Concept of the Day: Twizy Renault Sport F1

April 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

renault-twizy-f1-2Well, Concept of the Day has to be Renault’s Twizy Renault Sport F1. It is, admittedly, pretty silly (especially since its top speed is still only 68mph), but it does showcase a fair amount of interesting F1-developed tech. The race car wheels, front splitter, wing, diffuser, LED lights and all the body kit aren’t really the story: more interestingly, this concept features KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System, capturing heat energy otherwise lost under braking), giving a transient power-boost to 97bhp (an extra 80!) and 0-62mph in six seconds – a savvy way to supplement performance in an EV with little weight/range penalty. The selectable two-mode (recovery/boost) KERS – comprising a dynamo-style electric motor-generator unit linked to the driveshaft, specific lithium-ion batteries and a control unit – is bolted in behind the driver in place of the rear seat. It’s just a demo and a consciousness-raiser at the moment, but it’s all feasible…

  • And more KERS: Volvo has finished testing its kinetic flywheel tech, and confirms that it’s light, financially viable and efficient – in combination with a four-cylinder turbo engine it can reduce fuel consumption by up to 25% compared to a six-cylinder turbo engine giving similar performance (0-62 in 5.5 seconds, in the experimental S60). It adds a transient 80bhp through a flywheel spinning at the rear axle, allowing for switch-off of the ICE up front under braking; indeed, the ICE could be off for around half the driving time, and Volvo claims that fuel savings will be the greatest in stop-start urban traffic and during “active driving” (whatever that might mean: I’m guessing aggressive throttle-brake action). Volvo is now evaluating the production prospects.
  • So now we know who Detroit Electric’s partner is: Geely Automobile Group of China (which owns Volvo, incidentally, not that we’re playing The Chain here). The pair have “entered into strategic partnership to co-develop pure electric vehicles and related electric drive systems for the Chinese market”, and the first models – all-electric – will go on sale in China next year. First up is an EV based on Geely’s Emgrand EC7 saloon, logically called EC7-EV, which will be co-branded ‘Detroit Electric – Technology’. It’ll initially go to business users and public sector organisations, with sales of 3,000 expected in the first year but 30,000 a year in three years’ time; range is 165km (with a 258km extra-cost upgrade), and the EC7-EV is said to be good for 200kmph and 0-100km in less than eight seconds. Tech includes the twin-speed gearbox as in the SP:01; a JV is being formed to make the EV powertrain and its components near to Geely’s HQ in Hangzhou, Zheijang province.
  • London, and the congestion charge: threshold for exemption is lowered to 75g/km as of 1st July, leaving only the EVs, range-extenders and plug-in hybrids to go free. As it should be, I reckon. There’s a three-year grace period for cars already registered for the exemption, however, to mollify the people who just bought a small diesel specifically to drive it into the centre of the city.
  • Meanwhile, the European parliament has approved an average 95g/km target for car-makers for 2020 – more here.
  • Leading by example: the Obama administration is supporting the purchase of 10,000 hybrids for government agencies, reports Detroit News.

Design Concept of the Day: Toyota ME:WE

April 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

toyota meweMais oui. French designer/architect Jean-Marie Massaud has collaborated with Toyota’s ED2 design centre to create a concept revealed in Paris today. The ME:WE EV is described as an “anti-crisis” car addressing human, economic and environmental challenges, and it looks like a fun little thing as well. It’s intended to be adaptable, innovative, low-cost to buy and run yet high-quality, and to “reflect the values of forward-thinking people rather than simply their social status”. Further philosophy behind it includes concern for pedestrians and, apparently, “addressing people’s sense of personal responsibility and commitment to good citizenship”. Most appealingly, it’s “no-excess” and no-extras, stripped-down and simple.

