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Feb 07

Spark EV and Volt top KBB’s plug-in-car 5-year cost-to-own awards


This week Kelly Blue Book named the Spark EV as “Best Plug-In Vehicle” in this year’s 5-Year Cost to Own Awards and the Volt finished second

These Spark EV’s estimated 5-year cost to own as of Feb. 13, 2013 is $26,421 and the Volt’s 5-year cost is estimated at $33,462.

Also, the regular gas Spark rated number one as Best Subcompact, and a half-dozen other GM products did well too (see list below).


Of the Spark EV, KBB wrote:

Proving that being ultra-green also can be ultra-fun — and still deliver outstanding long-term value — the Chevrolet Spark EV charged off with our 5-Year Cost to Own honors in the Best Electric/Plug-in category. Currently available in California and Oregon, the most eco-friendly member of Chevy’s smallest vehicle line packs a big-time personality into its mini-scaled package and rounds things out with an impressive selection of standards and an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating.



Of the Volt, KBB wrote:

Chevrolet’s Volt for 2014 is more than a hybrid and more than a pure electric. Actually, it’s a bit of both. Unlike most hybrids, the Volt can run at freeway speeds on pure electric, but only for limited range of about 30-40 miles. When the battery pack is depleted, a small gasoline engine kicks on to run a generator that powers the electric motor while simultaneously recharging the battery pack. With the gasoline engine running, the Volt’s estimated range is increased to 380 miles and its fuel economy estimated around 40 mpg. Unlike many electric and hybrid offerings the Volt’s styling isn’t awkward or geeky, and its interior is one of the coolest we’ve seen in or out of a hybrid.


Third place was the Honda Accord plug-in hybrid and the Nissan Leaf was not mentioned.

The Spark EV is a limited-market car for now, says GM, and while other markets are being evaluated, GM has made no announcements to proliferate beyond.

The Volt is rated highly by KBB too, even if it is only a niche vehicle to its maker.

One would think these two Bowtie-brand plug-in cars have more potential than some might perceive they’ve been given credit for.

How about you? Do you think the Spark EV could sell in places beyond California and Oregon, or are there good business reasons why that is not being done at the moment?

And the Volt is still reaping awards three years into it – for having a great cost to own, no less – not that we’ve not (coincidentally) observed that too recently.

Here is the full list of all category winners:


Best Subcompact Car: 2014 Chevrolet Spark

Best Compact Car: 2014 Toyota Corolla

Best Mid-Size Car: 2014 Honda Accord

Best Full-Size Car: 2014 Chevrolet Impala

Best Sporty Compact Car: 2014 Hyundai Veloster Turbo

Best Sports Car: 2014 Ford Mustang V6

Best High Performance Car: 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS/ZL1

Best Entry-Level Luxury Car: 2014 Buick Verano

Best Luxury Car: 2014 Audi A5

Best High-End Luxury Car: 2014 Lexus LS

Best Hybrid/Alternative Energy Car: 2014 Toyota Prius c

Best Plug-In Vehicle: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

Best Compact SUV/Crossover: 2014 Jeep Patriot

Best Mid-Size SUV/Crossover: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander

Best Full-Size SUV/Crossover: 2014 Ford Explorer

Best Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover: 2014 Buick Encore

Best Luxury Mid-Size SUV/Crossover: 2014 Lincoln MKX

Best Luxury Full-Size SUV/Crossover: 2014 Buick Enclave

Best Hybrid SUV/Crossover: 2014 Lexus RX 450h

Best Mid-Size Pickup Truck: 2014 Toyota Tacoma

Best Full-Size Pickup Truck: 2014 GMC Sierra 1500

Best Minivan/Van: 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Passenger


Jan 03

C-Max Solar Energi Concept to bow at CES next week


Yesterday I got an e-mailed press release from Ford, and soon realized this might even be interesting enough for GM-Volt. Ford says just this solar array that can recharge the 7.6-kwh pack in the C-Max three-hours quicker than level 1 has broad implications for U.S. transportation.

It follows VIA’s SolTRUX which is of course only usable for pickups and maybe big SUVs.

It seems solar power may have much more potential than Fisker ever demonstrated, or Nissan presently does with its Leaf’s tiny hatch wing option …


Next week at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Ford will be showing an innovative solar roof array that it says can fully recharge a C-Max energi plug-in hybrid in four hours.

The 1.5 square-meter array made by SunPower uses latest-tech solar cells combined with a special Fresnel lens to direct sunlight to the photovoltaic cells while boosting the impact of the sunlight by a factor of eight, says Ford.

SunPower’s adaptation of the lenses came by way of Georgia Institute of Technology which Ford says it turned to for a way to amplify the sunlight in order to make a solar-powered hybrid feasible for daily use.


Fresnel lenses were originally designed for use with lighthouses. They act like a magnifying lens, but also redirect and maximize light intensity on the photovoltaic cells as the sun moves east to west – and as the car moves around in any normal orientation on the streets.

