Tokyo show stars and more…

October 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

nissan idsQuick rundown of – my pick of – Tokyo motor show debutantes and show stars: first up, Nissan IDS, previewing the next-gen Leaf as well as Nissan’s upcoming autonomous tech (production, 2020). It features manual drive and a ‘learning’ automated Pilot Drive mode, said to mimic the driver’s own style and preferences; in this, the steering wheel retracts into the IP, and all four seats rotate inwards a little, under atmospherically dimmed lights. More clues to the next Leaf – or a new member of the Leaf family – include optimised aerodynamics, lower height, wheels pushed out further to each corner, super-thin tyres, and wheels with a fin-type design to smooth air flow. Oh, and a 60kW battery, wireless induction charging, reduced weight (thanks to a carbonfibre body) and the promise of “long distances” between charges. Automatic parking, too. More here. (And the dead cute Teatro for Dayz is – theoretically – electric and autonomous, too).

Latest news from Gordon Murray Design with its iStream Carbon chassis tech in the Yamaha Sports Ride Concept sports car; the structure is said to be affordable, suitable for high-volume production, and thus brings F1 lightweighting to everyday vehicles via the GMD iStream production process. The Lexus LF-FC previews the next-gen LS and features a fuel cell powertrain; Honda’s fuel cell rival for the Toyota Mirai is called Clarity and it’s coming to the UK; on a more conceptual note, the Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo (an autonomous minivan-like mobile lounge for young people in future megacities…) also features an ‘electric hybrid’ fuel cell powertrain with induction charging and total 980km range. And the all-electric Mitsubishi eX compact crossover concept has been well-received, too.

navya armaAway from Tokyo… Another autonomous electric bus has been launched this week: the Navya Arma, which can carry up to 15 people at up to 45kmph (on private sites, at the moment, its French makers suggesting industrial sites, airports, amusement parks, hospitals and tourist resorts as potential applications as well as urban areas). It can be induction-charged, and is now in production; three were seen in action at the ITS World Congress in Bordeaux, shuttling 1500 people on 2km trips between centres.

  • Two US surveys: the Electric Vehicle Information Exchange questioned 990 EV owners and enthusiasts, and concluded that they were primarily “very well educated, upper-middle class white men in their early 50s with ideal living situations for EV charging”, reports USA Today. Almost all owners had their EV as their primary vehicle, but interestingly, “energy independence, and not environmental anxiety, was the primary reason that these respondents became interested in electric vehicles”. JD Power, meanwhile, has declared that EV prices must come down, and that public infrastructure must improve, if sales are to grow beyond a small proportion; this is despite large savings on fuel bills found in a survey of 7,600 owners who saved an average $147 a month on gasoline but saw their utility bills rise by only $18. One in three owners took advantage of discounted off-peak electricity tariffs; 43% charged their vehicle away from home, and when they do, 85% charge somewhere free. Average daily commute is 34 miles, and only 11% suffer range anxiety, apparently.
  • Am liking the sound of the Power Road: not just incorporating solar panels and wind turbines on bridges and other structures, but generating more energy over its lifespan than it cost to make. This SINTEF project in Norway is looking at electricity-generating materials for EV charging, as well as locally-sourced, low-energy materials for construction.

Pre-Tokyo round-up…

October 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

ligier ez10Both Nissan and Mercedes-Benz are about to unveil autonomous concepts at the Tokyo Motor Show, but in the meantime… driverless shuttle buses are about to go on trial in San Francisco. The idea is that these will act as last-mile solutions to/from transport hubs, and it’s the first application of the French-built EZ10 in the USA. Trials are already underway in Finland, France and Switzerland; more at EasyMile (a partnership with the Ligier Group).

