Thursday newsbriefs

July 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Here’s a quick preview of the new-generation Renault Twingo, to be launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Key nugget of info: it’ll get the new Renault-Nissan three-cylinder engine, an economy-oriented unit no doubt to feature extensively in the Renault-Nissan range. Next time around, however (2014), it’ll share its platform with the next Smart ForFour supermini, under the terms of a deal with Daimler; electric versions will follow.

  • BYD is to lease 200 eBus and 300 e6 saloons to authorities in Shenzhen for the 2011 Universiade, a national student sports festival. The saloons will be used as taxis, and all 500 of these electric vehicles will remain on public service in the city after the event (Edmunds AutoObserver). This is one of the biggest EV fleet deals yet made.
  • Tour of the Better Place visitor centre in Tel Aviv, including a look at the Renault Laguna EV and battery-swapping, at Autoblog Green today.
  • Mazda has started testing two electric Demio (Mazda2) prototypes in Japan. These have a 200km range; production is planned for spring 2012.
  • Solar EV chargers are now on sale in the US: SolarCity is supplying a $1500 package with photovoltaic panels and cells to customers in selected states (Wired Autopia). Makes sense in sunny SoCal, perhaps less so in the wet Pacific north-west…
  • Tequila all round! A study from Oxford suggests that ethanol for fuel use could be derived from agave plants, and as these grow only in desert or marginal climates, they won’t displace any food crops. Emissions from production of this biofuel are lower than from making corn-based ethanol (or petrol), too. More at The Guardian.
  • Bike alert: the Oregon Manifest project, sponsored by Levi’s, is a challenge to design a practical, attractive and versatile pushbike to encourage Americans out of their cars. Criteria include load-carrying ability, robustness, security and visibility. As someone who’s just bought a cargo bike, I approve. And it’s an interesting insight into the US pro-bike brigade (tattoos not compulsory, I hope).

More midweek matters

July 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Glory hallelujah! Just days after I declared that I’d only ever seen the one EV using my nearest public charging point, I’ve spotted a second one there. One Aixam Mega City, being orange outside the Caroline of Brunswick pub, Brighton. That’s two, then…

More EV stuff: Renault’s Head of EV Programme, Andy Heiron, reckons that battery improvements have levelled out and that we’re not going to see much more range from the batteries – but that range of EVs will be improved by efficiency savings elsewhere in the vehicles, such as clever aerodynamics and improved regenerative braking. He’s cautious about the pace of development – and surprisingly guarded on the Better Place battery-swaps. Interview with Robert Llewellyn on Fully Charged, plus a look at the Renault Fluence.

  • The US government is about to compromise with car-makers on the CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards for 2025; latest reports at the LA Times, which posits a figure of 50mpg (US) after exemptions.
  • The phase-out of nuclear energy in Germany is going to be expensive, reports Der Spiegel – especially given the growing demand for power, some of that from increased numbers of electric cars. Detailed look at the wider implications of renewable sources.
  • But it’s not all about electricity! BMW has announced plans today for a $1million project to  study the synthesis of hydrogen from waste methane gas generated at a local landfill plant near its facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina (Motor Trend). Don’t forget the fuel cells.

Design concept of the Day: Mini Rocketman (revisited)

July 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Reports this week that BMW is prepping a 10-model Mk3 Mini range reminded me of the Rocketman concept shown in Geneva earlier this year. That was the 3+1-seater (Toyota iQ-style), 3.4m-long three-door, with handy double-hinged doors, pull-out cargo carrier – plus carbonfibre spaceframe construction, unlikely to see production in such a small, built-to-a-price car, however ‘premium’ its marketing. Barely bigger than the original Mini, though considerably better-equipped, flasher, high-tech and  design-conscious, it was rather too much of an expensive toy than a practical urban transport solution, however.

Anyway, such musings tie up rather nicely with other research this week: I’ve been thinking about car clubs, shared-ownership schemes, short-term rental fleets and how they’re a good way to introduce new technologies and alternative powertrains/energy sources to the masses (more on this to follow).

You may not have facilities/off-street parking to recharge your own EV at home, for example, but if you could pick up a fully-charged car club car nearby, return it back to its designated parking space and charger, take no responsibility for its maintenance and no liability for its residual (resale) values, and don’t have to spend a small fortune to buy it in the first place, then EV use is much more appealing. As is car club membership  and giving up on owning your own private car, or at least, a second household vehicle.

BMW is toying with such ideas already, having launched its DriveNow car-share programme in Germany in partnership with Sixt; its iVentures wing is also investing in various mobility-management start-ups and concepts. Is the Rocketman – or a more stripped-down, practical production version thereof – the ideal product to pitch into this market?

