Free parking for EVs, fishy fuel sources, hybrids in NY

March 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

madeira-drive-charging-pointDebate of the day: should electric cars have a ‘green badge’ for free parking, and exemption from road tolls and congestion charges, to incentivise their use? Much discussion at The Guardian, amongst others… The suggestion comes from the Institute for Public Policy Research; original document here. Of course, plenty of cities are offering free parking to EVs already, usually whilst charging (or parked on a bay with a charger…), not to mention the exemption from the London congestion charge. Can’t say I agree with the idea that EVs should be allowed to park anywhere, i.e. on double red or yellow lines, however – what are they thinking? Quite apart from safety implications (for cyclists, in particular) that’s a potential congestion-causer.

  • You’ve heard of tuna, but how about tunicate? These marine creatures – ‘filter feeders’, of the ascidiacea family – are found in all oceans, and could be a handy source of ethanol and biofuel, according to researchers at the University of Bergen.
  • Renault has delivered 22 Kangoo Maxi Van ZEs (all-electric) to Center Parcs, for use at its various holiday villages in the UK. They’ll be used by the technical services and maintenance teams, and for food/beverage deliveries to guests. Looks like an ideal EV fleet application.
  • Prototype drive of BMW’s new three-cylinder engine – for the i8 plug-in hybrid powertrain – here.
  • Plenty of hybrids on display at the New York Auto Show this week; so far, have heard about Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, Volvo V60 Plug-In Hybrid, Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid (same powertrain as the big Infiniti QX60), Subaru XV Hybrid, Honda Accord plug-in, plus range-extended BMW i3 EV and news that the new-gen 2014 Range Rover Sport will come with a plug-in hybrid option. Evidence to suggest, I reckon, that electrification (if not pure-EV powertrains) is beginning to go into the mainstream.

Design Concept of the Day: Safer Urban Lorry

March 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

safer urban lorryNot a ‘green’ vehicle as such itself, but some ideas to encourage more sustainable transport behaviour: this is the work of the London Cycling Campaign, which is calling on the construction industry to use lorries with better all-round visibility. This mock-up features a lower driving position, larger windscreen and side windows, lower bumper clearance (reducing the risk of a cyclist being dragged under the truck), side-guards and side/rear cameras with warning systems. Lorries are involved in half of all cyclist deaths in London, as well as a high proportion of pedestrian fatalities, and whilst some vehicles such as dustbin lorries and buses are beginning to incorporate more cyclist-friendly features, construction trucks are lagging behind, says the LCC.

  • Bill Ford – yes, of FoMoCo provenance – has invested $2.8million via his venture capital firm in a London-based app developer which offers a smartphone transport ticketing service, reports Giga Om. Masabi is the creator of JustRide, a cloud-based platform enabling users to buy, store and use tickets for buses, trains etc., with an on-screen QR code to get through barriers. Bill Ford has talked previously about the importance of integrated transport systems, as well as peer-to-peer and car-to-infrastructure networking.
  • Looks like fun: Epic EV has launched its Torq roadster, described as the world’s fastest three-wheeled electric vehicle (not that there’s a lot of competition for that title, as yet). 0-60 in four seconds, from around 50,000 euros/$65,000, deliveries from April, apparently (via Autoblog Green).
  • Honda has reported fuel savings of over 20% in a trial of a traffic congestion minimisation app in Jakarta, Indonesia. Both a standalone system warning the driver of congestion in the area, and a networked cloud-connected platform giving information from other connected cars in the area, were tested. More here.
  • Another better-biofuel technique: a team at Columbia University has developed a cheap, energy-efficient biological process to convert methane (from biogas, anaerobic digestion, waste landfill gas) to methanol. Science bit at Green Car Congress.
  • Eleven organisations in the Polis network (a pan-European project linking cities and regions) met this week in Brussels to discuss the development of a platform for electrified transport (multi-modal). More here. Ongoing Polis projects include the establishment of EV-charging and EV-sharing in Berlin, research into travel behaviour change,
  • One of the Polis members, ERTRAC (European Road Transport Research Advisory Council), has released its Horizon 2020 Strategic Research Agenda. It is “taking a system approach and addressing Grand Societal Challenges”, with a target 50% efficiency improvement across the European transport network, plus advances in safety, reliability and decarbonisation. Takes into account freight, passenger transport, urban mobility and integrated transport systems. Not much to think about there, then…
  • Modern-day car-making: how green are the factories? Interesting piece on Renault’s new Dacia plant near Tangiers at Automotive Design. Biomass boilers burning olive stones, lots of eucalyptus trees planted… some degree of mitigation? Discuss.

