Paris Velib’ scheme kicks off; 80mph motorways, more on BMW’s ActiveHybrid 5

September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Paris Autolib’ gets underway next week – or at least, a preliminary two-month trial of this rental scheme. Reuters reports that the electric Bollore BlueCar runarounds (pictured; designed by Pininfarina) will be offered at 4-8 euros per half-hour to members;  membership starts from 10 euros for a day’s driving. The 235million-euro project follows the success of the Velib’ bike-share (which in turn influenced London’s ‘Boris bikes’) and will showcase Bollore’s lithium-polymer battery tech. The scheme is not expected to be profitable for some seven years, Bollore told Reuters, but it’s very much a long-term investment; Paris authorities are keen to tackle the city’s congestion and parking problems as well as to encourage people – residents and tourists alike – to try out EVs. The initial trial phase will involve 66 cars and 33 depots around Paris, going up to 3000 cars and over 1000 ‘stations’ (with charging facilities) by the end of 2012.

  • Much debate today over the proposed raising of motorway speed limits to 80mph. The pro camp say journey times will be reduced, and that the 70mph limit (introduced 1965) is no longer appropriate given today’s safer cars; the againsts cite increased fuel consumption and emissions. CO2 up by an average 20% (cars at 80mph compared to 70mph), says Greenpeace; TRL figures (via NextGreenCar) suggest a 17% rise – and 20% if everyone starts to do 90mph, as many surely will. The less-reported part of the story is that the proposed rise would be in parallel with the introduction of more 20mph zones in residential areas and by schools, etc, a sensible move to my mind whatever is done on the motorways.
  • Some more details on the BMW ActiveHybrid 5: on sale in the UK in February 2012, priced from £46,860; it’ll return 44.1mpg, it emits 149g/km and 0-62 comes up in 5.9 seconds, reports Autocar.

Kia Naimo; Subaru and BMW hybrids; Nissan trials Mobility Concept

September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Kia is developing a CUV-style electric vehicle, reports just-auto.com. This is codenamed TAM, and is thought to be based on the Naimo concept, a small Nissan Juke-style crossover, seen at the Seoul Motor Show last spring. Coming 2014, with a Hyundai counterpart in 2015, apparently. The Naimo (“square shape”, Korean) is a 3.9m-long five-door, four-seater; the concept featured an 80kW motor and a claimed range of 124 miles.

  • Subaru is to go it alone with its hybrid technology and not source it from Toyota, reports just-auto.com. Subaru is said to be planning to develop its own ‘mild’ hybrid system for a model to be launched in Japan in 2013; this will not have an all-electric mode, but will work with Subaru’s own trademark ‘boxer’ engines to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Clues were given in 2009’s Hybrid Tourer concept, which featured a 2.0-litre flat-four with direct injection and turbocharger, all-wheel drive and Lineartronic auto gearbox, a 10kW motor driving the front wheels and a 20kW motor powering the rear, plus lithium-ion batteries, though that was a full hybrid – and a production Legacy’s unlikely to get gullwing doors.
  • BMW’s ActiveHybrid 5 – based on the 535i saloon – is to go on sale in the US inMarch 2012. The 5 combines the 3.0-litre straight-six with BMW’s EfficientDynamics tech and eight-speed auto gearbox to give 335hp and 330lb ft, 0-60mph acceleration in 5.7 seconds and all-electric propulsion for up to 2.5 miles and 37mph; no official figures yet for mpg, but it’s thought to be a 10% improvement over the standard car’s. Full lowdown at Green Car Congress.
  • Nissan is to trial seven Mobility Concepts in Yokohama; local residents and tourists will try out this electric two-seater on public roads in free test-drives. The Mobility Concept is Nissan’s version of the Renault Twizy; it’s good for around 80kmph and a 100km range. Further short trials will then take place in Aomori and Fukuoka prefectures, reports Integrity Exports; Nissan will collect feedback from users.

Electric RaceAbout sets ‘Ring record; Thursday newsbriefs

September 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

A fast Finn. The Electric RaceAbout, a prototype coupe built by students from the Helsinki Metropolita University of Applied Sciences, has set a new speed record – for road-legal electric vehicles – on the Nordschliefe circuit of the Nurburgring. Driven by racing driver Ralf Kelleners, it lapped the ‘Green Hell’ in 8.42.720, beating its 9min 40 time set in early August despite its road tyres, and hit 148mph. The RaceAbout features a carbonfibre composite body designed by students from the Lahti University of Applied Sciences’ Institute of Design, and four in-wheel motors (the work of a team from Lappeenranta University of Technology) giving a total 300kW of power; its batteries are lithium-titanate. Video posted at The Charging Point, btw.

