March 7, 2014 § Leave a comment
Here’s a gallery of some of the cars I found interesting in Geneva this week; apologies for poor photos, but this is about as good as you get on the hoof with a three-year-old Blackberry held together with electrical tape. So – the autonomously-driven, fully-connected Rinspeed eXchangE; the superlightweight, CNG-fuelled Magna MILA Blue; the shared/auto AKKA Technologies Link & Go (now with 2.0 tech platform updated from last year); the biofuelled, biocomposite-structured Metropolia University/UPM Biofore; the shared/auto Rinspeed microMAX; and, because it’s very cute and a good city car solution for the here-and-now, the now rear-engined Renault Twingo.
March 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
No, I’m not at Geneva yet – this is remote reporting. But the Italdesign-Giugiaro design house (now absorbed into the Volkswagen Group) has just unveiled a low-slung six-seater MPV concept called Clipper; it’s based on Volkswagen’s MQB platform (Golf, A3, Octavia, Leon etc.), and is good for 335 miles and 127mph from its twin-motored all-electric powertrain (a 148bhp motor at each axle, hence four-wheel drive). It’s got the obligatory showy concept car doors – front ones swinging up butterfly-style, the rear rear-hinged gull-wings. Seats are two x three rows; the batteries are housed under-floor giving a flat floor, there’s a ‘floating’ instrument panel with information projected into a perspex screen, and a rear-view camera to replace the interior mirror. The space between the seats accommodates a movable, ‘mobile tunnel’ with 11-inch touchscreen for the control system, there’s a total loadspace of 900 litres, plus four iPads for passengers with a comms app/private network called Carlink. Oh, and there’s a second ‘vanette’ Ducati-branded version, with different doors.
- “Electric cars simply perpetuate current (unsustainable) practices and represent a failure of ambition”, say Nicola Spurling and Dan Welch of the Sustainable Practices Research Group, berating a “techno-fix solution”. Yes indeed, more cycling is a Good Idea for short journeys and is certainly achievable/desirable to some extent, and the wider ‘need’ for driving caused by car-centric planning, out-of-town shopping centres etc does need to be addressed – but they write off the possibility of cleaning up the e-grid in parallel (citing a rather old paper in support), seem to think that the EVs of the future will still have “shorter ranges, long charging times” and “only fulfill some of the functions of the conventional car”, and – in the blog post, at least – don’t look beyond like-for-like vehicle substitution (no mention of EV-shares, car clubs, multi-modal link-ups, etc.) nor at EVs’ role for businesses, fleets, or industrial applications (arguably where they can make more difference than in the private/consumer sector). Report summary, and useful primer on practice perspective for sustainability policy interventions here; full report (in which the driving/cycling substitution is an example of problem framing/targets for intervention) here.
- And the view from industry… Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, confident on grid decarbonisation (amongst other issues): “In partnership with other automakers, industries and governments, we have the capability to reinvent the car for a new era, to provide sustainable mobility for all”.
March 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
Skoda’s going gas-tastic at the Geneva Motor Show this coming week: its VisionC concept (a large five-door liftback on the next-gen Octavia platform) has a ‘bivalent’ 1.4 TSI engine (turbocharged, direct-injection) which can run on either petrol or CNG, and meets EU2020 emissions legislation. This powertrain – similar to that in the just-announced Octavia/Octavia Combi G-Tec, and indeed, the Audi A3 G-Tron and Volkswagen Golf TGI – is said to return 72mpg and emit just 91g/km in gas mode. “Natural gas drive is an important pillar of ŠKODA’s sustainability strategy”, says the company.
Good gas or a load of hot air? Can’t help but think it doesn’t do anything for fossil fuel-dependency, even if it is cleaner-burning than liquid petroleum, though CNG is thought of in some circles as a “bridge fuel” to a lower-carbon system (a bit like replacing heroin with methadone?). Some more discussion (gassing?) and useful references here, including the issue of methane leakage in the production process (cancelling out any life-cycle GHG benefits). “Fueling trucks and buses with natural gas may help local air quality and reduce oil imports, but it is not likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even running passenger cars on natural gas instead of gasoline is probably on the borderline in terms of climate,” says Prof Adam Brandt, assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University and lead author of “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems” (Science, 14th February 2014).
