Archive for the ‘General’ Category

 

Apr 26

CFA Lists America’s Best And Worst Automakers By MPG

 

It’s been said California ZEV rules are a more-critical driver to electrification, and this is true. CAFE does not need more than 1-3 percent plug-in electrification to make the grade which is essentially 40 mpg on window stickers by 2025.

Though poked at times for fewer sales than some would like to see, the Volt's sales also clearly dominate the record of plug-in hybrids, including the Ford C-Max and Fusion Energi siblings combined.

Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules are working to improve passenger vehicle fuel economy and this is good for everybody.

That about sums findings yesterday by the CFA which said 15 of the 16 major auto companies selling in the U.S. met or exceeded their 2015 fuel economy performance, and overall, Americans have more fuel-efficient choices than ever.

SEE ALSO: Despite Now-Cheap Gas, US Consumers Support Federal MPG Standards

“And since the announcement of higher standards,” said the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) yesterday of the picture of compliance with Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules, “many car companies have increased the percentage of their vehicles with higher fuel efficiency, providing strong evidence that automakers can meet the current standards agreed to in 2012.”

The Washington-based watchdog group said this in conjunction with releasing survey results, a report on how automakers are doing, along with advocating the position that automakers should not try to wiggle out of federal fuel economy targets yet subject to review for 2022-2025.

In turn, it was a positive report for new car shoppers.

“Fuel efficiency increasingly comes standard with new cars, trucks, and SUVs” said Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for CFA and author of The Car Book. “Even if you’re in the market for a large pickup or SUV, you’d have to go out of your way to find a true gas guzzler.”

This year is the third model year in a row, said the CFA, that over half of all passenger cars and trucks for sale in the U.S. meet or beat the national standards.

However, there are some relative winners and losers with regards to how they are complying with current CAFE and related emissions standards.

And, there are some twists. Like what does non-EV making Mazda have in common with Tesla?

Answer: Mazda is the first automaker other than Tesla, says the CFA, to achieve 100-percent compliance with federal fleet mpg targets – up from 75 percent last year.

Gillis said the CFA assessed automakers by 2016 product assortment, not sales, which won't be known for two- and-a-half years or so. The feds will grade their specific performance then, and penalties stand to be levied for those who do not meet standards. This is and has been a cost of doing business for automakers.

Gillis said the CFA assessed automakers by 2016 product assortment, not sales, which won’t be known for two-and-a-half years or so. The feds will grade their specific performance then, and penalties stand to be levied for those who do not meet standards. This is and has been a cost of doing business for automakers.

The Japanese automaker is helped by not having its product assortment sprinkled with gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks like other larger automakers do, whereas Tesla makes the grade the good new fashioned way – by avoiding gas completely.

As it is, the CFA divvied up the numbers some more to find another odd match-up where the country’s dominant seller of hybrids – Toyota – has something in common with the country’s second-worst-scoring automaker altogether.

What’s that? Neither Toyota nor FCA recorded very significant improvements in their fleet mpg average from 2015 top 2016.

Last year Toyota’s fleet was 34-percent in compliance, and for 2016 it’s up 1 percent to 35 percent compliant. By contrast, Fiat-Chrysler was 17 percent compliance and actually got a little better to 21 percent compliant in 2016.

Noteworthy: Mitsubishi (70 percent vs. 39 percent in 2015) – though CFA says the results must be confirmed in light of Mitsubishi’s recent admission in Japan a of inaccurate reporting; Hyundai (59 percent vs. 28 percent in 2015); Ford, declined slightly (32 percent in 2016 vs. 34 percent in 2015).

Noteworthy: Mitsubishi (70 percent vs. 39 percent in 2015) – though CFA says the results must be confirmed in light of Mitsubishi’s recent admission in Japan a of inaccurate reporting; Hyundai (59 percent vs. 28 percent in 2015); Ford, declined slightly (32 percent in 2016 vs. 34 percent in 2015).

Automakers’ fleets of new vehicles on offer are measured by the federal government by “footprint.” That is, fuel economy targets for smaller cars are higher than those of larger SUVs and pickups.

And, among these vehicles in any automaker’s fleets, not all meet a given year’s target for its class.

Instead, observes the CFA, automakers sell vehicles above and below a given year’s standards.

The CAFE standards automakers agreed to in 2012 however have improve the fleet average mpg, as intended, and the CFA said this is proof the standards set are valid and reasonable.

“Indeed, the fact that the number of cars achieving more than 23 mpg has risen by 43 percent in the last 10 years is strong evidence that reaching a goal of 40 mpg by 2025 is attainable,” said the advocacy in a statement.

