March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
Here’s a gallery of some of the cars I found interesting in Geneva this week; apologies for poor photos, but this is about as good as you get on the hoof with a three-year-old Blackberry held together with electrical tape. So – the autonomously-driven, fully-connected Rinspeed eXchangE; the superlightweight, CNG-fuelled Magna MILA Blue; the shared/auto AKKA Technologies Link & Go (now with 2.0 tech platform updated from last year); the biofuelled, biocomposite-structured Metropolia University/UPM Biofore; the shared/auto Rinspeed microMAX; and, because it’s very cute and a good city car solution for the here-and-now, the now rear-engined Renault Twingo.
March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
“The electric car is the future”: thus says Dr Ulrich Hackenburg, Audi’s board member for technical development. His definition includes plug-in hybrids – such as the A3 E-tron and R8 E-tron (pictured) – and, in this interview with Automotive News Europe, he notes that Audi is planning to offer “a completely new world of services to the customer – all the way to green energy supplies and the installation of fast-chargers in garages”.
- A good idea: Renault is thinking about offering retro-fit battery upgrades and software updates to its EV customers. More at What Car?.
- And ‘chip’ tech which could increase range by 15%: Dukosoi of Edinburgh has just received funding to develop its Electric Vehicle Optimisation Integrated Circuit (EVoiC), which monitors energy levels and the flow of power to and from individual cells in a battery, reports Business Green.
- The end of ‘free’ EV charging in the UK is nigh: Chargemaster (including the Polar network) has just announced its new tariffs and pay-as-you-go option. Transport Evolved has done the maths; looks as if it’s going to hit EV drivers who regularly charge away from home at the network’s points rather hard. Other operators and networks are expected to follow suit in due course. Could tip the balance in the lower running costs vs. higher purchase price EV equation for some.
- A team from the Fraunhofer Institute Center Stuttgart is developing a micro smart-grid system for EV-charging; it has installed kit in its car park to support up to 30 EVs in a ‘living lab’, and is now adding photovoltaic panels and a small wind turbine to increase the proportion of renewable energy used. The charge@work project is looking at coping with peak load, grid-balancing and smart management. More here.
- BMW’s planning to expand its DriveNow short-term rentals/carshare to up to 25 more cities – 10 in the US and 10-15 in Europe, reports Automotive News.
- Detroit engine-maker EcoMotors, creator of an OPOC (opposed-piston) unit, has signed a second deal with a Chinese company; First Auto Works (FAW) is to invest over $200million, reports Automotive News.
- Detailed piece about the Project 100 car/ride/bike-sharing scheme proposed for Las Vegas at Atlantic Cities. An interesting story involving a well-funded entrepreneur, attempts to entice people to live downtown again, a potentially fraught relationship with public transit providers, and state legislation.
- I’m liking the WAVE – Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience, a heavy-duty truck concept developed for the retailer by Peterbilt, Great Dane Trailers and Capstone Turbine. Besides extreme aerodynamics for fuel-saving, it’s got a lightweight carbonfibre trailer and a turbine-driven biodiesel-compatible hybrid powertrain. Video, more details at Wired.
- There are plenty of experiments going on to synthesize biodiesel from algae – now there’s the possibility of algae-derived hydrogen.
- The BMW i3 has met with a lukewarm response from participants in the BMW’s Electronaut programme who won’t be trading up, reports Transport Evolved – many simply preferred their 1-Series ActiveEs and Mini Es, and see the i3 as too expensive and too MPV-like.
March 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
No, I’m not at Geneva yet – this is remote reporting. But the Italdesign-Giugiaro design house (now absorbed into the Volkswagen Group) has just unveiled a low-slung six-seater MPV concept called Clipper; it’s based on Volkswagen’s MQB platform (Golf, A3, Octavia, Leon etc.), and is good for 335 miles and 127mph from its twin-motored all-electric powertrain (a 148bhp motor at each axle, hence four-wheel drive). It’s got the obligatory showy concept car doors – front ones swinging up butterfly-style, the rear rear-hinged gull-wings. Seats are two x three rows; the batteries are housed under-floor giving a flat floor, there’s a ‘floating’ instrument panel with information projected into a perspex screen, and a rear-view camera to replace the interior mirror. The space between the seats accommodates a movable, ‘mobile tunnel’ with 11-inch touchscreen for the control system, there’s a total loadspace of 900 litres, plus four iPads for passengers with a comms app/private network called Carlink. Oh, and there’s a second ‘vanette’ Ducati-branded version, with different doors.
