Archive for the ‘General’ Category

 

Jun 03

President’s EPA plan proposes 30-percent CO2 reduction by 2030

 

Yesterday as most of you likely know, the Obama administration outlined a broad initiative to cut emissions blamed for climate change.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule proposed calls for a 30-percent reduction in CO2 from coal plants by 2030.

Since the 2005 baseline, emissions have already been cut significantly, and this is seen as a concession to coal states while otherwise the EPA did not pull punches against special interest groups and Republican opponents.

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President Barack Obama, with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, center, talks with EPA staff members who worked on the power-plant emissions standards, in the Rose Garden of the White House, June 2, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“There are still special interest skeptics who will cry the sky is falling,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Who will deliberately ignore the risks, overestimate the costs, and undervalue the benefits. But the facts are clear. For over four decades, EPA has cut air pollution by 70% and the economy has more than tripled.”

For his part, President Obama spoke of health effects like asthma and other disorders beyond the global warming angle which is central to the plan.

“This is something that is important for all of us, as parents, as grandparents, as citizens, as folks who care about the health of our families and also want to make sure that future generations are able to enjoy this beautiful blue ball in the middle of space that we’re a part of,” Obama said on a conference call hosted by the American Lung Association.

The White House also released lots of data to support its position.

Former Vice President Al Gore also liked it.

“Today’s announcement by the Obama administration to reduce our nation’s global warming pollution from power plants is the most important step taken to combat the climate crisis in our country’s history,” he said.

In the wake of Obamacare, the president’s office did what it could to assuage critics – despite some blunt statements by officials in his administration – but how this will affect elections this fall remain to be seen.

“The President’s plan is nuts. There’s really no more succinct way to describe it,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

And, said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the plan in his view is “a dagger in the heart of the American middle class” and “helping political supporters in states like California and New York while inflicting acute pain on states like Kentucky.”


EPA

 

Jun 02

Could ‘Solar Roadways’ actually work?

 

An engineer and his wife from Idaho have an idea. It is an proposal to in one fell swoop tackle climate change, national security, and make EVs super practical.

Actually, those are some of the benefits. Do you think the idea outlined below is practical or problematic? Following we’ll show a whimsical video, then below a more serious one where he lays out more.

Parking lot east
 

The idea is this: A solar road surface that melts snow and never needs plowing, never needs repaving or new painted lines but illuminates instead.

Its proponents say, unlike asphalt, it will pay for itself, and if implemented nationwide, could generate three-times more energy than the U.S. requires.

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Could this be such a good idea that it probably won’t happen? You may be right. Or the folks at SolarRoadways.com hope you’re wrong.

Either way, they’ve put a video together targeting the minds not of policymakers and older folks, but that of Gen Y, the youth culture, and the intent is to plant a seed of an idea where it may actually grow.


 

The solar panels are accompanied by LED lights that can serve a multitude of functions, and be reconfigured similar to any painted surface at the push of a button.

They are the brainchild of Julie and Scott Brusaw who themselves met when they were 3 and four years old.

Covering the panels over is a tempered glass surface which they say is tough enough for airplanes to land on.

They say the traction is acceptable but unclear is what the grippiness factor is compared to rougher asphalt or concrete.

The video “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways!” – going viral on YouTube – tells a lot more, and if you have more questions, click over to the Solar Roadways Web site.

Following are two more serious videos:

 

May 30

ALTe is leaner, and growing again

 

Whoo-hoo – It’s series hybrid start-up week here at GM-Volt, and to top it off, Tony Posawatz plays a role in this one.

Actually, all he said was he is on board with ALTe because this is one company he believes in, or he’d not be there. Another company Tony’s involved with is Momentum Dynamics, which while not mentioned below, is working with ALTe on wireless charging. Funny how that worked out.

ALTe_Main
 

Last week in Indianapolis we had opportunity to drive a Ford E-350 van converted to a plug-in series hybrid by ALTe while learning also of the company’s plans for the alternative energy fleet market.

Before retrofitting a 2.0-liter Ford Focus four-cylinder engine/generator, two Remy motors, and 21.6-kwh A123 Systems battery pack, the Ford got around 7 mpg in real world driving. It however now gets 26 mpg with engine running, or burns absolutely no gas for 22 miles on battery power.

That makes this humble-looking 10,000 GVW test mule one of the most-efficient trucks of its type anywhere, and unlike a pure battery powered vehicle, this one, not unlike a Chevy Volt, has no “range anxiety.”

You may recall the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based ALTe as one of the rising stars among alternative tech transportation companies that was getting a fair amount of press a couple of years ago.

It was founded by three former Tesla employees in 2008 and in 2011 was named to Forbeslist of most promising companies. Its U.S.-made and developed plug-in tech was backed by investments including a $100 million private loan that same year.

ALTe_MakiIt’s called a REEV – Range Extended Electric Vehicle.
 