Over 30 MPG Club

Thanks in no small part to extremely efficient electrified vehicles and “all-new” models sprinkled into product assortments, the percentage of vehicles now exceeding 30 mpg combined is at an all time high.

In all, automakers reported 19 “all-new” vehicles for 2016 which at least met the 2016 CAFE standard.

Almost all (95 percent) will remain CAFE-compliant for another 2 years, until 2018. Seventy-seven percent will be CAFE-compliant until 2020, and 18 percent will remain in compliance until 2024.

Almost all (95 percent) will remain CAFE-compliant for another 2 years, until 2018. Seventy-seven percent will be CAFE-compliant until 2020, and 18 percent will remain in compliance until 2024.

The CFA said the percentage of “all-new” cars that were 2016 CAFE-compliant increased to 80 percent in 2016 from 42 percent in 2015.

However, the percentage of CAFE-compliant light trucks and SUVs stayed the same at 40 percent.

“We already have immensely popular cars and trucks that meet and beat the standards 13 out of the 14 major world-wide auto companies agreed to in 2012,” Gillis said. “So it’s hard to see any reason to slow down on fuel economy, especially given how

Full Report

 

Apr 25

Consumer Reports Compares 2016 Prius with 2016 Volt

 

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The Prius and the Volt are redesigned this year, and last Friday Consumer Reports posted a comparo of sorts.

While of course they are in different segments, the publication was loosely lumping them into the electrified gas-saver category as justification to compare and contrast, and did so for general automotive categories of performance, design, utility, etc.

“First, let’s address the elephant in the room: Why should you care about being green, when gas is so cheap right now?” posed the magazine. “Well, saving money is always a good thing. The new Prius boasts even better fuel mileage, while the Volt can drive significantly further on a single electric charge.”

There’s also the feel-good factor of helping to save the planet, added CR, plus gas savings is a hedge in case gas prices go back up.

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The cross-comparison of the powertrains covers territory familiar to readers of GM-Volt. The Prius is a hybrid, it always needs gas – 52 mpg worth, according to the EPA – and CR has seen an actual 50 in its testing.

The Volt goes gas free for 52 miles which means it may go gas free a long time in practical use, because many won’t need that much, or they may do intra-day charging to increase range. In CS mode, the Volt gets 42 mpg.

On the road, the Volt is an EV with extended range, CR correctly said. This contrasts from blended PHEVs which will kick the gas on with a floored accelerator. CR says it gets 49 miles e-range without trying hard.

Power is in the Volt’s favor, but neither car is downright slow.

“While the Prius isn’t slow, it lacks the Volt’s zip” said CR. “Its gas/electric combination is incapable of generating much low-end torque. Clearly, Toyota’s emphasis is on fuel economy.”

In the turns also, both automakers have made strides with better handling vehicles.

“Twisty bits aren’t either car’s forte, but neither disappoints,” said CR defying claims of sportiness by Chevrolet and Toyota. “The Volt turns in quickly, but that agility seems to wane if you keep up the pace. The Prius has less roll and a more settled feel than the floppy, numb version it replaces.”

In the Volt’s favor is power delivery.

“There’s a rewarding feeling when driving the Volt in full-electric mode, with its whirring flow of power.” Said CR. “While the Prius has an EV mode, it’s only if you feather the throttle at low speeds.”

Style wise – both vehicles are refreshed. We’ve heard the bashing some have felt like giving the Prius. The Volt looks more mainstream.

Inside, CR goes over a bit of details.

Inside, both cars were given thorough revamps. The Prius has shed its abundant hard and hollow plastic, replaced with some soft-touch bits and higher-grade fabrics. Not all of us are fond of the white plastic trim, with some likening the center storage tray to a Stormtrooper’s bedpan. The vivid and colorful center-dash-mounted gauge display is an improvement.
The Prius’ wide, firm front seats should suit varied body types versus the Volt’s somewhat short, cushioned ones. Neither the Volt LT nor the Prius Three come with adjustable lumbar support, which is, surprising at these price points. The Prius’ door and center armrests could use more padding, while the Volt’s left footrest is positioned too close for comfort for most drivers.
The Volt’s black-on-black cabin isn’t flashy, but we appreciate the center stack’s layout of conventional knobs and buttons, and the prominent, intuitive touch screen display. The Volt’s heater took forever to get going, making it necessary to buy the optional seat and steering wheel heaters. Neither car is easy to see out of, especially through the Toyota’s split rear window, although both have a standard rear camera. Each offers blind-spot monitoring, but only on the expensive trims.

