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Mar 01

EPA Says Prius Plug-In Gets 11 Miles Electric Range


Depending on how one drives it, Toyota’s Prius Plug-In can go a few miles farther than its U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rating, but officially it can be expected to travel 11 miles with “Electricity + Gasoline,” and the sticker lists All Electric Range at 6 miles.

This falls short of the “up to 15 miles” at speeds up to 62 mph estimated after consulting with Toyota and reported in’s full review.

Although not an apples-to-apples comparison, the Plug-In Prius is often weighed against the extended-range electric Chevy Volt. With its larger battery pack, the domestically produced rival from GM is intended to stay in all-electric mode at speeds of up to 100 mph for an EPA-estimated 35 miles distance – though this too can vary greatly depending on usage and ambient temperature.


As mentioned, plug-in Prius test drivers have routinely seen over 11 miles electric range, especially when driving in a gingerly manner.

And where the Prius Plug-In’s EPA efficiency ratings begin to outdo the Volt is in other drive modes. In “EV Mode,” it’s rated at 95 mile per gallon equivalent, which a tad above a fully charged 2012 Volt’s estimated 94 MPGe. In hybrid mode, the EPA says the Prius Plug-In returns 50 mpg combined. This compares very well to the Volt’s 37 mpg combined in gasoline-only mode and means – in the absence of on-the-way recharging facilities – for longer trips the Toyota starts to pay back more.


While the two vehicles are often compared and contrasted based on more metrics than the scope of this brief can consider, in short it is a qualified decision to determine between the two.


- As an extra bit of PIP news, the plug-in Toyota is also eligible for $1,500 California Clean Vehicle Rebate and application for a solo HOV sticker under certain conditions. It’s available in 14 states this year and Toyota is no longer taking online reservations. It says in 2013 it will offer nationwide availability. It’s eligible for a $2,500 federal tax credit, and aside from California, other states or localities may have subsidies available. MSRP for the base Prius Plug-In is $32,000 and price for the Advanced model is $39,525. This latter version comes standard with features including Premium HDD Navigation with Entune, Plug-In Hybrid Applications through a smartphone, Head-up Display, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and more.

So what do you think? Did the EPA underestimate the PIP? Has it been conservative on other cars too that you can think of?


Jan 25

OnStar project promises renewable energy for recharging


As we’ve seen with the Volt and other green initiatives, GM is working to promote sustainability with perhaps its latest project being enablement of recharging from renewable energy.

On Monday, OnStar Communications contacted us and announced Volt owners “may soon be able to charge their vehicle using renewable energy.”

The actual time frame is “to be determined,” but the kinks are being worked out by OnStar and a company called PJM Interconnection with 17 Chevrolet Volts operated by Google’s Gfleet.


The way it generally works is OnStar-enabled technology receives a signal from PJM Interconnection showing the percentage of available renewable energy on the grid.

Data from this forecast is downloaded to the OnStar cloud, or Advanced Telematics Operating Management System (ATOMS). OnStar uses this signal to simultaneously manage the charging of many Volts and to match the renewable energy availability.

OnStar says a mobile app could be used to alert customers when renewable energy is available.

Google’s Gfleet is based at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and as many of you know, Google is highly involved in other green projects and automotive experiments that include cars that drive themselves.

At the same time, Google is naturally willing to collaborate with real human drivers, as the species does not yet seem ready to go extinct.

This week, the OnStar-enabled fleet’s technology will be demonstrated at the 2012 DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition in San Antonio.

The public demo fits with an announcement by Nick Pudar, OnStar vice president of planning and business development, who said it is nearly ready for prime time.

“This demonstration shows that in the near future customers will have a real signal of demand for renewable energy,” said Pudar. “As customers configure their Volts to favor renewable energy for their charging cycle, this real demand signal will influence utilities to tap into renewable sources.”

Note that Pudar says demand will prompt utilities to increase (now limited) renewable energy supply.

We asked Adam Dennison, an OnStar Communications representative who sent the info, “How hopeful are you that this will have a measurable or significant influence that it will push utilities to adopt more renewable energy sources?”

In response, he said “We think that as EVs continue to penetrate the marketplace that customers will drive a variety of demands throughout different industries. Certainly we believe that the energy industry will be one of these. Based on the level of interest a number of utilities have expressed in OnStar’s Smart Grid solutions, we are pretty confident that that they’ll be willing to look to more renewable energy sources.”

At present, peak hours for renewable energy generation from wind is generally between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. according to PJM data.

OnStar says it would therefore be possible for customers to use Smart Grid solutions to further reduce their carbon footprint and – as is already possible regardless of energy source – “save money by charging during these off-peak times.”

“Solutions like this one will ultimately lead to increased renewable energy generation and allow Chevrolet Volt owners to be a key part of that energy transformation,” said Pudar.

