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.

Frankfurt Motor Show: quick round-up

September 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

FullSizeRender-14FullSizeRender-12OK, quick precis of the mammoth metal-fest that is the Frankfurt Motor Show… Most jaw-dropping for me design-wise was the stunning shark-nosed Mercedes-Benz Concept IAA – how to nod to your history yet produce something futuristic as well – and it also happened to have a PHEV powertrain. Much of the tech and interior styling of the self-driving F015, very cool extending rear louvres and other speed-sensitive flaps/spoilers enhancing its already slippery aerodynamics, and the considerable probability that it’s previewing the next CLS.

IMG_1124FullSizeRender-3Closer to a production car, however, was the all-electric Porsche Mission e; also a four-door, four-seater coupe, this one promises 600hp+, 0-62mph in less than 2.5 seconds and a range of over 500km plus 800-volt ultra-rapid ‘Porsche Turbo Charging’ giving 80% of battery charge in 15 minutes. Induction charging-compatible, too. Loved the Peugeot Fractal (see earlier post), effectively an experiment in interior acoustics but also featuring a (functional) 200bhp e-powertrain with a motor driving each axle plus a 450km range; however, was underwhelmed, at least aesthetically, by the three-motor, 800Nm, 130mph Audi e-tron quattro, though  it does have an interesting button-free cockpit and also a 500km range…

FullSizeRender-1Otherwise, the Borgward BX7 SUV (PHEV variant promised) wasn’t exactly exciting, but the Nissan Gripz concept (pictured)FullSizeRender, a high-riding 2+2 inspired by the Safari Rally-winning 240Z (like the thinking) and with (theoretical) electrified powertrain, was great fun. BMW showed four new plug-in hybrids, 740e, 330e, 225xe and X5 XDrive40e, Volkswagen is promising a GTE PHEV version of the new Tiguan, and Toyota had three new hybrids – an updated/nearer -production C-HR concept (small SUV), new-generation RAV4 Hybrid (bigger) and of course, the Mk4 Prius, as well as its Mirai fuel cell car, making its Euro debut.

FullSizeRender-20Reborn Artega is hoping to make a limited production-run of its Scalo (updated, electric version of the GT) and, importantly, its parent company has a whole load of EV tech to licence, although the electric Roding roadster turned out to just be a rolling showcase for Siemens. However, the prize for total batshit craziness had to go to the Thunder Power EV (see earlier post), seen in Frankfurt in white-painted luxury-spec and also tricked out as a hardcore GT racer. Turns out this Taiwanese wannabe-Tesla has been designed by Zagato.





Design Concept of the Day: Peugeot Fractal

September 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

peugeot fractalPeugeot’s concept for the forthcoming Frankfurt Motor Show is the Fractal: a compact two-seater electric coupe with removable roof panel, featuring the latest iteration of Peugeot’s i Cockpit interior design (head-up display, holographic screen, configurable screens), a top-end audio system and a ‘sound signature’ to warn pedestrians and stimulated by smartwatch-controlled door-opening. Interior trim is mostly (80%) made from 3D-printed parts, and power comes from e-motors on front and rear axles delivering a total 150kW/204hp plus a range of 450km/280 miles.

Adaptive ride height aids ground clearance and aerodynamics on different terrains and in potholed/speed-bumped urban conditions, and it sits on 3D-printed 19-inch wheels designed for low noise levels. Its lithium-ion batteries are housed in the central tunnel for optimum weight distribution and power is distributed between all four wheels according to grip and traction for optimum energy recovery; each motor is differently-geared, and while the rear motor handles acceleration from the get-go, the front kicks in beyond 62mph. 0-62mph takes 6.8 seconds. The Fractal is sync-ed with a Samsung Gear S smartwatch for battery status, charging info, interior temperature and vehicle location info, as well as for door-opening and setting of the air con and sound system. More here. Oh, and PSA Peugeot-Citroen has also just set up a DS-brand division called DS Performance, nominally to support the DS Formula E racing team but probably also to develop electric and hybrid tech.

Concept of the Day: Icona Neo

June 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

icona neo shanghaiOne that slipped through the net at the Shanghai Auto Show but which has just come to my attention: the Neo “sets out to explore the inspirations and daily challenges of life in a busy metropolis such as Shanghai,” says Icona, an Italian design studio/consultancy based in the city. Shades of Lexus LF-SA in this tiddler, I think, in some of its geometric lines, though it adds an asymmetric door layout (rear-seat passenger access only from the right side, which also lacks a B-pillar).

Anyway, it’s a four-seater, 1.5m-long EV, designed as such ground-up, featuring a 21kW in-wheel motor. It weighs just 720kg in total, and is said to have a range of 150km during city driving, plus a 120kph top speed. This is none too hypothetical, either: Neo has been developed by Icona’s Italian technical partners, Actua and Italtecnica, and it turns out that other divisions in the firm’s Italian parent company worked on development and build of the Bollore Bluecar (of Paris Autolib’, and soon London, EV-share, fame).

