Pininfarina Cambiano; hybrid Routemaster bus on the road, more Monday news

February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Pininfarina Cambiano concept – to be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show – has four 79bhp electric in-wheel motors and a diesel turbine, reports Autocar. It’s claimed to have an all-electric range of 125 miles before the turbine kicks in as a generator, and can do 170mph and 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds. Pictures leaked so far show a 1+2 door layout with a single large driver’s side door and a rear-hinged rear door on the passenger side; there’s a glass roof and LED headlights. Pictures have also emerged of the Infiniti e-Merge (sorry).

  • The first new diesel-electric hybrid Routemaster buses has started operation in London; nice interactive guide at the Guardian. Less than half the carbon dioxide emissions and half the nitrous oxide of their diesel-only equivalents, 40% more efficient; full press release here. Eight of these purpose-designed double-deckers will be in service by the end of May.
  • Tokyo police have been testing the use of their Mitsubishi i-MiEVs as power sources: the EVs were able to keep 20 traffic lights going for 2 hours, which could be useful in the event of outages, reports Cars21.com.
  • Volvo, Goteborg Energi, Ericsson and the Viktoria Institute have teamed up to develop mobile connectivity for EVs: the ELVIIS (electric vehicle intelligent infra-structure) system uses GPS data for car-to-grid communications, billing for electricity usage, pre-set timings for charging and smartphone alerts on a car’s state of charge. Volvo is testing the app in five of its C30 Electric prototypes; the company plans to have 250 electric C30s up and running this summer in a three- to four-year trial.
  • California’s Envia Systems has developed a lithium-ion cell which could halve the cost of a battery and give an electric car a range of 300 miles, reports The Charging Point. The cell’s energy density is improved three-fold – and it could be in production within eighteen months.
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Concept of the Day: Rinspeed Dock+Go

February 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Swiss automotive think-tank Rinspeed always has a great concept at the Geneva Motor Show, and this year’s is particularly clever and timely. The Dock+Go is based on the Smart Fortwo ed, and showcases bolt-on modules for load-carrying, commercial cargo space – or an ‘energy pack’, containing a range-extender engine, additional batteries or a fuel cell. The ‘docked’ third axle drives the rotating second axle, and recharges the standard on-board batteries as it does so. This grid-networked ‘Variohybrid’ pack can also act as an auxillary external power source for camping/outdoors situations, or even for the owner’s home. More details from Rinspeed.

Clandestine hybrid, electric van grants, Geneva EV previews and solar bus stops

February 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Despite being a Guardian-reading peacenik, I do have an interest in military vehicles. Am liking the US Army’s new Clandestine Extended-Range Vehicle (CERV) which has an all-electric mode and an eight mile range in which it can all-electrically creep around being, well, quiet and clandestine. It’s a light armoured buggy with a Quantum-developed diesel-electric hybrid powertrain: a 1.4-litre engine, 75kW generator and over 5000lb ft-worth of torque. Fuel savings are around the 25% mark and it can still do 80mph and climb 60-degree slopes.

  • The first seven vans to be eligible for the government’s Plug-In Van grants – up to 20% of their purchase price, or £8000 – have been announced. Some unfamiliar names here: we know the Azure Dynamics Transit Connect Electric, the Mercedes-Benz Vito E-Cell, the Mia-electric Mia U, Renault Kangoo ZE and Smith Edison SE2 and SE 3, but the Faam Ecomile and Jolly 2000 – Italian micro-vans – were  new to me.
  • A Czech company called EVC is converting the Skoda Roomster to battery power; two conversions offered, R3 (41hp, 110km/ph top speed, range of 140km) and R7 (88hp, 170km/ph, 175km). Both cars to be launched at Geneva Motor Show, more details thanks to Technologic Vehicles.
  • Another Geneva EV preview: quadricycle-maker Volteis is to unveil a Philippe Starck-designed minimalist concept car, reports Technologic Vehicles (again). “I wanted to offer an alternative. A different answer so we can return to the minimalist definition of a vehicle. A simple vehicle. Almost a breeze. With four wheels. A steering wheel. And electricity. A vehicle there to transport. To carry people and luggages,” says Starck  (as quoted by TechVehicles. I like the translation of  “luggages”, which gives a perfect sense of plural items). No picture yet.
  • Nice solar induction-charging concept for buses, developed by Dutch firm Studio Mango for the city of Noord-Brabant, outlined at Smart Planet. Can’t see it working here, though – when did I last see a bus shelter which hadn’t been vandalised?

