Design Concept of the Day: Sbarro React’EV

February 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

sbarro_reactThe Espera Sbarro Montbeliard design school – founded by Franco Sbarro, legendary maverick and creator of many a curious concept car and technology showpiece – is to display a student-developed concept called React’EV at the Geneva Motor Show. EV, in this case, stands for Ecologic Vehicle: it’s a hybrid, using a Peugeot-Citroen powertrain with a 210bhp V6 engine and a pair of 100kW motors, plus five-speed manual gearbox and rear-wheel-drive. It’s not just a showpiece, either: the car will run in the Monte Carlo New Energy Rally later this year.


Electric alert: Defender EVs on trial

February 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

defender_evsLand Rover has built a test fleet of seven all-electric Defender 4x4s. These all-terrain EVs – to be publicly unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show – have a 70kW (94bhp), 330Nm motor and 300-volt lithium-ion battery pack (air-cooled), and though their range is only around 50 miles, they can run for up to eight hours at low speeds off-road. A fast-charge at 7kW takes four hours, and the Hill Descent Control system incorporates regenerative braking with up to 80% of kinetic energy recoverable. Transmission is single-speed, with a modified version of the Terrain Response System and the standard 4WD with differential lock; weight is increased by only 100kg. So far, tests have included wading to a depth of 800m, pulling 12 tonnes up a 13% gradient and other heavy-duty tasks; Land Rover describes them as a “rolling laboratory” which “gives us a chance to evolve and test some of the technologies that may one day be introduced into future Land Rover models”. Later this year, the seven vehicles will “go into service in specialist real-world trials”. Land Rover is also launching a nine-speed automatic gearbox, developed by ZF, which promises fuel savings of up to 16% in a diesel SUV and 12% in a petrol compared to a current six-speeder.

  • Want to build your own electric racing car? Westfield Sportscars is launching the iRacer, a DIY kit car costing from £13,999 which can be used in the Formula Student series. It is being developed with support from Birmingham University, which is also working with Westfield to reduce CO2 emissions and weight by a target 20% across its range. More here.
  • Hyundai has started assembly-line production of the iX35 Fuel Cell crossover: the first batch of 17 is going out for fleet use, 15 to the municipality of Copenhagen and two to authorities in Skane, Sweden. Consumer retail sales are scheduled for ‘after 2015’. More here.
  • Detailed Q&A with GM’s chief technology officer, John Lauckner, at Autoblog Green. GM is focusing on five key areas: clean propulsion-related tech incl. power electronics, emissions control, motors, better batteries and other economy-improving measures; connected vehicles/infotainment; advanced materials (lightweight, eco-friendly) and technologies; sensors, processors and memory (computing power) and manufacturing-related technologies. We’re still at an early stage with e-mobility, he says, but Gen II and III lithium-ion battery improvements will bring improvements and lower costs.
  • Updates to the Nissan Leaf, soon to be built in Sunderland: range increased to 124 miles (up from 109), a more efficient heating system, improved luggage space, enhanced regenerative braking in ‘eco’ mode, tweaks to the chassis, interior bio-fabrics and more versions/options available, including a 32amp onboard quick-charger giving a four-hour complete top-up. The batteries (already built in Sunderland) are now warranted for 5 years/1oo,oookm, with a new clause protecting buyers against ‘gradual capacity loss’ in that time.  Full rundown here.
  • A story from a satisfied RelayRides member, renting out her Nissan Leaf by the hour: some angst, but it seems to be working for her. Interesting points are that 1. most of her renters are young – finding car ownership too costly, or with a different attitude towards it? and 2. that some see it as a chance to try out an EV before buying one. Most even plug her car back in to recharge when they bring it back, apparently.
  • Poor feedback from a taxi trial of the Leaf in Osaka, however – charging takes the cars off the streets too long, battery capacity has deteriorated, and use of the heaters kills the range, reports Japan Today. Possibly not the best application of EVs at this point in time, then, especially since there are only eight chargers in Osaka.
  • Over 150 charging points are now operational in a national network in Estonia, with a full 165 to be onstream this summer. Over 60 are on highways between the country’s major cities, and fast-chargers enable top-ups in 20-40 minutes. They are operated by the national  Elmo programme, a partnership with Mitsubishi, with three charging tariffs, including pay-as-you-go, available to users. More here.
  • Supporting national manufacturing and supply chains: the French government has ordered 2000 Renault Zoe electric superminis plus 100 Fluence ZE saloons, to be delivered over the next three years as part of a 17,000-EV fleet for the public sector. On a more pan-European note, 50 Mercedes-Benz Vito E-Cell vans are going to Post Danmark, reports EV Fleet World.

