Newsbriefs: New hybrid systems and transmissions, V2G projections and battery-swapping

February 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

kia soul ev_2Alongside the Soul EV, Kia’s going to show off a new hybrid system in Geneva. This involves a 48V lead carbon battery, a small electric motor plus an electric supercharger which ups torque and power at low engine speeds. It gives a short electric-only range and all-electric cruising, features regenerative braking and a stop-start system, and enables the downsizing of the standard battery.

Kia has also been testing the Soul EV in northern Sweden (pictured; apologies for another Kia pic this week, but it is scenic) to check out its cold-climate behaviour and range. Its driver-only ventilation system helps reduce the power drawn from the batteries; its new heat pump uses waste heat from the air conditioning and electrical systems; its new air intake control system better-controls the air flow and humidity inside the vehicle; and owners can also schedule the pre-heating or pre-cooling of the cabin 30 minutes before set-off.

  • Vehicle-to-grid: more than 250,000 V2G-enabled plug-in vehicles will hit the road 2013-2022, according to a new report from Navigant Research. These will enable owners/operators to sell power back to the grid, as well as reducing peak loads and balancing demand, and “smoothing the integration of renewable energy resources and generation revenue from ancillary services markets”, says the release. Basically, you can think of it as all the cars acting as storage devices, emergency back-ups and general repositories for solar/wind/hydro power, which is generated unevenly according to time, climactic conditions etc. And there’s the opportunity to make money there, of course, which is what everyone’s trying to work out.
  • Honda’s showing the new Civic Type R in Geneva, but of more interest to me will be the Euro debut of the FCEV Concept, previewing a production car to be launched in 2015. There’s also, if not the whole car, the powertrain for the new NSX supercar: a twin-turbo, direct-injection V6 with Honda’s all-wheel-drive hybrid system adding electrical assistance.
  • British firm Magnomatics – a spin-off from Sheffield University – has announced a second-generation version of its Magsplit eCVT transmission system for hybrid vehicles. This could potentially replace mechanical planetary gears and motor/generators as in conventional hybrid power-split transmissions, and is said to offer 1-2% fuel consumption savings, though the larger gains are in downsizing, reduced system complexity, no need for lubrication, and low battery charge swing, allowing a downsizing of the battery or longer battery life. More of the science bit explained here.
  • Bosch, Mitsubishi and GS Yuasa have formed a JV to develop next-generation lithium-ion battery tech, with the aim of doubling energy capacity and achieving “a giant leap forward”. More here.
  • Is there still  a place for battery-swapping in the wake of the demise of Better Place? Transport Evolved has the low-down on a Slovakian fleet operator which is using a simple, low-tech manual stacking system – similar to that of loading pallets onto a forklift – to keep its clients’ vans in action. Swaps can take just seven minutes, apparently, and one of its clients has done 24,000 miles in six months due to elimination of the downtime needed for charging.

Citroen C4 Cactus, EV and car-sharing news

February 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

citroen c4 cactusI rather overlooked the Citroen C4 Cactus (to be seen at the Geneva Motor Show next month) when it was announced recently – ICE powertrain, looked to me much like just another SUV-alike small car – though there are a few interesting points to consider. One diesel version will do 91.1mpg with CO2 emissions of just 82g/km, and there’s a petrol emitting less than 100g/km; all auxilliary controls (air con, navigation, media, 3G/Bluetooth communications) are touchscreen-based; and the Multicity Connect portal features a range of apps including ‘fuel’ (locating nearest/cheapest forecourt), ‘Yellow Pages’ and ‘Trip Advisor’ apps for hotels, restaurants etc, ‘Michelin traffic’ for live traffic info, and ‘Coyote’, for alerts on high-risk roads. It’s also 200kg lighter (at 965kg) than the outgoing C4 hatch. And I like the ‘Airbump’ protection against minor scrapes and dings, too. Reflects the move towards lower running costs/more distinct styling/tech and connectivity in this sector as opposed to hot-hatch sportiness, anyway. No word yet as to whether it’s going to get Citroen’s hybrid powertrain, though as the emphasis is on low(ish) costs, this may not be a goer. More technical detail on the weight-savings and design-engineering at Autocar.