Bottom line, CR stands back and asks which works best for you? Then it gives its view.

But the Prius comes across as more normal—assuming you aren’t turned off by its styling. The interior is roomier and easier to see out of, cargo space is significantly bigger, and you never have to feel guilty because you forgot to plug it in. It’s impressively stingy with fuel and has long been extremely reliable.

Pricing for the Prius Two begins at $24,200 and goes up to $30,000 for the Four Touring. Volt pricing starts at $33,220 for the LT and $37,570 for the Premier. The Volt benefits from the $7,500 federal tax incentive available to electric car buyers, in addition to incentives in some states. Check your state’s website for available credits.

Consumer Reports

 

Apr 22

GM’s 5-Year Plan in China Includes More Than 10 Plug-in Cars

 

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General Motors’ China operations will have access to its entire portfolio of electrified tech solutions to begin turning out domestic and “global” green cars over the next five years.

China is the world’s largest car market and GM’s largest as well, accounting for over a third of its business. The company said last month that through 2020 it will announce more than 10 plug-in electrified “new energy vehicles” (NEVs) plus hybrids, out of over 60 new and refreshed models in an overarching growth plan.

“During the next five years, GM and its joint ventures will roll out more than 10 new energy vehicles under the Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and Baojun brands,” the automaker said in a statement. “They will include the Shanghai-built Cadillac CT6 Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle, which will go on sale later this year.”

The company’s joint ventures are SAIC-GM which is responsible for Buick, Chevy, and Cadillac, and SAIC-GM-Wuling, which produces Wuling and Baojun brand vehicles.

SEE ALSO: Why the 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid Gets Better MPG Than The 2016 Chevy Volt

The upscale CT6 is the first of the promised NEVs, and due also for export to the U.S. It is intended to compete with German sedans, sell in limited volume, and uses an evolution of the Volt’s drive unit with increased power.

Cadillac_CT6-668x409

Another officially issued statement by GM specifically teases plug-in type vehicles American enthusiasts have asked GM for years to build.

“GM’s leadership in electrification technologies, now and in the future, are coming to Buick in China,” said Larry Nitz, GM executive director of Global Propulsion Systems this week. “In fact, over the next five years, we will roll out more than 10 new energy vehicles in China, including several models for Buick. That includes full hybrids, plug-in hybrids and extended-range electric vehicles.”

Despite Nitz’s statement, China’s government does not classify non-plug-in hybrids as NEVs. The first of these however, the Buick LaCrosse Hybrid, was unveiled this week. This Chinese market car is the second non-plug-in hybrid derivative from the Volt, and has a powertrain nearly identical to that which is in the U.S. market Malibu Hybrid.

Potential To Export Globally

SAIC-GM has said the LaCrosse Hybrid is only for Chinese sale, but industry watchers hold out the possibility that this model could become another vehicle imported to North America.

GM has not said, but unlike the Malibu hybrid and non-hybrid variants, the LaCrosse Hybrid’s powertrain is much less of a match for the 300-horsepower conventional LaCrosse capable of 0-60 in the low six-second range. Whether this would fit the line without increased power, and decreased mpg, is an open question.

To date, in addition to the CT6 Plug in Hybrid, GM has announced the Buick Envision, a conventionally powered crossover, as also being exported from China.

Buick LaCrosse Hybrid. GM has only said this is for China.

Buick LaCrosse Hybrid. GM has only said this is for China.

Speaking to Bloomberg this year regarding the CT6 PHEV, Eric Noble, president of California-based consulting firm Carlab offered his view that the Chinese-built car was one of more to come.

“Longer term, we should see more of this because GM’s Chinese operations have every capability required to provide cars for North America,” said Noble. “They would import here instead of from Europe because Chinese consumer tastes align more closely to American tastes than Europe’s ever did.”

SEE ALSO: GM Highlights Tech Details For Its Quick, Efficient Cadillac CT6 PHEV

Notable is the two vehicles GM is shipping abroad from China are upscale, expected to be world class. Its LaCrosse unveiling, while for China, was called a “global” unveiling, and the company has said more “global” unveilings are in the making.

But when asked whether China is being positioned as a new manufacturing base for more electrified vehicles to come to the U.S. and other markets, GM’s Shanghai product communications rep, Chad Lyons gave little indication that might be in the plans.

“In many cases, we believe it is a sound business practice to source suppliers and build vehicles in the markets where we sell, as opposed to shipping parts and vehicles to global markets,” said Lyons today. “In China, we expect the Plug-In Hybrid to be a very significant portion of the car’s consumer appeal. Given the vast majority of sales, close to 90 percent will take place in China, the Plug-In Hybrid CT6 will only be assembled in China, with a small quantity exported.”