Concept of the Day: Casple-Podadera

February 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Casple_Podadera_EV (4)A rival for the Hiriko? Francisco Podadera‘s folding concept, backed by industrial group Casple, is a Twizy-esque two-seater buggy which pivots up to mark in a motorcycle-sized space. It has a tubular frame and composite body panels with swing-up or removable doors; it has a range of around 80 miles and can do 66mph. Petrol or hybrid powertrains could also be accommodated in its flexible, modular structure. Podadera reminds us that the folding car is not a new idea, however: remember the Matra-developed Renault Zoom (also an EV), seen at the 1992 Paris Motor Show?

Volkswagen XL1 confirmed

February 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

vw_xl1_3So it’s finally been confirmed: Volkswagen is to build the XL1 ‘1-litre’ car, albeit in a very limited production run of just 50 vehicles, which, given their handbuilt carbonfibre bodies, will no doubt not be cheap (no prices announced as yet). Enough of an output to secure Volkswagen the record for the most fuel-efficient and aerodynamic production car yet made, anyway, and to act as road-going showcases for tech which will  filter into more mundane-looking mainstream models in due course (Autocar is reporting that the XL1 drivetrain will be fitted in an Up! hybrid in 18 months’ time, for example). Lowdown on the car’s designer, Maximilian Missoni (now at Volvo) at Car Design News, btw.

An ultra-aerodynamic plug-in diesel hybrid two-seater, the XL1 uses less than 1 litre of fuel per 100km – 0.9 litres, Volkswagen claims, equivalent to a phenomenal 314mpg (in ideal conditions, of course: real-life consumption will be less spectacular) and with a CO2 output of 21g/km. It’s aided by a weight of just 795kg and its long-and-low outline, can do over 99mph and 0-62mph in 12.7 seconds, and it’ll do up to 50km in all-electric mode before the two-cylinder, 800cc 48PS diesel engine kicks in. Given the seven-speed DSG transmission, it should even be a rewarding drive. More details will be announced at the Geneva Motor Show next month, when Volkswagen will also be launching the Golf Mk7 plug-in hybrid (with 1.4 TSI petrol engine) and its sister model, the Audi A3 e-tron, both to go on sale next year. Oh, and also at Geneva: the hybrid McLaren P1, which can do up to 10km in all-electric mode – press release on that posted here. Green, as hyper-cars go, I guess, and A Good Thing for consciousness-raising.

