Archive for the ‘General’ Category

 

Nov 04

What Makes More Sense – Chevy Volt or Bolt?

 

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Want to drive tailpipe emission free in an electric vehicle? Chevrolet has the car for you – the Volt. Or, rather, the Bolt. OK, either one could work, but which is a better way to go?

Aside from the names that are confusingly similar even for well-spoken Americans, and which can give speakers of other languages fits, both cars are capable tools intended for a similar job in life.

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To General Motors’ credit, these two gems adorning its alternative energy portfolio arguably represent the pinnacle of their respective segments.

The extended-range Volt is technically classified as a plug-in hybrid, and its 53-mile e-range means it offers more all-important electric mobility per charge than any other full-range plug-in hybrid sold.

Last year the Volt became the first plug-in car to receive a full redesign. It’s the cumulative best-selling in the U.S. and one of the most awarded cars out there.

Last year the Volt became the first plug-in car to receive a full redesign. It’s the cumulative best-selling in the U.S. and one of the most awarded cars out there.

Alternatively, the just-being-introduced Bolt blows away every other EV in its price class with a 60-kWh battery and 238 miles range.

But these are otherwise two different ways to achieve a similar task. Does Chevrolet have a dilemma on its hands, or a complementary pair?

It’s too soon to tell, but in the meantime let’s do an overview of attributes to help determine what makes more sense to you.

Powertrain

Make no mistake, these cars’ advanced powertrains including thermally managed batteries and electric motors are what set them apart from comparably styled conventional cars, and why they cost before subsidies from the mid 30s to mid 40s.

A number of components were built by Korea’s LG, including battery cells, motors, infotainment screen, and more.

A number of components were built by Korea’s LG, including battery cells, motors, infotainment screen, and more.

The 2011 Volt was introduced as a bridge technology to compensate for earlier generation EVs’ shortcomings, and built on the premise that 40 miles was enough for three-quarters of all drivers’ daily needs. The 2016/17 generation-two Volt now has 53 miles range meaning it can work like a pure EV for even more people day to day.

Backing it up is a 1.5-liter aluminum Ecotec engine for zero “range anxiety” because gas stations are plentiful and fast filling. When the juice runs out, the engine kicks on seamlessly and the car morphs to a 42 mpg hybrid.

By contrast, the 238-mile Bolt is all-electric, with enough miles for nearly anyone’s daily needs, and more than double that of the still-first-generation Nissan Leaf. This over-200 mile range is unprecedented at its sub-$40,000 price. It’s so remarkable, in fact, Motor Trend was compelled to compare the small Chevy to a large $72,000 as-equipped 60-kWh Tesla Model S as the next-nearest competitor range-wise until the Model 3 gets here next year.

But the Bolt can still run out of juice in a world where car charging is less plentiful and its “50 kW” charge rate is slower than a Tesla’s.

GM kept updated the LG Chem-based battery assembly for 2016 while keeping the formula of the 35-40-mile range generation one basically intact.

GM kept updated the LG Chem-based battery assembly for 2016 while keeping the formula of the 35-40-mile range generation one basically intact.

The charging infrastructure picture is improving, but recharging from zero still takes 9 hours on 240-volt equipment, or if you know where a level 3 CCS charger is, GM says 90 miles range can be restored in 30 minutes or 160 miles in one hour at today’s charging rates. So, for longer trips, it is less convenient for sure.

Are you OK with that? Can you work around it? If not, the 53-mile Volt could let you drive what is essentially a pure EV day to day that lets you keep going until you find time and place to recharge. This takes overnight on 120-volt house current, or around 4.5 hours at 240 volts.

Performance

Both the Volt and Bolt are positioned as “fun to drive,” don’t you know? That descriptor has been nearly obligatory PR-speak by EV advocates to help stand-offish and uninitiated folk become interested, but it is relatively true.

Though they can’t pull extreme gravity around bends, and acceleration is shy of a Tesla Model S, the plug-in Chevys’ torque from 0 rpm – AKA “instant torque” – make them feel quicker than they are, and they handle respectably with quiet drive.

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“Fun” therefore is also that novel whispery operation, and if there is one thing Volt owners want more of, it’s electric range so the mildly droning gas engine stays off and the pure EV experience can keep going. If EV drive is your priority, chalk a point up for the all-electric Bolt, then, as you are guaranteed to never hear an engine turn on and burn gas.

Beyond that fun factor, numbers can help quantify the question of visceral rewards.

According to Car and Driver, the Bolt’s performance data make it look like a pocket rocket next to the Volt. Its top speed is just 93 mph, versus the Volt’s 102, but it is otherwise free to focus all its 200 horsepower and 266 pounds-feet torque to run with greater authority up to maximum velocity. By contrast, the Volt serves up 149 horses and 294 pounds-feet of torque.

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According to Chevrolet, the only place the slightly more torquey Volt outdoes the Bolt is in a 2.6-second 0-30 mph sprint, versus 2.9 for the Bolt. To 60 mph, the Volt takes 7.5 seconds, and the Bolt takes 6.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver.

Other comparisons showing the difference include: 30-50 mph – Volt: 3.2 seconds, Bolt: 2.6 seconds. And then there’s 50-70 mph – Volt: 5.1 seconds, and the higher horsepower Bolt is really coming on stronger at 3.1 seconds. The standing quarter mile sees the Volt take 16.1 seconds at 85 mph; Bolt does it in 15.0 seconds maxed at 93 mph.

The Volt’s time to reach 100 mph is 24.8 seconds, and the Bolt – which cannot go that fast – saw 90 mph in just 13.2 seconds.

