Shanghai sum-up, news round-up

April 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

chevrolet-fnr-concept-A very quick Shanghai Motor Show round-up of stuff not previously covered/mentioned, in no particular order. Volkswagen: followed up the Geneva Sport Concept GTE with the C Concept GTE – stretched to a 5m-long four-door luxury “coupe” bodystyle, with a 245hp plug-in hybrid powertrain (four-cylinder TSI engine, eight-speed auto gearbox, 124hp electric motor). This can do up to 81mph in all-electric mode, with an all-electric range of up to 31 miles/50km; averaged-out economy is 122.8mpg and CO2 emissions 55g/km. Another plug-in hybrid: Qoros 2 SUV PHEV, a chunky little concept with hands-free and optional inductive wireless charging; and the latest in Audi’s Prologue series, the plug-in Prologue Allroad (previewing the next A6 Allroad) with 4.0 twin-turbo plus electric motor giving 724bhp.  Toyota unveiled a series of Chinese-market hybrids and EVs; Cadillac supplemented its CT6 saloon with PHEV capability; BMW launched the X5 xDrive40e PHEV; the Chinese will be offered a hybrid Nissan Murano, and a plug-in hybrid Audi A6 L e-tron and Q7 e-tron 2.0 TFSI quattro. One of the more interesting and forward-looking concepts, however, was the Chevrolet FNR (“find new roads”, pictured) from GM’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center in partnership with SAIC Motor, which featured in-wheel electric motors, wireless charging, autonomous-driving capability with sensors and roof-mounted radar, and an interior which enables 180-degree swivelling of the front seats when in self-driving mode.

  • A step forward in synthetic fuels: an Audi test facility in Dresden has produced its first batch of ‘e-diesel’, synthesised from carbon dioxide from a biogas plant. The process needs only ambient air, and works in stages: water is heated for steam, which is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis (using renewable energy); the hydrogen then reacts with the CO2 to produce ‘blue crude’, a long-chain hydrocarbon compound, which is then refined. This end-product is said to be free of sulphur or aromatic hydrocarbons, with a high cetane number,and it can be mixed with conventional diesel as well as used ‘pure’. The overall high-temperature process is claimed to be 70% efficient, with the added bonus that it can be incorporated into electricity grid stabilisation. Audi is aiming to produce over 3000 litres in coming months and then scale up the principle; petrol made in a similar way is also under development. More here. A classier news-release approach than Toyota’s talk about ‘hydrogen bullshit’, perhaps (hydrogen from cattle manure).
  • Audi has also delivered 40 A3 e-tron PHEVs for testing in three trial programmes in Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart: these are to look at private consumer use, expectations and charging. More here.
  • Montreal is to get a municipal EV-sharing scheme: 250 cars to hit the streets by next spring, with the aim of 1000 by 2020. Importantly, this will be powered by Quebec’s abundant hydro-electricity. More at Treehugger.
  • Barriers to EV adoption: vehicle cost, current battery tech, lack of consumer knowledge, reports the US National Research Council. Findings summarised here.
  • Siemens has launched a cloud-based wi-fi enabled EV charging station that enables vehicle owners to activate and control/monitor vehicle charging remotely via mobile or web app, integrating into demand-management and grid-balancing incentives. More here.
  • Millennials: buying cars again, and more than GenX, though mileage and driving rates are down across the board and there’s much variation between cities/location. Summary here.

Concept of the Day: Citroen Aircross

March 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

citroen aircrossTo be revealed at the Shanghai Motor Show later this month, an SUV-ed up C4 Cactus with innovative interior design – and a PHEV powertrain. The Aircross compact crossover, which appears to preview a production model, features a 70kW/95bhp electric motor giving 200Nm of torque to the rear axle plus the 1.6 THP turbocharged petrol engine (218bhp/275Nm), and gives an all-electric range of 31 miles. Its lithium-ion batteries can be recharged in three and a half hours from a domestic 16A socket. Total power output is 313bhp, 0-62mph happens in 4.5 seconds, but the “combined” fuel consumption is 166mpg (not that this is a figure which really means anything given the way it’s averaged-out, but anyway) and CO2 emissions are down to 39g/km.

