Another EV for Pikes Peak, the Bioplane, Friday news round-up

March 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Team APEV (Association for the Promotion of Electric Vehicles) has unveiled its 2012 Pikes Peak contender, a prototype EV to be driven by hillclimb legend Nobuhiro ‘Monster’ Tajima. Video here at YouTube; the team is planning to raise money for survivors of last year’s Japanese earthquake and tsunami as well as for environmental education projects. The epic 12-mile, 4,700-ft climb event takes place in Colorado in July.

In other news today:

  • The Biotruck Expedition team, whose adventures include taking a waste oil-fuelled school bus around the world, are taking to the skies: main man Andy Pag intends to fly a rubbish-fuelled microlight the length of the UK, stopping en route to visit schools, businesses and sustainable energy projects. The microlight will run on a fuel synthesized from old plastic bags and waste packaging. And there’s a passenger seat, too: sponsors and backers, which the team are appealing for, can come along (in turn) for the ride. More about the Bioplane project at the Bio Blog.
  • Sneak peek photos of the Fisker Nina at Autoblog Green; it’s looking good. Proper reveal next week at the New York Auto Show.
  • Back in the real world (sort of), stories are emerging of ice-rides in the Renault Zoe, which is just finishing its winter-testing programme. Pictures and reports from Autocar, Auto Express, What Car? etc.
  • Inevitably, lots of opportunistic smugness from EV owners, charging point and infrastructure suppliers, EV consultancies and PRs for all of the above over the so-called ‘petrol crisis’. I will not join in. As someone who has nowhere to recharge an EV, and no wish to spend out £25,000-plus on a car right now, I’ve topped up my tank with unleaded like the rest of the lemmings, even though this week, I will mostly be travelling by train and pushbike. £67 for three-quarters of a tankful, since you asked. Cheers.

Renault Twizy: Road Test

March 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Let’s get this out of the way first: the all-electric Renault Twizy is not the answer to all your automotive needs. It’s not intended to be the only – and perhaps not even the second – car in your household. It has its limitations, and will suit only a narrow niche of buyers, and the best way to think of it is not as a car at all, but as an alternative to a scooter or moped, maybe, or a road-going quad bike.

Costing from £6,690 in the UK with battery hire from an additional £45 a month, the Twizy is a four-wheeled two-seater with open sides; gullwing-style slide-up doors are optional (£545). It seats two, the passenger slotting in behind the driver, under a solid roof and within a crash-tested safety cell. It is classed as a ‘heavy’ quadricycle (class L7e) and is allowed on motorways (should you really wish); it can only be driven by full licence-holders.  A lower-powered, lighter-weight version capable of only 28mph, and which can be driven by 16 year-olds, may follow in the UK at a later date, however.

The 13kW/17hp model offered first in the UK is capable of 80kph (just under 50mph) and has a maximum range between recharges of 100km (just over 62 miles). So what’s it good for? It has potential as an urban commuting machine, a runaround vehicle on estates or campuses, or for tourist use at resorts and for localised exploring and errands.

But if all this sounds a bit too familiar and NEV (Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle), then it does have one very big unique selling point: it’s got a lot more go than the average golf cart. In fact, it’s an absolute hoot to drive, a point very much in its favour and a good reason why you might well, should you have £7000 or so to spare, find a use for it in your life.

The Twizy’s powertrain is  relatively simple: a single-speed automatic gearbox with just three push-button settings – Drive, Neutral, Reverse – and the 17hp motor, plus regenerative braking to recover some of the energy otherwise lost under deceleration, and a 100kg lithium-ion battery. There’s a car-like conventional steering wheel and two-pedal set-up; no need for power-assisted steering or brake servos – it’s a pure, direct and intuitive interface and though you’ll need to be quite firm with your braking foot, stopping power is perfectly adequate given the speeds you’re likely to be reaching. All four wheels have disc brakes.

The rack-and-pinion steering connects with the MacPherson strut-type suspension, and is well-weighted without being heavy; the tiny 3.4m turning circle is tighter than that of any other four-wheeler, and it feels impressively stable and solid. Though caution is advised on high-speed cornering – no ABS or stability control to come to your rescue – the Twizy is every bit as adept as you’d hope from a vehicle touched by the hands of the Renaultsport team.

