Search Results

 

Dec 15

Ford calls out competitors to Focus Electric and C-Max hybrids

 

Ford may be coming late to the electrified vehicle party, but as housewarming gifts, it said yesterday its Focus Electric will offer a class-leading 100 mile per gallon equivalent (MPGe), and its two C-MAX hybrids are ready to take on the Volt and Prius.

Mentioning other competitors they edge out in various ways as well, Ford cited “expected” efficiency for its pending electrified vehicles, not official EPA figures as far as we know.

Nonetheless, Ford said the Volt-priced electric Focus ($39,995 incl. destination charge) will offer the best MPGe in America – for a vehicle with five seats.


2012 Focus Electric.

One competitor Ford didn’t mention – the Mitsubishi i – gets 112 MPGe and costs around $10,000 less, but alas, it is a four seater. Also not mentioned in the MPGe comparison was the $4,000-less Nissan Leaf which gets an EPA rated 99 MPGe.

Ford is also targeting would-be Volt and Prius buyers with its C-Max Hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid which are propelled by an Atkinson-cycle engine plus lithium-ion battery and electric-motor.

The company says it has already sold 100,000 C-MAX variants in Europe since late 2010, and speaking of its entire vehicle lineup, Ford says it holds approximately 500 patents that cover technologies in its electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles in addition to several hundred patent-pending applications.

Ford says the Energi is expected to beat fuel economy delivered by the Prius plug-in hybrid in electric mode and top the Volt in range with 500 miles estimated.

Similarly, the C-MAX Hybrid is supposed to achieve better fuel economy than the Prius V in both city and highway driving.

The two C-MAX hybrids will be the company’s first dedicated hybrid vehicle line and the first MAV (multi-activity vehicle) line in North America, Ford says.

“C-MAX is the right car for the time as it combines the dynamics and quality of a traditional car with the versatility of a MAV and leading fuel efficiency that you cannot even get from Toyota,” said Sherif Marakby, director of Ford’s Electrification Programs and Engineering.

Of their engines, Ford says its all-new 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle powerplant is “among the most advanced non-turbocharged four-cylinder powertrains Ford has ever offered.”

Ford does not specify its horsepower or torque output in its press release, but a company spec sheet projects the engine – which will be built in Chihuahua, Mexico and transported to Wayne, Mich. for vehicle final assembly – will deliver 185 horsepower and 130 pound-feet torque.


2013 C-MAX Hybrid (left) and C-MAX Energi.

Since the company’s press releases for the Focus Electric and C-MAX call out most competitors by name, they would not be complete without also showing superiority where possible to the Nissan Leaf (in a category more impressive than its narrow MPGe advantage).

With its 6.6 kw on-board charger, the Focus EV “is the first all-electric vehicle to feature faster charging technology, allowing it to fully recharge in three to four hours [using 240 volts] – half the time of Nissan Leaf,” Ford says.

Just one hour of charging nets 30 extra miles for the vehicle and estimated total range per full charge is 70-100 miles. The company says such quick charging can help double its effective range during a busy day of driving and recharging multiple times.

“Focus Electric’s innovative faster charging technology can help customers save money and get much more out of the car in a busy day of running around town and recharging between stops,” said Marakby.

Ford began taking orders for the 2012 Focus Electric in November through Certified Electric Vehicle Dealers in California and New York/New Jersey markets. In 2012, availability of the Focus Electric will expand to another 15 launch markets “as production ramps up.”

Pricing is still a mystery for the C-MAX twins, but the Hybrid is expected to be in showrooms after June 2012 and the plug-in Energi is expected to follow some time later in the year.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————

Dear GM-Volt Readers: We value everyone’s feedback on our daily stories, but – please – don’t post breaking news or other stories that we could be working on as a post here. Doing this will help ensure fresh daily discussions, and will be better for everyone. If you would instead, please e-mail story ideas to jcobb@verticalscope.com Thank you!