Ford says the adaptation of the Fresnel lens in low-cost acrylic form draws enough power from the sun through the concentrator each day to equal a four-hour battery charge at 8 kilowatts.

Normal recharge times for the car’s fully depleted 7.6-kilowatt-hour battery are estimated at 7 hours at 120 volts, and around 3 hours at 240 volts.

Ford estimates that by recharging instead with renewable power, the Solar Energi Concept will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by four metric tons compared to a typical usage pattern with the conventional C-Max energi.

The company says also that if every light-duty vehicle in America were to adopt this technology, it would reduce yearly greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 1 billion metric tons.

“Ford C-MAX Solar Energi Concept shines a new light on electric transportation and renewable energy,” said Mike Tinskey, Ford global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure. “As an innovation leader, we want to further the public dialog about the art of the possible in moving the world toward a cleaner future.”

The company notes also that its data suggests the sun could power up to 75 percent of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle.

“This could be especially important in places where the electric grid is underdeveloped, unreliable or expensive to use,” says the company.

Unknown is under what conditions was the array able to recharge so fast. Ford says it’s not expensive, but can this be green lighted? How it would fare in snowblet regions is another unknown. And, if you are left asking tech questions, Ford was unwilling to answer them when asked.

Here is Ford’s press release.

Expect more details at the CES January 7-10.


Dec 20

Tesla Model S Review


Finally got to drive the car everyone has been talking about.

They asked me not to disable the traction control. I obliged.

You might call this the cold-weather test, and maybe I can do another one come spring time.


Now approaching a year-and-a-half since Tesla’s first Model S rolled off its Fremont, California assembly line, the luxury performance sedan has impacted not just the alternative-energy market, but the entire automotive world.

Industry watchers are waiting to see whether the electric car maker can continue as a singular and odds-beating American success story in a time of off-shoring and uncertainty to combat menaces like global warming, energy insecurity and what traditionalists too often decry as boring cars.

Opposite of mundane, the Model S is intended as a no-excuses affront to higher-end petrol cars and flies in the face of compliance cars tepidly offered by conservative automakers.

Actually, the Model S is more like three models in one – a 60-kwh version, an 85 and P85+ – and priced (before subsidies) from the low 70s to low 130s. While it essentially looks like just one more sleek-looking car, a closer examination shows it is groundbreaking.

Tesla’s radicalism in disguise is centered around a rear-wheel-drive gas-free powertrain on an aluminum “skateboard” chassis. Efficiency, range and speed potential varies, but even the 208-mile range of most basic model doubles that of the next-best-available electric car, and Tesla has a point to prove: That the time of the EV is now.



Presently the federal government is investigating two fires believed caused by heavy metal debris rupturing the quarter-inch aluminum cladding under the approximately 9-foot-by 5-foot battery under the floor.

Tesla preemptively issued one of its over-the-air software updates to limit cars’ ability to lower their ride height, but the jury is out, with some saying concerns are overblown and others say the Model S should be recalled for a physical update.

Meanwhile, Tesla has been expanding distribution in Canada, Europe, Asia including China, playing it cool as always, and enjoying otherwise still-continuing praise and so many awards that the company trophy shelves must be buckling under the weight.



Tesla’s relatively simple electric propulsion includes a heated and liquid-cooled battery, motor, drive inverter, and single-speed gear box.

Company CEO Elon Musk says the intent is to “accelerate the advent of electric cars,” and – taking its mission all-too seriously – the car itself accelerates through a quarter mile as briefly as 12.6 seconds – or as briskly as 14.2 seconds for the 60-kwh copy.


Steepest performance comes via the steepest-priced P85+ with high-performance drive inverter and current turned up for 416 horsepower (310 kw) from 5,000-8,600 rpm, and 443 pounds-feet of torque (600 Nm) from 0-5,100 rpm.

The mid-level 85-kwh version serves 362 horsepower (270 kwh) from 6,000-9,500 rpm, and 325 pounds-feet (440 Nm) from 0-5,800 rpm.

Lastly, the 60-kwh version delivers 302 horsepower (225 kw) from 5,000-8,000 rpm and 317 pounds-feet (430 Nm) from 0-5,000 rpm.

Tesla electronically limits top speed to 130 mph for the P85+, and 125 and 120 respectively. Zero-to-60 varies respectively from 4.2 seconds, 5.4 seconds, and 5.9 seconds.

Bear in mind also, big batteries stand to influence mass more significantly than a few gallons of gas. The 85-kwh models are listed at 4,647 pounds, but with options, have been known to push 4,750 pounds. The 60-kwh version weighs around 180-pounds less than a given same-content 85-kwh model.

Proprietary plug port hidden behind marker light.

Charging is via a hidden proprietary connection as maverick Tesla has shunned standards shared by other EV makers, but does sell adapters.