Acceleration is quoted as 6.1 seconds 0-28mph and 8.1 seconds 18-37mph, which basically means that you’ve got enough get-up-and-go to pull away fairly briskly, to merge into traffic flow and keep pace in an urban, suburban or country-lane environment. In fact, there’s enough urge for the Twizy to be great fun – the little motor whirrs away, the wind blows your hair, and it’s hard not to raise a smile as the full 57Nm of torque kicks in.

Highway driving will be more of a white-knuckle matter, but you could cope if you’re sensible and realistic about the Twizy’s capabilities, and happy to crawl along in the slow lane. Its range is going to limit your long-distance cross-country travel anyway, of course.

Though the maximum range quoted is 100km (62 miles), Renault is quite upfront about the fact that 70-80km is more realistic in everyday driving even if you’re careful. The range will fall lower yet if you’re heading everywhere flat-out, obviously, but the full 100km is achievable if you learn some eco-driving habits. “It takes some practice”, apparently. The econometer in the dash will tell you how well (or poorly) you’re doing on this score. A full charge takes just 3.5 hours, via a pull-out 3m cord and plug housed in the Twizy’s nose; it can be plugged in to a domestic 220volt power supply.

As a quadricycle, the Twizy doesn’t have to meet the same crash protection standards as a full-scale car, but it should be one of the more solid of its type; it’s been through an extensive crash-testing programme in Renault’s car facilities. The driver has a four-point harness (a conventional three-point seatbelt plus a strap over the other shoulder) and the passenger a three-point belt, and there’s a driver’s airbag to protect in the event of a frontal collision.

The upfront purchase prices do initially appear on the high side for a vehicle of this type – the range-topping Twizy Technic is £7,400 – and as a quadricycle, the Twizy does not qualify for government grants. Battery lease (mandatory, as Renault is not going to sell the batteries outright) starts from £45 a month and can cost up to £67 a month, depending on the lease term and the annual mileage, which also looks like a hefty extra outlay.

However, think about it from a different perspective: buyers don’t have to take any responsibility for the batteries, as all their maintenance is included, and there’s a four-year warranty with free servicing (required annually). So the price is effectively offset in this all-in package – and mitigated further by the typical £1 for a full recharge, free road tax and exemption from the London congestion charge.

As urban congestion and energy prices continue to rise, we’re going to have to look at alternative ways of getting about. The Twizy is the first of a new breed of vehicle which crosses the boundaries between car and scooter and combines some of the best parts of both: it marks a significant step forwards from quadricycles and golf carts previously seen. It’s not going to do the job for everyone, but in the right context, could work very well indeed.

*More detail, more pictures, more facts & figures to come in a full road test feature @ The Charging Point. Thanks to Renault UK for yesterday’s trip.

Design Concept of the Day: SCI hyMod

March 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

How to extend the range of an EV – as and when you need to. The SCI hyMod concept has swappable rear-end modules, one with a large 17kWhr supplementary battery for all-electric driving and the other with a small 82hp petrol engine which can be plugged in to act as a range-extender for longer trips, giving a total potential range of 370 miles. The standard set-up comprises a 65hp motor and 5kWhr battery driving the front wheels, and the rear-end set-up can be selected as necessary. The various power sources work via a CVT gearbox which drives the rear wheels, and a four-wheel drive mode is possible, as is a 0-60 time of around 10 seconds in ‘hybrid’ mode. It’s a supermini-sized vehicle which can seat up to six, and SCI, a team based in Bucharest, says that it could be sold for 25,500 euros. More at

In other news today:

  • A team at Northumbria University has created a ‘grid capacity calculator’ which allows policy-makers to predict usage and demands on the national electricity grid from EVs. The project was in partnership with the Charge Your Car programme which is installing charging points across the North-East. More at alphagalileo.
  • The US Department of Energy is putting $2million into a study of hydrogen refuelling instructure; this will track the performance of different refuelling systems and look into cutting costs and improving their operation. Press release posted at Autoblog Green.
  • Azure Dynamics, which converts the Ford Transit Connect to e-power, has filed for bankruptcy protection. Production has been halted.
  • BMW and Toyota have signed a memorandum of understanding over co-development of next-generation lithium-ion battery cells. The project will focus on new combinations of materials for cathodes, anodes and electrolytes. BMW is also, from 2014, to supply 1.6- and 2.0-litre diesel engines to Toyota.

