Electric vans, fuel cell buses, EV-sharing, and more…

January 30, 2015 § Leave a comment

1956-dkw-elektro-wagen-restoration-001-1A bit of nostalgia and a pretty picture to end the working week: Audi’s Tradition division (supply of classic-car parts) has restored one of only two remaining DKW Schnellaster Elektro-Wagen vans. DKW – one of the companies folded into Auto Union, which then became Audi – made around 100 of these between 1955-62, alongside the conventional two-stroke Schnellaster. Most were sold to energy companies and public utility firms, it seems, and this one (built 1956) went to serve in the East Frisian island of Wangerooge, where ICE vehicles are banned. Its lead-acid batteries gave an 80km range (enough for an island of less than five square km) and its 5kW motor a perfectly sufficient 40kmph.

  • Though yet to launch in London, Bollore is considering taking its Autolib’ EV-share to LA and Singapore. In interview with Bloomberg (via Automotive News), Vincent Bollore said that Autolib’ should become profitable this year – the break-even point in Paris will be 82,000 subscribers, up from the current 70,000 – and that its Bluesummer convertible  could join the Bluecar hatches on the US West Coast. The Autolib’ business is based around having cheap, durable vehicles (and batteries), the report notes.
  • Nice discussion, and plenty of good references, on “the invention of America’s ‘Love Affair’ with the automobile” – quote marks entirely justified – at Citylab.
  • Van Hool is working with Ballard to build 21 new fuel cell buses in an EU-funded programme. Belgian manufacturer Van Hool has already put 27 fuel cell buses on the road, but this new batch features Ballard’s latest fuel cell stack said to be 30-40% cheaper, more reliable and durable. Ballard has also recently supplied fuel cells for a range-extended plug-in hybrid powertrain in a two-bus trial by Solaris in Hamburg, reports Green Car Congress.
  • And BYD has launched its latest battery-electric bus: the C9 coach, capable of carrying 47 people at highway speeds (up to 62.5mph) for 190 miles. The longer C10 (58 seats) and the smaller, faster but shorter-range C6 (21 seats) will follow by the end of the year. More here.
  • Yet more buses: the city of Bristol is to trial hybrids with GPS ‘geofencing’ to ensure electric operation in areas of particularly poor air quality. More here.
  • Latest forecasts from Navigant Research: by 2023, the global market for electric-drive and hybrid commercial vehicles (including buses) will rise tenfold from today’s sales to 160,000 (just under 3% of the market, but with ‘spikes’ in urban areas and regions with clean-air policies). Diesel-hybrid drive is expected to dominate in the medium- and heavy-duty sector, however, but battery-electric will become in greater demand for lower-mileage urban fleets. More here.
  • Speaking of low-mileage urban fleets, DHL Express Italia has just deployed the first of 50 Nissan e-NV200 vans in Italy following successful trials in Paris. More here. (There’s four e-NV200s doing dairy deliveries in Lancashire now, too, reports EV Fleet World).
  • A Samsung/University of Rome team has developed a lithium-sulphur (Li-S) battery giving 98% efficiency, using solid electrolyte which overcomes polysulfide migration and the typical discharge-cycle plateau: science bit and references here.
  • And a simple-sounding but clever device from the University of Illinois at Chicago: a series of air pumps, compressors and fan belts embedded in a road surface, activated as a car drives over to capture energy. The Traffic Powered Renewable Energy System (TRES) could be deployed at intersections, traffic lights, tollbooths and other entry/exit ramps, they say; more here.

News round-up: EV batteries, digital platforms, driverless cars, diesel and more…

January 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

bosch battery second lifeBosch, BMW and energy supplier Vattenfall have kicked off their second-life battery/energy storage project. An installation of 100 used EV batteries (from i3 and ActiveE prototypes) at Vattenfall’s site in Hamburg is to integrate with a 2MW power station and explore the storage of 2MWhr-worth of energy (enough to power 30 four-person households for a week, apparently). The 10-year project – to be operational by the end of next year – is to explore the integration and management of the batteries, their storage capacity, and their ageing/degradation. More here.

