BMW positive on e-mobility, and the cultural capital of green cars

March 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

bmw-i3-i8BMW has received “several hundred” advance orders for the i3 EV and early interest in this and the i8 plug-in hybrid is higher than expected, said global sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson at the company’s annual accounts conference this week. There has also been significant interest from fleets and rental organisations, he said, citing the early success of the DriveNow short-term rental scheme in San Francisco.  Board chairman Norbert Reithofer noted that “we are compelled to introduce e-mobility” to meet EU emissions targets, but that “it is the right strategy. It is a must and not an option”… “to have any chance of addressing the growing ecological challenges in the world’s metropolitan area”. The i3 will be launched in around six months’ time. BMW executives also reported that 92,221 EVs were sold worldwide last year, up from 4,669 in 2010. You can stream the conference here.

BMW Guggenheim Lab advisory committee member Juliet Schor – also professor of sociology at Boston College, and co-founder/co-chair of the Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit looking at a more ethical and ecologically-friendly approach to consumerism and consumption – spoke at a pre-conference dinner, reports Headlineauto. Schor brought up the evidence suggesting that young people are less interested in cars than they once were, putting more of a priority on social media. She said that “green is becoming a status symbol. We call it ‘altruism signalling’ – showing the good that you are doing by perhaps having a hybrid or electric vehicle in the driveway. Altruism is a major evolutionary behaviour – it’s why the Toyota Prius has become so popular in the US”.  Schor, who has written extensively about consumer culture,  believes that sustainable products are now “mainstreaming”, and that “sustainable luxury” has high cultural capital amongst consumers (she’s a Bourdieu fan). She reckons that though younger people are leaving it longer before buying cars, they do want a more sustainable lifestyle, and that they will opt for options such as city car-shares and rentals (like DriveNow) in the meantime.

  • Only two-thirds of Japanese EV owners questioned in a McKinsey & Co survey said they were satisfied with their purchase; 34% reported that they would not buy another EV, and cited higher electricity bills and the problem of finding somewhere to charge up. The research suggested that these buyers were less well-informed than the other “green enthusiasts”, and pointed to the need for better consumer education. Much more positive feedback from the UK Technology Strategy Board’s 300-EV, 12-month trial, however (case study updated today): 92% of drivers involved said the car had been fun to drive, 72% said an EV would be sufficient for their daily needs, and 91% would recommend an EV to others.
  • OK, so the fuel duty rise was scrapped. Some good news for greener fleet car-buyers, though: the first-year 100% tax capital allowance for businesses buying ultra-low emissions cars has been extended till 2015. The qualifying threshold will be reduced from the current 110g/km to 95g/km come April, and then 75g/km 2015-2018 subject to review in 2016. Eligibility for main-rate capital allowances will have a cut-off of 130g/km from next month. Two new company car tax bands for BIK (benefit-in-kind) allowance will come into play April 2015: 0-50g/km, and 51-75g/km, the first taxed at 5% 2015-16 rising to 7% 2016-17, and the second at 9%/11% respectively.
  • A fleet of BYD K9 all-electric buses (80-seater, 12m long) is to go into trial service in Bogota, Colombia. More here.

BMW testing long-range e-mobility; more Detroit NAIAS

January 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

bmw_ActiveeMore e-mobility data for BMW: a test with 15 ActiveEs and long-distance commuters in the Leipzig area, in partnership with Technical University Chemnitz and Stadtwerke Leipzig and funded by the federal Bavaria-Saxony government. Drivers doing 40-100km a day are invited to take part if they have the facilities to install a charging unit at home or in their workplace. There will be five test phases of 12 weeks each, and BMW is to look into the regenerative braking function in particular. Leipzigers can, as far I can interpret with my schoolgirl German, apply to take part and find out more here.  (Google Translate? Pah!).

  • Over at Car Design News, meanwhile, they’ve just launched the 11th Interior Motives Student Design Awards: budding car designers are invited to submit concepts to the brief of ‘The Connected Car’, thinking about the use of virtual reality, selectable driving modes and interior functions, and communication with the outside world as well as a private interior. More clues as to the future of motoring beyond the show cars in Detroit.

Midweek, midsummer: recent news round-up

August 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Headline story ‘cos it’s a pretty picture: this specially-modified Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid just reached 185.394mph on the Bonneville salt flats during Speed Week, setting a new land speed record (unofficial, as yet) for hybrids. More at Green Car Reports.