Before being overawed by that massive 11.6-second gap, understand those last 10 mph are the hardest for either car.

Handling

The 3,569-pound Bolt’s curb weight as tested by Car and Driver is very close to the 3,523-pound Volt, but the Bolt’s battery is all in the floor lowering center of gravity, whereas the Volt’s T-pack sits down the middle tunnel area.

On the 300-foot diameter skid pad, both are compromised by low rolling resistance tires, with the Volt seeing a decent 0.84 g, and Bolt managing 0.78 g – about the same as a then-sporty 1970s Alfa Romeo Spyder Veloce.

The Volt handles relatively well, and despite any talk of LRR tires, is satisfying in the real world.

The Volt handles relatively well, and despite any talk of LRR tires, is satisfying in the real world.

For all the fun-to-drive accolades, while these numbers are enough for excitement, this is a fair bit below sports cars that register above .90 g thanks to tuned suspensions and sport tires. If one wanted to retrofit stickier rubber to the Volt or Bolt, it would improve road holding, at the expense of some efficiency/range.

Most people however will likely be fine with the cars’ legal and extra-legal capabilities, although C&D did nick the Volt a bit.

“Because the Michelin Energy Saver tires prioritize low rolling resistance over grip, the 190 feet required to stop from 70 mph is longer than desirable, and we discovered rather bizarre cornering behavior,” said Car and Driver.

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By contrast, the Bolt brakes from 70 to 0 in a bit-better 181 feet, is further aided by its lower center of gravity, and C&D was less critical of it, despite its lower skidpad rating.

“The Michelin Energy Saver A/S tires deliver a modest 0.78 g of grip around the skidpad while the low-mounted battery pack helps keep handling relatively flat,” it said.

Utility

Form-factor wise, both are hatchbacks, and both hide their true identity.

The Volt is designed to look like a sedan, and Chevrolet has classified the Bolt as a “compact crossover” – that’s marketing speak for tallish-hatchback-but-we-call-it-a-crossover-because-Americans-don’t-prefer-hatchbacks-but-do-desire-crossovers-so-that’s-what-we-call-it.

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Both are compact in size, though the Volt is the largest a “compact” can be by U.S. EPA reckoning, and the Bolt, a “small wagon,” would be called mid-sized by interior volume if classified as a regular car.

Volt dimensions are: Wheelbase: 106.1 inches, length: 180.4 inches, width: 71.2 inches, height: 56.4 inches. Bolt dimensions are: Wheelbase: 102.4 inches; length: 164.0 inches; width: 69.5 inches; height: 62.8 inches.

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So, the Bolt on its 3.7-inch shorter wheelbase is 16.4-inches shorter overall, 1.7-inches narrower, and 6.4-inches taller. It also proves superior in internal space maximization: passenger volume: 94 cubic feet; cargo volume: 17 cubic feet. In contrast, the Volt’s passenger volume is 90 cubic feet and cargo space is 11 cubic feet.

Chalk one up for the Bolt’s skateboard chassis, a design GM originated and featured on last-decade concept vehicles, but which Tesla, Nissan, and BMW adopted first.

Stowing the battery in a long and wide floor cavity creates a flat open palette above for designers to optimize interior volume, and the Bolt takes advantage of this, while the Volt gives up interior room with a battery along for the ride.

Not bad. 2017 Volt.

Not bad. 2017 Volt.

The Volt’s rear seating is thus also compromised. Theoretically, it’s a five-passenger car, but the middle rear “seating position” is not as generous, and neither is rear legroom.

Bolt EV

Bolt EV

GM designed the Bolt as a commercial-capable vehicle, positioned for its Lyft operation, while the Volt is not bad, some may find it less than desirable, though ultimately it would be best to sit in it to determine for yourself.

Design

Both these Bowtie brand cars are relatively premium as Chevrolets go. Outwardly, the Volt’s design is very similar to the Cruze, and the Bolt is not dissimilar to a tall Sonic. Inside, both get gee-whiz dash displays, and accoutrements. The Bolt’s 10.2-inch touchscreen does outdo the Volt’s 8-inch screen.

Bolt EV.

Bolt EV.

As far as aesthetics, both are contemporary, mainstream-oriented, with design language adopted from the family line which in turn, frankly, borrows heavily from others.

Both are serviceable, and useful designs. To those who have strong feelings one way or the other, to each his own.

The Volt’s lower stance does cut the air far better with a 0.285 coefficient of drag, versus the Bolt’s number believed to be between 0.312 and 0.32. Notable is the Bolt’s superior 119 MPGe compensates for the Volt’s 106 MPGe/42 mpg powertrain.

Volt.

Volt.

The Bolt is meant as a utilitarian runabout for urban/suburban settings, whereas the Volt could be this too, but is the better car for long-distance convenience.

The Bolt meanwhile has greater overall cargo capacity, better people hauling ability – and too bad there is no DC fast charge network like Tesla has to help accommodate electric touring, though this picture is due to improve in coming years.

If you want a sleeker looking EV, hold out for the Model 3, or a next-gen Nisan Leaf, assuming they get that redesign the way you like it.

Price

The Volt starts at $34,095, and the Bolt starts at $37,495. So, by Chevrolet reckoning, the Bolt is better because it costs $3,400 more, right?

Both are priced to come in below $30,000 with a $7,500 federal tax credit for those to whom it will apply. State-level incentives and rebates may be the same for each, or lower for plug-in hybrids, as is the case in California.

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Actual cost of ownership depends on factors including financing terms, insurance, taxes and fees, estimated depreciation, fuel/energy costs, anticipated maintenance and repairs – and of course the tax credits/rebates as the case may be.