- “Electric cars simply perpetuate current (unsustainable) practices and represent a failure of ambition”, say Nicola Spurling and Dan Welch of the Sustainable Practices Research Group, berating a “techno-fix solution”. Yes indeed, more cycling is a Good Idea for short journeys and is certainly achievable/desirable to some extent, and the wider ‘need’ for driving caused by car-centric planning, out-of-town shopping centres etc does need to be addressed – but they write off the possibility of cleaning up the e-grid in parallel (citing a rather old paper in support), seem to think that the EVs of the future will still have “shorter ranges, long charging times” and “only fulfill some of the functions of the conventional car”, and – in the blog post, at least – don’t look beyond like-for-like vehicle substitution (no mention of EV-shares, car clubs, multi-modal link-ups, etc.) nor at EVs’ role for businesses, fleets, or industrial applications (arguably where they can make more difference than in the private/consumer sector). Report summary, and useful primer on practice perspective for sustainability policy interventions here; full report (in which the driving/cycling substitution is an example of problem framing/targets for intervention) here.
- And the view from industry… Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, confident on grid decarbonisation (amongst other issues): “In partnership with other automakers, industries and governments, we have the capability to reinvent the car for a new era, to provide sustainable mobility for all”.
March 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
Skoda’s going gas-tastic at the Geneva Motor Show this coming week: its VisionC concept (a large five-door liftback on the next-gen Octavia platform) has a ‘bivalent’ 1.4 TSI engine (turbocharged, direct-injection) which can run on either petrol or CNG, and meets EU2020 emissions legislation. This powertrain – similar to that in the just-announced Octavia/Octavia Combi G-Tec, and indeed, the Audi A3 G-Tron and Volkswagen Golf TGI – is said to return 72mpg and emit just 91g/km in gas mode. “Natural gas drive is an important pillar of ŠKODA’s sustainability strategy”, says the company.
Good gas or a load of hot air? Can’t help but think it doesn’t do anything for fossil fuel-dependency, even if it is cleaner-burning than liquid petroleum, though CNG is thought of in some circles as a “bridge fuel” to a lower-carbon system (a bit like replacing heroin with methadone?). Some more discussion (gassing?) and useful references here, including the issue of methane leakage in the production process (cancelling out any life-cycle GHG benefits). “Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate,” says Prof Adam Brandt, assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University and lead author of “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems” (Science, 14th February 2014).
- Porsche is to unveil its 919 Hybrid LMP1 Le Mans racer in Geneva this week; says it “can therefore be regarded as a research laboratory for the technology of future Porsche production vehicles”. Lexus is to bring the RC 300h hybrid coupe (as seen in Detroit), and has confirmed its launch in Europe for 2015.
- Dutch drivers: more likely to opt for an EV or fuel cell car if they do a low annual mileage, don’t tow a caravan; range and refuelling times key factors in decision-making. Study by Hoen and Koetse in the latest issue of this journal. And some facts ‘n’ figures on Californian plug-in drivers from the Center for Sustainable Energy/CARB here (high-income, middle-aged, motivated by use of car-pool lanes…).
- Have seen news that China’s Geely Group has bought out the UK’s Emerald Automotive, developer of a range-extended delivery van and associated ER-EV tech.
- Over half of 8000 people questioned in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Austria reckoned that in the future, they’ll buy a “mobility solution” rather than a car – rundown here. Nearly 64% reckoned they’d use multi-modal transport apps as well, though 63% still said that they wanted to own a car (24% of whom thought they’d also use hired/shared cars where appropriate).
- Corporate car-sharing to grow, says Frost & Sullivan; figures, projections and opinion here. And here’s a date for the diary (not that I can afford to go) – the F&S Urban Mobility 3.0 conference/workshop in London, June 26th.
- The Kandi EV-sharing service, which started out in Hangzhou with its distinctive ‘tower’ of microcars, is expanding across China; more at Green Car Reports.
- And here’s a biofuel that could smell interesting as it burns… Extreme Biodiesel Inc is aiming to buy some land in California to cultivate hemp for fuel. Release posted here.