Not a lot has been written about the company in the past year or two as it weathered a dry spell following politicized backlash against U.S. tech startups in the wake of the Solyndra and Fisker closures. These, if you may have noticed, put a chilling effect on federal loan programs and the industry in general, and other less fortunate companies have folded.

Forbes in 2011 reported ALTe was waiting for an additional $65 million in low-interest federal loans to float it towards production status, but the company today says that money was delayed, and delayed, and delayed … and never materialized.

Rather than continue waiting and die on the vine like some fellow startups, last year, ALTe formed a joint venture in China which has born some fruit and with potential for more, and currently it’s working with major Korean interests as it also seeks new U.S. clients.

At its peak ALTe grew to around 40 employees, had several promising contracts, but presently it has about half that many employees. However, company leaders say it has come out stronger and wiser with the same potential that gave it such an initial boost.

The company has never taken federal monies, but today as two angel investors and some revenues from various operations keep it going, it is hiring once again, and in the words of Benny Rediers, its director of development and validation, ALTe is going through a “rebirth.”

What it Does

 
As it began doing, ALTe today develops electrified powertrains for class 2-6 fleet uses. It has sharpened its focus for now on shuttle buses, delivery vans for various businesses, and utility service vehicles.

In China it has made mobile police command posts – sort of like SWAT trucks – and other small niche vehicles based on mostly Chinese hardware and vehicles. In Korea, it’s working toward electrifying buses and other vehicles.

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Powertrain warranty is 5 years, 60,000 miles.
 

For the U.S, its E-350 and E-450-based plug-in hybrids are thoroughly tested and ready for sale now. Also – and not unlike VIA Motors – it has been developing lighter trucks for fleet duty, although VIA converts Chevrolets, and ALTe does Ford F-150 and F-250s.

VIA’s early designs called for a GM four-cylinder range-extending engine, but it now uses 4.3-liter sixes as they come standard in GM vehicles. ALTe is still focused on more-efficient Ford fours that are half the size.

ALTe’s F-Series trucks retrofitted with a 2.0 or 2.5-liter Ford four-cylinder in place of a V8 net 30 mpg in gas mode – about what VIA says is possible with the six-cylinder – or around an also-identical 40 miles in all-electric operation.

These comparisons to VIA are our own observations, and for its part, ALTe says it does not view VIA as a direct competitor, but rather is supportive of that alternative energy startup.

And, ALTe differs in that it is now no longer only a series hybrid specialist.

A couple years ago that was what it was known for, but now it’s open also to parallel hybrids, full battery electric vehicles, and it could also leave in place the V8, or other stock gas or diesel engine for some plug-in hybrid applications. Further, it can make use of certain ratios from the stock transmission, or replace it with a simplified driveline component, as required.

The company is essentially positioned as a versatile solutions provider. Its expertise centers around CAD designing of electrified trucks that can pay back their clients within perhaps half the life cycle of the particular vehicle.

This may be four years or somewhat longer, but while the vehicles are “green,” thus anticipating federal emissions rules not even yet in force, they can save money today, said the company’s president and CEO Darren Post.

Mule201&320With20Windmills
 

Post is one of several on the company’s executive team with extensive major automaker experience. Another is Tony Posawatz, the former vehicle line director for the Chevrolet Volt, and most recently the CEO of Fisker.

Posawatz – the other “father of the Volt” not unlike Bob Lutz over at VIA – signed on as vice chairman last September.

Post had been president and this May rose to both president and CEO when former CEO and co-founder John Thomas left for other opportunities.

Post is also a former GM line director, and among his 35 years of powertrain experience there and at Delphi, for 10 years he oversaw such vehicles as the Saturn Ion, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky, Opel Zafira and Chevrolet Impala.

He and Posawatz are credited with focusing the company’s direction toward class 2-6 vehicles, while at the same time opening the company to essentially tailor-make vehicles that must pay back.

Post said ALTe is actively seeking clients, already working with some major fleet accounts toward ultimately meeting their needs, and open to more.

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The company has already worked in the past with PG&E with test vehicles, and it once had a deal with major vehicle wholesaler Manheim to offer plug-in hybrid retrofits.

Today, Post said essentially fleet customers can consult with ALTe which would evaluate their needs, and propose vehicles that do the job of conventional ones, albeit with a cost savings.

Ultimately, this involves an initial outlay over and above a stock vehicle – the E-350 is about a $30-$35,000 retrofit in addition to the value of the truck – but the fuel savings and reduced maintenance yield a value proposition some fleet managers will understand.

Post conceded some fleet managers do have a hard time with paying double a stock vehicle’s sticker price, and it is streamlining its vehicles to right-size batteries, motors, engines, and other hardware to avoid over-doing it.