If the renewable energy service goes into production, customers interested in using it would need to sign up. Dennison did not say if it would cost extra or be made available with existing OnStar service.

Once signed up, OnStar would regulate customers’ charging using the renewable energy signal.

This video is not directly about the current project, but OnStar says it highlights an app it did for Google’s Gfleet of Volts.

OnStar says this renewable energy technology is the latest addition to its suite of Smart Grid solutions.

For your review, OnStar says it has developed other “intelligent energy management technology solutions,” including:

Demand response – This solution connects utilities to companies that have intelligent energy management products. These companies can use OnStar to manage energy use for Volt customers who opt in for the service. This future service allows the customer to save money on energy costs while enabling more efficient use of the electric grid.
Time-of-Use (TOU) rates – OnStar can receive dynamic TOU pricing from utilities and notify Volt owners of the rate plan offers via email. Owners will be able to use OnStar to load the rate plans directly into their vehicle and access them to schedule charging during lower-rate periods.
Charging data – OnStar also sends and receives EV data that helps utility providers without having to interface with the vehicle’s electric vehicle supply equipment. This includes location-based EV data that identifies charging locations and determines potential load scenarios.


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 Thank you!



Jan 16

Could lithium-air batteries replace gasoline by 2020?


Would you believe that eight years from now lithium-air batteries – with energy density nearly equal to gasoline and able to provide five times today’s average EV range – could relegate combustion engines to history?

You’ll believe it when you see it, you say? Well, high hopes have been hyped before, so we can’t say we blame you, but this story making the rounds is based on research by no less than well-regarded IBM researchers on two continents.

“We now have one which looks very promising,” said IBM physicist Winfried Wilcke about an electrolyte material that could lead to a working lithium-air battery prototype by 2013.


Wilcke works at IBM’s Almaden laboratories in San Jose, Calif., and he and Alessandro Curioni at IBM’s Zurich lab in Switzerland used a Blue Gene supercomputer to find an alternative electrolyte for the present close-but-no-cigar lithium-air battery.

But let’s back up a minute: What is lithium air, you ask?

According to New which broke the brief story, lithium-air batteries differ from lithium-ion batteries by using carbon for their positive electrode instead of metal oxides.

The carbon is lighter and reacts with oxygen in the surrounding air to produce electrical current. While their energy density is through the roof, li-air battery cells have proven chemically unstable, thus shortening lifespan when repeated recharging is attempted, so that rules them out at this point.

To attack the problem Wilcke used a form of mass spectrometry to analyze the lithium-air cells’ underlying electrochemistry. In doing so, he discovered that beyond reacting with the carbon electrode, oxygen was also reacting with the electrolytic solvent (that carries the lithium ions between the electrodes).

So, the aforementioned supercomputer was used to run extremely detailed reaction models to find more viable electrolytes. This scientific detective work included a form of atomistic modelling down to the quantum mechanics of the components, said Curioni.

After all this high-tech sleuthing, the researchers reportedly have a material they think could work. They won’t reveal what the electrolyte is but say that several research prototypes have already been demonstrated adding to their positive outlook.

Perhaps the news is also credible because it is coming from IBM, and not a super capacitor maker named EEstor, or some other company with no known track record.

In any event, if they can get a prototype to work, it would solve a major obstacle with lithium-air batteries, said Phil Bartlett, head of electrochemistry at the University of Southampton, UK.

Other practical issues to overcome before lithium air is given the commercial green light would include coping with moist air, Bartlett said. Moisture could make for a hazard the pundits at Fox News wished they could have pinned on the Volt’s LG Chem cells.


“Lithium in water spontaneously catches fire,” Bartlett said.

And we all know fire is not a good thing, right?

So, you ask, what do we really have?

At this point, we have positive reported results from reputable research scientists who think they are onto the right trail.

But what do you think? Can any of you scientists or engineers or otherwise knowledgeable readers add to the discussion?

We’ve already anticipated the usual skepticism, jaded responses, and tired old EEstor jokes, but aside from that, what is a realistic attitude to take?

And while we’re speculating, do you think GM knows that if not this, some other ground-breaking energy storage technology is around the corner, and that is why it is being so conservative with new plug-in vehicle development?

Or do you think there’s some other reason?


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 Thank you!



Dec 28

Volvo prices V60 Plug-In Hybrid wagon and touts its technical superiority


Volvo recently announced pricing for its 2013 V60 plug-in wagon capable of 31 miles all-electric range at speeds up to 74 mph, as well as other diesel hybrid modes making it “the technically most advanced Volvo model ever – an electric car, hybrid car and muscle-car all rolled into one.”

Production for the all-wheel-drive showcase – co-developed by Volvo and Swedish utility Vattenfall – is scheduled for November 2012.