Historically, the Volt has not had great resale value, in part because the federal credit was assumed. How the Bolt may fare is anyone’s guess.

These vehicles may also be leased, and leasing has been preferred by plug-in consumers to compensate for resale values that drop more quickly than internal combustion models due to fast-changing technology, and other factors.

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Which ever way you go, a test drive is always desirable, though many at this stage will buy these cars based on their research and gut feeling.

Both promise to be well engineered, and despite the Volt’s being downgraded recently by Consumer Reports, it has previously topped its list for owner satisfaction, and anecdotes attest that the Volt has been a relatively reliable car.

SEE ALSO: Erick Belmer’s Chevy Volt Traveled Its 100,000th All-Electric Mile Today

GM has also never had to replace a Volt’s battery due to it wearing out before its 100,000 mile warranty was up, and it says it has applied powertrain lessons learned to the Bolt.

At this point, there is no reason to believe otherwise, though the most conservative advice is waiting a year to let any bugs get worked out.

If you take that recommendation, then the Volt is the only choice, but many won’t want to wait for the first sub-$40,000 EV with over 200 miles range.

We shall see therefore how they do, how Chevrolet markets them, and what the court of public opinion otherwise decides.

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Nov 03

Video: Stolen Volt Leads LA Police on Desperate Street Chase

 

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The plug-in gas-electric Chevy Volt’s immunity to range anxiety came in handy Monday when a car thief led Los Angeles police on a chase ending in the driver’s arrest.

According to news station KTLA5, the first-generation Volt was stolen at 3:09 p.m, left, a strip mall in the Sherman Oaks area, and was apparently immediately pursued by police.

The suspect drove, as one might expect, recklessly, nearly missing other vehicles, speeding, and cutting others off.

Police almost had him trapped at one point when the Volt pulled into a parking lot, but the desperate suspect squeezed past and kept going.

When the suspect pulled into an enclosed parking area at 3:40, it was here that he was trapped, and as he looped around, he was blocked by police cars, smashing into one, an SUV.

This led to a stand off, as the driver parked near Burnet Avenue and Keswick Street stayed in the Volt.

Not reported is whether he pressed OnStar or called a Volt advisor for assistance. (Or whether the ICE ever kicked on).

Police eventually bashed the window in, shot bean bags, which were not verified whether they hit him.

The driver was pulled out, cuffed, arrested, and another Chevy Volt was down for the count.

KTLA5

Hat tip to Brian Ro.

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Nov 02

2,191 Chevy Volt Sales in October

 

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Now one year since the second-generation Volt was launched, 2,191 sales were reported in October.

Unlike September 2016, in which year-over-year sales were up a big 114 percent, October 2016’s sales are up a modest 7.7 percent compared to October 2015’s 2,035.

Those 2015 sales mostly in California and states following its emissions rules came after much anticipation for the fully revised 53-mile e-range Volt had accrued.

Volt watchers have hoped the car would break out to new highs this year given sales then in just 11 states were within realm of the better months on record for the entire country for the extended-range EV.

As things have turned out, in this market in flux, the Volt with 18,517 sales year to date is just plodding along at a rate close to its better years on record – 2012 and 2013.

In October 2012, the Volt was at 19,309 sales, and in October 2013, sales were at 18,782.

Its best full calendar year on record, 2012, saw 23,461 sales.

In order for the Volt to beat this, it must average 2,473 sales for November and December – a long shot, given it’s hovered within a couple hundred units of 2,000 consistently.

Later months do tend to see sales rise, with December being the strongest, as this timing lets buyers more-quickly recoup the federal tax credit after January.

As buyers also line up also now for the 2017 Chevy Bolt EV, the watchword as usual is we shall see.

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Nov 01

Why Petroleum Reduction Should Be An Easier Sell For All Americans Than Either Trump or Clinton

 

Note — an easier sell, but how attainable really?

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As Americans focus on a contentious presidential election between diametrically opposed candidates, an issue that’s challenged the last eight presidents combined remains, and this is its “addiction” to its monopoly energy source, petroleum.

Since President Richard Nixon, the call for “energy independence” has been described as having potential to profoundly shape the U.S. economy, culture, and the very air its people and their future generations breathe.

Today the U.S. consumes half the oil used daily in its cars and trucks, and if multiple technologies and strategies are employed, the UCS argues the net use in all sectors of oil may be cut in half inside of 20 years.

Today the U.S. consumes half the oil used daily in its cars and trucks, and if multiple technologies and strategies are employed, the UCS argues the net use in all sectors of oil may be cut in half inside of 20 years.

To some who may have heard just some of the issues, this can appear as divisive a topic as the election, but advocates have long said this need not be so. That is because, regardless whether one agrees with all reasons for reducing petroleum consumption, there is something in it for everyone.

In other words, if viewed from the big picture, the benign general goal of using less oil has bipartisan appeal, they say. Anger and heated rhetoric have only been incited when people dive into the details and debate policies aimed at achieving what for America has been an elusive objective.

Advocates, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), trying to work with all stakeholders, have generally talked about a multi-pronged approach – as have legislators and government regulators. This means, while the UCS pushes for plug-in electrified cars, its Half the Oil plan recommends several strategies and technologies for several sectors, including transportation, and aspires to be win-win for all.

Reality Check

As you may have noticed, the line between what could be, and what is, can be a real one.

With fuel prices artificially low, American car sellers have been recording record profits driven by truck and SUV sales with hybrids down to 1.97 percent of the market, and plug-ins climbing, but still at just 0.83 percent.

