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Jun 24

2013 Toyota RAV4 Review


By Larry E. Hall

Toyota’s 2013 RAV4 EV is the automaker’s second go round of converting its small gasoline powered sport utility to an electric vehicle. From 1997 to 2003, 1,484 RAV4 EVs were leased or sold. Of those, Toyota says approximately 449 are still on the road.

This time, rather than develop the electric RAV4 on its own, Toyota joined forces with upstart Silicon Valley electric carmaker Tesla Motors to co-develop and co-engineer the latest all-electric RAV4.

Toyota was responsible for the vehicle’s design, ride and handling, safety systems and its human-machine interface. Tesla supplies the RAV’s electric drivetrain, including the battery and electric motor, which it shares with Tesla’s base Model S luxury sedan.

Developed in a remarkably short 22 months, production is completed at the RAV4’s plant in Ontario, Canada.

Based on the 2012 RAV4 – not the all-new 2013 model – Toyota says only 2,600 units will be made, with production halting at the end of 2014.

The battery-powered RAV4 is available for sale only through select dealers in California’s major metro market areas of Los Angeles / Orange County, the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Sacramento.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Action Front

With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $49,800 plus $845 destination charges, RAV4 EV customers have the option of a purchase or lease program. The vehicle is eligible for a $7,500 Federal Tax Credit and qualifies for California’s $2,500 rebate through the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program as well as that state’s white sticker program, allowing a single occupant to drive in HOV lanes.

Tesla Produced Powertrain

Deviating from Toyota’s custom of employing synchronous permanent-magnet motors in their hybrid powertrains, Tesla supplied an AC induction motor. The 115-kilowatt motor’s peak output is 154 horsepower with torque output selectable by the driver.

In Normal Mode, the motor’s generated torque is 218 pounds feet and sends the electric RAV4 from zero-to-60 mph in 8.6 seconds with a top speed of 85 mph. When needed, the Sport Mode increases the torque to 273 pounds feet, decreasing the time to reach 60 mph to 7.0 seconds and increasing top speed to 100 mph.

Power from the motor is directed to the front wheels through a fixed-gear open-differential transaxle with a gear ratio of 9.73:1.

Located beneath the floor pan under the rear seats, the RAV4’s battery is a 386-volt lithium-ion pack comprised of around 4,500 cells similar to those used in laptop computers. Rated at 41.8 kilowatt hours of usable energy at full charge, maximum power output is 129 kw.

2013 Toyota Rav4 EV Motor

The liquid cooled battery pack’s 41.8-kwh capacity is nearly double that of competitive EVs Honda’s Fit EV is equipped with a 20-kWh battery, the Ford Focus Electric employs a 23-kwh unit and the Nissan Leaf uses one that is 24-kwh.

Unlike other electrics, the RAV4 EV features two charging modes, Normal and Extended. Normal charges the battery to 35 kwh providing the vehicle with an EPA-estimated average driving range rating of 92 miles.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV ChargingIf a driver needs more driving range, the Extended mode charges the battery to its full capacity of 41.8-kwh and extends the range to 113 miles.

For the window sticker, the EPA requires averaging the two, showing 103-mile range. Comparatively, the Focus EV has an EPA average range of 76 miles, the Leaf 75 miles.

While Standard charging provides less driving miles, it does extend the life of the battery. However, regardless of the mix of charging modes, including Extended charging only, spokesperson Mario Apodaca said the battery is covered with an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

With such a large battery pack, funneling electricity to the car at 110 volts takes 44 hours for Standard mode and 52 hours for Extended mode. But thanks to a 10-kw onboard charger, using a level two 40-amp, 240-volt home charging unit reduces charging to five hours for Normal mode and six hours for Extended. That’s on par with the Leaf’s six to seven hours but more than the four hours for the Focus.

Toyota deserves a gold star for the additional driving miles from the Extended charge mode, but earns a demerit for not providing a quick-charge port.

Maximizing Battery Efficiency

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV GaugesApodaca said the development team made trips of up to 145 miles per charge. Obviously they used a judicious right foot, but engineers also devised ways to maximize the battery’s efficiency, including engineering the regenerative braking to minimize kinetic energy loss. The results of this cooperative regenerative braking are increased driving range by up to 20 percent.

Since regen braking cannot effectively stop a vehicle under hard braking, a conventional hydraulic system takes care of that task.

The RAV’s climate control system has three modes that allow the driver to select the preferred level of comfort and driving range. Normal mode provides maximum comfort, but draws the most juice, thus reducing range.

Eco Low mode dispenses a balance of comfort and extends range by automatically activating the seat heaters if necessary and reducing power consumption of the climate control system up to 18 percent. Eco Hi also automatically activates the seat heaters if needed and further reduces power consumption up to 40 percent compared to Normal. While the results are incremental, using Eco Lo or Eco Hi modes extends driving range.

Also, a remote climate control system lets owners preheat or precool the RAV4 while it is plugged-in, which conserves battery charge and EV range. The system can be programmed by a timer on the navigation display, and can be activated using a smart phone.


2013 Toyota RAV4 EV BadgeThe electrified RAV mimics other contemporary Toyotas, featuring a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.30 – impressive for a SUV-like contour and a notable improvement over the standard RAV4′s 0.34 Cd.

Contributing to the low Cd number are a new grille and front bumper, more aerodynamic mirrors, deeper rear spoiler and underbody cladding. The front-end changes give a more contemporary, sleek appearance to the RAV4 EV compared with the 2012 edition’s truck-like front.

New lighting isn’t just for looks. Battery power consumption is reduced by using LED low beam projector headlights with halogen projector high beams, LED daytime running lights which dim to parking lights and LED taillights.


RAV4 EV buyers have a choice of just one trim level with no options. The vehicle is basically a standard RAV4 V6 with the sport appearance package, meaning no spare tire mounted on the rear hatch.

