part by renewable energy – and the inherent efficiencies of battery electric vehicles, it is a completely different game.”

Hydrogen’s Environmental Benefits?

 
air_liquide
 
Just because there is zero tailpipe emissions from a fuel cell vehicle does not mean hydrogen does not give off CO2.

While renewably sourced hydrogen reduces the concern, the prevalent way to get the gas is by steam methane reformation which releases CO2 upstream in the energy cycle.

Today an estimated 95 percent of hydrogen is reformed from natural gas, with which America is now “awash” due to hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling – but, say proponents, this is only temporary.

Critics on the other hand question the notion that natural gas is a short term “bridge” toward economically viable renewable hydrogen production and meanwhile promotion for the green factor for fuel cell vehicles goes forth.

“The well-to-wheels reports show that hydrogen made from natural gas and used in a fuel cell vehicle reduces greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 55-65 percent compared to gasoline used in a conventional vehicle, and by about 40 percent compared to gasoline in a hybrid engine,” says the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

Automakers including Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Mercedes all offer positive analyses in support of their products, but Ford, observes writer Julian Cox, does disclose FCVs at present offer no benefit over a typical gasoline car.

“[W]hen FCVs are run on hydrogen reformed from natural gas using this process, they do not provide significant environmental benefits on a well-to-wheels basis (due to GHG emissions from the natural gas reformation process),” says Ford in a footnote.

A July 2012 NREL report furthermore disproves the claim above by California Fuel Cell Partnership, finding a Hyundai Tucson using natural-gas sourced hydrogen results in dramatically more emissions than a Toyota Prius Liftback.

“In fact the worst environmental performance of any low performance vehicle under 200 horsepower discussed [by NREL's report] was and is the average official Fuel Cell Vehicle NREL test subject at 356g CO2e/mile,” observes Cox. “This is a fact that cannot have escaped either Mercedes (Daimler) and Hyundai-Kia who were both NREL test subjects alongside Ford and GM, BP, Shell and Chevron.”

The economically inescapable reason why hydrogen is of no benefit in tackling GHG emissions is that hydrogen produced by the most efficient commercial route emits a minimum of 14.34Kg CO2e versus 11.13Kg CO2e for a U.S. gallon of gasoline (of which 13.2Kg is actual CO2 gas in the case of Hydrogen). This best case is not even the typical case owing to difficulties in transporting hydrogen in bulk. Hence the on-site (distributed) production from natural gas at fueling stations that suffers lowered efficiencies of scale.

Proponents are quick to observe renewably sourced hydrogen changes the equation but Cox contends natural gas is expedient and less expensive among sources.

“Natural gas is a cheap and abundant resource that comes out of the ground with energy potential for self-disassembly into hydrogen and CO2,” says Cox. “Steam methane reforming is economically unassailable as a method of hydrogen production by clean but more complex methods.”

In short, Cox expresses disbelief that renewables will replace natural gas as promised.

“The least cost pathway per mile for FCVs is so pronounced in favor of natural gas versus electricity from any source as to guarantee steam reforming trumps electrolysis, without CO2 sequestering and with no reason for the natural gas industry to fear cost per mile competition from renewables,” says Cox. “Accordingly should FCVs be adopted, natural gas will prevail economically long into the future, and long after the date by which EVs could be operated economically on 100-percent clean renewables on a large scale to the exclusion of fossil fuels.”

Of course FCV proponents could not agree less with this conclusion of no incentive to switch away from natural gas, and California does already mandate 33 percent renewably sourced hydrogen must be in its mix.

In return, Cox alleges automakers and policymakers willfully obfuscate and cherry pick data from outdated reports to green wash positive scenarios to support their own motives.

Plug-In Electric Cars Are Getting Better

 
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Less controversial is the fact battery electric cars such as by Tesla, Renault-Nissan, soon Chevrolet, and many other automakers are getting better.

By 2017 these makers and possibly more promise EVs in the mid $30,000 price category before incentives with 200 miles or more range. A 300-mile Toyota Mirai FCV is expected to sell for $57,500 before available incentives.

It’s believed this FCV is heavily underwritten by its maker and not profitable at this price, and deep-pocketed Toyota is floating the enterprise following markets where subsidies can help offset its sacrificial expense.