  • The first Symbio FCell-converted hydrogen fuel cell range-extended Renault Kangoo ZE vans have been delivered to a fleet in West Normandy; their range is nearly doubled by the on-board fuel cell. More here.
  • Discussion on Google’s Project Ara modular smartphone platform at Car Design News: this kind of thing could be scaled-up for vehicle interiors and in-car connected services, allowing for updates and personalisation of services, for example.
  • Siemens is developing an algorithm to better predict the availability of car-share vehicles within integrated multi-modal route-planning; this will join its SiMobility Connect platform. More detail here.
  • Big report from the ICCT (International Council on Clean Transportation) suggests that over a quarter of gasoline/diesel fuel use on the Pacific Coast could be substituted by lower-carbon fuels by 2030. It modelled eight potential scenarios and sees a role for electricity, hydrogen and natural gas alongside ethanol and biofuels (and electric rail) in different proportions according to policy and incentives. Yep, no one answer or solution.
  • Porsche’s ‘Pajun’ sports saloon (shrunken Panamera) is to come as an EV only, reports suggest. It’ll be positioned as a Tesla Model S rival. And reports also – at the other end of the car market – of an Opel Karl/Vauxhall Viva EV.
  • Research from MTV (3600 respondents) found that ‘millennials’ – contrary to many recent claims – are pretty fond of driving after all; 75% would prefer to give up social media for a day than their car, apparently. More here. Adds to a growing sense that the contribution of this age-group to ‘peak car’ (if indeed this exists or is ongoing) is short-lived or even a bit of a fallacy?
  • …but driverless/autonomous vehicles may actually even cause congestion, according to research from Imperial College, London reported at CityLab (again); if acceptable levels of comfort are to be reached, lots of stop-starting and delays/snarl-ups at intersections, models suggest.
  • And more from Imperial College: deprived and ethnically-diverse neighbourhoods (in the UK and Netherlands) bear the brunt of poor air quality from traffic emissions, especially PM10s and NO2. Reported here.
  • In a not-unrelated move, the London boroughs of Islington and Hackney are to introduce a near-£100 diesel surcharge on already-expensive residents’ parking permits (reported here). Much debate as to whether Euro 6-compliant diesels (the latest) should be exempt and whether this blanket policy is too blunt an instrument; tempered in the media, perhaps, by a rather damning and difficult-to-argue-with report on diesel (“The Great Car Con”) from C4’s Dispatches.

Design Concept of the Day: Ideo Work On Wheels

January 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

workonwheelsDesign firm Ideo has come up with three visions for the future of automobility. There’s Slow Becomes Fast – commutes aided by smart-nav tech, autonomous vehicles and driverless capabilities enabling people to work whilst in transit; 21st Century Mule – autonomous on-demand and just-in-time delivery vehicles (arguably the most useful) working off-peak to avoid congestion and going to requested drop-off points; and Inverse Commute, whereby ‘work on wheels’ office-spaces (pictured) go to where they’re needed, with further services coming to meet them, often in under-utilised areas. Not terribly convinced by the latter – my hot-desk in a shared office (repurposed industrial space) a few minutes walk away is working well for me, thanks – but there’s certainly merits in the ideas of flexibility and moving away from the conventional trip to a fixed office location. More at ideoautomobility.com, anyway.  And all the concepts are electromobility-friendly, with inductive off-peak smart-charging and suchlike, of course.