———————————————————————————————————————————————————

 

Nov 16

Volt achieves milestones from US to Oz

 

Since the Volt’s launch, Chevrolet says owners have traveled more than 10 million miles, two-thirds of this on grid energy, and everyday people including Jay Leno are making ideal use of their daily driver Volts.

Leno’s commute to his job at the Tonight Show has seen him rack up 10,000 miles using only electrical power, and he is still on the original tank of gas that came with the car.

“I like electricity when I need it and gas when I need to use it,” said Leno. “I travel 28 miles to the studio every day, then I go shopping, run errands, pull in the driveway; that’s 40 miles or so, then I plug it in, but if I need to travel further the car is ready for that too.”


Another satisfied Volt owner.

Besides Leno who is using the car exactly as intended, a recent Chevrolet survey found on average Volt owners fill up monthly and go more than 900 miles between gas station visits.

Another five-figure electric mileage Volt owner is Edward Ellyatt of Fort Myers, Fla. He makes use of public charging and never uses gas for his daily 41-mile commute.

“I’m an opportunistic charger. I charge anywhere I can to extend my electric driving range,” said Ellyatt. “I generally find a 120-volt plug in the parking lot and ask management if I can use it when shopping or dining. If I am at one location for an hour or two I can expect to get enough EV range to get me home where I can plug back in.”

Chevrolet has given both Leno and Ellyatt “10,000 Electric Mile” badges for their Volt usage, and the list of drivers doing this and more with the still-rolling-out car is growing.


Jim Jonah from Highland, Mich. is approaching the 10,000 EV miles mark in his Volt.

“Volt owners are an extremely passionate and enthusiastic group. They carry pictures of their car, refer to themselves by their VIN number and freely talk about their ownership experience with anyone who will ask,” said Chris Perry, vice president of Global Chevrolet Marketing. “The 10,000 Electric Mile badge not only recognizes their achievement, but gives another point to brag about with anyone interested in learning more about the Volt.”

One Volt driver on target for 10,000 EV miles is Jim Jonah from Highland, Mich. His round trip is 90 miles daily to and from Detroit, and he says he is saving a lot on fuel costs.

“I’m using about $450 a month less in gas than I was in my Honda Pilot,” he said. “I’ve redirected my monthly transportation costs from most of it going to the oil companies to most of it going to an American car company, American workers, an American electric company, with a tiny bit going to the oil companies.”

News from Oz

Including the above stories, we’ve seen overwhelmingly positive news from first owners of the Volt in the U.S., and GM is beginning to prepare the way for similar stories to come ASAP in several major markets, including Australia.

Specifically, the Holden Volt is expected to go on sale there toward the end of 2012.

Yesterday the company announced “The Holden Volt has Landed!”


Red Lion Badge Volt.

The news was about the first Holden Volt to arrive from Detroit-Hamtramck. It’s a left-hand-drive model and is being used by Holden’s engineering team for in-country validation and verification.

If you are in Sydney or Canberra, you might even see the Volt as it has been used on a number of regional validation trips.

“The engineering department will use these validation exercises to ensure the electrical infrastructure around the country supports the Volt and that the recharging process is as seamless as possible for customers,” said Paul Gibson, Director of Electrical Engineering at Holden.

The company says the “Volt represents a major milestone for the Red Lion brand,” and Holden Chairman and Managing Director Mike Devereux said the Holden Volt will be a “game changer” for Holden and the wider automotive industry in Australia.


A Holden-badged Volt reportedly could cost around $60,000 or so.

“It is among the most technologically advanced cars on the road anywhere in the world and spearheads Holden’s push to become a leader in the field of technology and sustainable motoring,” he said. “The Volt will make driving more economical, more environmentally-friendly and will fundamentally change the way Australia thinks about alternative transport solutions. This is the start of something big for Holden and Australia.”

No doubt many in Oz would have liked the car sooner, but it is on its way. We expect in time to be hearing more success stories from other parts of the globe.

