Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Jul 29

Preprare for the return of the (good) Karma, and at least another model in three years or so


Remember Fisker? The series hybrid startup that never could win the popularity contest with Tesla in the room?

Well, its rich new Chinese owners which bought it at a fire sale price have looked this horse in the mouth and found some QC issues.

These, say the company, it aims to fix, and – can we surmise? – Tesla and GM and BMW and, well everyone selling plug-in electrified vehicles will hear from Fisker again?


By Mark Atkinson

In addition to hopefully re-launching the Karma, Fisker Automotive’s new owners intend to introduce a second plug-in model within the next three years.

However, both Lu Guanqiu, chairman and founder of Wanxiang Group Co., which bought Fisker during a bankruptcy auction earlier this year, and Pin Ni, president of the company’s U.S. unit, are still unsure of when the original $100,000 Karma luxury sedan will reenter production.

According to Automotive News, there are plenty of obstacles to consider, including fixing around 250 “bugs” in the current Karma, securing quality components and figuring out how to eventually transfer production from the Valmet facility in Finland to Fisker’s new operations in Delaware.

“Our goal is to fix all the issues and get the car back on the road,” Ni told AN through an interpreter. “But this car has to be a good car. It cannot be a car with problems.

“We want to make this car in the United States. This too is determined. But it terms of a detailed plan we are still evaluating.”

One huge problem that stalled the Karma’s original production run and eventually led to Fisker’s bankruptcy was that supplier A123 Systems went under too and couldn’t supply the lithium-ion battery packs anymore. But now that Wanxiang Group owns both Fisker and A123, that shouldn’t prove to be an issue moving forward.

And as you’ll recollect, self-made billionaire Guanqiu is fulfilling a long-denied dream to go big in the car business, and “burn as much cash as it takes to succeed, or until Wanxiang goes bust.”

Does Elon have anything to worry about? (assuming he means it when he says Tesla invites competition).

How about GM and the others? (who may not feel as Silicon-Valley-enlightened about embracing more competitors?)

Automotive News


Jul 28

Is GM planning a Sonic EV for 2016?


Note – This story regarding a Sonic rumor is from The Truth About Cars.

Whether TTAC, a VerticalScope site, indeed did report “the truth” about an all-electric Sonic variant in 2016 as part of GM’s plans remains to be seen.

Initially I was hesitant to run the story before finding the source, but TTAC’s Derek Kreindler assured me he’s keeping the source confidential, but believes it is reliable, and knows better than to print baseless conjecture.


According to an undisclosed source, GM will launch a Sonic EV, presumably with LG Chem “200-mile range” batteries.

Last week we reported LG did confirm some kind of battery – implicitly with superior cost, possibly better energy density than what’s now used in the Volt.

The TTAC story has been picked up by others saying this will be GM’s promised Tesla Model 3 fighter – a Sonic to go against Elon and Company’s version of a BMW 3-series competitor.

2015 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback
Hatchback Sonic.

“The Sonic EV will also be built in Michigan, which will allow GM to gain regulatory credits for selling a pure EV that is also made in America,” wrote TTAC’s Kreindler.

Did you read any unequivocal statements or hedging in that? Nope he said affirmatively it “will.”

So do you believe it? How about you folks from Missouri?


Stranger things could happen, and who knows if this is all GM has up its sleeve? We hear lack of confidence in GM from some of you, but GM has said it does not want to officially telegraph what it’s actually up to – whether that be a convenient put-off, or true, is unknown.

Assuming the benefit of the doubt, there may be a Sonic EV in 2016. If so, no doubt EV fans will hope they sell it in more than states than just Oregon and California.

P.S., a new Volt bashing piece came out titled, “The very expensive death of the Chevy Volt” if you want to check it out. The piece says the Volt might cost $200,000 per unit to build, and taxpayers are forced to subsidize them, among other observations.


