Monday, 18 March 2013

Tesla's European EV ambitions

Earlier this month at the Geneva Auto Show, Tesla said it intends to focus European sales of the Model S and Model X crossover in Europe, citing Germany, Switzerland, Norway - not the UK or France. Interesting.

Friday, 8 March 2013

EVs are 'inevitable'

'Inevitable' . That's the word I heard a senior UK transport official use to describe electric vehicles at an industry meeting this week for manufacturers of charge points and charge point network operators.

That struck a chord. I have heard many words used up to now to characterise electric vehicles, but inevitable is by far the most exciting. Sums up plug-ins better than any other word I can think of and a world away from the current behind-the-curve media mischaracterisation of what they perceive to be a failing industry.

At a global level, climate change means impending doom for millions, but this is clearly not a motivation that individuals can react to quickly even if they wish to and whilst governments are doing their best, progress is slow. Likewise, the risk to the economy and to individuals of another oil price shock, peak oil and hostile supply sources is not enough to really drive the EV agenda.

At a local level however (and EV uptake around the world is driven as much by local policies as by central government policies- think charging infrastructure, use of bus lanes, and EV only parking just for starters), the issue is air pollution, and in particular particulates emitted primarily by diesel vehicles. China is rightfully getting a bad rap currently for the appalling state of the air in dozens of cities, so much so that to venture out on to the street is akin to walking around the chokingly smog-filled streets of London nearly 60 years ago. In central London the air might look clean, but the city of Westminster recently came second for the worst air quality across the UK, again due primarily to particulates from cars, taxis and commercial vehicles.

When public health rises to the top of the political agenda - as it it doing now in countries and municipalities around the world -we will start to see some real action. The European Commission will shortly mandate for clean energy and transport, with binding commitments for member states for the implementation of a massive electric vehicle infrastructure programme, which in turn will become mandatory for homes and workplaces and result in a significant and rapid expansion of EV recharging infrastructure, linked to smart metering and smart grid programmes. The dots will start to be joined up, though we are probably talking decades rather than years.

This is the inevitability of EVs. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Zoe gets 5 * NCAP

5 door supermini, GBP 13,650 to buy, 60 - 90 miles range per charge, and now 5 stars from the Euro-NCAP safety test.

The Renault Zoe is shaping up nicely.

JLR Chief says EVs are not mass-market cars

Electric cars will never be a mass-market solution to climate change and should not get government subsidies, the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, in what I hope will be a come back-to-haunt-him statement.
Ralf Speth said it was wrong to subsidise "poor electric vehicles" and nationwide charging stations. "At this time I am not a very big friend of electric vehicles, the batteries are too expensive …the customer must be very rich, and can only use [them] in mega-cities [where there are charging points]. Should we do it only for the rich?"
That made me laugh coming from the man that sells £80,000 Range Rovers.

Mitsubishi CA-MiEV concept

After the unfortunate iMiEV, here comes the CA-MiEV concept, with 186 miles range from a 28Kwh pack, and wireless recharging from WiTricity. Now that's more like it, charge once per week if you use it for the weekly city commute / runaround.

It almost certainly will not go into production - but the tech will - and is at the Geneva show to reinforce Mitsubishi's plug-in credentials. 

Monday, 4 March 2013

Toyota i-ROAD electric three wheeler concept

This from AutoExpress: this is the Toyota i-ROAD, a new, personal mobility vehicle designed to make urban commuting easier. The electric-powered two-seater is on display at the Geneva Motor Show, and is Toyota’s more sophisticated take on the Renault Twizy.

The i-ROAD is a three-wheeler that measures 2,350mm long, 1,445mm high and 850mm wide, and has a 1,700mm wheelbase. Toyota claims that the i-ROAD is no wider than a conventional two-wheeled scooter.

The i-ROAD is smaller than the four-wheeled Renault Twizy – the Twizy is 2,337mm long, 1,191mm wide, 1,461mm high and has a 1,684mm wheelbase.