  • Not ‘green’ in the first instance – the primary objectives are improving road safety and reducing congestion – but with interesting implications: the biggest-yet V2V and V2X trial, involving 3000 vehicles in Ann Arbor, Michigan, starts today. The vehicles, many privately-operated cars as well as trucks and buses, will test real-life applications of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) wi-fi communications, including crash-avoidance warnings, as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure comms (V2X) to improve traffic flow. The American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is working with Ford, GM and the American R&D/technical centre divisions of Honda, Hyundai-Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen. More at Detroit News.
  • Daimler, meanwhile, is leading a similar 120-vehicle trial in Germany. More detail on both at Wired Autopia.
  • BMW’s DriveNow carshare – giving access to a pool of 70 ActivE EVs – has launched in San Francisco. The cars will be placed in eight locations, hirable by the minute and booked using a smartphone app. More here. It’s also to launch ParkNow, a space-reserving scheme; both this and DriveNow will be rolled out in other cities in due course as part of BMW’s iVentures programme. DriveNow, a partnership with Sixt in Germany, is already operating in Berlin, Dusseldorf and Munich using the conventional Mini Cooper and 1-Series for short-term rentals. More here.
  • Infiniti has confirmed production of its LE (”posh Leaf’) electric hatchback concept for 2014, and it looks as if it will be the first car on sale with integral induction-charging equipment, reports USA Today.
  • Cadillac’s to launch its ELR extended-range EV (on/off-again production version of the Converj concept, using Chevy Volt-derived tech) at next year’s Pebble Beach Concours, reports Left Lane News.
  • Nissan is to show an electric SUV concept at the Paris Motor Show this autumn, says Green Car Reports. It’s likely to be an evolution of the Hi-Cross seen at Geneva earlier this year, a preview of the next-gen X-Trail.
  • Melbourne-based EV Engineering claims to have broken a distance record: its retro-converted Holden Commodore EV ran 1886km in 24 hours on a loop between Port Melbourne and Geelong, aided by battery-swapping. It’s unofficial, but no mean feat; release here.
  • Dwindling sales of the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iOn have led to a suspension of their production (probably terminal). Too small, too limited, too expensive given current market conditions, I reckon, and though price isn’t necessarily an issue for many EV buyers, the well-heeled are probably now either driving Leafs or holding out for a BMW i3. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV (donor car for the PSA pair) continues, however.
  • The first Sanya Skypump has been been installed in Barcelona – a vertical-axis wind turbine, powering an EV charging point. It’s a compact solution which can be easily placed in public spaces where there’s wind… More here.

The Nissan taxi, BMW i3, & aftermarket plug-in conversions

August 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

But will it go south of the river? Nissan has unveiled its NV200 London Taxi, claimed to be more than 50% more fuel-efficient than the classic cabs. It has the requisite 25ft turning circle, access for disabled travellers, will seat five adult passengers and has huge sliding side doors. It features the 89bhp 1.5dCi Renault-Nissan diesel engine, which meets the Euro 5 emissions legislation, with a six-speed manual gearbox, and returns 53.3mpg, compared to the current LTI TX4’s 35.3mpg. Its CO2 output is 138g/km (the TX4 puts out 209g/km, as well as much higher particulate and NOx emissions).

The NV200 London Taxi is already doing service in New York and Tokyo.  Nissan is aiming to achieve full certification for it later this year, subject to final procedures such as crash-testing, and aims also to undercut the price of the TX4. An all-electric version is also to undergo trials.

  • Spy shots of the BMW i3 range-extended EV at Autocar; you can clearly see the high floor (to package the batteries in the underbody) and reverse-hinged doors.
  • A team from Middle Tennessee State University is working on an aftermarket plug-in hybrid conversion kit which will cost a projected $3000. It won’t be long before you can buy this stuff at Halfords… More, including video, here.

Midweek round-up: BMW’s i-strategy, GE’s high-temperature motor, solar power

August 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

BMW’s going to sell its i-models online, as well as through its differentiated standalone i-brand showrooms; more at Detroit News. Different marketing strategies for a different type of car, logically enough.

  • Heard the one about the Lexus city car? Not as silly as it sounds: a sister model to the Prius C, positioned to rival the Audi A1, Mini and suchlike, and featuring either the Prius C’s 1.5-litre hybrid powertrain or a 1.2-litre direct-injection turbo unit, reports paultan.org.
  • Good news for Detroit: the University of Michigan Solar Car Team has won the 2012 American Solar Challenge for the fourth year running and seventh time since the event was inaugurated in 1990. Despite bad weather conditions, its Quantum car came in 10 hours and 18 minutes ahead of its nearest competitor from Iowa State University, having travelled 1650 miles in eight days from Rochester, NY, to St Paul, Minnesota, and clocking up 44 hours, 36 minutes and 21 seconds on the road. Press release posted here.
  • General Electric has got to the testing phase with a new 55kW permanent-magnet motor for hybrid, range-extended and electric vehicles which can run at very high temperatures yet need only conventional transmission fluid as a coolant. This is said to be 3-5% more efficient than current EV motors, and GE is planning to licence the tech to car-makers and motor-makers with a view to commercial applications by 2015; the next phase of the project will be to develop it so it requires no rare-earth metals (Green Car Congress).