Slip onto the driver’s seat and the interior looks nearly identical to the gas-powered model — the same seating position, same outward visibility and same bi-level dash layout with upper and lower glove boxes. Immediately noticeable, however, are new digital gauges, a restyled center stack with an eight-inch color LCD touch screen atop, the absence of control knobs and the quirky gear shifter borrowed from the Prius.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Cockpit

Flanking the digital speedometer are two small gauges. The left posts driving range while the right can scroll through screens to show things like trip efficiency, CO2 reduction and a driving coach with an overall driving score. Engaging the Sport mode changes the background color to red from the Normal mode’s blue.

The large touch screen contains audio controls, backup camera, a navigation system that can locate charging stations and Toyota’s Entune app system. Having to dig into the system for audio settings is somewhat annoying, but at least there’s a volume-control button on the steering wheel.

Front seats, with eco-friendly cloth, are supportive but not excessively firm, with acceptable bolsters and thigh support. A tilt-and-telescope steering wheel and six-way adjustable driver’s seat makes easy work of finding a comfortable driving position.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Front Seats

A relatively high seating position, low cowl and sloping hood provide excellent front visibility, while lengthy side windows eases over-the-shoulder lane checking.

There’s generous room for two rear seat adult passengers, three, not so much. Rear seatbacks recline and the 60/40 split seats slide fore or aft to optimize passenger room or cargo capacity.

Since the battery doesn’t intrude into the cabin, the 37.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row seats is the same as the gas powered model — more than enough to hold a week’s worth of groceries. For more space, a simple flip of a lever folds the rear seat flat to expand cargo room to 73 cubic feet.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Rear Seats

If little ones are along for the ride, rear seats can accommodate two rear-facing infant-safety seats, two convertible child-safety seats or two booster seats. Latch anchors on the outboard seats are buried in the cushions but are easily reachable. Attaching tether anchors, however, is somewhat cumbersome and requires sliding the seats forward to connect the tethers.

Driving The RAV4 EV

My time with the RAV4 EV was limited to around an hour, but the drive route north of downtown Phoenix was varied enough to walk away with a good grasp of how Toyota’s small electric SUV performs and handles on the road.

When I pushed the blue start button, the RAV electric went through a quick and silent system check, “booting up,” Apodaca said – no sounds of a gasoline engine coming to life.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Action

With the familiar Prius style shift lever moved to “D,” the small crossover moved silently through the parking lot. The rack-and-pinion electric power steering felt light, needing only a slight effort to turn. As speed increased, the steering became more weighted and acceptably responsive with more feedback than anticipated.

Short brake-pedal travel took a few miles to get used to. Once I adapted, I found breaking to be smooth without the grabby, jerky feel of some regenerative braking systems. Panic stops produced no surprises and there was no indication when the hydraulic system took charge to safely bring the RAV to a halt.

Acceleration is quite frisky – really frisky in Sport mode. The go pedal is easy to modulate allowing minimum electricity use during in-town driving yet, providing instant get up and go when necessary.

Ride and handling is similar to the conventional RAV4, meaning it’s close to a typical small car. The all-independent suspension did a commendable job of absorbing bumps and the infrequent Arizona potholes.

The RAV4 EV is certainly no canyon carver, but the placement of the battery lowers the center of gravity allowing even sharp curves to be taken with confidence while exhibiting only slight body roll when pushed hard.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Action Left

Toyota added sound insulation in the roof, doors and front fenders as well as thicker windshield glass. The result is a serenely quiet cabin with just a touch of wind and tire noise and, on occasion, a slight whine from the electric motor.

And about the driving range?

After going through the system check, the dashboard display lit up showing an estimated range of 119 miles. That was immediately reduced to 92 miles when I selected the climate control’s Normal mode to cool the interior. Hey, the RAV had been parked for more than an hour in near 80-degree heat.

After a couple, three minutes the cabin cooled, I switched to Eco Hi and the range increased to 118 miles.

The drive route included a state highway, a four-lane boulevard, residential streets and a cruise through a small town. While the terrain was primarily flat, we did encounter a four or five mile hilly stretch with some very sharp curves.

As the miles went by, the decrease in the estimated driving range stayed very close to the miles driven until I decided to try out the Sport mode, and then it was Whoopee!

Pushing the sport button was transformational. The Mr. Green Jeans personality instantly became a near silent road rocket and before I realized it, we were at 75 mph in a 55 mph zone. Not good. This was the last of the four-day press introduction of the 2013 RAV4 and the local gendarmes were out in force, having already handed out three speeding tickets.

Driving in Sport for six miles knocked driving range down by nearly eight miles but I added some juice along the way by braking more than normal. When we pulled back into the parking lot, the 48.3 run lost just 46 miles of battery range. Apparently, Toyota and Tesla have figured out battery efficiency.

A Compliance Vehicle?

Like the first RAV4 EV this latest edition is indeed produced to comply with California’s ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) mandate, a requirement that a certain percentage of vehicles sold in the Golden State must meet.

But Toyota says the electrified RAV is not just a compliance vehicle.

“The Zero Emission Vehicle mandate has been a fact of life in California for over 20 years. It’s nothing new,” said Jana Hartline, environmental communications manger for Toyota.

“We’re committed to meeting our ZEV credit requirements through a combination of plug-in hybrid, pure battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicle sales.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV Rear

“Do we think electric vehicles will replace the internal combustion engine? No. But we do think they are an important part of our portfolio of technologies for the future.”

Toyota is also learning from its alliance with Tesla. While the company would not discuss specific technology based issues, Sheldon Brown, RAV4 EV executive program manager, said that it has been a very useful collaboration.

“In a number of areas from power train control to battery management strategies to HV system architecture, our engineering teams each brought their own experiences and understanding to the table and debated and collaborated to find the best application for the specific issue at hand.”

“In the end,” Brown continued, “it really served as a great gut check – a chance to re-consider some of our traditional practices and determine for ourselves if we need further improvement.”

One of those traditional practices being reconsidered might well be Toyota’s stance that hybrids and plug-in hybrids with small batteries are the best answer to the broad range of consumer needs rather than large battery EVs.

Reinforcing that stance, Toyota’s vice chairman, Takeshi Uchiyamada stated in February that, “Because of its shortcomings – driving range, cost and recharging time – the electric vehicle is not a viable replacement for most conventional cars.”

