Design Concept of the Day: Link&Go

March 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

link and goAnother micro-EV on display at the Geneva Motor Show, and this one’s self-driving and fully-wired for social behaviour. Created by the Akka Technologies Group (and funded by the Yvelines General Council), Link&Go does have a driver-operated mode but it can park itself, steer itself using an augmented-reality laser/camera system, and is controlled by gesture-recognition and touch-screens. Its driver’s seat swivels to transform the cabin into a ‘lounge’ layout, and a robotic arm plugs it in for recharging. It’s a showcase for the work of Akka Research at its French and German labs – and a (conceptual) rival for the Rinspeed microMAX, also in show in Geneva, perhaps.  More here from project partners MBtech.

  • GM is working on two new EV technologies – one giving a range of 100 miles (perhaps a low-cost solution for selected markets/niches) and one promising 200 miles. CEO Dan Akerson told Bloomberg that “there will be breakthroughs in battery technology,they’re on the horizon”.
  • The Guardian Environment Network is reporting from Israel on the struggles of Better Place: an interesting account. Debate the shortcomings of electric cars per se, vs. the  Better Place business model… The guy from Pike Research probably has it when he says that battery swapping might work for taxis or fleets, but doesn’t make sense for private motorists. This brings out some other issues about the Better Place plan, too: apart from the battery-swapping, it has challenged consumers’ notions about ownership, purchasing etc – laudable, but perhaps a step too far at this stage.
  • Latest investment by BMW i Ventures: a stake in Life360, a location/communication app enabling parents to keep track of their children and respond to emergency situations. Follows its investment with mobility service providers and mobile technology developers; more here.
  • Ford’s getting into the car-share game with Ford2Go (no relation to Daimler’s Car2Go – surely some trademark infringed there?), a co-operation with its German dealers’ association and DB Rent (Deutsche Bahn’s car rental offshoot), which already offers a car-share service called Flinkster. Ford’s describing it as “the first automotive manufacturer-backed, nationwide car-sharing scheme incorporating dealerships” (how about Peugeot’s Mu?) and is planning to roll it out across Germany and then elsewhere in Europe. Customers register at a participating nearby Ford dealership/service partner/repair shop, and reserve cars online or via a smartphone app. Looks like trad rental but via a keep-it-in-the-family membership scheme, really – I’m thinking that  ‘car-sharing’ is a bit of a misnomer for this kind of service. But anyway…

Nissan Leaf on Rio taxi duty; more micro-EVs in Geneva

March 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

With a New Electric Taxi Program, Rio de Janeiro Enters Zero EmiFifteen Nissan Leaf taxis are to go on duty in Rio de Janeiro this year; the first two will serve the Santos Dumont airport and others will follow elsewhere in the city. This follows an earlier trial in Sao Paulo. City authorities have set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 16% 2005-2016 and these electric taxis are part of a plan to “improve the visibility of clean-energy vehicles so that production and consumption models can be changed to a sustainable system”, says the transport department commissioner.  More here. Nissan is the ‘cars’ sponsor for the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics in Rio, and is to provide 4500 vehicles for the Games and Team Brazil, a fleet which will “prioritize clean energy (ethanol or electricity)”.

  • Nice pictures of the Belumbury electric quadricycles on display in Geneva at AutoblogGreen. The Italian firm has now sold over 100 Dany microcars (including petrol versions) and is showing a concept called Lallo, a doorless beach-buggy variant.
  • And smaller yet: the German-built IMA Colibri single-seater  is scheduled for production next year. It will be positioned as an urban fleet/commuter vehicle, and priced at less than 10,000 euros plus additional battery-leasing. Quote from the company:  “Based on a current market study, IMA sees a market potential of 500,000 customers in the b2b market in Germany. Primary customers encompass carsharing providers, municipalities and delivery and mobile nursing services, for whom the Colibri is economically interesting. Private customers as well are increasingly interested in intelligent traffic concepts which allow for a mix of different modes of transportation like private cars, carsharing, public transportation or rail. Within this mix, the Colibri can cover 80% of the private mobility demand.”
  • Some further thoughts on yesterday’s “transport poverty” debate. How do motoring costs as a percentage of income compare to other travel costs (train fares in particular spring to mind)? Perhaps this is simply about the demands of living on a low income and “poverty” full stop.  And it’s amusing how many of the “I don’t need a car” commenters seem to forget that belonging to a car club, using a car-share vehicle, lift-sharing, getting other people to drive their kids to activities or taking a taxi is still using a car – the latter being even more energy-wasteful than driving yourself, as the taxi driver (probably in a superfluously large vehicle, and if a London cabbie, in a particulate-spewing old diesel as well – has to go pick you up/return without you). You may not need to own a personal car. That’s different.

