Friday newsbriefs: More fuel cell research, cloud apps for plug-in Hondas, Tesla hyperloop and an e-plane

July 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

The US Department of Energy is investing $2.4million in five hydrogen/fuel cell research programmes, looking at the performance and progress of hydrogen fuelling stations and supply infrastructure as well as the production of hydrogen from natural gas (uh-oh – are we in fracking territory here?) as well as from (nicer-sounding) solar-powered electrolysis of water. The programmes are in California, Connecticut and Illinois, reports Green Car Congress.

  • Honda’s new-generation infotainment system, Hondalink, will bring full connectivity including cloud-based audio streaming and radio plus Twitter and Facebook feeds – and, for drivers of the Fit (Jazz) EV and upcoming Accord plug-in hybrid, “unique applications designed specifically to maintain connectivity to their vehicle”- probably remote battery and charging management. The system debuts in the US when the new Accord arrives this autumn; a similar set-up is likely to be offered in Europe at a later date.
  • More about Tesla supremo Elon Musk’s idea for a ‘hyperloop’ – a solar-powered hyper-speed train – linking San Francisco and Los Angeles here. Well, a little more explaining the idea, anyway… this one’d be a long time into the future, though Musk stands a better chance than many of making something like this happen.
  • And planes: bike-racer turned pilot Chip Yates has become the first to fly an electric plane at over 200mph. He hit 202.6mph in the Burt Rutan-designed Long-ESA, and now aims to go trans-Atlantic. More at Flight of The Century.
  • Late addition to this bulletin: Aussie start-up EV Engineering of Port Melbourne has retro-fitted nine Holden Commodore saloons with electric powertrains and swappable batteries for a two-year trial. The aim is to see if e-power is feasible in such a large car, and to then offer conversions. Full story at The Age, via battery-swap people @BtrPlcAus.

Design Concept of the Day: EXO

April 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

EXO is a minimalist city EV with a sturdy exoskeleton structure akin to that of a geodesic dome. The creation of Mark Beccaloni and Mauro Fragiotta, it’s said to have been designed ‘from the outside in’ with its safety-oriented framework determining its form. It’s a similar size to a Toyota iQ, but it’s claimed to be potentially far more efficient, lighter-weight and potentially much cheaper – and it was also inspired by the Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion (as pictured on my Twitter feed). Full gallery at Yanko Design.

In other news today:

  • The stillborn Aptera 2e has resurfaced in China: the rights to its manufacture, or at least, its plastic moulds, have been bought by a Chinese firm. More at Autoblog Green.
  • And the Rimac Concept One – a 1088hp super-EV – has turned up in Monaco at the Top Marques show; a limited production run of 88 has been announced. Price? $980,000. Photos, video at Autoblog Green.
  • Honda has been trialling a driver-monitoring programme which crunches data on acceleration and braking to advise the driver to proceed in a more fuel-efficient fashion – and has recorded an average fuel economy improvement of 8% and an increase of nearly 25% in average speed in stop-start traffic. This data can also be fed into the ‘cloud’ along with traffic information to find an optimal flow-speed, and the car’s adaptive cruise control can be set for the smoothest, most efficient progress. The research study is in partnership with the Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Tokyo, and the system is intended for production. Further trials will begin in Italy and Indonesia next month.
  • Audi’s updating the Q5, with revised models to go on sale in October. The new range will include the Q5 Hybrid, which features a 2.0-litre, 208bhp four-cylinder petrol engine and 53bhp electric motor.

Beijing Auto Show: Honda Concept S, show news #3

April 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Honda’s Concept S (for ‘stylish’, ‘smart’ and ‘surprise’, says the company) is a hybrid compact MPV to be built by Dongfeng Honda Automobile Co next year; it’ll go on sale in China next year, with global sales to follow. It looks as if it’s Insight-related but with a more wagon-like tail end.

In more Beijing-related news:

  • Toyota has a handful of new concepts, a locally-engineered hybrid saloon called Yundong Shuangqing  and a compact saloon and hatch called Toyota Dear Qin; the latter pair are said to preview low-cost ‘global-strategic’ models for sale (2013), probably in developing markets, and the former foreshadows a whole new range of Chinese-built hybrids, due 2015. Car magazine has the most details, pics, and translations of those names.
  • Can’t get terribly excited about this from an environmental point of view, but anyway… Ferrari  is showing off the latest developments in its HY-KERS (hybrid-kinetic energy recovery) project. The powertrain on display in a glass case in Beijing is probably going to go into a mid-engined super-model to succeed the Enzo later this year; it comprises a 12-cylinder engine, two electric motors and dual-clutch transmission; one of the motors is solely to run the car’s auxilliary systems. Emissions down 40%, acceleration up 10%, apparently, and it goes without saying that it’ll be integrated for optimum weight-distribution and handling balance. More details from Car magazine.
  • The first car from the Nissan-Dongfeng EV venture, Venucia, is the e-concept. Looks a lot like a Leaf. It’ll go on sale in China in 2015.
  • What the Haval? The Great Wall Haval E concept (previewing a Nissan Juke-type crossover/hatch) will surely not make production with its scissor-opening doors intact, but its hybrid-drive tech may well feature in the future as well as conventional petrol powertrains. It combines a 1.3-litre engine, six-speed DCT gearbox and 70kW motor, says Car News China (which has the best pics), and can do 190kph and 0-100kph in eight seconds.
  • GM has updated the Chevrolet EN-V concept – the two-seater networked EV – to add climate control, storage space and weather protection. EN-V 2.0 will take part in trials in China, and “our designers and engineers are exploring a range of options for turning the EN-V concept into a reality,” said Kevin Wale, president and MD, GM China Group. “The EN-V 2.0 concept would use technologies such as the mobility Internet, electrification and telematics.” Full release here.

