Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Mercedes GLE550 PHEV SUV Following close on the announcement of its intent to release 10 new plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) models by the year 2017, Mercedes-Benz just unveiled its first production plug-in hybrid electric SUV, the GLE550 e 4MATIC. The fast announcement of the high-performance plug-in model does seem to show that the company is serious about meeting its target.

The GLE550 e possesses a full system output of 449 horsepower (330 kilowatts), an all-electric range of 30 kilometers or 18.6 miles (on the European testing cycle), and a four-cylinder petrol engine with a fuel efficiency of 5.4 l/100 km or 44 mpg (under the European cycle). System output is split between 333 hp (245 kW) provided by the a V6 direct-injection gasoline engine, and 116 hp (85 kW) provided by the electric drive.

Total system peak torque is 650 Newton meters. The model can reach speeds (using only the electric drive) of up to 130 kilometers/hour (81 miles per hour). The model is outfitted with a 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Total charging time using the provided wall box charger is ~2 hours. Based on the European cycle, the model releases ‘just’ 78 g/km of CO2 emissions. Total power consumption rests around 16.7 kWh/100 km.

The GLE550 e 4MATIC SUV will offer 4 different modes of driving:
Hybrid Drive: This mode of the system automatically selects for the most ‘sensible’ operating choices for the circumstances — with regard to the combustion engine and/or electric motor. With the aim being to optimize the overall energy balance, and improve fuel efficiency.
E-Mode: this mode is exactly what it sounds like. All-electric driving. Nothing else.
E-Save: The E-Save mode allows the driver to withhold use of energy stored in the battery so that it can be used at a later time when more efficacious — such as in urban traffic conditions.
Charge: This mode of ‘driving’ is perhaps the most obvious. The battery isn’t being used to power movement and is instead being charged — either while driving and when the SUV is parked and stationary.

A pretty safe model from the sounds of it, no doubt it will sell pretty well. I can’t help but think that the company should offer something with a more substantial battery pack, though. Perhap’s that’s now on the way?

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Ultra low emission zone for London The world's first "ultra low emission zone" will be introduced in central London in 2020 to tackle air pollution, mayor Boris Johnson has confirmed.

The world's first "ultra low emission zone" will be introduced in central London in 2020 to tackle air pollution, mayor Boris Johnson has confirmed.

The move will require vehicles driving in the congestion charge zone to meet new emissions standards at all times of the day and week, or pay a charge, as part of efforts to cut pollution which causes thousands of premature deaths in the capital each year.

The scheme will reduce the most harmful exhaust pollutants by more than half, officials said.

An extra £25 million is being provided by the Government for grants to help taxi drivers cover the cost of upgrading to a greener vehicle, in addition to £40 million already pledged by the mayor to help cabbies retire the oldest, most polluting taxis.

By 2018, all new taxis and all private hire vehicles under 18 months old presented for licensing in the capital for the first time must be capable of emitting zero emissions, Mr Johnson said.

By 2020, all single decker buses in London will be electric vehicles that produce no traffic fumes, while all 3,000 double deckers will be hybrids with lower emissions.

The charge for cars, motorbikes and vans which do not meet the ultra low emissions standards will be £12.50 a day, while heavy goods vehicles, buses and coaches face a £100 a day charge.

Ministers and City Hall have come under fire from campaigners for failing to tackle air pollution in London and across the UK, with warnings that 29,000 people die prematurely each year because of pollutants in towns and cities.

The European Commission has launched legal action against the UK for its failure to reach targets - which should have been met by January 2010 - to cut excessive levels of air pollutant nitrogen dioxide, which mostly comes from traffic fumes.

Mr Johnson made the announcement at a visit to the factory of Chinese giant Geely, in Coventry, which will develop the next generation London black cab, an ultra low emission vehicle, to comply with the new regulations.

He said: "The world's first ultra low emission zone is an essential measure to help improve air quality in our city, protect the health of Londoners, and lengthen our lead as the greatest city on earth.

"With additional funds announced today, more help is on the way for taxi drivers to support their transition to the latest technology in greener cabs.

