Archive for the ‘General’ Category


Dec 08

Audi planning Tesla-challenging electric crossover for US in 2017


Tesla has said it wants more EV makers to follow it into the market, others will, and Audi has now said it will too. Again.

The photo is of a Q6 EV with estimated 435 miles range (NEDC). The pending EV Automotive News reported Audi will build is for “for wealthy, environmentally conscious consumers.”


Formerly standoffish about electrification, Audi has reconfirmed it’s at work on an all-electric vehicle it aims to roll out in 2017 to go head-to-head with Tesla.

This is not to be confused with a battery powered conversion of the R8 sports car also due next year, and Audi is considering the EV’s final form with an eye toward making it a crossover.

The news told by Bloomberg follows a story this summer of two EVs with up to 300-400 miles range as measured on the European cycle.

“Our engineers are working” on an electric car to meet U.S. regulations for a zero-emission vehicle, said Audi CEO Rupert Stadler to Bloomberg in Berlin. “It’s probably going to be a crossover, but development work is still ongoing.”

SEE ALSO: 2017 Audi Electric SUVs To Be BMW and Tesla Fighters

The move comes as automakers seek to combat the upstart Tesla which has seen solid initial progress with its Model S, and aims to launch its Model X SUV next year.

Audi’s own growth strategy of course still rests on non-electrified gas and diesel models but part of the marketing cool factor these days is ultimate fuel-saving technology, which an EV could deliver.

Not unlike in years past when just a gas-powered highly desirable supercar would be enough to imbue a halo effect, a green halo is now in vogue to help automakers play the role of environmentally responsible transportation technology leaders.

Until now, Audi has only converted its existing cars to hybrid or plug-in hybrid, such as the A3 E-Tron hatchback, and more to come.

Already, fellow German competitor, BMW has taken the path toward electrification with its i3 EV, and i8 dedicated plug-in hybrid.

SEE ALSO: Audi Begins A3 e-tron EV Project in America

As Audi plans to expand its lineup from 50 cars to more than 60 this decade, it is also spending 22 billion euros by 2018 to increase its manufacturing capacity and Volkswagen AG itself has also said electrification will play an increasing role.

Audi for now is behind BMW and Mercedes in sales, but has increased 15 percent this year and beat it previous record of 158,061. The new EV is part of the broader plan, and we shall see what they come up with.

Automotive News


Dec 05

Toyota’s Craig Scott didn’t really mean ‘no one’ wants Toyota to build BEVs


If business is war is Toyota now letting others build a bridge it can later cross while it says BEVs are not ready for prime time?

Not sure, but that it’s gotten itself into some heat is more certain. But is it being punished for what other automakers only might have said behind closed doors?

Early last month Craig Scott, Toyota’s national manager of advanced technologies was largely pilloried by battery electric vehicle advocates for saying “no one” was asking Toyota to build EVs, but this, he says, was absolutely not what he meant.

The ire and backlash on green car websites and chat rooms came at a time when frustrations are high over the maker of the Prius otherwise sidestepping battery electric cars, branching into fuel cells, and drumming up publicity for its Mirai.

The full quote in paragraph three of an October 26 LA Times story that was then aggregated by several other publications, including this one, reads as follows:

Today, Toyota actually favors fuel cells over other zero-emission vehicles, like pure battery electric vehicles,” said Craig Scott, the company’s national manager of advanced technologies. “We would like to be still selling cars when there’s no more gas. And no one is coming to our door asking us to build a new electric car.


A couple weeks ago we caught up with Scott in Los Angeles, and asked what he thought now that his words had been called a “barefaced lie,” other unsavory things besides, and a petition had been started to formally ask Toyota to build EVs?

The whole thing was blown out of proportion, he said.

“That’s hyperbole, right? And unfortunately hyperbole gets me into some trouble sometimes,” said Scott of his statement that “no one” wants Toyota to build a battery electric car.

Examples of hyperbole might include expressions such as “If I don’t get that new iPhone, I will die.” It’s a manner of speech, understood not to be taken with literal intent.


Was the fact that some chose to interpret Scott’s statement literally merely proof of their own frustration, or did they really think he meant it?

Not sure on that, but to clarify, we asked whether he really meant “no one” wants Toyota to build an EV?

“No,” he said, and that was not the spirit and intent of what he was trying to impart.

“We’ve been very successful at selling the RAV EV, and I think that shows that people are very interested,” said Scott saying his hyperbolic meaning was taken “out of context” after a long interview.

The point he’d thought was understood when he said “no one” was not enough people are coming to Toyota’s door.