  • Six rather nice ideas here from design students, shortlisted entries in a DHL-sponsored competition: I’m liking the ‘water strider’ – a solar panel-driven small cargo boat which could help switch freight off roads, ‘London’s urban vehicle of 2065’, a modular autonomous pod, and the neat ‘Light commercial vehicle’ with four in-wheel motors and large cargo bay. Winner to be announced tomorrow as part of the Formula E festivities.
  • Some stats and feedback from the My Electric Avenue project, presented yesterday at the LowCVP conference in London. In less than 18 months, the Nissan Leafs involved (100+ in ten ‘clusters’, trialling their effects on local electricity networks, plus 100 more on other trials) have driven over 2.7million km and have been charged for 94million hours; there’s 20,000 hours-worth of data recorded by the Esprit tech (which controls EV charging if the grid becomes overloaded); Esprit has curtailed charging 17,000 times (5.2% of the total recorded charging time).
  • Possible applications for V2X tech include ‘wrong way warnings’ for drivers and other road users, report the conclusions of the CONVERGE project, as well as intelligent and efficient routing of freight transport. CONVERGE has aimed to develop a secure, decentralised and scalable systems architecture which enables communication between different network operators, agencies, service providers and other stakeholders. Handy summary here.
  • Road noise: linked to cardiovascular problems, stroke, and ‘all-cause’ mortality, in a study in London; noise in decibels was linked in a separate correlation from air pollution by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Reported here.

Biomaterials for car bodies and other news…

February 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

Carbon and hemp-fiber reinforced component.Fibres from hemp, flax, cotton and wood are strong, as affordable as glassfibre and lighterweight than carbonfibre, according to a team from the Frauenhofer Institute of Wood Research, which has developed mouldable thermoplastic or solid duroplastic car body components into which natural fibres are embedded. These hybrid materials are also recyclable, and the research is looking into their processing and reprocessing on an industrial scale.

  • Digesting the Continental Mobility Study 2015: its conclusions include statements that people (in France, Germany, USA, China, Japan) choose to drive for emotional rather than rational reasons; car ownership remains very popular and the preferred model of access to vehicles for the vast majority, even among younger generations (licence-holding is happening later in life, but still happening); money more an indicator of driving than age or location; and even that young people actively aspire to powerful, prestigious vehicles. Plus ca change, in other words, says an engineering consultancy/supplier to the automotive industry, but again, this does rather illustrate the futility of relying on ‘peak car’ to solve anything. Oh, and electric vehicles have a particular image problem: in Germany, though a majority saw EVs as eco-friendly and ‘sensible’, very few thought them sporty, fun to drive or attractively-designed, and enthusiasm and expectation of owning an EV in the future have both dipped since the 2011 survey.
  • Blimey: a blanket ban on older cars entering the city centre of Lisbon, at least between 7am and 9pm. Vehicles registered pre-2000 are restricted from a central ‘Zone 1’ and those pre-1996 from an outer Zone 2 as well. Except cars belonging to residents, emergency vehicles and those running on natural gas, however, the former being a pretty big exemption, I would imagine, though the measure is expected to cut air pollution by 10% in terms of in-commuting traffic (and should improve congestion, too). More here. And some detail on the telematics-monitored incentive in Milan to encourage drivers to leave their cars at home and take public transport: one free trip each day on public transport.
  • Forecasting sales of EVs and PHEVs: to remain relatively resilient despite oil prices, says Lux Research, as their niche consumer base is relatively price-insensitive (affluent people buying for environmental or technological reasons rather than economical). Could be dips till oil prices rebound, however, with non-plug-in hybrids hit hardest.
  • Ford’s European Research & Innovation Centre, Aachen, is partnering RWTH Aachen University to study business models and customer expectations in its two-year Personal Mobility Experience Innovation Project, a research collaboration looking into mobility and autonomous vehicles. This aims to identify technologies, features, services and solutions “that could enable Ford to meet customers’ changing preferences and expectations for personal mobility” as well as to address environmental issues and congestion, apparently. These will include new approaches to car-sharing and personalised mobility solutions, with a look towards “delivering a wide range of hardware and software platforms and services”. Ford has also confirmed that it will contribute to the UK government-funded UK Autodrive autonomous vehicles/connected-cars research project, providing two prototypes with V2V tech. More details here.
  • Meanwhile, Uber is partnering with Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh) and its Advanced Technologies Centre to research & develop autonomy, mapping and vehicle safety – more here. The statement refers to “very interesting new challenges at the intersections of technology, mobility and human interactions”.  Indeed.
  • The federally-funded ESKAM research consortium (Germany) has developed its scalable electric axle module for commercial vehicles. This comprises two motors, transmission and power electronics in a unit which can be fitted to an axle, and is suitable for vehicles from small vans to large trucks. More here and here.
  • The US DoT has unveiled its Beyond Traffic 30-year plan – and it sets out the need to reduce car-dependency, develop multimodal systems and public transit, invest in smart technologies, bring down the cost of implementing autonomous vehicles, and consider new funding mechanisms (including road-pricing). Handy digest at Citylab; more here.
  • The EU RDE (Real Driving Emissions) tests to cut NOx have got the green light for 2017: very good news, and a much-needed step towards wider use of on-road (rather than lab) testing for other emissions. The variance between optimised lab results and real-life – for mpg and CO2 as well – is pretty damn shocking, to the extent that it makes manufacturers’ claims that they’ve cleaned up (or reduced the fuel consumption of) their vehicles pretty meaningless, ‘cos there’s no reliable baseline figures. More on the RDE progress 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.