"Together we can ensure everyone who lives, works in, or visits our city has the cleanest possible air to breathe."

Prime Minister David Cameron said: "I welcome this announcement which is a world first and great news for London, helping to enhance the quality of life and creating opportunities for companies who develop and manufacture this kind of technology.

"This will build on the UK's strengths in low emission technology and the Government is backing this initiative with £25 million of support."

Labour's London Assembly environment spokesman Murad Qureshi said: "Whilst welcome, today's confirmation that the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) will be introduced in 2020 will come far too late for the 7,500 people a year who are estimated to die as a result of air pollution, London's silent killer.

"Boris Johnson has had seven years to get to grips with the capital's pollution problem yet on his watch progress has stalled despite growing medical evidence that it costs lives.

"By allowing all London boroughs to opt into the ULEZ, instead of limiting it to a small inner London zone as the mayor proposes, we would be able to improve the air quality of the whole capital.

"Boris Johnson's limited ambition, and the significant exemptions to the ULEZ, risk undermining its effectiveness and condemning vast swathes of the capital to an increasingly toxic future."

The Five Most Ignorant Media Myths About Electric Cars

2015 Nissan Leaf

GreenCar We spend more time than we probably should in grumbling at media coverage of plug-in electric cars.

Journalists try to get it right, in general, but often the specific and complex issues around electric cars, who buys them, and how they're really used get lost or ignored in general reporting.

At one reader's suggestion, then, here are the five myths about electric cars we see most often.

U.S. Gasoline Price vs Sales of Plug-In Vehicles, Dec 2010-Nov 2014 [source: Plug-In America]

(1) Gas prices will hurt or kill sales of plug-in electric cars

It's possible that this will happen, but as of yet, there'll little data to suggest that.

And the data from a four-year study by Plug-In America of gas price fluctuations versus sales of plug-in cars shows gasoline costs bouncing around while electric-vehicle sales rise more or less consistently.

The recent, sharp, sudden dip in gas prices might have a different effect--although consumers largely don't trust that prices will stay low.

And, indeed, in California, gas prices have recently risen by up to a dollar a gallon from their lows last fall.

Mark this one mythical, although potentially true if there turns out to be data.

Chevrolet Bolt EV concept, 2015 Detroit Auto Show

(2) The 200-mile 2017 Chevrolet Bolt will compete with Tesla
There may be some overlap, but a sexy five-seat mid-size luxury sport sedan priced from $70,000 to $130,000 rarely competes with subcompact hatchbacks.

The powertrain may put them in the same consideration set among some buyers, granted.

But we think the Bolt will do much more to expand the market than to hurt Tesla. And that's pretty much what Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said, at various points.

His comments boil down to the old adage, "A rising tide (of electric cars) lifts all boats (among their makers)."

ALSO SEE: Public Charging: Not As Important For Electric Cars As People Think?

(3) Without widespread public charging infrastructure, electric cars are doomed

This is another myth that pretty much refuses to die, despite recent studies suggesting that charging at home--and, crucially, at work--are by far the most important locations.

You can prove this one by asking electric-car owners when the last time they used a public charging station.

Some use them regularly, but our sense after talking to dozens (if not hundreds) is that many of them are quite content to charge overnight, and maybe at work.

We'd love to see additional data on this, but given that most Chevy Volt owners still just use their 120-Volt charging cables--not even a Level 2 charging station--in their garages, we sense it's just not that much of an issue.

2011 Nissan Leaf electric car during IIHS crash testing

(4) Plug-in vehicles are unsafe, and their batteries will fail in only a couple of years

Two in one here.

As for safety, automakers have largely received good crash-safety ratings for the electric cars that have been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

We'll be curious to see how the BMW i3, with its carbon-fiber reinforced plastic body, fares in those tests as the first of its kind.

As for battery durability, there have been a small handful of Nissan Leafs in extremely hot climates that have lost capacity more rapidly than expected.

The vast majority have not, and Nissan says a new battery chemistry vastly increases the hot-weather durability of current Leafs.