The standard on-board charger is 10 kw and optional 20-kw Twin Chargers can increase input to 80 amps. That amount of juice gives a fighting chance of replenishing on par with a 24-kwh Nissan Leaf that has only a 6.6-kw charger and may accept up to 30 amps.

Tesla’s public Superchargers are another option, and increase the current dump for recharging in under 30 minutes.

Design Statement


The Model S is a head turner, but even its designer Franz von Holzhausen has acknowledged it is not so avante garde as to send competitors packing.

Tesla’s rear clip is actually a near knock-off from the Jaguar XF, but the overall outline is unique and works. It offers a Prius-like cd of 0.24, and novelties like a glass panoramic roof, optional moonroof with the largest opening in the industry, and flush door handles help set it apart.

The rear hatch space can be equipped with rear-facing seats.

Model S also maximizes interior space, seating five, with optional rear-facing seats for two more from the sub-5-foot crowd (such as children).

Accommodations are open and more airy than say, a Porsche Plug-In S E-Hybrid, if not also Spartan with nary a cubby to detract from a minimalist interior tastefully decorated with exotic woods, leather, metal, fabrics, alcantara and nothing cheap, or poorly assembled.

With the wireless key present, the car automatically turns on when you tap the brake pedal. It has no on/off button.
With the wireless key present, the car automatically turns on when you tap the brake pedal. It has no on/off button.

Rear legroom is decent, but rear headroom is less than would be wanted by someone taller than 5-foot-10.

The center jewel is the 17-inch, Internet-capable, Gorilla-glass covered touchscreen that eliminates buttons and controls for just about every function.

To save space ourselves, we’ll drop in Tesla’s glowing, dramatic, but essentially accurate video explanation of the touchscreen’s functions.

The Model S also aced its crash tests, possibly scoring higher than any other car in its class, though Tesla was mildly scolded for claiming 5.4 stars out of 5.

It’s true there is no such thing as 5.4 stars, but it’s also true the burley roof structure of the mostly aluminum car broke the crushing machine in federal tests, and so far its actual safety record appears good with over 21,000 units on the road.

Driving Model S


Rolling along in the hushed EV, it soon becomes apparent this is a car that could become very easy to live with.

The one we sampled sells for $123,770 – a healthy premium over the $71,070 60-kwh base, $81,070 for the 85, and $94,570 for the P85+ we tested.

It handles any driving duties with aplomb, from tooling along in slow traffic to highway stretches, to back-road burning. It’s even practical with gads of storage space in the rear hatch and front “frunk.”


It’s not the absolute quickest thing on wheels but more than somewhat respectable with front/rear weight balance of 48/52 percent and the bulk is carried impossibly low compared to a petrol car.

As its rounded lines do a good job concealing its essentially full-sized 196-inch length, and extra-wide 77.3-inch girth, so does its low-slung weight conceal that there is really quite a lot of it to manage – about 600 pounds more than a 4,167-pound Audi A7, a similarly sized, stellar example of the conventional carmaker’s art.


The Model S has traction control but can allow a little bit of slippage when deliberately attempting power oversteer, and audible brake intervention stops the would-be drift mid-corner, even at speeds between 25 and 50-plus mph.

We got to sample it on clean and dry as well as wet and snowy roads, and unlike some perfect weather tests, found its launch control does allow tire chirping in a straight line on cold roads during full-powered 0-to-whatever runs.

Our car was equipped with Pirelli winter performance radials on 19-inch wheels, and temperatures were in the mid 20s.


These offer good grip – this car is too powerful for compromised low rolling resistance compounds – but are not as gummy as fully warmed 21-inch Michelin Primacy normal weather tires.

The snow also made us think Model S could stand for “Snow Car,” and it’s a hoot assuming you know what you’re doing. Traction control offers a heavy hand and 0-60 times about match a Kenworth’s as the EV’s roughly 4,925 pounds with driver would have it slithering all over if more than a few ponies were let loose from its herd.

Cornering in snow is also do-able, and it does admirably as a rear-wheel-drive large heavy car – AWD would be an improvement. Hit a slick of ice though, and wham, you slide sideways alarmingly quick and don’t we wish studded snow tires were legal in Pennsylvania?

It’s manageable though and the low-placed weight is exceptionally well controlled under negligible traction just like it is with Velcro grip in its natural sunny habitats.

Components are suspended on soft-rubber mounts.

Over bumps, the optional air suspension soaks irregularities quite well. Noise, vibration and harshness are nothing to write home about – components including the A/C compressor, power steering, etc. are rubber mounted. The 5-inch-thick under-floor battery also insulates road noises.

Jamming the brakes – on dry pavement – scrubs speed at an astonishing rate, and the car has been measured at 60-0 in 110 feet. Slippery roads require more footage, and here is where weight is a penalty.

Under hard acceleration, the sound is an appropriate electrical whine. Standing on the accelerator becomes addictive, but beware, as your drivers’ license could easily become forfeit.


In discrete tests however, speed develops alarmingly and stealthily – the opposite visceral impression to a mildly muffled BMW M car or Porsche equipped with garishly loud sport exhaust to satisfy expectations of a different kind of profiler.


