Design Concept of the Day: Kawasaki J

December 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

kawasakijconceptI missed this one in the Tokyo Motor Show round-up last month, but it’s worth picking up on now. Kawasaki is looking at future urban/suburban transport with this bi-modal electric bike; it’s an adaptable three-wheeler that can be switched from a low-riding, aerodynamic sports bike mode to a more upright, comfortable city machine. It uses Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ Gigacell nickel-hydride battery and battery management technology.

  • About time for an electric London taxicab: the Frazer-Nash Research extended-range electric powertrain has been fitted into a prototype by Ecotive Limited. Trials will start in London next year, with sales to follow, reports the Standard.
  • Latest news/analysis on the electric-Saabs-from-Trollhatten-for-China story from Automotive News. “Faces long odds”, they say. Indeed.
  • And another ongoing saga: Mazda’s still playing with the idea of using its rotary engine as a range-extender, reports Autoweek. The Wankel’s now been fitted in a Mazda2 RE-EV prototype.
  • Bollore (maker of the BlueCar) has unveiled its latest EV: a low-cost open Mehari-type four-seater for resort use. The BlueSummer will cost from 13,500 euros or leased from 550 euros a month, reports Technologic Vehicles.
  • Bosch has set up a new company, Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions, for Internet of Things technologies and services: it’s to focus initially on products for smart homes, traffic, transportation and logistics. More at Green Car Congress.

Midweek news round-up

July 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Lotus has started testing its Evora 414E range-extended hybrid, and had a cutaway model on display at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last weekend. First seen at the Geneva Motor Show back in 2010, it uses Lotus’s ‘Omnivore’ three-cylinder, 1.2-litre engine (which can run on petrol, methanol or ethanol) plus two electric motors and a seven-speed sequential-shift transmission. It can do up to 30 miles in all-electric mode before the engine kicks in to act as a generator or directly power the motors, giving a total range of up to 300 miles. Total output is 408bhp and 738lb ft, and it’s said to be capable of 130mph and 0-62 in about four seconds.

  • The benefits of being Royal: Prince Albert II of Monaco has taken delivery of the first Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid off the production line. He already has a standard Prius plus a one-off Lexus LS 600h Landaulet for official state duties, and will take the Plug-In on a two-month loan from Toyota. Monaco, incidentally, has 424 free EV charging points despite being just 48 acres in size.
  • More details on the deal between BMW and Toyota, who have just signed a MoU to build on their current lithium-ion battery development/diesel engine supply partnership. It involves, according to a BMW press release, “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.”
  • US firm Green Automotive, of Newport Beach, California, has bought British company Liberty Electric Cars, best-known for its Range Rover conversions. Ongoing Liberty projects include work with Volkswagen, Fiat and Michelin to develop an electric delivery van and research in partnership with Cranfield University, Rolls-Royce Electric Machines and Protean to develop an electric motor which does not use rare-earth metals (Green Car Congress).
  • Danish firm Ecomove is working on a range-extended version of its Qbeak EV, using methanol fuel cell technology to give up to 500 miles. The project is funded by the Danish government, and is a collaboration between Ecomove and fuel cell firm Serenergy, managed by Insero E-Mobility. More details here.
  • Citroen is offering a free wheel upgrade with the DS5 Hybrid4: fitting the 17-inch alloys has the benefit of cutting CO2 emissions to 99g/km (from 107g/km), thus qualifying the car for exemption from the London congestion charge and dropping it down to the 10% BIK company car tax band.
  • Mercedes-Benz is working on an all-electric B-Class, with powertrain developed by Tesla, reports Automobilwoche. This will probably be for the US market, in place of the F-Cell fuel cell and range-extended/plug-in hybrid tech previously considered, and could arrive 2014.
  • GoinGreen (distributor of the G-Wiz) has launched the Tazzari EM1 EV in the UK. The Italian-built EM1 is a tiny two-seater, but it meets with full M1 EU Type Approval for passenger vehicles, so it should be safer than the G-Wiz. Top speed is 62mph, it’ll do 0-31mph in less than five seconds (good enough for a speedy getaway around town) and its range is up to 87 miles, in ‘economy’ mode. The bad news? It costs nearly £25,000. More details at The Charging Point.
  • Another truck story: Daimler is to offer factory-built EcoHybrid Fuso Canter delivery vans. These promise fuel economy savings of 23%, and combine a 150hp diesel engine with a 40kW electric motor, lithium-ion battery (warranted for ten years), regenerative braking and automated manual transmission.
  • Green debate of the week: is peak oil a myth? There’s more than enough oil in the earth and I got it wrong, says George Monbiot. No there’s not, comes today’s rejoinder . If even the Guardian’s writers can’t agree amongst themselves… Not sure what Monbiot is suggesting, anyway. Drill, baby, drill and we all just give up, go home, and go back to gas-guzzling?