The mood-board stuff is backed up by some solid engineering principles, nonetheless: light weight, low cost and modularity. The car is built around a tubular aluminium structure with easily-personalised and fully-recyclable polypropene panels, and can transform between being a pick-up, convertible, off-roader and small city car: featuring in-wheel electric motors, it can run in two- or four-wheel drive modes; its rear luggage space can be extended to a load-bay rear platform, or luggage can be carried on the roof under a neoprene canopy; its rear bench seat can be folded or removed for use as a picnic seat; and even the windscreen folds down for an open-top experience.

Batteries (as in the iQ EV) are under-floor, freeing up cabin space, and the whole thing weighs just 750kg. Further nice touches include the bamboo floor and horizontal surfaces, simple single-screen instrumentation with info delivery via smartphone app, plus low-energy heaters/ventilators/air con. More details, and a full gallery of images, here. And you even get a sunny, sandy-beach French lifestyle complete with matelot jerseys…

  • A market niche where electrification can make all the difference: the tuk-tuk. Japanese start-up Terra Motors is building a relatively cheap three-wheeler in the Philippines, where there’s a plan to replace 100,000 petrol-burners by 2016. Only a 31-mile range for this one, however. More here.
  • Ford has partnered with US house-builder KB Home on its energy-efficient ZeroHouse 2.0 Concept, which features smart-scheduling for charging a C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid off-peak. The show home is on display in San Marcos, California. More here.
  • CPT is to show its 48V ‘micro-mild’ hybrid tech at an event in Vienna this week. This uses (cheap) lead-carbon battery technology and gives a 4-8% fuel economy/CO2 emissions improvements in its 1.4-litre Passat saloon demo vehicle. Said to be a low-cost solution, with the motor-generator ready for production;, the 48-volt system also includes transient torque assist, optimised fueling when idling and cruising, and kinetic energy recovery, reports Green Car Congress.
  • BMW is opening its first Future Mobility Research Lab in south-east Asia, in partnership with Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The Lab will study and develop advanced battery materials for EVs, human-machine interfaces, and “mobility patterns and concepts” – multi-modal transport and car-sharing, plus advanced routing algorithms for commuting – with a view to the needs of the Asian market and the megacities of the region.  More detail here.

Concept of the Day: Buick Riviera

April 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

buick riviera shanghaiGM’s Buick has revived the Riviera nameplate (again: there was a 2007 concept using this name) for a plug-in hybrid developed by Shanghai GM and GM’s Pan Asia Technical Automotive Centre. This one previews the styling of future Buick products – now largely targeted at the Chinese/Asian market, hence the PATAC design – and features the characteristic ‘waterfall’ grille. Fuel-saving features include aerodynamic lines plus active grille shutters and diffusers, and wireless charging; it can run in all-electric or hybrid modes though there’s no more detail than this yet on the powertrain. In a nice touch, however, the concept’s charging port (it can be recharged via a traditional cable or wireless ‘sensory panel’) echoes the traditional Buick ‘porthole’ window. Further features include 4G mobile internet access, voice- and gesture-recognition controls, forward active safety monitoring with 10 cameras and a full suite of active safety/driver assist systems. Wouldn’t bet against something like this going into production. More here.

  • Some more Shanghai news. Nissan’s Chinese-market sub-brand Venucia, a JV with Dongfeng, has come up with an EV concept: a city car called Viwa (pics here). It’s claimed to be the first of a number of new upcoming Venucia EVs, featuring existing Nissan e-drive tech, and to have “a driving range which meets the daily requirements of Chinese customers”. Venucia is also to start pilot-testing its e30 in Guangzhou and Dalian this year; more on that here. And BMW, meanwhile, is to make  EVs in partnership with Brilliance, to be sold under a new ‘Zinoro’ brand-name, reports Automotive News.
  • Detroit Electric has unveiled the Lotus Elise-based SP:01 in Shanghai; like the Tesla Roadster, but faster, and with a four (or optional five-) speed gearbox as standard (two-speed auto also available). Orders have already been taken, says Autocar.
  • And at (my) home here in the UK: Hyundai has joined the London Hydrogen Partnership to “develop a plan for fuel cell vehicles” and plot the roll-out of refuelling stations in the city. It is now delivering its iX35 Fuel Cell (in a production run of 1000) to public and private fleets and demonstrating it to the European Commission. The iX35 Fuel Cell – a small crossover – has now completed over two million miles-worth of testing in total in Europe, Korea and the US, and the headline stats for it are a 369-mile range per tankful of hydrogen, a top speed of 100mph, and 0-62mph in 12.5 seconds.