The bottom line, he said is the vehicles have to show a return on investment, and assuming sufficient miles driven, this is usually the case. In fact – and as is typical for these cost-benefit equations – the more miles driven, the faster the payback.

E-350 Test Drive

 

The test mule in the pictures is a 2010 model year with 2010 Focus engine. It has been driven very hard by ALTe, including Senior Test Technician Kyle Maki whose job is to break it.

First, his job was to help build it, but Maki said he’s done plenty of abusing 0-60 runs, hard hill climbs, long multi-state drives, local route simulations, everything.

ALTe_RR
 

We took the vehicle for a short drive just to feel the powertrain in all-electric mode, and to discern as well as possible how it handles corners and braking.

Starting out, the vehicle was notably quiet and smooth, and rate of acceleration was in line with a conventional truck of this type.

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The naturally aspirated 2.0-liter Focus engine was shut off, and its almost comically small stock exhaust – for such a large truck – was emitting nothing. All that could be heard was motor whine, and some noise from the straight-cut gears of the prototype’s two-speed pneumatic transmission which was originally developed for a drag racer.

ALTe_under-hood

By the way, ALTe’s commercial vehicles may also see the stock transmission left in place, albeit with only a couple ratios used, or, as Maki said, ALTe has sourced a two-speed hydraulic transmission with quieter helical-cut gears it would deliver in new trucks.

Regenerative braking on this truck is present, but was not set extremely aggressive. Letting off the accelerator would see the vehicle characteristically slow down as energy was sent back to the pack.

Cornering was about what would be expected too, and in short, the drive experience is within realm of a large vehicle like this which could alternately be configured as a delivery van like this one was, or shuttle bus.

Maki said they’d trucked the vehicle there from Michigan, but was preparing to drive it five hours back after the conference.

Possibilities

 

Some alternative-tech companies have come and gone despite taking federal monies, but ALTe has never taken – and thus never lost – taxpayer dollars, and is still afloat, leaner, and refocused.

We may see battery electric school buses, and all sorts of fuel-saving vehicles with varying degrees of electrification from this company in coming years.

Typically, an engineered solution may take 4-6 months between up front consulting and simulation analysis for several weeks with the client (no cost), electronically developing a powertrain, engineering/constructing the parts and software integration prior to building and testing actual vehicles. ALTe can retrofit used vehicles, or build new.

Ultimately, the company would like to secure a deal where it’s an original equipment upgrade on a truck builder’s assembly line.

We hear also in Korea there are thousands of buses they would like to electrify, and the Chinese are also eager to do more.


 

The U.S. company however is working for more in its home market, and its motto is “customer driven, purpose built.”

It has paid some dues due to no fault of its own, and says now it is poised to continue with the same value proposition that led to its existence and made it one of the early standouts in alternative energy transportation.

ALTe

See also: ALTe readies light and medium duty extended-range truck conversion

 

May 29

Test Drive: VIA VTRUX Pickup

 

We’ve heard about it, seen other reviews, and at last I got to drive one.

Some have said California ARB can be tough to deal with, but not according to VIA.

The SUV has no pending release date due to GM’s discontinuation of the 3/4 ton Suburban.

VIA_Main

After a couple years of pilot testing and now as emissions certification are being completed, VIA Motors anticipates launching its VTRUX series hybrid vans around June and pickup trucks around this September.

When – after some delays – it’s finally given the green light, the Utah-based company spun off in 2010 will begin filling multiple-unit purchase orders from around 70 fleet accounts who’ve thus far committed to the work trucks that operate much like a Chevy Volt.

VIA frequently quotes “100 mpg” based on around 60 miles per day, or 40 miles of pure electric drive, plus another 20 miles from the truck’s generator, a stock 4.3-liter GM ECOTEC3 V6 engine.

VIA_front
Vehicles are set to run on gas, but natural gas is also a possibility.

This estimate does not count electricity cost, but that averages around two bucks at industrial utility rates. Depending on distance driven, fuel economy can average below or well above 100 mpg – indeed if the vehicle is kept in the e-zone, no gas need be used.

Last week in Indianapolis we had opportunity to get behind the wheel of one of the company’s well-sorted vehicles based on a Silverado 1500 pickup. It’s propelled by a representative sample of a powertrain that will see duty in Chevrolet-based pickups, vans, and later possibly SUVs that for now are fleet only, and off limits to individual buyers.

VIA’s production facility is in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, about 107 miles from GM’s assembly plant in Silao, Mexico. VIA is classified as a second-stage manufacturer, supplying new warranted vehicles first titled to those who buy or lease them.

Production involves removal of the stock transmission, and installation of the electrified portion of the powertrain. The Chevy’s V6 engine – VIA’s early “alpha” model specified a smaller Pontiac four-cylinder – is left unmodified.

Conveniently, GM’s new ECOTEC3 features fuel-saving direct injection, variable valve timing, and active fuel management – ability to run on four cylinders under low-load situations.