  • Here’s a smart move: renewable energy supplier Ecotricity is offering 1000 ‘free miles’ to (UK) customers with EVs or plug-in hybrids. Those signing up to the ‘Green Electricity + Car’ tariff will see these miles in terms of lower costs per kilowatt hour, reports Transport Evolved. They’ll also get free access to Ecotricity’s ‘Electric Highway’ superchargers on the UK’s motorway network. Ecotricity is also teaming up with the VW Group to offer buyers of the e-Up! and subsequent EVs from Volkswagen, Skoda, Seat and Audi the tariff plus free smart-meter installation. More details here.
  • Strategic EV-charging, the hunt for free chargers – and in the US network, how the numbers of free-to-use chargers are dropping (no surprise). Some good anecdotal detail from California at Detroit News. Who’s guilty of “plug-squatting”, then?
  • Daimler’s expanding its car2go car-sharing (short-term rentals) by adding the B-Class to the previously Smart-only fleet; a pilot phase will see 200 Bs go into service in Hamburg and Berlin this month. The car2go Black scheme allows one-way and open-ended trips, within/between cities, with smartphone-based rentals. The service will expand later in the spring to all car2go members and new customers, with long-term reservations to be available. Daimler is also reporting that it is to expand its moovel mobility app to integrate more mobility services and to include more cities around the world; its latest addition is ‘Park2gether’, a platform for linking drivers with those offering parking spaces (much like Parkatmyhouse).

Concept of the Day: Seat Leon Verde

June 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

leon verdeDon’t get excited just yet: the Leon Verde is only a research & development vehicle with no plans for its production*. It does, however, show off the work of the Spanish division of the Volkswagen Group in its four-year Cenit Verde (“Green Zenith”) project, now coming to an end. The “culmination” of the programme, this plug-in hybrid prototype (like the earlier Leon TwinDrive Ecomotive) features the VW Group stock 122hp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine plus 102hp electric motor; it gives a 31-mile all-electric range, a total range of 507 miles and a combined 176.6mpg/36g/km.

The most interesting thing about it is its smartphone-integrated driver interface (two patent applications pending), an app to monitor and manage energy consumption, battery status and charging, as well as to track CO2 savings. Seat has also applied for a patent for its Driving Cycle Predictor, which analyses the driver’s style and routines to optimise energy consumption and minimise emissions.

Cenit Verde – a 34million-euro public-private initiative supported by Spain’s Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and involving 16 private companies and 14 public bodies across the country – has also developed a public charging infrastructure and smart-grid system with lower pricing tariffs for charging at off-peak times. The car’s charging management system can be set to only charge the car (if left plugged in) at the low-tariff times, though peak-time – and quick-charge – electricity can also be specified; the Leon Verde can also feed electricity back to the grid in a two-way process.

Ramón Paredes, Seat VP for Governmental and Institutional Affairs for Seat and the Volkswagen Group in Spain, points out that (should one be wondering whether the cash-strapped Spanish state should have funded this programme) that “funds devoted to the financing of R&D activities constitute key elements in the industrial policy of any developed country, or at least if it wishes to continue being one. Experience tells us that those countries who have been able to go against the flow have managed to emerge from the crisis more rapidly and in better shape.” Hear, hear.

Incidentally… Seat has the largest rooftop solar array in Spain at its Martorell facility. And more about Cenit Verde plus test-drive of the Altea XL Electric here; test-drive of Leon TwinDrive Ecomotive here. *Interestingly, at the time (November 2011), they were saying production of a Leon plug-in hybrid for 2015 – perhaps a target now shelved or deferred.

  • Seat, and Spain, needs to be in on the action: though “electromobility is currently still a niche business… after 2020 it could very well become a mass market”, said Dr Volkmar Denner, chairman of the board at Bosch.  He expects that “by 2020, electric cars will have a range of at least 300 kilometers”. Bosch is explicit that it is “betting on the future of electric-drive”.
  • Toyota is putting its Camatte57 EV, first seen last year,  into production (this new version looks prettier). But again, before you get too excited, it’s a. a child’s toy and b. you have to assemble it yourself, like an IKEA flatpack (don’t forget the brakes). Good fun for all the family! More here.
  • BMW’s looking at lithium-air batteries for its EVs, and reckons that average range can be doubled within four to five years, with a tenfold improvement in performance another five years on from that. As told to Detroit News. BMW’s also hedging its bets between improved ICE, hybrids and EVs, and wondering whether the industry’s changing through evolution or revolution (aren’t we all?). And it’s seeing much interest in the i3 (100,000 test-drives booked), adds Automotive News Europe.
  • Croatia’s Rimac Automobili – maker of the Concept_One super-EV – is expanding into component and systems supply and engineering consultancy/services. Press release posted here.
  • Interesting project car to be revealed by a team from the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki: the Biofore is claimed to be “a milestone in the utilisation of next generation biomaterials in the automotive value chain”, and will be made from wood- and cellulose fibre-based biocomposites. Its diesel engine will run on wood-derived biofuel. More here.
  • So Apple wants to get iOS – its mobile operating system – into vehicles, with a number of brands planning to offer it; more here. Much possibility for multi-platform networking, etc.
  • Lifetime costs of owning an EV are pretty similar to those for an ICE vehicle, according to modelling by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), though there’ll be variations due to driving style/patterns, how/when the car is charged, etc. Detailed rundown at Green Car Congress.
  • The Frauenhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and a team from the University of Stuttgart are studying a trial local authority fleet of EVs in the southern mountain resort community of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This six-month project is part of the e-GAP programme in which the community is working as a platform for R&D. More here (and details of the Frauenhofer IAO Shared E-Fleet programme here).