Too quietly, you watch the digital speedo zinging past 20-30-40-50-60 … about as quickly as you read these figures.

Of course, this is the high-zoot model we’re talking about. The midline 85-kwh version loses 1.2 seconds to 60 mph and the 60-kwh version loses 1.7 seconds to 60.

Compared to a Porsche Plug-In S E-Hybrid, some specs are remarkably similar, but the Model S is a different animal altogether.

Porsche's first PHEV is pending launch next month.

Elon Musk would likely scoff at the comparison, as he calls hybrids “amphibians,” but the Porsche does hold its own.

It weighs a claimed 4,613 pounds compared to over 4,700 for the P85+, and has the exact same 416 horsepower and very similar 435 pounds-feet torque.

The Porsche’s 5.2 seconds to 60 is a full second slower however, undoubtedly because its twin turbos must spool up, whereas the Tesla serves 100-percent torque from a standstill.

Cornering prowess is a bit closer. With tire specs nearly the same as the Tesla, the Porsche does well with grippy 245-mm-wide front and 275-mm-wide tires rear and optional 19 or 20-inch diameters balanced on a Stuttgart-tuned suspension.

Naturally, the Porsche’s weight rides higher, and the cockpit is decidedly less open, and entirely more busy with a sea of buttons compared to the Model S.


Truth be told, Model S has no direct competitors, only loose comparisons can be made. Reviewers have even attempted to compare it to a Chevy Volt because both plug in. The Volt is great for what it is, but not nearly as road-capable, and costs $35,000 before subsidies, so how do we justify that comparison again?

No, the Model S is in a class of one. The $99,000-plus Porsche is priced and powered closely, and is pretty fun also, if you don’t mind it drinking premium gas like a V8 when on the boil.

Then again, the Model S can go from tame kitty cat to thirsty tiger too. Sure it will match EPA ratings from 88-97 MPGe when driven like a Prius, and this month Model S Signature owner David Metcalf and his son, Adam, saw a record 423.5 miles on a single charge in sunny Florida.


Or, at closer to the opposite extreme, without having pre-warmed the battery in 22 degree F weather, testing quickness, and taking zero care, we sapped 87 miles indicated range inside of 35 miles of actual driving.

But undoubtedly this is a great car. Could it be made better? Sure. A rear wiper would help as would an “off” switch for the car that automatically turns “on” when the key is present, and brake pedal touched. And we could only imagine how much more amazing it would be if it was 600-plus pounds lighter as are other similarly sized upper crust cars, but we don’t see how this could be given a 1,200-pound battery.

Worth Going For?


Priced as it is, the Model S is not only about saving emissions, fuel, and being tremendously cost effective. It’s actually about high-tech art, scintillation, fetching style, bragging rights, uniqueness, high-quality design and build that Tesla summarizes into one word: “experience.”

Tesla actually offers a purchase option with elements of a lease that guarantees resale value within a 36-39 month window should you wish to exit ownership in exchange for value equal to or greater than a Mercedes S-Class.


That plus free Supercharger public charging access, helps mitigate risk for the new car company that only has one model, and otherwise has high-risk/high-reward written all over it, as Wall Street contrarians continually observe.

Bottom line is the Model S competes head-to-head not so much with the “green cars” of the world, but higher-end gas and diesel cars, and it’s astonishing this is a start-up’s first bespoke design.

So, if you can spare the money, arrange a test drive at one of Tesla’s comparatively few retail stores – where the company is able to fully and legally operate, Texas being a notable exception – and see for yourself.


As Musk has said, the Model S is here to pave the way for more down-market cars to follow in the next several years.

For now, there is nothing else like it, and Tesla has amassed fans ready to zealously defend it, as the upside outweighs any minor perceived drawbacks by a large margin, and the company promises so much yet to come.


Nov 06

Not called a ‘moonshot’ yet, Toyota prepares production FCV for blast off


The problem with plug-in electric cars is li-ion batteries are expensive, range per dollar is too short, and recharging takes a long time.

This view is not ours – as hopefully you would guess – but the “Father of the Prius” said as much, and Toyota has since reiterated this as a corporate alt-energy policy that shall embrace fuel cell vehicles as part of its long-term strategy.


One joke critics often repeat about challenging-yet-promising hydrogen fuel cell cars is, “They are five years away. And in five years from now, they will still be five years away …”

But Toyota isn’t smiling when it says get ready for the launch of its first production fuel cell vehicle “around 2015” and due for its world premier as the FCV Concept this month in Tokyo.


The company’s top alternative vehicle engineer actually prepped journalists this summer that the car would be shown Nov. 20 to Dec. 1 at the Tokyo Motor Show, and its North American Debut will be Jan. 2014 in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronic Show.

Some Details


The FCV Concept will be a four-person sedan positioned first for Japan’s home market, with intent to make it available globally.