  • Q1 2015 e-mobility Index from Roland Berger Strategy Consultants is out. Key trends/notes from this include: Japan is leading in terms of technologies at the moment, followed by France; China is investing heavily although R&D spending has fallen in other regions; vehicle weight remains an issue with few OEMs yet exploiting the possibilities of EV-specific structural design.
  • Deaths related to air pollution are being underestimated, with the effects of NOx not taken into account, the Guardian reports: analysis here.
  • And acute asthma worsening and attacks in children, linked again to traffic-related air pollution by UC Irvine. Carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and PM2.5s particularly implicated, lower-income and ethnic-minority children more vulnerable since they are more likely to live in high-traffic areas. Rundown here.
  • 30 Renault Twizy two-seaters have joined the Bluely EV-share in Lyon, with 110 to go into service in Lyon and in the Bluecub fleet in Bordeaux. More here.
  • Plenty of electric scooters are coming onto the market, but the Gogoro Streetscooter comes with a battery-swapping trial programme – in Taipei, Taiwan, at least. 100 riders are being recruited to beta-test the scooters and the system, which uses ATM-sized battery dispensers to push out charged batteries, and take in the duds. More here.
  • A new-generation Smart Fortwo electric-drive is on the way next year, and its batteries will be supplied by LG Chem. More here.
  • There’s been talk of a revived VW Camper/Microbus (as distinct from the modern-day Caravelle) for a long, long time, but latest is that Volkswagen engineers are thinking about a battery-electric model inspired by the Bulli concept, reports Autocar. Other news from New York Motor Show: new Merc GLE (replacement for ML-Class, sportier) comes with plug-in hybrid option and 18-mile all-electric mode; the facelifted Toyota RAV4 also has a hybrid option (2.5-litre petrol engine plus e-motor). And there’s a Volkswagen Beetle Hybrid (non plug-in) prototype knocking around, as well. Oh, and Ssangyong unveiled a hybrid SUV concept – previewing a replacement for the Korando – called XAV at the Seoul Motor Show last week, too.
  • A report from Arup/Qualcomm – “Intelligent Connectivity for Seamless Urban Mobility” – looks at the potential of harnessing data for urban mobility, including the use of autonomous vehicles; it discusses issues of security, sustainability, ‘usership’ vs ownership, leveraging crowd-sourcing and ‘learning’ devices. More about it here.
  • Waste corn stalks, cobs and husks can feed the production of hydrogen, in a twist on the usual biofuel focus: researchers from Virginia Tech have developed a high-rate enzymatic process to convert ‘dirty biomass’ into automotive-grade H2. More here.

March 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

honda s660So Honda has launched its S660 roadster in Japan – a tiny kei-class 660cc turbocharged lightweight, a belated follow-up to the Beat – but there’s talk there might be an electric version. Remember the EV-ster concept (Toyota Motor Show, 2011)? That clearly had some influence on the S660’s design… More on the (very cute) little S660 here, anyway. Not-so-funnily enough, I’m much more interested in this than the equally long-anticipated NSX.

  • A steering system based on in-wheel motor tech reduces the drain on battery range in EVs; the three-year e2-Lenk project at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is to develop this assisted steering system with a view to saving cost, weight and manufacturing complexity. More here.
  • Not sure about the name (toilet humour alert) but the e-floater (!) is a promising-looking ‘last-mile’ urban transport solution. It’s a battery-powered stand-up scooter, using composites and plastics from BASF (it weighs less than 12kg), with solar charging option. More details from Floatility Gmbh.
  • Alongside last week’s announcement about OLEV grants for electric motorcycle/scooter buyers came confirmation of £6.6million for hydrogen infrastructure projects, including 2 new refuelling stations (Brentford, Croydon), upgrades to existing stations in Sheffield, Port Talbot, Swindon, London/Greater London, an upgrade to a mobile refuelling station (to support test drives, conferences, demos, etc) and one more mobile station. More here.
  • Jaguar Land Rover is to double the size of its Whitley engineering/research/design centre for the development of “ultra-low-emissions vehicles”; these are to include all-electric versions of the XE and F-Pace crossover, reports Autocar, with an all-electric Range Rover likely too. The aim is, says the mag, to tap into the market identified by the Tesla Model S for luxury-level EVs which enable the affluent to get around LEZ/congestion charge-type legislation. Obviously.
  • Another week, another rather ridiculous ‘hypercar’, but the 200mph LM2 Streamliner – to be unveiled at the upcoming New York Auto Show, ‘cos it’s really well-suited to the streets of the Big Apple – will also be offered in all-electric form, says Autocar. Which doesn’t necessarily make it alright.
  • Better biofuels: researchers at University of East Anglia have identified strains of yeast that make the process of  turning waste agricultural material – straw, sawdust, corncobs –  into fuel more feasible. More here.