Buick Envision.

Buick Envision.

Further, even if the potential is there, Michigan-based analyst Alan Baum expressed doubt that GM intends to build and export electrified vehicles any time soon to the U.S.

For one thing, the market in the U.S. may not be there. The company he said, is better at engineering than it is at sales and marketing, citing how the Volt especially has been sold the past five years, and what GM’s statements on it are to this day.

Citing also the entire slowed U.S. market – not withstanding around 400,000 reservations for the Tesla Model 3 – Baum does not see Chinese GM electrified exports to the U.S. happening in significant volume at this time. What might happen in the near term into next decade is another open question.

Growth Strategy

The prospect of 10 or more NEVs is part of greenification efforts in GM’s broader plan through 2020 projecting more than 60 new and revised models in China.

GM was an early pioneer in China 19 years ago, and while that market is slowing, GM projects growth and says it wishes to be on the cusp.

GM Executive Vice President and GM China President Matt Tsien outlines the company’s five-year sustainable growth strategy in China focused on an improved product mix, greener technologies and personal mobility solutions.

GM Executive Vice President and GM China President Matt Tsien outlines the company’s five-year sustainable growth strategy in China focused on an improved product mix, greener technologies and personal mobility solutions.

Last July, the automaker announced investment of $5 billion over the coming years in a family of vehicles for global growth markets.

“Working with its Chinese partner SAIC, GM will replace several current vehicles for growth markets based on multiple architectures with an even larger family of vehicles based on one core architecture,” said the company.

While last year China accounted for over a third of GM’s global deliveries, it expects the Chinese vehicle market to increase by 5 million units or more by 2020, about 3-5 percent growth per year.

For 2016 and each year through 2020, GM projects 40 percent of its global sales to come from new and refreshed models – up from 25 percent in 2015.

“GM is very well positioned to participate in this growth,” said GM China President Matt Tsien. “We will continue to focus on the segments where the demand is strong and growing. This has been a key to our success from day one.”

The overall product mix will be 40 percent SUV, MPV and luxury vehicles, which also are growth segments. GM also announced a host of mobility services.

Greenification

While GM has said it’s committed in China, in question is the timing of remaining NEVs to be announced through 2020, and even regular hybrids.

It is thus anyone’s guess what might be the specific “full hybrids, plug-in hybrids and extended-range electric vehicles” (plural) Nitz said are coming in the next five years.

By way of reminder, General Motors is a “global” company, said Kevin Kelly, senior Manager, Global Advanced Technology Communications.

Its engineering strategy – which was called “genius” by Baum for the efficiencies it affords GM – has been to make use of various hardware and software across vehicle lines.

While limited market, the Chevy Spark EV shared user data and hardware which helped build the Bolt EV.

While limited market, the Chevy Spark EV shared user data and hardware which helped build the Bolt EV.

“We try to leverage our existing systems and components as much as possible to improve customer affordability and reduce our internal costs,” said Kelly noting the Malibu Hybrid and LaCrosse Hybrid using a drive unit (electric transaxle) developed for the Volt.

“There are less than a dozen part changes between the two systems, yet they provide two distinct customer propositions,” said Kelly. “We are also sharing battery cells between the Volt, Spark EV and CT6 PHEV. We also share software and control systems across a variety of our electrified technologies.”

And to be sure, GM is posturing itself for more, said Lyons

“Last year passenger vehicle sales here totaled a little over 20 million. Meanwhile, there were 190,000 NEV passenger vehicle sales,” Lyons said, “while that’s a big number, it amounts to about one percent of non-NEV passenger vehicle sales. There has been significant growth here in the NEV market – much of it bolstered by fiscal incentives.”

Lyons said GM is positioned to take advantage of all relevant intellectual property to create more world-class vehicles and maximize its chances for success.

“Our operations here in China have access to the full portfolio of GM’s electrification solutions as the market matures and supporting infrastructure grows,” said Lyons. “This is why we’ve committed to 10 new NEV’s within the next five years.”

The 2016 Malibu Hybrid was designed alongside the second-generation 2016 Volt. The Volt's drive unit was made more compatible as a sort of DNA donor to spin off more models with much less development cost and quicker time to market.

The 2016 Malibu Hybrid was designed alongside the second-generation 2016 Volt. The Volt’s drive unit was made more compatible as a sort of DNA donor to spin off more models with much less development cost and quicker time to market.

But the broad plan includes other technologies for conventional engines to maximize efficiency, said Lyons.