BMW positive on e-mobility, and the cultural capital of green cars

March 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

bmw-i3-i8BMW has received “several hundred” advance orders for the i3 EV and early interest in this and the i8 plug-in hybrid is higher than expected, said global sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson at the company’s annual accounts conference this week. There has also been significant interest from fleets and rental organisations, he said, citing the early success of the DriveNow short-term rental scheme in San Francisco.  Board chairman Norbert Reithofer noted that “we are compelled to introduce e-mobility” to meet EU emissions targets, but that “it is the right strategy. It is a must and not an option”… “to have any chance of addressing the growing ecological challenges in the world’s metropolitan area”. The i3 will be launched in around six months’ time. BMW executives also reported that 92,221 EVs were sold worldwide last year, up from 4,669 in 2010. You can stream the conference here.

BMW Guggenheim Lab advisory committee member Juliet Schor – also professor of sociology at Boston College, and co-founder/co-chair of the Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit looking at a more ethical and ecologically-friendly approach to consumerism and consumption – spoke at a pre-conference dinner, reports Headlineauto. Schor brought up the evidence suggesting that young people are less interested in cars than they once were, putting more of a priority on social media. She said that “green is becoming a status symbol. We call it ‘altruism signalling’ – showing the good that you are doing by perhaps having a hybrid or electric vehicle in the driveway. Altruism is a major evolutionary behaviour – it’s why the Toyota Prius has become so popular in the US”.  Schor, who has written extensively about consumer culture,  believes that sustainable products are now “mainstreaming”, and that “sustainable luxury” has high cultural capital amongst consumers (she’s a Bourdieu fan). She reckons that though younger people are leaving it longer before buying cars, they do want a more sustainable lifestyle, and that they will opt for options such as city car-shares and rentals (like DriveNow) in the meantime.

  • Only two-thirds of Japanese EV owners questioned in a McKinsey & Co survey said they were satisfied with their purchase; 34% reported that they would not buy another EV, and cited higher electricity bills and the problem of finding somewhere to charge up. The research suggested that these buyers were less well-informed than the other “green enthusiasts”, and pointed to the need for better consumer education. Much more positive feedback from the UK Technology Strategy Board’s 300-EV, 12-month trial, however (case study updated today): 92% of drivers involved said the car had been fun to drive, 72% said an EV would be sufficient for their daily needs, and 91% would recommend an EV to others.
  • OK, so the fuel duty rise was scrapped. Some good news for greener fleet car-buyers, though: the first-year 100% tax capital allowance for businesses buying ultra-low emissions cars has been extended till 2015. The qualifying threshold will be reduced from the current 110g/km to 95g/km come April, and then 75g/km 2015-2018 subject to review in 2016. Eligibility for main-rate capital allowances will have a cut-off of 130g/km from next month. Two new company car tax bands for BIK (benefit-in-kind) allowance will come into play April 2015: 0-50g/km, and 51-75g/km, the first taxed at 5% 2015-16 rising to 7% 2016-17, and the second at 9%/11% respectively.
  • A fleet of BYD K9 all-electric buses (80-seater, 12m long) is to go into trial service in Bogota, Colombia. More here.

Detroit goes Electric again

March 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

detroit electricDetroit Electric: a name from car-building in the early 20th century, defunct for some 70 years, now revived. A teaser image has been released of a two-seater sports car (Lotus Elise-derived, says Autoweek), to be launched next month. The company – headed by former Lotus Group CEO Albert Lam – has signed a long-term lease on an office in the Fisher Building, downtown Detroit, and promises to employ over 180 people in the next year; boutique-level production of 2,500 cars a year is planned. Detroit Electric is also to announce “a major partnership with a global carmaker” at the Shanghai Motor Show in April, and two further high-performance models are promised by the end of 2014.