The UCS plan for now through 2035 is to be achieved by whittling consumption in all sectors possible, including trucks, rail and air, as well as making buildings more efficient, and more.

The UCS plan for now through 2035 is to be achieved by whittling consumption in all sectors possible, including trucks, rail and air, as well as making buildings more efficient, and more.

It’s been said a mass changeover to plug-ins is not going to happen until the price-for-performance barrier comes down versus incumbent gasoline. The picture is improving, with new models coming out that are much better than those introduced earlier this decade, and the effort continues.

Realistically, individual consumers buy into technology like EVs or hybrids when the light bulb goes on for them that these will meet their budget and needs.

But petroleum reduction is not just about electrified vehicles. The move away from oil also embraces alternative fuels, simply more-efficient conventional vehicles, even bicycles, mass transit, and other alternatives.

That wheels have turned more slowly than predicted – for the past 42 years or more – is undeniable, however, as comedian Jon Stewart shows in parodying the somber declarations of presidents past.

 

In any event, and as Americans prepare yet again to hope in the words of who ever will be the next president, reality pushes ahead in the face of an “entrenched” oil-dependent paradigm.

SEE ALSO: What’s Really Motivating Automakers To Build Electric Cars?

As for cars we drive, the transition to lower emitting and higher mpg is being forced by Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules from now through 2025 – with intent to continue reductions beyond. Although parallel California rules do call for more zero-emission electrified vehicles, the federal plan is more flexible in allowing automakers to choose multiple ways to get the job done. Under U.S. EPA rules, only 1-3 percent plug-ins are required by 2025, though the move is on for much more than this.

With a focus on the vehicles we drive, following are a few reasons why this could be good for everyone in the long run.

Reduce Global Warming

The UCS plan for now through 2035 is to be achieved by whittling consumption in all sectors possible, including trucks, rail and air, as well as making buildings more efficient, and more.

The UCS plan for now through 2035 is to be achieved by whittling consumption in all sectors possible, including trucks, rail and air, as well as making buildings more efficient, and more.

To get one of the potentially contentious issues out of the way, the often-heard motivation for alternative fuels is climate change.

As the U.S. uses advanced petroleum extraction techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to squeeze out more oil, advocates say these do nothing for already troublesome greenhouse gas emissions.

Lower emission vehicles on the other hand can cut down on the millions of tons of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere.

Plug-in vehicles in particular let drivers bypass the gas pump altogether on daily drives. This is true even of plug-in hybrids with as low as 20 miles range, assuming one’s daily needs are that low, or not much more – and the 53-mile Volt’s powertrain is the best in this arena.

The UCS estimates that by 2035 the transition to plug-ins could cut 1.3 million barrels per day from U.S. oil consumption.

The advocacy also pitches advanced cellulosic biofuels derived from waste products and environmentally friendly crops such as perennial grasses that would not compromise the food supply.

These are estimated by the UCS to cut oil use by 1.7 million barrels per day by 2035.

Clean Air

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Less controversial than the effects of CO2 on the climate is that tailpipes today are spewing toxic gases and particles into the air everyone breathes.

Where a blanket of smog exists, this may be more apparent, but otherwise an often invisible issue like air quality may be hard to grasp.

It is a reality, however, and authorities unanimously cite this as responsible for numerous health concerns.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, aside from climate change concerns, also affecting us all are smog-forming NOx, particulate matter (PM), and ozone pollution.

Smog can wreak havoc on the lungs, aggravating conditions like asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis, among a list of concerns.

Particulate matter has been traced to premature death for people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, decreased lung function, and asthma attacks.

Reducing tailpipe emissions stands to curtail these pollution-related illnesses and deaths, especially for those near roadways, and people in cities.

Job Creation

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This one stands to be a debate too, but it depends on how things play out.

According to the UCS, upwards of a million new jobs are projected assuming the country moves forward on alternative energy transportation.

Driving the shift are the “hard won” CAFE rules, and here a battle line is perceptibly drawn.

Fighting the enterprise, says the UCS, are oil companies which have been alleged to be in cahoots with auto companies resisting more-rapid development.

Presently, the industry’s lobby arm – the Auto Alliance – is creating case studies and statistics attempting to weaken federal 2022-2025 emission regulations.

Representing a dozen automakers, the Auto Alliance has said the exact opposite of the UCS in that 1.1 million jobs could be lost if automakers are made to toe the line and raise fleet average mpg from today’s 26 mpg to about 39 mpg by 2025.

A comprehensive examination of the merits of both positions is beyond the scope of this overview, but the UCS has shot holes in arguments by the Alliance saying it has regurgitated old data, cherry picked facts, and presented false assertions.

Meanwhile, unemployment predicted since 2011 by the Alliance has not happened, and the UCS predicts a boost to the economy, as well as the country which yet leads, but is slipping in an emerging global plug-in car industry.

SEE ALSO: China Now Ties US For Leadership In Cumulative Global Plug-In Sales

Aside from automakers hiring new people to design and build new kinds of vehicles, today’s new-tech auto environment has prompted startups to jump into the market such as has not been seen for decades.

Energy Options and Freedom

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Oil is the monopoly fuel and has been likened to having almost all of ones eggs in one basket.

This has benefitted oil companies and auto companies set up to profit from this reality, but it also leaves the U.S. tied to OPEC, and the global market which is out of its control.

At the moment while gas prices are relatively affordable, consumers who manage their lives either by reaction, or crisis management, may feel fine, as today’s cheap gas makes it seem there is no pressing crisis.