Digging deeper, however, it appears that Toyota’s dismissal of EVs is in the context of near term, not long term.

With little fanfare, in 2008 the company formed a research division to develop “revolutionary batteries.” It aims to commercialize solid-state batteries that will be up to four times more powerful than today’s lithium-ion batteries, followed by lithium-air batteries that will be five times as powerful. Those numbers project a driving range of multiple hundreds of miles on a single charge. Unfortunately, these new batteries aren’t expected until around 2020.

Until then, those who are giving serious thoughts about purchasing a battery-powered vehicle for the first time, as well as EV devotees, should seriously consider the RAV4 EV. With its SUV body style it offers an elevated driving position plus, generous space for passengers and cargo.

And, even though my time behind the steering wheel was short, I came away convinced that it delivers the longest driving range of the current crop of EVs. Except the Tesla Model S, of course.


Apr 05

Revived EV American maker Detroit Electric reveals its SP:01


Chevrolet, a comparatively younger company founded in 1911 and bought by GM in 1918 does not hold a candle to the original Detroit Electric with regards to its electric car credentials.

And Detroit Electric, founded in 1907 as a dedicated EV maker is back. Taking up residence in an iconic 18th floor location in downtown Detroit, with an assembly plant located in Michigan, the company is playing up its pedigree as far as it can.


Actually, the company was shuttered in 1939 while Chevrolet went on to glory for decades beyond. And Detroit Electric’s new head is actually a Brit re-purposing a Brit car with plans for more all-electric, all-American creations soon. It’s a bold development gambit not unlike the path now being traveled by a billionaire South African dreamer in Silicon Valley named Elon.


“We’re back, over 70 years on,” says Detroit Electric on its Web site. “Back in Detroit and back to reignite positive movement in the motor industry. Just as we did in 1907. Proving that we were never behind the times. We were ahead of it.”

A few weeks ago the resurrected Detroit Electric displayed a teaser image of its pending all-electric sports car, and has now wasted no time in providing glossy images of … a car remarkably like the former Tesla Roadster.

The connection should be less of a surprise given that Tesla used modified bodies supplied by Lotus – although Tesla points out the Roadster is not merely an electrified Elise – and the reviver of the EV company in Detroit has strong ties to Lotus as well.

Shut down since the days of FDR, the iconic Detroit Electric brand was “re-booted” in 2008 by former Lotus Engineering Group CEO and executive director of Lotus Cars of England, Albert Lam.

So while some may initially offer that imitation is a sincerest form of flattery, the Lotus connection is arguably as valid with Detroit Electric as it ever was with Tesla.


What’s more, the lightweight and agile rear-wheel-drive Lotus platform is a good starting point to achieve a dynamic all-electric sports car regardless of who did it first.

Called the SP:01, the sporty two-seater EV will, as was the case with Tesla, pursue the high-performance, limited-edition approach to establishing its brand.

Only 999 copies are to be produced, prices start at $135,000, and the SP:01 shares similarities and has some differences with the Tesla starting perhaps with its battery pack.

Tesla Roadster 2.5.
Tesla Roadster 2.5.

In the SP:01’s case, its lithium-polymer pack is much smaller than the Tesla’s. The SP:01′s pack is thermally managed by conditioned air and said to be rated at 37-kwh compared to a 53-kwh pack that came with Tesla’s Roadster.

But the Detroit Electric’s curb weight is lower by a not-insubstantial 13.5 percent, approximately, and its transmission options are greater, so acceleration to 62 (100 kph) is said to be in a highly competitive 3.7 seconds, and top speed is 155 mph (249 kph).

Tesla Roadster.
Tesla Roadster.

Traveling range for the battery powered SP:01 is rated on a variety of standards as coming in between 139 miles and 188 miles. And no doubt if this sportster were shuttled to a track day and allowed to flex its muscles full time, its range would be much less still – as is true of any car.

Curb weight for the carbon-fiber-clad SP:01 is said to be a scant 2,358 pounds (1,070 kg) – not far off the traditionally ideal 1,000 kg mark – and not a whole lot of bulk to push; the SP:01 should provide excellent handling and braking performance in addition to blistering speed.

Its mid-mounted AC Asynchronous motor needed to push around this altogether lightweight package is therefore not that staggering on paper.

Detroit Electric SP:01.
Detroit Electric SP:01.

It is rated at 201 horsepower (150 kilowatts), and 166 pound-feet (225 Nm) of torque.

Compared to the 403-horsepower and 959 pounds-feet torque from the part-time electric Fisker Karma, this sounds miniscule. But the Karma is a 5,300-pound behemoth, and the classic Lotus formula of lightweight will pay big dividends for Detroit Electric.

The SP:01’s power-to-weight ratio is what should be focused on, and to be sure, this car will smoke a Karma that might lumber up to 60 mph in a traction-control-limited 6.3 seconds or so, and will wallow in corners compared to the bantamweight SP:01.

Competition however between the Detroit Electric EV and the Tesla Roadster – a quicker car than even the Model S sedan – ought to be much closer of a match.

Another advantage the SP:01 has is transmission options. These include a four-speed manual, or an optional fifth gear added to the four-speed, or a two-speed auto.

The approximately 2,723-pound (1,235 kg) Tesla Roadster kept things simpler with a single-speed gearbox, and its top speed was limited to 125 mph with a single ratio low enough to launch with a comparatively quick 0-60 in 3.7-3.9 seconds from a start.

It needed more motor power too, with various spec versions rated between 248-288 horsepower, and 200-295 pound-feet torque.


The Roadster’s all-electric range was however longer as well – in excess of an attainable real-world 200 miles, up to around 244 miles or more estimated.

Recharging time for the SP:01 is said to be 4.3 hours using the quickest charger, and with a standard EU outlet, 10.7 hours. No doubt it would take much longer with a U.S. outlet supplying but 120 volts, so a fast charger is essentially required.

Rounding out the specs, the car rides on a fully independent double-wishbone suspension with high performance dampers and coaxial springs at all four corners. It specs AP racing twin-piston front brake calipers and Brembo single-pistons in the rear. Tires are 195/50 R16 in front, and 225/45 R17 in rear.