Chevrolet, Holden

———————————————————————————————————————————————————
Dear GM-Volt Readers: We value everyone’s feedback on our daily stories, but – please – don’t post breaking news or other stories that we could be working on as a post here. Doing this will help ensure fresh daily discussions, and will be better for everyone. If you would instead, please e-mail story ideas to jcobb@verticalscope.com Thank you!
———————————————————————————————————————————————————

 

Nov 10

Mitsubishi will show PX-MiEV II plug-in crossover in Tokyo this month

 

General Motors may have shelved its Voltec-based crossover for a few years, but that is not stopping other companies from coming up with their own innovative versions sooner.

One case in point could be the the Mitsubishi Concept PX-MiEV II, the latest version of a high-tech CUV said to be almost ready for production, and to be displayed at the end of this month at the Tokyo Motor Show.

The all-wheel-drive vehicle makes use of two electric motors and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. It is said to offer the power of a 3.0-liter V6, and is capable of operating as either a series or parallel hybrid.

 

The first PX-MiEV was shown at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show, and you can read about that one here, and here is a press release for this nearly ready for production version.

According to Mitsubishi Product Communications Specialist Christine Jew, the vehicle will see production maybe as soon as a couple years.

“Mitusbishi is still planning to sell this type of technology, mainly in countries working actively on environmental issues where charging infrastructure and subsidies are in place on some level like Japan, Europe, and the U.S.,” she said. “Therefore, it’s still planned to introduce a PHEV to the North American market most likely in FY13 but exact timing has not been decided since several market and economic factors will likely affect the timing of this launch.”

Among detail given in the concept’s press release are that one of the plug-in vehicle’s electric motors drives the front wheels, the other drives the rear.

The PX-MiEV II uses a lithium-ion battery similar to the battery pack in the pending i city car and this works in conjunction with the engine.

Its all-electric range is said to be 31 miles – much less than the lighter all-electric i which the EPA says goes 62 miles on a full charge. Since it has gasoline back-up however, the CUV’s total driving range is said to be as high as 500 miles.

On the optimistic Japanese test cycle, the PX-MiEV II could get as high as 140 miles per gallon. Keep in mind the Japanese cycle is easily 20-25-percent more generous than the U.S. EPA.

Automotive News reports that its series hybrid mode works at lower speeds or when the battery is low on charge. Under such conditions, the engine acts as a generator to sustain charge to the battery, but does not drive the wheels.

Alternately, at higher speeds, or when the battery is fully charged, the vehicle morphs into a parallel hybrid providing motive force to the wheels, and recharging the battery simultaneously.

AutoGuide reports the five-seater Mitsu will use the company’s S-AWC (Super-All Wheel Control) setup. A version of this electric system is also expected to be featured in the anticipated Evo XI sports car, which Popular Mechanics said is one car “worth waiting for.”

 

In addition to the usual advantages in snow-belt regions, the automaker says this AWD system provides excellent vehicle control and dynamics.

Automotive News observes the PX-MiEV strongly hints at the hybrid version of the Outlander crossover planned for launch in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013. The Outlander is part of Mitsu’s transformation of its lineup which includes an assortment of electrified drivetrains.

More will be known soon, there will be other innovative electrified vehicles of various makes and models featured at Tokyo as well, and we may report on some of them in coming weeks.

As has already been apparent, this green car and electrification phenomenon is taking off, and while the total market share is in question, everyone wants a piece of the pie.

GM will have its 2013 Spark EV in a couple years, and unknown is the high-end Cadillac ELR’s launch date, though we have no indication that it will be before 2015.

Meanwhile so many other potential segments could be filled with electrified vehicles, but GM has not said it is willing any time too soon.

Does anyone think GM should reconsider its decision to postpone Voltec spinoffs including the the MPV5 crossover until 2015 or later?

Automotive News, AutoGuide

 

Oct 14

GM and four other automakers agree on SAE DC fast charge standard

 

To speed plug-in vehicle acceptance, automakers are saying public charging requiring not much more time than a gasoline fill-up does, and industry wide standardization will be needed.