Jul 25

Review and video: 2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid


Last fall I drove this competitor to the Cadillac ELR and Tesla Model S in Oregon back to back with all other U.S. Panameras. Last month, I had it five days to get a greater feel.

I have an idea what some of you may say about this, but will let the article and video speak for themselves … I will add that next to the extravagant 388,000-Euro ($500k) French Exagon EV, and million-dollar Rimac, this is not crazy expensive. And maybe the German upscale brands think alike too? What will BMW do for an encore to the i8? In 2016 for its 100th birthday, BMW may very well shoehorn a bigger gas engine into it to make – like this Porsche – a V6 PHEV. To reportedly be called the i9, it will be much faster and lighter, but not cheaper.

Otherwise, like everything else at this stage, people hope to see more — trickle down, cost cutting, variety.


Blending part-time electric drive and posh performance, Porsche’s 2014 Panamera S E-Hybrid may be the greenest car yet offered by the automaker from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.

Last fall as the proud brand launched this, its first plug-in sedan, it had dug out the history book to remind all that its e-pedigree dates to Nikola Tesla’s day, when in 1898 Ferdinand Porsche developed an electric car, and in 1900 the first functional hybrid.


In September last year Porsche also launched an ultimate limited-edition plug-in hybrid for this era, the 918 Spyder, but for now its large, rear-wheel-drive plug-in Panamera luxury performance sedan is as close to mainstream as it gets.

Its distinguishing characteristic over 10 other Panamera variants sold stateside is it can travel 15 miles electrically which may be enough for some commuters who still want a spacious, potent car.

In regular hybrid mode, fuel economy is better than many other sedans in this class.

Its $99,000 entry point also happens to be on the low side of the Panamera family – and any one of them can easily accrue tens of thousands of dollars more in options, with a packed Panamera Turbo S Executive fetching somewhere over $250,000.


So, the E-Hybrid is a relative bargain. And whether you buy that, it is a frontrunner. As a member of the Volkswagen Group since 2012, last year Porsche said it aims to eventually have a hybrid-flavored example of every model it makes over the next several years.

Just this week, Porsche announced the next E-Hybrid, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid. Porsche said this $75,405 SUV will be available in November.

While not wooing too many customers from Tesla, sales of all Panamera versions are up. Of 3,125 sold in the U.S. from January 2014 through June, the E-Hybrid accounts for 481.

But exclusivity can be a good thing, so let’s look further.

Plug-In Hybrid


One unique feature is the E-Hybrid utilizes an 8-speed transmission – during hybrid mode, or when only the electric motor is driving, and this differentiates it from simpler, and cheaper to build, single-speed EVs.


Main power is supplied by a 333-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged six used also by VW/Audi siblings. Paired with the engine to the transmission is an electric motor adding 95 horsepower and 229 pounds-feet torque from 0-1,700 rpm.

Combined gas-plus-electric output for the roughly is 416 horsepower and 435 pounds-feet torque which is good for 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds.

The electricity is stored in a 9.4 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, which is a little bigger than the 7.6-kwh pack in a Ford Fusion Energi, and smaller than the Cadillac ELR’s 16.5-kwh pack which will be upgraded to 17.1 later this year.


Despite giddy pre-production media drive reports last year from Europe, citing 31 all-electric miles, and over 50 mpg, the EPA rates it at 16 miles “electric plus gas” or 15 miles all-electrically. Its MPGe is 50, and in hybrid mode, it’s rated for 23 mpg city, 29 highway, 25 combined.


Porsche estimated last year it would beat the outgoing non plug-in, but that car was rated 22 city, 30 highway, 25 combined.

For a heavy German flagship this is efficient but not stellar next to the slightly heavier – and for now extinct – 2012 Fisker Karma rated at 54 MPGe, 33 miles electric range, and arguably the closest thing in concept to the E-Hybrid.

The big-on-the-outside, small-on-the-inside Karma series hybrid however was embarrassingly classified by the EPA as “subcompact.” It was also slower, had numerous build issues, and the Porsche, well, it lives up to the family reputation for design and engineering.