That, say advocates, is a false sense of security, as the umbilical cord that keeps the U.S. vulnerable to what is happening in other unstable regions remains. Oil is what economists call a “global fungible commodity” and its price is set on the world market, and out of U.S. control.

Domestically sourced energy – including electricity and proposed alternative fuels, assuming they become feasible – means consumer choice.

This also stands to reduce and ultimately end the reliance on petroleum that has pulled the country into war, continually demands expensive military protections and foreign policy actions in nations where terrorists target the U.S.

Save Money

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The economics of new alternative energy hybrid and plug-in cars today are a mixed bag. Some clearly pay back, others may pay back, and meanwhile developments are improving the value question.

The UCS says typical American drivers spend almost as much on gas as they do on their vehicle. All told, this is around 2 billion dollars spent on oil and petroleum products per day.

Money savings from cutting this applies not just to individuals – like you – but for all, though today some alternatives can be relatively higher cost.

While these are still ramping up, critics have observed high costs offsetting those fuel savings, but this was predicted from the outset, and is considered normal at this early stage.

As economies of scale and costs decrease, and as technologies improve, the cost equation is getting better.

For example, Chevrolet is doubling the EV range per dollar one could have gotten just one year ago, with its $30,000 (after federal tax credit), 238-mile range Bolt EV.

At least five other companies are at work on similar price for performance, and this is just generation two, with more development and efficiencies expected.

In Sum

Like the election, the subtopic of cutting petroleum dependence can be a source of heated debate with radically opposed viewpoints, but it actually offers something for everyone.

Who does not care about air quality for themselves, and their children, and children’s children? And, who does not care about having consumer choice? And who does not care about global ties to nations in which terrorists see the U.S. as public offender number one?

These factors remain before anyone begins to talk about global warming, or taxpayer dollars devoted.

To be sure, much more could be said on these topics only brushed, but the entire world is actually moving this way.

Aside from the U.S. perspective, policymakers in Europe, China, and Asia are also attempting to curtail petroleum use. Last month the major automakers of Europe announced by 2025 their global sales would consist of 15-25 percent plug-in cars, with implication that was just a beginning.

Undoubtedly potential for contention is in the details, but at least certain is these issues are not going away. The shift away from what has been a security blanket and shaper of our very culture for the past hundred years is happening.

UCS

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Oct 31

Consumer Reports says Chevy Bolt is good alternative to Tesla

 

Unlike the Volt which initially was not as well received by Consumer Reports, the Bolt EV is described in generally positive terms.

bolt-ev

“Bolt is a fun, relatively affordable electric car for the masses,” said the consumer publication contrasting its 238 mile range with other EVs in the general sub-$40,000 price segment that may give 100 miles, or less in cold weather.

Price is a big factor here as well. While EV watchers have heard criticism of GM’s “compact crossover” – AKA, hatchback with volume close to midsized – CR gives props for its being far les pricey than a Model S.

And, says CR, the Bolt does beat the down-market Tesla anticipated.

“EV-savvy readers might note that the upcoming Tesla Model 3 could supply 215 miles of range, but that Tesla is at least a year away and final pricing hasn’t been announced,” says CR. “So, yes, old-school Detroit beat Silicon Valley to the punch with an affordable long-range EV.”

And what GM did belies the fact that it is actually high technology.

“The Bolt’s rather mundane looks mask the car’s advanced technology and sophistication,” said CR. “Take a turn behind the wheel and you immediately feel the silent, instant electric torque from the moment you tap the throttle. With 200-electrified horses on tap, this small hatchback accelerates with gusto.”

More than a good value for the money, the Bolt is also fun to drive, says CR

“By virtue of the low-mounted battery, the Bolt feels planted in corners, despite its tall stance,” says the publication. “The car is eager to tackle a curvy road and is actually fun to drive—virtues that most EVs can’t claim. The ride is firm, yet compliant and composed, making the Bolt feel solid and substantial.”

The interior with “huge 10.2-inch screen” dominating the dash is also pleasing, cargo room is “decent” as well, and about the only nitpick noted was the gear selector.

“Unfortunately, the electronic gear selector is the same one we didn’t care for on the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XT5; finding reverse is tricky.”

In sum, CR says the Bolt is not a bad value, but does go out noting the styling as a potential turn-off from those already waiting for the Tesla Model 3.

“No question, GM has accomplished a commendable feat here with the Bolt’s long cruising range and fairly affordable price,” said CR. “If you don’t see a lot of Tesla Model 3 intenders canceling their reservations, it might be due to the Bolt’s somewhat dorky styling. Otherwise, we’re upbeat about the Bolt and look forward to buying one for a complete test soon.”

CR’s overview also followed one by Car and Driver, which gave performance testing details.

The quick Bolt is poised now for sales. Unknown is how it will do. If it is for the “masses,” can it gain traction toward that goal and break beyond the 30,000 sales ceiling?

 

Oct 28

What’s With All the Startup Plug-in Car Companies These Days?

 

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Going against irony and long odds, there are presently at least eight startup companies trying to secure ground-floor footing within the nascent U.S. plug-in car market.

If not immediately obvious, that’s a lot of companies who’ve decided to reach for what could be but a needle-in-a-haystack opportunity against now-waking-up incumbent automakers flush with cash and decades of knowhow.

There are presently 34 brands selling vehicles in the U.S. light duty market, and to have at least a quarter as many trying to join them is reminiscent of the early wild west days of the first beginnings of the car industry.

Today the public more often hears of that most conspicuous startup – Tesla Motors – which for over a decade has plowed ground toward becoming the first to make it big since Chrysler did 80 years ago.

