Design Concept of the Day: EXO

April 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

EXO is a minimalist city EV with a sturdy exoskeleton structure akin to that of a geodesic dome. The creation of Mark Beccaloni and Mauro Fragiotta, it’s said to have been designed ‘from the outside in’ with its safety-oriented framework determining its form. It’s a similar size to a Toyota iQ, but it’s claimed to be potentially far more efficient, lighter-weight and potentially much cheaper – and it was also inspired by the Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion (as pictured on my Twitter feed). Full gallery at Yanko Design.

In other news today:

  • The stillborn Aptera 2e has resurfaced in China: the rights to its manufacture, or at least, its plastic moulds, have been bought by a Chinese firm. More at Autoblog Green.
  • And the Rimac Concept One – a 1088hp super-EV – has turned up in Monaco at the Top Marques show; a limited production run of 88 has been announced. Price? $980,000. Photos, video at Autoblog Green.
  • Honda has been trialling a driver-monitoring programme which crunches data on acceleration and braking to advise the driver to proceed in a more fuel-efficient fashion – and has recorded an average fuel economy improvement of 8% and an increase of nearly 25% in average speed in stop-start traffic. This data can also be fed into the ‘cloud’ along with traffic information to find an optimal flow-speed, and the car’s adaptive cruise control can be set for the smoothest, most efficient progress. The research study is in partnership with the Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Tokyo, and the system is intended for production. Further trials will begin in Italy and Indonesia next month.
  • Audi’s updating the Q5, with revised models to go on sale in October. The new range will include the Q5 Hybrid, which features a 2.0-litre, 208bhp four-cylinder petrol engine and 53bhp electric motor.

Back to the source: reducing the carbon cost of EV production

April 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

When assessing how ‘green’ electrified vehicles really are, much emphasis is usually placed on the source of the electricity which powers them, and whether the use of non-renewable juice can negate the benefits of zero emissions from a – metaphorical – tailpipe. But this  doesn’t tell us the whole story either; to fully assess the carbon footprint of electrified vehicles, it’s necessary to go back to the source and look at their production as well.

A study by Ricardo last year for the UK’s Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) set out to develop an understanding of a vehicle’s whole-lifecycle impact, and found that for a typical battery EV, 46% of its total carbon footprint was generated in its production before it even hit the road. This compares to 35% for a plug-in hybrid, 31% for a hybrid and 23% for an average petrol-engined car, based on data projections for 2015-specification vehicles and predicted fuel and electricity supplies.

The study concluded that over a typical 10-year or 150,000km lifespan electrified vehicles would give an overall carbon saving – due to their lower in-use emissions – and that a typical medium-sized ICE family car would create around 24 tonnes of CO2, compared to an equivalent EV’s 18 tonnes (the lifecycle impact of a diesel was found to be roughly similar to that of a petrol-engined car). However, it was clear that “the introduction of battery packs, electric motors and power electronics into a passenger car increases the embedded CO2 emissions associated with the vehicle’s production.” Embedded carbon (CO2e) for the ICE was around 5.6tCO2e, but 8.8tCO2e for the EV, 43% of which arose from the battery.

A follow-up piece of research, presented in February 2012, assessed a popular mid-market SUV in standard, electric and range-extended EV forms, and took into account revised projections on factors including embedded emissions for battery pack production, carbon intensity of electricity and lifetime mileage. Again, a lower proportion of the ICE vehicle’s lifetime embedded carbon was in its production – 21%, compared to 35% for the EV and 29% for the RE-EV – but the EV still came out ahead overall, and crucially, the ‘payback time’ – the point at which its in-use carbon savings compensated for its higher-carbon production – was around 65,000 km, well within the predicted vehicle lifetime.

Yet there are improvements which can be made in production too, from zooming in on each stage of the supply chain and individual processes, to installing solar panels (such as SEAT’s extensive array at Martorell) or wind turbines like those at Nissan’s LEAF plant. Such measures are becoming more common as manufacturers update, extend or otherwise upgrade their facilities, and this can of course ultimately be of benefit to production of all vehicles, not just EVs and hybrids. Likewise, targeted improvements to reduce embedded carbon in specific components, and detail-changes to improve fuel efficiency, can apply to ICE and hybrid vehicles as well as EVs. This could entail using (and finding new) low-carbon alternatives to steel or aluminium, such as composites, as well as greater use of recycled materials – which could also be of benefit in reducing vehicle weight.

Economies of scale are not necessarily an issue for mainstream manufacturers such as Renault, who can produce their EVs and hybrids alongside ICE vehicles, but low-volume car-makers and small start-ups building niche vehicles do have the benefit of flexibility. They can also take a more radical approach in developing their production processes. Most notably, Gordon Murray Design’s patented iStream design and production process  is “a complete re-think on high volume materials and the manufacturing process, and will lead to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions over the lifecycle of the vehicles produced using it”, claims the company. Reducing vehicle weight is key, but also a design around a basic platform which is easy and cheap to manufacture, easily-modified, and highly-scalable; in the assembly process, pre-painted composite panels are bolted onto a near-complete chassis, with no need for a paint shop.