“There does not appear to be a large amount of mass market intenders,” said Scott of battery electric cars – and a “mass market” means volume far above what even the most successful battery electric cars now experience. Scott added he never thought he’d be taken at face value over an expression of speech.

“Obviously that’s crazy, that would be a foolish statement – not ‘one’ person – because we sell battery electric vehicles today,” said Scott. “That would be silly to say. That is not true.”

Toyota’s Actual Position

Scott didn’t say so, but allegedly anti-EV Toyota is actually hard at work on batteries in Japan, including solid state types that sources have projected might be available by the next model cycle, or around 2020.

Meanwhile, last year at its Hybrid World Tour in Ypsilanti Mich., Toyota said cars that sell in low volumes – (think Nissan Leaf) – are not enough to make a market it wants to go after at this point.

Last week Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn did say it will more than double the Leaf’s range, but today things are where they are. It’s possible Nissan’s new chemistry would arrive in a 2017 or year later Leaf and a larger battery could enable an Infiniti EV that would compete in ways against Tesla, but true enough, Toyota is sitting it out for now.


And at this stage, Toyota is not without an argument. Last year the U.S. bought 15.5 million passenger vehicles, and the best selling Nissan Leaf accounted for 22,610 units.

Nissan is doing better this year with 27,098 to date, but that’s nothing like the best-selling alternative energy car, the Prius Liftback, which is at 114,000 year to date, and hybrids themselves are yet a niche market.

True enough, Toyota’s FCVs will start at far more humble volumes with maybe 3,200 U.S. sales projected by 2018, but give them a decade, says Toyota. The automaker sees potential to grow beyond with cars it says meets mainstream driver expectations today.

Scott indicated the initial profitability in the sales of hydrogen may also have fatter margins than the now-glutted gasoline market, but ultimately, Toyota is waiting like others to see what a per-kilogram price of H2 will be. Anecdotal estimates range from a future low of $2-3 according to one potential projection by the Department of Energy, to $10 per kg.

The $10 figure may be closer to the mark. At this higher price, a 4-kg fill-up would amount to $40 in a Mirai for 300 miles range – much more than a Leaf costs to go the same distance, however this, like much else, hasn’t been determined.

But while gads of debatable points besides remain, who really would make a convenient scapegoat is in question. Also on board with the fuel cell agenda – or “fool cells” as Tesla CEO Elon Musk has called them – include federal government agencies, government agencies around the world, and California.

At the Mirai press event in Newport Beach last month, it was said California – which awards nine ZEV credits to FCVs but only four to a Model S – proudly sees itself on the cusp of the fuel cell revolution – even if it’s a revolution in slow motion expected to unfold over the next decade and a half.

Last year the state that’s zealous for clean air passed AB 8 allocating $20 million per year to fund up to 100 hydrogen stations through 2023. It wants 20 by the end of 2015 when the Mirai is launched, and 40 by 2016 – so there’s your start of a market.

Eight other states have signed a memorandum of understanding to follow California’s lead, though their degree of readiness and commitment appears to trail behind.

Never Say Never

Toyota has meanwhile not said never to battery electric cars even if some angry BEV supporters have now said never to Toyota for standing on the sidelines. Toyota is abundantly aware of the wrath in some quarters levied its way. Like every automaker, its core motive is to profit. This is its business decision, and now the PR fallout, which goes hand in glove, is what it also aims to heal.

Beginning next year it will be reaching out more on a plan to share its message, it hopes, without upsetting people as much as it did when then vice-chariman, and now Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, canceled a small electric city car’s development in Japan.

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” said Uchiyamada in September 2012.

Despite Uchiyamada’s statement, Toyota’s actual position is for now EVs can make sense for shorter range driving – unless you buy a Model S, of course. Within the mainstream sub $35,000 market, at this juncture, it’s sub-100 miles, and its $45,000 after federal and California subsidies FCV makes more sense, it says.

Nor does every “green car” advocate disapprove of fuel cells. Discussions over upstream CO2 – which one DoE rep not against fuel cells said is “easier to manage” – and well-to-wheel analysis have convinced many battery cars do make more sense, but not all agree.

The joke for years has been fuel cells are five years on the horizon and always will be five years on the horizon. Toyota is now launching a car as has Hyundai, Honda will have a new one too, and Toyota projects national proliferation, and this is no compliance car, says Scott.

Work began 22 years ago, he observes, before the Prius, and the company with somewhere over $60 billion in cash sees this as a long-term goal yet playing out.

The automaker is financing a dozen state-of-the-art hydrogen stations in five states in the New England – New York region, some of its brightest young engineers have spent their whole careers on fuel cell development, and it appears to be playing for keeps.