And while pundits and investors have a field day postulating the yet-unprofitable (last quarter excepted) California electric carmaker’s chances, a virtual crowd of other wanna bes are also taking the chance – with much less now to show, but often no less brash.

Names of some of the bigger ones include Faraday Future, Lucid (just renamed from Atieva), Fisker Automotive, and NextEV. Others smaller on the radar include the new Fisker run by its actual namesake, Sondors, ZAP/Jonway, and Green Tech Automotive.

Irony and Odds

An often overlooked fact is these companies are all fighting to win what today is still a very small prize. That is, they’ve been motivated to chase the teeny tiny all-electric and/or plug-in hybrid market which represents but 0.83 percent of total U.S. passenger vehicle sales.

Faraday Future's Variable Platform Architecture is hoped to speed development of  advanced cars we can buy, other than the batmobile design exercise pictured top.

Faraday Future’s Variable Platform Architecture is hoped to speed development of advanced cars we can buy, other than the batmobile design exercise pictured top.

On the face of it, one might wonder whether it would be easier to break into building simple eco cars, crossovers, or SUVs with gas engines – the types of vehicle that today sell in much higher volumes and garner much more profit.

As it is, the start-up-backing billionaires, venture capitalists and government funding agencies feel more confident wedging out a place in the plug in market. This is so, even though the car business is exceedingly tough to crack into, and today’s major automakers are still losing money on plug-ins, despite experience and other advantages.

What is it about electric cars that foments such apparent madness to give it a go in a new, still unproven industry?

Common Hope

Each startup has its own story and business plan hoped to justify the effort, and while plug-ins are a sub-set of the whole car market, they’re viewed as “the future,” thus a new frontier so a gold mining spirit can become infectious.

From that vantage, the playing field is arguably more level than making a suicidal attempt to try to build a better pickup than Ford’s F-150, or out-engineer Honda’s Accord, for example.

Buying time is the fact that even the majors are only now getting underway. Since 2011 most have sold only tens of thousands of units – if not less, or if any at all. That’s not much when best sellers sell on the order of 20,000-40,000 in a month, in what is today a 17.5 million vehicle annual market.

Automakers are now in the EV game, and do represent a growing threat to newcomers. To date marketing of vehicles like the Chevy Volt has kept its footprint dainty next to bread and butter vehicles like the Chevy Cruze, and various trucks and SUVs.

Automakers are now in the EV game, and do represent a growing threat to newcomers. To date marketing of vehicles like the Chevy Volt has kept its footprint dainty next to bread and butter vehicles like the Chevy Cruze, and various trucks and SUVs.

The biggest plug-in sellers are the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla Model S, which may sell a couple thousand units more or less monthly, and volumes are much less for other plug-in models.

SEE ALSO: Why The New Chevy Volt’s Sales Are Only So-So

What’s more, legacy automakers haven’t until now threatened to bear their full weight toward switching to electrification. Regulations are the core market driver, and legacy makers indicate if it were not for that electric cattle prod, they’d do much less, if not altogether quit proffering plug-ins.

Behind green-car-hugging facades, major carmakers have shown themselves about as keen on plug-ins as a kid being dragged by the ear to a scrubbing. They make more money in conventional cars, have established their brands with them, and selling plug-ins may even be tinged with conflicts of interest, as Tesla’s Elon Musk has said.

Brands the Auto Alliance represents. The U.S. EPA has already said only 1-3 percent plug-ins are needed to meet 2025 emission targets. If the intent was to splice in many more plug-ins, fleet averages would go up, and the goal would be that much easier.

Brands the Auto Alliance represents. The U.S. EPA has already said only 1-3 percent plug-ins are needed to meet 2025 emission targets. If the intent was to splice in many more plug-ins, fleet averages would go up, and the goal would be that much easier.

As we speak, the industry’s lobby arm – the Auto Alliance – is creating case studies and statistics trying to weaken federal 2022-2025 emission regulations. The Alliance, representing a dozen major manufacturers, is saying to regulators and legislators the rules will cost upwards of a million jobs in coming years, cost too much, and too few will buy over engineered green cars.

Aside from the U.S., the push for electrification is global. Europe is now waking up with all the majors pushing to convert sales to as much as 25 percent plug-in by 2025 – a very dramatic turn of events, if it happens as projected, and much greater competition for would-be Tesla followers.

Aside from the U.S., the push for electrification is global. Europe is now waking up with all the majors pushing to convert sales to as much as 25 percent plug-in by 2025 – a very dramatic turn of events, if it happens as projected, and much greater competition for would-be Tesla followers.

Advocates like the Union of Concerned Scientists have politely accused them of being intellectually dishonest, “cherry picking” data, and tantamount to willful liars with some of their arguments and opposition to federal standards called a ”shame.”

CAFE’s Midterm Evaluation For 2022-2025 Could Electrify Automakers One Way Or The Other

And meanwhile, plug-in startups have a clean slate and no legacy baggage. Like Tesla, they can focus on a new technology, and not be hindered by so many very expensive ties to a former technology, along with longing glances backwards, and digging in of heels to slow what they consider pure progress.

Michigan-based automotive analyst Alan Baum also notes regulatory and funding advantages exist for what may become globally selling companies.

As the market grows, battery and other costs are expected to drop, creating "synergies." This may be so, but those same advantages and more will be had by legacy automakers. Even global giant Apple was reported to have stepped away for now from developing its own car. Google meanwhile is also at work on something.

As the market grows, battery and other costs are expected to drop, creating “synergies.” This may be so, but those same advantages and more will be had by legacy automakers. Even global giant Apple was reported to have stepped away for now from developing its own car. Google meanwhile is also at work on something.