  • Report from the EU’s Joint Research Centre notes that EV sales rose to over 70,000 last year (incl. PHEV, range-extended and fuel cell vehicles, with all-electric cars accounting for 65% of that number) and the total is coming up to 154,000. Conclusion is that the EU is witnessing “a transition from testing and experimenting with EV towards full-scale EV commercialisation”, but that market support, incentives and policy measures are still important until electric vehicles become mainstream choices. Sum-up here.
  • Meanwhile, another report claims that the EU’s 2020 goal of a 95g/km CO2 fleet average can only be met by deployment of EVs running on electricity; it assesses the benefits of EVs, PHEVs and range-extended vehicles versus fuel cells, and concludes EVs for short distances, FCEVs (fuelled with hydrogen produced by renewable-electricity hydrolysis) for longer trips. More here, full paper here.
  • A project to keep an eye on, based at Lund University, Sweden: Uniti is an EV prototype said to “question the logic of city mobility”, balance advanced tech and “human-centric design”, and to be “a serious contender for a much-neeed disruption in the automotive industry”.  Not much more than that to go on at the moment, but the Uniti team has an interesting open-source and patent-free approach to encourage the development of more sustaimable vehicles, and development is underway in LU’s new ProLab facility of a 15kW city car with a 150km range. Analysis of best vehicle configuration, production methods and materials is also being carried out, as well as whole-lifecycle impact analysis; so far, it’s been confirmed that the car will be a tandem two-seater with an interior including hemp and flax fibre biocomposites. Advanced HMI, customisable experiences and ”learning’ technologies are hinted at, and they’re aiming to get a first car built in late 2017. More here and at the project website.
  • A pro-hydrogen piece at The Conversation: OK, admittedly the current longer range of fuel cell cars vs. BEVs is a bonus, but I’m still not convinced on a well-to-wheel whole-lifecycle analysis in terms of energy consumption involved in producing (and storing, and distributing, and having a supply infrastructure for) hydrogen, at least in (relatively low-mileage) passenger vehicles. Trucks, freight, coaches, long-distance and heavy-duty stuff, yes. Good point about hydrogen production’s role in grid-buffering. What’s struck me here, however, is the idea that fuel cell cars are “a better match with existing habits”. Perhaps this is what we should be questioning as much as the fuel itself.
  • Nice map here showing the movements of the on-demand DriveNow cars in Berlin over a 24-hour period…

Concept of the Day: Aston Martin RapidE

October 22, 2015 § Leave a comment

aston rapidEAston Martin has been showing off an all-electric Rapide S to the Chinese president this week: the RapidE, developed in collaboration with Williams, was displayed as part of a British industry showcase at Lancaster House. And yes, a Chinese investment group (ChinaEquity) has announced an agreement “to explore the development of a production version,” Aston Martin says. Production about two years off, reports Autocar, with the choice of a 550bhp RWD model giving a 200-mile range and later, a 4WD version giving 800-1000bhp (!). Aston Martin CEO Dr Andy Palmer noted: “We see luxury electric vehicles as an intrinsic part of our future product portfolio”.