And the big research story (so far) this week:

A study by Ricardo-AEA for the RAC Foundation and the UK Petroleum Industry Association has a pessimistic forecast for electric and plug-in hybrid car sales in the UK: unlikely to meet the government’s targets for 2020. The EU target of an average 95g/km of CO2 is feasible, however, thanks to improvements to diesel and petrol engines. An annual sales figure of 200,000 plug-in hybrid and battery-electric vehicles is expected for 2020, taken from an average of 14 different forecasts, but the actual numbers from this report are vague. Market share of hybrids is expected to be anywhere between 5-20% by 2020 and 20-50% by 2030, the latter accounting for anything between 400,000-1million cars; for plug-in hybrids, 1-5% (2020) and 15-30% (2030), and 300,000-600,000 sales; for ‘pure’ EVs 1-5% (2020) and 5-20% (2030), and 100,000-400,000 sales; and for range-extended EVs, 1-2% (2020) and 5-20% (2030) with sales of 100,000-400,000. Whichever way you look at it, even the more conservative figures still represent a fair amount of vehicles (at least compared to today’s numbers), but basically, there’s no clear consensus.

Conclusion of the report: “In the longer term, the likely mix of technologies is extremely difficult to predict. The speed with which plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles achieve significant market shares is highly dependent on their total cost of ownership in comparison to that of more conventional alternatives. This is, in turn, dependent on factors such as oil prices, further battery and fuel cell cost reductions, and government policies.” Comment from Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation: “Estimating future sales of electric cars is not quite like sticking the tail on the donkey, but not far from it. There are so many variables to factor in that even those paid to predict the future of low-carbon vehicles cannot agree on what is in store. The only common ground amongst the experts is that we are unlikely to see as many electric cars sold as politicians might like.”

The RAC Foundation makes the point that advances in battery technology and purchase price are key factors, and says that a target of an average new-car 60g/km should be set for 2025 to incentivise development. The director of UKPIA, Chris Hunt, notes that, including range-extenders and engines in hybrids, 60% of vehicles in 2030 will still feature the ICE, and said: “The key conclusions of the publication are that conventional petrol and diesel cars are expected to remain the dominant technology in the overall vehicle fleet until at least 2030.” As Mandy Rice-Davies (she of Profumo scandal infamy) once said: “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”.

  • Ah, but on the other hand… the IEE (Innovation, Electricity, Efficiency, an institute of the Edison Foundation: yes, you can see where they‘re coming from) reckons one in ten light-duty vehicles, including cars, could be electric in the USA by 2035. “Even under the most conservative scenarios” that means five million American EVs, and possibly as many as 30 million. More, including link to download full report, here. Worst-case scenario is a 2% market share, best-case 12%, depending on advances in battery tech and oil prices.

Concept of the Day: TUM Create VOI

April 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

TUM VOIIt’s not pretty, but it could be effective: the VOI (named from the Vietnamese word for elephant, apparently) is designed to be a safe, affordable and easy-to-ride electric transporter-scooter for congested metropoli. A collaboration between students from Technical University Munich (TUM) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, VOI was revealed at the Taiwan International Electric Vehicle Show. TUM Create, a research group spanning 20 countries, says that it could suit urban commuters and business people whizzing between meetings, and address the ‘first/last mile’ problem – link-ups with railway stations and other public transport systems, for example – as well as hosting a cargo box for multi-purpose use as an alternative to the enclosed front passenger seat. It’ll do 45km/h and has a range of 80km. More here.