Concept of the Day: Audi Urban Future Initiative Extreme Cities Project

May 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

audi future cities projectAudi’s Urban Future Initiative, a collaboration with Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, has presented its Extreme Cities Project in New York this week. There are five hypotheses for the megacities of 2050: Transgeneration Capacity, whereby generational boundaries are blurred, and better access to services and communication enables care beyond an extended family network; Asymmetric Mobility, involving multi-modal transport, digital and virtual communication instead of traditional commuting patterns; Complexity, entailing an immense (and vulnerable) concentration of knowledge in dense urban centres; Migration, whereby people move freely and frequently to live and work in other world cities; and Generosity, with lots of community projects such as collective gardens. A more positive set of outcomes than Digiland etc. (see previous post). Full lowdown here (and more to follow from the Ideas City Festival, New York, tomorrow).

In other news today:

  • “Lifecycle emissions of electric vehicles are significantly lower than those of conventional alternatives when using low-carbon power generation and could be further reduced through the recycling of batteries”: new whole-lifecycle analysis by Ricardo-AEA for the Committee on Climate Change, in an extensive report (pro-nuclear) on reducing the UK’s carbon footprint for 2050. Available for download here.
  • Are e-bike sales (up 22% 2010-2011) eating into European car sales (down 2%, and a further 8% in 2012), asks Forbes? Electrically-assisted bicycle sales are expected to reach 1-1.2million in Europe this year, says Navigant Research. Having had one zoom past me whilst I was struggling in low gear up Clyde Road last night, I can see the appeal…
  • Road traffic fell in the UK again last quarter: down 2.3% compared to January-March 2012, though we still covered a long 74.7billion vehicle miles. Car traffic down 1.9% (59.6billion vehicle miles), light goods down 1.9% (10.4billion), heavy goods down 3.8% (3.7billion). Larger decreases were seen on rural and urban roads (down 2.5 and 2.9%) than on motorways (0.7%). Full report here.
  • The Elio two-seat, three-wheeler, a 1.0-litre lightweight to be built in Shreveport, Louisiana, goes on sale next month in the US from $6,800, and 13,000 have already been ordered, reports Autoweek.

Electric alert: Defender EVs on trial

February 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

defender_evsLand Rover has built a test fleet of seven all-electric Defender 4x4s. These all-terrain EVs – to be publicly unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show – have a 70kW (94bhp), 330Nm motor and 300-volt lithium-ion battery pack (air-cooled), and though their range is only around 50 miles, they can run for up to eight hours at low speeds off-road. A fast-charge at 7kW takes four hours, and the Hill Descent Control system incorporates regenerative braking with up to 80% of kinetic energy recoverable. Transmission is single-speed, with a modified version of the Terrain Response System and the standard 4WD with differential lock; weight is increased by only 100kg. So far, tests have included wading to a depth of 800m, pulling 12 tonnes up a 13% gradient and other heavy-duty tasks; Land Rover describes them as a “rolling laboratory” which “gives us a chance to evolve and test some of the technologies that may one day be introduced into future Land Rover models”. Later this year, the seven vehicles will “go into service in specialist real-world trials”. Land Rover is also launching a nine-speed automatic gearbox, developed by ZF, which promises fuel savings of up to 16% in a diesel SUV and 12% in a petrol compared to a current six-speeder.

