End-of-the-month news round-up

November 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

mk-nov-busNot only are they getting driverless ‘pod’ cars, the people of Milton Keynes (pioneers that they are!) can commute into the town in wirelessly-charged electric buses. A trial of eight WrightBus StreetLite electric buses will start on the Wolverton-Bletchley route in January. More here. (Pic from Arup, partner in the trial).

  • A useful briefing document on ‘peak car’ has been released by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology for the Transport Select Committee. Conversation on Twitter right now – Scott Le Vine (@scottericlevine, author of report for the RAC Foundation) says: “Youth drive less – but their incomes fell year on year throughout the 2000s. Takes out some of the mystery.”
  • Latest targets for EV charging points: 456,000 across Europe by 2020, at least 70,000 in the UK. More here.
  • The European Commission has released a working document – draft of 2014-15 work programme for transport – titled “Smart, Green and Integrated”. Four key areas of activity: improving efficiency; better mobility, safety and security, and less congestion; reinforcing European transport industry’s global leadership; and doing socio-economic/behavioural research (that’s where people like me come in!) and forward-looking activity for policy-making.
  • Dutch research organisation TNO is working on V2V comms tech connecting cars and trucks with bicycles, including real-time position and speed data to help protect the two-wheelers. More here.
  • But what are the implications of driverless cars and pedestrian/cyclist-sensing tech for cycling and the cyclists themselves? asks the Guardian’s Bike Blog.
  • And an interesting internet-of-things project – using GPS-equipped moving cars to measure rainfall and its density. The University of Hanover says its RainCars project, collecting feedback on wiper speeds, is exploring the collection of detailed precipitation data to help with tasks such as flood prediction.
  • They’ll get it whether they want it or not: BMW will electrify (to some extent) all models in the not-too-distant, even if customers aren’t asking for EVs/hybrids, as a response to regulation. Quotes from BMW’s chief of product development Herbert Diess at Autocar.
  • The Cadillac ELR coupe – a range-extended EV with a version of the Volt/Ampera drivetrain – is to be smartgrid-compatible from the get-go, with GM’s cloud-enabled OnStar RemoteLink. Release posted here.
  • Handy tie-up: UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, has signed a partnership with TomTom for its Global Traffic Index data. Quote from UN-Habitat’s Executive Director Dr Joan Clos: “Urban areas are growing fast; they are now home to half of the world’s population and are predicted to reach 6 billion by 2050. How we plan and manage our cities in terms of basic services, mobility or connectivity is going to be essential to ensure better cities. TomTom’s data will give us vital insight, providing a more accurate analysis of urban traffic congestion. This will help policy makers and local governments develop sustainable, workable and lasting urban solutions”. TomTom’s press release today says its new 6th edition Traffic Index has “revealed a clear pattern of increased congestion. Commuters around the world are spending on average eight working days stuck in traffic. This shows that traditional responses like building new roads or widening existing ones are no longer an effective way of managing urban congestion.”
  • Nissan’s firming-up its customer service commitment to Leaf owners: its Care-EV Leaf pledges (5 of ’em) include free rapid-charging (30min to full charge) at 60 dealerships nationwide and at the rapid-chargers it is installing with Ecotricity at motorway service stations, and the free loan of a petrol or diesel Nissan for up to two weeks (with seven days’ notice, fuel and insurance extra-cost) should you need to do an out-of-range trip. There’s also free pan-European roadside assistance to cover flat/empty batteries, and a battery capacity-loss guarantee up to five years/60,000 miles. Oh, and it’s running a 28-vehicle trial of the e-NV200 van with British Gas.
  • Whoa: new direct-injection petrol engines may be more fuel-efficient and emit less CO2, but they emit 1000x more particulate matter than older lower-pressure indirect-injector-equipped units, and 10x more than comparable diesels, according to a study by TUEV Nord. Cue the particulate filter for petrol models?
  • BMW’s Chinese JV, BMW Brilliance Automotive, has launched an electric X1 to be leased as the Zinoro 1E; it’s to be offered in a pilot programme in Beijing and Shanghai. Pictures, details posted here. And Daimler’s sending the Smart Fortwo electric-drive to China, too (release posted here). But we won’t make jokes about the Nissan Leaf/Venucia Morning Wind, will we now? Other Chinese curiosities on display at the Guangzhou Motor Show this week include the Guangzhou Auto WitStar, a range-extended electric SUV with gullwing doors, autonomous driving tech and, err, a fish tank.
  • More details on the TUM Create Eva electric taxi (see previous post) here.
  • Much pessimism re. EVs this week. High depreciation, says CAP (consistently half-empty on this score), and subsidies not helping. But market should stabilise once new prices come down. More here.