An example illustrated Wednesday by GM involves Chevrolet’s Spark EV, for which it was announced 15-30 minute charging is a possibility – and ideally GM would like the J1772 standard and related equipment to work for other brands as well.

This assertion was brought up because on the same occasion GM said it and four other major auto manufacturers have all agreed to a proposed 440-volt Level III DC fast-charging standard.

Those also in favor of the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) solution are: BMW, Daimler AG, Ford, and Volkswagen. Brands included by Daimler are Mercedes-Benz and Smart, and, the VW umbrella covers Porsche and Audi.


Do you think the Spark Ev will be an easier sell if buyers know they can top off in a few minutes, or more fully recharge in 15-30 minutes? GM does.

Echoing other automaker’s sentiments, Doug Parks, GM’s head of battery programs acknowledged conveniently fast daytime charging is desirable.

The Detroit Bureau further reported “industry sources” have said that if the SAE standard is indeed implemented, this push is “likely” to compel others to sign on as well.

But how reliable this feeling is, the Detroit Bureau did not say, even as it stacked up reasons why a single across-the-board standard may not be so easy to achieve.

Although the aforementioned big name plug-in vehicle makers appear ready to implement one quick-charge standard, there remain stragglers preventing the desire to see it unanimous.

Notable exceptions to the agreement by GM and others are Fisker and Tesla – nor have Mitsubishi and Nissan signed on, and they are actually heading in a different direction with the Chademo standard, and have already sold thousands of cars in various markets with it included.

We are unsure if U.S.-based Fisker and Tesla would sign on in time, less sure about Mitsubishi and Nissan – which is working on its own solutions, including a system that can fully recharge a 24-kwh Leaf in under 10 minutes.

That project is being done with researchers at Japan’s Kansai University, and they say it could be a decade before it is commercially available.


Those pesky competing standards! Here’s an optional (second) charger door for a Chademo plug which the two Japanese automakers – Mitsubishi and Nissan – are already well invested in. And for that matter, U.S. charger installers appear to be preparing installation of more Chademo DC quick chargers in the Pacific Northwest and California’s I-5 corridor.

Meanwhile, the SAE has a comparative majority of stakeholders in favor of its solution, lots of cars to sell sooner than a decade from now, so where is this going?

We asked GM Spokesman Kevin Kelly what he could tell us about the SAE’s standard itself, and though he did not offer many details, he gave what he could.

“Ultimately it’s the responsibility of the joint SAE work group to set the appropriate technical solution for DC fast charging,” Kelly said Thursday. “Our contention, and that of the other OEMs involved in yesterday’s announcement is that a charging solution leveraging a single charge port and the existing J1772 standards is the preferred strategic direction.”

Kelly deflected questions of time frame and cost, and to be sure, it may be early to name costs.

“Again, the technical solution will be determined via the SAE process, but directionally a single-port solution is the best approach to reduce vehicle complexity/cost and to ensure a high-level of customer satisfaction,” Kelly said.

As reported previously, the SAE has also worked on a two-plug-in-one solution merging a J1772 with a second plug pin configuration in one connector, but we are unsure of that project.

We might have found out when we phoned the SAE yesterday hoping to learn more, but a media rep asked us to email questions which we did, and they were not answered.

So what we can tell you at this point is the SAE single-connect solution is endorsed by GM and others because it would be usable by any road-going EV and would make things easier for everyone.

That is, it “will reduce build complexity for manufacturers,” according to a statement from Ford, “accelerate the installation of common systems internationally and, most importantly, improve the ownership experience for EV drivers.”

As for the ownership experience for Volt drivers, obviously you have less to worry about, your cars with gasoline backup can charge overnight – and for that matter, so can BEVs.

Again, this is for mainstream consumers not wanting to make sacrifices in how they use their cars, not necessarily early adapters who have shown they are willing to … well … adapt.