  • CPT (Controlled Power Technologies) is developing a 48-volt electric supercharger (based on its 12-volt product already available) which can transform 7kW of battery power to a highly-boosted air charge for petrol or diesel engines almost instantaneously. CPT says that this will aid engine downsizing and enhance torque at low engine speeds, giving small engines a welcome boost for overtaking, hillclimbs and acceleration; it “foresees a new generation of micro mild hybrid vehicles with radically-downsized engines featuring transient electric boosting as a more effective hybrid alternative to the mechanical supercharging and/or twin turbo-charging systems in use today”.
  • First reviews of Revenge of the Electric Car, a documentary from the makers of Who Killed The Electric Car?, are out; nice summary at Autoweek. “Ends on a more optimistic note than the last movie did.”
  • Chrysler’s delivering 10 Dodge Ram 1500 plug-in hybrid pick-ups to the Massachussetts Bay Transportation Authority; the MBTA is to monitor their performance and impact on the region’s electricity grid. These 10 are part of a 140-vehicle test fleet of these prototypes; Chrysler says it has no plans for a production Ram PHEV, but it’s no doubt under consideration. More at Green Car Congress.

Skoda Citigo, midweek news

September 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Skoda has announced its version of the Volkswagen Up! city car. The 3.56m-long Citigo (not ‘Czech-Up’, as some wit on Twitter suggested) goes on sale in the Czech Republic late this year and arrives in the UK and other European countries next summer. There are three- and five-door versions, it seats four and has a 251-litre boot – with over 950 litres of load-space if the rear seats are folded. Skoda’s promising lots of storage solutions, and equipment on offer will include a removable sat nav with Bluetooth kit, parking sensors,  head/chest-protecting side airbags, plus automatic emergency braking from low speeds to help avoid urban shunts. Engines on offer will include two new three-cylinder, 1.0-litre petrol engines, 60hp and 75hp; in standard form these return 62.8mpg/105g/km and 60.1mpg/108g/km respectively, and economy/emissions-optimised versions will deliver 67.3mpg/97g/km and 65.7mpg/99g/km. No official word on electric versions as yet, but they’re thought to be under consideration.

  • BMW’s discontinuing the X6 ActiveHybrid, and Mercedes-Benz the ML 450 Hybrid, in the USA. Too expensive, not enough of a fuel saving. More at Edmunds AutoObserver.
  • Toyota is to call its Prius three-door Aqua, reports the Nikkei; it’s to return around 113mpg (by Japanese testing standards) and will be substantially cheaper than the five-door Prius. The paper’s also reporting that Honda is to launch a new sub-660cc ‘kei-class’ mini-MPV in Japan; this’ll have stop-start, and will deliver best-in-class fuel economy, apparently. Unlikely to come to Europe, however.

Monday newsbriefs

September 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Microcab of Coventry is to launch a fuel cell city car this week, reports Autocar. The H2EV – engineered by Lotus and its chassis built by Delta Motorsport – is to go out to the CABLED (Coventry and Birmingham Low Emission Demonstrator) trial; it’s said to have a range of 100 miles.

  • Doking Automotiv of Croatia, meanwhile, has produced a prototype of a neat little three-seat, gullwing-doored EV called XD. Full story at The Charging Point.
  • ACEA, the European car manufacturers’ association, has finally agreed a common standard for EV plugs and sockets. It’s unlikely to come into force till 2017, but will at least aid EV and charging infrastructure development. More at Green Car Congress.
  • New BMW M5: engine output up 10%, torque up by 30%, fuel consumpytion cut by over 30% to 28.5mpg thanks to the addition of stop-start, brake energy recuperation and other EfficientDynamics tech.
  • Nissan is to rebadge the Mitsubishi Minicab i-MiEV, an electric  mini-MPV. For sale in Japan only, however.
  • Former GM vice-chairman Bob “global warming is a crock of shit” Lutz is to become a ‘senior adviser’ at an EV-maker, reports Jalopnik. Unlikely, or an opportunist move? Via Motors appears to convert GM’s big trucks, SUVs and minivans, by the way, so having a GM insider onside will be useful for them.
  • Are we coming to “the end of motoring”? asks the Guardian. Some good points, some interesting debate…

Friday newsbriefs: Become an Electronaut

September 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

BMW’s looking for 700 “Electronauts” in the USA to trial the ActiveE for two years, and to feed back data on its performance. The cars will be released on a lease deal to participants with adequate charging facilities. Video at the BMW USA website.

