Week-end odds and ends

October 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

German battery-maker DBM Energy built an Audi A2 EV – and drove it from Munich to Berlin (605km/380 miles) on a single charge. The night-time run allowed the car to keep a steady 55mph much of the time, and it arrived still with 18% of battery charge in hand. DBM, which worked in partnership with Berlin’s Lekker Energie, says that its batteries have a 97% efficiency, are compact enough that they could be installed in the A2 without affecting cabin or boot-space, and that they can be recharged in just six minutes from a quick-charge zapper.

  • Continental AG is to supply ultracapacitor modules to PSA Peugeot-Citroen for use in a new stop-start system. The ultracaps can store electrical energy for quick boosts and surges – such as starting up again from a standstill – and are charged via regenerative braking or from engine power. It’s quicker-acting and more powerful than using batteries, can allow for low-speed cruising with the engine off, and efficiency gains are up to 15%. This tech is going to feature in the next generation of stop-start and micro-hybrid systems; first PSA model to get it will be the Peugeot 508 e-HDI (Edmunds Green Car Advisor).
  • Better Place is to work with the San Francisco Metropolitan Transport Commission on a battery-swap programme. Four battery-swap stations are to be built in the SF/San Jose/Silicon Valley region, to be used by 61 specially-converted electric taxis. Interestingly, Better Place is now promoting the battery-swap idea primarily as an option for people and businesses on the move, as a supplement to at-home charging, reacting to the advent of quick-charge points.
  • Honda’s going to show an all-new electric vehicle, and a platform for a plug-in hybrid, at the Los Angeles Auto Show next month. No pictures or further hints as yet.
  • Tesla’s going to make an electric SUV-crossover. It’s codenamed Model X; concept comes end of 2011, production 2014. Chances are it may be developed with a bit of help from major shareholder Toyota; Tesla is currently working on a RAV4 EV, though Model X may not be related to this.
  • Another split-cycle engine concept: HCPC, Homogenous Charge Progressive Combustion, controlling homogenous-charge ignition in diesel engines. Fitted in combination with a turbo, it controls the heat release rate without needing exhaust gas recirculation; the compressor piston has a fixed delay to allow for pre-compression outside the cylinder. Science bit at Green Car Congress.

Sao Paulo Motor Show: Fiat Mio

October 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Another smart, small Fiat (see below), but this one’s just conceptual. The 98 inch-long Mio, on display this week at the Sao Paulo Motor Show, has been developed by Fiat’s Brazilian division in a kind of open-source process: over 17,000 Fiat fans registered to contribute ideas via Facebook and Twitter, with 2million people from 160 countries viewing the project.

The end result is this two-seater with lounge-style cabin, sofa-like seats, autonomous guidance, multimedia and phone integration, head-up displays, touchscreen controls and eco-friendly, sustainable-source construction materials. But is it rather retrograde-looking, like the ‘future cars’ of the 1990s? More on the project at fiatmio.cc.

Fiat: Twinair hybrid under development; 500 Twinair driven

October 28, 2010 § 1 Comment

Fiat is working on a hybrid version of its Twinair powertrain. The clever little two-cylinder, 875cc engine is “well-suited to hybridisation”, say Fiat Powertrain Technologies spokesmen, and although the system is still some way off production, “we’re really working on it. It’s in the concept stage”. The super-compact engine, motor and transmission all fit neatly under the 500’s tiny bonnet; it will use Fiat’s new DCT (dual-clutch) Dualogic gearbox.

Before the hybrid, however, come new versions of the Twinair engine, billed by Fiat as “the greenest gasoline engine in the world.” A bold claim, but the Euro 6-compliant 85bhp turbocharged version now on offer in the 500 returns 69mpg and emits just 95g/km of carbon dioxide, beating comparable Toyota iQ, Smart Fortwo, Ford Ka and Mini First models hands down on economy, emissions and performance.  It’s combined with stop/start (a specially-tuned system much-improved from the jerky, unintuitive tech in the earlier 1.2 Start&Stop), and when the Dualogic gearbox comes as an option next year, economy and emissions will be better still. 2011 also brings a naturally-aspirated (non-turbo) entry-level version of the engine giving 65bhp, plus a sports version (105bhp).

FPT says that the use of the Multiair valve control system, along with a specifically-developed turbocharger, has allowed for a higher compression ratio (10:1) than usually seen in engines of this type. Refinement and NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) are well-controlled thanks to a balancer shaft, giving just a distinctive two-cylinder burble and a whoosh of the turbo.

The benefits of the small-capacity twin include high torque from low engine speeds, plenty of mid-range strength, and relaxed cruising speeds, aided by a high-set fifth ‘overdrive’ gear in the manual models. The manual-transmission 500 Twinair is a lively, rewarding drive, sharp to accelerate and nip around town, with sufficient reserves for overtaking on faster roads and keeping pace  at motorway speeds.