Three Operation Modes



Another thing unique about the plug-in Porsche is, unlike any other plug-in hybrid, it can use its engine to recharge the battery on the fly. If you want to burn extra fuel for this convenience, you need never plug it in if you time it right.


This proved useful as Porsche did not supply a charge cord perhaps because its included Universal AC charger is a multi-piece affair. By pressing the E-Charge button however, the E-Hybrid replenished its pack within 40 miles – downshifting and letting the revs rise helps the process.

The range meter for the U.S. spec car complying with EPA reality stops going higher after 15 miles, and the car says E-Charge is no longer possible.


Assuming usable charge, E-Power mode is default upon start up. This is how the car runs as a part-time EV and staying in this mode is a lot easier, than say, with a Toyota Prius PHEV.


Porsche created a plainly discernible detent feel in the accelerator pedal to let drivers know when they are about to call upon gasoline-fed horses. E-Power allows up to 30 percent power, as indicated on a meter and pressing harder instantly kicks the engine on.

When the battery is depleted, the car operates as a conventional parallel hybrid.


And that engine does come in handy in the third mode – Sport. This as well as a Sport Plus mode that tightens the suspension maximizes performance when, like Kermit the Frog, you decide “it ain’t easy being green.”

Actually, being arguably green is easy with the E-Hybrid, but you have a choice.


The E-Charge mode itself burns more fuel, and full boil utilizing gas-plus-electric power can see mpg momentarily plummet to less than half its EPA rating.

If anyone is wondering whether the car reduces system horsepower from full when the battery indicates zero miles range, it doesn’t. Even with “0” shown, full throttle digs into reserve juice for maximum-rated electric-plus-gas power.

Uber Luxe


One thing the Germans have pretty well dialed is how to deliver a superbly comfortable, sporty experience.


Inside the richly appointed Panamera are safety technologies, infotainment, high-tech cruise control, 360-degree camera viewing, capability to control some e-functions by remote smart phone app, and in short, all the panache most people would want.


Our $131,000 as equipped model had optional flow-through A/C ventilation to all four seats through the high-quality perforated leather, as well as heat.


All four occupants seats had individual climate controls, and other features including ambient LED lighting, ashtrays, center fold-down armrest, and more to provide a first class flight.

If anti-establishment Tesla prides itself on elemental simplicity, the Porsche is a pinnacle of tradition, ensconcing you like you’re in the cockpit of a private jet on wheels with myriad buttons up and down the center console.

It’s not much different than previous Panameras – inside or outside – but attention to detail and thoughtful touches abound – like map pockets that extend out, and ingenious flip-out dual cup holders on the passenger’s side for driver and co-rider.

Front and rear leg room is so plentiful, we’re convinced the new “Executive” class Turbo and 4S siblings with 5.9 inches of extra rear leg room are essentially limousines, while the E-Hybrid is merely large and comfortable.


On the instruments, the “acid green” needles match the massive same-color brake calipers and exterior badge accents.

If a 20-something had bought day-glo spray paint and done up his slammed Civic like this, you might think it was a bit much, but the unsubtle gesture by a six-figure status symbol suggests over-the-top is just enough for those with a license to be audacious.

Driving It


Superlatives aside, the E-Hybrid is a study in contrasts. Yes, it’s quick, but its curb weight ranging from 4,613 to 4,950 pounds makes it the pudgy kid in the family, especially next to the snarly Panamera GTS and Turbo bruisers.


But really, it’s the health nut in the family, and can run a little farther without gas than a Prius plug-in hybrid. When using gas, it makes a Maserati Quattroporte or some thirstier Mercedes S-Class sedans seem wasteful, and an Aston Martin Rapide’s rear seats appear crunched.

In a parking lot its weight is felt under sub-5-mph turning, and you’ll want to take care navigating the wide, long car into sometimes narrow or squeezed parking spots.