Using lithium-ion batteries to power a pair of 2kW electric motors mounted in the front wheels, Toyota claims that the i-ROAD offers “brisk acceleration and near-silent running.”

The firm has not confirmed any performance figures, but did reveal that the i-ROAD has a range of around 30 miles – half that of the Twizy – and can be recharged from a normal household plug in three hours.

Despite being similar in concept to a Twizy, the i-ROAD has been designed to lean into bends like a motorbike.
Called Active Lean technology, the system uses an actuator and gearing mounted above the front suspension member, linked to the left and right front wheels.

The amount of lean is calculated by a special ECU, taking into account the steering angle, gyro-sensor and vehicle speed information. This is then fed back to the actuator, which automatically moves the front wheels up and down in opposite directions, applying lean angle to counteract the centrifugal force of cornering.

The system also works when the i-ROAD is driving over uneven surfaces, keeping the vehicle’s body level by using the Active Lean Technology to compensate for any difference in the height of the road surface. The final benefit of the technology is that the turning circle is kept down to three metres.
Like a Twizy, the driver doesn’t have to wear a helmet to drive an i-ROAD. However, unlike the French car, the passenger compartment is weatherproof and more car-like features including interior lighting and heating are included.

Toyota hasn’t confirmed a price for the i-ROAD, or if it will make production.

Renault optimistic on the Zoe

Beatrice Foucher, head of Renault's electric vehicle division, said market research for the ZOE is so far encouraging.

"Consumers in recent focus groups were pleasantly surprised by pricing of the ZOE and said it didn't constitute a hurdle for a purchase decision," Ms. Foucher said in a recent interview and quoted in The Wall Street Journal.

Renault's ZOE will sell for €13,700 in France after the €7,000 government electric-vehicle incentive that was raised from €5,000 last year (GBP 13,650 in the UK after a GBP 5,000 subsidy).

The ZOE will cost about the same as for Renault's relaunched thermally powered Clio subcompact car. Nissan recently announced an 18% price reduction for Leafs sold in the U.S. to $28,800. It has cut the price in Europe, too.

BMW i3 test drive

Car magazine test drives the BMW i3:
BMW’s pioneering i3 electric caris one of the most exciting cars of 2013. It employs BMW’s trademark, sporty rear-wheel drive, which marks it out from the front-drive electric cars from Nissan and Renault. It’s a clean-sheet design, using exotic lightweight materials to save weight and maximise the electric range. So, an aluminium chassis housing the batteries and rear-mounted, 170bhp electric motor is paired with a carbonfibre bodyshell; with the i3, materials typically the preserve of luxury cars and supercars are being used on a small hatchback.
When the i3 goes on sale in November, the standard electric i3 will cost around €40,000. To eliminate the i3’s vulnerability to running out of juice, buyers will be able to specify a range extender hybrid version for an extra €3000. This employs a 35bhp two-cylinder motorbike engine to act as on-board generator: it’s mounted close to the rear wheels and accompanied by a 9-litre fuel tank wedged behind the front axle.
BMW has tooled up initially to produce 30,000 cars a year, but this can be extended to 50,000 units if the i3 takes off. But with electric cars so far proving commercial flops, there’s a lot riding on this car, the most radical BMW ever conceived. And today we’re riding in it at BMW’s Munich-Ismaning proving ground, with project i chief Ulrich Kranz.

How big is the i3 and what’s it like inside?