Concept of the Day: Volkswagen Hybrid-Electric City Taxi

March 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

1977-VW-Hybrid-BusOh, what could have been… Volkswagen was experimenting with hybrid and electric vehicles in the 1970s including this Type 2 Microbus-based hybrid reports Jalopnik – featuring a system based around the original air-cooled 1600cc flat-four plus Bosch motor-generator. The pictured drawing (found in a 1979 book on electric vehicles) depicts this ‘bus kitted out as a wheelchair-accessible taxi with an electrically-operated side door, as well as a bullet-proof glass screen between driver and passenger; Volkswagen apparently considered this “the taxi of the future”.

Anyway, in 2015’s electromobility-related news, today’s snippets…

  • A handy side-effect of EV usage: as they emit less than 20% of the heat, mile-for-mile, emitted by ICE vehicles, they could help keep city temperatures down and save on the energy usage/carbon emissions from air conditioning systems. A paper from Michigan State University takes Beijing as the example.
  • Dyson has invested $15million into a JV with solid state battery-maker Sakti3, a company with ambitions to supply batteries for automotive application. More here. Meanwhile, collapsed-then-rescued lithium-ion battery-maker A123, embroiled in the whole ongoing saga of Fisker Automotive, doesn’t see a viable market for EV batteries for a while yet…
  • Here’s a tie-up of two ambitious contenders: Chinese car-maker BYD is supplying 200 e6 electric minivans on lease to Uber in Chicago. More here.
  • Awareness of public EV-charging facilities is not a strong indicator of interest in plug-in vehicles, according to research from Simon Fraser University, Canada: home charging facilities and consumer incentives are more important. Full academic references plus detailed rundown here. Greater interest noted in PHEVs than all-electric models, too.
  • You don’t have to understand a complexity theory analysis to pull out a few salient points from this discussion on the slow progress of electromobility and adoption of EVs, from the e-mobility NSR network. It concludes that policy intervention continues to be needed, because the dominant system – including economic, infrastructural, cultural – is carbon-based and framed around ICE vehicles; positive feedback loops need to be set up, even on a micro-level, as they have tipping-point potential; behavioural ‘nudges’ can enhance policy effects (the example of PHEV take-up in the Netherlands is given); and a strategy of small steps in a continuously-learning process is needed.
  • Research ongoing at Imperial College, London, is looking into how EV drivers charge and use their cars, with a view to developing solutions for services, information and booking/securing electricity supply… link to take part here. This guy‘s looking into vehicle-to-grid services and predictive driving/charging patterns.
  • And a study linking traffic-related air pollution to Type 1 diabetes in very young children…
  • Meanwhile, in the US, total vehicle mileage travelled in 2014 is back up close to the all-time high of 2007, though vehicle mileage per capita rose less slowly. More at Citylab.
  • Another aspect of electromobility: BMW Group is deploying an electrified MAN truck to carry materials between its logistics company and its Munich factory. More here. It’ll make the near-2km journey eight times a day and save an estimated 11.8tonnes of CO2 a year, apparently.

News round-up: e-scooters, PHEVs, car-sharing – + advantages of electromobility

March 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

04_Motorman_red1-1024x768Its retro design might not be for everyone, but the Dutch-made Meijs Motorman electric scooter is, according to Wired, “taking over Europe”. No bad thing, the use of clean two-wheeled commuting solutions, and stylish, design-led products in the marketplace can only help raise the profile of e-scooters, mopeds and electromobility in general. Prices start from 4,750 euros (excl. VAT), with customisation options available from this Maastricht-based bike-builder. Rather nice-looking, in my opinion, but then I do like a bit of stripped-down vintage-look styling with the benefit of modern technology, modern maintenance demands and modern-day attention to air quality.