Automakers perceive that for the large numbers of customers they would like to transition from petro-fuel to battery power, the switch cannot seem like a step backwards which – for many – longer recharging times do.


Mitsubishi has said daily Level III charging is no problem. It will offer its Chademo interface with the $2,790 Premium Package, or as $700 option on the ES model which will price out just below $30,000 (before incentives).

And for those of you concerned that batteries cannot take regular high-voltage charging without it eating into their usable lives, this is also in question.

Mitsubishi has come out recently and said it is factoring in daily quick charges for its “i” (limited to 80-percent charge in 20-30 minutes to prevent battery overheating).

“We expect a daily quick charge not to have a significant toll on battery life,” said Bryan Arnett, manager of EV product strategy for Mitsubishi Motors North America.

Arnett said Mitsu expects its batteries will be able to hold 80 percent of their original charge after ten years, even if quick charged.

So, quick charging might take some durability away, but not enough to detract Mitsubishi – and presumably GM and others pushing for a trade-off seen as needed to graduate plug-ins beyond the infancy stage.

The Detroit Bureau, Green Car Reports.

 

Sep 16

Electric vehicle makers rest hopes on fleets to aid plug-in proliferation

 

What will it take to speed the process of plug-in vehicle proliferation?

Aside from consumer acceptance in the long run, it will require adoption by fleets in the near term, say electric vehicle industry stakeholders.

This was the gist of a recent Reuters report by Maria Gallucci of InsideClimateNews, in which a number of reasons were given for why fleets are diving into electrification while many consumers sit on the sidelines.


New York City recently made a sizable fleet purchase of Chevrolet Volts.

One major one is fleet operators will pay the extra upfront money required for plug-in vehicles because they focus on a vehicle’s overall operating costs and have the budget to do so.

“They’re interested in the total cost of ownership. That’s their number one priority,” said Sam Ori, policy director for the Electrification Coalition in Washington, D.C. “If you can show there is a value over six to seven years, you’ve got a foot in the door.”

In the course of a truck or car’s lifetime, savings on fuel and maintenance will be substantial, the report said.

The belief is that as plug-in vehicles are adopted, a cascade of benefits will follow.

“By fleets being first movers, they can help scale up the battery industry in a significant way in the early years of the electric vehicle industry,” Ori said.

Hopes are also riding on fleets “working out the kinks,” Reuters said, of yet-scarce recharging infrastructure, thus alleviating concerns held by all over range anxiety.

‘First Movers’

Readers of GM-Volt are familiar with the term “early adopters.” A synonym for their fleet counterpart is “first movers.”

One advantage first movers in charge of fleets have is the numbers to make a difference.

The Electrification Coalition said about 16 million government and corporate cars, trucks and vans in America are controlled by fleets. This is 6 percent of the nation’s 255 million light duty vehicles.

Fleet operators in charge of this sizable chunk are expected to buy more than 200,000 all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles between 2011 and 2015.

Many of these, further, will be trucks that cost much more per unit than a Chevy Volt, and in cases, more even than a Fisker Karma.

Bottom-line thinking by fleet operators will justify their purchases, as their fuel savings alone is especially great, said Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA).

On a cost-per-mile basis, “electricity is about a quarter of the cost of gas on today’s prices, and electricity prices can be pretty stable going forward,” Wynne said.


When is brown actually green? See the all-electric UPS truck above.

The EDTA estimates a plug-in car costs 2-3 cents per mile, versus five times this for a petrol vehicle.

What is more, industrial and commercial firms typically pay less for their electricity than do consumers in their homes, so their savings are further amplified

Another perk fleet buyers can demand that individual consumers cannot is vehicles custom tailored for their requirements.

For example, if a truck has a given route to drive, its battery pack can be specified to be just enough and thus less expensive – not overkill and thus more expensive.

In contrast, someone contemplating a $32,000 Nissan Leaf and only needing to drive 12 miles per day could not very well expect Nissan to deliver a one-off version with a quarter-sized battery – and demand a hefty discount besides.