Toyota says it has developed in-house a lightweight and compact FC stack and two 70 MPa high-pressure hydrogen tanks riding low in the specially designed body.

Power output density for the FC Stack is 3 kilowatts per liter which more than doubles the FC stack in a prototype we’ve driven called the Toyota FCHV-adv.


The new car’s output will be no less than 134 horsepower (100 kilowatts) plus it will be equipped with a “high efficiency boost converter” also developed by Toyota.

The number of fuel cells required has been reduced by increasing the voltage, says Toyota, which in turns means a smaller powertrain and reduced cost.

The system of course can be refueled via conventional liquid refueling in minutes instead of needing to be charged for hours like a plug-in car.

Its range is estimated at over 310 miles (500 kilometers).

Toyota is also thinking smart grid with this application, and says the fully fueled vehicle can deliver 10 kilowatt-hours, enough to supply the daily needs of an average Japanese home for more than a week.

Design-wise, Toyota has laden the new-tech car with as much symbolism as it can, and we’ll let you read its description in its own words:


The vehicle’s exterior design evokes two key characteristics of a fuel cell vehicle: the transformation of air into water as the system produces electricity, and the powerful acceleration enabled by the electric drive motor. The bold front view features pronounced air intakes, while the sleek side view conveys the air-to-water transformation with its flowing-liquid door profile and wave-motif fuel cap. The theme carries to the rear view, which conveys a catamaran’s stern and the flow of water behind.


Dimensions for the car are, length: 16 feet (4,870mm); width: 5.9 feet (1,810mm); height: 5 feet (1,535mm); wheelbase: 9.1 feet (2,780mm).

Price: To be determined!

Toyota in previous statements has said it will set set modest ramp-up goals for the technology through the rest of this decade.

It does intend to push forward fuel cell technology, and has adamantly declared plug-in battery electric cars are too costly, limited range, take too long to recharge.

Its alternative energy transportation strategy consists of maxing out its full hybrid line, building on its plug-in hybrid tech, and for electric cars, it is jumping ahead to fuel cells.

FCHV-adv prototype.
FCHV-adv prototype.

In driving its now-outdated FCHV-adv retrofitted SUV around a large proving grounds in suburban Michigan this summer, we found the acceleration acceptable, and power was enough to burn rubber in slow corners.

Old/new tech.
Old/new tech.

Drivability was within limits of “normal,” and of course it was a quiet vehicle being purely electric.

Now Toyota says this production-pending sedan is much better.

We’ll look forward to more news soon.


P.S. – Never mind what everybody’s favorite billionaire and EVangelist Elon Musk said about FCVs being, er, bovine manure.

He and the first GM-Volt reader who posts that fuel cells take more energy and cost more than they are worth shall be answered as follows:

You have bad data!

Actually, this is not our opinion either, but that of Steve Ellis, the guy behind Honda’s FCV and CNG cars who we spoke with in Washington at the EDTA conference this year.

His statement, “He has bad advice” was directed in an NPR interview talking about then Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and was widely re-broadcast on Morning Edition.

Have you noticed how the energy department has begun to look more favorably on fuel cell tech since that indirect confrontation in April 2011?


I cannot attest for the science of it, but the short story FCV proponents say is something like a Virginia Slims ad (remember those?)

“You’ve come a long way baby!”

I also heard murmuring about (subsidized and protected) gasoline being a net energy loser too, but that does not stop the petrol addicts from paying their pusher every week, now does it?

A view from of the future.


No doubt Toyota and Honda can give me clearer data than this glib speak, and I’ll ask them.

Do you have any questions you want me to ask as to how the FCV pushers propose to make this enterprise fly?

And how about GM? Wasn’t it at the forefront of FCVs before the Volt became a gleam in Bob Lutz’s eye?

GM will almost certainly say nothing of substance if asked, but what do you think? Does it have FCV plans too?


Oct 18

Volvo and EU researchers innovate ‘breakthrough’ structural energy storage tech


It may be too early to tell, but Volvo says the potential for a material that can be molded into structural shapes – and replaces the energy storage of a conventional battery – threatens to make traditional energy storage obsolete.

The discovery came through a European Union-funded research project involving eight major participants including Volvo which says they’ve developed a “revolutionary” lightweight technology that could be used in future electrified vehicles.

Components are molded from a material consisting of carbon fiber in a polymer resin, nano-structured batteries and super capacitors. The result, says Volvo, is an eco-friendly and cost-effective structure that stands to substantially cut vehicle weight and volume.


Volvo is already at work with an S80 that uses components made form the material that serve structural functions and replace a conventional battery at the same time. The company says that by completely substituting an electric car’s existing components with the new material, overall vehicle weight could be reduced by more than 15 percent.

“The way it works is reinforced carbon fibers sandwich the new battery and are molded and formed to fit around the car’s frame such as door panels, the trunk lid and wheel bowl,” said the company in a statement.