  • Indian industrial conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra has launched a new EV: the Mahindra e20, a four-seater city car, is said to have a range of 100km, has a smartphone user interface, can be charged in five hours from a 15-amp socket, and crucially, it’s cheap (Rs 5.96 lakh, about $11,000 or  £7277). It builds upon Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles’ earlier offering, the G-Wiz, and whilst it has no airbags or safety kit to Western expectations, it is said to meet minimum European crash test standards (for quadricycles). Details here, more at Autocar India.
  • All-electric cars made up a staggering 3% of new car sales last month in Norway, reports Automotive News Europe. Big subsidies, tax breaks and incentives such as free parking, road toll exemption and use of bus lanes are a significant factor – and nearly 100% of the electricity used for EVs in this Nordic nation comes from hydropower.
  • GM is working on a three-cylinder range-extender engine for the Volt and related ER-EVs, reports Edmunds. This would replace the current 1.4-litre four, and could come in sizes from 1.0-1.2 litres.

Volkswagen e-Up! revealed; biofuels and better transport plans

March 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

vw eupVolkswagen’s e-Up! electric city car is to go on sale in the UK early next year, after a formal launch at the Frankfurt Motor Show this autumn. Previewed at VW’s annual press and investors’ conference in Wolfsburg this week, the e-Up! is said to have a 150km (93 mile) range, and it can be charged to 80% capacity in 30 minutes (it’s compatible with AC or DC charging). Peak power is 82ps (60kW) with maximum torque of 210 Nm available immediately; it’ll do 0-62mph in 14 seconds, and reach up to 84mph. It has the same interior space as the ICE Up! – a brilliantly-packaged little tiddler – as its battery packs are housed under-floor. No word on pricing as yet.

  • Obama is calling on Congress for $2billion of funding for alt-fuel research: focus has shifted from electrification, reports Detroit News, to encompass research into solutions including CNG and biofuels as well.
  • BMW i Mobility Services is partnering with Now! Innovations to extend the ParkNow app: it’ll, err, now include on-street parking space info and reservation/payment. More at Green Car Congress.
  • Biofuel has been getting a bad press – especially palm oil, lately – as production of its feedstock takes up land/resources from food crops and can involve the destruction of natural habitats (i.e. the clearing of forests where orang-utans live). However, there is scope for industrial production of cyanobacteria, which can be used to make butanol – and a breakthrough in this has been made at the School of Biotechnology, KTH Stockholm. Researchers claim that synthesising butanol from bacteria from blue-green algae is 20x more efficient than making ethanol from corn or sugar cane, and that it could be commercially viable in a decade. More here.
  • Transport Secretary Norman Baker (Lib Dem) has published a plea for better-integrated transport. He’s calling for clearer and more accessible info on transport options; convenient and affordable tickets to cover a whole journey (which may be by different modes of transport); regular and straightorward connections; and safe, comfy transport facilities. More here in the ‘door-to-door strategy‘. All good common-sense stuff, but a shame that rampant privatisation has rendered achieving this such a difficult task…
  • A thoughtful two-part piece at This Big City on the issue of cars vs urban regeneration and sustainability; first up, the ‘problem’ of cars. Not just the ICE, but cars full stop, argues Bruce McVean; EVs ain’t going to solve car-dependency. And a ‘reallocation of space away from the car‘ is necessary, he says – priority for cyclists and pedestrians, for example, shared space, and other people-centred initiatives.

Car CO2 down, the Fisker fiasco, fuel cell buses and more…

March 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

fisker karmaProof that legislative intervention works: average new-car CO2 emissions fell in the UK by 3.6% last year to 133.1g/km, a 26.5% improvement on 2000’s average, and sub-130g/km cars accounted for over half the UK car market. And Band ‘A’ cars – currently sub-100g/km – took 8.2%, up from 3.7% in 2011.  The latest figures from the SMMT also show that ‘alternatively-fuelled vehicles’ took 1.4% of the market; 85% of these were petrol-electric hybrids (averaging 98.7g/km), and electric/plug-in car registrations rose 111.8% last year to 2,237 units. Manufacturers have been spurred to meet the EU targets for emissions reductions (including a target average of 95g/km by 2020) but the SMMT also notes a need “to encourage consumers to adjust their vehicle choices”, and that “encouraging behavioural change will require support from other stakeholders, notably government and fuel suppliers”.