At least that’s what it says. But again, as frustrations flare, one U.S. manager, Craig Scott, did not really mean to say “no one” is asking Toyota to build a battery electric car.

His employer Toyota knows they are. It simply chooses not to, for now.


Dec 04

Plug-in electrified vehicle drivers take a shining to solar energy


Does solar energy just make too much sense, or would it be better to let costs go down more? Perhaps others are asking the same thing about plug-in cars right? As it is, they seem to go together, as a new writer at here documents …



By Jenny Smiechowski

Many plug-in hybrid and all-electric car owners are taking their commitment to alternative energy one step further by charging their cars with solar power.

Along with the increase of plug-in electrified cars in the U.S., the Associated Press reports that solar panel installations are on the rise, although it remains uncertain how many electric cars are being powered by solar energy.

Advocates say that drivers who free themselves from fossil-fuels will experience benefits down the road, but not without a significant upfront investment. Even after the federal tax credit, electric cars struggle to be cost competitive with their gas-powered counterparts, and residential solar panel installation can range between $15,000 and $40,000.

This notwithstanding, plug-in car owners are finding they may whittle down the payback costs for their home photovoltaic investments and energy costs for their cars all in one fell swoop. With excess or plentiful electric energy produced at home, a mutually beneficial scenario is being capitalized upon whereby a plug-in car makes more sense as it can use the sun power, and in turn save the drivers from having to buy fuel at the pump.

2011 Chevrolet Volt owner Mark Hildebrandt in his driveway with his Volt. (Photo by Steve Fecht for Chevrolet.)

2011 Chevrolet Volt owner Mark Hildebrandt in his driveway with his Volt. (Photo by Steve Fecht for Chevrolet.)

All told, there’s a growing number of people committed to fossil-fuel free driving who believe the benefits outweigh the costs.

One is Kevin Tofel, who had solar panels installed on his Telford, Pa. home in 2011, purchased a Chevy Volt in 2012 with the intention of utilizing the surplus solar energy his panels were producing.

“We think it was one of the best things in the world to do. We will never go back to an all-gas car,” Tofel told the Associated Press.

Although Tofel spent $29,205 on his solar panels (after state and federal tax credits), he is beginning to see a return on his investment. He has reduced his gasoline costs by $200 per month and, by purchasing his electric car, minimized the break-even time from his solar installation from 11.7 years to six years.

While cost may serve as the biggest impediment to people with solar installation aspirations, those who take the plunge will see a huge decrease in their electricity costs.

Bill Webster of Washington, D.C. paid a net cost of about $20,000 for his solar panels, but afterward saw his electricity costs plummet from $1,500 per year to $5.36 per month. Webster uses his panels to power his home and his Nissan Leaf, which uses about a third of his solar panel energy. According to Webster, he should break even on his investment in about six years.

Those concerned about cost could consider installing a smaller solar system that powers only their car, but for many, like Webster, the reason for going solar extends far beyond cost.

“The reason to go solar is not to save money,” Webster told the AP. “The real reason to go solar is that we have to do it.”


Dec 03

November: Volt sales plugging away, Leaf sales still doing better


There’s a decent chance the tables could turn between the new 2016 Volt and the by then long-in-the-tooth 2016 Nissan Leaf, but what do they say? Every dog has its day?

Of course a lot depends on how GM positions the new Volt, how it’s priced, how much better it truly is, and how much buyers perceive all this. GM did upgrade it to make it competitive, right?

As it is, the old race is not much of a race at this juncture between the Volt and Leaf both launched the same time.



Is the value proposition of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf simply better than gen-one Chevy Volt as its sales are now leaving it in the dust, or is there more to it than that?

Since December 2010’s launch of the two alternate visions on weaning away from petroleum, they’ve exchanged places a few times, but Nissan has settled into a stride as most recently evidenced by its 2,687 November sales versus the Volt’s 1,336.

SEE ALSO: Nissan Sells 150,000th Leaf In Time for Its Fourth Birthday

All this year Nissan has been closing a U.S. sales gap, though with the Volt’s 71,867 U.S. sales since launch, it still holds a diminishing lead over the Leaf’s 69,220, having long-since lost the global race with Leaf more than double at 150,000-plus.

For Nissan’s latest U.S. gap closing measure, its November sales are a 34-percent increase over last year and double the Volt’s volume. For Chevrolet, it slipped 30.4-percent from last year’s 1,920 in November 2013.

Kelley Blue Book actually just named the Volt a better buy above the Leaf given all incentives, and the drive experience of the car itself, but everyone watching this car also knows an all-new 2016 model is due.