Reducing the number of necessary components enables quicker, less energy-intensive construction and installation. Suppliers are also developing compact, lightweight powertrain solutions in easily-integrated modules. Solutions reducing battery dependency can also play a role: KERS, other flywheel energy storage technologies and supercapacitors can enable the use of smaller batteries with a lower embedded carbon content.

Yet when developing a vehicle for production, the end of its useful working life must also be considered: the potential for recycling and reuse of its constituent parts and materials, especially the materials which go into batteries. Honda claims to be the first OEM to extract rare earth elements in a mass-production process at a recycling plant, with an 80% recovery rate from its end-of-life nickel-hydride hybrid batteries. Renault, meanwhile, is particularly concerned about battery reuse, not least because its EV-leasing programme (in which the batteries are leased on a separate contract to the cars or vans themselves) puts it in a potentially costly position; along with partner firm Nissan, it is looking at a number of ‘second life’ solutions such as home energy storage.

Ultimately, lowering the impact of vehicle production will be driven as much by financial concerns as environmental – saving energy and carbon, by achieving efficiencies, means saving money.

*Full version of this article to be published in Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International magazine.

Design Concept of the Day: One World EV

April 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Something not at Beijing, and we’ll forgive it the slightly Bob Marley-esque name. This is the latest image from the folks at Pembroke-based consultancy EV Innovations of their ‘flat-pack’ EV, a modular design which can be shipped anywhere in the world, hand-assembled with local labour and simple tools, and customised for local needs. It can form the basis of anything from a two-seater city car, four-door family hatch, six-seat taxi or a light van, and can be certified for sale in Europe, the US, South America, Africa and Asia. EV Innovations has also developed the electric Bluebird City light van, and its further plans include Project Wildfire, said to be a range of fun ‘lifestyle’ EVs; the first of these will be an SUV, due for release at the end of the year. Follow @EV_Innovations for the news.

In other news today:

  • Some 12,000 auto engineers have descended upon Detroit for the annual SAE Congress, and EVs are a major point of discussion. General Electric is committed to their future, said its chairman in the keynote speech. More at Detroit News.
  • At SAE, engineers get to present papers on their innovations and proposals. Pinnacle Engines reported developments on its high-compression spark-ignition, opposed-piston four-stroke engine, featuring ‘sleeve valve’ architecture, and said that it’s returning 30-60% fuel economy improvements at light load compared to a conventional poppet-valve engine, and 12-30% improvements at medium load. The engine comes in two versions, a simple-spec variant suitable for light vehicles such as scooters and tuk-tuks, and a more complex variable-compression and variable-valvetrain version for automotive use. A 110cc prototype has been tested as well as the 250cc version detailed in the paper, and Pinnacle has signed a joint-development and licensing agreement with an Asian manufacturer. Full details at Green Car Congress, which also has the lowdown on a presentation about alternative engine concepts including the Scuderi split-cycle and Achates opposed-piston two-stroke, plus news on another split-cycle concept from Tour Engine.
  • Protean Electric, which makes in-wheel motors, is working with a number of European suppliers to accelerate high-volume production. Partners include FEV, Mahle Powertrain and Alcon. More at Green Car Congress.

Beijing Auto Show: Honda Concept S, show news #3

April 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Honda’s Concept S (for ‘stylish’, ‘smart’ and ‘surprise’, says the company) is a hybrid compact MPV to be built by Dongfeng Honda Automobile Co next year; it’ll go on sale in China next year, with global sales to follow. It looks as if it’s Insight-related but with a more wagon-like tail end.

In more Beijing-related news:

  • Toyota has a handful of new concepts, a locally-engineered hybrid saloon called Yundong Shuangqing  and a compact saloon and hatch called Toyota Dear Qin; the latter pair are said to preview low-cost ‘global-strategic’ models for sale (2013), probably in developing markets, and the former foreshadows a whole new range of Chinese-built hybrids, due 2015. Car magazine has the most details, pics, and translations of those names.
  • Can’t get terribly excited about this from an environmental point of view, but anyway… Ferrari  is showing off the latest developments in its HY-KERS (hybrid-kinetic energy recovery) project. The powertrain on display in a glass case in Beijing is probably going to go into a mid-engined super-model to succeed the Enzo later this year; it comprises a 12-cylinder engine, two electric motors and dual-clutch transmission; one of the motors is solely to run the car’s auxilliary systems. Emissions down 40%, acceleration up 10%, apparently, and it goes without saying that it’ll be integrated for optimum weight-distribution and handling balance. More details from Car magazine.
  • The first car from the Nissan-Dongfeng EV venture, Venucia, is the e-concept. Looks a lot like a Leaf. It’ll go on sale in China in 2015.
  • What the Haval? The Great Wall Haval E concept (previewing a Nissan Juke-type crossover/hatch) will surely not make production with its scissor-opening doors intact, but its hybrid-drive tech may well feature in the future as well as conventional petrol powertrains. It combines a 1.3-litre engine, six-speed DCT gearbox and 70kW motor, says Car News China (which has the best pics), and can do 190kph and 0-100kph in eight seconds.
  • GM has updated the Chevrolet EN-V concept – the two-seater networked EV – to add climate control, storage space and weather protection. EN-V 2.0 will take part in trials in China, and “our designers and engineers are exploring a range of options for turning the EN-V concept into a reality,” said Kevin Wale, president and MD, GM China Group. “The EN-V 2.0 concept would use technologies such as the mobility Internet, electrification and telematics.” Full release here.