- But I predict a riot – warning on the growth of biofuels at the expense of fuel crops, as well as the prospect of global riots if we fail to solve our chronic addition to fossil fuels and transition to a “post-carbon” economy, at the Guardian… Plus, at the Observer, a report on environmentally-destructive underwater mining, including the trawl for rare-earth metals and ores for batteries (for gadgets and vehicles). Scary stuff. (Lunar land-grab, anyone?).
- Not the answer to everyone’s motoring needs, but I do love an old Love Bug… Zelectric Motors of San Diego is now up and running with its ‘upcycled’ classic Beetle conversions, and is also selling DIY powertrain kits. Rather nice for local trundling-around in SoCal, I would imagine.
February 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
Natural gas: simply a substitution of one fossil fuel for another, or a practical use of an existing energy source/technology? Magna International is showing a hybrid-drive gas-powered city car concept called MILA Blue at the Geneva Motor Show next week, said to emit less than 49g/km of carbon dioxide – or less than 36g/km if running on biogas. It features an automated-manual transmission with stop-start and can cruise short distances in all-electric mode, at up to 30kph.
Li’l MILA is said to be 300kg-odd lighter than current A-sector tiddlers, thanks to the construction and architecture technologies it also showcases; downsized components, aluminium, magnesium and composite materials; and suitably-decorated structural parts in place of extra interior trim. More from Magna here.
More on this at Geneva next week, and I’m currently working on a project which involves looking into the eco-claims for natural gas, so will report back on this at a later point.
- Speaking of biofuels… 16% of fuel used on European roads could come from waste material, claims a new report (outlined here at Guardian Sustainable Business). That’s waste from forestry, industry, agriculture and households, so no competition with food crops (as with, for example, corn-derived ethanol), and life-cycle carbon emissions are thought to be 60-85% lower than for comparative fossil fuels.
- Detroit News is looking at ‘peak car’ this week (aren’t we all?); some figures from forecasters IHS Automotive, suggesting that global sales will top out at 100 million in the next decade, plus some good quotes, i.e.: “The key question is: Do you sell cars or do you sell mobility?” says Tim Ryan, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “If you ignore these megatrends, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.”
- Report by Susan Shaheen and Matthew Christensen (UC Berkeley) for the New Cities Foundation (@newcitiesfound) asks “Is the future of urban mobility multi-modal and digitized transport access?” (answer = yes). Apps “are on the forefront of digitized transportation access and will play a growing role in urban mobility in the future”, along with RFID tech; but creation of a single platform covering multi-mode transport “would exponentially increase the value of sustainable transportation modes through ease of use, accountability, and by creating virtual and physical connection points”.
- Sort-of related; no new news or findings in this, but some useful links and quotes at Bloomberg in a piece called “Woes of Megacity Driving Signal Dawn of ‘Peak Car’ Era“.
- The implications of automated vehicles: explored by Imperial College’s Dr Scott LeVine and Prof. John Polak in a new paper for the Independent Transport Commission; blog post about it here.
- London: £300million to transform the city’s most dangerous junctions and make ‘em more cycle-friendly. More here. (And some feedback on the benefits of separating cyclists – and pedestrians – from cars here). Debate open on the segregation thing…
- And Obama’s proposing a four-year transport plan to modernise the USA’s infrastructure: $600million up for grabs for innovative projects.
February 24, 2014 § 1 Comment
- Further into the future: simply adding autonomous tech to a private-car system doesn’t solve problems of congestion, energy use, etc, argues Ryan C Chin of MIT at Guardian Sustainable Business. But there’s an opportunity when integrating this with on-demand car-sharing… and further debate on whether this will encourage greater car use/travel (amongst other ‘nextcar’ issues) from David Levinson (U of Minnesota; walks to work) at The Transportationist (well worth a read).
- No, mainstream EV use need not ‘crash’ the grid: research from the University of Vermont outlines a ‘packetized demand’ system, linked to smart-metering, to smooth out and distribute demand. A patent is pending. More here (thanks, @talitrigg).
- Wow: a £4bn transport network including trains, buses, trams and tram-trains has been backed by city councillors for the Cardiff metro area and could be built by 2030, reports the BBC. The aim is to improve access into the city from the valleys, support a rise in commuters, and to reduce car-commuting. A big project with potential to really improve infrastructure and the local economy. The BBC’s citing evidence from Nottingham and Manchester which correlates investment in public transport with reduced traffic levels (sounds like stating the bleedin’ obvious, but this stuff does need to be researched/backed up with proper data).