SEE ALSO: Toyota Defends Its Plans For Fuel Cells
By contrast the next wave of EVs’ batteries are already production ready or nearly so, and battery labs around the world are also working on what advocates believe will be far-more energy dense batteries to solve the range issue touted for FCVs. Quicker charging, and more charging infrastructure is also on its way, and owners are not tethered to a refueling station.

One place FC technology does make sense is with larger vehicles.

One place FC technology does make sense is with larger vehicles.

The gas gallon equivalent price for hydrogen may wind up being about equal to a tank of gas, on the other hand, whereas the electricity for an EV could be a fraction of that, and more conveniently accessed.

Further, plug-in cars have a head start, with sales accelerating and the first million plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars are expected to have been sold globally before the end of this year.

And, say advocates, plug-in electrified vehicles are therefore developing fans.

“I think the enthusiasm for PEVs that we see among owners, expressed via JD Powers and Consumer Reports, is that they are more fun to drive, more convenient to fuel, and less expensive to operate,” says Tom Saxton, chief science offcicer for Plug In America. “I don’t think FCV have any of those going for them. From the perspective of direct consumer benefits, they are just a more expensive gas car with less environmental benefits than a PEV.”

Complementary or Competitive?

 
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Proponents say FCVs can happily develop alongside plug-in vehicles, the “all of the above” approach has room for this, and they express dismay over those who look at it as an “either/or” proposition between FCVs and plug-ins.

From a dispassionate perspective, comparisons to Betamax and VHS have been drawn, and phrases such as “may the best technology win” have been uttered.

That’s all well and good, say plug-in advocates, but if evidence supports PEVs and not as much for FCVs, why split the effort? It’s been observed plug-in cars and fuel cell vehicles both compete for finite public funding. Further, FCVs are coming at a still-early time for plug-ins, and no sooner have PEVs gotten out of the starting gate, than this alternate technology threatens to challenge momentum.

Both nascent technologies offer electric, zero-emission driving but dividing the attention on the flip side does potentially dilute the effort for either one, it’s been said. So while FCV proponents say it need not be a zero-sum game, by default, they do in ways compete for similar mind share and dollars.

“Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles are without equal when it comes to misdirection and as a tool for extracting public funds from officials only too ready to be blind-sided by pseudo-science and the lobbying of vested interests in a nation struggling to triage the cost of foreign oil and consumer environmental concerns while newly awash with abundant cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing of shales,” says Cox without mincing words.

If it’s true plug-ins do have a better chance of achieving the same goal, and offer technologically superior potential, goes the argument, why waste time and money on FCVs especially when PEVs still need all the help they can get, say supporters?

One clear answer is this contention is not believed by FCV proponents with their own counterpoints. The state of California which arguably does more than the federal government for pushing zero emissions vehicles offers double the ZEV credits for FCVs next to PEVs.

Beyond this, around the world the case for FCVs is being made, but it still irks people like Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

“Fuel cell is so bull#$%^, it’s a load of rubbish. The only reason they do fuel cell is because … they don’t really believe it, it’s something that they can … it is like a marketing thing,” said Musk, “but the reality is that if you took a fuel cell vehicle and you take the best case for a fuel cell vehicle in terms of the mass and volume required to go a particular range as well as the cost of the fuel cell system, and then you know, if you took the best case of that, it does not even equal the current state of the art of lithium ion batteries and so there is no way for it to become a workable technology.”

Of course Musk does stand to profit from EVs, others have observed. And then again, automakers stand to profit from FCVs too. And while we’re at it, Betamax might have been a better technology in some peoples’ eyes than VHS, so did the best technology win, or is life not that simple?

 

Feb 25

Is the next EV benchmark the 200-mile, 30-something price range?

 

2017_Bolt_glass

Today electric cars priced around the $30,000-something level offer range of under 100 miles, but in less than two years will ranges double for essentially the same price?

More than a rhetorical question, the handwriting is on the wall that this is the case. The benchmark that at least three automakers are aiming for is “200” or more miles by around 2017 and the quoted price estimate is the “mid 30s.”

These automakers are Nissan, Chevrolet, Tesla, and as they bring their next-generation products to market, will it become a case of catch up or die for everyone else?

Tesla

We've seen lots of the Model S but the Model 3 is the Tesla many more are looking for.

We’ve seen lots of the Model S but the Model 3 is the Tesla many more are looking for.