  • More pertinent to most of us, Geely has unveiled a new plug-in hybrid version of the LTI London taxi, with extended all-electric range. More here.
  • Free software for EV charging station management, ‘roaming’ user access and billing: a solution from be.Energised using QR codes and smartphone payments has been launched. More here. Meanwhile ABB and Microsoft have launched a services platform using Microsoft’s Azure cloud tech and connecting all ABB chargers; and the Hubject ‘intercharge’ trans-European network has linked in EV charging providers in Switzerland, France, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. (cheers,
  • Another Nissan project: research in northern California with Kanematsu Corp looking into EV usage patterns, especially with reference to longer-distance and inter-city trips. It’s in parallel with the introduction of new rapid-chargers in freeway locations, in partnership with utility firm NRG eVgo, and involves guidance of drivers to the chargers en route with a view to encourage them to venture further. Kanematsu is providing real-time information, and looking into data/services relating to EVs and EV charging: basically, this is a Big Data/IoT/M2M (machine-to-machine) project. More here.
  • As asked for by a number of my own survey correspondents/research subjects: road signage indicating EV charging points. Nissan and Ecotricity have launched a campaign to promote awareness of the EV infrastructure, and are calling for the government to introduce ‘official’ signage with universal symbols, further denoting the speed of facilities available.
  • ZF is combining all its electromobility activities into one E-Mobility division, based in Schweinfurt; this is effectively consolidating under one roof, as well as creating this new division within the overall corporate structure. More here. Significant, because it’s the Tier 1 suppliers like ZF that are developing, and driving the adoption of, key new technologies. ZF, incidentally, is going to be showing its semi-autonomous, cloud-connected electric Advanced Urban Vehicle prototype at the Tokyo Motor Show next week.
  • OK, this GoUltraLow survey among teenagers – 800 questioned, 200 aged 14, 200 15 year-olds, 200 16 year-olds, 200 18 year-olds, including teens learning to drive at the moment. 81% said they expected their first car to be electric and 88% said they thought more motorists of all ages should drive EVs. Only 34% thought that everyone would be driving an EV one day, however; 48% associated EVs with cleaner air and 56% with lower CO2 emissions, which again sounds on the low side, and not exactly indicating high environmental concern/awareness or knowledge, as some commenters are claiming. 53% cited low running costs as a beneficial factor, and 29% the latest technology (again, sounds low); other priorities included a long range (32% – again, not exactly high) and driving enjoyment (no % available). A lot of information lacking before anything meaningful can be drawn out of this, I think, but it warrants a bit more digging: I do wonder, in particular, how many of these 800 teens (in the other 19%) said that they didn’t expect to buy a car – or even learn to drive – at all?  Was this even an answer option? How many of the sample were learning to drive already (and therefore how representative are they of the age-group anyway)? I’d like to know more about how this research was carried out, what questions were asked, and how participants were selected, but have put in a request for more detail…
  • Very good points in this piece about flying cars (by my PhD supervisor and examiner) incl. notes that technology adoption and major paradigm shifts in transport are hindered by larger landscape-level trends but ultimately, it’s all about people…

Concept of the day: Yamaha’s motorcycle-inspired sports car

October 20, 2015 § Leave a comment


yamaha conceptYamaha is promising a small sports car concept for the Tokyo Motor Show next week: among six world premieres, the Japanese bike-maker is going to display “an autonomous motorcycle-riding humanoid robot”, a recreational off-road vehicle, e-scooters and electric-assist bicycles, all part of its vision of the “growing world of personal mobility.” Not much info on the car yet, beyond the release statement that it “is inspired by motorcycles and expresses the Unique Style of Yamaha”, but I might make a guess that it could be electric, or at least very lightweight and highly efficiency-optimised, given Yamaha’s previous collaboration with Gordon Murray Design on the Motiv.e city car. But what of the Motiv.e? I understand it’s still intended for production, though that’s gone a bit quiet of late.

In other early-week news…

  • Ubitricity EV-chargers – which can be mounted into existing lampposts – are now on trial in the UK: the first one in action is in Chiswick, west London, overseen by Hounslow Council. These low-cost, low-impact, space-saving solutions incorporate built-in metering.
  • Oslo: the new city authority is planning to ban private cars from the centre by 2019, reports the Guardian. Presumably including all the EVs currently commuting into the city, incentivised by some very hefty tax breaks? This is, though, only referring to a relatively small central zone said to be home to only 1000 people, though it does contain some major shopping malls (presumably well-connected by public transport.) Brave move, anyway, and I’d vote for something similar in London, right now – or at least, the exclusion of non-electrified cars, as a start.
  • And speaking of public transport, ABB is launching an automated overhead pantograph for fast-charging of electric buses in 4-6 minutes, sufficient to enable an electric bus to remain in operation 24/7. More here.
  • San Francisco: Scoot Networks, an on-demand e-scooter hire service, is adding 10 (four-wheeled) Nissan New Mobility Concepts (rebranded Renault Twizys) to its fleet, which should be a very fun way indeed to get around SF… More here at Wired, enthusing about ‘France’s funkiest car’.
  • Wired also has a lengthy piece about the Arcimoto SRK three-wheeler, making the point that its scooter-type handlebars mean massive cost-savings, a simplified 1000-part structure and thus easy, low-cost production; its potential for emerging markets is also noted, as well as for local use/city commuting/carshares (like the Twizy). It appears to be one of the cleverer microvehicles, and the nice thing about it, I think, is that it’s not even pretending to be a car or car-substitute.
  • National Electric Vehicle Sweden has sold the rights to the electrified 9-3 saloon – but not the Saab brand-name – to the Turkish government for a state-backed EV-making enterprise. Apparently insolvent NEVS still intends to return with an all-new electric Saab, reports Autocar, but this definitely comes under the believe-it-when-you-see-it category.