Inside the car, Detroit Electric says it’s the first to use smart phone applications to fully manage in-car infotainment system.


Called “SAMI” (Smartphone Application Managed Infotainment system), the system accesses a variety of functions, including music player, satellite navigation, interior lighting adjust and vehicle systems status – such as the level of battery charge, range to recharge and other vehicle telemetry.

Naturally, it can also be used to make mobile phone calls.

“Our research engineers at Detroit Electric have taken steps to break the mould,” said Lam. “SP:01 is more than just a sports car, it is a mobile energy unit, allowing the user to use its stored battery energy to power not just the car but even an entire home. SP:01 is equipped with bi-directional charge and discharge capability, allowing it to release its stored electrical energy to power a home.”

The SP:01 uses a patented Detroit Electric home charging and power back-up unit, called “360 Powerback.”


It is a smart home-charging and power back-up unit that enables the SP:01’s battery to be charged at the rate of 8-kwh (240 volts @32 amps). The unit can detect a grid power failure and provide the option – via SAMI and the GSM network – for the user to instruct the vehicle to restore power to the home using its stored energy.

“360 Powerback is the next level of innovation and shows our determination to provide additional value proposition through our EVs, uniquely elevating us from others in the segment,” said Lam.

Past, Present, Future


The former Detroit Electric had its heyday and went out of business 69 years before Lam and company came along, but as has become standard operating procedure for a revival of a classic name, lore and legend come with the package for the polished up, once-sleeping brand.

As did the London-based venture capital firm that purchased the name rights to the iconic Chris-Craft boat company and Indian Motocycles, Detroit Electric’s marketing copywriters have jumped in head first. Their self descriptions evoke a legacy that the present management did not earn as they wax eloquent over a company of entirely new identity albeit with a name purchased from one from long ago. They presume to state the company is “back” as though speaking with the voice of ghosts of long-dead founders who were merely away for a while. They essentially declare a sense of continuity, and essentially rest fully on their purchased laurels.

“It’s hard to imagine that back in the early 1900’s, electric cars were the most prolific vehicle. And guess who helped spark the movement,” says Detroit Electric’s Web site. “Our founder, William C. Anderson made his first Detroit Electric in 1907. By 1910 we were leading the way, selling up to 2,000 cars a year. Petrol cars were unreliable and dirty, but Detroit Electrics could be charged at home and used in an instant …”

The family resemblance to the company's newest car and this original Detroit Electric EV is just a bit elusive.
The family resemblance to the company’s newest car and this original Detroit Electric EV is just a bit elusive.

The new-start company says it produced 13,000 electric cars total – “a world record for electric vehicles in the 20th century.”

Why, even Henry Ford’s wife, Clara, drove one, says Detroit Electric’s marketers, as did also Thomas Edison, Mamie Eisenhower, and John D. Rockefeller Jr. among other notable customers.

This is certainly a distinction, and even Tesla Motors cannot claim Nikola Tesla ever drove one of its cars.

And so it goes. The approach is not unfamiliar in today’s world where bold personalities climb new heights, sometimes on shaky ground where others more conservative would fear to follow.

2011 Lotus Elise.

In any case, we sincerely hope the new-old company can pull it off, as the electric vehicle world needs more innovators and risk takers with good ideas. It would be great for this company to make it – a new American car company in Detroit dedicated to EVs!

Plans for Detroit Electric now are to launch the SP:01 by August, with more cars to follow down-market by 2014 including a family sedan for under $50,000 or so.

The company has signed a long-term lease for its corporate headquarters in downtown Detroit’s Fisher Building, and it aims to produce its cars at its new facility in Wayne County, Mich. as well.

The production facility is promised to have an annual capacity of 2,500 cars and Detroit Electric intends to create over 180 sales and manufacturing-related jobs over the next 12 months.

Its business has been “asset light” – modeled on Apple and Nike – and minimizing overhead and requirements for excess capital. It reportedly has just 17 employees thus far.

More fun than a barrel full of Spark EVs.

In question is how it will fare in what is actually a capital-intensive business. It’s starting with a pricey product that looks even more like the original Lotus Elise gas-powered car than Tesla’s Roadster – and Tesla has succeeded so far, while, speaking of history, that is where another aspirational company also headed by a non-American transplant, Fisker Automotive, seems to be slipping into.

Wishing to establish new history, Detroit Electric is looking for more investors, and of course, customers for the SP:01 which will have its global reveal at the Shanghai Motor Show on April 20.

After five years of intense research and investment in its pending product line, the company is offering signups for test drives for would-be buyers. The SP:01, priced from $135,000, will come with a three-year, 30,000-mile warranty with an optional extension for the battery to five years and 50,000 miles.

More information can be found at Detroit Electric’s Web site.


Mar 13

Will the BMW i3 with ‘not intended for daily use’ range extender meet US buyer expectations?


Yesterday I was contacted by John Voelcker, senior editor of Green Car Reports, kindly asking what I thought of a piece he wrote comparing what is known of the pending BMW i3 with range extender to the Chevy Volt.

His article ponders whether BMW is possibly setting itself up for a new variant on “range anxiety” in the North American market because the motorcycle-based two-cylinder petrol backup may not be enough to match the output of the EV it is meant to support.

In BMW’s view, the “ReX” range extender – its displacement may be 800cc but this is not official – may lead the car to dip into its 21-22-kwh battery’s energy buffer.


Power may be fine in range-extended mode on a level grade, but up long hills, or at speed, or in other taxing scenarios, the performance may tail off in range-extended mode.

The i3’s electric motor is expected to deliver 170 horsepower (125 kw) of peak power to its rear wheels. A suitable ratio for the gas-to-electric output would be 1:2. The Volt is set up this way. Its electric output is rated at 149 horsepower (111 kw), and its gas range extender is around half that at 74 horsepower (55 kw).

It’s not out of the question that an 800cc BMW motorcycle-based engine would be able to deliver half of the 170 peak horsepower of the i3’s traction motor, but that would be pushing it. A parallel twin from one of its liquid-cooled 800cc bikes is capable of 85-90 horsepower, but usually they must be spun to around 8,900 rpm to achieve peak power.