Goodwood Festival of Speed #3: Best of the rest

July 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Goodwood Festival of Speed’s mainly about high-performance motorsport machinery, classic and modern, of course, but there were a few DFT-friendly vehicles scattered around the site… From the top, in no particular order:

1. Drayson Racing B12/69EV, an 850bhp wirelessly-charged Le Mans prototype, featuring a Lola chassis, and fastest EV up the Goodwood Hill on Sunday.

2. Audi A3 e-tron, a plug-in hybrid concept with a 211hp 2.0 TFSI petrol engine and 27hp electric motor, giving up to 34 miles in all-electric mode. But why the four-door saloon bodystyle?

3. Tata Megapixel, a range-extended EV concept with a single-cylinder 30bhp, 350cc petrol engine and four in-wheel electric motors. It’ll do 68mph and has an all-electric range of 54 miles; overall range is nearly 560 miles.

4. Morgan Plus E; this Zytek-motored roadster is being seriously developed with production in mind.

5. The Riversimple hydrogen fuel cell lightweight. Cars are to go out on trial in Herefordshire and Shropshire this year,  the company has announced.

6. Infiniti M Hybrid. The Emerg_e coupe concept went up the Goodwood Hill, too, but it was too quick for me to catch it on camera. As was the Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid.

7. The Quimera AEGT electric drift car, I believe.

8. Toyota TS030 hybrid Le Mans car; the winning hybrid Audi R8 e-tron quattro was also around & up the Hill.

9. Audi Urban Concept, as seen at last autumn’s Frankfurt Motor Show.

Electric delivery: Driving the Emerald Automotive t-001 RE-EV prototype van

May 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Picture @Ricardo

Low emissions and low energy consumption are crucial features for the delivery vans of the future – vehicles which clock up large mileages in and between our cities. The UK government’s Technology Strategy Board thus stumped up 50% of the funding needed to develop such a vehicle, with the stipulation that as much of  its engineering and components as possible could be sourced within the UK, and the result is the t-001 RE-EV, a range-extended electric van.

Developed by Intelligent Energy of Loughborough and built by Brentwood-based Revolve Technologies, a partner in the project, the t-001 features a Ford-supplied four-cylinder, 1.4-litre diesel engine, a 75kW traction motor and a 54kW generator (from Evo Electric of Woking), and a 25kWh lithium-ion Axeon battery. The t-001’s rear wheels are driven by the motor, which is directly coupled to the differential; the engine acts only as a ‘range-extender’ to run the generator. This gives an all-electric range of up to 66 miles before the engine kicks in, and fuel consumption over a 125-mile route of 138mpg; in simulations, a carbon dioxide output of 22g/km was achieved.

The van’s total possible range between refuelling or recharging stops is over 400 miles, and its battery can be recharged in 30 minutes from a three-phase power supply; different recharging solutions could be adopted in a production vehicle, but this would be adequate for a fleet van returning to a fixed base. Performance remains acceptable for a vehicle of this type – a top speed of 81mph, acceleration 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds – and crucially, it maintains a kerbweight of just 1550kg and a payload of 1400kg, thanks to its lightweight structural components and body panels.

“This was designed to be all about weight, volume adoption and cost of ownership, a real-world application”, says Nick Tebbutt, project director at Ricardo, tasked with developing the powertrain control system, telematics, and initial simulations. “The powertrain was picked to support the above.  It gets around range anxiety and is a way of addressing the variability of fleet use, not necessarily doing a fixed route like a bus.”

“The transmission is single-speed, with the motor directly onto the diff”, says chief engineer Andrew Preece, “but we could add in eco modes using standard gearing in a custom casing.” Regenerative braking is yet to be integrated to the t-001 demonstrator, but this will be fitted and tested in the next phase.