Design Concepts of the Day: Zagato Volpe, Chery Ant

April 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Zagato: legendary Italian studio responsible for exclusive Aston Martins, Lancias, Alfa Romeos, many an exotic – and this, the Volpe (“Fox”, and an acronym of ‘Veicoli Originali Leggeri Privi di Emissioni’, original light-emissions vehicle). Designed by Romano Artioli (Bugatti EB110, Lotus Elise), it’s a tandem two-seater in the vein of the Renault Twizy (but with proper doors, which open vertically), and a range-extended electric powertrain. It’s 2m long, just 1m wide, and is said to offer “high comfort and modern safety standards”. It’s to go on sale in Italy in early 2013, and was introduced on Italian TV earlier this month. There’ll also be an all-electric version with a range of 60km, and prices will start from 6,990 euros with the RE-EV from 7,950 euros. An uprated 12kW motor, giving 80kph, is a 1000-euro upgrade, and further options will include roof-top solar cells; equipment on offer includes air conditioning, an MP3 player, full central locking and sat nav. Video posted here.

In other news today:

  • The average CO2 emissions of new cars sold in the UK fell by 4.2% last year, marking a fall of over 23% since 2000. Cars emitting less than 130g/km made up nearly half of sales (compared to 10.6% in 2007), and ‘Band A’ cars emitting less than 100g/km took 3.4% of the market, double their proportion last year. Diesels accounted for 50.6% of sales, and alt-fuel cars 1.3%; 92% of the latter were petrol-electric hybrids. The average new car sold in the UK now emits 138.1g/km and returns 52.5mpg; emissions reductions have been made in all sectors, says the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders). More detail, and link to the full SMMT New Car CO2 Report 2012, here.
  • Chinese car-maker Chery is to unveil a concept called Ant (pictured below) at the Beijing Auto Show. This is said to promise a solution for urban mobility in the congested cities of the future, and will be a cloud-networked EV on a similar vibe to the GM ENV concepts. Ants: they work in a colony.
  • Road pollution is more than twice as deadly as traffic accidents, and causes 5000 premature deaths in the UK each year, according to a new study from MIT. Deaths as a result of vehicle emissions are more frequent than those caused by emissions from industry, it concluded, and the highest death rate – by a large margin – is in Greater London. More detail, links to full report, at the BBC.
  • Honda and the Japan Metals and Chemicals Co have come up with recycling solutions for the rare earth metals used in the Honda hybrids’ nickel-hydride batteries. This will be integrated into a mass-production process at a recycling plant. More at Green Car Congress.
  • Costs for an average automotive lithium-ion battery have fallen 30% since 2009, according to research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The price is now down to $690 per kWhr, from around $800 per kWhr last year, and could come down to $150 per kWhr by 2030. The estimated ‘break-even’ point – when battery costs are reduced so an EV is no more expensive than an ICE vehicle – is thought to be around $250 per kWhr, and this could be achieved by the end of this decade.

Audi R8 etron gets audio

April 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Audi is in the studio, developing synthesised sounds for the R8 etron to compensate for its lack of engine or exhaust noise and to warn pedestrians of its presence. Speakers front and rear on this all-electric sports car will broadcast speed-dependent tones specially-created to give an impression of power. Make your own mind up: video, sound effects and a nice gallery of pics at Wired Autopia.