Volvo further described the process that has led to its special trunk lid and a plenum cover on its experimental S80:

“The carbon fiber laminate is first layered, shaped and then cured in an oven to set and harden,” said the company. “The super capacitors are integrated within the component skin. This material can then be used around the vehicle, replacing existing components, to store and charge energy.”

Recharging can come by way of regenerative braking or plugging into the grid. Energy is then transferred to an electric motor which is discharged as it is used around the car.

Volvo says its “boot lid” that’s lighter and saves volume and weight is a “functioning electrically powered storage component and has the potential to replace the standard batteries seen in today’s cars.”


Similarly, the plenum is being used in place of the “rally bar,” a sturdy structural piece that stabilizes the car in the front, and the start-stop battery.

“This saves more than 50 percent in weight and is powerful enough to supply energy to the car’s 12-volt system,” said Volvo.

The project promises to “makes conventional batteries a thing of the past” and was led by the Imperial College London.

Other participants are Swerea Sicomp AB, Sweden, Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung BAM, Germany, ETC Battery and FuelCells, Sweden, Inasco, Greece, Chalmers (Swedish Hybrid Centre), Sweden, Cytec Industries (prev UMECO/ACG), United Kingdom, and Nanocyl, NCYL, Belgium.


Sep 27

EV advocates weigh in on Toyota’s EV avoidance


NOTE: This is a reprise of some info we gave you before that was basically one sided. Here we have counterpoints and more balance. Is Toyota being smart, or missing out?

Have you ever found yourself wishing for a time machine to project a decade or longer into the future just to see how things turned out?

For starters, we could settle whether Toyota is wise in sidestepping mass-market battery electric cars for now, or whether EV advocates are correct saying it’s misguided, excessively self-serving, too risk averse, and possibly even conspiring to postpone progress.


Yes, we’ve heard all these allegations and more from a well-connected EV advocate who asked to remain anonymous. And it’s almost ironic considering to date, Toyota has basked in a reputation as an electrification pioneer – a mantel it proudly wears and helps along as needed, now having sold 5 million Toyota and Lexus hybrids worldwide.

“The environmental effect has been an estimated 34 million ton reduction in C02 — the equivalent of taking 4.8 million vehicles off the road for an entire year,” said Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Carter last month of Toyota’s hybridization at its first “Hybrid World Tour” media event in Michigan.

"Hybrids are Toyota's core strategy"
“Hybrids are Toyota’s core strategy,” said the caption to this PowerPoint image. In contradistinction, advocates say the Japanese automaker is overlooking opportunities to leverage its current lead, and may hurt itself while doing little for the ultimate cause. Toyota says its vision is simply about meeting customer expectations.

Toyota’s ecological pop-star status started with its Prius launched in Japan in 1997, and the U.S. in 2000. The company now has 23 Hybrid Synergy Drive vehicles across its global lines with plans for 15 more by 2015.

But with the advent of lithium-ion-powered global electric cars from Tesla, Renault-Nissan and even Mitsubishi – plus limited-market or pending EVs from Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Fiat, and BMW – some say Toyota’s hybrids are no longer the most progressive means to wean away from petroleum.

The company does have its Tesla-powered RAV4 EV, but this is California-only with just 2,600 units to be built before production halts next year.

And Toyota has otherwise sung the anti-theme to the battle cry of the EV faithful.

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” said “the father of the Prius,” Toyota Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada in September 2012 as Toyota canceled development for the FT-EV II city EV.

Canceled last year: FT-EV II.
Canceled last year: Toyota FT-EV II.

Last month in Michigan, Toyota outlined its past, present and future centered on hybrids including plug-in hybrids to come, and mentioned also a plan to leapfrog battery electric to fuel cell vehicles beginning in 2015.

It has never said never for commercialized EVs of the sort that Nissan is now spending billions to cultivate a market for, but expounded on why joining the push for EVs would be a waste of its resources.

Toyota had flown in from Japan Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso, formerly the Prius lead engineer who’d followed in the footsteps of Uchiyamada, and now higher up in Toyota’s alternative-tech development.

Most importantly, [emphasis by Toyota] it seemed to be a system that held great potential … for constant improvement, for many years to come,” Ogiso said of the Prius in his earlier days working on its evolution. “Uchiyamada-san would be right. If this was a bridge technology it looked like a very long bridge.”

Toyota’s presentation suggested hybrids will grow to near ubiquity and still be going strong as far out as 2070 and beyond.

Articles of Faith

Actually automakers’ amorphous “all-of-the-above” approach will see several competing – or complementary – technologies vying for a place, but where folks are agreeing to disagree is on how much emphasis should be put today on battery powered cars.

If hybridization is a “bridge,” then all-electric is the ground to which the bridge is leading. Are we on a protracted crossing, or are we already setting up camp on the other side?

Nissan Leaf.
Nissan Leaf.

One of the beliefs encouraging plug-in EV advocates is U.S. market plug-in cars are doing slightly better than hybrids did in their first two-and-a-half years from 2000 onward.