Picture @Ricardo

A riveted and bonded aluminium spaceframe structure, with composite exterior panels and lightweight seats and interior components, means that the t-001 prototype weighs in at 1550kg and its payload is 1400kg – comparable to that of the similarly-sized short-wheelbase Ford Transit, with which it shares its braking and suspension systems, along with its stock wheels and tyres. The use of carry-over parts is integral to keeping the overall cost of the vehicle down, though for final production, other sources and suppliers could be used depending on the global location and local market requirements.

Affordability has been an important aspect to the project, and whilst the range-extended powertrain and bespoke structure will add to the van’s purchase price, “the selling proposition is the total cost of ownership”, says Intelligent Energy programme director Chris Hiett. “The total cost to a fleet user is reduced, when you take into account the whole life of the vehicle. It is more expensive to buy initially, but over a typical four-year cycle there are net savings, especially with fuel costs in the UK and Europe.”  Exemption from levies such as the London congestion charge, and incentives such as CO2-based taxation, all speed up the payback period.

Large fleet operators including the British Post Office and DHL have contributed to the project, inputting data on duty cycles and talking to Intelligent Energy about their needs. The aim is to build the van in batches of 10,000, manufacturing at different locations around a central hub, and to this end, Intelligent Energy has formed a subsidiary division, Emerald Automotive, to further develop and market the vehicle for production.  In the next 24-month phase of the programme, more prototypes will be built, and a small number will go out to fleets – initially in the UK and Europe – for field testing.

Emerald Automotive intends for the van to meet a five-star standard in the Euro NCAP crash tests, and for it to meet emissions legislation in both Europe and in North America, where production is also being considered. Further into the future, different powertrains are possible on the same flexible and scalable platform: RE-EV with a petrol engine for selected markets, as well as fuel cell, an intention from the start of the programme.

A further feature which could be integrated into the van – and which could enhance EV capability in passenger vehicles as well – is Ricardo’s Sentience (“consciousness”) technology, which combines telematics and telecommunication, navigation and intelligent mapping, for forward planning of the route. Using topographical data about the road ahead and real-time information on traffic conditions, it analyses the best points in the route to engage electrical power, to modulate the engine load to best effect on different gradients and in different conditions, to control acceleration and deceleration to smooth out progress, and to maximise the energy recuperation from the regenerative braking system, as well as to control the air conditioning.

“You can schedule the powertrain, for example, if it knows that there is a zero-emissions zone coming up”, says Tebbutt. “You can look at the journey profile, rearrange the strategy to deploy the engine earlier to ensure you have sufficient charge to go through the EV zone. You can work out the most fuel-efficient delivery route and pre-programme it: when you turn the engine on, the use of the battery. The usual fleet tracking and distribution software looks to do minimum mileage, but this has the potential to put an extra level on that: the most efficient way to drive it.”

Engineers from Ricardo have been carrying out the final validation and calibration work at a test track facility, and this phase of the programme is now effectively over. Though some elements of the t-001 prototype may yet be changed for production, and its cabin, its interior TFT-screen displays and driver interface will all be further developed, its powertrain is functioning smoothly; a simple drive/neutral/reverse selector takes the place of a conventional gearbox, and the motor pulls away strongly from a standstill. Fine-tuning of the suspension and power-assisted steering is still ongoing, but this is a very complete concept ready to move into its next phase of development.

Picture @Ricardo

Tech spec:

Motor: 75kW (nominal); 167kW (peak); 600Nm (launch)

Generator: 54kW (nominal); 120Nm

Range-extender engine: 1.4-litre I4 diesel

Battery: 25kW total, lithium-ion

EV range: 66 miles*

Total range: 463 miles*

Top speed: 81mph (limited)

Acceleration 0-62mph: 8.5 seconds

Fuel consumption: 138mpg over first 125 miles*

Carbon dioxide emissions: 56 g/km over first 125 miles; 22g/km average*

Kerbweight: 1550kg

Payload: 1400kg

Gross vehicle weight: 2950kg

Rear cargo space: 5.2 cubic metres; will accommodate 3 Euro standard pallets

(*figures based on NEDC cycle in Ricardo’s simulation)

*A full version of this story will appear in the summer 2012 edition of rQ, Ricardo Quarterly.