  • On a less fanciful note, EU biofuels policy is having a “butterfly effect” and harming the environment, according to this new report (via Transport and Environment, a collaborator on it): deforestation and spiking of global food prices are cited as knock-on effects, with more detail on associated increases in carbon emissions, land-grabbing and analysis of the policies in place for the past decade.
  • A nice example of user innovation from the EV community: tech-savvy contributors to the active SpeakEV forum have been developing and testing an app called ChargeBump, to enable drivers to contact and negotiate with each other over use of public charging points. A “bump”, it appears, is when you ask someone plugged in and sufficiently topped-up if they can move their car on to let you use the point.
  • Germany is attempting to standardise EV-charging by mandating the CCS system: there are Betamax-vs-VHS arguments emerging as to whether this is the way forward, or a dead-end with lock-in to an inferior technology… More at Transport Evolved.
  • And some parochial news: Brighton & Hove has instigated its first low-emissions zone. The LEZ covers a city-centre area area (already with restrictions to passenger-car traffic) and requires buses entering the area to comply with Euro V emissions standards. Operators are updating their fleets or retro-fitting exhaust catalyst tech, with NO2 the focus. Taxis are exempt as yet but drivers have been asked to quit idling when waiting at the station rank. The LEZ comes after real-life air quality monitoring research by Ricardo, which differentiated between NO and NO2 emissions and looked at the impact of traffic flow, frequent stop-starting and uphill acceleration; more detail on this in the Q3 2014 issue of rQ.

Concept of the Day: Renault Twizy Delivery

January 19, 2015 § Leave a comment

Twizy-delivery-conceptRenault’s last-mile solution for urban delivery: a Twizy with six wheels. The extra pair support a trailer, which hitches up to a platform on what was the passenger space (such as it is); this tiny truck has been developed in Renault’s VELUD (Electric Vehicle for Sustainable Urban Logistics) project, and is under testing in Paris. Oh, and there’s some more details on Renault’s testing of the Phinergy aluminium-air battery technology at Car magazine

  • New peak car-related paper from the Department for Transport (via @Scottericlevine – thanks): Understanding the drivers of road travel: current Trends in and factors behind roads use. It’s a precursor to some updated forecasts, but the thinking appears to be that though road mileage travelled has plateaued in recent years, growth is expected to resume; it picked up in Q4 2014 after a (miniscule) dip). This report summarises a lot of recent research and links road travel with driving costs, income and the locations people live/work; trends it picks out include a levelling off of traffic on urban roads but strong growth on A-roads and motorways and steady growth on rural roads; a levelling-off of car traffic since 2000 but a rise of 31% in vans; individual use has fallen (mileage, number of trips taken) but both population and car ownership have grown; whilst young men’s driving, and driving in urban areas, has fallen, women and older people are driving more. Key factors affecting all of this – reiterated from earlier work but consistent – are the costs of learning to drive and insurance (for young people in particular); employment rates (again affecting the young in particular) and links to GDP; declines in company car usage; increasing urbanisation (though to a limited extent); increased homeworking (though ditto); the travel habits of migrants; and the later life-changes (marriage, kids etc) among young people. It doesn’t see a big impact in terms of changing attitudes, claiming that young people, though flexible in how they travel, still see cars as desirable, convenient and even as signifiers of success – though forecasting their behaviour has the most uncertainties. More detail across its 92 pages, all underlining (to me) why – alongside other measures to encourage other means of transport, etc., of course – we need to accelerate the uptake of electrification… even if patterns of usage are changing, cars aren’t about to disappear and driving isn’t really diminuishing, so we better make these vehicles cleaner.
  • Two-thirds of London’s EV-charging points are unused, claims the RAC Foundation; it has analysed TfL data for June 2014 and found that of 905 points, only 324 were actually used (36%). That’s an improvement over the 24.3% used in June 2013, nonetheless, and actual charging ‘sessions’ have more than doubled (to 4,678 in June 2014). Most-used was a unit at Victoria station. Discussion on this suggests that the disused points may well be broken or inoperable, as well as being in the wrong locations.
  • Google’s deploying four electric shuttle buses in its community transport programme in Mountain View, California. They’re 16-seater conversions on a Ford F150 chassis by Motiv Power Systems, and have a 100-mile range, reports Green Car Congress.
  • California’s Alta Motors is working with DARPA on a hybrid-electric military motorcycle called the SilentHawk; more details here.