Series Hybrid

The underlying principle of a series plug-in hybrid is it runs all electrically all the time, with gas engine running at optimal rpm as a generator making its VTRUX, as VIA calls it, an “extended range electric vehicle” (eREV).

For approximately the first 35-40 miles, the eREV’s liquid-cooled, 22-kwh A123 Systems lithium nanophosphate batteries provide energy to its “VR150” traction motor in either two- or four-wheel-drive.

Truck-on-Chasis-Overhead-Angle1

Earlier versions were equipped with a 24-kwh battery and claimed 40 miles, but VIA materials now alternately quote 35 miles – for the van, though we were told the pickup is 40 – with a little less juice.

Trucks equipped as four-wheel drive utilize the standard transfer case mated to the electric motor.

Once the battery is depleted, the system’s motor controller seamlessly switches on the 4.3-liter Chevrolet generator. The gas-powered system operates like that of a diesel locomotive to provide up to 300 miles more range.

In this “charge sustaining” mode, the generator delivers power to keep the batteries charged at 20-percent and drive the electric motor in a “load following” strategy. Essentially engine rpms increase when the truck encounters high loads – like going up a hill or accelerating harder – and rpms decrease, such as at a stop sign.

Estimated mpg is around 30 mpg with depleted battery being sustained by the generator.

VIA’s online Savings Calculator assumes a conventional V8 pickup truck would net around 11 mpg in real world driving. It cites “idle time” from heavy traffic and stop and go driving which can reduce mpg potential. This figure may be true, but the EPA estimates the stock two-wheel-drive 2014 Silverado with 4.3-liter V6 as good for 18 mpg city, 24 mpg highway.

Power-Export

The VR150 generator can deliver 100 kilowatts continuously, or a peak of 150 kw, which is plenty for the truck which only needs 50 kw to propel it.

With extra energy on board, VIA is equipping these work vehicles with a multiple-outlet panel to provide clean AC power by way of 115-volt, and 220-volt plugs. Called the VTRUX power export module, this option provides 10 kw at 50 amps. VIA is also working on a utility grade output module to deliver 50 kw.

Drives Like a Big Chevy Volt

Former GM Vice Chairman, and “father of the Chevy Volt,” Bob Lutz is VIA’s chairman of the board, and in recent months was quoted saying GM should have done what VIA is doing instead of electrifying a compact car.

As it is, the big 5,500 pound curb weight truck operates remarkably like a Volt. Propelled by its basketball-sized motor, it whooshes from a standstill in characteristic EV fashion. It is relatively quiet with only some motor and tire noise to accompany the 415 Nm (306 pounds-feet) of torque.

VIA_drive

This torque, by the way, is about on par with the stock V6 engine which is rated at 305-pounds-feet, but the horsepower figure for the electric motor is higher at 402 compared to 285 for the stock gas engine.

If you’ve driven a modern pickup before, this vehicle doesn’t feel any different. The truck is actually engineered by Chevrolet, and VIA’s role is the powertrain replacement and refined vehicle dynamics are intact

VIA_instruments
Stock instrument panel is repurposed with new gauge functions and new coloration.

Cornering and braking feel similar, although on deceleration, the VTRUX has regenerative brakes to recapture energy and send it back to the battery pack.

VIA also has an iPad installed in a custom housing that can be tasked for a variety of info relaying duties. This prototype we drove also had a data display VIA’s engineers use which will not be in the production unit.

Instruments in the dashboard are also neatly done, and VIA repurposes the existing gauges to relay some data for the electric drive.

VIA_iPad
Production units are expected to get a similar display now handled by an Apple iPad, but the lower display is for test engineers, and won’t be included.

The entire truck has a finished feel to it as though GM had done the whole thing. It’s plenty satisfying to drive, and stands to save lots of fuel compared to a conventional truck.

Value Proposition

Some reviewers and Internet commenters have done a double take at the price tag of $79,000-plus for fleet buyers, around twice what a comparably equipped conventional Chevy truck would be.

The price is somewhat negotiable depending on the order, but Mark Burdge, vice president of sales and business development says it has not been a tough sell to fleet managers.

VIA_RR_34
Towing capacity is roughly on par with a standard V6 Chevy truck, or somewhere around 4,000 pounds, though the “Davis Dam” EPA test to certify it has not been finalized.

These professional buyers understand total ownership cost and that the price of a vehicle is only the beginning. They also have to pay fuel costs, which are substantially less for the eREV, and maintenance, which should be less for brakes that are used less hard, and an engine for which the same can be said.

The company’s interactive Saving Calculator allows prospective customers to estimate whether the vehicle will save them money.

Burdge said the breakeven point is around 12,000 miles per year. If plans are to only drive 10,000 miles or less, the eREV’s main value will be in going green, but it will cost more dollars than it saves.