I’ll leave you with a quote from the lifestyle arbiters/consultants/trend-watchers at Intersection magazine (to which I have contributed, though these aren’t my words): “A few years back Intersection was quizzed by BMW’s futurists on where the Mini range could go. We suggested that instead of SUVs and wagons, a mini Mini would make more sense. But this (the Rocketman) still isn’t it. We’d like to see… Two seats, no frills. Electric. Parked around town at charge points, stacked high like Pez dispensers, with mobile credits to access them, via your phone. Membership, not ownership. A mobility solution for people in cities who don’t want a car.”

Join the dots, folks. This stuff isn’t pie-in-the-sky idealism, it’s a very real proposition and it’s going to happen soon, starting with the launch of the Bollore-Pininfarina EVs on the Velib’ scheme in Paris this  autumn.

EV chargers appear at motorway services

July 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Welcome Break motorway service stations in the UK are to get fast-charging points for EVs: the first, at South Mimms, opened this week and there’ll be 11 more by September; all 27 locations will be equipped within 18 months with free-to-use standard chargers for overnight use (for guests at the motels) plus fast-chargers giving a full charge in two hours or an 80% top-up in 20 minutes. Even better, the power supplied will be wind or solar energy from Ecotricity; Ecotricity’s Dale Vince sees this as the launch of an Electric Highway – full essay at his ZeroCarbonista blog. EV owners will need to register with Ecotricity for a free swipecard to use the facilities. Detailed lowdown in the press release.

  • In other news today: Nissan is to build an EV in China to market in partnership with domestic car-maker Dongfeng. It’s scheduled for 2015. CEO Carlos Ghosn said yesterday: “We see a clear need for cars that are affordable, practical, spacious and zero-emissions… We are ready to produce electric cars locally in China under the Venucia brand.”

Tuesday newsbriefs

July 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Remember the Citroen Revolte, revealed at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show? This DS3-based supermini was fitted with an electric drivetrain plus small range-extender engine and Citroen hinted at the time that this modern-day take on the 2CV (sort of) might preview a production car. Anyway, it’s going to appear again this weekend at Amis de la 2CV, a huge gathering of 2CV enthusiasts, at Salbris, France. Can we expect an announcement?

In other news:

  • Autocar‘s talking about the 10-model Mk3 Mini line-up, due on sale 2013. Powerful but more efficient three-cylinder engines, “at least one type of hybrid drivetrain”, but a range-extended EV more likely than an all-electric model, they report. The mag’s also got spy shots of the next-generation Fiat Panda, to be launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show: range to include a hybrid, turbocharged version of the tw0-cylinder Twinair engine.
  • If all London taxi cabs were electrically-powered, 4000 tonnes fewer of carbon dioxide a week would be emitted into the atmosphere, calculates EcoVelocity. Road transport is responsible for 80% of airborne emissions in London, and black cabs for 20% of that, apparently. Go to the EcoVelocity show (September 8th-11th, Battersea Power Station), find out more.
  • HaloIPT, maker of an induction charging system, is teaming up with Drayson Racing to develop a charging system for electric racers, reports Honest John. This will involve wireless charging from power transmitters embedded in a test track. Drayson Racing is to enter a Westfield iRacer in the EV Cup next year.
  • More wireless charging: Virginia-based Evatran is claiming 90% efficiency for its Plugless Power pad system, with scope for further improvement (Edmunds Auto Observer).
  • Chargepoint continues its US roll-out of charging points: 150 for the Boston metropolitan area, reports Treehugger.
  • The Fallbrook NuVinci continuously-variable planetary transmission system will be fitted in a wider range of Tomberlin neighbourhood EVs. Fallbrook’s partnership with TEAM Industries and Tomberlin is to be expanded following the successful integration of the NuVinci CVP into the Tomberlin Anvil. The tech’s fully-scalable for a wide variety of EVs and automotive applications, Fallbrook says.
  • EVs pose “little risk” to blind or partially-sighted pedestrians, according to a study from the Transport Research Laboratory, as at low speeds they’re barely any quieter than conventional ICE cars – barely a decibel quieter, at 5mph, and at 12mph sound levels are virtually identical. No need for all those engine noise simulators, then. Full story at Business Green. However, Renault’s concerned about silent EVs in the F1 pit lanes, reports Autoblog Green
  • Hyundai’s not in a hurry to go hybrid or electric. John Krafcik, Hyundai USA’s CEO, has told Automotive News that “our focus is on optimising internal combustion and getting as many fuel-efficient vehicles out there, across the line-up”. That’s the way to meet the upcoming CAFE (corporate average fuel economy standards), he reckons.
  • The Nissan Leaf is the first all-electric vehicle to achieve a five-star result in America’s NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) crash tests. It was awarded five stars by Euro NCAP earlier this year. More Leaf: check it out having a go at a stage of the Tour de France.