Beijing Auto Show: Audi A6 L e-tron, show news #2

April 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Audi has fitted its e-tron tech into a long-wheelbase A6 saloon. The A6 L e-tron concept on display at the Beijing Auto Show combines a 2.0 TFSI engine (211hp) and a 95hp (70kW) electric motor, and has an 80km all-electric range. Top speed in all-electric mode is 60kph, and the e-tron can run in engine-only and hybrid modes, the latter delivering typically strong Audi sports car performance. This concept is a plug-in hybrid, though Audi is using the ‘e-tron’ badge to refer to all of its electrified vehicles, including all-electric and range-extended EVs. A very small production run of the R8 e-tron starts later this year, and the proper-production A3 e-tron will go on sale in 2014. A1 e-tron prototypes are also currently undergoing testing.

In more Beijing Show-related news:

  • California’s Coda Automotive – which recently launched its electric Sedan in the US – has signed a letter of intent with China’s Great Wall Motors to develop a low-cost EV for China, North America and Europe. This is likely to be a compact model, probably based on a Great Wall product, and promises are that it will compete on price against entry-level petrol cars. No timeframe has been given as yet, but the plan appears to be that Coda will develop the powertrain and battery tech, and will carry out final assembly for the US market, though most manufacturing will be in China. Press release posted at Autoblog Green.
  • BYD unveiled its first concept for its new Denza brand/product-line, a collaboration with Daimler. No tech details on the NEV (“New Energy Vehicle”) as yet, though it’s all-electric, features rear-hinged rear doors (unlikely to make production) and is probably based on the Mercedes-Benz B-Class underpinnings. Full release and picture gallery at Autoblog Green, along with some more news on the Qin plug-in hybrid saloon.

Beijing Auto Show: Volkswagen E-Bugster, show news #1

April 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

First round-up of Beijing Auto Show news. Volkswagen is previewing the next-generation Beetle Cabriolet with the E-Bugster, a drop-top version of the coupe seen earlier this year in Detroit: this has a 115hp electric motor, a range of 110 miles, a 35-minute fast-charge function, regenerative braking and a 0-60mph time of 10.9 seconds. It’s 30mm wider than a standard Beetle and has its windscreen lowered by 9-mm for speedster effect; check out also the modified bumpers and LED daytime running lights.

  • BMW’s i8 Concept Spyder is showing off a new badge in Beijing: it reads eDrive, and this will be seen on all of BMW’s upcoming electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
  • Volkswagen aims to get the average CO2 emissions of its fleet down to 120g/km by 2015. It’s also aiming to clean up its production plants and operations, reducing energy and water consumption, waste and emissions, by 25% by 2018, and cutting production CO2 by 40%. It is investing 600million euros into renewable energy, including solar, wind and hydroelectric, at its facilities. Full read of the just-released 2011 Sustainability Report here.
  • More details on the proposed plug-in hybrid powertrain option for that phenomenally vulgar Bentley EXP 9F. It’ll feature a V6 engine, do 0-62mph in less than five seconds, emit 130 g/km and have an all-electric range of 30km. But yeah, the example on show in Beijing has a 6.0-litre, 600bhp twin-turbo W12.

Design Concept of the Day: eSetta

April 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

The problem with microcar design is that most tiny, utilitarian vehicles, however cleverly thought-out in their packaging, are just not cool. Well, if in doubt, go retro. Tony Weichselbraun’s eSetta is inspired by the BMW-Isetta bubble car of the 1950s (UK-market versions were built in Brighton, incidentally) but has state-of-the-art induction charging tech. The idea is that it can be frequently charged at shared hubs located around a city, rather than needing large, expensive and heavy batteries; this could work in a Velib’-style short-term rental scheme, for example. And entry to the cockpit is via a front canopy, of course. More pics at Yanko Design. And more from me on bubble cars and micro-motoring in this feature at The Charging Point, should you be interested…

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