Everything about this car is unusual – and not just the swirly camouflage to confuse spy photographers. For a start, the i3 is shorter than a Suzuki Swift, wider than a 7-series and lower than a Hyundai i10. It weighs 1250kg – significantly lighter than the 1567kg Nissan Leaf, but a couple of hundred kilos more than the conventional Swift. In production form, the ground-breaking low-drag shape blends these stand-out proportions with a unique silver, blue and black colour combo. Unhindered by B-posts, the roomy cabin is accessed through front-hinged front doors and rear-hinged rear doors. A two-door coupé may follow in 2015.
The cockpit is dominated by a sweeping dark-grey composite sculpture which blends conventional buttons and switches with two colour displays. The 6.5-inch one in front of the driver accommodates the digital speedometer, the charge and range indicators, a selection of warning lights and an analogue eco-meter. It’s colour coded according to your driving style: red signals what BMW describes as debit driving mode, the blue one lights up when you’re in credit mode. The bigger 8.8-inch screen on top of the centre console looks as if came straight out of the iDrive parts shelf.
The four seats are comfortable, height-adjustable in the front and either trimmed in natural leather or in a new fabric made from recycled natural fibres. Thanks to the absence of a transmission tunnel, the driver can slide through and exit or enter through the passenger door in a confined parking situation. The gear selector, positioned behind the wheel in a two o-clock position, has been designed from scratch. The black stub with the matte chrome ring fulfills two functions: it starts the motor at the push of a button, and it selects a gear when you twist the quadratic end piece. Although the backlit readout suggests that one can choose from P, R, N and D, neutral cannot be dialled in manually. The i3 will coast whenever it makes sense, but it does so automatically or when you keep the throttle consciously this side of a deterrent. Let’s hit Start, wait for the Ready sign, twist the gear knob into Drive, and off we go.

Flat out in the i3

While I reach for the grabhandle, Ulrich Kranz is already grinning widely. After all, the plastic panel-clad BMW takes off like a miniature tram on steroids, with instant maximum torque threatening to scalp the narrow-scale 19-inch Bridgestones. The sprint from standstill to 40mph requires only a brisk 4.0sec. Around 3.3sec later we pass the 60mph mark. This is Mini Cooper S performance but it feels even faster, because the silence allows you to focus more on the sensation of full-throttle acceleration. In comparison, 0-62mph in a Leaf takes 11.9sec, and the car is restricted to 90mph.
Wafting down the main straight, the four-seat i3 slows down a little at 70mph, but after a mile or so the speedo reads 90mph. ‘That’s it for the time being,’ says Kranz. ‘Eventually, we’ll go with a 100mph speed limit.’ Surely, the range must suffer when an i3 is driven the way most owners would drive their fossil-fueled BMW. ‘Yes and no,’ is the answer. ‘When you push her really hard, you will have to find a charge point after about 80 miles. But when you go with the flow, 100 miles are a realistic target. On the [US urban driving test cycle], the car recorded an even more impressive if somewhat theoretical 140 miles.’
Although a minimum range of 80 miles may sound marginal, it should suffice for nine out of ten customers. European drivers typically drive 64 miles per day, stopping 33 times; Americans travel 39 miles stopping 97 times, and the Chinese average 26 miles and 228 stops. In all three cases, the car is left parked for roughly 22 hours per day, which should provide ample time to plug her in. While a full 100% charge takes between three and six hours, the available fast charging kit will restore 80% of the energy in only 60 minutes.
A left-hander beckons. The sign says 120kph max, but we barely lift off. The car turns in, the wheels grab the drenched tarmac with vigour, and the i3 carves through, dancing along its ambitious slip angle yet remaining flat and nicely balanced. No, not a single warning light flashed in the process. No momentary brake intervention, no ESP interaction, no tug at the steering. Is the system not working, or am I missing something here? ‘On snow or gravel, ESP will reel you in and keep the vehicle on a relatively short leash,’ explains Ulrich Kranz. ‘In the wet, we don’t really depend on the electronics. That’s the beauty of this set-up. Its natural limits are very high, so you have to be going wild to overstep the mark.’
Weight distribution and the centre of gravity are critical to the i3’s dynamics. The batteries and motor are mounted low in the chassis, with the energy cells evenly spread out between the axles, to make the chassis grounded and balanced.