Do you think BMW will make the genset in the i3 a 9,000 rpm screamer? If not, its gas-to-electric ratio will likely be less than the Volt’s, and this is assuming it’s an 800cc. BMW also has a 650cc parallel twin motorcycle engine, so this is an open question.

What is known to date is the stated design parameters set by BMW are not the same as GM established with the Volt. The Volt, as you know, can be driven on gas alone if someone wanted to do it, but the BMW’s tiny range extender may not be able to do this as well.


“Consider, for example, a heavily loaded range-extended electric car on a 10-mile uphill grade at freeway speeds,” writes Voelcker of a situation where the i3 may come up short in range-extended mode, “Once the buffer capacity of the pack is depleted, would a 40- or 50-kw generator be enough to keep the i3 at maximum speed on that freeway?”

BMW has said it expects the estimated 100 mile or so EV range its i3 will provide will suffice, and so its range extender is there mainly like a spare gas can to get the driver to a charger if needed.

The car’s fuel tank is only expected to be 2-3 gallons which would only double the EV range. These decisions are being made by BMW in order to comply with California’s arcane requirements to still be considered a “zero-emissions vehicle” (even if it does emit some hydrocarbons anyway).

One thing that’s true of GM’s engineers is they know the American mindset, and what will satisfy drivers for the most part.

A contrast may be seen in BMW’s philosophy as evidenced by BMW’s global R&D chief, Herbert Diess, who was quoted recently saying the i3’s range extender is not designed to be used day in, day out, as the Volt’s range extender is capable of.

“The range extender is not intended for daily use. It’s for situations when the driver needs to extend the range of the vehicle to reach the next charging station,” said Diess. “Therefore, the i3 probably won’t be the choice for customers with a need for an extended range.”

Instead, a plug-in hybrid would be a better choice, Diess said. He also said BMW expects people may flock to the range-extended version at first, but as the car becomes known, those opting for the range-extended i3 will diminish from half of all buyers, to just one-fifth.

“It is more of an issue for those who have not yet had a chance to use an electric car,” said Diess of the range-extender option. “After a few days, they usually discover that a base range of [100 miles] is sufficient to limit recharging to about two times a week. In most cases where people first think they need a range extender, it actually never is used.”

BMW is making the i3 a global car aimed also at Europe and Asia where distances traveled are more often shorter, and driver requirements are different than in the U.S.

The i3 is due for U.S. delivery early in 2014, and BMW says it will lack nothing as a family member of the “Ultimate Driving Machines.”


It may be an EV, but this will be a BMW EV, and presumably more fun to drive than a Nissan Leaf. But will the BMW wilt nonetheless in range-extended mode?

That is one mystery, but as Voelcker concedes, there is room for speculation. Even the specific cost for the range-extender is not officially known. Word has been it could be an additional $2,000-$3,000 more for the car possibly priced in the $40,000 range. If this is so, this is not a lot extra for an installed engine, and frankly it sounds too low.

To be sure, we’ll need more answers from BMW, but judging from what it is saying, do you think it is misjudging the American market, and what most people would want? Why bother with a range extender if it cannot meet power supply demands in full?

GM already gave America what it thought was the best engineered compromise – an EV that can travel coast-to-coast on gas if needed – but BMW’s criteria doesn’t appear to be up to the same standard.

Is it possible the i3 with range extender will be a near-miss for most Americans? Or could BMW re-think its priorities before launching the car here in the land of high expectations?

Green Car Reports


Mar 11

Will GM offer smaller EV batteries to cut Gen 2 Voltec costs?


General Motors has been attempting to globally proliferate its Voltec technology, now having seen three short model years (2011-2013) in 28 months since the North American launch of Gen 1, and with an eye toward Gen 2.

The company has collected profuse amounts of data and customer feedback to give it a strong sense of what to offer next. While it has an intense fan base that loves the Gen 1 car, GM has also felt mild-to-intense market push-back against its arguably pricey Voltec siblings.

Aside from reducing the cost of existing components, it appears GM is at least mulling its options to offer a smaller battery pack, as evidenced by a statement made by GM’s Vice President of Strategy and Operations, Thomas Sedran, in Europe.


“In the coming years I don’t think you will need 100 km (62 miles) of electric range,” said Sedran. “Around 30 to 50 km (18 to 30 miles) should be enough to get you in and out of town and after that you still have the range-extender engine to help.”

Sedran’s comment was recorded by regarding the Vauxhall Ampera sibling to the Volt, and it has prompted speculation as to whether multiple battery size options may be a way to tailor MSRP to specific driver requirements, or whether it would mean simply cutting back the AER to that of a Ford Fusion or C-MAX Energi.

In denser communities as they have in Europe, this may be all a lot of people need, and the same could be said of individual owner requirements in the U.S. too.

Another comment by Steve Girsky, GM’s vice chairman and interim president of GM of Europe, was also noted showing GM is painfully aware of the need to find creative ways to slash costs while still, presumably, retaining profitability and expanding appeal.

“The Ampera has one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any car, but it’s simply too expensive,” said Girsky. “If you want to make money it’s not about the cleverest technology, but who can deliver fuel economy at a lower cost.”

The UK generously lops off £5,000 ($7,467) from the sales price of an Ampera, but the car still starts at £28,995 ($43,301). Of that, an estimated £12,000 ($17,921) was quoted as the production cost of the battery for the UK model.

If accurate, and assuming markup for the battery, that’s basically akin to saying the “gas tank” – aka energy storage – costs somewhere around half of the car or so and consumers are aware of this, as is GM.

After speaking with GM, AutoExpress said the Ampera would be replaced in “three to four year’s time” which is further out than we’ve been led to suspect of the Gen 2 Volt.

Apparently a lot is still up in the air. Do you think multiple battery range options is the way to go? GM’s Dan Akerson has also recently said better battery tech is right around the corner, so where are we headed here?

And would it not be better to get more AER from a more energy dense battery that GM found a way to procure at a lower cost? Is merely slashing the battery size as though constrained by present economics a good indicator for a future Voltec?