“In the interim, we are adopting stop/start, small displacement turbocharged engines and HEV more and more,” said Lyions. “All of the Cadillac, Buick and Chevrolet vehicles we’ve launched this year in China offer turbo and stop/start. Two are HEVs (Malibu, CT6, XT5 and LaCrosse).”

Speaking to Bloomberg in January, GM President Dan Ammann summed things up on where it sees China.

“That will be the largest market for electrified vehicles,” Ammann said. “The next generation of fuel-economy rules in China will be quite stringent at the end of this decade and into the next.”

North American Implications

While GM yet may build new plug-in hybrids and extended-range electric vehicles in the U.S., it has not yet said as definitively what it has in store.

“We have not made any specific claims regarding future rollout targets for electrified vehicles in the U.S.,” said Kelly.

Kelly added he was not at liberty to discuss specifics of GM’s U.S. electrification strategy, or its plans for leveraging specific technologies for specific applications in the future.

The Volt-based extended-range MPV5 was shown in Beijing in 2010. It was never built. If a crossover in this segment were produced using today's Volt powertrain, it might get more than 40-50 miles EV range. To date, GM has made no U.S. announcements of pending EREVs in the Volt's class, it still has not in China either, but it did say EREVs of some sort could be pending for GM's biggest market.

The Volt-based extended-range MPV5 was shown in Beijing in 2010. It was never built. If a crossover in this segment were produced using today’s Volt powertrain, it might get more than 40-50 miles EV range. To date, GM has made no U.S. announcements of pending EREVs in the Volt’s class, it still has not in China either, but it did say EREVs of some sort could be pending for GM’s biggest market.

General Motors does have a closely guarded plan in the U.S. however, said Pam Fletcher, GM executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles, in an interview at the Volt unveiling in January 2015.

Yesterday Kelly added he could not confirm where potential systems and components will be manufactured, though eyes are on China and elsewhere, not to mention the U.S.

The company has made significant investments in North America also, and Kelly simply said GM has its options open.

“GM is a global company and we’re focused on delivering our customers around the world with electrification solutions that will provide them tangible benefits in terms of fuel economy gains,” he said. “There’s not one solution that will work in every market for every customer so we’ll continue to provide multiple technologies.”

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Apr 21

Should Automakers Be Glad Toyota Smiles On Hydrogen And Is Tepid Toward Plug-in Hybrids?

 

GM is another giant, but this article merely poses that PHEVs were Toyota’s game to lose, and it is content to take that chance letting other competitors (like GM, etc.) make inroads to PHEV development while it rests on its laurels and chases hydrogen and established HEVs.

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Toyota has been critiqued for its championing of a “Hydrogen Society” while all but sidelining battery electric cars, but it is nearly just as unenthusiastic about plug-in hybrids.

Last month it introduced a revision to its only plug-in hybrid with no plans for more PHEVs, this month its chairman urged the industry to devote more resources to fuel cell technology, and is this state of affairs buying time for aspiring plug-in makers to catch up?

To be sure a shake-out is underway in the “all of the above” technological approach to slowly displace petroleum from the transportation landscape. From the last decade into this, Toyota has held a leadership position with its gas-electric hybrids, and today it utterly dominates with nearly three-quarters of the U.S. hybrid market.

Read 'em and weep. Who is the dominant hybrid seller? Toyota/Lexus. Who is not interested in leveraging advantages into more plug-in hybrids? The same. Source: March 2016 HybridCars.com Dashboard.

Read ’em and weep. Who is the dominant hybrid seller? Toyota/Lexus. Who is not interested in leveraging advantages into more plug-in hybrids? The same. Source: March 2016 HybridCars.com Dashboard.

A plug-in hybrid is essentially a regular hybrid such as Toyota and its Lexus brand make with the addition of extra battery capacity and other engineering details. But while Toyota has a fleet of potential plug-in hybrids in the making, its focus is launching hybrid powertrain options for its entire lineup by the 2020s, and pursuing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, with its Mirai being the first.

Company executives have called fuel cell tech a “long term play,” as Toyota leverages sizable cash reserves, market position, and plows forward with more than a decade of development in this zero tailpipe emission technology.

Pressed like other Europeans to meet tightening regulations while still needing to satisfy customer requirements for luxury and power, Mercedes-Benz last year announced it would have 10 plug-in electrified car by 2017.

Pressed like other Europeans to meet tightening regulations while still needing to satisfy customer requirements for luxury and power, Mercedes-Benz last year announced it would have 10 plug-in electrified car by 2017.