  • Want to build your own electric racing car? Westfield Sportscars is launching the iRacer, a DIY kit car costing from £13,999 which can be used in the Formula Student series. It is being developed with support from Birmingham University, which is also working with Westfield to reduce CO2 emissions and weight by a target 20% across its range. More here.
  • Hyundai has started assembly-line production of the iX35 Fuel Cell crossover: the first batch of 17 is going out for fleet use, 15 to the municipality of Copenhagen and two to authorities in Skane, Sweden. Consumer retail sales are scheduled for ‘after 2015’. More here.
  • Detailed Q&A with GM’s chief technology officer, John Lauckner, at Autoblog Green. GM is focusing on five key areas: clean propulsion-related tech incl. power electronics, emissions control, motors, better batteries and other economy-improving measures; connected vehicles/infotainment; advanced materials (lightweight, eco-friendly) and technologies; sensors, processors and memory (computing power) and manufacturing-related technologies. We’re still at an early stage with e-mobility, he says, but Gen II and III lithium-ion battery improvements will bring improvements and lower costs.
  • Updates to the Nissan Leaf, soon to be built in Sunderland: range increased to 124 miles (up from 109), a more efficient heating system, improved luggage space, enhanced regenerative braking in ‘eco’ mode, tweaks to the chassis, interior bio-fabrics and more versions/options available, including a 32amp onboard quick-charger giving a four-hour complete top-up. The batteries (already built in Sunderland) are now warranted for 5 years/1oo,oookm, with a new clause protecting buyers against ‘gradual capacity loss’ in that time.  Full rundown here.
  • A story from a satisfied RelayRides member, renting out her Nissan Leaf by the hour: some angst, but it seems to be working for her. Interesting points are that 1. most of her renters are young – finding car ownership too costly, or with a different attitude towards it? and 2. that some see it as a chance to try out an EV before buying one. Most even plug her car back in to recharge when they bring it back, apparently.
  • Poor feedback from a taxi trial of the Leaf in Osaka, however – charging takes the cars off the streets too long, battery capacity has deteriorated, and use of the heaters kills the range, reports Japan Today. Possibly not the best application of EVs at this point in time, then, especially since there are only eight chargers in Osaka.
  • Over 150 charging points are now operational in a national network in Estonia, with a full 165 to be onstream this summer. Over 60 are on highways between the country’s major cities, and fast-chargers enable top-ups in 20-40 minutes. They are operated by the national  Elmo programme, a partnership with Mitsubishi, with three charging tariffs, including pay-as-you-go, available to users. More here.
  • Supporting national manufacturing and supply chains: the French government has ordered 2000 Renault Zoe electric superminis plus 100 Fluence ZE saloons, to be delivered over the next three years as part of a 17,000-EV fleet for the public sector. On a more pan-European note, 50 Mercedes-Benz Vito E-Cell vans are going to Post Danmark, reports EV Fleet World.

Volkswagen XL1 confirmed

February 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

vw_xl1_3So it’s finally been confirmed: Volkswagen is to build the XL1 ‘1-litre’ car, albeit in a very limited production run of just 50 vehicles, which, given their handbuilt carbonfibre bodies, will no doubt not be cheap (no prices announced as yet). Enough of an output to secure Volkswagen the record for the most fuel-efficient and aerodynamic production car yet made, anyway, and to act as road-going showcases for tech which will  filter into more mundane-looking mainstream models in due course (Autocar is reporting that the XL1 drivetrain will be fitted in an Up! hybrid in 18 months’ time, for example). Lowdown on the car’s designer, Maximilian Missoni (now at Volvo) at Car Design News, btw.

An ultra-aerodynamic plug-in diesel hybrid two-seater, the XL1 uses less than 1 litre of fuel per 100km – 0.9 litres, Volkswagen claims, equivalent to a phenomenal 314mpg (in ideal conditions, of course: real-life consumption will be less spectacular) and with a CO2 output of 21g/km. It’s aided by a weight of just 795kg and its long-and-low outline, can do over 99mph and 0-62mph in 12.7 seconds, and it’ll do up to 50km in all-electric mode before the two-cylinder, 800cc 48PS diesel engine kicks in. Given the seven-speed DSG transmission, it should even be a rewarding drive. More details will be announced at the Geneva Motor Show next month, when Volkswagen will also be launching the Golf Mk7 plug-in hybrid (with 1.4 TSI petrol engine) and its sister model, the Audi A3 e-tron, both to go on sale next year. Oh, and also at Geneva: the hybrid McLaren P1, which can do up to 10km in all-electric mode – press release on that posted here. Green, as hyper-cars go, I guess, and A Good Thing for consciousness-raising.