Plug-in cars are being adopted especially in regions where hybrids were more widely accepted first, and their success is considered evidence of battery electric cars’ destiny to also succeed.

To this theory, Toyota offered a refutation.

First off, sales of perhaps “5,000-10,000” battery electric cars annually is not enough to “move the dial” for Toyota’s fleet to comply with regulations considering the 2 million units per year volume it does, said VP of Technology and Regulatory Affairs, Tom Stricker.

And to say plug-ins are doing as well necessitates an “apples-to-coconuts” comparison because today market conditions and policies are “very different” than in the early 2000s, he said.


Back then, the original Prius swam against a heavier tide in America. Gas was cheap and there were no subsidies except for a tax deduction that might net up to $600.

US sales

Stricker observed only two hybrids were marketed for the first 31 months after 2000, the Prius and Honda Insight.

Since December 2010, the U.S. market has seen a dozen EVs and PHEVs come along and their combined volume is only mildly exceeding the two lone hybrid pioneers.

31 mos

But these EVs and PHEVs are actually riding on the coat tails of hybrids, said Stricker. They are being bought most heavily in regions prepped by hybrids and need less explaining to sell to those already lined up to buy.

What’s more, billions in government dollars allocated for subsidies for consumers, loans and grants for manufacturers and infrastructure providers is adding to a virtual “tailwind” pushing EVs and PHEVs along.


But, Stricker postulated, what if we look at hybrid sales from the moment the IRS allowed them a several-thousand-dollar credit around 2005 through 2010 and California offered solo occupancy for its HOV lanes?

Isn’t this sort of fair? Hybrids in 2005 benefited from the previous several years of hybrid proliferation and so are today’s plug-ins.

Assuming a worthwhile comparison, Stricker presented another chart showing hybrids sold from 2005-on enjoying just some of the props from which EVs and PHEVs have benefited.


Coincidentally, Stricker said, exactly a dozen hybrids were being sold after January 2005, and guess what? For the period of 31 months after the 12 hybrids sold 10-times the volume of the 12 EVs and PHEVs for their first 31 months.

Stricker said he realized this was not a completely equal parallel, but felt it had a measure of validity.

He noted also plug-in car proponents are basically “hanging their hat” on the assumption that battery costs per kilowatt-hour will drop and allow for longer-range, cheaper EVs.

battery costs

The Electrification Coalition, one of the “more optimistic” advocates of this belief, Stricker said, had estimated a few weeks prior that $275 per kwh will mean a tipping point to be achieved in the next several years.

Stricker figured by then, federal plug-in subsidies will no longer be available, so factoring savings for battery costs, but an increase due to lack of incentives, he calculated EVs’ value proposition would be worse, not better.

That’s one alternate view anyway, he said at the finish of his presentation.


Nissan and GM have reported Prius owners trading hybrids for their Leaf and Volt.

Plug In America’s Legislative Director Jay Friedland turned tables on Toyota’s spin saying this indicates Toyota is missing market signs as its once-faithful move on.

Chevrolet Volt.
Chevrolet Volt.

Despite expected and unexpected setbacks, he said, evidence suggests the proverbial horses have left the stable, and there’s no putting them back.

Friedland and others in his camp have pointed to principles including those taught by Crossing the Chasm explaining conditions surrounding “disruptive” technology, as well as statistical analyses explaining the study of “technological diffusion.”

SEE ALSO: 2013 Leaf Review – Video

The study of technological diffusion looks at past adoption curves and may also chart how fast a given technology may be accepted from the day of its introduction onwards.


It involves advanced mathematical equations and data-crunching computers but the short story is technology that has made it always did so against resistance.

Trends have shown newer and less regulated technologies became mainstream faster than previous ones – assuming the technology was destined for viability and did not die in the cradle.

It’s as though this more-connected society is consuming new inventions with less lag time, than, say, the telephone, that required 71 years to be in 50 percent of homes. In contrast digital TVs took 10 years, DVD players took 7, and MP3 players took 6.


A paper examining diffusion of battery electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and hybrids by Dr. Patrick Plotz of the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (Fraunhofer ISI) suggests these propulsion technologies are substitutable for one another.

His paper goes into great detail, but his charts project proliferation for battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars. By later in the decade of 2020-2030, one hypothetical model suggests hybrids will start tapering off as technology ripens for plug-in cars.


This could be due to plug-in EVs becoming less expensive, their range multiplying, charging much faster, or a combination thereof.

And if anyone is saying three years into it that battery cars are a losing investment, bear in mind we are 13 years since the U.S. Prius launch, and today hybrids comprise less than 4 percent of U.S. sales.


Technically, hybrids are still early in the adoption curve. Toyota now embraces them, but Friedland said it’s misreading the parallel for battery cars.

Diffusion theory contemplates that first-generation EVs are going against societal expectations rooted in petroleum vehicles that have matured for 100 years.

Friedland also noted an “Innovator’s Dilemma” that could be working against Toyota’s leaders and explained in another seminal work with this same title by Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen.