For starters, plug-ins are a shoe-in to pass emissions tests. And whether a good thing, or “boondoggle” as others allege, Tesla has banked hundreds of millions selling California green credits to its competitors, and others stand to eventually do the same.

Further, federal, and in cases state and local tax credits or rebates are in place for plug-in customers, and the companies themselves may take advantage of low interest loans or grants suported by policymakers to spur the industry.

Common Hype

The formula for a few of the startups today has been to go big or go home. Brash hyperventilation touting cool new imagery, are attempts to position them as having fresher, smarter ideas than those of stodgy old companies.

But as true of the Wizard of Oz, who said “don’t look at that man behind the curtain,” aside from gee-whiz designs and trendy posturing, most startups have proven nothing in that most fundamental way – delivering satisfying vehicles, and making happy customers.

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The sober minded might see a red flag here, and any venture capitalist who does not consider this is not worth his/her salt, but that has not prevented several unproven newcomers from garnering many millions, if not over a billion in initial funding.

Baum also observes that budding technology fields have seen new blood come in before and outfox the slow-moving, out-of-touch old guard. IBM, for example, forfeited a home court advantage to the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Dell, and others.

Investors looking for a payback are betting big, taking risks that they may lose a few bets, but getting in on the ground floor of the next Apple of the car world is quite the allure, as evidenced by the bloated market cap of TSLA.

Car Company/Tech Company

Just as true however, is while electric cars share hardware and mindshare with computers, they are automobiles.

Even institutional investors can be fuzzy on this, as has been seen in discussing and defining Tesla – automobile company or technology company? – but they shouldn’t be.

Without a doubt, if a company manufactures motor vehicles – even if propelled by a lithium-ion batteries and motors, nuclear fusion, or a Flux Capacitor – it’s by definition a car company even if, like Tesla, it has a broader technological portfolio.

Tesla is diversified in energy storage and now solar. Others are working toward mobility services, autonomous tech, serving as a supplier to others, as well as plain old (new) electric cars.

Tesla is diversified in energy storage and now solar. Others are working toward mobility services, autonomous tech, serving as a supplier to others, as well as plain old (new) electric cars.

Challenges still faced therefore include walking through the same gauntlet all the majors face in direct proportion to the intended volume to which a Johnny Come Lately aspires.

Unavoidable challenges – any one of which can be fatal to a cash-strapped organization – include designing and engineering vehicles to meet strict safety standards, while providing quality design, execution, customer management, sales, marketing, and all at a profit.

Hoops beyond these, Baum observes include supplier relations, plant engineering, other “hands-on things” amongst a gazillion details that eat money like few other businesses, and which carry huge liabilities besides.

If a given automotive startup intends to become more than a boutique brand, this is what it faces. This said, while hype thicker than a New England fog has escaped the lips of some startups, none have shown they are executing quite so defined a master plan as Tesla has, as it aims for a million units in 2020.

Tesla Model 3. To start at $35,000, offer upwards of 215 mile range, and around 400,000 pre-orders have been reported.

Tesla Model 3. To start at $35,000, offer upwards of 215 mile range, and around 400,000 pre-orders have been reported.

If any of the startups want to really follow Tesla, they have much more to show, said Baum.

“It’s not good enough to have one car, you have to have a series of cars,” said Baum. “In other words, when you finally get your first car made, you better have your second car ready to go within a couple of years to at the very least improve the current product.”

“And of course that’s what Tesla is trying to do, they started with the Roadster, and went to the Model S [and Model X],” Baum continued. “Now they’re going to the Model 3. You need that, unless you want to be making a 100 cars a year at $500,000 a pop. If that’s what you want to do, OK, I guess you can do that.”

The jury however is still out even on Tesla, said Baum, and the startups – some so secretive as to have been accused of “vaporware” by a jaded public, will sooner or later have to prove their market value.

Meanwhile on they go, yet setting the stage. Following are a few of the bigger ones.

Faraday Future

faraday-future-668x4091

Not at all humble, Faraday Future has basically said it is the next big thing.

“You don’t need a 100-year legacy in the automotive industry to define what the next generation of transportation needs to look and feel like,” said Senior VP Nick Sampson in 2015.

Even Tesla was not considered so special by Sampson who noted it took over a decade to get where it is, and then-18-month-old Faraday was hiring faster than Tesla was when it was one-and-a-half-years old, and Faraday was positioned as not in danger of going bankrupt.

Proposed factory.

Proposed factory.

Backed by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting who in his home market is also developing LeEco, Faraday has broken ground in Nevada on what it says is a $1 billion factory. Promised next is revelation of its first pre-production car – thought to be an electric autonomous crossover – at CES 2017 in Las Vegas.

SEE ALSO: Does Faraday Have a Future?

This year at CES Faraday showed a supercar concept that never was shown driving except by computer animation but claimed to be good for 200 mph.

But Faraday is not being dismissed despite the over the top self praise.

As of early this year it had 750 employees, and is hiring from companies like SpaceX, Apple, Ford, Ferrari, Lotus, Jaguar, Tesla, GM, the U.S. government, and elsewhere.

The latest news is it was late to make a $21 million factory construction payment due last month.

The contractor threatened to stop working, but Faraday and the contractor, have otherwise said they are working out what has led observers to otherwise muse whether it is not as deep pocketed as claimed.

Being privately held, Faraday does not release its finances, but said “the business relationship between AECOM [contractor] and FF is strong, and we remain committed to building our factory in N. Las Vegas.”

