Archive for the ‘General’ Category

 

Mar 05

February Volt and plug-in sales cruise along

 

It will be interesting to see how the numbers look this summer when gen-2 is launched…

Chevy-Volt-bridge

Chevrolet recorded 693 Volt sales in February and this in a shorter sales month would be a case of steady as she goes. Same would be true of Nissan which recorded 1,198 Leaf sales last month.

The Volt last month sold the lowest number since August 2011 at 542 units as interest gains for the 2016 Volt due for release in a few months.

February’s 693 sales thus also represents an uptick and the Volt just leads the plug-in gas-electric chart by 90 units ahead of the Ford Fusion Energi.

PHEV_2015

By contrast, in January, Nissan broke an 18-month streak of setting records and came plummeting down 65 percent from December to 1,017 sales and 14.5 percent down year over year.

February’s 1,198 is an uptick over January but again no records were set as Nissan attributed lost business to wintry conditions.

“Tough winter weather in several key markets held EV sales back in February,” said Brendan Jones, director, Nissan Electric Vehicle Sales and Infrastructure. “As we head into spring, we look forward to seeing more dealership traffic so shoppers can experience firsthand the benefits of the all-electric Nissan Leaf.”

2013_Leaf_main1

As for other reasons why sales are what they are, many come into play. Among these, low fuel prices may have played a small part, but unlike regular hybrids, plug-in electrified vehicles have bucked a declining trend related to fuel prices that regular hybrid experienced.

During 2014, plug-in car sales increased as these vehicles allow drivers to utterly forego using gas part time or full time as the case may be – thus these vehicles are about more than just saving on gas.

February is also not known to be a strong sales month in general.

“Like January, February is difficult to evaluate sales trends since it is typically a modest sales month because automakers sought in December to bring consumers into showrooms to reach annual goals,” says the HybridCars.com Dashboard. “As a result, sales early in the year tend to decline and the numbers along with myriad other factors reflect this.”

BEV_2.2015

SEE ALSO: What Do We Know About the 2017 Nissan Leaf?

Both the Leaf and Volt were launched December 2010. They really are dissimilar products but share the fact they plug in, are alternatives and as things would have it, the public did see a sort of sales race even if their makers deny any deliberate race exists.

It’s not believed Nissan will offer the second-generation Leaf for at least another year but the Japanese automaker has so far been more resistant to its equally long status in its product life cycle.

If there is one, the Leaf is doing better. It’s been marketed better, more people understand its simple all-electric drivetrain, and it costs a few thousand less than the Volt.

Further, Leaf leases are cheaper and it has stood as the mainstream go-to EV in the United States at this price level.

16_Volt_plug

When the 2016 Volt is launched around this summer – and if fuel prices rise as some predict – we shall see how the comparison fares as many other variables come into play in the nascent industry besides.

 

Mar 04

Will historians one day liken the Model 3 for EVs as the Model T was for ICE cars?

 

While some call it “vaporware,” even the notion of Model 3 (and Gigafactory as proof Tesla is not bluffing) means this one car’s reputation proceeds it. Whether Tesla ever even sells it as successfully as planned, it has already succeeded in getting GM to rush Bolt to development (plus regs have a lot to do with it, but “200 mile range” and “mid 30s” price was not done in a vacuum).

Former CEO Dan Akerson – who also tasked a Tesla watch team – tipped a car of this spec was in the works in response to Tesla in 2013. Akerson suggested it could be a Cadillac but Tesla has provoked GM to do what it is doing as fast as it is doing it. And, Nissan said it would match GM. And Ford reportedly says it will match GM. Which … is matching Tesla.

“Am happy to hear that GM plans to develop an affordable 200-mile range electric car. Right target. Hope others do same,” tweeted Musk in Sept. 2013.

By 2017 any guesses who else might have a “200 mile” purpose-built EV priced in the “30-somethng” range?” Did someone once call Tesla “disruptive?” Does it deserve that description?

Model_S

If mind-boggling growth projected in the next five years happens as planned, Tesla’s pivotal $35,000, 200-mile-range Model 3 may the most important and society changing electric car of all time – that no one has yet seen.

Anticipated for years, a bit late to the party at this point, when a pre-production prototype is finally shown, it’s intended as the third stage of Tesla’s three-phase plan to blast EVs into the forefront of public consciousness.