NAIAS Detroit round-up and more…

January 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

honda fcvHonda’s still not production-ready with its fuel cell vehicle, but the extensively-previewed FCV Concept on show in Detroit is closer to the real deal (to go on sale in Japan spring 2016, with US and Euro sales to follow); its fuel cell stack is a third smaller than the FCX Clarity’s, but gives a 60% increase in power density. Driving range is said to be over 300 miles. Honda has also said it will add PHEV and battery-electric models to its range for 2018.

  • So Hyundai has given its Sonata Hybrid saloon a plug: all-electric range of 22 miles, a total power output of 202hp and 93mpge (on the US test cycle), upping the capability of the existing plugless Hybrid model. The new PHEV has a more powerful 50kW motor in place of a torque converter in the six-speed auto ‘box, allowing for higher-speed electrically-powered progress, and supplementing the 154hp/140lb ft 2.0-litre engine. Recharging can be done in 2.5 hours at 240V.
  • OK, this Chinese concept first seen at the Guangzhou Auto Show in 2013, is quite amusing. Not much info available on the GAC (Guangzhou Automobile Corporation) WitStar, though there’s a bit via PR Newswire; range-extended powertrain with 1.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine and motor-generator, giving 127hp/168 lb ft, an all-electric range of 62 miles and overall fuel consumption of less than 2.0l/km, apparently. Given that GAC has already launched its GA5 REV in China, the powertrain is presumably a goer.  This concept has some autonomous capability, wooden flooring and falcon-wing doors provide the requisite concept-car quirks, and we won’t talk about the arm rest with embedded (plastic) fish tank. Gallery of pics at Detroit Free Press.
  • Honorable Detroit mention to Local Motors, 3D-printing and assembling its Strati EV on its stand at the show. More here.
  • And the electric train: a five-week trial between Harwich and Manningtree (Essex) will see the Class 379 Electrostar in action. More here.
  • Advances in lithium-sulphur batteries: BASF/University of Waterloo (Canada) are reporting stabilisation of the cathode, thus delivering improved performance and battery life. Details here.
  • ULEV is putting up £5million-worth of funding for UK public-sector organisations to go electric; fire and police services, NHS bodies and local authorities are invited to apply for funding towards the purchase of EVs. More here.
  • And the government-backed Go Ultra Low campaign is appealing to people’s pockets by pointing out that switching to ultra-low emissions vehicles could save them money (£860 a year in tax and fuel, it’s claimed – obviously, that’s assuming that drivers can match ‘official’ consumption figures, an issue to which I will return at a later date). It has surveyed 1690 drivers, however, and found that over a third didn’t drive a journey over 80 miles last year – thus suggesting that owning an EV would be feasible – and that there were plenty of misconceptions about EVs, PHEVs and plug-in vehicles as well as a lack of awareness about fast-charging stations, running costs and safety. Feedback from the survey and more detail here.

NAIAS Detroit: Chevrolet Bolt

January 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

chevy boltFollowing the Mk2 Volt and Spark EV, here comes the Chevy Bolt: General Motors’ all-electric mainstream model. It’s to cost from around $30,000 and promises a range of over 200 miles. No word yet on its powertrain tech, and how that range is going to be achieved (at that price), but features we do know about – on this concept if not to appear in the first production models – include selectable operating modes (commute, weekend cruising) for throttle response, ride height and suspension settings, a smartphone app enabling ride-sharing management (vehicle location, reservations, digital key, payment), automatic park-and-retrieval (self-parking and autonomous return to driver when summoned) and projection of all app/smartphone data onto a 10-inch touchscreen display. The Bolt itself (thought to give more than a few clues as to the design of the upcoming ICE Viva small car too) is a one-box minivan-like crossover. More details here.