  • BMW’s confirmed UK sales in the autumn for the X5 xDrive40e, a plug-hybrid (why am I less excited about this than the above e-scooter?). Its total output is 313hp (245hp from its four-cyl 2.0-litre petrol engine, 113hp from its e-motor), with combined CO2 emissions of 77g/km and fuel economy up to 85.6mpg; it’ll still do 0-62 in 6.8 seconds and 130mph (up to 75mpg in all-electric mode). All-electric range, varies – “short, everyday journeys in urban areas can easily be completed with zero tailpipe emissions”, says BMW, promising an equivalent 94.2mpg for 15 mile-odd trips in city traffic or a return of 43.5mpg over a commute of up to 37 miles. In the optimised MAX eDrive mode, 19 all-electric miles are possible. However, long-distance (and higher-speed), fuel consumption is “above 25.7mpg”, more in line with a conventional SUV of this size. There’s eight-speed Steptronic transmission and permanent all-wheel drive, too, and a battery-save mode enabling a build-up of charge (giving range) for later deployment, i.e. when entering a zero-emissions city centre zone (when such things arrive and are enforced). Owners are further offered the BMW 360° ELECTRIC service, with a choice of Wallbox home chargers, membership of the ChargeNow scheme, ParkNow Longterm parking/charging space-booking and further customer services. More details here.
  • Ford’s car-sharing trial in London is going well, reports CleanTechnica, with users of the 17p-a-minute City Driving On-Demand service initially opting for the ICE Fiestas, but switching to the Focus Electrics when they are familiar with the app-driven booking process – and not going back.
  • Research at Imperial College, London, has untangled (some of) the chain of cause-effect linking diesel particulates and respiratory distress – the diesel particles are found to activate sensory nerves in the airways. More here.
  • And a new study from NYU (outlined here) linking fine particulate matter (PM2.5) with artery-narrowing and strokes: PM2.5s mostly come from diesel exhaust (as well as from non-transport sources such as wood-burning stoves) but gasoline direct-injection engines are increasingly the culprits as well (more on that here). T&E reports that EU-wide, vehicle traffic contributes a fifth of PM2.5s to the atmosphere.
  • Congestion on UK roads is the worst it has been for over 10 years, according to a survey by the Freight Transport Association (and they should know…). The FTA is noting an increase in domestic road freight but a 55% rate of decline in reliability on the motorway network; also, an expectation of “robust growth in domestic road freight activity” in most industry sectors and regions in the first quarter of this year. Its proposed solution is more investment in the road network, however, rather than, um, fewer vehicles (of all types?) and smarter use of the roads we have. Reminder, too, that transport issues ain’t just about cars.

Friday round-up: Traffic forecasts, transport reports, road safety and more…

March 13, 2015 § Leave a comment

trafficRoad traffic Forecasts 2015 from the Department for Transport: different scenarios to 2040 modelled (with results including “exponential growth”), and different assumptions about trip rates considered, but, yes, “in most cases we forecast traffic in all area types to grow strongly”, albeit with slower growth (still growth) in some urban areas if current trends are to continue. As @giulio_mattioli put it: “Peak car? What peak car?” Indeed.

  • Yet commuting habits have been changed – and road casualties and fatalities reduced – by the introduction of the London congestion charge in 2003, according to research from Lancaster University. Traffic accidents have fallen by 30 a month (a 40% reduction) with similar reductions in the numbers of those killed or seriously injured. The rate of accidents – number per million miles driven in the zone – has fallen by 2.6 from an average 12.4, showing a more than proportional decline in accidents in relation to the parallel reduction in vehicle numbers.  And accidents and injuries have also fallen in areas adjacent to the charging zone (fewer people driving through them to central London), in the non-charged hours 6pm-7am and for exempt vehicles (including motorcycles, bicycles, taxis and buses).
  • But the environmental/sustainability benefits of more fuel-efficient cars may be outweighed by higher mileages – a report from Sussex University suggests a ‘rebound effect’ in relation to fuel pricing, whereby one-fifth of economy improvements are cancelled out by motorists driving more. Don’t ask me to analyse (or even make any sense out of) the stats, but one clear conclusion appears to be that (British) motorists respond more to cuts in fuel prices than to improvements in mpg.
  • On a not-unrelated note to all the above, report out today from Global NCAP calling for a worldwide minimum standard for car safety/crash protection. It makes the point that “the global vehicle fleet reached 1 billion in 2010 and is forecast to double in the next ten to fifteen years. This unprecedented increase is occurring in low and middle income countries which account for 90% of total road deaths.” Underlining why we need cleaner (as well as safer) cars, because – to repeat the point I often make – with the best will in the world, refusing to engage with these issues and assuming that everyone (including those travelling outside well-connected, affluent urban areas) can be persuaded to walk, get on a bicycle or use public transport, however ideal that may be, is pretty damn futile.
  • Ecotricity is planning to get its rapid-chargers out onto the UK’s strategic A-road network, especially in areas not served by motorways. More here. (We won’t talk about the issues of maintaining functionality of these)…
  • GoMore, a Scandinavian car-pooling and peer-to-peer vehicle rental platform (established 2005) has bought out Spain’s Amovens, giving it 500,000 users. Plans for further international expansion, it’s been reported.
  • The European Parliament has voted to allow changes in lorry design, enabling more streamlined outlines to improve fuel efficiency as well as reforms to cab design for better visibility (and thus better safety for other road-users including pedestrians and cyclists) – but not until 2022, following lobbying from manufacturers. Comment on the matter here
  • Porsche: planning an all-electric small-ish hatchback-type model (downsized Panamera), reports Autocar.
  • The government’s announced a further 140 EVs and PHEVs for its own fleet, including vehicles for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. These will include the Nissan Leaf, and are part of a £5million investment in EVs and supporting infrastructure for public sector fleets. More here.