Concept of the Day: Rinspeed Σtos

October 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

rinspeed etosRinspeed’s next concept is to be shown at CES in Las Vegas next year: the Swiss consultancy’s latest creation is a hybrid sportster called Σtos, complete with ‘learning’ autopilot function, an adaptive interior with a steering wheel that folds away and retracts into the dashboard in autonomous-driving mode, two curved info screens, a full suite of connected-car tech from Harman – plus an accessory drone with landing pad on the car’s tail end. So far, so Rinspeed, but note the departure from the firm’s usual protocol of a local reveal at the Geneva show. Canny Frank M. Rinderkneckt says: “The major and especially the disruptive innovations in future automotive engineering will come from the digital realm. That is why all major manufacturers and suppliers are now present at the CES Consumer Electronic Show.” Indeed.

  • The Transport Systems Catapult’s Intelligent Mobility: Traveller Needs and UK Capability study reports: 75% of journeys have ‘pain points’, 57% of travellers are always looking to optimise journeys; ‘start-stop’ traffic and parking are biggest pain points for drivers (12% each); multi-modal journeys are particularly painful; 31% of journeys wouldn’t have been made if virtual mobility had been possible. This involved 10,000 online questionnaire respondents, 50 company interviews, 100 expert interviews. Their answer? It’s in the emerging intelligent mobility industry, using tech incl autonomous vehicles (39% indicating they’d consider them), exploiting mobile data for user-focused integrated, efficient, sustainable transport systems. 4 transformational themes for roadmaps have been identified – Access, Automation, Demand and Supply, Integration: each could revolutionise travel (people and goods) but greater step change is possible if they’re combined, it concludes.
  • In the week Tesla took the headlines for its autonomous-features introduction, and Toyota formally launched its Mirai fuel cell car (fleets to go to Transport for London, private hire firm Green Tomato Cars and hydrogen co ITM, in the UK), Swiss (again) start-up nanoFlowcell AG updated us on progress on its Quant F super-coupe (heading towards European Type Approval and small-series production) and its embarking next year on construction of ‘Quant City’, 25,000sq-m R&D centre in Tenero, Switzerland. This is where its flow cell batteries (salt-water electrolyte, to be ‘swapped’) and the car itself will be developed and built. Expect also for the batteries to be promoted for use in energy systems for buildings as well as “applications in shipping, aerospace and rail traffic.”
  • EVs and PHEVs could account for 30% of vehicle sales in Europe by 2030, according to a study ‘Scenarios for the Electrification of Transport’, published by the ScelecTRA (Scenarios for the Electrification of Transport) project, reported here. ScelecTRA is one of the EU-funded Electromobility Plus programmes.
  • Aiding the above, Volvo’s announced plans to put a PHEV version in each of its model-ranges, as well as to “develop an entirely new range of electrified smaller cars and build a fully electric car for sale by 2019.” Medium-term forecasts – two years’ time – are for electrified vehicles to account for up to 10% of its sales. First up will come PHEV versions of its ’90-series’ and ’60-series’ vehicles, with the XC90 T8 Twin Engine PHEV already on sale; S90 PHEV is upcoming, as well as front-wheel-drive PHEVs. The anticipated 40-series small cars are based on Volvo’s new architecture said to have “been designed from the outset for electrification.” Interesting footnote: feedback from Twin Engine cars so far suggests that they’re driven in electric mode around 50% of the time.
  • Latest registration figures from the SMMT: 20,992 people bought a plug-in car in the first nine months of this year (up 138.5% on last year’s figures). Uptake of PHEVs was biggest, though, up 226.5% to 14,041 year-to-date; this marks a 1% share of the UK car market for cars with plugs. Breakdown of YTD figures: 9,303 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVs, 4,285 Nissan Leafs, 1,564 BMW i3s as the top three.
  • India’s Mahindra & Mahindra plans to bring a four-door version of its E2O EV to Europe, reports This car will be launched next summer, and a UK distribution centre is to be set up, apparently.
  • Auto Club Europe is launching a PAYG charge card for EV-owning members; this will give access to 25,000 facilities across Europe, with charging to be, er, charged according to operators’ tariffs, but there will be no admin fee. ACE is also offering a tow-to-nearest-charger service for members who run out of range (