Friday round-up

February 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Blimey: Tesla says it has taken $40million-worth of advance orders for the Model X. Those ‘falcon’ doors are clearly a hit. Tesla has also flagged up its deal with Daimler to develop an electric powertrain for the Mercedes-Benz (a memorandum of understanding was signed last November), mentioning it at the announcement of its 2011 fourth-quarter financial results. How’s the company actually doing? Losses 59% greater than for the same period 2010, up to $81.5million, but that’s down to R&D spending, they say, and the sales of the Model S and Model X will make up for that, as well as forthcoming contract-engineering deals like the one with Daimler.Tesla stock price rose 1% in the wake of the announcement. Detailed rundown at Green Car Reports.

  • Exciting news from the EcoVelocity folk: the green car show will run in partnership with Grand Designs Live, giving show-goers the chance to check out sustainable home improvements and green house-building as well as cleaner cars, all on the same ticket. The events will both run at the ExCel centre, London Docklands, 10th-13th May. The company behind Grand Designs Live and the Ideal Home Show, Media 10, has purchased a majority stake in IGME Ltd, the organisers of EcoVelocity which suggests that the ‘low-carbon motor festival’ is very much a growing and ongoing concern.
  • Bristol Cars has appointed a board chairman, Sir George White, the son of the Bristol Car Company’s founder, and patron of the Bristol Owners Club and BOC Trust. He will work with the marque’s new owners, Frazer-Nash Research, as they work “on designs for a luxury, high-performance range-extender Bristol”. Work on reviving the company is underway, including a redesign for the famous Kensington showroom.
  • Honda, Google, Stanford University and city authorities in Torrance, California are running a Fit (Jazz) EV trial programme. More at Autoweek.

Driving Renault Fluence ZE, Kangoo ZE

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Drove both the Renault Fluence ZE saloon and Kangoo Van ZE yesterday; took a couple of circuits in both at EcoVelocity last year, but this time around got to spend a bit more time behind the wheel. The Kangoo is the more practical vehicle of the two, with usual load-carrying capacity intact; it’s offered in standard and long-wheelbase Maxi/Maxi Crew variations from just under £17,000 (incl. govt. grant) with battery hire (an all-in warranty/maintenance package) at an additional £62 a month (over four years, 9,000 miles a year). It’d suit small businesses operating around a fixed base with recharging facilities, though I suspect that the claimed 106-mile range may be optimistic in cold-weather conditions – in yesterday’s around-freezing temperatures the indicated miles remaining fell rapidly to suggest a range of less than 50 miles from a full charge. Top speed is 81mph, and it’s fast enough to keep up with urban traffic and trundle around rural lanes.

The Fluence, meanwhile, is a compact saloon, more elegant-looking and upmarket in feel than you’d expect from a booted Megane. Its bodystyle will, of course, limit its appeal for British buyers who invariably prefer tailgated hatchbacks, but it could find a niche amongst company car drivers or even as a small around-town minicab/chauffeur-drive vehicle – two each have already been delivered to private-hire firms Climatecars and Green Tomato Cars. That boot’s big enough to take a couple of largish bags, the rear bench seats three (just about, widthwise, though the legroom’s acceptable) and the cabin is kitted out with all the usual gadgets and conveniences.

It’s not the most exciting drive, with slightly stiff- and vague-feeling power steering and softish suspension putting paid to any remotely sporting credentials, but is a perfectly usable solution and as quick off the mark as any other 95hp car of this size; lift off and the speed falls away, due to the regenerative braking system, but you soon become accustomed to this and compensate accordingly. Top speed is a modest 84mph. The single-speed transmission is low-hassle and the ride’s probably pretty good in the back, too, which will be the main concern of most clients so far. Fluence prices start from just under £17,500 (after the £5000 government grant’s deducted) with battery hire from £76 a month (over three years, 6000 miles a year). The claimed range is 115 miles though again, this is going to suffer in cold weather and adverse conditions.

The most striking thing about both of these very differently-focused vehicles is how conventional they feel – beyond the range indicators and some unique dash displays, and the lack of engine noise, there’s really very little about them that is scarily odd or off-putting. As with any EV, if the range is enough for your daily commute/business usage, you can plug in overnight (Renault’s supplied ‘box’ isn’t a fast-charger) and the high purchase price isn’t a deterrent (offset by tax breaks, lower energy costs and exemption from the London congestion charge, don’t forget), then either could make good sense; these are ‘proper’ cars engineered and equipped to all the usual standards of the Renault range. Full spec details, pricing etc. at Renault’s dedicated ZE (Zero Emissions) website.