Geneva Motor Show Concept of the Day: Subaru VIZIV

March 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

subari vizivSubaru has been playing around with hybrid tech for a while, but this concept goes a stage further with plug-in capability. It uses the familiar Subaru 2.0-litre flat-four diesel plus Lineartronic CVT, with two independently-controlled motors driving the rear wheels and a single motor driving the front axle in an AWD system likely to feature in future production models. As the rear motors directly drive the rear wheels, there’s no need for a prop shaft, and the floor can be lowered for extra rear legroom. The diesel engine drives the front axle. More here. I like this better – and find it more relevant to the mainstream production-car world – than the other headline-grabbing hybrid in Geneva, the LaFerrari, for all you might argue about tech trickle-down.

  • Volvo pulled out a nice piece of tech at Geneva, too: a pedestrian- and cyclist-detection safety system with auto braking. On sale in model-year 2014, more here. No substitute for drivers using their eyes (and mirrors), obviously, but vulnerable road users need all the help they can get…
  • Non-Geneva news: Toyota is to start a three-year smartcard-enabled EV-share project in France at the end of 2014 in partnership with EDF and the Cite Lib car-share. This will involve 70-odd ultra-light compact vehicles – the i-Road and COMS – and will take place in Grenoble and the surrounding area; the aim is to explore the use of light EVs on a ‘last mile’ basis. More here. And there’s video of the Nissan New Mobility Concept (Japanese Twizy) trial here.
  • Save energy, only light highways when a car is approaching: trials are to start in the Netherlands of ‘smart roads’ with motion sensors, glow-in-the-dark paint, automatic ice warnings – and priority lanes for EVs. More at Forum for the Future.
  • Debate of the day: the RAC Foundation is talking about “transport poverty” – low-income households spending over a quarter of their income on running a car, averaging £44 a week (ONS data). Cuts in buses are a contributing factor to car dependency, and an obstacle for job-seekers, says the Campaign For Better Transport. The answer’s not cutting fuel duty (as the RAC Foundation is calling for), say many, including @geographyjim, who points out that only 31% of the poorest households have a car, and that households in (car) “transport poverty” only account for 2% of the country’s total fuel spending – so any cut would overwhelmingly benefit the better-off, and not help out the majority of low-income households anyway.
  • More fuel (sorry) for thought: a study from UMTRI (University of Michigan Transport Research Institute) argues that all the benefits of efficiency improvements made in the last 40 years in the US have been cancelled out by people travelling higher mileages, and with a higher tendency to travel alone. Handy rundown here; full report here. Data is 1970-2010, however, so may not fully reflect any impact of recession.

Geneva Motor Show Concept of the Day #2: Volkswagen e-Co-Motion

March 4, 2013 § 2 Comments

vw ecomotion vanIt’s an electric Transporter: no detail on the powertrain as yet (it’s very much a concept), but the e-Co-Motion promises an 800kg payload and 4.6 cubic-metre cargo capacity. It could be configured as a driver’s cab with cargo box (like the Geneva show vehicle), a passenger shuttle, a low-platform or refrigerator box van, or to customer order, as the drivetrain, battery and gearbox are packaged under-floor. It’s 4.55mm long, 1.9mm wide and 1.96mm tall – and this concept probably gives more than a few clues as to the styling of the next-generation mainstream ICE Transporter.

And this is Volkswagen’s vision for it: “Electric mobility – especially in light commercial vehicles – could play a crucial role in meeting the growing transport needs of the world’s megacities. Freight trains and conventional or hybrid-powered high-capacity lorries would deliver goods up to the city limits.  Then, at transfer stations, smaller electric delivery vans would take over.  Their predictable travel routes and fixed depots would simplify battery charging and equipment maintenance” (Dr. Eckhard Scholz, Speaker of the Brand Board of Management).

  • A non-Geneva note: a survey by Zipcar found that 18-34 year-olds (“Millennials”) find it easier to live without owning a car and drive less, thanks to the growing availability of car-sharing, lift-sharing and soforth; from the 1015 questioned, there was a clear trend that mobile devices and transportation apps were more important than car ownership. 65% said that losing their phone or computer would have more of a negative effect on them than losing their car; 25% said that transport apps had reduced their driving frequency; 73% said they preferred to shop online than drive or take public transport to a shop; 47% said they sometimes chose to spend time with friends online instead of driving to see them. More here.
  • And the mobility behaviour of Germans is changing too: research from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has found that people are increasingly using different transport modes. Its analysis of data has found that younger folk are less likely to own a car than senior citizens, cycling is becoming more popular and people are increasingly likely to use different transport modes. Just 74% of people have access to a car in their household now, down from 83% in 2002, around a third cycle on a weekly basis and are cycling further. The KIT research – an annual report from 2000 people which has taken place for 18 years – was commissioned by the German federal ministry for transport. More here.
  • A pair of electric buses plus a support van using Bombardier’s Primove wireless induction charging tech are going on trial in Mannheim. More at Green Car Congress. The trial is supported by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (again), and funded by the German federal transport ministry. And Yamato Transport, Toyota and Himo Motors are starting a one-year trial in Japan of a small one-tonne refrigerator truck; more here.
  • Further to the unveiling of the Audi A3 Sportback g-tron (see earlier post), the VW Group’s Spanish division is building its first CNG-fuelled production model. The Seat Mii Ecofuel emits 79g/km, burns 2.9kg of gas per 100km and is said to cost half as much to run as a petrol-powered Mii, given European CNG prices; it uses a version of the familiar VW Group 1.0 three-cylinder. It also incorporates the full suite of energy-saving Ecomotive technologies, including stop-start, low rolling resistance tyres and brake energy recovery. It’ll go on sale in Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the Czech Republic plus other regions where there is a suitable gas supply infrastructure (not the UK).