CNG (natural gas) fuelled versions will be made for markets where this fuel is popular, and further into the future, the indirect-injection Multiair system will be supplemented with direct injection, a technology initially developed in parallel by Fiat for its larger engines. “The two technologies (Twinair and direct injection) can live together”, said an FPT spokesman. “They will probably be matched in the future, but at this stage, we didn’t need to do it.”

Fiat’s clearly ambitious in its plans for the Twinair engine, which must be more expensive to build than its four-cylinder line-up, what with its advanced technologies, features such as chain-drive in place of a cheaper rubber drive  belt, and the need for a new, dedicated production line (they’re not talking figures on all this). But the Polish plant where the engine is built is being prepared to make 450,000 units a year, with a capacity of 800,000 possible, and economies of scale will surely be achieved.

Expect this engine to feature across Fiat’s A- and B-sector products (Panda and Grande Punto, for a start, not to mention the rumoured upcoming city two-seater), and at a later date, Fiat plans to license it and supply it to other manufacturers (probably including Ford, for the Ka). In the UK, it’s now available across the 500 line-up, in all models including the 500C convertible and special-edition byDiesel and matte-paint Blackjack (pictured).


Volvo: the fuel cell range-extender

October 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Volvo has started work on a fuel cell vehicle, with the aim of getting the first prototypes on the road for testing in 2012. The car is based on the C30 DrivE Electric (pictured), and its powertrain comprises a fuel cell with a reformer, which breaks down petrol to create hydrogen gas,  which is then electrolysed to create electric energy to drive the motor. The only byproducts are water and a small amount of carbon dioxide, as the motor is only driven by the electrical energy; the fuel cell effectively takes the place of an engine as a generator in a range-extender system.

LA Design Challenge: entrants revealed

October 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Nine eye-catching concepts have been created by manufacturers’ studios for the Los Angeles Auto Show Design Challenge, and these will be judged at the Show next month. The brief for this year’s Challenge was to create a 1000lbs fuel-efficient car of the future, and contestants are the Smart Weight Watch (pictured); the luxurious 2+2 Cadillac Aera; the aggressively streamlined Honda Air; the utterly bizarre Maybach DRS rickshaw; the Mazda MX-0, a stripped-down MX-5; the solar-powered Mercedes-Benz Biome, which communes with trees; the organic-material Nissan iV; the ‘podular’ bioplastic Toyota Mori; and the carbonfibre, compressed-air Volvo Air Motion Canyon Carver. Full details and picture galleries at the LA Design Challenge website.

Mira EV concept: for sale

October 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

MIRA Ltd is to collaborate with GEVCO (Global Electric Vehicle Company) on an electric city car, the blueprints to which will then be sold to car manufacturers. It’s an all-in solution with the as-yet unbranded vehicle to be supplied ready to go. The MIRA  (Motor Industry Research Association)/GEVCO team is setting up a joint research centre in Leicestershire to develop the concept, study its infrastructure needs, and bring it to a production-ready level.

Monday newsbriefs

October 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

  • Delphi has signed an agreement with WiTricity Corp to develop a wireless charging system for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The magnetic resonant coupling system, patented by WiTricity, involves charging from an energy source embedded in the ground of a parking place or garage floor. It needs no plugs or charging cords, and can transfer over 3,000 watts.
  • The world’s first dedicated electric vehicle store is to open in Zurich. The Electric Mobility Concept Store will have trained staff on hand to discuss electric vehicles, and will sell, rent and lease a range of scooters, motorbikes and city cars. It is the shopfront for retailer Migros, Swiss importer of vehicles including the Think City.
  • BMW’s upcoming plug-in hybrids could have intelligent sat nav to direct drivers along a charging-optimised route, reports Autocar. Other new tech on the way from BMW includes a fuel-saving ‘sail’ mode for its eight-speed auto gearbox and a sat nav system which advises when it’s best to take public transport instead.
  • Audi has released a detailed story on the creation of the e-tron Spyder concept car; it’s posted in full at Autoblog Green.
  • Florida’s Avera Motors is about to reveal a ground-breaking, super-efficient $25,000 lightweight, said to rival hybrids in its fuel economy. More on the tease at Autoblog Green.
  • Chinese car-maker Chery is working on an 800cc rotary (Wankel) engine to use in range-extended EV powertrains (China Car Times). Audi used a rotary in its original e-tron concept, as did AVL for its Mini RE-EV prototype.
  • Nissan is to show a plug-in hybrid concept called Ellure at the Los Angeles Auto Show next month.
  • Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov is investing E150million to build the world’s cheapest hybrid car, reports Autoblog Green. A factory’s under construction in Togliatti, and two prototypes are said to be under development, a hatchback and a coupe-crossover, for launch in 2012. Mass production is planned, with price tags as low as $7000 once the factory’s making 100,000 a year. Ambitious. *PS: More details at Wired Autopia; the cars will be built in partnership with truck-maker Yarovit, be natural gas-electric hybrids – and have a rather natty two-tone paint job.
  • Volvo’s V60 sports wagon will form the basis of the company’s first plug-in hybrid. 49g/km of CO2 and a 31-mile all-electric mode, apparently.

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