Concept of the Day #2: Daihatsu FC Deco Deck

November 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

daihatsu deco deckYep, another fuel cell concept: a “zero-emission next-generation mobility vehicle”, says Daihatsu, exhibiting at the Tokyo Motor Show. The Deco Deck’s liquid fuel cell system is free of precious metals, however, and also forms the basis of two different generators, developed with a view to emergency power supplies. Not much detail on the tech as yet, but it’s said to be low-cost, and compact enough to be installed under-floor, thus freeing up space in a micro-vehicle/tiny truck-deck like this. The FC-Dock generators (two outputs) are also designed to be affordable, can be started up without external power, and feature a new bottle-replacement system to avoid direct contact with the hydrogen.

  • Toyota has showcased a Driver Awareness Research Vehicle, a collaboration with Microsoft, at the LA Show. The DARV uses interactive displays – info on traffic, weather, diary notifications, routing – to inform the driver before start-up, in a bid to reduce at-wheel distraction; the display is on the side window. It also deploys games and devices to get kids to put their seatbelts on, and anticipates integration with autonomous driving systems. More, including nice quotes from the director of Toyota’s safety research centre on the changing relationship between drivers, cars and technology, here.

Concept of the Day: Honda FCEV

November 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

honda fcevAnd here’s a proper pic of the Honda FCEV Concept, on display this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It’s previewing a fuel cell car to be launched in the US and Japan in 2015, with European sales following. No word as yet on production scale or numbers. This concept shows a first-time packaging of all powertrain components in the engine bay, freeing up cabin space and promising flexibility (as well as co-operative development with ICE vehicles), and a 60% increase in power density of the fuel cell stack compared to the previous FCX Clarity prototype’s despite a 33% reduction in size. Driving range is claimed to be over 300 miles, with a three-minute refuelling time, and it’s a full five-seater. Meanwhile, Hyundai announced details of its lease plan for the Tucson FCEV – to include unlimited free hydrogen. Press release posted here.

  • Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s electric-drive chief Rudolf Krebs has been speaking about the efficiency losses involved in hydrogen fuelling – and has said that the best all-round prospect is a plug-in vehicle (electric) with fuel cell range-extender. Discussion at LA Show reported here, plus VW release on its alt-power strategy (electrification of vehicles in all sectors).
  • Handy briefing document on energy system transformation from the ESRC (Economic & Social Research Council). Even briefer summary: understanding public views, values, attitudes towards energy is crucial, but British public generally positive about change. Full 48-page report here.
  • Further to the above, people are more open to the idea of more sustainable consumption at times of life changes – moving house, birth of a child, etc. References, links to talk by Ian Christie of the Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey, here.
  • And also at University of Surrey: researcher Izabela Jurewicz is working on energy storage using textiles (carbon nanotube fibres and yarns) to optimise lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles. More details here.
  • Jaguar Land Rover has formed a collaboration with Intel for future vehicle information/entertainment technologies, including cockpit devices to connect car and cloud. JLR’s opening a new R&D centre in Portland, Oregon, to give it a US West Coast base near Silicon Valley and other tech clusters. Quote from Intel VP and general manager of Automotive Solutions Division Elliot Garbus: “Consumers expect their in-vehicle experiences to be an integrated part of their digitally connected lifestyle; this requires enhanced levels of connectivity and intelligence in the car.  As part of our work with Jaguar Land Rover, we are exploring innovative ways to inform, entertain and assist drivers and passengers in a safe way; speeding development of unique experiences from the car to the cloud.  Our goal is to accelerate opportunities for new types of in-vehicle services and applications in the Internet of Things.”