Higher mileage driving is where the savings begin and these go up with mileage.

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Default settings for Savings Calculator. VIA says the average truck owner will save $16,000 per year with its VTRUX. Click image to enlarge, or go to actual calculator on VIA’s site.

Burdge said VIA encourages the unsure to just buy or lease one or a few and see how it goes. If the truck lives up to the promise of cheaper running on lower industrial or commercial electric rates, then the fleet manager can justify getting more later. The exportable power is also a bonus in that it saves having to lug a portable generator.

VIA does incur costs at this point having to take apart a perfectly good new truck delivered by Chevrolet, and it must sell off parts like the transmission that come out.

For now, there is no plan for GM to supply partially assembled “gliders” and there won’t be unless VIA sells in higher volume.

V IA_left_turn
Maintenance is through selected Chevy dealers who are already Volt trained, and with a high customer satisfaction index rating, and good reputation with fleet buyers. Techs are already two-thirds trained, and VIA needs to only update them on its truck.

Its plant now has capacity of around 10,000 units annually, and the first year Burdge said “several thousand” would be sold.

But combined with federal, state and even local subsidies that can vary from $10,500 to as high as $25,500 in California regions, the business case ranges from feasible to a no brainer already.

And, from an eco-car point of view, it makes sense also. As Lutz has said, the value of saving fuel from an otherwise gas guzzler is greater than making a fuel efficient car more fuel efficient.

Both eco cars and eco trucks have their value, but VIA Motors sees the lowest hanging fruit in a market where the biggest effect will be seen by business customers who will recognize when spending more can actually save money and fuel in the long run.

 

May 28

High hopes for Elio’s unusual underdog

 

By Steve Guzman

We’ve seen this vehicle before, but this is a report with more detail we got from an Austin, Texas-based writer who often writes about scooters.

What would happen if this company actually made it, and later on introduced electrification?

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What has the wheels of a car, but only three? … And it qualifies as a motorcycle, but has a door, a roof, and promises 84 mpg?

The answer? It’s simply called the Elio.

It’s part automobile, part motorcycle, and some might consider it a poor man’s Tesla, or – given it only sports a three-cylinder gas engine, and is not electric – more likely it’s the antithesis of something Tesla Motors would create.

Either way, if it has anything at all in common, it’s that it has a growing mountain of pre-orders, its FaceBook page is blowing up with “likes,” and, despite detractors, it basks in positive thoughts sent its way by gads of starry-eyed fans.

What’s so special about this vehicle said to be coming in 2015? It’s touted as a home-grown peoples’ car for the 21st century, that’s what. With a price targeted at $6,800, economy aiming for 49 mpg city, 84 mpg highway, and a predicted five-star safety rating, what’s not to like?

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More realistically, the trike or three-wheeled car – or whatever it is – holds out hope for the other end of the demographic scale for revolutionary personal mobility at less than one-tenth of Tesla’s upscale Model S.

I’ve been hearing a lot about this small gas-powered mobile and to learn more, met recently with the Elio team in Dallas, Texas at an Earth Day event, where I was able to check out the company’s two latest prototypes, the P3 and P4.

I interviewed individuals from among the throngs of smitten fans who were waiting 20 to 30 minutes just to sit in the prototype and put their hands on the steering wheel. People stood in formation from the time the show opened until nearly a half-hour after closing. It was the only booth at the event with that sort of magnetism.

February 29, 2008: The Day of Reckoning

On this day crude oil broke $100 a barrel for the first time in U.S. history, and you might say the light bulb came on for consumers as it did for everyone involved in the industry: More effective transportation solutions were needed, it was realized then, and as records were broken again that year including on the Fourth of July, when crude oil hit a staggering $145.29 a barrel.

Not long after, the earth began to crawl with more Smart cars, Mini Coopers and motorbikes – vehicles that would not have easily survived as much popularity a decade earlier when a vehicles’ value was only measured by its size.

One of the opportunists who was struck by this realization was Paul Elio.

A paragraph from his LinkedIn profile reads:

In 2008, many industry changes were quickly happening…. Upon realizing the vast potential of the Elio, Paul created Elio Motors and began the process of fighting the challenges associated with starting a new transportation company. Adhering to four tenets throughout the development process ensured a high quality product: a) ultra-low sticker price, b) ultra-high mileage, c) 5-star rating safety benefits and, d) low risk=existing technology=no R&D.

If "the future is electric" don't tell that to the Elioites.

If “the future is electric” don’t tell that to the Elioites.

Elio’s dream was full of promise and promises. Today, the Elio team keeps its eye on the target by adhering to these four tenets. Ultra-low sticker price? That would be the anticipated base retail price of $6,800. Ultra-high mileage? They’re confident they will indeed hit 49/84. Five-star safety rating? CAD models maintain the team’s confidence and actual crash tests are planned in 2014.