But such advantages are possible for larger clients placing bulk orders, with promise of more purchases to follow.

And if this were not enough, an additional value EVs and hybrids present fleets is reduced maintenance. Electric drivetrains particularly cost much less to upkeep, having no engines or conventional transmissions.

This advantage is further multiplied by the number of vehicles a fleet owns and the fact that these vehicles normally undergo heavy wear and tear in their lifetime.

“Past 60 to 70,000 miles, maintenance costs go through the roof,” said Ori. “For companies like FedEx,” he added, “that’s a huge expenditure over a 10-year lifespan.”

Some first movers

There are hundreds if not thousands of potential fleet customers poised to take advantage of hybrid and electric vehicles, from utilities, to delivery services to the U.S., state and local government agencies.

Reuters observes that General Electric leads the list, as it has committed to buy 25,000 electric vehicles by 2015 for its global fleet management businesses comprised of around 65,000 customers.

By 2015, GE has said it will convert half of its 30,000-vehicle fleet to electric, and this year alone it will buy 12,000 GM electric vehicles, including the Volt.

Other lesser examples, among others, include FedEx and UPS.


Yesterday’s article mentioned battery makers receiving government funds. Johnson Controls’ Brownstown facility – in the same town LG Chem will build Volt batteries – will make batteries for this Azure Dynamics delivery truck. No direct cross pollination is known, but indirectly the success of one does depend on the success of the other.

As of August FedEx had 43 electric vans in four U.S. cities, plus London and Paris. Similarly UPS said last month it bought 100 all-electric vans to replace older diesels in California.

More examples could be given, but we will assume you get the point …

Consumer concerns persist

Lack of infrastructure is being overcome best in California, and here and there in the rest of the country thanks to public and private funding sources, but overall, range anxiety remains a worry.

Where possible, advocates have tried to minimize some of these concerns, stating they are essentially overblown.

“The average American drives 40 miles a day, therefore an electric vehicle that gets 100 miles of range should provide more than enough range,” Ori said. “Of course, consumers don’t buy vehicles that way. You want the vehicle to be able to meet your needs for all kinds of different things.”

The very fact that plug-in cars are a minority, and expected to remain so for years is proof that – right or wrong – many U.S. consumers remain unconvinced.

A common consumer objection is that plug-in vehicles are a step backwards compared to internally combusted vehicles. They cost more, and have limited range and slow recharging in a country where 170,000 gas stations and five-minute fill-ups are taken for granted.

Further, city dwellers, multi-unit apartment dwellers and people who otherwise do not have a garage to charge a plug-in vehicle naturally view their situation as a major impediment.

In contrast, fleets can get around these problems with ease, Reuters said. They typically have depots or parking areas where they install chargers and plug-in as long as it requires.

And since delivery trucks, for example, often traverse the same areas or routes daily, charging can be set up to accommodate them.

Jump starting the age of battery-powered vehicles

Fleets are being seen as the hopeful contender to augment creation of economies of scale.

Adding to the Reuters report, as we learned yesterday, battery companies are already poised to have excess production capacity.

But more will be needed, Reuters said.

Federal and state tax benefits for advanced manufacturing “will be critical to helping drive down the costs of technology,” said Simon Mui, a scientist with the National Resources Defense Council’s Air & Energy Program.

He also said federal incentives like tax credits or rebates must be included to sweeten the deal.

The Obama Administration has doled out $2.4 billion to 30 automakers, advanced battery manufacturers, as well as battery materials suppliers, and this is seen as at least helping.


FedEx electric truck.

Getting the nascent industry up to speed however will take more time, money, energy, and innovation.

Ori and the Electrification Coalition plus other advocates are in favor of more strategic government spending, including revisiting a set of bills tabled by Congress intended to further subsidize EVs in key markets. These are expected to be considered next session.

On toward progress

In sum, more private and government spending, new thinking, strategic alliances and innovation will be necessary if plug-in vehicles are to succeed, say some observers.