Geneva Motor Show Concept of the Day #1: Toyota i-ROAD

March 4, 2013 § 1 Comment

toyota iroadToyota’s i-ROAD is described as a “personal mobility vehicle”  and is a semi-scooter three-wheeler, two-seater EV with an enclosed cabin. It’s just 850mm wide, has  ‘active lean’ gyroscopic balancing tech, and has a range of up to 30 miles; it’s said to be comfier, safer and offering better weather protection than a scooter, but giving similarly low running costs, easy parking and around-town manoeuvrability (turning circle 3m). No helmet required. It’s powered by two 2kW motors in the front wheels. A clear statement from Toyota reads: “While hybrids, plug-in hybrids and FVCs (fuel cell vehicles) are ideal for mainstream use over medium to long distances, Toyota believes in the feasibility of EVs to serve as a main mode of transport for short urban journeys”, and the company suggests a system whereby “commuters  can use public transport or conventional private vehicles to travel to urban perimeter transportation hubs where they will transfer to the Toyota i-ROAD to complete their journeys into the city centre.”

  • BMW is showing the i3 Concept Coupe and i8 Concept Spyder in Geneva, and has flagged up some key findings from the original 12.5million-mile Mini E/ActiveE trail. Distances covered by these EVs “showed very little difference from the distances covered by conventional cars”, averaging just over 25 miles a day; the pilot customers charged two to three times a week on average, mostly at their homes and workplaces; though at the start of the trial over 70% said that access to public charging facilities was important, in practice, public infrastructure was used less than 10% of the time. More detail on the i3”s connectivity: its 80-100 mile range can be optimised via the ConnectedDrive services, which include net-based real-time navigation and dynamic range calculation, taking into account traffic conditions and route topgraphy, plus advice on which of the three driving modes are recommended to conserve range, nearby charging stations and plug reservations, and charging times. BMW has also confirmed the availability of an optional range-extender engine, putting total range up to 186 miles, plus “additional mobility modules” enabling the borrowing of a conventional ICE vehicle from BMW i on “a given number of days per year”.
  • Kia Provo concept: dodgy name (does it bomb Brighton hotels?) but interesting powertrain solution. This low-slung supermini-sized 2+2 hatch has a turbocharged petrol engine (1.6 GDi direct-injection, 204ps) with an electric motor using energy captured by regenerative braking, giving four-wheel drive and “an additional power surge to the rear wheels when required”, plus a short low-speed electric-only ‘creep’ range. Gearbox is a seven-speed DCT.


Concept of the Day: Applus IDIADA Volar-e

March 1, 2013 § 1 Comment

Volar-e 4There are no shortages of promises to build electric supercars, but this 1000hp, four-wheel-drive Volar-e prototype is up and running: it was demonstrated this week at the Circuit de Catalunya during the F1 test days. Developed by Applus IDIADA of Tarragona, to a European Commission tender,  it’s said to be capable of 300kph and to do 0-61mph in 3.4 seconds; it can be recharged in 15-20 minutes. A team from University Miguel Hernández (UMH), Elche, has produced an advanced wi-fi communications system for data collection and analysis. More here, video of the car in action here.

  • The average mileage of American drivers fell for the eighth year in a row in 2012: 37 miles fewer than in 2011 despite 0-3% population growth. More here at the DC Streets Blog, data from the Federal Highway Administration. (Via @mCenterDrexel).
  • Car-sharing in Austin and Philadelphia has had a setback: Austin city authorities have sent a cease-and-desist letter to SideCar, and in Philly, cars have been towed away, on the basis that users of this smartphone app are operating as unlicensed taxi drivers. More here.
  • Local news: the Brighton University e-bike trial team is inviting curious cyclists to come and check out electrically-assisted pedal power. Preston Park, 10am to 4pm, Saturday 9th March; more – and link to register – here.
  • Compressed natural gas has long been a popular fuel elsewhere in Europe, including in Germany, and Audi has opened a plant in Werlte to synthesise it and produce so-called ‘e-gas’ – synthetic methane produced through electrolysis of water, using renewable-source electricity. Audi is to show a gas-driven A3 Sportback g-tron prototype in Geneva next week, prior to a 1500-car trial. It is claiming emissions of 30g/km, even when the carbon cost of constructing the plant is taken into account. More here. Interesting, but can’t help but think that electricity can power a car directly…
  • And a hydrogen development: a new low-temperature catalytic process could be effective for use in fuel cell cars, using methanol as an energy carrier. More here.

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