Swing and a Miss

First let’s look at Elio’s launch date integrity. Strike one came in 2010 when the start-up announced its intention to manufacture the Trikke, as it was known then, in a retired GM plant. Missing its announced 2014 launch date was strike two.

In my experience, hype machines tend to break down after three missed launch dates. Wishful buyers will expect at least one fizzled launch and may be a little disappointed by a second, but after three strikes, “yer out!”

You can keep going after that, but at some point it just becomes a running joke. The current official launch date has been pushed to 2015. More specifically, according to Jerome Vassallo, Elio MotorsVP of Sales, “we can expect to see a finalized production engine about October 2014 and a launch of sometime around May 2015.”

elio_inside

Considering what I’ve seen and heard so far, they are still at least one or two prototypes from what I would call a test-drivable production unit.

A colleague, Jo Borras (who I sarcastically call “Elio’s biggest fan,” because actually he’s more than a little skeptical), informs me the provisional lease on Elio’s current manufacturing facility in Shreveport, La., expires in 2016. This means, if the start-up doesn’t have the money to move forward, the entire facility, along with the dreams of the Elioites, could literally be headed to the scrap heap.

How does the risk of a perpetually sliding launch date affect the true believers? Are they putting away their wallets and walking away? Apparently not. I spoke to one gentleman in queue at the Dallas show who said, “It doesn’t matter to me. They can come out in 2015, 2016, whatever. They can take their time, I’ll still want it when it comes out.”

I stepped away from the booth and ended up running into Actor and Director Ed Begley, Jr. I discovered that even he has an Elio reservation. He’s excited about the Elio because “it simply has the best gas mileage out there.”

elios_rear

Pre-orders continue to pour in to the tune of about 135 a day. That makes over 17,000 people who have been swept up in the fairy dust and rainbows that stream from the Elio tailpipe.

These “Elioites” have dropped $100, $250, $500, even as much as $1,000 for their place on the delivery list. The higher the dollar, the higher up on the list you go. If they really want to test buyer risk tolerance, why not offer a “pay up front” option? Fans could hand over the full $6,800 and stand near the very front of the line. I believe at this point in the game many diehards wouldn’t bat an eyelash. They’d dive in head first. A program like that could give Elio Motors a much needed injection of capital.

The Art of Hitting a Curveball

Still taking on the topic of risks for Elio Motors, auto start-ups deal with a staggering number of variables. Try thinking about the reasons why you wouldn’t buy some new, unknown, upstart, young car brand. What would be your deal breaker? Its name, looks, safety, comfort, or reliability? Will it accommodate your daily cargo? Is it convenient? Is it expensive to fuel up today (because people tend to be short sighted)? Is there support? Whew! We’re just getting started and those are only a sample of the concerns on the consumer side.

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Elio has been working hard to ease concerns for would-be owners since the day it started. Just over a week ago Elio announced, on Fox & Friends, that Pep Boys would be the official service provider for Elio Motors when they launch next year. That’s an exciting announcement but what about dealerships? Since the Elio would be classified as a motorcycle in most states, vehicles could be ordered directly from Elio Motors and drop-shipped. That could allow the company to avoid the markup of third party dealerships just like Tesla has done – assuming it too doesn’t run afoul of auto dealer associations.

Another big unknown: Is the Elio really a car or a motorcycle? Naysayers tend to disparage the Elio based on what they know historically about three-wheeled vehicles. They’ve been a tough sell just because they’re an oddity. No one knows where they fit in. Ideally, their backers would love them to be considered a new segment, a vehicle that skirts the line between the two, adopting only the advantages of both. For instance, they would love them to be considered a motorcycle for benefits like use of HOV lanes but want to be considered a car when it comes to helmet laws. They want them to be considered a car when it comes to getting a driver’s license (no Class M test), but a motorcycle when it comes to getting cheap insurance (like $100/year cheap).

To make matters more complicated classifications could vary state to state. How does it fit in when nothing about the Elio fits our general concept of a car or a motorcycle?

What’s Next?

While at the event I had a chance for a brief one-on-one with Elio Motors’ VP of Government Affairs, Joel Sheltrown, and he gave some insight on where they are going with Elio.

Steve: What is your number one obstacle right now? What would you like to get out of the way?

Sheltrown: “Well, we still have to raise a little more money but everything else is just falling into place.”

Steve:Has this national tour had an impact on reservations?

Sheltrown: “It’s been very successful because most people want to see the vehicle before they put a reservation in… when people see their friends on Facebook posing next to the car saying things like it fits! I’m sold!, then they want to go online and make their own reservation.”

elio_34

Elio reservations are quickly approaching 20,000 and that is just for individual units reserved online, right? “Correct. We’ve also got rental companies interested in this, we’ve got government agencies that are interested in this as
well, so the potential is much higher.”