Enabled by the world’s largest battery plant now being built to supply cost-effective energy, the Model 3 is to be the ”volume car” central to 15-times higher projected production for Tesla than last year’s 32,000 vehicles to one-half million cars annually by 2020.

The Model X is the car more eyes are on at the moment, and both its and the Model S' design were known years in advance of their launch. The downright elusive Model 3 – that the most jaded have called "vaporware" – could be the one to shift the paradigm when we do get to see its design.

The Model X is the car more eyes are on at the moment, and both its and the Model S’ design were known years in advance of their launch. The downright elusive Model 3 – that the most jaded have called “vaporware” – could be the one to shift the paradigm when we do get to see its design.

Stage one was the proof-of-concept but necessarily pricey Roadster, stage two is the mid-level Model S (pictured above) – which ironically can sticker for more than the original Roadster in fully kitted P85D trim. The Model X, now believed to be in beta stage could also be lumped in with the Model S as a car Tesla head Elon Musk – and many thousands of reservation holders – have a deep personal interest in.

And stage 3 – Model 3 – is the car for “the masses” – the promise for everyone else without necessarily deep pockets, and this one really has to be priced to sell.

The plan is just that, though it’s not without skeptics. But aside from direct sales of the Model 3 – whether substantial or less than planned – its influence as a goad to major automakers means this one as-yet-unseen car could be considered most responsible for accelerating EVs to the next level from yesterday’s $30,000, 80-some-mile first-generation cars.

SEE ALSO: Is a 200-Mile EV the Next Automotive Benchmark?

Presently the EV landscape has as many limited-market “compliance cars” from automakers some have said are dragging their heels to develop, but Tesla is not one of these. It is sink or swim for this electric-only startup, and since the announcement of the mystery car’s specs, it’s believed Chevrolet, Nissan, and as of today possibly Ford have been spurred to meet it’s 200-mile mid-30s price point and 2017 time frame.

Following are some highlights on the car Tesla needs to succeed to nail home its EV agenda – an agenda that’s already underway before the star of the show has even been revealed.

Cheaper Than Chevy Bolt*

Once codenamed “BlueStar” when but a gleam in its parent company’s eyes, then later called Model E, Tesla tweeted last July the new entry level EV will be called Model 3.

While the Model S was well-stacked with pre-orders before its June 2012 arrival, and Model X is pre-ordered to the hilt, Tesla has not started taking pre-orders on Model 3, but one might presume it could open a floodgate if and when it does.

*Bolt could be priced around $37,500. Model 3, says Elon Musk, could be $2,500 less. Both woudl be subsidy eligible.

*Bolt could be priced around $37,500. Model 3, says Elon Musk, could be $2,500 less. Both woudl be subsidy eligible.

But all is quiet on the western front. Instead of Model 3 being revealed in Detroit this January as had been predicted two years prior, news was Chevrolet’s BMW i3-like Bolt had beaten Tesla to the punch.

Characteristically not dissuaded, Musk fired back that the Model 3 could be priced a couple thousand dollars less than the Bowtie brand’s best shot.

Both are expected to get 200 miles range, and Musk said $35,000 for the Model 3 is less than maybe $37,500 for the Bolt which would net at $30,000 or so after a $7,500 federal credit.

Assuming this is the case, a Tesla EV for $27,500 after tax credit – and cheaper in California and states where state credits could also be applied – would be quite an alternative to today’s top EV, the 84-mile, $30,000 Nissan Leaf (around $22,360 after credit).

Of course by 2017, there will be a new Leaf, reportedly a purpose-built Ford, the Chevrolet, possibly others, but the Model 3 has Tesla watchers hoping a lot of trickle-down cool factor from the Model S and X will be baked in.

Some have also already opined that a “$30,000″ before subsidy EV today is a lot less to this price-sensitive segment than the projected “mid-30s” cars. This is true, the “benchmark” is going up, but the crop of 2017 EVs is expected to offer double the nominal range, something many may be willing to pay up for. Further, Nissan, Chevrolet and Ford have made substantial cuts to their first-gen plug-in products, have offered cut-rate leases, but not before offering them for more at first.

We’ve never seen Tesla drop its price, but manufacturer incentives, discounts, or other cost savings passed on could at least conceivably happen for the majors, if not also Tesla, to alleviate sales resistance if needed, but these speculations are really too early to settle.

Late But Not That Late

In 2013, head of Tesla design Franz von Holzhausen – who once said BMW’s i3 is like something that Ikea would have made – made statements to German magazine Autobild leading to reports the Model 3 would be shown by the 2015 Detroit auto show.