G-Wiz successor finally launched

The New York Times on the Mahindra Reva E20, to be launched finally in a couple of weeks in India: Long before the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt were born, India had its own electric car, the tiny REVAi. The car ended more than a decade of production last year after selling less than 5,000 units worldwide. But underwhelming sales haven’t prevented its maker from raising the stakes: This year, Mahindra Reva is betting everything on its new electric four-seater hatchback, the E2O.
And it isn’t thinking small. Besides opening a brand-new factory that can pump out 30,000 vehicles a year, Mahindra Reva plans to almost singlehandedly build an electric-car charging network with a commercial fast charger that can fully replenish the battery in 70 minutes and a freestanding auto canopy, the Sun2Car, whose 10 square meters (108 square feet) of solar panels can enable almost 50 kilometers (30 miles) of travel after a sunny day.

The company’s founder, Chetan Maini, said in an interview with India Ink that the E2O will be a “game shift in terms of performance levels” over the REVAi, whose almost comic smallness made it an object of ridicule on the British auto TV show Top Gear. He maintained that the E2O (pronounced ee-two-oh) is ideally suited for the urban driver — if affluent Indians can be persuaded to give it a try.
The worl
d’s second-most populous country has proven to be an especially difficult market for electric vehicles. Indian drivers shy away from the premium price tag, even though it’s far cheaper to charge a vehicle than fuel it; the government offered generous subsidies to buyers in 2010 but yanked them only a few months later; the charging network is virtually nonexistent; auto sales are at their lowest point in nine years; and persistent blackouts in parts of the country have raised doubts that electricity will be there when drivers need it.

But there are reasons to believe that an Indian electric car could get traction. This time around, the electric car maker has an ally, the Indian industrial conglomerate Mahindra, which bought a majority stake in Reva in 2010 and changed the company’s name to Mahindra Reva. The E2O will initially appear in Mahindra’s showrooms in Bangalore, Mumbai and New Delhi.

Another lift may come from the Indian government, which will soon release the details of a new $4.13 billion program to support electric vehicles with the stratospheric goal of getting 6 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. The plan is likely to include funds for a charging network and subsidies for electric two-wheelers, which in India are far more popular than cars. (Several companies are building electric two-wheelers for the Indian market.)

The E2O’s factory in Bangalore, which I toured last month, is a good place to start in understanding what makes the car different. First, it isn’t a manufacturing facility, but an assembly plant where pieces are added to the car’s black steel ribcage. A skeleton is the right analogy; the E2O is not sheathed in a weight-bearing steel shell like most cars. Instead, the body is made up of lightweight and scratch-resistant plastic panels.

The car has met side- and front-impact crash tests mandated by the Indian government, Kartik Gopal, Mahindra Reva’s general manager, said, and also complies with crash requirements in Europe. He added that the frame is similar to that found in the Audi A8 and that other auto lines, including the Saturn and Mercedes’ SMART, use plastic body panels to absorb impact while saving weight.
“We make our cars very differently from any other car that is mass-produced in the world today,” Mr. Gopal said, as we toured the 23,000-square-foot plant. He explained that using plastic — pre-impregnated with color to eliminate painting — reduces both cost and weight. Even a kilogram can make a sizable difference in how much power and range the lithium-ion battery can deliver.
During the tour, I got an unexpected chance to take the wheel of the E2O. It’s predecessor, the stubby REVAi, was utilitarian to the point of ugly, and designers clearly sought to avoid the same mistake with the E2O. Off-angle windows and swooping fenders draw the eye away from its boxy shape and short wheelbase.

The driver’s seat comfortably accommodated this correspondent’s 6-foot-2-inch frame. The car started up silently, as electric cars do, and with a touch of the accelerator pedal it rolled forward (with a louder whine, I noted, than the Chevy Volt.)