And every manufacturer warranties its battery pack against failure for either eight or 10 years, depending on what state the car is sold in.

Gas pump

(5) Electric car sales are a failure because they haven't overtaken gas cars

RLY? This one we just laugh at.

It took technology advances like the automatic transmission, disc brakes, and fuel injection literally decades to arrive in a majority of the cars sold.

To think that electric-car sales would be half of a 16-million-unit U.S. market in less than five years is idiotic.

Or, put more charitably, it betrays an extreme lack of knowledge of the auto business.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Electric-Car Battery Costs Already Cheaper Than 2020 Predictions: Study

Tesla Motors - Model S lithium-ion battery pack

GreenCar It's widely assumed that electric cars will never emerge into the mass market if buying them requires paying a significant premium over comparable internal-combustion models.

While owners may save money on fuel and maintenance over the long term, a higher initial purchase price remains intimidating, and take time to amortize.

And by far the most expensive component of a plug-in electric car is its battery pack.

But there's good news: The price of lithium-ion cells for those packs is dropping. Fast.

A new study claims electric-car batteries are already cheaper than previous estimates for 2020, reportsThe Carbon Brief.

A123 Systems lithium-ion battery cells

Back in 2013, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that it would take until 2020 for cell costs to sink to $300 per kilowatt-hour.

Yet researchers suggest that the electric-car industry may already have reached that goal.

Research estimates put the drop in industry-wide costs at $1,000 per kWh between 2007 and 2014, reducing costs to as low as $140 per kWh.

The study also claims that certain "market-leading firms" such as Nissan and Tesla have also smashed the IEA's $300-per-kWh barrier.

The study is based on 85 cost estimates from peer-reviewed academic publications, as well as reports from analysts, the media, and from the battery and car manufacturers themselves.

The authors note that this constitutes an incomplete body of data. Companies rarely disclose their true costs of manufacturing to the public, they note.

2016 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid - battery cutaway

Echoing other analyses, they also say battery costs will have to fall further for electric cars to gain mass appeal.

For the U.S., they estimate, costs must drop to less than $150 per kWh for electric cars to move "beyond niche applications."

A figure of $100 per kWh is often cited as the threshold at which electric cars can become price-competitive with internal-combustion models.

The quest to cut costs has led to enormous research into alternatives to today's lithium-ion chemistries.

Volkswagen, for example, is reportedly mulling investing in the development of solid-state batteries for future electric cars.

Those developments are "still distant," the study's authors say. They believe economies of scale are more likely to bring costs down.

Tesla battery gigafactory site, Reno, Nevada, Feb 25, 2015 [photo: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Bob Tregilus]

Tesla Motors is currently testing that theory with its Nevada "Gigafactory." When it opens in 2017, the factory is intended to produce cells on a sufficiently large scale to realize a $35,000 base price for the Model 3 sedan.

Even with the current momentum, a dramatic drop in prices likely won't happen overnight.

Lithium-ion cell prices currently average $496 per kWh, according to a different battery-cost estimatepublished in The Washington Post. It claims that the figure represents a 60-percent drop since 2010.

At that rate, cell prices will reach $175 per kWh in five years, which would put parity with internal combustion some distance away.

In the long run, carmakers must produce cars at a profit and sell enough of them to realize economies of scale.

Nissan has said that it expects to break even on the first-generation Leaf, when all is said and done. The Leaf is by far the highest-volume electric car in the world, with total sales that will cross 200,000 this year.

That suggests that the next Leaf, which is expected to offer some models with ranges of 120 to 150 mile--perhaps more--will be both more appealing to buyers and profitable for its maker.

And cheaper batteries, as always, will make that happen.

Formula E targeting races without car changes by 2018/19 season Formula E is on course to become an open formula in its fifth season, 2018/19, when it is planned that each driver will use only one car during the 45-minute races.

The championship has laid out what series boss Alejandro Agag is calling a "five-year road map" to achieve the goal of ending the practice of drivers swapping between cars mid-race.

The first step is to allow development of the powertrains in 2015/16 and batteries in 2016/17, while mandating the use of the existing Spark-Renault SRT_01E chassis.