Midweek bulletin: Jaguar C-X75, Ford C-Max Energi, various EV-charging developments, and eco-tyres

July 25, 2012 § 1 Comment

Latest on the Jaguar C-X75: electric motors at both axles, some 500bhp from a 1.6-litre engine with both turbo and superchargers, a rev limit of 10,000rpm, 0-60 in less than three seconds and 200mph. Ah, and an all-electric range of 60km. More at Autocar.

  • Details on a more accessible hybrid: the upcoming C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid will have a range of around 550 miles, says Ford, and it’ll return an average 95mpg (US) from its electrically-assisted 2.0-litre engine. Its all-electric mode gives a range of about 20 miles. The C-Max Energi goes on sale in North America this autumn; no word on Euro sales as yet, but the tech should filter over at some stage. Ford has also announced that its Fusion saloon will be its first non-hybrid model sold in the US to feature stop-start, saving around 3.5% of fuel.
  • Qualcomm, maker of wireless induction-charging systems for EVs, has signed a memorandum of understanding for co-operation with Renault on a trial programme in London, and “preliminary studies of the integration of Qualcomm Halo WEVC technology into some Renault vehicles”. The London trial starts in November and will involve “a cross-section of stakeholders from government departments and agencies to commercial and private sector enterprises”. It will “evaluate the commercial viability of wireless EV charging and gain user feedback on the use of WEVC enabled vehicles.”
  • BMW’s i Ventures division is making a strategic investment in Coulomb Technologies, operator of the global ChargePoint network and maker of EV charging equipment. “ChargePoint is the largest, longest established network with a significantly advanced and mature feature set. This investment will forge a close and strategic relationship as we further our electric mobility offer,” says i Ventures MD Dr Ulrich Quay.
  • GM and OnStar are contributing to a smart-grid research project with Pecan Street Inc., which is studying the domestic energy usage of volunteer citizens in a testbed community in Austin, Texas. 66 EV owners, including 55 Chevy Volt drivers, are taking part in the trial and will feed back info on their driving and charging habits. The Mueller community has been developed on a former airport site to be a sustainable mini-city with energy-efficient buildings, infrastructure and clean energy supply. More at Green Car Congress.
  • ‘Natural latex’ sounds a bit kinky, but it’s apparently suitable for making sustainable-source, oil-free car tyres. The first prototypes have been made by Dutch firm Apollo Vredestein, a partner in the EU-Pearls project, from a natural rubber synthesised from  guayule and Russian dandelion plants. The former can be easily grown in Mediterranean countries, the latter in northern Europe. More at alphagalileo.
  • Goodyear, meanwhile, has been experimenting with soybean oil (in a project funded by the United Soybean Board): possibility of a 10% improvement in tread life, and the saving of seven million gallons of oil a year, reports Green Car Congress.

Vauxhall reveals Adam city car; the TVR (wind) turbine and other news

July 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Vauxhall/Opel has released the first pics of its Adam city car, to be formally launched at the Paris Motor Show. This smart-looking little thing will come with a choice of three petrol engines from launch, all with stop-start, and further down the line, Adam will be the first Vauxhall to get GM’s new small-capacity direct-injection turbo petrol engine plus six-speed gearbox, the firm’s answer to Ford’s Ecoboost. An electric version is said to be under consideration.

  • There’s something rather wonderfully ironic about this: TVR is to be reborn, but rather than resuming car-making, the brand-name will be used for portable wind turbines. TVR’s owner Nikolai Smolensky says that they couldn’t make the cars cheaply enough, though he “will listen to proposals”, reports Autocar, and is using the brand-name for his new venture rather than selling it. Would it be too much to suggest an electric TVR running on wind power as a future project? (I doubt one like this would be a seller, though).
  • BMW is breaking up its joint venture to develop hybrid powertrains with PSA Peugeot-Citroen. The BPCE (BMW Peugeot Citroen Electrification) programme will be brought in-house by BMW, which is to buy out PSA’s 50% stake and take over the R&D centre in Munich, reports Bloomberg. This is said to have been a result of General Motors’ buying of a stake in PSA. BMW has now, instead, signed a MOU with Toyota for “joint development of a fuel cell system, joint development of architecture and components for a future sports vehicle, collaboration on powertrain electrification and joint research and development on lightweight technologies.”
  • Better Place isn’t all about battery-swapping: it has just signed a deal with GM’s Australian division, Holden, to provide fast-charging facilities and membership to charging schemes and all-in support packages for Volt buyers Down Under. More here.

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