  • Interesting interview here with the CEO of Alset Global, supplier of the hydrogen hybrid system for the Aston Martin ‘Ring racer (see previous post). Jose Ignacio Galindo describes the tech as being “a breakthrough technology without disrupting the industry” – as in, the hybrid nature of the system means that you don’t need a whole new fuel supply infrastructure straight away, and that minimal changes to existing ICEs are needed (as BMW has been saying for years). He sees it as a gateway to the “hydrogen economy” – a phrase he keeps using – which is quite telling, I think, and a glimpse into the industrial/commercial agenda for hydrogen (again, see previous post). Incremental improvement (in terms of reducing reliance on fossil fuels, at least) or a straight substitution of one fuel regime for another with little actual benefit to overall sustainability?
  • Big report out from the International Energy Agency’s Electric Vehicle Initiative – Global EV Outlook, giving predictions through to 2020. Haven’t had a chance for a go-through yet myself, but you can download it here. The IEA is also suggesting that transport gives “a window of opportunity” in an otherwise bleak lack of progress in the transition towards clean energy generation and use.
  • On a national level, the ULEV roadmap from the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research), setting out a plan for the UK to “develop a global advantage in low-emissions vehicles”). I’d summarise it as 4 Is: investment, incentives, infrastructure, improvements (the latter referring to electricity supply and the national grid). Available for download here.
  • Well, that told us… Enjoyed this piece, promoting a book called Roads Were Not Built For Cars. “Cyclists were written out of highway history by the all-powerful motor lobby in the 1920s and 1930s”, says Carlton Reid. Great stuff.
  • Toyota’s Prius PHV trial in Strasbourg (70 cars) charted an average 46% fuel economy improvement versus a comparable ICE car and 61% CO2 reductions. The more frequent the cars’ charging, the greater fuel economy results (unsurprisingly); 60% of recharges were at workplaces, 37% at home and only 3% using public facilities. Handy breakdown of findings here.
  • Another OPOC engine story: latest news from Achates Power. The 1.5 two-stroke, two-cylinder diesel can meet Euro 6 and LEV3 without SCR; 13.% fuel economy gain on a comparable Mercedes unit.
  • Large new study linking exposure to traffic pollutants and heart disease: lowdown here. It ain’t all about CO2.

Concept of the Day: Aston Martin Hydrogen Hybrid Rapide S

April 12, 2013 § 1 Comment

aston hydrogen hybridWell, it’s a Friday, so I’ll indulge y’all with a supercar pic. Aston Martin, Hydrogen Hybrid Rapide S, to race at the ‘Ring next month. Features a prototype twin-turbo 6.0-litre V12 which can run on pure gaseous hydrogen, gasoline, or a blend of the two, and is claimed to be capable of a full C02-free lap of the Nordschleife in which it emits “virtually only water” from the exhaust. The car has a bespoke engine management system, four carbonfibre hydrogen storage tanks (two next to the driver and two in the boot) and is said to have “a carbon footprint more akin to that of a supermini” (debatable, I feel, depending on the source of the hydrogen and how it is extracted, but we’ll hand it to Aston on the emissions front*). Otherwise, it’s similar to the standard Rapide S four-door – which goes on sale this month – and good for 190mph and 0-62 in 4.9 seconds.

*A commenter, e-bike-rider cableflux, begs to differ on this score, citing NOx emissions higher than those from a gasoline equivalent. My understanding of H2-ICE is that, while NOx emissions were typically slightly up at high temperatures in earlier prototype experiments, this can – these days – be managed by advanced combustion control (hydrogen is lean-burn anyway) plus EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) which compensates for any attendant loss of engine power, plus selective catalytic reduction (SCR). Sure, we don’t know if the Aston has SCR (it’s not mentioned here or in any other material from either Aston or system-providers Alset Global) but I would have thought that it would meet all relevant legislation/homologation requirements and that its NOx emissions would be acceptably low – at least by the standards of what everything else in the race will be spewing out under full steam (as it were).