  • Balanced article by Tali Trigg at Scientific American on state-of-play with EVs: he makes the point that given the existing infrastructure and potential to slot into existing grid (and future clean-electricity) supplies, EVs “offer a clean solution in the near term” and a better value-proposition than “yet another hyped vehicle technology” (i.e. hydrogen, for which you need to establish a sufficiently low-energy generation/production/supply chain, which hasn’t been cracked yet). He also acknowledges that there is probably no one solution, and the importance of  “improving conventional fuel economy and better urban planning and public transit options” – all crucial stuff too in the short- to-medium term.
  • Here’s a phrase to remember: “transit legacy cities”. In the USA, that refers to cities which were founded before the advent of the automobile, and which thus have (or were originally built with, at least) a public transport infrastructure. The most concentrated use of public transport for commuting in the country is in the “legacy cities” of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, says Wendell Cox at New Geography, where there’s a detailed breakdown of commuter habits in metropolitan and surburban areas. Lessons for London and the older cities of Europe?
  • The IBM/NXP connected vehicles SmartCloud trial in Eindhoven noted improved traffic flow, lower congestion and better resolution of emergencies and incidents; more at Green Car Congress. Mind, you, there are concerns (in the US) over conflicting uses of the frequency spectrum for connected cars, reports Wired.
  • Updates on the Nissan FF (Front-engined, Front-wheel-drive) hybrid drivetrain here. And I’ve just learned a new German word: freikolbenlineargenerator, FKLG for short. Means free-piston linear generator;  a team at the German Aerospace Centre  has developed a multi-fuel example of this which could be used as a range-extender for EVs, in place of an engine. Science bit at Green Car Congress.
  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the Frauenhofer Institute for Systems and Innovations Research, Siemens and Michelin are launching a new high-mileage EV trial to study cost-efficiency; EVs will be used by staff travelling to and fro over the French-German border. More here.

Smart Fortwo electric drive now on sale

June 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Production of the new Smart Fortwo electric drive has begun this week in Hambach, France, and sales have started in Germany. This is effectively the third-generation version of this EV, though the first for mainstream sale; earlier production runs were in small numbers only for field trials and testing. The electric drive is now also built alongside its conventionally-engined sister models on the same production lines.
“For the first time we have realised the consistent and perfectly integrated production of models with electric drive and those with combustion engines”, says factory chief Dr Joachim Betker. “In production, we are now optimally utilising the Smart vehicle concept’s imminent potential for different drive systems.”

Daimler has invested over €200 million to upgrade and expand the Hambach plant. “With the new Smart electric drive we are further expanding our leading position in urban mobility and making fully electric driving accessible to everyone”, says Dr Annette Winkler, brand Head. “For this – and for the successor generation to the current Smart – we are making significant investments in the Hambach site. And I am convinced that this is money extremely well-invested.

“The new smart electric drive and the expansion of the Hambach plant are two important milestones for the future of Smart”, she added.

The Fortwo electric drive will be offered as a coupe or a cabriolet. It features a 55kW (74bhp) motor and a 17.6kWh battery, promising a range of 145km (about 90 miles) in city traffic and acceleration 0-60kph (0-37mph) in 4.8 seconds. Top speed is 77mph. The new motor is supplied by Bosch and the battery by Evonik, now making the car all-European.

Prices in Germany start from €23,680 (coupe) and €26,770 (cabriolet) all-in, but Smart is also offering the ‘sale&care’ option of buying, financing or leasing the car with a separate per-month fee for battery rental. This puts the vehicle purchase at €18,910 (coupe) and €22,000 (cabriolet), with battery rent €65 a month. Prices and options for other markets, including the UK, have not yet been announced.

In other news today:

  • BMW opened its Apple-like i Store in Park Lane, London, which will showcase its i-range and services. It’s to offer its own in-house EV chargers, a full service and support scheme, mobility packages including rental of conventional BMWs, access to public chargers and selection of green electricity tariffs, and sales will be directly-contracted from BMW rather than through its franchises. On show at the Store were models including a nearer-production i3 and the Pedelec folding e-bike, which fits neatly into the i3’s boot.
  • The Bluebird team has unveiled its GTL Formula-E electric racer. It’s hoping to be one of the four manufacturers chosen to supply vehicles to the FIA series, which will kick off in 2014. More at The Charging Point.
  • “America’s love affair with the motor car is running on empty”  – says the Guardian. Discuss…
  • It’s official: diesel exhaust fumes do cause cancer, the World Health Organisation has finally decided. More here. But non-exhaust particulates – brake dust, tyre dust etc – could contribute 90% of traffic emissions by the end of the decade, according to a new British report.
  • Ford’s 999cc three-cylinder, turbocharged EcoBoost engine has won the International Engine of the Year award. Full story at Engine Technology International.
  • National Electric Vehicle Sweden, the new owners of Saab backed by Japanese and Hong Kong investors, aims to have a 9-3-based EV in production by early 2014, reports Automotive  News Europe. NEVS has the rights to the 9-3 and new ‘Phoenix’ platform, but not the 9-5 and 9-4x, reports Autocar. The new car is likely to be developed from the 9-3 ePower concept.

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