Concept of the Day: Mitsubishi eX

October 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

mitsubishiex800Another electric concept car to appear in Tokyo: the Mitsubishi eX, which also previews a new compact crossover. This is described as a cross between a shooting brake and a compact SUV, and has 4WD (motor driving each axle) plus connected/automated systems; reports also suggest a (perhaps theoretical) 250-mile range between recharges. Mitsubishi Electric, meanwhile (different corporate division) has an updated version of an earlier assisted-driving concept: EMIRAI x3 DAS has LCD displays with cloud content synchronisation, motion-sensing controls, wearables syncs, head-up displays, driver fatigue/condition sensors, predictive/analytic mapping data plus remote control of household appliances.

  • Toyota has a series of concepts lined up for Tokyo: prettiest is the S-FR, a small lightweight RWD coupe (ICE), though the cleanest is the FCV Plus, a pod-like fuel cell city car which can also be used as an independent power generator. The third, the Kikai, has its mechanical components exposed (a bit like a Richard Rogers building) to ‘create a new driving sensation.’ Toyota will also be showing its Kirobo Mini compact robot, the Mk4 Prius and the C-HR crossover concept.
  • More on the LeTV SEE project: a compact electric sports car will be unveiled at next April’s Shanghai Auto Show (not Beijing, as originally suggested). Release posted here. LeTV is a Chinese equivalent to the likes of Netflix, apparently, and a massive repository/collector of digital content, which no doubt could be harvested/disseminated in its proposed cars (under development with help from Aston Martin, apparently).
  • A fleet of 10 wind-powered Renaults is now available for hire in the Outer Hebrides: the E-Car Club-operated vehicles (nine Zoes, one Kangoo ZE van) will use electricity from the six-turbine Pentland Road Windfarm, and can be hired on a daily or hourly basis from a number of locations in Stornoway or across the Isle of Lewis. The wind farm is said to supply sufficient electricity for all the Outer Hebrides’ domestic needs, and nearly 700 households in the local community receive a portion of its lease payments to the Stornoway Trust.
  • And hydrogen from artificial photosynthesis – light-activated splitting of water molecules – is being trialled at Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, and the Max Planck Institute, Stuttgart: this is touted as a potential storage method for solar energy, though it could also result in generating hydrogen to be used as fuel. More here.
  • Might be a while before there are sufficient numbers of end-of-life EV motors and drive units for this to be viable, but Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Massachusetts) is looking at processes to recover and recycle their rare earth metals (otherwise mined in China, generally). A recovery rate of over 80% is claimed. More, incl. references, here.
  • And nanoparticles of candle soot (carbon) could make cheap, efficient electrodes for car-capable lithium-ion batteries, reports research from Hyderabad. The recovered carbon has high conductivity, the researchers say. I’m not sure of the overall benefits of this in terms of lifecycle energy consumption and emissions involved in burning candles, though, I have to admit…
  • Californian EV drivers can sync their car-charging with home appliance use and lower their energy bills using a new app called OhmConnect: savings of around $200 a year are said to be possible, timing electricity consumption to benefits from incentives from local energy suppliers to charge off-peak. More at Cleantechnica. And (also US): new software called JuiceNet, from eMotorWerks in partnership with ClipperCreek, connects charging points into a cloud-controlled and app-enabled, ‘learning’ smartgrid. This is known as aggregated EV charging load management; more here.
  • Meanwhile, in Europe, MaaS Alliance: a new initiative of 20 organisations has been formed to develop Mobility as a Service – flexible multi-modal travel service options and related integrated information/billing systems. The Alliance includes universities and research centres, tech firms, public and private sector organisations and companies including Ericsson, Transport for London and Xerox.