One thing we hear often enough is the blatant statement by EV evangelists and other such positive-thinking proponents that high-voltage electrified car batteries will go the way of the semiconductor.

Silicon Valley has benefited from year-over-year improvements of virtually quantum scale since the advent of the personal computer.


For people to project the same future into the electrified car battery is speculation on a high order. It sounds good, but we’re talking two different technologies here. Are such prophetic utterances based on fact? Or are they a statement of faith?

If fact, and HV batteries progress like the computer industry was able to, we’d expect in maybe a decade to have so much AER that the Volt will not need a range extender. Perhaps also we’ll have ultra-fast recharging too, and EVs will promise only benefits over ICE vehicles, with no tradeoffs perceived to have to accept.

What is certain is we are all on a road we have not traveled before. And, mixed statements from GM shed little actual light on the subject. The only objective truth that can be said is we shall have to wait and see what actually comes forth in the next couple years and beyond.

AutoExpress via Gas2.0


Mar 07

GM gearing up Spark EV for European launch


By Philippe Crowe

Chevrolet’s Spark Electric battery-powered mini car is being presented to a European audience for the first time at this year’s Geneva Motor Show.

The car will be sold in select European markets as of 2014.

Chevrolet anticipates the Spark EV will set a benchmark in performance for an urban city electric car; the Spark EV is powered by the most advanced electric motor and battery system General Motors has ever built.


“The Spark EV is a fun-to-drive zero-emission city car with intelligent connectivity. We believe it will resonate particularly in some of Europe’s most technologically advanced markets,” says Susan Docherty, president and managing director of Chevrolet and Cadillac Europe. “Just like Volt, this nimble battery-powered vehicle is a proof point for Chevrolet’s ingenuity in delivering smart mobility solutions.”

The heart of the Spark EV’s propulsion system is its GM-designed permanent magnet electric motor. It delivers more than 130 horsepower (100 kilowatt) and will enable 0-60 mph acceleration in under 8.5 seconds.

The Spark EV will be equipped with a lithium-ion battery system of more than 20 kilowatt-hour that operates with the help of an active liquid cooling and heating system. The battery pack has been engineered to enable both regular alternate current (AC) and direct current (DC) fast charging.

Chevrolet said DC fast charging will allow the car to recharge up to 80 percent of its capacity in approximately 20 minutes. Moreover, the battery system is capable of handling multiple DC fast charges daily. AC recharging requires between 6 and 8 hours, using a 230V outlet.

A charging extension is standard.

According to Chevrolet, the Spark EV was designed to look edgy and expressive. Among the most prominent aspects of its stylish interior is a column-mounted instrument cluster that features one of two large seven-inch full-color LCD screens. The other display is located in the center stack and serves as the interface for infotainment, cabin climate controls and energy-efficiency data.


The Spark EV will come with the Chevrolet MyLink connected radio technology as standard, which allows users to connect compatible smartphones to the radio with its high resolution touch screen. Chevrolet said MyLink will support a number of select apps which will allow users to navigate using their smartphone, and listen to radio stations around the world through the internet. A rear-view camera will provide assistance when the car is in reverse.

In addition, MyLink users who own a compatible iPhone (4S and higher) running iOS6 will be able to utilise Siri to perform a number of tasks while they keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel.


Mar 06

Electrified Supercars


Even with the Geneva Motor Show now underway, it’s kind of a slow E-REV news day – at least for the kinds of practical cars Volt fans normally like to read about. Oh, there are some interesting cars, like Subaru’s Viziv diesel plug-in hybrid concept, VW’s XL1, and perhaps a few others, but today we’ll look at something a little off beat.

Or is that in the limelight? Guess it depends on your focus, and more people would point a limelight on these than many a more frugal and sensible car, and so goes human nature.

This should answer why supercars are relevant. One can argue they’re really not, but in a sense they are because they show it does not matter what critics say about electrification efforts more near and dear to your direct interests. The big picture is hybrids and plug-in hybrids – which the extended-range electric Volt is generally considered one of, in fact it’s the world’s best selling – are on their way.


If the purveyors of ultimate automotive objects of desire are any indicator of the direction the market is going, you need doubt no longer if you ever did. This week car crazies are marveling over just-introduced high-horsepower hybrid supercars by Ferrari and McLaren. Porsche also has its pending 918 Spyder plug-in, and word has it that it’s a matter of time before Lamborghini adds a hybrid powertrain to its supercars, although it has just been reported a plug-in hybrid SUV called the Lamborghini Urus is now a reality.

True, such cars are limited production, their EV portion is relatively miniscule, and they are still gas guzzlers when on the boil. And true also, unless you are a well-connected multimillionaire you will never get one, but they are the top of the automotive food chain, and do a great job of creating positive impressions on the masses who might otherwise remain clueless for even longer than they have so far that hybrids are any cooler than a Prius.

Now, it is no longer the Prius fans and their ilk who alone are leading the charge toward gas-plus-electric powertrains. No longer can anyone say plug-in electrified cars are the exclusive province of environmentalists or energy security hawks. Variations of the hybrid and plug-in hybrid are proving to be the motive power of choice for the world’s most elite cars to squeak past emissions laws, and all this – not to mention racing efforts as well – can only help the rest of us in due time.

McLaren P1


Another top-tier supercar maker is further validating the plug-in hybrid concept by augmenting its successor to its ultimate speed machine with an electric motor.

McLaren’s P1, the follow-up to its iconic F1 Supercar – a gas-powered model Tesla CEO Elon Musk once owned and was inspired by – will not be all-electric, but will benefit from a potent electric boost.

Not that it actually needs it, given its twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8 derived from McLaren’s MP4-12C already produces 727 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque, the P1 will nonetheless get 176 horsepower and 192-pound-feet of torque of additional electrified assistance.


The proprietary 212-pound electric motor made in-house by McLaren Electronics therefore adds more power than a Toyota Prius has altogether yielding a combined total of 903 horsepower and 664 pound-feet torque. The engine block will be cast to accept this motor whose batteries will be charged by the engine but able to be recharged by an external plug-in charger as well.