But yeah, I’m not wholly convinced by this whole hydrogen-as-the-fuel-of-the-future thing, either. Quite apart from the practical infrastructural issues which need to be solved, my suspicions are that this is a very convenient commercial/industrial agenda to be pushed (no money to be made in fuel supply if everyone charged EVs at home from their own PV panels/wind microturbines/other renewable sources, after all). Big H is, I think, being fingered as a replacement for Big Oil, so it’s right to be wary of the claims for it.

  • Much muttering this week about a certain Norwegian study which claims that EVs are, over their lifecycle, less eco-friendly than ICE vehicles. (Yes, we’ve heard this many times before). I’m not going to go down the line of assuming that the study is biased ‘cos it was sponsored by StatOil – draw yer own conclusions, I’m not about to cast aspersions on the integrity of the individual researchers involved – but will point you in the direction of firstly, the very in-depth study carried out by Ricardo (2011) for the LowCVP, and secondly, a piece I wrote last year which looked at the follow-up research to that, including the finding that the carbon payback time (when the savings from operating an EV outweigh the extra carbon costs of its manufacturing) was getting increasingly shorter.
  • InnovateUK (Technology Strategy Board) is funding four more  ‘future cities’ demo projects – more here. This programme has now funded 30 feasibility studies; besides competition winner Glasgow, three further sh0rt-listed projects in Bristol, London and Peterborough will each receive £3million each. Projects include ‘open data’ and civic engagement programmes including mobility-on-demand services (Bristol), the creation of an eco-tech cluster in Peterborough and 3D mapping/automated inquiry of utility roadworks in London to reduce congestion, local air pollution and road maintenance costs.
  • Meanwhile in Paris, there’s a suburban public transit revolution goin’ on – Sustainable Cities Collective is reporting on approval for four new driverless ‘super metro’ lines with 72 new stations linking marginalised areas to transport hubs and business centres, to be completed 2030 (via @Roads2Nowhere – thanks).
  • News on the discovery of different enzymes and catalysts for breaking down biomass to make biofuel pretty much comes daily, but this snippet was so stomach-churning it was worth noting: a fungus which lives in the guts of horses breaks down cellulose. Kinda obvious, really, given that horses eat grass, and I shall resist from making any bad jokes about the resulting power.

Concept of the Day: Citroen DS Wild Rubis

April 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

citroen-ds-wild-rubis-10Am I just being particularly puerile, or does its name sound a bit porn-star? Anyway, the DS Wild Rubis (errggh) is a “vision of a future DS SUV”, though if you were wondering whether the world really needed another large SUV, it is at least designed to take a plug-in hybrid powertrain. This luxury-spec, designer-line Citroen on the C5/DS5 platform goes on display at the Shanghai Motor Show later this month. Autocar has more details: says it’ll be called DSX Hybrid-4 when it goes into production next year for the Chinese market, and that it features a direct-injection 1.6 petrol engine driving the front wheels and an e-motor driving the rear to give a total 240bhp or so.