The Model 3 is expected to cost from the mid-30s and travel 200 miles on a charge. It’s been written about so much you’d think it existed in more than virtual reality, but to date no one in the public has set eyes on a pre-production prototype. But the faith is more than the blind variety, and proof that it’s coming includes Tesla’s ongoing construction of its Gigafactory to provide batteries for the promised “volume” car.

Tesla eschews gasoline vehicles, even plug-in hybrids, and to make its vision come true to change the way people travel, the Model 3 is needed as a – forgive the cliché – game changer. Actually, the game is changing at any rate.

The Gigafactory construction project in Nevada is apparently ahead of schedule.

The Gigafactory construction project in Nevada is apparently ahead of schedule.

Meanwhile, Tesla has served as a goad to General Motors – first in 2006 to build the Volt and now the Bolt. In 2013 former GM CEO Dan Akerson said GM would not be left behind as he tasked a watch team to track the upstart. Tesla has been also called a “disruptive” company and in this case, by building better solutions now, and promising more soon, it is coaxing others to follow.

Whatever the reality turns out to be for Model 3’s “200” miles for mid-30s will remain to be seen. It may be that Tesla hits this for a base, but different trim levels may entice people up-market. If so, this would not be without precedent as the Model S was originally billed as starting at $57,400 and factoring a $7,500 credit it would have been just under $50,000 to start.

But that was nixed when Tesla said only 4 percent of pre-orders were for that 40-kwh base Model S, and so much for the once-touted “$50,000” Tesla Model S. Instead it’s $21,000 over that and can rise to 2.8 times this, or around $140,000.

But Model 3 – which could be a smaller sedan positioned against an internal-combustion BMW 3 or 4 series – is being held out with hope. If Tesla can keep true to its word, and meet its goal of offering a mass-appeal EV, it can continue to grow its lead and cascade benefits all around.

General Motors

The Bolt, designed in Australia with in-floor battery looks a lot like BMW’s i3 – itself rated 81 miles range and today priced around $43,000 and up.

The Bolt, designed in Australia with in-floor battery looks a lot like BMW’s i3 – itself rated 81 miles range and today priced around $43,000 and up.

The Chevrolet Bolt EV is confirmed for production if not date specified and this vehicle matches Tesla’s primary specs if little else. More akin to a BMW i3, the Bolt also promises range of 200 miles – actually “over” that, says CEO Mary Barra, and with a price in the mid 30s before subsidies netting to around the $30,000 point.

Some reports these days are saying GM is now beating Tesla to the punch and it may be. All that’s officially known is the reported October 2016 production startup at GM’s Orion Michigan plant is a rumor not confirmed by GM. Assuming it is true, GM is shooting for the 2017 model year like Tesla has been believed to be when its Gigafactory is expected to be spooling up capacity.

Assuming things go to plan, the Bolt and Model 3 will mean at least two EVs selling for the same level as a nicely equipped 84-mle range Nissan Leaf does today – which of course Nissan can’t very well sit by and let happen now, can it?

Nissan

Nissan has said it will soon take the issue of range away, and be competitive with gasoline cars – for those to whom it makes a difference. Early adopters are fine with the 84-mile EPA rating, and have shown it does work for them. Others are asking for more.

Nissan has said it will soon take the issue of range away, and be competitive with gasoline cars – for those to whom it makes a difference. Some early adopters are fine with the 84-mile EPA rating, and have shown it does work for them. Others are asking for more.

Several reports have it that Nissan has a new battery chemistry to give the Leaf 200 miles range, more or less.

SEE ALSO: CEO Ghosn: Nissan Has Affordable 250-Mile Range EV Battery

During a December Japanese Nikkei TV broadcast, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn told a reporter the next Leaf’s range could exceed 250 but bear in mind miles appear to be shorter in Japan, or so one would surmise given the Japanese test cycle rates a Leaf at 142 miles range.

In the U.S. in Detroit last month however, the company head again said 200-plus is in the offing, and he said this in response to the Chevy Bolt on display that same day.

In 2013 Nissan opened its 475,000 square-foot facility is adjacent to its newly online Leaf-assembly operation in Tennessee. Nissan estimated it would have around $1.7 billion spent on this. It has significant room for more production.

In 2013 Nissan opened its 475,000 square-foot battery production facility adjacent to its Leaf-assembly operation in Tennessee. Nissan estimated total expenditures on this plant would eventually total $1.7 billion. It can be scaled up to 200,000 complete Leaf battery pack assemblies annually.