You may get a deal on a close-out Volt, and they’re discounting it already, and it is a good car already, but this is no ordinary car and improvements mean more in the eyes of would-be buyers.

GM’s first ever “extended-range electric” car is due for a facelift, more range, better economy, it won’t need premium gas anymore, and appears to have room for three to just squeeze in back for five total, instead of four. Or so it’s believed. We’ll find out Jan. 12, 2015 or sooner, and it goes on sale possibly late next summer, give or take.

Is that a recipe for holding out to see what’s next?

Meanwhile, Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn has just said it has a new chemistry that could “more than” double the present Leaf’s range. The battery could actually be built larger to allow for EVs to compete with “petrol” cars and “take the issue of range off of the table,” confirmed Nissan. But so far, there’s been much less news on this topic.


In follow up yesterday with the Daily Kanban’s Bertel Schmitt located in Tokyo, he confirmed Nissan has not objected to his story that Ghosn is promising a radical improvement on the Leaf’s range not long from now. If his story had been misleading, he said, they’d not have hesitated to let him know.

Actually, it appears accurate, and Nissan may be concerned that if the news of a radically improved Leaf gained traction, and details were filled in, it could chill sales on the world’s best-selling plug-in.

As GM may be finding out, announced future changes to first-gen plug-in cars are not unlike rumors of iPhone 6 when iPhone 5s has been around for while. Plug-in car upgrades are not only mildly eventful like the difference between the 2011 Toyota Camry and 2012 Toyota Camry. Here we have an entire new type of car, and early adopters may have paid more, and learned to live with details – such as range and recharge times, etc. – that the masses have said they don’t want to.

And truth is both these cars – the Leaf and Volt – are due for upgrade, with the Volt changing over first while less attention on this fact is being placed on the Leaf. Thus far.

Also not helping it is the fact GM does not advertise the Volt much if at all outside of California, its largest market, and its marketing efforts have been deeply criticized by early adopting Volt supporters.

All this said, both these cars do meet needs now. We’ve heard from scores of their owners to know that. But, they remain niche players while people waiting on the sidelines want to see what’s next.

So, to answer our opening question which has the best value proposition? That’s a personal decision, but if sales speak louder than words, Nissan is presently winning, whether the deck is stacked against an also-excellent gen-one Volt, or not.


Dec 02

Ghosn says Nissan has battery chemistry that could make for affordably priced 250-mile EVs


Back story – Yesterday I got an e-mail from Bertel Schmitt who’s now running a startup publication with Edward Niedermeyer. Bertel spends time in China and Japan. He was up late watching Nissan’s chief on a Japanese program and got an exclusive. Which he shared with me.

Here it is. What this could mean for the Volt, assuming it proves true is of course unknown. FYI, Leaf is rated on the ultra liberal JC08 cycle at 228 km (141 miles) (yeah right!) – and originally had been 200 km (124 miles). The main point is if they have the chemistry, upsizing to a true 200-250-plus mile BEV of Leaf proportions will be less cost and bulk than what Tesla has now.


Following an unintentional disclosure by CEO Carlos Ghosn, Nissan has confirmed it will “very soon take the issue of range off of the table.”

The company is otherwise still being vague, not ready to show what it has, but Ghosn suggested a near-ready battery to enable affordable electric cars good for as many 250 miles (400 km) depending on configuration, and how it’s tested.

The implication is furthermore that the new chemistry has more power per volume so increasing range to beyond Tesla proportions would just be a function of making a battery pack a bit bigger in volume, but it would presumably still be smaller than a Model S pack.

Whether the Nissan Leaf will get the battery, as is believed, or it and other Renault and Nissan vehicles will get it, as would be likely, is not being disclosed.

According to Bertel Schmitt of the Daily Kanban, who spoke with contacts at the company, Nissan appears slightly worried it could put a chill on present EV sales.

But, they won’t deny the story now that the boss let the cat out of the bag.

An online transcript of the interview is not available, reports the Daily Kanban.

An online transcript of the interview is not available, reports the Daily Kanban.

The revelation came on a late-night airing of Tokyo Business News Channel where Ghosn was pressed by the host on what Nissan is going to do.

Host: Is Nissan working on new batteries?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Host: Can you tell us more?

Ghosn: “No.”

Host: Will the range double?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Host: That means more than 400 kilometers?

Ghosn: “Yes.”

Ghosn’s one-word oblique answers could be interpreted a few different ways, but the implication and context suggest Nissan is putting the finishing touches on a commercially ready battery that could make the big-heavy, expensive pack in a Model S look old-tech.