McLaren is the latest of the European elites to go hybrid in light of pressing emissions laws, concerns for the environment, and due to the inherent benefits of electric motors.

Other makers include Ferrari and Porsche which also are building cost-is-no-object ultimate speed machines based on hybrid technology.


McLaren observes its motor ensures “instantaneous throttle response through the rev range, more akin to a naturally aspirated engine.”

Also, environmental boasting rights never before possible with purely turbocharged or supercharged solutions include potentially low or zero emissions during sedate driving. The vehicle is capable of traveling up to six miles (10 km) under all-electric power.

Of this, McLaren said “emissions of less than 200g/km on the combined cycle are reduced to zero in full electric drive mode.”


The car will also make use of Formula 1-derived Drag Reduction System (DRS) and Instant Power Assist System (IPAS) technologies which reduce the trim angle by 23 percent on the large and functional rear spoiler. The net effect, says McLaren, will be to cut aerodynamic drag and “offer an increase in straight-line speed and an instant boost of power. “


McLaren via AutoGuide

Click here for another write-up on the P1.

LaFerrari Comes With F1-Inspired Hybrid Power

By Philippe Crowe


Hybrid power is becoming a supercar requirement. After McLaren and its P1, Ferrari comes out with its LaFerrari.

The Prancing Horse’s new exclusive model made its world debut yesterday at the Geneva International Motor Show. It will be known as LaFerrari and will combine the brand’s well known V12 to electric motors.


“We chose to call this model LaFerrari,” declared Ferrari’s President, Luca di Montezemolo, “because it is the maximum expression of what defines our company – excellence. Excellence in terms of technological innovation, performance, visionary styling and the sheer thrill of driving. Aimed at our collectors, this is a truly extraordinary car which encompasses advanced solutions that, in the future, will find their way onto the rest of the range, and it represents the benchmark for the entire automotive industry. LaFerrari is the finest expression of our company’s unique, unparalleled engineering and design know-how, including that acquired in Formula 1.”

Ferrari said during the launch that the development of a limited-series special like the LaFerrari represents an opportunity to experiment with all the technological solutions that will later filter down onto the production cars. Of particular significance in this context is the introduction of the hybrid system which makes full use of the Scuderia Ferrari’s F1 KERS know-how.

The hybrid technology used, known as HY-KERS, represents, according to Ferrari, the perfect combination of maximum performance and lower emissions. The LaFerrari in fact emits just 330 g/km of CO2 but without resorting to electric-only drive which would not fit the mission of this model.


The HY-KERS system is, however, designed so that in future applications a car can be driven using exclusively electric power for a few miles and, during development testing, a full-electric version of LaFerrari achieved just 220 g/km of CO2 emissions on the combined cycle.

The LaFerrari is equipped with dynamic controls that are integrated for the first time ever on a Ferrari road car with active aerodynamics and the HY-KERS system.

The hybrid supercar’s chassis features no less than four different types of carbon-fiber, all hand-laminated and autoclave-cured in the racing department using the same design and production methods as the Formula 1 car. This helped Ferrari optimize the design: various functions were integrated (e.g. seats and battery compartment) into the chassis to improve torsional rigidity (+27 percent) and beam stiffness (+22 percent) while cutting weight.

The LaFerrari is the first car in Ferrari history to be powered by the HY-KERS system. The ICE is a 6262 cc V12 that produces 800 horsepower and revs to a maximum of 9,250 rpm, a record for an engine of this displacement.

The engine also features a very high 13.5:1 compression ratio and a high specific output equal to 128 horsepower per liter. The engine is coupled with a 120 kilowatt (163 horsepower) electric motor, giving it a combined power output of 963 horsepower.

The high torque levels available at low revs from the electric motor allowed the engineers to optimize the internal combustion engine’s performance at higher revs, thus providing a constant supply of exceptional power throughout the rev range.

The hybrid system is composed of two electric motors developed in collaboration with Magneti Marelli – one powering the driven wheels and the second the ancillaries – and a battery pack attached to the floor of the chassis consisting of cells that are assembled in the Scuderia Ferrari department where the KERS for the F138 is also made.

The Scuderia’s expertise allowed considerable savings in weight and size of the individual components and the batteries weigh 60 kilograms (132 pounds).


The batteries are charged in different ways: under braking (even hard braking with the ABS active) and every time the V12 produces more torque than required, such as in cornering. In the latter instance, rather than the power being sent to the wheels, the excess torque is converted to energy and stored in the batteries.

The electric motor is coupled with the F1 dual-clutch gearbox to the benefit of optimal weight distribution, but also to help boost energy efficiency as torque is instantly available to the wheels and, vice versa, from the wheels to the electric motor in recharging.

Ferrari said proprietary algorithms deliver optimal integration of the electric motor and V12 for instantaneous response.  In cornering, for instance, the HY-KERS keeps the V12’s revs high to guarantee better acceleration on exit.

The LaFerrari’s Brembo braking system is also integrated with the hybrid system, and incorporates several new features, including new lightweight calipers designed to guarantee correct cooling and carbon-ceramic material (CCM) discs featuring a new composition.


The car’s performance potential called for a special tire set-up, with 265/30 R 19 Pirelli P-Zeros on the front and 345/30 R 20s on the rear.

As expected, performance levels are high: 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in less than 3 seconds and 0-200 km/h (124 mph) in under 7 seconds.

The LeFerrari will be particularly exclusive, with only 499 units to be built.


Elite Electric Cars

Has anyone noticed Tesla sold nearly as many Model S units last month as Chevy sold of its Volt? In February estimated on its February Sales Dashboard that roughly 1,400 or more of these cars were delivered to a line of waiting customers. They cost upwards of $80,000 for the 85-kwh versions, and GM sold 1,626 units last month of the Volt.

But how many people there are who would want to spend five or ten times more for an EV is certainly a question. And again, these no doubt will NOT be solutions for the masses, but they do raise eyebrows – and heart rates – just the same.

Chreos EV Boasts Unbelievable Range, Recharge Time and Performance



From the Island of Malta off the south coast of Italy, the Chreos electric super sedan concept was announced with a splash this month, and is making waves.