“We want to be competitive,” Ghosn said at a news conference of a “high output” version of the Leaf. “It may have even more range.”

Worldwide, Nissan has sold over 160,000 Leafs to date. The automaker does have one massive battery plant in Smyrna, Tenn. that was working at just 5-percent capacity when opened in 2013.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance has invested many billions in electrification and Ghosn’s ego and place in the history books are on the line to press the agenda he’s started with the company’s push toward plugging in.

Nissan will be there in 2017 too, so now that’s three at the new 200/35 benchmark.

Everyone Else

BMW is also at work on plug-in hybrids, but its carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic-intensive i3, which has met with solid buyer response since launch last year will need to be revised to maintain the pace.

BMW i3.

BMW i3.

The proud German automaker is not always one to spill the beans, and we’ve seen nothing definitive on a second-generation i3 or other BMW EVs pending in the 200-mile range at a closer to mainstream price level.

And on that note, the i3 is already priced a bit over the $35,000 benchmark, but not overly much and incentives can get it to within a stone’s throw.

As for other electric cars, several of which are mere “compliance cars” now, the specifics of their next move is more up in the air, but automakers can also read the handwriting on the wall of the pending approximate 200/35 benchmark.

EVs

Automakers now committed to the EV space include Fiat with its 87-mile 500E, priced around $33,000, the 83-mile Volkswagen e-Golf at around $36,000, the $27,000, 82-mile Chevy Spark EV, the 76-mile Ford Focus Electric just under $30,000, 87-mile Mercedes-Benz B-Clas Electric around $41,450, and 92-mile Kia Soul EV at around $34,000.

If you want an example of what happens to an EV’s sales when it’s perceived uncompetitive, look at the Mitsubishi i-MiEV. It’s the pioneer of today’s basic EVs having been converted from a gasoline-powered Japanese Kei car in 2009.

Despite being sold in 50 states, otherwise ailing Mitsubishi delivered just three units in January 2015, and for all of 2014 it sold 196 – about what Tesla sells every four days of its Model S.

The i-MiEV probably deserves better treatment, but this is what you have even though it starts at just $22,995 before subsidies and nets to $15,495 after a $7,500 credit.

Will today’s first-gen cars soon be facing a Mitsubishi moment if they don’t grow quickly and keep up?

The i-MiEV is not a bad car. It was the pioneer ahead of them all. California buyers taking advantage of federal and state subsidies may get it for net $12,995.

The i-MiEV is not a bad car. It was the pioneer ahead of them all. Refreshed and price-slashed to $22,995 for 2014, California buyers taking advantage of federal and state subsidies may get it for net $12,995.

Another wildcard is the potential but unconfirmed entry of Apple into the arena in years following to further shake things up.

All this next-gen progress was supposed to happen, and it appears to be doing just that. The next few years could be interesting times as fence sitters decide to jump in – and as sooner or later a next price-for-performance leap forward could be introduced.

GM CEO Mary Barra invoked the term “game changer” for the Bolt, and it appears not without justification.

There’s only so much one can do to predict the details of the “game,” but with the promise of the next step upwards by three automakers and counting, the EV market is due to change soon, and who knows how quickly it might accelerate from here?

 

Feb 24

Will Apple be changing the automotive world by 2020?

 

By Sarah Shelton

apple-car

One of the most talked about companies in the auto industry this past week hasn’t been a carmaker at all, but a tech giant.

Reports from numerous sources are talking about Apple Inc. and its plans to diversify into the automotive space.

But while earlier accounts hinted at a gradual move to cars, new reports suggest that Apple is already on its way to developing an electric vehicle, possibly also compatible with autonomous technologies.

Now, it looks as though the software company wants the car ready for production in as soon as the next five years.

Work Now Underway?

A number of accounts say Apple plans to launch by 2020. Most reports are off the record, however, making it difficult to distinguish industry secrets from false conjecture.

According to Bloomberg News, one such report this week said about 200 Apple employees are working on technology such as robotics and batteries for the project. Other stories pairing Apple with auto tech include a new lawsuit claiming that Apple has been poaching engineers from battery manufacturers. In Hawaii, photos of vans registered to Apple – such as were previously seen in San Francisco –  have been seen driving around with mysterious camera rigs mounted to the roof. Is this autonomous tech being discretely worked upon?