Concept of the Day: Yamaha Motiv.e

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

yamaha motivIt’s the first potentially-commercial application of Gordon Murray’s simplified, low-cost iStream production process – and Yamaha looks ready to enter the four-wheeled market with this lightweight two-seat city car, a potential rival for the Smart Forwo. It’s specifically engineered for Europe, reports Autocar; design and development has been by Gordon Murray Design in partnership with Yamaha, building on the GM T25 and T27 concepts. Powertrain for this Tokyo Motor Show showcase is a Zytek battery-electric, similar to that in the T27, but there’ll also be a 1.0-litre Yamaha petrol engine option.

More news (stuff not previously previewed) from Tokyo:

  • Subaru has updated its Viziv hybrid crossover/hatch concept: Viziv Evolution has a 1.6-litre direct-injection turbo engine plus plug-in hybrid system with three motors (one assisting from axle, two driving rear wheels). Plus prototype semi-autonomous ‘auto-pilot’ tech, reports Autocar.
  • Honda has revealed a new compact ‘urban’ SUV (Nissan Juke-alike, Jazz-based), to be called Vezel in Japan; it’ll come to Europe in 2015 under a different name. There’s a hybrid version featuring a 1.5-litre direct-injection petrol engine plus motor as well as an ICE-only.
  • Volvo’s slinky Concept Coupe has a hybrid powertrain featuring a supercharged/turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine driving its front wheels plus electric motor to the rear; this develops some 395bhp/442lb ft and will go into various production cars. This show car – possible preview of new C70-type model – is built around Volvo’s new scalable product architecture (SPA) which has been designed with autonomous driving in mind, says Autocar.
  • That Honda Uni-Cub β personal mobility device: it’s a sort of sit-on Segway (gyroscopic controls) capable of 3mph, and Honda plans to lease it to Japanese businesses and organisations. More here. Plenty of potential applications for this.
  • Lexus has demoed two new autonomous driving technologies: Co-operative Adaptive Cruise Control and Land Trace Control. CACC (they might want to rethink the acronym for that one) is a V2V system for low-speed urban driving, intervening to prevent rear-enders, etc., and LTC is for self-steering around bends. More here.
  • Fuel cell cars are unlikely to be viable by 2020, says Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn (who has bet the farm on battery-electric). Sensible point on prohibitive cost of building the refuelling infrastructure. His Tokyo speech is reported here.

Some news from Los Angeles, Auto Show also underway this week:

  • Ford exec Jim Farley says that more collaboration is needed between car-makers and smartphone firms; “the real value for customers in the connected car is outside of our auto industry”, he said (Detroit News). Safe-to-use smartphone-delivered mapping first priority, according to a Google Maps rep. More quotes at Automotive News.

And in other news:

  • Smart tie-up between Smart and Europcar – buyers of the Fortwo and the new e-bike get a 20% discount on car/van rentals with Europcar. Idea is that the chance for the occasional discounted rental makes it easier to run a micrcar/e-bike as main daily transport. Customers can sign up for the (free) Privilege4smart clubcard which offers further benefits to members.
  • On a similar service-related note: BMW is launching a suite of offers in the US next year for its EV buyers, including installation of home charging equipment, discounts on domestic solar panels, ChargeNow cards and apps for public charging, ParkNow LongTerm to reserve facilities in city garages, Alternative Mobility (access to other vehicles for longer trips) and membership of the DriveNow EV-shares. Lowdown here.
  • Autonomous vehicles are unlikely for the foreseeable future – into the 2020s – a GM spokesman has told the US House Transportation Committee. Nissan’s a little more optimistic, hoping to have a self-driving model in production by the end of the decade. Full story on the House panel debate at Detroit News. And the NHTSA is to issue regulatory guidelines on vehicle smartphone integration next year.
  • Policy changes are under discussion in the US to allow standard car licence-holders to drive enclosed three-wheelers without a motorcycle licence: has implications for take-up of lightweight EVs. Press release from Elio Motors (very big vested interest in such a ruling) posted here.
  • The US DoE’s Berkeley lab has come up with a lithium-sulphur battery concept giving twice the specific energy of lithium-ion and 1500-plus charge/discharge cycles with minimum decay, plus cheaper manufacturing costs and greater stability: science bit at Green Car Congress. And development of lithium-iron phosphate at UC Riverside…
  • Audi’s launching its 4G LTE connect service in the US next spring in the A3: enhanced Google Earth and Streetview, plus faster downloads and video-streaming for up to eight devices. More here.
  • 69% of new cars will have V2V communications tech by 2027, suggests ABI Research, up from 11% in 2018. Lowdown here.
  • Changes to the automotive paradigm in China – large-scale and rapidly-growing car market – will influence motor industry in the rest of the world: rundown of speeches at SAE New Energy Vehicle Forum, Shanghai, at Green Car Congress. A need for NEVs, and multi-modal transportation systems.
  • CO2 reductions of up to 25% were noted in the eCoMove project (ERTICO-ITS) using v2X (vehicle-to-infrastructure) communications. More here. 10% reductions in urban networks are feasible.