All other automakers working toward hybrids and plug-in hybrids, including Korean, U.S., and European –- the latter of which being in process of embracing them in favor of diesel –– are spending billions just to get to where Toyota now sits with its hybrid sub-empire.

Toyota has already worked out the key part of the plug-in hybrid equation, its less-than 2.0 kWh NiMh batteries are amortized, and proven to consumers.

A PHEV upgrade could be nearly a case of just add batteries, but it has said lithium-ion technology has too many drawbacks including range for pure EVs, recharge time, and cost, and it sees greater potential in gaseous hydrogen.

Other Pursuits

Last Thursday in a speech at the SAE World Congress, Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada urged automakers to get on board in developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Toyota's U.S. arm knew critics would poke at its "quixotic" choices, so it in jest replaced Don Quixote and Sancho Panza with Uchiyamada san on the right, at last year's Mirai launch, and Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso on the left.

Toyota’s U.S. arm knew critics would poke at its “quixotic” choices, so it in jest replaced Don Quixote and Sancho Panza with Uchiyamada san on the right, at last year’s Mirai launch, and Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso on the left.

“Toyota firmly believes the benefits of a hydrogen society are enormous for a healthy global environment,” said Uchiyamada. “That is why we are playing a leading role in bringing together automakers, energy companies, government agencies and others to help build the required refueling infrastructure.”

SEE ALSO: Two Dozen Automotive Brands Are Looking For The Hydrogen Highway

The company’s Mirai – which shares its design language with the 22-mile estimated range 2017 Prius Prime recently revealed – has taken off slowly.

“The big problem is … not enough hydrogen refueling stations,” Uchiyamada said. “If we want fuel cell vehicles to become popular, we have to build infrastructure from the ground up. And that is no easy task.”

The Mirai offers 312 miles range, and when a pump is available, can refill in minutes. While enthusiastically received by many, it has been blasted by plug-in advocates as keeping consumers tied to petroleum interests, wedded to the pump, and for using hydrogen with an energy equation that makes less sense than ever-improving battery dependent cars with far more infrastructure in place. FCV proponents not least of which being Toyota meanwhile argue the other side.

The Mirai offers 312 miles range, and when a pump is available, can refill in minutes. While enthusiastically received by many, it has been blasted by plug-in advocates as keeping consumers tied to petroleum interests, wedded to the pump, and for using hydrogen with an energy equation that makes less sense than ever-improving battery dependent cars with far more infrastructure in place. FCV proponents not least of which being Toyota meanwhile argue the other side.


Last year Toyota said it would share more than 5,600 fuel cell technology related patents to competitors free of charge to encourage development.

Striking While the Iron is Cold

Toyota is taking a gamble on FCVs, it has admitted as much, but it is doing so at a time when other automakers are themselves only slowly embracing electrified technology.

Lots of rhetoric is spun, and news of new plug-in models is constantly pouring forth, but numbers do not lie. More than five years after the launch of the class-leading 35-mile range 2011 Chevy Volt, plug-in hybrids constitute just 0.30 percent of the U.S. market through March. Only one dozen cars are selling, and four of them at a paltry 100 or less units per month.

2017 Chevy Volt with 53 miles EV range. The 2011 model opened the market which has not taken off as fast as early projections estimated. Things are heating up however, as regulations tighten, and consumer awareness increases.

2017 Chevy Volt with 53 miles EV range. The 2011 model opened the market which has not taken off as fast as early projections estimated. Things are heating up however, as regulations tighten, and consumer awareness increases.

The hybrid market also is in a lull at 1.82 percent, with inexpensive gasoline pulling mainstream customers away, not to mention plug-in hybrids and battery electric cars attracting those conscious of alternative technology.

Looking at its heritage started by its Prius over a decade and a half ago to justify where it wants to be a decade and a half from now with its FCVs, Toyota is going for it.

Opportunities Bypassed

The Japanese automaker sells seven Toyota-brand hybrids, and six Lexus-brand hybrids in the U.S. and among America’s top 15 best-selling hybrids, 10 are either a Lexus or Toyota.

All the company’s products present varying degrees of opportunity to strike a claim in the growing plug-in market.

A major hole that’s persisted to date is with plug-in hybridized trucks and SUVs which stand to save more fuel than compact cars made more efficient.

The new 2016 RAV4 Hybrid has catapulted to the top of the hybrid sales chart, second only to the Prius and now supplanting established traditional second-and third placed sellers. There is demand for a more fuel efficient AWD crossover SUV.