- Porsche is to unveil its 919 Hybrid LMP1 Le Mans racer in Geneva this week; says it “can therefore be regarded as a research laboratory for the technology of future Porsche production vehicles”. Lexus is to bring the RC 300h hybrid coupe (as seen in Detroit), and has confirmed its launch in Europe for 2015.
- Dutch drivers: more likely to opt for an EV or fuel cell car if they do a low annual mileage, don’t tow a caravan; range and refuelling times key factors in decision-making. Study by Hoen and Koetse in the latest issue of this journal. And some facts ‘n’ figures on Californian plug-in drivers from the Center for Sustainable Energy/CARB here (high-income, middle-aged, motivated by use of car-pool lanes…).
- Have seen news that China’s Geely Group has bought out the UK’s Emerald Automotive, developer of a range-extended delivery van and associated ER-EV tech.
- Over half of 8000 people questioned in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Austria reckoned that in the future, they’ll buy a “mobility solution” rather than a car – rundown here. Nearly 64% reckoned they’d use multi-modal transport apps as well, though 63% still said that they wanted to own a car (24% of whom thought they’d also use hired/shared cars where appropriate).
- Corporate car-sharing to grow, says Frost & Sullivan; figures, projections and opinion here. And here’s a date for the diary (not that I can afford to go) – the F&S Urban Mobility 3.0 conference/workshop in London, June 26th.
- The Kandi EV-sharing service, which started out in Hangzhou with its distinctive ‘tower’ of microcars, is expanding across China; more at Green Car Reports.
- And here’s a biofuel that could smell interesting as it burns… Extreme Biodiesel Inc is aiming to buy some land in California to cultivate hemp for fuel. Release posted here.
- But I predict a riot – warning on the growth of biofuels at the expense of fuel crops, as well as the prospect of global riots if we fail to solve our chronic addition to fossil fuels and transition to a “post-carbon” economy, at the Guardian… Plus, at the Observer, a report on environmentally-destructive underwater mining, including the trawl for rare-earth metals and ores for batteries (for gadgets and vehicles). Scary stuff. (Lunar land-grab, anyone?).
- Not the answer to everyone’s motoring needs, but I do love an old Love Bug… Zelectric Motors of San Diego is now up and running with its ‘upcycled’ classic Beetle conversions, and is also selling DIY powertrain kits. Rather nice for local trundling-around in SoCal, I would imagine.
March 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
Fifteen Nissan Leaf taxis are to go on duty in Rio de Janeiro this year; the first two will serve the Santos Dumont airport and others will follow elsewhere in the city. This follows an earlier trial in Sao Paulo. City authorities have set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 16% 2005-2016 and these electric taxis are part of a plan to “improve the visibility of clean-energy vehicles so that production and consumption models can be changed to a sustainable system”, says the transport department commissioner. More here. Nissan is the ‘cars’ sponsor for the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics in Rio, and is to provide 4500 vehicles for the Games and Team Brazil, a fleet which will “prioritize clean energy (ethanol or electricity)”.
- Nice pictures of the Belumbury electric quadricycles on display in Geneva at AutoblogGreen. The Italian firm has now sold over 100 Dany microcars (including petrol versions) and is showing a concept called Lallo, a doorless beach-buggy variant.
- And smaller yet: the German-built IMA Colibri single-seater is scheduled for production next year. It will be positioned as an urban fleet/commuter vehicle, and priced at less than 10,000 euros plus additional battery-leasing. Quote from the company: “Based on a current market study, IMA sees a market potential of 500,000 customers in the b2b market in Germany. Primary customers encompass carsharing providers, municipalities and delivery and mobile nursing services, for whom the Colibri is economically interesting. Private customers as well are increasingly interested in intelligent traffic concepts which allow for a mix of different modes of transportation like private cars, carsharing, public transportation or rail. Within this mix, the Colibri can cover 80% of the private mobility demand.”