Karma Automotive

Karma-Revero-668x409

The Chinese auto parts giant Wanxiang came in and scooped up failed Fisker Automotive’s business in a U.S. Department of Energy sponsored fire sale for $149.2 million at taxpayers’ expense.

Also nabbing battery supplier A123 Systems at deep discount, both those federally backed startups failed due to mismanagement, giving fodder for Mitt Romney in 2012, but the new Chinese owner is otherwise making a go of the new opportunity.

In May 2014, Lu Guanqiu, the chairman and founder of Wanxiang Group Corp. – himself worth an estimated $3.1 billion, said he was determined.

“I’ll put every cent that Wanxiang earns into making electric vehicles,” he said at the time of a dream he has held for years. “I’ll burn as much cash as it takes to succeed, or until Wanxiang goes bust.”

The company actually does have a product, the $130,000 plug-in hybrid Karma Revero – a nicely massaged and updated but otherwise former Fisker Karma.

Like Tesla, it has said it wants to go down market, but obviously is not as far on the timeline.

Lucid (Formerly Atieva)

LUCID_MOTORS_EV-668x4091
Just renamed “Lucid,” this company that has been quietly at work in the background as was Faraday says it will have a fully autonomous 900-horsepower electric car in 2018.

An 87 kilowatt-hour battery is said to provide range of 300 miles, and a 400-mile option also being considered.

Atieva was formed in 2007, and initially developed batteries and electric drivetrains. It filed more than 100 patents and delivered battery packs for electric buses in China.

Atieva_EV-668x40911

Since then, investments by Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC and LeEco, another electric car company that has also invested in Faraday Future, appear to give the company a solid financial backing.

So far all we have are teasers and a grainy image grabbed from a patent filing. This is another dark horse, that has more to prove, but which cannot be dismissed.

Others

You may notice a China connection in all of these. China is the world’s biggest plug-in market, and entrance into the U.S. market is part of larger global plans.

Other Chinese companies on our shores include Warren Buffett backed BYD – not a startup, and actually a seller of more plug-ins that Tesla, thanks to strength in the China market.

For now, it’s building electric buses, and doing small-scale car fleet service from its California base, but has an eye on eventually selling passenger cars in North America.

NextEV’s 1 Megawatt (1,341 horsepower) electric supercar has been seen testing.

NextEV’s 1 Megawatt (1,341 horsepower) electric supercar has been seen testing.

Another seeking to tap into Silicon Valley talent is NextEV, founded by Chinese entrepreneur William Li who built the successful online car sales company Bitauto.

So far it has not gotten as far in its U.S. market endeavors in terms of salable product, but is working on its global plans.

NextEV has 250 employees in San Jose, and just opened a Silicon Valley office for hundreds of engineers to work in, with a few hundred more employees projected to be hired.

It was also approved by California to begin testing autonomous vehicles. Its ties are to the home market however, where it is most focused, and in April announced a ¥3 billion ($444 million) investment in its Nanjing High-Performance Motor Plant.

“The plant will have a production capacity annual output of 280,000 units when it goes into operation in the second half of this year, and we will focus on NextEV’s proprietary intellectual technologies such as our world class motors and electronic modules, for the first phase,” NextEV Co-founder & EVP, XPT CEO Jack Cheng said.

In the background, but not forgotten is GreenTech Automotive, backed by former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe.

In the background, but not forgotten is GreenTech Automotive, backed by former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe.

Other names plowing along less conspicuously include crowdsourced startup Sondors, ZAP/Jonway, and GreenTech Automotive, among others – and it would be a fair guess to surmise others are yet in “stealth mode,” who we may hear of in time.

Lastly, another name back out and trying to drum up excitement is Henrik Fisker’s Fisker Inc. Not to be confused with Karma Automotive, Henrik thinks he can make a better go of it in round two.

Planned is an EV with over 400 miles range, a new battery chemistry, and of less doubt will be Henrik’s signature swank design suitable for readers of the Robb Report, Dubai billionaires, and others with crème de la crème tastes.

Fisker has penned James Bond cars for BMW and Aston, and his original Karma is only being tweaked by Wanxiang, while former Chevy Volt protagonist Bob Lutz also wants to stuff these with Corvette engines.

SEE ALSO: Henrik Fisker Still Sees Potential in the EV Market

For his encore, Fisker previewed his new car in teaser image, while teasing the potential being offered.

Fisker-Inc.-concept-car-668x4091

“We have really been working in stealth mode,” Fisker said. “For the last two years I have been looking at battery technologies and wanted to see if there was something that could really give us a new paradigm. We had the strategy of developing the technology as fast as possible without getting tied down to a large organization, which would hold us back. Now we have the technology that nobody else has. And there is nobody even close to what we are doing out there.”

Jury Out

Those estimating startups with yet-vague plans as wanting to be the next Tesla may be missing the point in some cases.

Only a couple have said they may be shooting for something so ambitious, and while all are patting themselves on the back as is standard operating procedure in the current market climate, much is open ended.

“I am obviously skeptical of these operations, although the ones with staff and actual product plans deserve some notice,” said Baum. “It is interesting that in general even those are planning high cost low volume vehicles with mainstream products well off in the distance.”

Henrik_Fisker_seated-e1477512634496

And, as Baum noted, we have not seen even the equivalent of Tesla’s grand sweeping Master Plan which says it will start high, go downmarket, and become high volume, though some hint they may have this in mind.

Thus until more is divulged, all aspiring companies are receiving benefit of the doubt – while others still allege “vaporware” and dubious integrity – and each startup aims to confound these naysayers in time.

And so it goes in the new gold rush of the plug-in market, as it’s believed to be, and which is inspiring prospectors to set their claim and dig.

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.