  • Further to yesterday’s launch of the Citroen Berlingo Electric, here’s confirmation of its (Peugeot) Partner. From £21,300+VAT (before 20% Plug-In Van Grant), on sale in the UK 23rd May. Same basic spec as the Citroen, and offered with an all-inclusive three-year/60,000-mile warranty plus five years/40,000 miles drivetrain/battery cover.
  • Not the most elegant solution, but it works: a fold-out 18-panel solar charging system which packs away neatly in a car boot for travelling. The Lotus Mobile system (no relation to the Hethel-based car co) is the work of Monarch Power of Scottsdale, Arizona, and car-charging is just one application the firm has in mind; it’s also been designed to act as a power source in emergency situations and in areas with poor infrastructure, as well as for recreational camping. More here (via @damonlavrinc, thanks).
  • There are a total 48,705 public EV charging stations in the world right now, according to a report by Navigant Research in its Electric Vehicle Supply EquipmentTracker 1Q13. Navigant is also predicting the sale of 200,000 plug-in vehicles with vehicle-to-building (or V2G/V2infrastructure) capability – for energy storage, grid-balancing and soforth – will be sold 2012-2020, and that electric bicycle sales will climb to 37.9million a year worldwide by 2020.
  • Latest count of charging stations in the USA: the Dept of Energy expects 7,100 by the end of the year, reports Autoblog Green. To include over 225 more at the grocery chain Kroger’s, announced this week.
  • Against that, there’s news that just 27 new hydrogen refuelling facilities opened – worldwide – last year. World total now stands at about 210, says Green Car Reports. 16 in Europe, including five in Germany, and 58 in the US (24 of which are in California), apparently.
  • I’ve written and researched on alternative engine architectures in the past, and long concluded that in many cases, they do not progress to mainstream production as much for practical and industrial-cultural reasons rather than any inherent failings in the technology itself. It’s down to the cost of new production lines, the leap-of-faith needed for investment, concerns over consumer acceptance and soforth – which is why the conventional ICE remains little-challenged bar the odd spark of interest in, for example, the Wankel rotary. Still, here’s some news on the diesel OPOC (opposed-piston, opposed-cylinder) engine developed by EcoMotors and said to be lighter, smaller and 20-50% more efficient than a comparable turbodiesel, as well as cheaper to make. China’s Zhongding Power is investing over $200million to build a plant for its production in the Anhui Province, reports Green Car Congress.

Design Concept of the Day: Hyundai E4U

April 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

hyundai e4uHyundai’s E4U concept (seen at the Seoul Motor Show) is a winner at the company’s “Idea Festival” this year, an event for the firm’s engineers to show off their ideas on future mobility. This upright single-person EV weighs just 80kg and does up to 30kmph; it is steered via a tilt/turn action of its pivoting hemisphere (think of it as an enclosed, egg-shaped Segway, perhaps). It can be folded and its side sections detached for easy parking or storage. Urban commuting machine or assistance for the mobility-impaired? Lots of potential in this design, even if it does look a bit like a walk-in vacuum cleaner. E4U, by the way, stands for Egg, Evolution, Electricity and Eco-friendliness, says Hyundai.

  • Citroen has launched its Berlingo Electric at the CV Show in Birmingham this week. Demand is expected to come from “urban-based, private-sector businesses” as well as “significant specialist operations” – local authority work such as meals on wheels and parks departments – says spokesman Scott Michael. The Berlingo Electric has a range of up to 106 miles and a top speed of just under 69mph, with a 49kW/200Nm battery pack and lithium-ion batteries; it can be fast-charged to 80% of capacity in 35 minutes though a full charge from a domestic socket is a 12-hour job. Its load space and 636kg payload are the same as for the diesel Berlingo; spec is as for the LX (including air conditioning, a driver’s airbag and electric front windows) and prices start from £21,300+VAT.
  • Fancy an 84mpg (US) sportster which can do 100mph and 0-60 in less than ten seconds, all for a price of $6,800? Snag (well, for some people, this could actually be its appeal) is that it’s a three-wheeler… Elio Motors is planning to set up in a former GM plant in Shreveport, Alabama. Autoweek has the lowdown. Shades of the original Morgans and three-wheeler ‘cycle cars’ of the 1910s-20s, perhaps? Similar lightweight, minimalist, no-more-than-it-needs-to-be approach. (Incidentally, if you’re interested in three-wheelers…). Incidentally, it’s no stranger-looking than any of the vehicles in the Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2013 – winning car, from University Laval of Quebec, returning 3587mpg. Full lowdown here.
  • Here’s a classy mobility-management programme/car-share: Project 100 in downtown Las Vegas, with 100 Tesla Model S-es (chauffeured) as well as a selection of NEVs, bicycles and a bus pass. By invitation only as yet, however, and $400 a month. More here.

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