Design Concept of the Day: Bizzarrini Veleno

March 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today’s Design Concept – found via Car Body Design – is a tribute to Giotto Bizzarrini by Coventry University graduate Borys Dabrowski. It’s (hypothetically) fuelled by biohydrogen derived from algae or organic waste, with a nanotube fuel cell converting the hydrogen to electricity, and its structure is made from a material called CentrAL. This is a composite with layers of aluminium and glass fibre, says CBD, with graphene. Note the wheels, too – these are made up of individual rollers which allow this low-riding super-coupe to slink laterally. Submitted as Dabrowski’s Automotive and Transport Design degree final project, Veleno (“Venom”) can be seen in a full gallery at Car Body Design.

In other news today:

  • Nissan is to work with Gateshead College to develop a Zero Emission Centre of Excellence; a MOU has been signed. The ZECE will initially work on developing EV charging infrastructure and programmes for battery ‘second life’ – recycling and reuse as energy storage devices at the end of their in-car life  – and a production facility will also be built at the site to make Nissan’s new quick-chargers.
  • Daimler is teaming up with BYD Auto to form a joint venture called Denza; its first car, based on the first-generation Mercedes-Benz B-Class platform with BYD’s electric drivetrain, will be unveiled at the Beijing Auto Show next month. Denza is intended as a Chinese-market product-line.
  • The Electric Vehicles Land Sea & Air USA 2012 conference is taking place in San Jose this week. There’s everything from electric planes to Autonomous Underwater Vehicles and nasty military drone-things – sounds fascinating. Follow the news here.
  • Good Karma: Fisker Automotive is to replace the batteries in the Karma after the breakdown of a car in tests by Consumer Reports. The recall will cover all Karmas sold so far (about 630), and Fisker will also extend the 50,000-mile/50-month warranty by another 10 months and 10,000 miles; an upgrade to the VIP Customer Care package is also promised. The fault was down to “a miscalibrated welding machine” at battery-supplier A123 System.

BMW i8, electric ice-speed record, microcar updates and more

March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Car magazine has spy shots of the BMW i8,and a few details: it’ll come as a plug-in hybrid only (the V8-only option has been dropped), with a 170bhp motor driving the front wheels and a turbocharged three-cylinder 1.5-litre engine (223bhp/295lb ft) driving the rear. This carbonfibre/aluminium 2+2 with pop-up doors and wing-like rear spoilers weighs 1450kg, andwill return over 140mpg; its all-electric mode is around 20 miles, but with both motor and engine in action, it can do 156mph and 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds. There’s a four-speed gearbox, torque-vectoring, active steering and all the latest BMW driver assistance systems, and the price tag will be around the 100,000-euro mark when it goes on sale in 2014.

  • The E-RA – Electric RaceAbout – created at the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences has set an ice-speed record. Finnish Porsche GT3 champ Janne Laitinen took it to an average 156.64mph on a stretch of Lake Ukonjarvi, aided by specially-studden Nokian tyres. The 280kW E-RA has a carbonfibre body and can accelerate 0-62mph in six seconds; its range is 124 miles. Pics, video at the Charging Point.
  • Update on the Swatch-designed Belenos ELV2, a fuel cell car developed by Nick Hayek (son of the man behind the original Smart Fortwo). Hayek told NZZ am Sonntag that “We already have a test car with a fuel cell. Liquid hydrogen and oxygen are used as fuel, producing very efficient combustion.” Belenos, an energy firm, is a Swatch subsidiary. The car is up and running around Biel, Switzerland, and launch is said to be four to five years off if Swatch decides it is financially viable, and if a suitable refuelling infrastructure will be available.
  • Denver Zoo has modified a tuk-tuk truck to run on animal poo and rubbish. The zoo’s new energy management system will also power the Elephant Passage exhibit,  process 1.5million tonnes of waste a year and offset 20% of the zoo’s energy consumption, reports the Denver Post (via Autoblog Green).
  • Vauxhall has teamed up with British Gas to offer Ampera buyers a fast-charger; this 16-amp circuit reduces total charging time by two hours to four hours, and costs £799. Price includes a free assessment/home electrical survey by British Gas, the charging point, a three year parts/labour warranty and three years’ Home Electrical Care cover. And an Ampera won the New Energy Monte Carlo Rally at the weekend; more at the Automobile Club of Monaco.