SEE ALSO: A123 Sues Apple For Aggressive Poaching Of Top Battery Engineers

Funding is certainly available for research and development of such a large project: Apple reported last quarter that it has $178 billion in cash, and it appears that CEO Tim Cook is looking for ways to redirect the money instead of returning it to shareholders.

“Apple would have some advantages as a new entrant to the auto industry,” wrote Ben Reitzes and Brian Johnson ‒ two analysts with Barclays ‒ in a letter to investors. Among the perks is the potential to connect multiple devices, such as tablets and phones, to the vehicle.

“Finally, Apple’s brand – arguably the most important advantage – is a big attraction for the next generation of car customers.”

But if Apple is working on an EV, the endeavor will come with its share of hazards, said Jeff Green, the Detroit Bureau Chief for Bloomberg News.

“There are a lot of risks to this. I mean, the amount of time that Apple is going to take to bring a car is really short,” said Green.

“And Toyota and Honda and other automakers have gotten in trouble when they started to shorten their development times and had to lengthen them out a little bit. That’s where some of these recalls we’ve been dealing with in the last few years came from when they got a little sloppy and took too little time to work out the kinks.

“So there’s always risk when you’re making a car. It’s not likely your iPhone’s going to kill you. But cars, you know, are a lot more dangerous.”

Apple vs Tesla, or Apple + Tesla?

This Tesla store couldn't be any closer to an Apple store if it tried.

This Tesla store couldn’t be any closer to an Apple store if it tried.

When talking about Apple and its auto project, one name frequently surfaces: Tesla.

Analysts are split on whether the companies will become EV competitors, or if the two will merge.

Jason Calacanis, investor and entrepreneur, said he thinks a partnership will form in the next 18 months, projecting that Apple will buy Tesla for $75 billion. But Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, thinks it’s more likely that the two will stay separate.

“If Apple was going to make a car, it would be 10 times easier to just buy Tesla. But Apple doesn’t want a single branded experience, it wants Apple in many, many cars,” said Bajarin, listing an iPhone-like dashboard as a more probable venture for the tech company.

Interestingly, in a recent webcast to discuss Tesla’s 2014 financial report, Tesla CEO Elon Musk named Apple as benchmark for success. He projected that by 2025, Tesla will be worth $700 billion.

“Our market cap would be basically the same as Apple’s is today,” said Musk.

Amongst this flurry of reports and rumors, Apple has remained silent on its intentions. Though it seems highly likely that the company is preparing to cross into the auto market, Apple’s actual course is still a mystery … for now.

Another Twist in the Plot

Addendum by Jeff Cobb –

Yesterday, quoting the likes of Bob Lutz, Tony Posawatz, Henrik Fisker, and more, Automotive News connected dots as it sees them to suggest even if Apple builds an EV, there’s little chance it will entangle itself in the comparatively messy and difficult car business.

That analysis says Apple’s end goal is to build its own EV to leverage influence to change the auto business, like Google has begun to already, and to get deep-level experience in car building. Why? So it can become the ultimate embedded technology as a third-party supplier.

Apple_ios_InMyCar-668

CEO Tim Cook was quoted saying Apple wants to be an even bigger part of your world.

“We’ve taken iOS and we’ve extended it into your car, your home, into your health,” said Cook alluding to iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. “All of these are really critical parts of your life, and none of us want to have different platforms in different parts of our lives. We want one seamless kind of life. I think that’s huge for our future.”

SEE: Is Apple Building An EV It Has No Intention To Produce?

Its CarPlay is just an add-on by comparison to how intensively it might want to get involved in the business, and it won’t be stuck with 3-5 year product life cycles, said Steve Wilhite, former vice president of Apple’s global marketing from 1999 to 2000 and with marketing experience with Volkswagen, Nissan and Hyundai.

“Apple would never lock themselves into three-to-five year product life cycles,” said Wilhite. “Their technology and imagination are just too fertile to do that. They’d have to find the right automotive leader to partner with them and fundamentally change their development model. And I don’t know who that would be.”

So forget acquiring Tesla, and forget an iCar. Apple has stacked up money piles by avoiding expensive mistakes, and AN and others mentioned think it will revolutionize the car, but not as others are guessing.