Given that “400 km” is considered “double” range indicates the Japanese interview is contemplating cars as tested under Japanese government rules which tend to be optimistic next to U.S. EPA numbers. Nissan’s Leaf certainly does not now have a 124-mile range in the U.S., but given high energy density, ability to compete with “petrol” cars’ range is being considered.

Ghosn’s answers also dovetail with a report in May, where Nissan’s Andy Palmer said Nissan has high energy density “game changing technology” to push Leaf to at least 186 miles to combat fuel cell vehicles selling on just this issue – short range for the buck with present EVs.

SEE ALSO: ‘Game Changing’ Batteries To Enable Up To 186-Mile Range Nissan Leaf and New Infiniti EV

To gauge Ghosn’s comment, Schmitt followed up with Jeff Kuhlman, Nissan’s head spokesman, who added to the notion that this new battery chemistry is not some far-off science project.

“[w]e continue our R&D efforts because we believe that we can do more with battery electric, and very soon take the issue of range off of the table,” said Kuhlman. “In other words, cars with a comparable range to today’s petrol vehicles.”

Today’s “petrol vehicles” actually have more than 200-250 miles range but Kuhlman did not elaborate.

As it is, for those who say present range is too short – such as Toyota and car shoppers sitting on the sidelines – this objection may be answered not so long from now.

Even Toyota has quietly suggested EV range may soon be solved, and an unidentified Japanese engineer told the Daily Kanban “Commercial applications could be no more than one model cycle away.” Despite all its talk over fuel cells, Toyota is working on improving EV batteries, as we also have reported.

Actually many automakers are working on the next best thing – though most say a breakthrough is not on the near horizon – and in addition to the objection of sub-100 mile range for average priced EVs today, is also recharge times.

Tesla and others have been working on recharging faster than today’s Supercharger and DC fast chargers which replenish 80- percent charge in under 20-30 minutes. Different chemistries which can recharge faster have also shown promise.

So where does that leave Nissan? While Ghosn is not known to exaggerate in the extreme, and two officials suggest it’s just a matter of time, Nissan has yet to truly and unequivocally reveal its hand.

Daily Kanban


Dec 01

Volt named KBB Electric/Hybrid Car Best Buy for 2015


The first-generation Chevy Volt may be on its way out, but adding to a long list of awards since the beginning of the four-year-old car, it just nabbed Kelly Blue Books’s 2015 Electric/Hybrid Car Best Buy Award.

In doing so it edged out the Nissan Leaf which was also launched 2011, as well as the also-aging Toyota Prius regular hybrid, and the relatively new BMW i3.


That the Chevy Volt stands atop our list of Electric/Hybrid Best Buy contenders after four years in the marketplace is a testament to its virtues. The Volt might not be the newest entry in a group that includes the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and Toyota Prius, but a clever powertrain and exceptional value helped Chevrolet’s gasoline/electric wondercar secure the win.

Helping it along is the full $7,500 federal tax credit, and fact that the Volt’s 38 miles EPA-rated range spans the gap between a pure battery electric car and hybrid better than any plug-in hybrid on the market.

The i3 may be trendy, but it’s about $11,000 pricier, says KBB, and if you want the range-extended car with small, short-range gas engine, add $4,000.

The Volt also comes in $1,600 less than the plug-in Prius when factoring a ZEV credit in California, its largest market, says KBB. The plug-in Prius is only rated for 11 miles range, and its top electric speed is less, and a firm accelerator push will kick the gas on. Not so with the Chevy which despite the haters still saying so, it is an extended-range electric vehicle.

Adding onto all the rest is KBB appreciates the driving dynamics of the Volt.

Mash the rightmost pedal, and the wonders of electric propulsion become clear. The Volt accelerates with silky effortlessness. Carry some of that speed through an unclogged onramp, and you might be surprised by the Volt’s willingness to play. No, this electrified Chevy isn’t a sports car, but there’s more fun here than the green veneer might suggest.

And as icing on the cake, the looks and style also got points.

Ok, we’ll admit it. Style counts. Especially among electric and hybrid cars, a compelling design tends to correlate with acceptance from the buying public. On that count the Volt strikes a smart balance between futurism and familiarity. Techy-looking energy usage readouts and sci-fi startup/shutdown sound effects co-exist with comfortable seats, a usable capacitive touch instrument panel, and a surprisingly accommodating cargo area. Provided you don’t need more than four seats, the Chevy Volt delivers a good mix of style and substance.

All told, not bad for the grandfather of thi type of vehicle that’s still teaching the whippersnappers a lesson.

And they’re going to retire it soon, and we’ll be seeing a new version believed to be better.