Beyond the Paris Auto Salon…

September 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is how AMG does an EV: four electric motors, 740hp, 1000NM of torque, 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, and a great big 864-cell  lithium-ion battery. Mercedes-Benz showed the SLS AMG Coupe Electric Drive in Paris, and has confirmed its launch next summer. German price 416,500 euros (incl. VAT), UK sales to be discussed. Similarly rarified (though not confirmed for production as yet) is the plug-in hybrid Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, a posh estate concept, which can do over 19 miles in all-electric mode. See also the Audi crosslane coupe concept, a small high-riding 2+2 with a new lightweight spaceframe structure (aluminium, glassfibre- and carbonfibre-reinforced polymers) plus three-cylinder 1.5 TFSI petrol engine and twin motors.

  • Daimler has bought a minority stake in Munich mobility provider tiramizoo, an online booking platform for courier/delivery services. Fits nicely with its Car2Go, moovel and carpooling.com activities.
  • And Smart owners can now register for free Car2Go membership (including those in the UK). Signing up to the smart add-on package also gets special offers on car rental (including a 20% discount with Europcar) and an RFID card/chip for automatic access/billing in APCOA car parks.
  • Apparently it’s Liftshare Week 1st-5th October – get carpooling. More at liftshare.com, a social enterprise-type operation which gives free public access to its membership scheme, funded by its CSR work.
  • Toshiba is joining Honda’s networked homes research project in Saitama; a third demo house will feature a home energy management system with both firms’ tech, incorporating EV charging, petrol engine co-generation and power self-sufficiency in the event of a disaster or mains outage. They’re going to look further into cloud-based networking as well as battery second-life. More here.
  • Walled garden alert: Tesla has developed solar-powered  ‘supercharger stations‘ for fast-charging EVs; they’ll give around 150 miles of range or three hours of driving on a half-hour charge. Six locations in California, with national and international roll-outs to follow; electricity will be free to Tesla Model S owners, but they’re the only ones who have compatible batteries anyway. Plus marks for the tech and scope of the plan; black marks for its non-Tesla availability.
  • Oh, and Dale Vince finally finished his Nemesis (Lotus Exige electric conversion); the car reached 148mph at Elvington Airfield, York, to set a new UK land speed record for electric cars.

Gearboxes get cleverer, latest connected/autonomous car news

September 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

BMW is developing a ‘predictive power management’ auto transmission which uses the car’s sat nav to anticipate and optimise gearshifting. This looks out for bends, hills, valleys and soforth to smooth out progress and thus save fuel; it can downshift before the driver lifts off the accelerator, ‘knows’  when to stay in a lower gear rather than hunting for another, and can signal to the driver to gently decelerate; it will have selectable modes such as sport, comfort or eco (AutoTech Daily).

  • Oh, and Audi too: its term is “predictive efficiency assistant” (PEA) and it goes into more detail on how it can be linked to a freewheel function, regenerative braking and stop-start in a hybrid. Tests around Ingolstadt have shown fuel savings of 10%. Detailed press release posted here. Audi is also about to complete its first phase of testing the A1 e-tron range-extended EV, and is now testing a twin-motor hybrid A1 e-tron called Dual Mode as well.
  • Connected cars mean privacy concerns: Detroit News column says that researchers on the big Ann Arbor pilot study admit these “have yet to be addressed.”
  • Connected-car innovation is coming from outside the auto industry, says Wired – namely third-party/developer apps and APIs. They’ve just got to get inside the ‘walled garden’ first… The Linux Foundation has formed a working group to develop an open-source platform for auto application, in readiness.
  • Autonomously-guided vehicles could account for 75% of road traffic by 2040, says the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers – and side-effects could include getting rid of road infrastructure such as signage and traffic lights, as well as driving licenses. More at Wired.
  • A French research project is developing ‘macroscopic’ computer models to track traffic flow and congestion, looking at flow and density in a fluid-mechanics way rather than plotting individual trajectories. More here.
  • Social control alert #2: Ford is bringing the MyKey system to the UK and first car to get it will be the Fiesta. Owners will get a master key (for a parent, for example) and a second key (for teenage offspring); the second key’s chip will have selectable parameters, such as top speed, volume control on the stereo, speed alerts and extra seatbelt-use warnings. Next step (I reckon) will be curfews and sat nav-imposed boundaries, and someone’s going to propose putting this stuff in the cars of convicted offenders.

Electric vans, platooning, European Mobility Week and more

September 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Electric cars: out of favour this week, following an MP’s report that government grants and investment in recharging infrastructure is largely “subsidising second cars for wealthy households”. Full report here, comments and ‘written evidence’ from various consultees here. There’s a certain truth in it if you’re just thinking about private motorists, but don’t forget business users and company fleets – 75% of EV buyers/users, apparently.

Which is where this comes in: the Aachen-built StreetScooter van, a low-cost lightweight electric urban delivery van specifically developed to be no more expensive to buy, and cheaper to run, than its engined equivalent. It features a simple single-speed transmission from Xtrac, lithium-ion battery and a 30-45kW/40-60bhp induction motor, giving a range of 75 miles and up to 53mph; long-wheelbase versions have up to 4 cubic metres of load-space.  Revealed at the Hannover van show this week; looks like a sensible solution for suitable applications, can be configured for a variety of tasks, and is being evaluated by “a major fleet operator” with low-volume production planned.