Monday newsbriefs #2

July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Toyota has released data from its Prius PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) trial in London. The movements and performance of the 20-vehicle fleet, run in partnership with EDF Energy, have been analysed and “encouraging results” are reported. Most journeys the cars did were at an average speed and of a distance that the PHEV system could kick in to advantage; overall fuel efficiency was
27% better than than of  “an equivalent” diesel car.

In the first year of the three-year UK trial, the average journey was 7.3 miles; 59% of all journeys were 3.1-12.4 miles; average speed reached was 17.7mph; 69% of all journeys were at less than 18.6mph; average recharging time was 72 minutes and drivers with access to a domestic charging point recharged more frequently. The Prius PHEV can run up to 12.5 miles on battery power alone, and can be driven by its electric motor at speeds of up to 62mph – so it can do the majority of typical urban journeys in all-electric mode. 22% of users actually managed to get more than 12.5 miles in EV mode, and one-third of all mileage in the trial was electrically-driven.

Feedback from users so far has been “very positive”, says Toyota, and the study’s findings are in line with those from programmes elsewhere in Europe, including a 100-car trial in Strasbourg.

  • In other news: Taxi drivers could become ambassadors for more fuel-efficient driving techniques and road behaviour, according to a study by the RSA. More at Business Green. But will it make them go south of the river?
  • Portugal is to gain 1,300 new standard-speed EV charging points plus 50 fast-chargers, thanks to a partnership with Oracle Utilities, the non-profit firm Inteli and the country’s MOBI-E programme to install a recharging infrastructure. Portugal is also boasting that 43% of its electricity is now generated from renewable sources such as wind or hydropower.
  • What can the EU do with the 3.4 million tonnes of used tyres discarded each year? Only 38% are recycled – but tyres could be reused to make street infrastructure such as bollards, kerbs and pavements, according to the Eco-Rubber project.
  • There’s been a “less than electrifying” take-up of government grants to buy EVs in the UK, according to the RAC Foundation, with just 215 EVs bought through the scheme in the second quarter of the year. 465 were bought in the first quarter since the grants – of up to £5000 to subsidise the cost of buying an EV – were introduced, but there are still fewer 2,500 or so EVs on the UK’s roads. The RAC Foundation reckons that “the figures show how difficult it will be to get UK motorists  to own and drive the greenest cars available on the market”, citing purchase costs, battery longevity and depreciation as concerns. The SMMT and DfT are both forecasting growth in the EV market next year, however, saying that it’s early days yet.
  • Comment – in a roundabout way – on the above by Robert Llewellyn, dedicated EV campaigner, at The Charging Point. Worth clicking through to read his explanation of grid balancing.

Daihatsu A-Concept and other news

July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Daihatsu has unveiled its supermini-sized A-Concept at the Indonesia Motor Show. It’s intended as a ‘world car’, reports Paul Tan, and could preview the promised super-efficient ’30km/l’ (85.6mpg) car scheduled for launch this autumn. It’ll feature Daihatsu’s ‘E:S Technology’, including weight-saving measures and detailed efficiency enhancements throughout the powertrain (more on these at Green Car Congress). Whether it comes to Europe or the UK will probably depend on the strength of the yen and exchange rates with the euro/pound, though it- or its technology – may come here under the Toyota brand (Toyota is a majority shareholder in Daihatsu).

Daihatsu has also unveiled a two-cylinder, direct-injection, turbocharged engine, which also features exhaust gas recirculation and stop-start. It’s a 660cc developing 63bhp, and it will first be seen in the Move mini-MPV in September. Expect more such examples of downsizing; fuel cells to follow from Daihatsu (Paul Tan).

  • In other news: Think Global has been bought by Russian enterpreneur Boris Zingarevich, investor in battery-maker Ener1. Zingarevich has signed a memorandum of understanding both with Ener1 and the Finnish engineering consultancy/production contractor Valmet Automotive, which has been building the Think EVs, and plans to relaunch the bankrupt brand. His statement today: “Having achieved the position of one of the world’s most highly regarded electric vehicle products, the THINK brand is a valuable asset that deserves to continue its key role in the global shift to electrification. With the potential of working with the leading American automotive lithium-ion battery maker and Europe’s top automobile engineering and manufacturing company, I believe we could have exactly the right combination and value chain to ensure that the brand will be increasingly competitive in the worldwide electric vehicle market.”
  • GM is planning to put its EN-V electric pod-cars into production in 2020, reports Autocar.
  • Oxford’s YASA Motors is moving to larger premises in Milton Park. The company is working on its next-generation axial flux motor, is supplier to companies including Westfield (for the upcoming iRacer), Delta Motorsports (for the E-4 electric coupe), Morgan Motor Company and  TTX GP electric superbikes, and is collaborating with Sweden’s Electroengine.

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