Volvo says the initial Euro-market production of 1,000 Silver-painted V60s will command €57,000 ($73,600) apiece (including Value Added Tax (VAT), before green incentives, to vary regionally, and about $20,000 more than the European Volt). In the UK, prices will start at £45,000 ($73,000). Plans for 2013 are to build 4,000-6,000 units for the 2014 model year.

“The world’s first diesel plug-in hybrid.”

Some of you may have read that this vehicle will come to the U.S. in 2013 or 2014. Yesterday, Volvo spokesman, Per-Åke Fröberg confirmed only that it might arrive here, but if it does it will be as a gasoline model.

“Since the V60 Plug-In Hybrid has a diesel engine, it won’t be sold in the U.S., given the extremely small market for premium diesel cars,” he said. “We are, however, looking at using the same technology with a gasoline engine but I can’t confirm any time line.”

Nonetheless, the “three cars in one” V60 might be interesting to some of you, so we’ll highlight (and link to) a few more salient points for your perusal.

The AWD, six-speed automatic transmission vehicle will come with a T6 badge as it has the same horsepower range as the highly capable petrol T6. The V60 Plug-In is strong enough even to include a trailer hitch.


Its front wheels are powered by a five-cylinder 2.4-liter turbodiesel producing 215 horsepower and 325 pound-feet torque.

The rear axle is powered by an electric motor producing 70 horsepower and 148 pound-feet torque and supplied by an 11.2-kwh lithium-ion battery pack under the rear floor.

Volvo says the battery consists of 10 modules each containing 20 cells. These 200 cells are monitored by a sophisticated battery management system. Integrated water-cooling is driven by the car’s climate control unit.

As Volvo explains, three pushbuttons give the car three entirely different temperaments:

• In Pure mode the car is powered solely by its electric motor as much as possible. If the battery pack has been recharged with electricity from renewable sources, its range is up to 31 miles [capable of speeds up to 74 mph] and its carbon dioxide emissions are zero. The electric range varies with terrain, climate and driving style.
Hybrid is the standard setting whenever the car is started. The diesel engine and electric motor cooperate to ensure optimal balance between driving pleasure and environmental footprint. CO2 emission (NEDC, mixed driving cycle for certification) is 49g/km [65 percent lower than a V60 with the same engine]. Fuel consumption on this same [optimistic] drive cycle is 1.9l/100km [124 mpg]. The car has a total range of up to 620 miles.
• In Power mode the technology is optimized to give the car the maximum possible power. The diesel engine and electric motor have a total power output of 215+70 [285] horsepower and maximum torque of 325+148 [473] pound-feet. The electric motor’s lightning-quick torque delivery contributes to the car’s acceleration from 0 to 62 mph in 6.2 seconds.


Recharging time via one of Europe’s 230-volt home outlets ranges from 3.5 hours at 16 amps to 7.5 hours at 6 amps. While recharging, the passenger compartment can be pre-heated or cooled for comfort’s sake, as well as to pre-cool the battery to an optimal 68-86°F, and also to maximize electric range.

When switched to AWD mode, instead of mechanical power transfer, the central control unit distributes power between the diesel-driven front wheels and the electrically-driven rear axle.

In this mode, the diesel engine operates continuously and the generator ensures that the charge level in the battery pack is sufficient to supply the rear axle with the necessary power. Because the electric motor is outmatched by the powerful diesel, torque to the rear wheels is limited and AWD is limited to 74 mph.

The V60 Plug-in Hybrid has two heating systems. In electric mode the car uses a PTC (Positive Temperature Coefficient) air heater. It also has a diesel-powered heater.

Also noteworthy is the V60′s two-stage braking. When the driver presses the brake pedal, the system starts braking the rear axle’s electric motor. This braking energy is then used to recharge the car’s battery pack. The mechanical brakes are activated only when the situation requires more braking power than the rear axle can provide.


The hybridization of this wagon asks a hefty premium over, say, Volvo’s S60 wagon built on the same platform – or the Volt, which is priced in Europe at €41,950 ($54,489, incl. VAT) – but Volvo is optimistic.

“There is immense interest from the markets. We are convinced that the first thousand cars will be sold even before production gets under way next autumn,” says Stefan Jacoby, President and CEO of Volvo Car Corporation. “With the V60 Plug-in Hybrid we boost our leading position in electrification. None of our competitors can offer customers an equally ingenious car. It elevates hybrid technology to an entirely new level.”

About 30 percent of total volume will go to Sweden and the other Nordic countries, Volvo says. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Britain will have a share of between 5 and 15 percent each.


In its core markets Sweden, Germany and Netherlands, V60 co-developer Vattenfall will offer buyers a “starter pack” including 100-per cent renewable electricity generated by Vattenfall´s own production facilities and a wall-mounted charging station.

If imported to the U.S. with a gasoline engine, and sans the European VAT surcharge, we shall see when it will arrive, how much it will sell for, and how successful it might be.

Volvo, Again

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 Thank you!



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 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 Thank you!