Unbeknownst to Friedland, his views echoed those from a recent article by Green Car Reports which used tenets on disruptive technology espoused by Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma to essentially put Toyota on the therapist’s couch.

GCR writer Matthew Klippenstein succinctly analyzed Toyota’s corporate psyche questioning whether its success with hybrids is blinding and binding it to its past instead of allowing it to bravely go from strength to strength.

Oh what a feeling! Toyota Tesla!
Oh what a feeling! Toyota Tesla!

This is exactly what Friedland said independently. The idea behind the innovator’s dilemma is that leading technological innovators – such as Toyota – have been shown to lose their market dominance as a potentially superior but underdog replacement technology – such as battery electric cars – comes along.

Past examples of the phenomenon include floppy disk drives that shrunk in size until they were replaced by solid state storage, CRT televisions replaced by flat screens, VCR tapes replaced by DVDs, cassette tapes replaced by cds, and so on.

Along the way there were Big Dogs – like IBM, Sony, etc. – who became weaker members of the pack in specific markets because they failed to embrace on time the superiority of new ideas over the technology to which they were wedded, and they were left behind.

Brass Tacks

Toyota does not say it will be left behind, but will continue to lead.

It has worked out its hybrid formula which is now quite profitable, does cost less than EV tech, doesn’t need subsidies to sell, refuels in minutes, has no range anxiety, and the market presently speaks louder than theorists.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Toyota Prius Liftback Review – Video

“Over the past 5 years, the percentage of hybrid sales at Toyota has grown from 10 to 16 percent of our total sales mix,” said Toyota’s Carter. “Honda is less than 2 percent and Ford is less than 3 percent. And while hybrid as a percentage of the total market is just under 4 percent, we believe that it can … and must grow.”

Not at all bashful of Toyota’s stance on hybrids, Carter actually issued a challenge for competitors to join it.

“I would like to see us – as an industry – accomplish the same thing in the U.S.,” said Carter. “That is … 5 million hybrids, cumulatively, in the U.S. by close of business 2016.”


Do you think Elon Musk or Carlos Ghosn are listening?

In any event, Toyota says such things now, but in 1997, Toyota’s leadership had no idea that its allowing the Prius to see daylight would be a turning point and make it a hero.

The company fully admits there was huge internal resistance and skepticism all the way through to the second-generation Prius in 2003.

What’s more, if “business is war,” it’s been suggested today Toyota is playing a cagy strategy of sitting out expensive, uphill commercialization of mass-market EVs while it lets its competitors do the heavy lifting and preparing of a market it may come back to when it sees profitability.

U.S. market Toyota and Lexus Hybrids.
U.S. market Toyota and Lexus Hybrids.

And, Toyota is ultimately not against battery electric cars.

“The performance of this new generation of powertrains will reflect significant advances, in battery, electric motor and gas engine technologies,” said Ogiso of hybrids. “And is part of Toyota’s larger portfolio strategy towards the electrification of the automobile including plug-in hybrid, battery electric [emphasis ours] and fuel cell technologies.”

Fact is, no one, including Toyota, knows the future. According to Toyota media rep, Maurice Durand, its decisions are based on the present as it sees it, and it can shift gears later.

“We are aware of all different possibilities out there,” said Durand, “If the market merited it Toyota would be prepared to meet this need.”

And truth be told, at the moment only Nissan and Tesla are making much of a dent in the battery electric market.

Through August this year, Tesla sold in the U.S. an estimated 13,150 of its pricey Model S, and more tellingly, Nissan sold 14,123 of its Leafs. Limited-market players by comparison are hardly doing more than Toyota’s next-to-nothing. Honda sold 420 Fit EVs, Ford sold 1,225 Focus EVs, even poor Mitsubishi sold only 958 i-MiEVs and the recently launched Chevy Spark EV is only offered in Oregon and California.

SEE ALSO: August Sees Ups and Downs For ‘Little League’ EV Players

In 2012, Toyota’s total U.S. sales rose 27 percent to 2.08 million units. If Stricker said “5,000-10,000” EVs was insignificant, do you think 25,000 like Nissan may sell would make Toyota change its mind?

For now, the answer is not likely. If later technology improves – and assuming the prognosticators in Silicon Valley are wrong – Toyota will be able to pick up where it left off and this is part of Toyota’s long-term consideration, as Ogiso said.


Ogiso also dropped hints about a massive R&D budget for things like advanced solid-state batteries, wireless recharging, and other technologies the company will want in battery electric cars wearing a Toyota or Lexus badge.

And it sees fuel cells coming to maturity soon too, but we’ll save that for another day.

Meanwhile, is Toyota betraying its core as is alleged? Or is it continuing to be true to itself? Is it making the right choices? Are its options still open? Or is it due to miss out?

Lacking a time machine, we’ll have to ask you to check back with us in 10 years or so to learn whether Toyota is being crazy, or crazy like a fox.