  • Three out of four electric cars sold in the UK in the last year have gone to fleets, not private individuals, according to stats from the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership. That’s 600 or so out of 800. No surprise there, given the all-in lease deals and support packages, access to recharging infrastructure and in many cases, centralised charging facilities, that fleet drivers can benefit from – it’s harder, not to mention more expensive, if you’re going it alone. Fleets also benefit from various tax incentives (see below, Prius Plug-In story).
  • THINK is still distributing cars from its North American base in Elkhart, Indiana, and eleven Think City EVs have just gone out to municipal authorities in the north of the state. Its North American operations, which were separately-owned subsidiaries, remained a going concern throughout its bankruptcy in Europe; the firm is now under new ownership.
  • Battery-maker Axeon has come up with a technology to deliver a 35% improvement in electric vehicle range without increasing in weight; its advanced battery uses nickel cobalt manganese (NCM) in place of lithium phosphate in its cells, which are packaged in modules. The layout and dimensions of the battery pack also allow for higher ground clearance and better weight distribution, and it can be rapidly prototyped for use in different vehicles. The project has been funded by the Technology Strategy Board.
  • The TSB’s also funding a project by motor control specialist Sevcon Ltd, with Cummins Generator Technologies and a research group from Newcastle University, to develop an electric traction drive system for hybrids and EVs which uses steel instead of rare earth metals in the motor. More at Green Car Congress.
  • Nissan has tweaked the 1.6 petrol and 1.5 dCi diesel powertrains in the Juke for improved economy and emissions. Gear ratios have been revised in manual versions; the petrol now returns 47.1mpg and 139g/km and the diesel 57.6mpg/129g/km, both coming down a tax band.
  • Toyota’s Prius Plug-In Hybrid will cost less than £31,000 when it goes on sale early next year, not counting the £5000 government grant or any other incentives which might be in place at that point. It’s going to give an all-electric range of over 14 miles, with combined fuel economy calculated at 134.5mpg and CO2 emissions at 49g/km. BIK tax for company car users is expected to be about £52 a month, with a 100% capital write-down allowance.
  • A Nissan Leaf completed the 1000km Cannonball Ireland run, proving that an EV can cross the length of the country using the existing recharging infrastructure. Story, video at Autoblog Green.
  • Pollution from vehicle exhaust fumes can increase the likelihood of a heart attack up to six hours after exposure, according to a study reported in the British Medical Journal. Full lowdown at The Guardian.
  • Yesterday was World CarFree Day. Did anyone notice? Well, I didn’t drive anywhere, not that I needed to…
  • The Green Car Design 12:grn:hrs challenge – to design a green car in a day – is underway. Follow their progress @greencardesign.

Design Concept of the Day: TEEWAVE AR.1

September 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Yes, the Gordon Murray concept again: now unveiled, and named as TEEWAVE AR.1. It’s a showcase for the advanced automotive materials manufactured by Toray Industries, which include a quick-to-make carbonfibre component system. The AR.1 has a carbonfibre monococque structure which can be applied for all types of vehicles, and processed in less than ten minutes.

Gordon Murray Design styled and tooled the car (in-house codename T.32) and built this fully-functioning prototype. It’s a one-off, and the whole programme took nine months from the initial discussions till this car hit the road. Its all-electric powertrain is one that’s commercially available, but its electrical architecture and control systems were uniquely developed, and it has even been through simulated Euro NCAP crash tests.

Gordon Murray Design says that this 850kg two-seater is “firmly in Lotus Elise territory and some 400kg lighter than a Tesla. The ultimate performance is limited by an output figure of 47kw but a torque of 180 Nm available from a standing start results in lively acceleration”. Well, 0-62mph in just over 11 seconds is fairly lively… However, its low weight, low centre of gravity and suspension geometry have “resulted in an excellent ride and handling balance.” It even has a 200-litre boot. Range is 186km, and top speed 147kph.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Toray Industries’  team on this challenging project”, says Professor Murray. “The resultant vehicle weight of just 850Kg achieved using Toray’s carbon fibre once again proves that performance through light weight is the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to achieve power to weight targets.”

And no, you can’t buy one. Full specs, a picture gallery and more information from Gordon Murray Design.

In other news this afternoon since last post:

  • The UK’s first public-access hydrogen refuelling station has opened today, just off the M4 at the Honda factory, Swindon. It’s a strategic link between London and Wales or the West Country for fuel cell vehicles, such as Honda’s FCX Clarity prototype, and anyone else with a fuel cell car can fill up there too. Looks like a conventional petrol station, and can fill at both 350 and 700 bar of pressure from a bank of pre-filled cylinders; a full refuel for the Clarity takes about five minutes.
  • Nissan’s done deals with Siemens, Circutor, DBT, Efacec and Endesa to accelerate the introduction of affordable, small and convenient quick-chargers across Europe. The price of these – which will give an 80% charge in less than 30 minutes – will be halved to less than 10,000 euros by early 2012, and thus make them accessible to businesses such as service stations, car park operators and retail outlets. “We are confident that the Nissan LEAF’s range will be enough to satisfy most drivers’ daily needs”, says Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga. “However, with a significant number of quick-chargers available across Europe, EV owners who need to drive longer distances will be able to do so with confidence, knowing they will be able to recharge no matter where they go, which we believe is essential for the mass adoption of EVs.”
  • But Gavin’s playing devil’s advocate at the Charging Point over fast-charging of EVs. Be realistic about their capabilities and range, he says.
  • Infiniti has just claimed the M35h as the world’s fastest-accelerating full hybrid. Driven by Car mag’s Tim Pollard at the Santa Pod Raceway, it covered a standing quarter-mile in 13.9031 seconds. Video at the Car website.
  • Uh-oh, grist for the mill for the American anti-EV brigade: ECOtality, given $115million of federal money to install 14,000 EV charging points nationwide, has come up with just 3000 so far, according to PluginCars. A combination of tech hitches and the Japanese earthquake/tsunami knock-on effect, apparently.

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