Individual consumers do represent the lion’s share of purchasing power, and they to will need to be catered to by automakers and stakeholders.

In the short term however, fleets are seen as lower hanging fruit, and better positioned to embrace the unique value proposition represented by plug-in vehicles.

Their money is expected to help enable growth by the electric vehicle industry in coming years as manufacturers clamor to make the deal clearly better for everyone else.

Reuters, InsideClimateNews
———————————————————————————————-

Web Chat – Today from 2:30-3:30 p.m. EST
A little while ago I wrote a story about Kiplinger writer Jessica Anderson’s analysis of the Volt’s cost and sent a link to Volt Line Director Tony Posawatz. Yesterday the Volt team informed me that Tony and Jessica will conduct a live Web chat discussing this topic. They will focus on Jessica’s article called “Green Cars Make Cents.” in which she examines the cost to operate electric vehicles versus conventional gas-powered ones. As we know, the third party calculator estimating the Volt’s cost had to be corrected, but after Kiplinger fixed its formula, the Volt’s total five-year ownership cost was still shown to close the gap to only $1,575 more than a $22,000 Cruze – even though the Volt had been a $41,000 purchase. Feel free to sign up for an email reminder above or go to VoltAge.

 

Aug 25

Two American-owned automakers contemplate hybridization partnerships

 

An old English proverb says, “Adversity makes strange bedfellows,” and so it could be with both Ford and GM-owned Opel/Vauxhall, which are respectively eying alliances with others to more effectively tackle automobile electrification challenges.

In Ford’s case, this week it was reported it and Toyota have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to co-develop a hybrid light-duty truck powertrain this decade.

Fast on the heels of that news, yesterday Automotive News reported that Opel/Vauxhall is also looking for someone to team up with to share development costs for more gasoline-electric cars.


Opel Ampera.

The aforementioned “adversity” now compelling partnerships could be any or all factors adding up to high costs automakers must face as they attempt to prepare for challenging conditions.

What conditions are those? They could include altruistic intentions toward making the world a cleaner, less wasteful place, and helping humanity solve environmental and energy hurdles in light of waning petroleum and increased pollution.

Or, short of voluntary compliance with such noble ideals, the reality is they have to, regardless, as various legislative bodies are tightening the screws on automakers with efficiency mandates.

Yes, the writing is clearly on the wall pushing manufacturers to make expedient business decisions to stay ahead of the curve, if at all possible.

One specific looming incentive for the U.S Ford-Toyota deal is pending CAFE rules that by 2025 will mandate a “54.5 mpg” standard (equal to around 40 mpg on the window sticker).

Ford and Toyota

This week the two companies said they’d been talking for months since a chance meeting took place in an airport between Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Toyota President Akio Toyoda.

The exact airport and date wasn’t reported, but the story has it that they began discussing ideas, exchanged cards, and kept the dialogue going. Now, months later, the two companies are expected to announce a formal agreement next year.

The East-meets-West collaboration could very well see Ford putting something like a Prius drivetrain into its best-selling F-series pickups, and possibly other light-duty trucks. Toyota at the same time will hybridize its own Tundra and Sequoia-sized vehicles, and possibly others.


2012 Harley-Davidson Ford F-150. How would you like to see a hybrid version of this?

“We expect to create exciting and socially beneficial technologies with Ford, and we can do so because our two companies have enough experience to create a synergy effect in hybrid technology,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, a Toyota executive vice president.

Note that his chosen words included two out of three of the proprietary words Toyota uses to describe its “Hybrid Synergy Drive.”

The timing for a formal Ford-Toyota agreement may be about when the Obama administration settles the details of its proposed doubling of current CAFE mandates.

As it stands, the CAFE plan calls for 5-percent annual increases that won’t immediately affect pickup trucks until 2019, unless a mid-year review to the plan in 2018 changes the mandates for those vehicles.