The new 2016 RAV4 Hybrid has catapulted to the top of the hybrid sales chart, second only to the Prius and now supplanting established traditional second-and third placed sellers. There is demand for a more fuel efficient AWD crossover SUV.

In the SUV department, Toyota’s all-wheel-drive RAV4 Hybrid, its similar but upscale Lexus NX 300h, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and similar but upscale Lexus RX 450h could potentially be offered in plug-in hybrid versions.

This year a plug-in hybrid from one of America’s most-ailing carmakers, Mitsubishi, may at last come to these shores with around 20 miles give or take electric range from its 12-kWh battery. The Outlander PHEV has been Europe’s best seller as it’s less pricey than opulent plug-in chariots now and pending from Volvo, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi.

Best bet short of a luxury brand: Mitsubishi's 2017 Outlander PHEV is promised at last for the U.S.

Best bet short of a luxury brand: Mitsubishi’s 2017 Outlander PHEV is promised at last for the U.S.

Can you image Toyota with its brand image for hybrids throwing its weight into plug-in versions of its proven and evolved hybrid SUVs? The rear wheel drive on these is already pure electric with a dedicated traction motor that works when slippage occurs. Their larger chassis may have greater room to stuff batteries without excessively impeding cargo space – always a priority with Toyota’s engineering mandates.

These vehicles are along in their lifecycles, and it might make more sense for Toyota to do this with a full refresh in a couple of years, but it has made no indication anything of the sort is on the agenda.

At the same time the Europeans, pressed by tightening Euro 6 emission regulations demanding 95 grams CO2/km early next decade are scrambling to sprinkle in plug-in versions of their vehicles.

Aspiring upstarts from Korea, the U.S., Japan, and even China also are making inroads, if at a moderate pace.

Other Toyotas that could stand the plug-in hybrid treatment include your pick, but a Camry Hybrid might be one that makes sense. Toyota’s Japanese competitor Honda also made a 2014 Accord PHEV, did pull that from the market after only one year of limited sales, but has promised for 2018 a 40-mile range replacement on the same platform as its Clarity fuel cell vehicle.

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At Toyota, no announcements have been made even to chase its historical nemesis.

Undoubtedly it is a tough market at this stage, and the only midsized PHEV sedan competitors now are the Hyundai Sonata PHEV, Ford Fusion Energi, and pending Kia Optima PHEV. Not even Chevrolet with its Volt-derived 46 mpg Malibu Hybrid has yet announced a PHEV version, but it has said it would be a simple matter of adding kilowatt-hours and possibly some lost trunk space.

The Camry is also approaching need for a refresh, having been majorly updated last year but with 40/41 mpg powertrain carried over from 2012 and no longer more efficient than newer contenders like the Malibu. PHEV fans can only hope.

Smarter Than Some Think?

Is Toyota a sleeping giant? Has it lost its way as some have suggested, or does it know its business, and is only crazy like a fox?

Those questions will go unanswered, but true is Toyota has brand cachet, reputation for reliability, resale value, and as of last August had sold more than 8 million hybrids globally having begun in 1997.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV. The Korean firm and its sister Kia have aspirations to be a global number two green car seller. They too are pushing for hydrogen, but also placing bets on plug ins in greater measure than Toyota.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq PHEV. The Korean firm and its sister Kia have aspirations to be a global number two green car seller. They too are pushing for hydrogen, but also placing bets on plug ins in greater measure than Toyota.

It trades places as a global number one top selling manufacturer overall, and has all the engineering capability and experience needed to project itself forward in the PHEV market, if its leaders saw the business case.

Its aforementioned new plug-in hybrid, the 2017 Prius Prime, has so far met with mixed impressions partly for its design, and partly because its 22 miles EV range is 13 miles less than that of a 2011 Volt.

For good measure, Toyota even deleted the middle back seat and made it a four-seater – a criticism GM was lambasted for with the 2011-2015 Volt.

As a comparatively better esteemed import, it’s been said by Chevy Volt fans Toyota might be able to get away with this with less criticism, and otherwise the Prius Prime is what it is – not attempting to take over the world.

Sold in 15 green-car friendly U.S. states, the 2012-2015 Prius PHV did comparatively well even alongside the nationally available Chevy Volt, and electric Nissan Leaf.

Sold in 15 green-car friendly U.S. states, the 2012-2015 Prius PHV did comparatively well even alongside the nationally available Chevy Volt, and electric Nissan Leaf.

But despite the former 2012-2015 Prius PHV being less competitive than others in the EV range department, it has ranked as high as cumulative third place globally among all plug-in electrified vehicles. This, it has been suggested, shows how ready people are to place their trust in a Toyota plug-in based on the venerable Prius.