Renault  will expand the ZE electric range further with the UK launch of the Twizy two-seater in April/May, and the Zoe city car following in the autumn; the Zoe – arguably the most interesting model in the range and the one with the widest appeal – will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show next month.

Tuesday catch-up: Toyota FT-Bh

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is Toyota’s take on an affordable hybrid city car – its structure, at least. The FT-Bh itself will be revealed at the Geneva Motor Show next month; it’s described as “an ultra-lightweight full hybrid city car study, designed to achieve low emissions within an economically viable production framework” – cheap to make in a simple manufacturing process. Toyota will also be showing the production-ready Yaris Hybrid, the NS4 plug-in hybrid and FCV-R hydrogen concept, as well as the GT-86 sports coupe and the personally-configurable, “smartphone on wheels” djii concept (formerly known as the Fun-Vii).

  • Images – of a sort – have emerged of the Infiniti Emerg-e extended-range EV concept, to be revealed in Geneva next month. Full gallery at Edmunds Inside Line, amongst other places.
  • So: it’s got trick concept-car doors. Is my verdict on the Tesla Model X so far. I find it hard to get excited about such a rarefied vehicle, irrelevant to the majority of motorists, but do accept that what with all the column-inches and cyberspace it has generated, it’s a good flag-waver for the EV cause. Good-looking, too. More interesting: the Gen 3 mass-market car Tesla’s working on, now said to be scheduled for early 2015.
  • Mitsubishi has confirmed launch of an Outlander EV: next spring, in addition to the plug-in hybrid already announced (see previous post).

No, I haven’t seen the Tesla Model-X yet

February 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Another day, another electric Elise – but the Evonik Industries Elise-E, on show at an event in Bochum this week, is more interesting than most of the myriad Lotus conversions. It’s a showcase for Evonik, an Essen chemicals firm, and features a lithium-ion battery with an innovative ceramic cathode/anode separator. Benefits of this are that it’s highly stable and allows for very compact battery cells, giving improved energy density at a low weight. The car’s body has patented Evonik structural foam and carbonfibres – it weighs just 950kg – and its composite panels are sealed with a new resin infusion process which improves surface quality. Weight is further reduced by  Plexiglas windows and lightweight low-friction tyres – and this thing thus does 0-100km/h in 4.4 seconds. Top speed’s limited to 124mph, though. More detail at Green Car Congress.

In other news:

  • Mitsubishi is to launch the third-generation Outlander at the Geneva Motor Show next month, and the new range is to include a plug-in hybrid (on sale 2013), as previewed by the PX-MiEVII concept in Tokyo last year. CO2 emissions will be less than 50g/km and it’ll return a combined-cycle 140mpg-plus; the all-electric range will be 30 miles. The powertrain combines a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and two electric motors, one driving each axle to maintain AWD capability.
  • A blast from the past: a start-up in Colorado which has the rights to the historic Studebaker brand-name plans to revive the long-defunct car company (d. 1966). First model to recycle the Lark name and to be a hybrid; motorcycles and scooters also in the plan, though there’s the little stumbling block of capital in the meantime. (ViaAutoblog Green).
  • Tesla will reveal the Model X crossover, complete with ‘falcon’ (upward/pivot/fold) doors, tomorrow. Not that there’s been much hype about this on t’ net or anything…
  • This Fisker business is getting messy; company’s calling it a “bump in the road” and says that Karma production is unaffected. However, it’s going to have to renegotiate its US government loan terms or find independent funding to bring the Nina to production, it seems.
  • Europcar is offering the Nissan Leaf EV on its short-term rental fleets in London and Paris. Charging will be free, with no ‘refuelling’ service charge. Hertz, meanwhile, is now trialling wireless induction charging in New Jersey.
  • The UK’s first pay-as-you-go public EV charging scheme has started in the north-east for a short trial; it includes fast-chargers and involves existing charging points already available through the Plugged-In Places network. More at, umm, The Charging Point.
  • Powered by plums: the Fraunhofer Institute, Stuttgart, is starting a project to extract biogas (methane) for vehicle fuel from waste fruit and veg at the city’s fruit and veg wholesale market. One of the challenges, apparently, is that “sometimes it (the waste) has a high proportion of citrus fruits, while other times there are more cherries, plums and lettuce”.
  • There’s a pretty rubbish new Beetle on display at  Delhi Airport at the moment as part of Volkswagen’s Think Blue eco-campaign: this totally-recycled Bug has been built from scrap and trash by Indian sculptor  Haribaabu Naatesan and his handy team of assistants. Nice time-lapse video showing its construction here.

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