Venturi ventures thru’ Africa; EV week-end round-up

March 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Venturi is to venture 4,800km in its electric Citroen Berlingo conversion (as supplied to the French Post Office, but with extra batteries) across Africa. The ‘Mission Africa’ trip will take in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and South Africa, Kilimanjaro to Okavango. You can follow its progress (in English) at ; the purpose of the trip is to prove reliability, raise awareness and study the infrastructure in a continent where 65% of people are said to have no access to mains electricity. The trip is backed by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, and the car was presented at the EVER show in Monte Carlo this week.

In other news today:

  • Some spy shots of a big-wheeled Chevrolet Volt at Autoblog Green: word is that this is actually the Cadillac Converj (the Volt’s luxury sister model) in disguise. GM has also started testing the Chevy Spark EV.
  • Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute are to show next-generation lithium-ion batteries for EVs which have improved charging/discharging properties, optimised cooling, more flexible layouts and better pressure resistance. These will be on display at the Hanover Messe next month; more at Alpha Galileo.
  • The IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) has published a Code of Practice for electric vehicle charging equipment installation. Good stuff. Paperback or e-book available from the IET.
  • Robert Llewellyn has launched a new series of his EV web TV show Fully Charged, now sponsored by British Gas. More about it at the Charging Point, show itself at

Design Concept of the Day: Superbus

March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

What the hell is this? It’s called the Superbus and yes, it’s a bus. Sort of. Seats 23, 15 foot long, eight doors per side, a cruising speed of 155mph and it looks like a supercar: passengers have seatbelts, airbags, air conditioning internet connectivity and TV.  It’s the brainchild of former space shuttle astronaut Wubbo Ockels (the “first Dutchman in space”), now a professor at Technical University Delft, and Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, and the Superbus team includes a former BMW-Williams aerodynamicist. It’s flexible in its routing, it’s electrically-driven, and they reckon it could be in use by 2015; prototypes are up and running. More details, including videos of it testing and interactive diagrams to explain its engineering, at the Superbus Project website. Love it, much more fun than a bendy bus or even the good ol’ Routemaster.

Other news and general thoughts today:

  • Well, the Budget: 3p a litre on fuel from 1st August, VED up, and a tightening-up of the criteria for the 10% company car tax banding – all as expected. To qualify for 5% BIK, cars must emit 75g/km or less, and for the 10% banding, under 100g/km for the 2012/13 financial year with further lowering of the benchmark. No surprises there, bar the removal of the 3% diesel surcharge. Some worries, though, that the 0% tax banding for EVs will end in 2015, when they will become liable for BIK at 13%; could this kill off EV usage in the UK, as some commenters are suggesting? Still, EVs haven’t made sense for company fleets on a purely financial basis anyway; there are more issues (such as advertising eco-friendly credentials, positive PR) involved beyond the fiscal. And expect some shifts in pricing between now and 2015, too: I suspect that the recent price-slashing of the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iOn is just the beginning. The manufacturers haven’t spent out on R&D for all these EVs just to let the market for them die before it’s so much as drawn breath.
  • Ford has some conveniently-timed good news for us, though. The latest Fiesta ECOnetic 1.6 TDCi returns 85.6mpg and emits 87g/km, meaning free road tax and exemption from the London congestion charge. Yes, expect to see more small diesels on the road now.
  • Fisker will reveal the Nina exec-saloon at the New York Motor Show next month. A very sketchy sketch has been released.
  • Opel is entering six Amperas in the 13th New Energy Monte Carlo Rally, which kicks off today. The three-day run finishes in Monaco, to coincide with the EVER (Ecologic Vehicles & Renewable Energies) conference, and is open to cars emitting less than 115g/km; they’ll be judged on their energy usage at a steady speed and there are separate classes for production vehicles, hybrids and ‘other’ alternative-fuelled cars. Participants in a 146-car field include a pair of bioethanol-fuelled Volkswagen Up!s, and vehicles from manufacturers including Tesla, Fisker, Protoscar, Exagon and PGO as well as mainstream car-makers. There’ll be a separate Urban Challenge for short-range EVs. More info about the event from the Automobile Club of Monaco.

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