As mentioned, that show came and went in January where instead we had the surprise Chevy Bolt.

More recently, Musk told the Reno Gazette-Journal – the paper covering its nearby Gigafactory under construction – that the Model 3 will not see as many delays as did the Model S or Model X.

The Model X has been delayed a couple times, and was hoped to be here by 2013. As the Gigafactory battery plant intended to make its li-ion batteries goes up, the priority is to get Model 3 built and ready too.

“We don’t want the delays that affected the Model X to affect the Model 3 so we’ve been quite conscientious about that,” Musk said. “We want to have super high volume.”

What Will it Look Like?

If von Holzhausen sneers at BMW’s $43,000 purpose-built EV, one would surmise the Model 3 will be pretty cool, but your guess may be as good as any.

Early reports had von Holzhausen and others saying this would be a BMW 3-Series fighter – or, for that matter, an alternative to any mid-level internal combustion sporty sedan, such as an Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class.

2017-tesla-model-3-rendering

In October 2014 Auto Express did one of its artist conception photos of a shrunken Model S like car to plant that idea into peoples’ heads, but that may have been misleading.

von Holzhausen also said to Autobild in Germany the Model 3 will not just be a 20-percent smaller little brother to the Model S.

“The model leads Tesla to a new level. The car will show what we are about: to build electric cars for the masses,” he said. “It is not a small model S, we do not want a unit face like Audi.”

No photos or drawings of what to specifically expect are known to have been circulated by Tesla. Considering it will cost half of a base Model S, Tesla will need to find all the cost savings it can, while delivering enough sizzle beyond the spec sheet.

Musk also told the RGJ Model 3 will be less “adventurous” at first than the Model X has been.

“We got quite adventurous with the [Model] X,” Musk said during a financial call on Wednesday. “We won’t go super crazy with the design of the initial version of the (Model) 3.”

Model_3_rendering

What this may mean is a rear-wheel-drive only base-level Model 3 intended to make good on that all-important price and timing target.

“It makes more sense (at first) to go with something people love that’s functional and an amazing car and then innovate … on that platform with future iterations,” Musk said. “We’ll have different versions of the Model 3.”

Later, suggests analyst Alan Baum – in addition to Musk’s own statement – we might see all-wheel drive, bigger batteries, other fancy trimmings – and sticker prices to match.

Worth noting is the original 40-kwh base Model S was supposed to net for just under $50,000 after federal credit but that car was canceled due to low orders. Perhaps a packed Model 3 may wind up being close to that same neighborhood?

More questions than answers remain. Whether it will be auto pilot capable from the start or later is just one of many unknowns that keeps the Tesla forums busy.

An analysis by Barclays following Tesla’s fourth quarter earning announcement and shareholder documents suggests an alpha version of the Model 3 is “probable of achievement.”

Gigafactory Dependent

The Gigafactory is going up ahead of schedule, and this is the means whereby Tesla hopes to sell $35,000 U.S. built EVs and launch its company to stage three.

Gigafactory

Barclays’ analysis notes also that spending on the Gigafactory and Model 3 has only been $107 million to date on the factory that could cost around $5 billion.

Tesla is spending ahead of demand, and will need to amp up spending as it aims to bring its paradigm-shifting mystery car to market in the next couple of years.

SEE ALSO: Gigafactory Could Open Ahead Of Schedule In 2016

The enterprise, its stock price, and media buzz all reflect this and the massive potential of the Model 3 that – if it succeeds – could already be said to be be altering the EV world as once did Ford’s Model T before it’s even gotten here.

Late night OT —

 

Mar 03

Volt and plug-in used car values not holding up, says WSJ

 

Citing the National Auto Dealers Association’s Used Car Guide and other indicators, the Wall Street Journal documented plummeting used car values for vehicles including the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt.

Actually, the Ford Focus EV and Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid are depreciating just as fast as the Leaf, observes the WSJ.

Chevrolet-Volt-Feature-1213

 

Why? The cars were subsidized, or leased cheap with unrealistic residual values, and in cases they’ve received price cuts. Looking at a 2012 Volt that was bought before the 2013 $5,000 price decrease for $42,021, the WSJ says it is worth around 69 percent less, or $12,997.

Low gas prices are also not helping things. The average auction price for a 2012 Leaf in December and January was $10,000 says the WSJ and three year old Volts were $13,000 in January.