SEE ALSO: Five Ways Toyota Updated Its 2017 Prius ‘Prime’ Plug-in Hybrid

Today Toyota told us it has indeed not said “never” to more PHEVs, but its stance is not at this time.

March 2016 plug-in hybrid market share. Prius PHV has been out of production since June 2015, with the Prime due this year.

March 2016 plug-in hybrid market share. Prius PHV has been out of production since June 2015, with the Prime due this year.

The company is however at work on advanced batteries, and as costs come down, and other automakers carve out a market against resistance, it does have the option to step back into the plug-in market any time it wants in the next several years.

SEE ALSO: Toyota Defends Its Plans For Fuel Cells

It also is preserving for itself the lion’s share of its benefit under the the federal consumer tax credit which is capped at 200,000 per manufacturer. To date, Toyota has far fewer eligible sales than GM, Tesla and Nissan, which are on track to use up their allowance in the next couple years. If Congress does not increase the limit as some speculate it could, Toyota stands to later benefit having largely bypassed participation in the plug-in market most of the decade.

Much more could be said, but this is where things stand with the future still anyone’s guess.

This article appears also at HybridCars.com.

 

Apr 20

Volt-derived Malibu Drivetrain Powers Buick LaCrosse Hybrid Launched in Shanghai

 

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The 2016 Chevy Volt has had another grandchild.

On Monday in Shanghai, General Motors introduced its Buick LaCrosse Hybrid using a high-mpg powertrain derived from the Malibu Hybrid which itself is the offspring of the second-generation Chevy Volt.

The automaker and its joint venture partner SAIC say the vehicle is a major part of SAIC-GM’s “Drive to Green” strategy. The Lacrosse Hybrid Electric Vehicle as it is formally called debut was “global” though there are no plans at this time for the U.S. to get it, said Product Communications Representative, Chad Lyons.

The design of the new car is the same as the all-new Lacrosse also just introduced in China.

Under the hood of the non-plug-in hybrid is a 1.8 SIDI engine with electric drive unit that was co-developed with the 2016 Volt. A 1.5-kWh lithium-ion battery provides energy storage.

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General Motors has said the Volt’s new drive unit was developed with such a purpose in mind. The Malibu was the first spin off, and the automaker revealed January 2015 it would launch more, which it now has.

Fuel economy announced is 4.7 L/100 km (equal to 50 mpg, but GM’s number is on a non-U.S. cycle). Minor calibration differences and different final drive ratio were made for the LaCrosse Hybrid from the Malibu Hybrid, which in the U.S. is rated 46 mpg.

Time from 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) is said to be in 8.9 seconds.

Advanced features include electronic power steering, electronic climate control compressor, and exhaust thermal energy recycling. Also, there is an active grille that opens and closes to maximize operating efficiency.

“GM’s leadership in electrification technologies, now and in the future, are coming to Buick in China,” said Larry Nitz, GM executive director of Global Propulsion Systems. “In fact, over the next five years, we will roll out more than 10 new energy vehicles in China, including several models for Buick. That includes full hybrids, plug-in hybrids and extended-range electric vehicles.”

The vehicle will be shown April 25 at the Auto China 2016 show in Beijing.

This article appears also at HybridCars.com

 

Apr 19

Sergio Marchionne Doesn’t Buy The Tesla Model 3

 

What might he say about the Bolt?

By Jacob Joseph

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Last week Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne expessed skepticism over the upcoming Tesla Model 3, specifically in its ability to generate a profit.

When asked by Automotive News about the nearly 400,000 preorders that the Model 3 has racked up since a pre-production version of the car broke cover, Marchionne didn’t hold back his thoughts on the feasibility of the $35,000 electric car with 215-plus miles range.

“I’m am not surprised by the high number of reservations but you have then to build and deliver them and also be profitable,” said Marchionne on the sidelines of FCA’s annual meeting in Amsterdam on Friday.

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To date Fiat Chrysler has been reluctant to get into the EV game, with only one such car on the roster, the 500e. The car is a $32,500 electric version of the 500 with a range of 87 miles, built only to comply with regulations, and has always been a money pit for FCA.

Marchionne seemed perplexed at how Tesla could pack so much more range and space into the Model 3 for nearly the same price.

If Elon Musk “can show me that the car will be profitable at that price, I will copy the formula, add the Italian design flair and get it to the market within 12 months,” said Marchione.

When asked whether FCA is going to be late to the electrification game, Marchionne said “better late than sorry,” further nailing home his misgivings about Tesla’s latest gambit.

HybridCars.com