  • Few of those registrations to include the Karma range-extended EV (pictured), however: latest in the Fisker fiasco is Henrik has walked away from the company he founded, with “several major disagreements… with the Fisker Automotive executive management on the business strategy” cited. Automotive News runs down the issues involved and has the full statement and comment from the man himself. I’d expect news of a takeover/buyout.
  • Big swathe of data from the EV Project: fourth-quarter 2012 figures on 60million miles-worth of electric motoring. About 80% of charging at home, range-extended Chevy Volt drivers going all-out to use as little petrol as possible; different public charging patterns in different US cities, with an impact from carshares such as Car2Go (using Smart Fortwo EVs). Handy breakdown and links at Green Car Reports.
  • The Bollore Bluecar EV (as supplied to the Paris Autolib’ carshare) has gone on sale to the general public at 12,000 euros plus 80 euros-a-month battery hire.
  • Bus news: 10 fuel cell buses are to go into service in Aberdeen. They’re made by Dutch manufacturer Van Hool, with a Ballard fuel cell module, and will be the largest fuel cell bus fleet in Europe so far. The Van Hool/Ballard buses are also going into action in San Remo, Flanders and Cologne. Ballard is also supplying fuel cell modules for buses for US customers in Connecticut, California and Massachusetts, reports Green Car Congress. And electric buses: China’s Sichuan Automobile Industry Co (SAIG) has signed a deal with California’s Balqon Corporation to buy its e-drivetrain and lithium-ion battery tech for inner-city buses; and Proterra has done a long-term deal with UQM Technologies for the drivertrain of its EcoRide BE35 bus (thanks, Green Car Congress).

Automobility in decline? More sharing and electrification in the meantime, though…

March 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

australia-april-2010-067Peak car? Automobility’s not just in decline, “it seems pretty inconceivable that the car as we know it is going to be around for another 100 years,” says Maurie Cohen, associate professor and socio-technical transitions theorist at New Jersey Institute of Technology. In conversation with Atlantic Cities, Dr Cohen suggests that the private car is going to go the way of the landline phone, and talks about cracks appearing in the automobility regime already (not a new theory). No word on what will replace the car, but he thinks it could be an invention from China.

  • BMW is  thinking about this: the Sunday Times quotes Ian Robertson, head of sales and marketing, as saying: “For the first time since the car was invented, consumers are changing radically”. The ST cites the lowering percentage of young driving licence-holders in the US, that around 80% of under-25s in Tokyo don’t have a car, the rising number of young households without a car in Germany, and lowering mileages driven – and a tripling of urban car club membership worldwide 2006-2012, now at around 3million (three-quarters aged under 40). “Now we need to engage with non car-owning people”, Robertson said.
  • Updates on the latest news from electric/hybrid bus-land here. A trial of wireless ‘opportunity charging’ (topping up at points around the route) is about to start in Milton Keynes; hybrid bus numbers growing rapidly, and a new proposal: a sort of bus/pooled taxi arrangement in a comfy nine-seater EV with free wi-fi (conventional ICE vehicles also available). This service is offered in London by GUTSI (Green Urban Transport)  which describes it as an “executive daily commuting club”, doing pick-ups to go to Canary Wharf and the City. (Cheers to @dbeeton for flagging this up).
  • Q&A with GM’s global electrification director Larry Nitz at Autoblog Green. Nitz sees the Volt as “the inflection point where we started this journey” (to electrification, but sees an all-electric like the Chevy Spark as more of a second-car option for a household, with cost an issue. The mission statement: “We are committed to electrification as a long-term journey. It will not overtake the world instantly, but it does provide a reasonable, rational opportunity to get off of petroleum to an alternative fuel, electricity, that can come from many different sources.”
  • Some projections from research by ExxonMobil (I know…): hybrids to make up 40% of global vehicle fleet by 2040, plug-in hybrids and EVs 5%. Full report here. Forecast from PwC: hybrid and electric vehicles to take 6.3% of market by 2020; flags up charging infrastructure, charging time and cost premium as key issues to resolve.

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