As for leased Volts and Leafs, finance companies put residual values from $4,000 to $6,600 higher than their current wholesale price, according to Carlypso.

“This is sort of a new frontier,” said Eric Lyman, a vice president at Automotive Lease Guide, which provides residual value estimates used to price a vehicle lease.

For car companies the outlook isn’t as bright. Nissan’s finance arm is stuck writing down the value of a Leaf at the end of a two- or three-year lease because the car is worth less than initially expected. A lease price is calculated on residuals, or the expected value of the car at the end of the term.

About 85 percent of Leafs that were registered last year were leased; for the Volt, it’s closer to 49 percent, according to IHS Automotive. NADA estimates 25,000 Volts and Leafs will hit the used-car market in 2015, nearly double the number in 2014, reports the WSJ.

On some Volts and Leafs, the finance companies bet residual values would be valued anywhere from $4,000 to $6,600 higher than their current wholesale price, according to Carlypso

The exception is Tesla. Its 2013 Model S was said to be worth 71 percent of original price versus a Leaf worth 44 percent and Volt 39 percent.

At least this grim (or “good?”) picture is what the WSJ says. Has anyone seen differently?

WSJ

 

Mar 02

Could the New Gen 2 Volt Transmission Design be used for an Extended Range Electric Truck?

 

By George S. Bower

Siren red Volt.

Siren red Volt.

5ET50-2
The gen 2 Volt transmission lowers cost.

We saw in an exclusive article one week ago that GM’s new Gen 2 Voltec transmission is a breakthrough. It lowers cost and weight while increasing vehicle performance and efficiency. The lower cost is achieved through the new motor designs which use fewer rare earth metals. Most importantly GM is now additively linking the 2 motors in EV mode so they can get by with a smaller main traction motor but still end up with the same total power in EV mode as before. In short more for less.

Could this same theory be used in an EREV truck?

It seems to me that answer is an unequivocal YES. GM could create an extended range electric truck that would be LOWER cost than a pure series truck. GM could out VIA VIA. The VIA truck is pure series.

VIA_Main
The VIA truck is a pure series truck

The VIA truck has one big traction motor and a generator driven by an ICE like Gen 1 Volt. GM can get by with lower motor costs than the pure series arrangement by linking the 2 motors and also offer more efficient operation in extended range mode since all the pure series conversion losses are eliminated. You may recall that GM has eliminated pure series as an operating mode in the new Volt transmission.

Detailed Description

We are all aware that GM produced a 2 mode hybrid transmission for the Silverado truck. Although much maligned as a failure it was actually an engineering work of art. Its downfall was that GM charged too much for it and never really tried to lower costs and finally it was cancelled.

All the cost cutting features that GM used in the new Gen 2 Volt transmission should apply to a truck transmission. The 2 units are very similar from a technical point of view. Both transmissions have identical hybrid modes: input split and compound split. The rest of the modes are just fixed gear ratio modes: gen 2 Volt has 1 fixed gear and the Silverado 2 mode had 4 fixed gears. The old 2 mode had 3 PG sets and 4 clutches so it had 1 more clutch and one more PG set than the gen 2 transmission.

Of course the Silverado transmission did not have an EV mode but that could easily be added since all the hardware components are the same.
Therefore not only could GM make a pure hybrid version of the transmission they could also make an extended range version.

Granted, an EREV version seems like a long shot but a plain hybrid version does not. Personally I think that it is just a matter of time until mileage requirements dictate that configuration anyway. Both Ford and Toyota are rumored to already be working on one.
GM just beat all the other EV makers to the punch with their new 200 mile Bolt EV.

Could GM be first on the market with a successful version of a hybrid truck…..or better yet an extended range electric truck? What do the readers think?

Hat tip to Jeff N and Patrick G.

In memory of Leonard Nimoy- LLAP Mr. Spock

 

Feb 27

Vetoed for now, will Obama put an end to the Keystone XL pipeline

 

What is the best way to go here?

Obama_Keystone-668x397

By Sarah Shelton

President Barack Obama vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline earlier this week, but that doesn’t mean the debate over the 1,179-mile oil pipeline has ended.

The next move for the president is to finally decide whether or not KXL is in the country’s national interest, and then make his final decision. His veto, he explained, stalls the project, but environmentalists and others are looking to see where this will finally lead.

“Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest,” Obama told the Senate in a letter accompanying his veto.

“The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously.

“But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people. And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest – including our security, safety, and environment – it has earned my veto.”