- Honda: discontinuing the CR-Z and Insight hybrids in Europe to prioritise “low-carbon” diesels (my inverted commas) and locally-made models. It’s been hit by the cost of importing from Japan as well as poor demand (only 318 CRZs sold last year, 462 hybrids). Are the old-school non-plug-in hybrids no longer in demand? Hardly, Toyota’s hybrid sales are booming… The Jazz Hybrid will continue for the moment.
- Research from TU Chemnitz, using Mini E trial data: 20-25% of EV range is ‘lost’ as a psychological safety buffer, reports Thomas Franke. Rundown plus references at Green Car Congress.
- Local Motors is to show its first digitally-printed, open-source EV in Chicago in September; more here.
- I keep coming back to this interview with French Green MP Denis Baupin at Sustainable Mobility, talking about his new report (co-written with Senator Fabienne Keller, who also needs credit). “The mobility needs of our citizens can never be completely met by public transport or cycling, even though I’m a keen supporter of them”, he says, acknowledging that there is no one solution that will suit everyone, everywhere. Nice contrast to the many lobbyists shouting for their chosen mode who seem to fail to realise that, dammit, we’re all working on different pieces of the same jigsaw. Factionalism. Not constructive. (Rant of the day. Sorry).
February 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
Volkswagen’s launching the Golf GTE plug-in hybrid in Geneva: this gets the 1.4 TSI (150hp) with DSG transmission plus a 102hp electric motor to give a total 204hp/258lb ft output and a range of up to 580 miles (31 miles all-electric range). It’ll do 81mph in all-e mode, though; 135mph with the engine and 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds. Combined figures (provisional) are 188mpg and 35g/km. Charging takes 3.5 hours from a domestic plug, 2.5 hours from a wallbox. Volkswagen’s developed a smartphone app called Car-Net which allows remote operation of functions including presets for cooling/heating and charging (three years subscription will be offered). UK pricing will be announced late August with deliveries by the end of the year.
- Some more lowdown on the Yamaha MOTIV.e city car, designed by Gordon Murray; it’s fitted with a Zytek-supplied electric powertrain with a single-speed reduction gearbox from Vocis and all power electronics by Continental. Its 25kW motor revs to a super-high 15,000rpm which allows it “to be smaller, lighter and more cost-effective than previous-generation units”; the motor’s 13kg, the gearbox 11kg and inverter only 7.5kg. The Zytek electronic vehicle control module includes thermal management with the algorithms (thought to be a unique feature) and integrates torque arbitration and voltage management with temperature control within a range of parameters including battery charge, temperature and grip at the tyres. Though still described as a “concept”, the MOTIV.e has been developed by GMD to sell “at an affordable price” (an aim of the iStream manufacturing process) and I think it’s fair to suggest we’ll hear confirmation of its production fairly shortly.
- How do you get past the problem of missing the postman/parcel delivery/your online shopping order? Easy: get it delivered into the boot of your (connected) car. Volvo and Ericsson are to debut a system called Roam Delivery which relies on a one-time use digital key to access a car boot; more at Engadget and Green Car Congress.
- Bhutan is aiming to become a zero-emissions, clean-energy nation, and to that end, has signed a deal with Nissan to develop infrastructure and supply cars to its government fleet. The tiny Himalayan nation produces far more hydropower than it can use, selling most of it to India, but has to import fuel for vehicles, apparently, so there’s an obvious solution there… In case you’re wondering, the capital of Bhutan is called Thimphu, and its EV-enthusiastic prime minister (since last summer) is Tshering Tobgay. More here.
- Poo-power stories turn with some regularity (sorry) but this is a good one: the Orange County Sanitation District’s sewage treatment works at Fountain Valley (now there’s an unpleasant image), California is testing a prototype system to turn waste to hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles. This involves separating the water from the ‘biosolids’; the latter are piped to airless tanks and broken down by microbes, which releases a gas 60% methane, 40% CO2; the methane can then be used to power the works or broken down into electricity, heat and hydrogen. (Korean Herald via Autoblog Green).
- Some more detail on the Hyundai Intrado (fuel cell concept) at Autocar.