The vehicle is said to make a Tesla Model S look anemic by comparison, and promises to run 0-60 mph in less than 2.9 seconds, to 120 in under 6 seconds, and deliver a 621-mile range while weighing a couple hundred pounds shy of 5,000 pounds.

Its electric powertrain boasts four motors, one for each wheel, with 640 horsepower and with reported torque that would compete with a freight train in a pulling contest – 3,244 pound feet from zero rpm.

What’s more, the car recharges normally by plugging into an outlet, but also by way of its “Silex Hypercharge” technology, which crams in not mere kilowatts, but kilovolts, yielding recharge times of its presumably massive battery pack in less than 10 minutes.

It is positioned as a luxury cruiser with blingy boulevard styling, suicide doors, and special cooling vents that intelligently open and close as needed to cool the battery taking in massive current upon recharging, and closing once back on the road.

“Chreos is a spacious vehicle that will pamper with luxury its four passengers. Built entirely of carbon fibre, and integrating the most advanced materials and technologies, Chreos is a car that places itself with other models in the high-end market,” says a press release.

The company writes the car will “be able to cruise comfortably at an electronically limited 300km/h.”

That’s 186 mph comfortable all-electric cruising being touted for a car we’ve only seen glossy computer generated images of so far.

Do you believe it? Skepticism predictably abounds among writers, including Autoblog Green from which we which first came across the Youtube video that’s had over 30,000 views since posting Feb. 14.

But wait, there’s more.

“The above might seem a lot, but it is still the tip of the iceberg with regards to innovation of this car,” writes Chreos, a project from Silex Power. “Over the following weeks we will introduce gradually all the novelties, gadgetry and technologies that make Chreos stand out from everything there is now on the market or is being proposed at present. Come back regularly for updates, or follow us on your favourite social medium.”

The company is fishing for people to join its Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social media sites, so go ahead and sign up, if you’re interested.

It’s pretty clear the company knows full well the effect it is making. It is deliberate. Calculated.

“After just 5 days from its release, Chreos has gained international attention for its looks and style, but understandably, it has been at the centre of debates regarding its performance figures,” wrote the company from its Tech page.

Go figure.

Citing trade secrets, the company says it is still premature to show its hand too much, but at the same time, it must know it has promised an over the top car, and said it will release more info in coming “weeks.”

Actually, its press release also promises an “expected” follow-up on Monday April, 29. The company will then show “the interiors and some of the technologies behind Chreos.”

It’s a bit ambiguous therefore whether the company means it will release more info in the next few “weeks” or not for a couple months or more.

It would be great if this car sees daylight. We shall see whether this happens now that it has grabbed the spotlight with superlatives packed on top of superlatives.

Press release via Autoblog Green

AMG Coupe Electric Drive To Be World’s Fastest Production Electric Car



With the rapid ascent of the Tesla Model S to highly desired fast-and-sleek car status, and promises from major automakers as well as startups, Mercedes-Benz is poised to take center stage with its AMG Coupe Electric Drive.

Said to be the world’s most powerful and fastest series production electric car available, the spec sheet for the half-million-dollar, all-wheel-drive super sports car does back it up.

A 0-62 mph time of 3.9 seconds is said to be possible thanks to 740 electric horsepower (552kw), and 738 pound feet of torque. Top speed is limited to 155 mph, and range is the same number.


“The SLS AMG Coupé Electric Drive is redefining standards for cars with electric drive systems. As the most powerful gullwing model ever, it also epitomizes the enduring innovative flair of Mercedes-AMG,” said Ola Källenius, chairman of Mercedes-AMG GmbH. “Our vision of the most dynamic electric vehicle has become a reality and enables AMG customers to enjoy a whole new dimension of exclusive driving experience. With the help of our colleagues at Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains in Brixworth, we are bringing fascinating high tech from the world of Formula 1 to the road.”

The vehicle employs a Formula 1 style KERS system, and offers three-hour charging at home for its 60-kwh, 400-volt battery with a specially installed charger.


Naturally, this will be a choice of one or the other – range or top speed, but not both at the same time.

Also compelling for high-performance fans is the vehicle uses four individual 13,000-rpm motors for each of its four wheels. These are not hub mounted units, as the unsprung weight was deemed unacceptable.

Rather, they are inboard, and have individual transmission units for each, so corner-enhancing ability from torque vectoring ought to put this sports car a further notch up the speed potential ladder. To handle the massive power up front, the traditional suspension was scrapped, and a Formula 1 style horizontal pushrod setup was used along with burly front axles.


To further enhance visceral feedback, the AMG EV makes use of “SLS eSound” which pipes in noises deemed suitable for the various phases of operation from startup, to running, to fast driving, etc.

“The occupants can enjoy a tailored sound pattern to suit each driving situation: incredibly dynamic when accelerating, subdued and restrained when cruising and intuitively comprehensible during recuperation phases – i.e. when the driver decelerates using the steering-wheel shift paddles and energy is being recovered,” says Daimler. “Using, in the main, authentic yet denaturalized real noises that cause the driver to make a subconscious association is of great benefit here as they do not sound artificial, as is usually the case with synthetic noises.”


The car uses much carbon fiber to offset the portly 1,200 pound battery pack. The motors, by the way, weigh only around 100 pounds each so while the fuel supply – the battery – is much more than for a conventional internal combustion car, the motors and transmissions weigh less.

We’ve seen reports the pre-production car had a curb weight of 4,609 pounds (2,095 kg), which is a couple hundred less than the 85-kwh Tesla Model S. It is also over 1,000 pounds more than a similarly quick but much faster in top-speed Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG.

The e-car is a stunning example of emissions-free driving for those who have enough money to spend on a car that could just as well buy them a nice house in the suburbs.

Pricing and launch date are yet to be announced, but recent projections were around $538,000 plus the price for the fast charger.


Some of the first people in line buying Teslas do have the disposable income to consider paying more for this M-B EV, if that was what they wanted to do. But it’s likely to remain a niche product, that at least will show electric cars have enormous potential.

Now, if only electric creations even close to this cool could be priced much closer what people of more modest means could afford.

Daimler, via AutoGuide