We did verify 15.1 miles e-range sedately driving between 25-45 mph, and while encountering some stop-and-go, and a hill or two, and EPA ratings are fairly realistic if you take it easy.

Speed up, and the car will show its underlying fun potential Porsche is loathe to engineer out of anything with its name on it. Despite weighing 629 pounds more than a non-hybrid Panamera S, Porsche has proven again it knows how to tune a suspension.


Paddle shifters let you optionally take a measure of control, and reversing thrust is easy and controlled with 360 mm front / 330 mm rear diameter brakes and powerful monobloc 6- and 4-piston binders.

Not hurting these performance parameters was our car had upgraded 20-inch wheels, and fat Pirelli P-Zero summer tires – two inches larger, and wider than base. Low rolling resistance rubber need not apply for this hybrid.

Also in the for-what-it’s-worth boasting rights category, the E-Hybrid is the fastest regular production plug-in car sold in America. Its 167 mph top speed exceeds even Teslas, though the quickest 130-mph Model S P85+ will out-sprint it to 60.

Value Proposition?


The S-E-Hybrid is trying to offer everything from zero-emissions frugality to gas-swilling, tire straining indulgence in one package, but the question is: is this indeed a good thing, or not so much?

As one of only seven plug-in hybrids sold in the U.S., it for now gives a certain “other” status buyers will either take a shining to, or they’ll still pass on it.


Like any luxury purchase, it’s the sum of so many tangibles that add up to an intangible subjective impression. Porsche knows its reputation is sterling, and its pedigree lets it produce a car that if GM were to try the same, it would be publicly tarred and feathered.

The notion of a “performance hybrid” or “luxury hybrid” is catching on, but to both sides of the aisle – the purely eco conscious, or the pure performance car aficionado – the mixed messages do make some take pause.

But the car could be great for some. If the other more focused Panameras weren’t there to compare, it would be a performance benchmark.

As for the electric range, if you have charging at your destination, you could get it to 30 miles round trip, and at the end of the day, you’re driving a Porsche.

Further, the Panamera is competitive against diesels and regular hybrids from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes.

Bottom line is if you can be happy with a 90th percentile member of a line of sedans that are themselves among the sportiest in their class, you might like the E-Hybrid.


If however you want maximum performance, the economy next to a 21-mpg combined 4S is only a little better, and it’s the E-Power you’ll need to decide whether you can live without in exchange for a sharper AWD car costing $700 less.

At this level, does 3-4 mpg even matter, or is it about the experience? Right, it is about the experience, and which experience you value more – techno cool, cutting edge, or all the speed you can get – is what you will need to decide.


Jul 24

LG Chem says it will have a 200-mile EV battery for 2016 – Is it for GM?


Do you ever find yourself wishing the automakers and their suppliers would just spill the beans?

Is it impatient to want to know what’s next? Or is it more fun to speculate? Not sure on that one, but here’s another chance to speculate and be patient …


General Motor representatives have said on different occasions GM could have a 200-mile range battery electric car as soon as 2016, but have been short on details beyond that.

Yesterday it was reported LG Chem says it will be able to supply a 200-mile-range EV battery by 2016, said at least one automaker will get it, but did not say which one(s) will.

General Motors uses LG Chem cells for its Chevy Volt, Cadillac ELR, and exported Volt/Ampera siblings.

The connection is obvious, and seems intuitive enough that GM is in line to get the Korean battery company’s next battery, but questions remain.

LG Chem also happens to supply batteries to other automakers, including Ford, Hyundai, Kia, Volvo, and Renault. Could one or more of these get the LG Chem battery, and GM not get it?

If somehow GM is not the one to get it, where will its next battery come from?

Will it also add this potentially more energy dense battery into the next Volt, or other plug-in extended-range cars?