Demonstrators hold a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline outside of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015. The Keystone XL pipeline has become a proxy for debates about global warming, jobs and energy security. Republicans who now control both houses of Congress have vowed to make approval of the pipeline one of their first pieces of legislation this year, a move the Obama administration opposes. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Demonstrators hold a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline outside of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015. The Keystone XL pipeline has become a proxy for debates about global warming, jobs and energy security. Republicans who now control both houses of Congress have vowed to make approval of the pipeline one of their first pieces of legislation this year, a move the Obama administration opposes. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

This is only the third time Obama has vetoed a bill during his presidency.

SEE ALSO: White House Seeking Expanded $10,000 Alternative Vehicle Rebate

While Obama doesn’t offer any further explanation with his veto letter, he did briefly talk about the Keystone project in his inauguration speech last month:

“Twenty-first century businesses need 21st century infrastructure – modern ports, and stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest Internet. Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this.

“So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline. Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than 30 times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.”

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, center, speaks during an enrollment ceremony before signing the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act (S.1) with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, from left, Senator John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, Boehner, Representative Kristi Noem, a Republican from South Dakota, and Representative Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. Congressional Republicans achieved an elusive legislative goal Wednesday, sending a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to President Barack Obama. The U.S. House passed the measure 270-152, with 29 Democrats joining all but one Republican to support the bill. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, center, speaks during an enrollment ceremony before signing the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act (S.1) with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, from left, Senator John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, Boehner, Representative Kristi Noem, a Republican from South Dakota, and Representative Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. Congressional Republicans achieved an elusive legislative goal Wednesday, sending a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to President Barack Obama. The U.S. House passed the measure 270-152, with 29 Democrats joining all but one Republican to support the bill. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since TransCanada first filed an application for a cross-border permit in 2008, the project has become heavily politicized, with passions running high on both sides.

“The Keystone XL pipeline has come to represent much more than a link between Canada’s oil sands and world markets,” said a video by Carrie Halperin and Emily B. Hager with The New York Times.

“It’s now been five years of protests, Congressional votes and growing polarization. Even while the project itself will have limited environmental and economic impact.”

For the Republican party, Keystone represents the opportunity to create jobs. Members of the GOP have stated that up to 42,000 jobs in the public and private sectors will be generated as a direct result of the pipeline.

For environmentalists, the pipeline is a symbol linked to climate change. Current methods to extract oil from Canada’s tar sands are more destructive than other approaches, say environmental activists. For them, the project is a double-edged sword, both encouraging reliance on oil while discharging excessive pollution in the process.

Most of the arguments from both sides, however, appear to be overstated:

  • Neutral sources estimate that after the pipeline is built, Keystone will actually only create 35 permanent jobs.
  • After reviewing the potential environmental impact, the State Department acknowledged extra carbon pollution is produced when oil is extracted from the tar sands. However, the report called these impacts irrelevant, saying the oil will most likely be extracted regardless of Keystone’s approval.
  • Economic analysts concluded that the 800,000 barrels of petroleum moved by the pipeline everyday won’t have any effect on the gas prices at the pump.

“This is a relatively small job creator in the grand scheme of things,” said Michael Levi, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.

“But it’s also a relatively small contribution of climate change in the grand scheme of things.

“I don’t think many people would have predicted that Keystone such a central issue, not only in the country’s energy fights, but in its broader political fights.”

The veto from the president doesn’t necessarily signify an end to Keystone XL. If he chooses, Obama can still approve the project at any time during the remainder of his term.

SEE ALSO: OPEC: Oil Prices Will Reach $200 A Barrel

Congress can also override the veto with a vote that receives approval from at least two-thirds of the House and Senate.

Supporters backing the Keystone project also stated that they are undeterred by the veto.

”It is not a question of if this project will be approved; it is a matter of when,” said Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford in a written statement.

”We will continue to strongly advocate for this job-creating project.”

 

Feb 26

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

 

This only skims the surface believe it or not.

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

Or, maybe FCVs really are a good idea …?

Mirai_centered
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infrastructure Dilemma

 
hydrogen-station-california-668x397
 
In the U.S., a few publicly funded initiatives are underway to construct refueling stations in California and various states around the country whose legislators agree to zero emission mandates driving the fuel cell agenda.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions Surrounding Hydrogen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hydrogen’s Environmental Benefits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plug-In Electric Cars Are Getting Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complementary or Competitive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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