 

Feb 23

The Bolt could be renamed

 

Some of you have said you like the name “Bolt,” others not so much. According to Chevrolet, they’re mulling it over.

What do you think? …

Bolt_Concept_NAIAS

 

The name “Bolt” evokes imagery of electricity, but General Motors is mulling whether the name rhyming with Volt should otherwise be changed to something else.

According to Alan Batey, president of GM North America, Chevrolet’s purpose-built electric car with 200-miles estimated range expected to be launched by 2017 for mid-$30,000s before subsidies might need to be re-identified.

“Some people think it’s confusing,” said Batey. “People are having some fun with it. It is generating awareness, which is good. It’s so conversational.”

This Batey said to the Detroit Free Press at the Chicago Auto Show last week, and added it’s all still up in the air.

“We’re still in the decision phase,” Batey said. “It could go either way.”

Batey said they have “a little bit more time” to make up their minds.

What would be a better name if not Bolt?

Detroit Free Press

 

Feb 20

Gen 2 Volt Transmission Operating Modes Explained

 

By Jeff N, Patrick Groeneveld and George Bower

Preface

This article is based on a GM patent US 8,602,938, issued in December 2013, and presentations by GM at an SAE vehicle electrification conference on February 11, 2015 in Los Angeles. The presentations by GM verify that the patent described here is indeed used as the basis for the next generation “Voltec” transmission. This may be the first article to describe the design of the new transmission in detail.

Introduction
 

Slide1

The new 2nd generation Volt transmission is truly a work of art. It increases vehicle acceleration and efficiency while lowering cost, weight and size. The new Voltec system retains the EREV (Extended Range Electric Vehicle) design philosophy in which it operates as an electric vehicle without starting the gasoline range extender due to speed or acceleration as long as usable energy remain in the battery pack. How is this done and how does this new transmission operate?

The new transmission now has an integrated inverter eliminating heavy current conducting cables and the separate inverter assembly that was used in the original design. While the transmission offers increased efficiency and more flexible operating modes it does this without significantly increasing the parts count. The new transmission has the same number of clutches as the original. Extended range operation now has 3 modes and EV operation has 2 modes where the original transmission had 2 extended range modes and 2 EV modes.

The use of so-called rare earth metals (often imported from China) has been eliminated in the smaller motor (48 kW) and reduced by 40% in the bigger motor (87 kW). In EV driving, GM can now additively link the 2 motors together so the total power is actually higher than the original Volt which allows the 2016 Volt to accelerate from 0-30 mph in a very aggressive 2.6 seconds. The Tesla Model S60 reportedly does 0-30 mph in 2.5 seconds. Each motor contributes using different gear ratios to optimize its unique power and torque characteristics. The overall weight of the transmission system has been reduced by 100 pounds or 45 kg (27%).

GM’s new linked motor configuration provides for a wider torque band which is referred to as “torque spread” by GM engineer Tim Grewe in the video at minutes 1:50.

The new transmission has 5 operating modes which are shown in figure 2.

Slide2
5 operating modes listed
 
Detailed Description of Operating Modes
 

An overview of the new transmission is shown below. It shows 2 planetary gear sets where the original design used only 1. There are 3 clutches which are used to optimally reconfigure the power flow through the transmission at differ vehicle speeds and torque requirements (accelerator pedal position).

A simple planetary gear set consists of 3 geared components meshed together which have a fixed ratio to one another. A so-called Sun gear is in the middle and planetary gears connected to a common carrier plate rotate around it while also meshing with an outer ring with inward facing gear teeth.

Slide2

In the original Voltec transmission, the large motor (111 kW) was connected to the Sun gear, the gasoline range extender and smaller motor (55 kW) was connected to the ring gear, and the planetary carrier was connected to the output leading to the wheels.

The illustration below shows the new Voltec transmission in which the engine is connected to the ring of the first planetary gear set (PG1) and the smaller motor is connected to the Sun gear. The larger motor is connected to the Sun gear of the second planetary gear set (PG2). The two planetary gear sets are connected to each other and to the output to the wheels by the planetary carriers of each gear set. There are 3 clutches which are used to change the flow of power through the transmission.