So, can you imagine the Elio as a fleet vehicle? Perhaps rental car companies would like it for the low cost and novelty. These are logical moves and Id like to see how this pans out.

Here’s My Take on The Elio

Any meaningful measurement of performance, comfort, handling, and driver impressions are going to have to wait for an updated prototype. We will have a better idea after they’ve built the P5 (tentatively scheduled for June 2014) and Elio’s three-cylinder, 900cc engine has been nestled under the hood. The plan is to build 25 units, some of which will be headed to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for crash testing. Lets hope that Paul Elio’s third tenet, the “5-Star crash test rating” holds up. If it does we’ll be taking a road trip to Shreveport for an actual preview so you can see how it moves and hear how it sounds. Until then, I’m going to give you my take on what I’ve seen so far.’

colors_elio

Those colors – They can stick with the jelly bean color palette if they’d like but I am not fond of color names like Marshmallow, Sour Apple, Licorice and Creamsicle. With the exception of “Candied Apple,” food descriptors should be
reserved for products that can fit in your hand. I, for one, am not driving around town in a Sour Apple Elio. If it were an Electric Green or Harlequin Green I’d be happy.

The fuel efficiency – I will be really impressed if they pull off a fuel efficiency rating of anywhere within 10 mpg of their target. If they come off the assembly line doing 74 mpg, I’ll be stoked. My gut is telling me it’ll be more like 65 mpg and
that’s still nothing to scoff at.

The 5-star safety rating - I actually think this will happen. Being 13.5-feet long it will be more susceptible to side impacts than an 8.8-foot Smart car but I think with the reinforced roll cage and multiple airbag system it will breeze through the impact tests, especially front and rear collisions.

Comfort – The front seat is spacious and comfortable. Passenger comfort in the P4, however, was like sitting at the kids picnic table. The team was well aware of the issue and P5 is spec’d to be more passenger friendly with a raised roof apex and slightly lowered, more comfortable seat.

The price - It’s too low. The number $6,800 sounds more like a dealer’s MSRP. A comparably powered scooter from Suzuki, with no heater, no AC, no power steering, power windows, power locks, stereo, airbags, seatbelt or windshield wiper is still $1000 more than the Elio. I’m just saying that you should price the Elio according to the value it offers. A scooter that is made in America and protects the rider like a car? It should be at least as much as much as a nice, used touring motorcycle. Just remember the road to $100 million is paved much more quickly $10k at a time and you’d still be $2,800 cheaper than the Nissan Versa 1.6 S sedan.

elio_front
Image: Elio Motors

If Paul Elio can stick with his first tenet, the “ultra-low sticker price,” and still make a profit then kudos to him. He could open up a whole new world of freedom for Americans in this downtrodden economy.

Today, his team just needs to figure out where they can make cuts to get the current price tag down from $7,100 to his goal of $6,800. That and the solution to a few hundred other variables and unknowns that need to be discovered before the clock ticks down to 2015.

 

May 27

Breakthrough battery from Japanese startup PJP puts honor and pride on the line

 

Yes, we’ve heard the EEstor capacitor story and jokes and comparisons, and sure, if you’re pessimistic, you’re free to say that this could be another promise that fizzles, and maybe you’ll be found right.

This battery even has something in common in that it’s a hybrid between a battery and capacitor, but that’s where the similarity in the narrative ends, and why we’re giving it for now more benefit of the doubt.

Some pretty well recognized Japanese scientists with egos and career reputations they’d prefer not sullied have gone out on a limb making strong statements for this battery. Actually, the executive I spoke with says claims are all conservative, and they’ll have more proof in around three more months.

dual-carbon-batteries
 

A couple weeks ago, the story broke of an extremely hopeful “Ryden dual carbon battery” developed by Power Japan Plus (PJP), and responses have ranged from optimistic, to pessimistic reminders that unfulfilled battery “breakthroughs” have been touted before.

If you’re just hearing of this prototype chemistry now being proof tested by an undisclosed “famous” go-cart race team and with results expected in August, the Japanese start-up company promises a lot but not without reason.

While its energy density is within range of existing li-ion chemistries, PJP’s chemistry can use 100-percent of the stored energy with no need to limit output to prevent degradation.

Performance
Cathode capacity degradation over first 10 charges. Source: PJP’s own testing

 

Strictly speaking, it’s a derivation of lithium-ion tech, but it departs from convention having properties of a battery and a capacitor, and charges 20-times quicker than the best li-ion chemistries today.

And as for degradation, the dual carbon battery far exceeds the chemistries used in a Nissan Leaf, or Tesla Model S.

The dual carbon chemistry is also made with inexpensive cotton-derived materials with no rare earths or danger of thermal runaway and fire. Indeed, it does not even get hot during operation, thus needs no cooling system, and its life expectancy is over 3,000 charge cycles.

performance1
Cathode capacity degradation over 1,000 charges. Source: PJP’s own testing. … Can anyone identify the chemistries plummeting lower? Which on is the Leaf? (hint, it is one of them). Is Volt there?
 