Concept of the Day: Nissan Teatro for Dayz

October 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

Nissan-Teatro-7Now I feel really, really old. Nissan’s Teatro for Dayz concept – to be revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show shortly – is designed not even for millennials but social media-obsessed Gen Z ‘share natives’ born this century, kids who might use a car to connect and share experiences with their mates, and be more likely to hire/share than buy. The interior is fully-customisable with digital touchscreen surfaces, allowing for a choice of colours and patterns on the seats and interior trim; there are no knobs or switches, and some motion-sensing controls instead. It’s electric, and an external LED strip along the side sills indicates its battery-charge levels; it’s also a kei-class tiddler. And really quite kawaii. More about it, with pretty pictures, here.

(Debate on Twitter re. a disparaging piece on Autoweek; while, as a bit of a social media curmudgeon, I have some sympathy for the argument about encouraging self-promotion and vanity, this is, I think, demonstrating how, quite blatantly, the mainstream auto press Just Doesn’t Get It and is becoming less and less relevant. Very good point by @drewdraws2 – “The idea that interest in cars should only be about ‘driving pleasure’ and theoretical excitement needs to die”. We could add ‘driving’ full stop into that, of course).

  • Further Tokyo previewing: Subaru has a pair of concepts, and VIZIV Future – a compact SUV – previews an all-wheel-drive hybrid system. Suspect it’ll run mainly on its turbocharged petrol engine, though. More here.
  • Honda will be showing its FCV (fuel cell vehicle), successor to FCX Clarity and rival to Toyota Mirai, said to be on its way to the UK. Its powertrain is entirely packed in the ‘engine’ bay, and it will give nearly 135bhp via its electric motor; driving range between hydrogen fill-ups (currently somewhat harder to find than electric charging points) is 435 miles. New fuel cell concept(s) also expected from Toyota.
  • Future Transport Systems and Ricardo have developed an EV fast-charger using second-life batteries: the FTS E-STOR system is also specifically developed to play a role in grid-balancing and buffering within a smart-grid. It can involve batteries from any vehicle – although the prototypes use Renault batteries – and the first installations are expected mid-2016.
  • GM has launched a car-share scheme (well, on-demand hiring by the hour: I can’t see much ‘sharing’ here) in New York. A fleet of Trax and Equinox SUVs (!) can be reserved by app. For residents of upmarket developments in Manhattan only, at the moment, perhaps as the vehicles can be housed in private car parks/garages. Interestingly, this comes as BMW pulls DriveNow from San Francisco: due to problems with parking permits, apparently, though there is an intention to return. And DriveNow has just added 20 new electric BMW i3s to its London fleet.
  • Research by Morpace (Michigan) with a panel of nearly 250 US EV/hybrid owners: government incentives and tax rebates were an important factor in purchase; buyers were wary of secondhand EVs; nearly a third thought salespeople/dealers were poorly-informed and gave an unsatisfactory purchase experience. Lots of detail on some specifics, i.e. changes in driving habits (42% now accelerate more slowly); a preference to buy aftermarket/independently-sourced chargers rather than OEM equipment; a preference for midsize crossovers and a desire for their car to stand out as an EV or PHEV. On charging behaviour, 79% use apps to locate public charging points;  94% know the locations in their area and choose to go to establishments/locations with charging facilities; they charge in public on average 3.5 times a month for two hours; 71% pay for public charging and 48% of those who don’t would be willing to.
  • Hamburg is the first city in Germany to pass new federal EV legislation; from next month, EVs can park for free, and the number of charging points will rise from the current 150 to 600 by the end of next year, reports
  • UK EV sales in September 2015: 1,549, up over 28% compared to this time last year, plus 2,363 PHEVs (up 25.6%) and 7,605 non-plug hybrids.

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