Concept of the Day: Honda FCEV

November 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

honda fcevNot a lot to go on yet from this sketch, but it does prefigure a production car: a fuel cell EV to launch in the US and Japan in 2015, with European sales to follow. Honda will unveil the FCEV Concept at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this month. It’s the successor to the FCX Clarity prototypes which have been extensively trialled since Honda first put fuel cell cars on the road in 2002. Honda’s also updated its Micro Commuter EV concept (a tiny two-seater) as part of its Smart Mobility City exhibit, a smart home/domestic (hydrogen) energy showcase in collaboration with Toshiba and Sekisui House. More on that here and here – it’s all about “a future lifestyle with deeper links among houses, electric appliances and automobiles”, apparently. There’s also going to be a demo of the Micro Commuter in autonomous mode, plus a further micro-EV called MC-β and the Uni-Cub personal mobility device.

  • Talking of smart homes and domestic energy: a report from the Pecan Street research in Austin, Texas, found that EV drivers – incentivised by their electricity tariffs – did not overload the grid at times of peak demand. Telematics and apps such as Chevy’s OnStar were key enablers for scheduling charging times. More here.
  • A bit of a Pope, Catholic, moment here, but research from Carnegie Mellon has concluded that limited availability of residential parking and charging facilities is inhibiting EV take-up. Lowdown, academic citations at Green Car Congress.
  • Kia has confirmed production of the Soul EV for export markets, following a successful three-year trial of the Ray EV in Korea; sales in the UK are under consideration. This’ll do 200km on a single charge, and features an 81kW motor giving 285Nm of torque, 0-62mph in less than 12 seconds, and 145kph; recharging takes up to five hours from a standard 230/240V domestic set-up but only 25min from a 100kW fast-charger. Kia’s promising a virtual engine sound at speeds below 20kph and when reversing, incidentally, and the Soul EV’s interior will incorporate a large range of recycled-material plastics, foam, fabric and upholstery felt. Sales will start in the second half of 2014. Hyundai-Kia is also planning mass production of fuel cell vehicles by 2020, reports EV Fleet World.
  • Electric motorbike news. Now they’re making extended-range e-bikes: lowdown on the Tacita T-Race (a sort of trials bike, I think) here. And Oregon-based electric motorbike-maker Brammo has a sports car prototype 85% complete, reports Autoblog Green. And new e-bikes from Yamaha to be shown in Tokyo: press release posted here.
  • The University of Michigan is building a 30-acre test facility for driverless automated vehicles, with a view to getting a fleet on the streets of Ann Arbor in 2021. More here.
  • With ref to all the above on hydrogen and fuel cells, energy-efficient and eco-friendly extraction/production/synthesis of hydrogen is the next Big Question. This may not be the Holy Grail, but KTH Stockholm is running a project on bio-waste and has a prototype using hydrogen from olive oil-making by-products. Story here.
  • And one for e-cyclists: a ‘smart wheel’ operating on a dynamo-style principle (via @sust-mobility).