GM CEO Mary Barra has also issued a statement of intent: “The Bolt EV concept is a game-changing electric vehicle designed for attainability, not exclusivity,” she said. “Chevrolet believes electrification is a pillar of future transportation and needs to be affordable for a wider segment of customers… We have made tremendous strides in technologies that make it easier and more affordable for Chevrolet customers to integrate an all-electric vehicle in their daily lives. The Bolt EV concept demonstrates General Motors’ commitment to electrification and the capabilities of our advanced EV technology.”

  • On a rather more rarified note, the Acura NSX: its hybrid powertrain (550bhp+ turbocharged V6 plus three electric motors) enables AWD, with torque-vectoring and a 9-speed CT gearbox. AutoblogGreen has the lowdown. OK, it’s not exactly a ‘green’ car, but the words “halo effect” do spring to mind.
  • And why’s electrification important anyway? Just one example: a new study linking diesel exhaust inhalation with DNA methylation – impacts upon genetic material due to particulate matter,  implications for asthma, heart arhythmia, blood pressure. More details plus academic references here.

NAIAS Detroit: Volkswagen Cross Coupe GTE

January 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

vw cross coupe gteNews from NAIAS, Detroit: More to follow, but first up… Volkswagen’s prototype Cross Coupe GTE – a big US-oriented SUV to rival the BMW X6, Range Rover Evoque etc – is a plugin hybrid offering up to 20 miles in all-electric mode. Its 3.6 V6 (276bhp, 258lb ft) works with two electric motors (one giving 114bhp/199lb ft, the other 54bhp/162lb ft) to give a total 355bhp/369lb ft, 130mph and 0-602mph in six seconds. There’s a six-speed DCT gearbox and five selectable driving modes, including one giving a ‘range extender’ function to charge the battery for greater electric range. Conventional petrol and diesel ICE drivetrains will also be offered; the Cross Coupe is expected to go into production in Tennessee, where the Passat is built for the US market – and in China.

  • Mk2 Chevy Volt: improved efficiency and range (50 miles in all-electric mode, 400 all-in), quicker off the mark, five-seat interior and a new 1.5-litre range-extender engine. (News on the ‘Bolt’ EV to follow). And Mercedes-Benz is adding a PHEV to its C-Class line-up; the C350 saloon gives a combined 275bhp/443lb ft and a 2o-mile all-electric range.
  • Some brave information-sharing from BMW on its future plans at Autocar: a move away from the RWD & steel format to AWD in aluminium/steel/composite structures – and electrification across the board with plug-in RE-EV powertrains (engines only acting as generators to drive e-motors). Connected-car/V2V tech will play a role with features including topographic optimisation as well as coasting and aerodynamically-enhancing adaptive ride height.  The inference is that this is the longer-term plan to meet EU legislation for the 2020s, but in the nearer term, more conventional plug-in hybrids will arrive in each line-up.
  • Nissan is to work with NASA on a five-year autonomous car project: a fleet of Leafs will trial both hardware and software jointly-developed, reports Automotive News, making the point that the hardware of EVs is more easily-adapted for autonomy than that of ICE vehicles.
  • And data from Nissan’s CarWings telematics has shown that European Leaf owners (or at least, the 54% registered with CarWings) have been driving an average 10,307 miles a year – more than twice the average for ICE drivers. Feedback is that many owners have bought their Leaf as a second car but have ended up using it more than their other vehicle. Spanish Leaf drivers do an average 228 miles a week, Swedish Leafs do 211 miles a week, and the British 201 miles. And 89% of them (across Europe) charge overnight at home.
  • Fuji Pigment Co is planning to commercialise an aluminium-air battery by spring 2015; aluminium-air is said to have very high energy density, and Fuji’s battery is claimed to have overcome the problems of anode corrosion. The battery needs to be ‘recharged’ by refilling with salt or fresh water. More – incl. academic references – at Green Car Congress.
  • The RAC Foundation has now published its version of the Berrington and Nikolai study on young adults and driving (see below). Available here.
  • Slow take-up and vandalism have blighted Toyota’s pilot EV-share scheme in Grenoble, reports Bloomberg (via Automotive News Europe).

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