GM has shown itself a bit reserved in pushing the EV agenda, but to skeptics, it has said not to count it out. It has also tasked a team of watchers to track Tesla which also is planning a 200-mile car maybe by 2016 or 2017, and has said Tesla will not leave it behind when the EV race heats up later.

To be clear also, a “200-mile-range” battery is possible today with existing technology, just look at Tesla Model S or Roadster if you want proof of that.

What’s not being spelled out is what is the specific chemistry, packaging, and energy density that may be represented by this headline-grabbing 200-mile range LG Chem battery in the works.

Other times that GM has suggested Tesla will not leave it in the dust include March 2013 when former CEO Dan Akerson told a Houston conference as much, and September 2013 when GM’s Vice President of Global Product Development Doug Parks did also.



Jul 23

College students to attempt solar EV speed record today


By Mark Atkinson

Note: Found this story yesterday, and today is the day for the world record attempt. A new writer, Mark Atkinson did the writing. The videos add detail – Jeff.

A team of students from the University of New South Wales in Australia is hoping to add another record to their mantel tomorrow. 23.



The Sunswift team, which is comprised of about 60 engineering, business and support members, had previously set a Guinness World Record for the fastest solar-powered vehicle in 2011 after it reached a top speed of 55 mph.


Sunswift eVe during its first-ever test

The newest vehicle, eVe, aims to break the 20-year-old record for highest average speed over 310 miles (500 km), which currently sits at 45 mph (73 km/h). The car is equipped with flexible PV solar cells that can produce up to 800 watts of power with clear skies, but they won’t be functioning for the record attempt. Instead, the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery pack and pair of custom-built electric motors with a claimed 97 percent efficiency will be the sole source of energy and propulsion. With help from the solar panels, eVe can travel around 500 miles (800 km), or 310 miles (500 km) using only the batteries.

Carbon fiber is generously used in the body and front wheels, which help keeps eVe’s weight to only 661 pounds (300 kg).

As is common with these school-run endeavors, Sunswift has had some assistance from various levels of the Australian government and other local businesses and corporations, although the team itself is run completely by volunteers.

UPDATE – 7/23, 7:30 EST: Looks like they set the record – average speed of 107 kph (66.5 mph) – but we’re waiting to confirm. Reportedly FIA must make the determination officially.

Exterior: TeXtreme Carbon fibre constructed by Core Builders.
Solar Panels: C60 Sunpower silicon solar cells. High efficiency (22.7%) and lightweight.
Encapsulation: Solbian high performance encapsulation.
Motor: 2 Maran in-hub motors developed by the CSIRO. Low power high efficiency by electric car standards.
Battery: Panasonic NCR 18650 A and B.
Suspension: Front Bilstein Ohlins. Rear TTX25 spring damper.
Wheels: Front: GH Craft carbon front wheels. Rear: 7075 Aluminium wheels.
Tyres: Michelin Radial X tyres specifically designed for solar cars.


Jul 22

There will be no gen-two Ampera


General Motors not surprisingly refused to comment on “future product,” but a believed-reliable report says Opel will discontinue the Ampera after next year’s redesign of the Chevrolet Volt.



Following abysmally declining sales, the word given by two “people familiar with the matter” to Automotive News Europe confirms again 2016 is the year for the next-gen Volt, but the Ampera is being cut loose.

Launched in 2012, and named European Car of the Year, Ampera sales were reportedly good at first, but for 2013 they declined 40 percent to 3,184 units, and this year through May they declined 67 percent to 332 cars sold.

Volt fans have often expressed the Ampera was the more attractively styled of the two plug-in variants built in Detroit, but Automotive News cited a 2013 comment of frustration by then GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky as to its market acceptance.

“All the governments in Europe said, ‘We want EVs, we want EVs,’” he said from the 2013 Geneva auto show. “We show up with one, and where is everybody?”

In Germany, Opel’s home market, the GM product sold just 46 cars the first half of this year. That compares to 83 Ferrari F12s according to the German motor transport authority (KBA).

Automotive News