  • Balanced article by Tali Trigg at Scientific American on state-of-play with EVs: he makes the point that given the existing infrastructure and potential to slot into existing grid (and future clean-electricity) supplies, EVs “offer a clean solution in the near term” and a better value-proposition than “yet another hyped vehicle technology” (i.e. hydrogen, for which you need to establish a sufficiently low-energy generation/production/supply chain, which hasn’t been cracked yet). He also acknowledges that there is probably no one solution, and the importance of  “improving conventional fuel economy and better urban planning and public transit options” – all crucial stuff too in the short- to-medium term.
  • Here’s a phrase to remember: “transit legacy cities”. In the USA, that refers to cities which were founded before the advent of the automobile, and which thus have (or were originally built with, at least) a public transport infrastructure. The most concentrated use of public transport for commuting in the country is in the “legacy cities” of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, says Wendell Cox at New Geography, where there’s a detailed breakdown of commuter habits in metropolitan and surburban areas. Lessons for London and the older cities of Europe?
  • The IBM/NXP connected vehicles SmartCloud trial in Eindhoven noted improved traffic flow, lower congestion and better resolution of emergencies and incidents; more at Green Car Congress. Mind, you, there are concerns (in the US) over conflicting uses of the frequency spectrum for connected cars, reports Wired.
  • Updates on the Nissan FF (Front-engined, Front-wheel-drive) hybrid drivetrain here. And I’ve just learned a new German word: freikolbenlineargenerator, FKLG for short. Means free-piston linear generator;  a team at the German Aerospace Centre  has developed a multi-fuel example of this which could be used as a range-extender for EVs, in place of an engine. Science bit at Green Car Congress.
  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the Frauenhofer Institute for Systems and Innovations Research, Siemens and Michelin are launching a new high-mileage EV trial to study cost-efficiency; EVs will be used by staff travelling to and fro over the French-German border. More here.

Government grants for EV charger installation; but is ‘green design’ dead?

February 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

volvo c30 electricThe government’s OLEV (Office for Low Emissions Vehicles) is putting up £37million to aid EV and plug-in vehicle recharging. Private EV owners/buyers can claim a grant to cover up to 75% of the cost of installing a charging point at their home (to a limit of £1000); local authorities can claim 75% of the cost of on-street facilities (including fast-chargers), as can railway operators for installing charging points at stations, and public-sector organisations and facilities such as police, NHS or local government departments can get a free installation. Full press release here, which also notes that over 3200 claims have been made for the plug-in car and plug-in van grants scheme up to the end of 2012. Claims October-December 2012 were 20% higher than for the previous quarter, suggesting that contrary to stories that EV sales are dead in the water, sales of plug-in cars continue to gain momentum (including plug-in hybrids now, of course).

  • Yet apparently ‘green design’ is so over, at least from a marketing point of view, because “tech has killed green” – check out this column at dezeen. Such are the whims and vagaries of style, etc., though the writer does make the point that, to some extent, “green has become normal” – i.e. designers are using lower-energy materials and processes now anyway, even if the finished product isn’t marketed as ‘green’ as such. Salient to transport/mobility, too, because if you can’t persuade people to make more sustainable transport choices based on their environmental beliefs and values, how else can you do it? Through appealing to their interest in tech, perhaps?
  • In a neat piece of synchronicity, I’ve just been reading a presentation (available here, under ‘Symposium: Identity and Car Use’) by Dr Lorraine Whitmarsh (Cardiff University, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research), who found that though self-identity, values and attitudes predict some environmentally-friendly behaviours (recycling, taking measures to save energy, for example) when it comes to travel choices, there is an inconsistency and disconnect between attitudes and actions. In other words, even if people see themselves as being ‘green’ and eco-friendly, that doesn’t necessarily translate into any changes in their transport/travel behaviour – they will still drive or fly. The influential factors are, says Whitmarsh, demographic – age, location, density of local area, availability of alternatives and soforth. But does the same hold true when it comes to self-identity as an early-adopter of technology? Is there more of a correlation between values and behaviour on this score? That’s what I’m researching…