More news today:

  • Gases venting from an experimental battery pack caused yesterday’s explosion at the General Motors Tech Centre in Warren, Michigan, says GM. One employee was kept in hospital overnight, windows were broken at the Alternative Energy Centre and around 1,100 people were temporarily evacuated. It was the result of ‘extreme testing’ on a prototype battery and nothing to do with the Volt or any production vehicle, GM stresses. More at Detroit News.
  • The US Department of Energy is offering up $4million-worth of funding for development of wireless EV charging systems. Up to four projects researching, integrating and testing the tech will receive the cash; more here.
  • Honda’s American division, meanwhile, is teaming up with IBM and Pacific Gas & Electric on a project to develop communications between electric vehicles and power grids. The Honda Fit EV will serve as a testbed for a system using IBM’s cloud-based platform. More at Green Car Congress. IBM is also working with Slovakian energy provider ZSE to create a recharging and support infrastructure for Bratislava, with a view to building a ‘green highway’ with strategically-placed charging points linking Bratislava with Vienna. More on the VIBRATe project here.
  • Building the European-market Nissan Leaf at Sunderland will reduce its production cost by around a third, reports Automotive News. The UK-built Leafs – to be made from early next year – will be specifically retuned to suit Euro tastes, and will have an improved range and smoother power delivery.

Tesla Model S chills out

April 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Tesla Model S (the saloon) is  undergoing cold-weather testing. Video of it sliding around in the ice at the Tesla blog. First deliveries begin in July, and online configurator tools will shortly go live; latest news on interior trim and options, and the Personal Delivery service (yes please…) at the blog.

General post-Easter news catch-up:

  • The Toyota Prius Plug-in goes on sale in July in the UK, and it’s priced at £27,895 (once the £5000 government grant is taken into account). Official CO2 output is 49g/km.
  • The Infiniti LE – unveiled at the New York Motor Show last week – is effectively going to be the posh Nissan Leaf (the 2013 version, reports Autocar, with improved  range). The NY concept also featured a home wireless charging system, which could be the first such set-up to reach production, says The Charging Point.
  • There’ll be a hybrid version of the Jaguar F-Type, reports Autocar, following on from the conventional iterations of this two-seater sports car. Roadster models to come first; production-ready examples will be unveiled at Paris Auto Show this autumn.
  • The 2014 Acura RLX – smart US-market saloon – unveiled in NY will also have a hybrid variant. Two motors, a 3.5 V6, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and over 370bhp through all four wheels, reports Inside Line. And there’s a hybrid version of the new-generation Lexus ES, too. Oh, and of the Lincoln MKZ  (featuring the new 2.0-litre Ecoboost four-cyl engine).
  • Another EV-around-the-world trip: the Citroen C-Zero of Electric Odyssey is in the Rocky Mountains on its way down to California.
  • Lithium-sulphur batteries ‘could be  the power storage devices of the future’, according to research from Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich. They’re quoting smartphones and e-bikes as likely recipients of these optimised batteries with porous nanoparticles (woo!) but the tech could work for cars too. Science bit at Alpha Galileo.
  • Honda is going to launch the Insight, Fit/Jazz hybrid and the CR-Z coupe in China, and is considering local production of hybrids and EVs there. More will be announced at the Beijing Auto Show, where Honda is also revealing two new concepts.
  • Ford is running a competition in the US to win a Focus Electric, in partnership with Yahoo! Screen: it’s a reality-TV extravaganza, with teams from selected cities taking part in a series of challenges. More here.
  • We will ignore the story about Justin Bieber’s chromed Fisker Karma. Move along, nothing to see here.

Monday: Mindset and more

February 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

An update on the Mindset EV: the Swiss firm has optimised the performance of its lithium-ion batteries, doubling their power density in a “major breakthrough for electric vehicles”. Three models are planned; two are all-electric (and one of these four-wheel-drive), and the third a range-extended EV with a single-cylinder 300cc four-stroke engine acting as a generator. Prices from 76,000 euros, they say. (Thanks to @TechVehicles).

In other news today:
  • Honda is to introduce a new 1.6-litre diesel engine at the Geneva Motor Show; it’s the first of a new series of engines dubbed “Earth Dreams Technology” (hm…) which will “see Honda become number one in fuel economy within three years” (take that, dissatisfied Civic Hybrid owners). Going into the Civic late this year, this 120hp/300Nm diesel will emit less than 100g/km. Honda will also show the NSX Concept (hybrid) and EV-Ster concept, plus a Jazz 1.2 with stop-start (giving a 3g/km reduction), which goes on sale this spring.
  • The EV & Low CO2 Fleet Show will be held at Silverstone on August 18th. Manufacturers including Renault, Nissan, Peugeot and Citroen will have cars at the event for fleet managers to test-drive, and charging point/infrastructure firms will also attend. The show is organised by Fleet World magazine in association with the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association; Fleet World’s managing editor Ross Durkin says: “Fleets’ attitude towards electric vehicles is changing steadily as some of the myths are dispelled, and the recharging infrastructure develops… With oil prices widely expected to rise again, I think EVs will make commercial sense to a growing number of organisations… maybe 10% of new cars into fleet in five years’ time.”
  • Mercedes-Benz will launch its Citan van at the Hannover CV show in September; this small van is developed from the Renault Kangoo, so electric versions are probably on the agenda too.
  • Bluebird Automotive is testing its prototype electric trucks in London this week. Follow @ev_innovations for all the news.

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