When Clutch 1 is closed it mechanically links the PG1 Sun gear and its smaller motor to the ring gear of PG2. When clutch 2 is closed it mechanically links the ring gear of PG2 to the outer transmission case — it brakes or locks up the ring gear so it cannot move. The OWC or One-Way Clutch is a special clutch design which only allows rotation in one direction. The illustration below shows the approximate physical layout of these components in a cutaway image of the new Voltec transmission.

Slide3New 2016 Voltec
 
EV Operating Modes Description

The new transmission does most of its EV driving using the larger motor known as MGB, just like the original design. This motor is slightly smaller (87 kW vs 111 kW) than the original Voltec MGB but uses 40% less so-called rare earth metals. These metals allow increased torque density and help protect the permanent magnets in the motor from conditions such as high temperatures which would lead them to being demagnetized. The new MGB uses better manufacturing techniques which concentrates these reduced rare earth metals at the edges of the magnets segments where demagnetization is a concern.

Slide4
CD1: One Motor EV Mode

The new two-motor mode used for high torque output is shown next. This is a very simple operating mode to understand. Power is delivered straight to the wheels. However, as mentioned, each motor goes thru a different gear ratio resulting in a wider torque band. Note that in this mode the ring gears of the planetary gear sets are locked so the PG set is merely acting as a gear reduction.

Slide5
Two Motor EV Mode
 
Extended Range Operating Modes Description

Extended range, when the gas engine starts up, now has 3 modes instead of 2 in the original Voltec design. The new operating modes increase efficiency, especially in city driving. In 2 of the modes the motors can be dynamically “mixed” with the gas engine output in an eCVT or electrically continuously variable transmission mode. The 2 Modes where “mixing” is used are Low Extended Range and High Extended Range.

Low extended range is technically an “input split” style of eCVT. In this mode the large motor MGB is driving the vehicle through PG 2 to the wheels with the PG 2 ring gear locked together with the mechanical power from the gasoline engine on PG 1 and the electrical power generated by MGA on PG 1. By adjusting the power generated by and used by the two motors the engineers can put the ICE at its most efficient operating point.

This type of power splitting between the gas engine, the battery, and two electric motors was first developed by TRW around 1970 and its modern implementation was patented by GM in 1995 and by Toyota in 1997. It is used as the only mode in the Toyota and Ford hybrid transmissions and at lower city speeds and high torque conditions in the GM 2-mode hybrids. It replaces the less efficient “pure” series mode in the original Voltec transmission which was used at speeds under 35-40 mph and under high torque requirements.
Low Extended Range is shown below.

Slide6
CS1: Low Extended Range Mode
 
Fixed Ratio Extended Range mode is shown below. It can be used at moderate speeds and at moderate torque demand and allows the engine to directly drive the wheels with minimal electrical conversion losses.

Slide7
CS2: Fixed Ratio Extended Range
 
High extended range mode is shown below. In this mode neither motor is directly tied to engine speed or vehicle speed. This is technically known as a compound split mode and is similar but not identical to the output split mode of the original Voltec transmission where there was a more efficient mechanical path between the gas engine and the wheels at speeds over 35-40 mph with no more than light acceleration (torque demand).

Slide8
CS3: High Extended Range Mode
 
Conclusion

The new transmission is lighter and lower cost. Lower cost is achieved by using a smaller traction motor with fewer rare earth materials along with using an integrated inverter. Linking the 2 motors provides more torque and better acceleration than the first generation Voltec design. We may see this new transmission, or slightly modified variants of it, in other GM plugin and non-plugin hybrids in the future. It is hard to argue that this new transmission is anything other than a home run for GM.
More complete details will be released in a full GM technical paper to be published in April in conjunction with the SAE World Congress.

Hat tip to BillR for his contribution.

 

Feb 19

New Volt has lots of new details, and some were from gen-one owner input

 

Want to know more about the 2016 Volt – and see what GM is thinking with new details?

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Darin Geese, Volt product manager, walks around the Volt at its reveal last month in Detroit doing just that.

Precisely when the new Volt will start deliveries has not been stated – in fact neither has the price! – but sometime this summer appears to be the estimate on timing.


 

GM is at this point trying to create human interest stories, such as with a press release posted yesterday. It adds detail to what’s been widely reported that owners’ input went into the new design.

“The Volt represented a completely new classification of electric vehicles, and we were unsure of how people would react or how this vehicle would fit in their daily lives,” said Gesse. “So we began asking simple questions like how and when the owners plugged in their Volt, which directly impacted the development of the next generation.