- Some further thoughts on yesterday’s “transport poverty” debate. How do motoring costs as a percentage of income compare to other travel costs (train fares in particular spring to mind)? Perhaps this is simply about the demands of living on a low income and “poverty” full stop. And it’s amusing how many of the “I don’t need a car” commenters seem to forget that belonging to a car club, using a car-share vehicle, lift-sharing, getting other people to drive their kids to activities or taking a taxi is still using a car – the latter being even more energy-wasteful than driving yourself, as the taxi driver (probably in a superfluously large vehicle, and if a London cabbie, in a particulate-spewing old diesel as well – has to go pick you up/return without you). You may not need to own a personal car. That’s different.
March 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
Subaru has been playing around with hybrid tech for a while, but this concept goes a stage further with plug-in capability. It uses the familiar Subaru 2.0-litre flat-four diesel plus Lineartronic CVT, with two independently-controlled motors driving the rear wheels and a single motor driving the front axle in an AWD system likely to feature in future production models. As the rear motors directly drive the rear wheels, there’s no need for a prop shaft, and the floor can be lowered for extra rear legroom. The diesel engine drives the front axle. More here. I like this better – and find it more relevant to the mainstream production-car world – than the other headline-grabbing hybrid in Geneva, the LaFerrari, for all you might argue about tech trickle-down.
- Volvo pulled out a nice piece of tech at Geneva, too: a pedestrian- and cyclist-detection safety system with auto braking. On sale in model-year 2014, more here. No substitute for drivers using their eyes (and mirrors), obviously, but vulnerable road users need all the help they can get…
- More on the long-range Mitsubishi CA-iMieV here; further lowdown on GR-HEV hybrid pick-up; and the Quros 3 hybrids.
- Non-Geneva news: Toyota is to start a three-year smartcard-enabled EV-share project in France at the end of 2014 in partnership with EDF and the Cite Lib car-share. This will involve 70-odd ultra-light compact vehicles – the i-Road and COMS – and will take place in Grenoble and the surrounding area; the aim is to explore the use of light EVs on a ‘last mile’ basis. More here. And there’s video of the Nissan New Mobility Concept (Japanese Twizy) trial here.
- Save energy, only light highways when a car is approaching: trials are to start in the Netherlands of ‘smart roads’ with motion sensors, glow-in-the-dark paint, automatic ice warnings – and priority lanes for EVs. More at Forum for the Future.
- Debate of the day: the RAC Foundation is talking about “transport poverty” – low-income households spending over a quarter of their income on running a car, averaging £44 a week (ONS data). Cuts in buses are a contributing factor to car dependency, and an obstacle for job-seekers, says the Campaign For Better Transport. The answer’s not cutting fuel duty (as the RAC Foundation is calling for), say many, including @geographyjim, who points out that only 31% of the poorest households have a car, and that households in (car) “transport poverty” only account for 2% of the country’s total fuel spending – so any cut would overwhelmingly benefit the better-off, and not help out the majority of low-income households anyway.
- More fuel (sorry) for thought: a study from UMTRI (University of Michigan Transport Research Institute) argues that all the benefits of efficiency improvements made in the last 40 years in the US have been cancelled out by people travelling higher mileages, and with a higher tendency to travel alone. Handy rundown here; full report here. Data is 1970-2010, however, so may not fully reflect any impact of recession.
March 4, 2013 § 2 Comments
It’s an electric Transporter: no detail on the powertrain as yet (it’s very much a concept), but the e-Co-Motion promises an 800kg payload and 4.6 cubic-metre cargo capacity. It could be configured as a driver’s cab with cargo box (like the Geneva show vehicle), a passenger shuttle, a low-platform or refrigerator box van, or to customer order, as the drivetrain, battery and gearbox are packaged under-floor. It’s 4.55mm long, 1.9mm wide and 1.96mm tall – and this concept probably gives more than a few clues as to the styling of the next-generation mainstream ICE Transporter.
And this is Volkswagen’s vision for it: “Electric mobility – especially in light commercial vehicles – could play a crucial role in meeting the growing transport needs of the world’s megacities. Freight trains and conventional or hybrid-powered high-capacity lorries would deliver goods up to the city limits. Then, at transfer stations, smaller electric delivery vans would take over. Their predictable travel routes and fixed depots would simplify battery charging and equipment maintenance” (Dr. Eckhard Scholz, Speaker of the Brand Board of Management).