In other electric van news, Nissan is extending its trials of the e-NV200 with FedEx and has unveiled a near-production version in Hannover; Peugeot has confirmed that the Partner Electric will be available in the UK from spring 2013, and Citroen the Berlingo Electric; Mercedes-Benz is showing an all-electric Sprinter E-Cell concept good for 84 miles though only 50mph.

And a general news catch-up:

  • The Volvo/Ricardo SARTRE (Safe Road Trains For the Environment) project has concluded, with a full demo of the ‘platooning’ tech at Volvo’s test track. Four vehicles slotted in closely behind a manually-driven truck and were autonomously-guided, giving fuel economy gains of 10-20% and allowing the driver to multi-task (potentially, the opportunity to catch up with some reading, Facebook or whatever). Summary here; workshops have been held to discuss issues such as emergency situations, liability and, inevitably, charging/fees for users.
  • Volvo’s declared its intent on leading with such systems,  sees them as particularly relevant to younger tech-happy consumers who want to remain connected on the move, and has carried out some focus-grouping with its customers. It quotes some interesting figures: nearly half of car-buyers would be comfortable using a self-driving car (Accenture, 2011), and nearly 50% of drivers aged 18-37 would “definitely or probably” buy a vehicle capable of fully-autonomous driving (JD Power, 2012). Full release here.
  • Mindset – Swiss creator of an electric sportster called the e-Motion – has gone bankrupt. Release posted here. Second wave of the start-up failures? And Russia’s Yo Auto has pushed back production of its low-cost hybrids to 2015, reports AFP.
  • Zipcar has added the Honda Fit (aka Jazz) EV to its hourly-rental fleet in San Francisco. More here. Also, whilst on holiday, I spotted that an EV-share scheme for hourly rentals is to launch in Tallinn (Estonia is switching on to EVs rapidly and developing a national charging infrastructure; it’s also about to offer its citizens free public transport in the capital).
  • It’s European Mobility Week right now, and the International Association of Public Transport has issued a  new report on the future of urban mobility. Solutions proposed include better integration of public transport into urban planning; multimodal approaches (including carsharing: case study is the cambio scheme in Brussels); smarter ticketing/fare systems and increasing wi-fi availability on public transport.

Paris Motor Show preview: highlights so far

September 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Quick round-up of the upcoming highlights (for me, anyway) at the Paris Motor Show, which opens 29th September. How cute is this? The Smart Forstars is a longer-wheelbase, wider-bodied concept based on the  Brabus electric-drive (60kW motor). It’s got more luggage space than the current Fortwo and looks like a much more usable proposition. Could probably live without the smartphone/rear-view camera in place of a trusty mirror, but the media system with a Bluetooth/iPhone-driven video projector is a nice touch – park up in front of a blank wall and screen a film show, soundtracked via a powerful set of speakers. Apparently the battery’s heavy-duty enough to handle all of this. Full picture gallery and more details here. And btw, the Fortwo has just gone through crash tests by ADAC and was the only car of its size to protect the driver against life-threatening chest injuries in an offset frontal impact. More on that here.

  • Mercedes-Benz is previewing the B-Class Electric Drive: more here. 100kW, 229 lb ft of torque, a range of 200km, fast-charging compatibility, on sale 2014.
  • Citroen is showing an electrified DS3 concept: the Electrum, with two 65kW motors and fast-charging, though a range of only 75 miles. More practically, there’s the Numero 9 concept (first seen at Beijing) which previews new C/D-sector models in the DS line – this is a 295bhp plug-in hybrid putting out 39g/km and offering an all-electric range of 50km. Citroen will also be talking about its Multicity mobility concept: this includes a car-share scheme using the C-Zero EV, already up and running in Berlin, and the French pilot trials have just been expanded to add peer-to-peer car hire and carpooling.
  • Nissan is showing  a hydrogen fuel cell concept called TeRRA: this uses e-drive tech from the Leaf, plus motors in each of the rear wheels, and is said to be production-ready. It’s an SUV-style vehicle mid-way between the Juke and Qashqai in size. More here.
  • Am liking the Peugeot Onyx concept: a sleek supercar with a 600bhp hybrid powertrain (3.7 V8 diesel engine plus KERS, giving an extra 80bhp on-demand boost) and a polished-copper/carbonfibre body, developed from Peugeot’s Le Mans car. The dashboard material is derived from recycled newspapers and the interior upholstery from compressed felt. Unlikely to make production, but there will be Onyx-inspired/branded bikes and scooters.
  • BMW is showing a front-wheel drive, plug-in hybrid mini-MPV concept called Active Tourer, based on upcoming Mini underpinnings. Powertrain’s a 1.5-litre theee-cylinder petrol engine plus e-motor (driving the rear wheels) giving a total 188bhp, combined 113mpg-plus, less than 60g/km of CO2 and an electric-only range of up to 18 miles.
  • Korea’s Ssangyong has a concept called e-XIV, a mini-SUV with a range-extended powertrain and roof-mounted solar cells. Mitsubishi is (finally) launching the Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid. Lexus has confirmed the LF-LC hybrid coupe concept (see below) and Infiniti the LE (ditto).

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