And the local news bulletin…

February 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

madeira-drive-charging-point‘Scuse me while I get all parochial on you for a moment. Some interesting stats from the 2011 census have been flagged up by my local council: turns out car ownership in Brighton & Hove is the lowest (per household) anywhere in the South East, and the seventh-lowest in England & Wales. Over a third of households do not have a car at all, and fewer than 20% have more than one car (compared to 40% in the South East generally, and 32% in England & Wales as a whole). B&H has the highest proportion of people walking to work in the South East (21%), the highest growth rate in cycling (6.3% growth, to 5%) to work outside of London, and the second-highest rate of commuting by bus, coach or minibus (14%, second to Oxford). Car ownership is down to 0.86 per household (against a regional rise to 1.35 and national rise to 1.17) and car-commuting has fallen to 41% (including a tiny handful of electric cars, as pictured, perhaps). Driving is still the dominant mobility choice, however, and we locals could contend forever as to whether the motivating factors behind the recorded shifts are due to carrots (i.e. better cycle lanes – ha ha) or sticks (the city’s immense parking problems/charges, congestion) or indeed, a combination of both. More here, plus full data sets on travel to work here.

  • Brightonians still choosing to drive can nonetheless cut their fuel consumption, costs and emissions, as the council is running an eco-driver training programme supported by the Energy Savings Trust. The first sessions, with 72 residents of the Lewes Road area, saw participants complete a one-week travel diary and take a 50-minute driving lesson: they recorded fuel savings on the day of up to 33% and an average of 10% as they learnt (or relearnt) more efficient driving techniques. The scheme will next be offered to residents in the Coombe Road, Bevendean, Moulscoomb and Coldean areas: more about it here, including contacts for the Personalised Travel Planning team who are organising the courses.

Concepts of the Day: Mitsubishi GR-HEV, CA-MiEV

February 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

mitsu concept cr-hevTwo electrified concepts from Mitsubishi at next month’s Geneva Motor Show: GR-HEV, a diesel-electric pick-up truck using hybrid tech developed from the Outlander PHEV (though it’s not a plug-in) and CA-MiEV (below), an all-electric ‘suburban EV’ with a claimed range of 300km. The one-tonne 4WD GR-HEV is intended as a simple, hard-working but sporty hybrid solution delivering less than 149g/km – and no doubt hints at the future of the L200-series range – whilst the CA-MiEV showcases next-generation electric drivetrain tech with the potential to take EVs out of city centres and further afield (or into the suburbs, at least). Range will be helped by its light weight and “advanced aerodynamics”. Mitsubishi also promises “high density batteries”, plus wireless inductive charging and smartphone-controlled functions. The company’s noting that it “started research and development on electro-mobility back in 1966”, and that it has “always believed that electric vehicles would eventually become long-term core products”; it is aiming for 20% of its output to be electrified (including hybrids and plug-in hybrids) by 2020.

mitsu concept ca-mievMore comment on the hydrogen/fuel cell vs EV vs traditional ICE debate at Detroit News; the ‘peak oil’ crisis is over, apparently, and ‘nobody wants’ EVs… And yet again, an obsession over finding a dominant, ‘winning’ solution – one-size-fits-all – rather than determining the most suitable solutions for particular niches and applications. Quote from one analyst, however, “that there will be a lot more car sharing because people want more versatility than a given powertrain will give them”; he at least has picked up on the idea that you could, for example, use an EV for your everyday short-distance commuting but hop into a car-club hybrid/ICE vehicle for the odd longer trip you might need to take.

  • GM, meanwhile, is going to add an EV to the Chevrolet Spark line-up in selected markets, including California, Oregon, Canada and South Korea. European sales next year, preview of Euro-spec model (130hp, no figures for range yet) at Geneva.
  • A team at Universidad Carlos III, Madrid, has developed a GPS for cars with accuracy improved by up to 90%; this has particular pertinence for autonomous driving, collision avoidance, ‘co-operative driving’ (there’s a phrase to remember), pedestrian-sensing and soforth. More here.
  • Can smart transport planning help hospitals? A project is underway at Great Ormond Street with Southampton University, looking at logistics in the supply chain. Researcher Gavin Bailey has come up with an electronic lockerbox system using RFID tags plus a consolidation centre for deliveries, which will be trialled in the London area. More here. Such concepts could be applied in any number of settings/industries/sectors to reduce traffic, of course.

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