- A non-Geneva note: a survey by Zipcar found that 18-34 year-olds (“Millennials”) find it easier to live without owning a car and drive less, thanks to the growing availability of car-sharing, lift-sharing and soforth; from the 1015 questioned, there was a clear trend that mobile devices and transportation apps were more important than car ownership. 65% said that losing their phone or computer would have more of a negative effect on them than losing their car; 25% said that transport apps had reduced their driving frequency; 73% said they preferred to shop online than drive or take public transport to a shop; 47% said they sometimes chose to spend time with friends online instead of driving to see them. More here.
- And the mobility behaviour of Germans is changing too: research from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has found that people are increasingly using different transport modes. Its analysis of data has found that younger folk are less likely to own a car than senior citizens, cycling is becoming more popular and people are increasingly likely to use different transport modes. Just 74% of people have access to a car in their household now, down from 83% in 2002, around a third cycle on a weekly basis and are cycling further. The KIT research – an annual report from 2000 people which has taken place for 18 years – was commissioned by the German federal ministry for transport. More here.
- A pair of electric buses plus a support van using Bombardier’s Primove wireless induction charging tech are going on trial in Mannheim. More at Green Car Congress. The trial is supported by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (again), and funded by the German federal transport ministry. And Yamato Transport, Toyota and Himo Motors are starting a one-year trial in Japan of a small one-tonne refrigerator truck; more here.
- Further to the unveiling of the Audi A3 Sportback g-tron (see earlier post), the VW Group’s Spanish division is building its first CNG-fuelled production model. The Seat Mii Ecofuel emits 79g/km, burns 2.9kg of gas per 100km and is said to cost half as much to run as a petrol-powered Mii, given European CNG prices; it uses a version of the familiar VW Group 1.0 three-cylinder. It also incorporates the full suite of energy-saving Ecomotive technologies, including stop-start, low rolling resistance tyres and brake energy recovery. It’ll go on sale in Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the Czech Republic plus other regions where there is a suitable gas supply infrastructure (not the UK).
March 4, 2013 § 1 Comment
Toyota’s i-ROAD is described as a “personal mobility vehicle” and is a semi-scooter three-wheeler, two-seater EV with an enclosed cabin. It’s just 850mm wide, has ‘active lean’ gyroscopic balancing tech, and has a range of up to 30 miles; it’s said to be comfier, safer and offering better weather protection than a scooter, but giving similarly low running costs, easy parking and around-town manoeuvrability (turning circle 3m). No helmet required. It’s powered by two 2kW motors in the front wheels. A clear statement from Toyota reads: “While hybrids, plug-in hybrids and FVCs (fuel cell vehicles) are ideal for mainstream use over medium to long distances, Toyota believes in the feasibility of EVs to serve as a main mode of transport for short urban journeys”, and the company suggests a system whereby “commuters can use public transport or conventional private vehicles to travel to urban perimeter transportation hubs where they will transfer to the Toyota i-ROAD to complete their journeys into the city centre.”
- BMW is showing the i3 Concept Coupe and i8 Concept Spyder in Geneva, and has flagged up some key findings from the original 12.5million-mile Mini E/ActiveE trail. Distances covered by these EVs “showed very little difference from the distances covered by conventional cars”, averaging just over 25 miles a day; the pilot customers charged two to three times a week on average, mostly at their homes and workplaces; though at the start of the trial over 70% said that access to public charging facilities was important, in practice, public infrastructure was used less than 10% of the time. More detail on the i3”s connectivity: its 80-100 mile range can be optimised via the ConnectedDrive services, which include net-based real-time navigation and dynamic range calculation, taking into account traffic conditions and route topgraphy, plus advice on which of the three driving modes are recommended to conserve range, nearby charging stations and plug reservations, and charging times. BMW has also confirmed the availability of an optional range-extender engine, putting total range up to 186 miles, plus “additional mobility modules” enabling the borrowing of a conventional ICE vehicle from BMW i on “a given number of days per year”.
- Kia Provo concept: dodgy name (does it bomb Brighton hotels?) but interesting powertrain solution. This low-slung supermini-sized 2+2 hatch has a turbocharged petrol engine (1.6 GDi direct-injection, 204ps) with an electric motor using energy captured by regenerative braking, giving four-wheel drive and “an additional power surge to the rear wheels when required”, plus a short low-speed electric-only ‘creep’ range. Gearbox is a seven-speed DCT.