Design Concept of the Day: Nissan BladeGlider

November 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

nissan bladegliderInspired by Nissan’s  ZEOD RC Le Mans contender and the earlier DeltaWing prototype racer, the BladeGlider concept is a preview of a proper production prospect, says Nissan: “both a proposal for the future of Nissan electric vehicle development and an exploratory prototype of an upcoming production vehicle”. Incorporating the aerodynamics of swept-wing aircraft, downforce is the duty of the super-rigid carbonfibre underbody (hence no wings), and drag is further reduced by the triangular shape – front track is just 1m and front:rear weight distribution is 30:70. And, excitingly, “when BladeGlider matures into a production car, it could be Nissan’s first use of in-wheel motors”. These motors are fitted to the rear wheels, freeing up space up top and lowering the centre of gravity, as do the low-mounted, rearward lithium-ion battery packs. The body’s carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP), and entry is via scissor-up doors: it’s a three-seater, with the driver ahead of the passengers at an aircraft-style wheel. It’s a running prototype and not just a motor show fantasy, too – Autocar has a little more detail, and notes that there’s elements of the well-proven Ariel Atom in the chassis of the test mule. Full reveal of the BladeGlider will be at the Tokyo Motor Show.

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Concept of the Day: Volkswagen Twin-Up

November 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

volkswagen-twin-up-6To debut at the Tokyo Motor Show, the Twin-Up is a diesel-electric plug-in hybrid version of the Up! city car. Using a powertrain adapted from that of the XL1 prototype, which combines a two-cylinder 800cc diesel engine with seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, electric motor and lithium-ion batteries, it’s said to be good for 1.1l/km (257mpg) and 50km/30 miles in all-electric mode. More details in this Autocar story. Looks as if it is an (early-stage) contender for production, too.

And other news, snippets and thoughts for the day:

  • Fuel savings of 27% were noted in a connected-cars study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and Chosun University, South Korea. This research tested an ‘ecolane’ concept on an interstate highway, with radar-controlled vehicle distances averaging 47m. More, incl. citations, at Green Car Congress.
  • And here’s some more driverless car research, about modelling autonomous connected-cars traffic systems involving non-identical vehicles.
  • Some interesting research from MIT and UC, Berkeley on commuting patterns around Boston: a small number of drivers, from a small number of neighbourhoods, were responsible for most of the congestion, whilst even in rush hour, 98% of roads were below-capacity. Cellphone data was used to track the journeys and build up a very detailed map; full lowdown and references at the Boston Globe. HuMnet – Human Mobility and Networks Lab, MIT – has done similar modelling and visualisation exercises in Bay Area, SF.
  • And some disheartening figures from the Department for Transport’s National Transport Model – a 43% rise in car use is predicted in the UK by 2040, with corresponding fall in cycling, if no new policies announced hereon in. Report, analysis at CTC.
  • But the above – whether you believe these figures (and subscribe to the ‘peak car’ argument) or not – does show the need for cleaner cars, ‘cos there’ll still be plenty of driving in the coming decades. To that end, the government’s announced a £75million fund for developing new automotive technologies, mostly at the Advanced Propulsion Centre, though £1.5mill’s going to the driverless ‘pod’ car project in Milton Keynes. More on all this, including some nice renderings of the MK scheme, from BIS.
  • A culture shock for many public servants, I suspect: the US federal government (General Services Administration) is getting into car-sharing, with pilot trials in Chicago, Washington DC, Boston and New York City. With a view to cost-cutting in the main, but fuel/carbon savings are going to be a helpful by-product as the GSA cuts fleets and mileages and gets those who still have to drive into more efficient vehicles not of their own choosing. More at Detroit News.
  • Here’s a very good-looking e-bike: the Icon E-Flyer, both retro chic and mean-machine. Brings a whole new degree of (limited-edition, pricey) desirability to the pedelec party…
  • Output of the EU-funded EFUTURE project includes a “virtual range extender” – EV software incorporating driver-assistance systems, autonomous speed controls and eco-driving information. More here.

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