Cadillac confirms ELR coupe; more Chinese EVs; the retro range-extender and excess poundage…

May 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

GM has confirmed production of the Cadillac ELR, first seen as the Converj concept, for the 2014 model-year. This is a coupe using the Chevy Volt’s range-extended electric powertrain; both Volt and Converj will, for 2014, see this enhanced for improved all-electric range. The ELR will be launched first in North America, with exports to Europe and China to follow. More at GM Inside News.

  • Some more EVs from the Beijing Auto Show. Edmunds Inside Line has pics of the Roewe E50 (previously seen as the E1), said to be going into production this autumn. The range is claimed to be nearly 120 miles, and top speed 80mph, though it’s intended as an urban commuter. It can be recharged to 80% capacity in 30 minutes. Roewe’s parent company, Shanghai Auto, plans to make around 1000 this year but is also planning a more versatile plug-in hybrid saloon based on the Roewe 750. Spec for the R550 is said to be a 1.5-litre petrol engine with electric motor and a 30-mile all-electric range.
  • There’s the lowdown on the CH-Auto EVs at The Audi-esque two-seater coupe is called Lithia, and the other is a low-speed Smart-style city car with wi-fi called Cylent; both are just prototypes at this stage.
  •  Technologic Vehicles has video and a story about the PGO Hemera EV project, a range-extended EV based on the Porsche 356-alike built by PGO Automobiles in France. This prototype has been developed by a team from EMASIA, a school for engineering apprentices, and features an E85-compatible two-cylinder Lombardi engine acting as a generator, plus body panels made from flax fibres and interior panels from cork. As college projects go, it’s a pretty one.
  • If you want to cut fuel consumption, lose weight. No, not from the car: we’re talking about the implications of obese drivers and passengers. The Atlantic has a rather horrifying figure to tout – obesity wastes more than a billion gallons of gas a year, apparently. Reminds me of the time I eavesdropped on a conversation between a group of well-upholstered motoring hacks earnestly discussing how to shave a few kilograms from their track-day cars (“I’m going to strip out all the interior trim”…), and had to resist the urge to suggest eating fewer free dinners.

Design Concept of the Day: SCI hyMod

March 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

How to extend the range of an EV – as and when you need to. The SCI hyMod concept has swappable rear-end modules, one with a large 17kWhr supplementary battery for all-electric driving and the other with a small 82hp petrol engine which can be plugged in to act as a range-extender for longer trips, giving a total potential range of 370 miles. The standard set-up comprises a 65hp motor and 5kWhr battery driving the front wheels, and the rear-end set-up can be selected as necessary. The various power sources work via a CVT gearbox which drives the rear wheels, and a four-wheel drive mode is possible, as is a 0-60 time of around 10 seconds in ‘hybrid’ mode. It’s a supermini-sized vehicle which can seat up to six, and SCI, a team based in Bucharest, says that it could be sold for 25,500 euros. More at

In other news today:

  • A team at Northumbria University has created a ‘grid capacity calculator’ which allows policy-makers to predict usage and demands on the national electricity grid from EVs. The project was in partnership with the Charge Your Car programme which is installing charging points across the North-East. More at alphagalileo.
  • The US Department of Energy is putting $2million into a study of hydrogen refuelling instructure; this will track the performance of different refuelling systems and look into cutting costs and improving their operation. Press release posted at Autoblog Green.
  • Azure Dynamics, which converts the Ford Transit Connect to e-power, has filed for bankruptcy protection. Production has been halted.
  • BMW and Toyota have signed a memorandum of understanding over co-development of next-generation lithium-ion battery cells. The project will focus on new combinations of materials for cathodes, anodes and electrolytes. BMW is also, from 2014, to supply 1.6- and 2.0-litre diesel engines to Toyota.

Geneva Motor Show #2

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Tata nixed the Nano for Europe and instead we’ll be getting the Pixel, reports Autocar. Rroduction versions of this low-cost city car will have a three-cylinder diesel engine, but this neat-looking Megapixel concept has a range-extended electric powertrain combining a single-cylinder 30bhp, 350cc petrol engine and four in-wheel electric motors. It’ll do 68mph and has an all-electric range of 54 miles; overall range is nearly 560 miles.

More news:

  • Renault’s pricing the Zoe electric supermini from £13,650 (taking into account the government Plug-In Car grant). Not cheap, but more accessible than its rivals.Range is up to 130 miles (60 in adverse weather conditions), and it’s compatible with the Better Place battery-swap tech should that arrive in the UK.

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