Integrated electromobility, EV economic benefits and more…

March 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

bmwi3 carshareAn integrated electromobility project: BiE (Bewertung integrierter Elektromobilität) is to look at the relationship between mobility services (including public transport and car-sharing) and EVs, and the everyday life of users. The federally-funded programme is looking at co-operation between services, the optimised planning of large EV-share fleets and the design of an evaluation system, booking system and charging support. Particular mobility needs, such as trips to supermarkets, will be considered for preparing of the vehicle’s charging accordingly; information as to EV-suitable journeys will be displayed to users via smartphone app. More details here; and from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, a partner in the project, here.

  • The UK’s oil imports could be cut by 40% and its carbon emissions cut by 47%  by 2030 with a large-scale deployment of EVs, reports a study from Cambridge Econometrics, commissioned by the European Climate Foundation. Drivers’ fuel bills could be cut by £13bn, or £1000 year – and more importantly, by 2050, transport emissions of NOx and particulates could be near-eliminated (saving over £1bn in associated health costs). This does, however, assume a population of over 6million EVs by 2030, growing to 23million by 2050 – along with a parallel growth in renewable-source electricity. Fuelling Britain’s Future further identifies benefits to the economy in terms of job-creation, as well as lower vehicle replacement costs, aiding fleets, economic growth and the manufacturing sector, pointing to Nissan’s factories and R&D work in Sunderland as an example.
  • One shared autonomous car could replace 14 private, DIY-drive vehicles, according to research from KTN Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, thus contributing to a reduction in congestion and an 80% fall in demand for parking spaces, thus freeing up land-space. The research was modelled on the Stockholm daily commute, and concluded that pooling taxi passengers and using self-driving tech, morning and evening rush-hour traffic jams could almost be eliminated. More here.
  • SsangYong showed a range-extended electric version of its Tivoli compact SUV at Geneva (though they didn’t announce any details about it at the time…). Turns out the Tivoli EVR concept features a single-cylinder petrol engine which recharges the battery, plus 127bhp e-motor, giving 93mph, 40g/km and an all-in range of 310 miles (up to 80 miles in all-electric mode), reports Autocar. The mag’s also reporting some news on the all-electric Audi Q8 sports SUV, to have a range of around 185 miles and arrive 2017.
  • A harbinger of pay-per-mile road tolling, reports Car and Driver: 5000 volunteers in Oregon are to take part in a trial with vehicle tracking and charging on a 1.5 cents per basis (they’ll have the difference between this and the current at-the-pumps gas tax refunded).
  • The US DoE is funding a series of EV and alt-fuel demo/education/training programmes to raise consumer awareness, prepare emergency services, crash responders, repairers and recyclers, and provide info to fleets; no time to detail these here now, but Green Car Congress has the lowdown.
  • Nice article on OEMs and car-sharing/mobility services at Automotive News: why they’re keen to get involved, the emerging new business models and possibilities for more ongoing revenue per vehicle than by simply selling it…
  • The SecMobil project at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum has developed a single chip for EV-charging stations securely combining measurement of current, charging time and any interruptions, and data for (cost) charging purposes; more here.
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