Whether the rules change mid-way or not, as tentative plans are now written, after 2019 annual efficiency increases would be required for pickups at a rate yet to be determined. By 2022, pickup trucks are expected to be mandated to achieve the same 5-percent annual increases as passenger vehicles will.

The CAFE rules also say light trucks other than full-sized pickups would have to make 3.5 percent increases in mileage standards in the 2017-21 model years and 5 percent annual increases in the 2022-25 model years.

In the months of talks prior to the rules being settled, the major thrust of objections by auto industry stakeholders to the Obama CAFE clamp being tightened was it would cost a fortune, and make their vehicles uncompetitive.

It was also said consumers would bypass potentially expensive-to-make vehicles in favor of what they wanted, further jeopardizing the profitability of automakers forced to improve efficiency for their vehicles.

Ford and Toyota appear to have found a way toward deflecting this threat by splitting development costs.

“By working together we will be able to serve our customers with the very best affordable, advanced powertrains, delivering even better fuel economy,” Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in a statement. “This is the kind of collaborative effort that is required to address the big global challenges of energy independence and environmental sustainability.”

While it is being said Ford F-Series pickups and possibly E-Series vans would be beneficiaries, Automotive News reported the companies did not release financial details or identify which specific vehicles will be involved.

What is known, according to Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s vice president of product development, is that product development teams from Ford and Toyota began meeting on the collaboration in April.

“This agreement brings together the capability of two global leaders in hybrid vehicles and hybrid technology to develop a better solution more quickly and affordably for our customers,” said Kuzak.

If it goes through, the deal looks like it could help Ford a lot, as Toyota knows how to squeak out efficiency. Its 2012 Camry Hybrid, for example, was just announced as gaining a 24-percent improvement in city driving efficiency, now pegged at 43 mpg. Not bad for a mid-size car. Merging that technology, combined with lessons yet to be learned in the next several years into a Ford truck might be just what the doctor ordered.

Incidentally, this will make the second hybrid/plug-in-tech collaboration for Toyota in recent news, as the company has also been working with Tesla in developing solutions, with a one $100 million contract already made, and reports of a $1 billion deal also having been discussed.

The dealings between Toyota – for now still the world’s largest automaker – have definitely been a leg-up for Tesla.

Opel/Vauxhall

There is less to report about this GM-controlled company as it is only now looking for a dance partner – but looking, it is.

“Hybrid technology is becoming increasingly more important. We are not holding any concrete talks but a cooperation would be certainly a good way to cut costs,” Opel CEO Karl-Friedrich Stracke told the national German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung yesterday.

In this company’s case, the motivation to partner is essentially the same as it is between Ford and Toyota, but on a different continent, and considering different legislated mandates.

Stracke said European law insists by 2020 carmakers’ offerings must emit no more than 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer.


Note he calls the Apera a “pure electric vehicle.” That’s a bit more bold than trying to call it an “extended-range electric vehicle.”

“We need hybrid technology starting with compact cars and upwards,” Stracke said.

Opel will begin selling the U.S.-made Ampera in November for a pre-grant price of 42,900 euros As we previously reported, the vehicle is already well on its way toward being pre-sold for 10,000 initial units, and the company would like GM to cut loose some more.

“Maybe we even hit 12,000 or more,” Stracke said.

One advantage Europeans have that facilitates acceptance for plug-in vehicles is that ordinary household electric current is 230 volts, instead of the 120 found in the U.S..

This means recharging with the included charger will replenish a Volt or Ampera’s 16-kwh battery in under three hours, according to Vauxhall (see video).

How well the Ampera (and European Volt) does sales-wise will determine whether the company moves forward to begin assembly in Europe.

“We need a business case for maybe 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 vehicles a year, then maybe it makes sense to locally manufacturer it on the Continent or even in the UK,” Stracke said.

In the mean time, Opel/Vauxhall is weighing all options, including doing a deal like Ford and Toyota are working toward and which appears well underway toward settling.

AutoNews, AutoNews, AutoNews.