Compared to American cars, I found the steering a bit harsh and the suspension a little jouncy on the pothole-pocked roads. The E2O has two modes — standard and boost — the latter of which provides better pickup but drains the battery more speedily. With the pedal to the metal in boost mode on a straightaway of roughly 180 meters, I achieved a speed of about 53 kilometers (33 miles) per hour — acceleration that is, from an American perspective, unimpressive.

The E2O, however, is not meant for the American driver. It is intended as a commuter vehicle in India’s congested stop-and-go traffic, where one rarely gets a straightaway but can console oneself that the regenerative brakes are replenishing the battery. The E2O’s top speed will be the maximum legal speed on most urban roads, which is 80 kilometers an hour.
The vehicle’s range is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) shorter than the U.S. version of the Nissan Leaf (73 miles) but longer than the electric-only battery of the Chevy Volt (30 miles, but with a backup gas engine).

The E2O has features uncommon to low-end cars in the Indian market: an automatic transmission, which usually carries a price premium, and the kind of telematics and connectivity that are usually found in higher-end cars, with a smartphone app to control climate and automotive functions. Mr. Gopal flashed the smartphone app from his pocket, but I wasn’t able to get my hands on it.
Mr. Maini, the company’s founder, described the car to me as “reasonably peppy,” and I found the description apt. Not fast, but maneuverable and fun to drive.
But it’s uncertain whether this is enough to draw the Mahindra Reva’s target customer, the well-educated and relatively well-off urban families who want a second ride. The company won’t reveal the sticker price, though Mr. Gopal didn’t dispute earlier remarks by Mahindra’s chairman, Anand Mahindra, that the E2O will be 10 to 20 percent more expensive than a comparably-sized gas-powered car.

Mr. Maini said that the company is expecting the government to provide a rebate of at least 150,000 rupees ($2,790) to each buyer. So crucial is the subsidy that the car’s rollout has already been put off several months because of government delays.

Some are skeptical that electric cars will be anything more than a tiny niche. “One might say that Mahindra is doing it more for the P.R.,” said Zia Patel, a senior strategist at brand strategy firm Wolff Olins who watches the Indian market. “The EVs right now will be toys for the rich.”
Mr. Maini wouldn’t say how many E2Os he expects to sell, except to say that about half of the Bangalore factory’s output will be sold in India, with the remainder in Europe and developing countries in Africa and Asia. Sales in the first year are projected to be low, he added, while drivers get familiar with the new technology.

China expands EV subsidies to 25 cities

Forbes reports: the Chinese government is trying to protect its ailing electric vehicle market by agreeing Thursday to extend subsidies to the industry.

China will subsidize electric vehicles sold in 25 cities, expanding from the current five cities, and adopt a unified national subsidy standard, The 21st Century Business Herald reported on Wednesday citing China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
“The new subsidy policy for electric vehicles (EV), still under research, will be issued soon, possibly shortly after the two sessions of NPC and CPPCC,” Ye Shengji, deputy secretary general of China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, was quoted as saying.
Beijing’s subsidies for EVs was introduced in 2010, but the policy was terminated last year.
China’s first purely electric car hit the market last summer as part of a government-sponsored project to encourage the use of energy-saving vehicles in the most polluted country on Earth. The Roewe E50 EV, sold first in Shanghai, pulled around $16,000 from its sticker price thanks to government subsidies. The E50 was developed by the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.

EV sales are struggling in China, even with the subsidies. A survey by the China Association of Auto Manufacturers on EV sales in Beijing showed that during the past two years sales of electric cars for individuals rather than government is next to zero.

Dong Yang, executive vice-chairman of the Association told China Daily that, “There are only a few people who spend their money on new energy cars. Here’s the thing, the central government approved the subsidies, but the local governments’ subsidy distribution system got delayed. Besides, the infrastructures for e-cars, like battery charging piles, are not keeping up with the government’s promise.”

EVs can save 6,000 yuan ($1,000) a year when you compare to fuel-driven cars. The problem has been with maintaining the battery. Over time, new batteries can cost as much as an entry level gas powered car