If this all pans out, it could mean mainstream-priced EVs with over 300 miles range and significantly less loss of performance over time. It also means their resale value could be better preserved compared to today’s EVs.

The company is looking to sell into all industries that need advanced batteries, including automotive, food supplements, consumer electronics, construction, and medical equipment, with the latter – surgical tools – being ”low-hanging fruit.”

Its 18650 form factor can be made on existing assembly lines, and fewer of these cool-running units should slot in place nicely to make lighter-weight instruments for doctors performing operations.

12 Years

 

To learn what we could, we spoke last week at the EDTA conference in Indianapolis with the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, Chris Craney who said it just came out of “stealth mode” after a dozen years of development.

Behind it all is the work of Prof. Tatsumi Ishihara, an applied chemist at Kyushu University in Japan, a top-five national university, and “like an MIT.”


 

For the last six years, Dr. Ishihara has worked with Dr. Kaname Takeya, a cathode expert who helped develop PJP’s carbon cathode to replace rare earth metal cathodes.

Dr. Takeya is known for his work on batteries used in the Prius and Model S, and Craney said third-party organizations have already verified their claims.

“This is thoroughly vetted by the national lab in Japan; it’s real science and self funded by our executive team,” he said of the National institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

The company is now talking with venture capitalists, and representatives from various industries including undisclosed “world renowned automotive companies.”

Ryden
PJP’s battery utilizes a unique chemistry, with both the anode and the cathode made of carbon.
Combined with an organic electrolyte, it allows for a unique current flow within the battery.

 

Before issuing a press release, it also submitted to intense questioning by IHS, said Craney, and analysts “bombarded” Dr. Takeya and company principles with tough technical questions.

Craney said after the analysts were done, they would say effectively that this was unlike any other battery they’d investigated before, though really, it’s a new development for an idea that’s been known for decades.

The notion of a dual carbon battery was first written about in 1978 by Kyoto University, but PJP’s innovation over a design with initial shortcomings is its higher power and suitability for real-world use.

The company’s dual carbon battery does operate at higher voltage – 3-3.5 volts per cell, and up to 5 volts, but Craney was under strict orders not to share too much, including how large a battery that could discharge 100 percent would be needed to travel 300 miles in an electric car.

pjp_1
Capacity of dual carbon battery over 100 charges.
 

PJP classifies itself as a materials engineering company, and Dr. Ishihara’s recyclable carbon-based material used in the battery’s electrolyte can be used in other industries as well.

Dr. Takeya took the materials from cotton and changed the structure and morphology for various applications.

As an electrolyte for the battery, he adapted the particle science in one direction. For other things, like food supplements, he can tweak it again to develop a type of activated charcoal that’s ingested to pull away toxins from the body.

Or, he can make a super conducting material for wild ideas like heating carpets – or rooftops or airplane runways in frigid climates for pushbutton snow and ice melting.

“Professor Ishihara is a genius,” said Craney.

What’s Next

 

If key technical details are omitted from the company’s Web site and materials, this is not an accident.

The company has patents pending, and in process now is proof of concept for a small battery pack and battery management system being used by a go-cart race team.

Where in the world this experiment is and the name of the team is undisclosed, as are other critical details but the company expects a new technical video to be posted “very soon.” It will make more announcements up through August when the race team is expected to have results.

At that stage, PJP hopes to be able to share more including more performance claims for automotive applications.

To date, Craney said the company is being somewhat “mysterious” and conservative rather than tip its hand to others in the industry who could interpret clues and know more than it wishes to divulge.

pjp_01
Charge/discharge profile of dual carbon battery.

The fact that the battery also uses no rare earths could help solve a sticky geopolitical issue between Japan and antagonistic China which controls over 90 percent of rare earth supplies.

If anyone thinks this has the makings of one more hype machine, Craney emphasized in addition to third-party vetting already done, personal pride and reputations are on the line. The last thing these recognized PhDs want to do is lose face after making claims for a game changer.

“Current advanced batteries have made great improvement on performance, but have done so by compromising on cost, reliability and safety,” said Dr. Takeya, CTO of Power Japan Plus. “The Ryden dual carbon battery balances this equation, excelling in each category.”

Craney observed also, Dr. Takeya used to teach engineering ethics at Kyushu University, and does practice what he preaches.


 

Meanwhile, the company is seeking investors and customers for a battery it will have more news on in the coming months. It is not tied to any major automakers now, but could answer objections the majors now have – both Honda and Toyota are aiming for fuel cell tech, and Toyota has famously stated li-ion batteries are not ready for prime time.

The Japanese have been innovators before, and PJP hopes to be next in line.

“It’s time for Japan innovation to come back out to show what we do,” said Craney.

So, stay tuned.