Design Concept of the Day: Charles Bombardier Spike

December 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

bombardier spikeHere’s a car without a driver – or even a windscreen. The latest concept from Charles Bombardier – showcased in his regular column for Canada’s Globe and Mail – takes the idea of autonomy to an extreme, creating a car interior solely designed for passenger comfort and sociability. It’ll seat four side-by-side, or two in more luxurious face-to-face seats, or various other modular configurations; there are luggage compartments at the front and rear. Access is via gullwing doors (of course) and the cabin includes a raise-up adjustable table with inductive charging for laptops, etc. Conceived as a commuting vehicle or highway transporter, it has side windows and front/rear LCD screens – with no driver, no windscreens are needed. It’s electrically-propelled, of course, with wireless induction-charging capability. More images (renderings by Boris Schwarzer) here.

  • Some detailed feedback from a small sample (76) of Nissan Leaf owners in the UK: 93% use their Leaf as their main family car, 64% say it drives better than a petrol/diesel, 89% reported significant cost savings compared to ICE cars (£200-£250 a month reported by “many”), 41% said it had positively changed the way they drive, more than a third said they did not have to plan journeys in advance more than they did previously, 95% were happy to recommend it to a friend, and over half said they would not go back to ICE. 89% charge up overnight at home. Nissan GB MD James Wright notes: “The issues that the naysayers said would hinder ownership have not materialised and, in fact, the feeling from LEAF owners is that they would never go back to a traditional combustion engine.” Nissan has now sold over 6,500 Leafs in the UK and 147,000-plus globally. More here, anyway.
  • Mazda (in cooperation with Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation) has developed a bioplastic for exterior parts which gives a paint-free mirror-like finish. This can be dyed, and is made from plant-derived materials, so is lower-carbon and reduces emissions of volatile organic compounds. It’ll feature first in the cabin of the upcoming new MX-5 but is also suitable for exterior applications. It’s said to be mouldable, durable and to have a higher-quality finish than painted plastic. More here.
  • Nearly half of all EVs sold in the USA were purchased in California, according to DoE figures; in 2013, 70,000 all-electric and 104,000 PHEV vehicles were registered in the US. That doesn’t sound like much in the context of overall sales of 226million vehicles – but is more than a drop in the ocean: 0.6% of all car sales in 2013, from 0.4% in 2012, and rising to 0.7% so far in 2014.
  • A name to watch. Seeo, a developer of lithium-polymer batteries, has gained an investor: Samsung Ventures. This latest round of funding will enable it to bring a new generation of batteries towards commercialisation, with an energy density of 400Wh/kg targeted – around twice that of batteries currently in production, and up from the 350 Wh/kg of its current prototype cells.
  • Plug in and play with a Predator’s kit car: the PC010 ST comes in DIY form from $10,000, with all-EV and hybrid options available. It’s a street-legal single-seater – or at least, it will be once European Type Approval is obtained. A crowdfunding campaign is now underway. More here.
  • The government of Singapore is calling for participating partners in a 1000-car EV-sharing trial, reports Today.
  • Volvo’s testing a three-cylinder petrol engine, downsizing further from the Drive-E four-pots: it’ll meet Euro 7. Turbocharging applied.
  • BASF has developed a four-way catalytic converter for petrol engines, with particulate filter. Now in its testing phase; science bit here.
  • And, not unrelated: the European Society of Cardiology has made a very explicit statement on fossil fuel use, traffic and air pollution, advising cardiovascular patients (or anyone at risk of heart problems) to stay clear of rush-hour traffic, busy roads, etc…
  • The Blink network (USA) has added a remote-start function to its charging app, reports EV Fleet World. Am not sure how well-received it would be for a driver to bag a public charging point, plug in, and then start charging later in the day, but I think this is more about general functionality and being able to sort out registration/payment/charging in one go by smartphone.




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