The road map will also allow for an increase in the amount of energy that can be released from the battery. It will go up in steps from the current 28kw/h to 33kw/h in seasons three and four, and up to more than 40kw/h for season five in 2018/19.

Agag told AUTOSPORT: "I believe we will be able to retain a single chassis for four seasons, but I don't think that will be possible if we are to stop needing to have two cars for each race.

"Teams will go for quite radical technologies, which means they will need their own chassis."

Andretti Formula E team principal Roger Griffiths said that the shift to one-car races would require "a complete change".

"You'd probably need a car with four-wheel-drive, so you could harvest off the front axle, for example," he explained.

China Racing boss Steven Lu warned of the importance of maintaining controls on costs, should Formula E become an open formula.

"We must discuss how we can keep the costs under control," he said.

"We must remember that we are not Formula 1."

The power available from the electric motors will also increase in stages, rising from this year's 150kw in race specification to 170kw next season and 200kw - the same as the present qualifying level - for seasons three to five.

Seven of the 10 Formula E teams have registered as so-called manufacturers along with Renault, a sponsor of both the e.dams team and the series.

China Racing is represented by NEXTEV TCR, a new company set up by Lu, while Motomatica is a joint venture between the Trulli team and Italian technology company Tecnomatica.

A number of teams are expected to come up with their own specifications for the motor and gearbox, which would then be produced by McLaren and Hewland respectively.

The other two teams, Aguri and Dragon will have the right to purchase technology from one of the registered manufacturers at a capped cost.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Public Charging: Not As Important For Electric Cars As People Think? Ask any electric-car advocate, and they'll likely list availability of public charging as one of the key requirements to getting more people interested in plug-in vehicles.

The availability of public charging stations reduces range anxiety and gives drivers greater trip flexibility.

That would logically seem to make electric cars more desirable to consumers.

Yet a new study claims that's not the case.

There is no correlation between charging infrastructure and increased consumer interest in electric cars, researchers from Canada's Simon Fraser University (via ChargedEVs) say.

The relationship between awareness of available public charging and electric-car demand is "weak or nonexistent," claims Professor Jonn Axsen, leader of the study.

Published in the journal Transportation Research Part D, the study is based on a poll of 1,739 households in Canada.

Respondents were asked about their awareness of local charging infrastructure, and their interest in purchasing a plug-in car.

Respondents appeared aware of charging infrastructure in their area.

Simon Fraser University's home province of British Columbia has worked to install public charging stations--about 500 were in place when the poll was conducted in 2013.

Sure enough, about one third of British Columbia residents said they had seen at least one public charging station, compared to 13 percent for the rest of Canada.

However, the study found that respondents were more interested in plug-in hybrids--which in this case included the Chevrolet Volt--than in all-electric cars.

These two results led Axsen and his team to conclude that public charging infrastructure is less important than other policies, such as purchase incentives.

He recommended that regional governments focus on those, as well as on policies that help to better facilitate home charging.

Also recommended: a zero-emission vehicle mandate, similar to the one implemented for 2012 byCalifornia.

It's worth noting that many electric-car drivers primarily charge at home or at work. The amount of time cars sit idle and the short distance of most commutes mean this is often all that's needed.

However, for breaks from the daily routine--or longer trips--extensive public charging infrastructure is still needed.

After all, while home and work charging may be practical in many situations, combining it with public charging covers all the bases.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Electric vehicles' second-hand value 'similar to diesels' Pricing company Glass's says growing familiarity with technology among dealers and consumers is closing gap on competitors

The value of second-hand electric cars is closing the gap on diesels and could overtake them as used-car retailers and buyers became more familiar with the technology.

Trade pricing bible Glass's says in many cases residual value forecasts for electric vehicles (EVs) are already broadly similar to diesels, which could spur even greater uptake of low-carbon vehicles.

Rupert Pontin, head of valuations at Glass's, said the "gold standard" for EVs is the Tesla model S, whose 220-mile range ensures its three-year/60,000 mile value is about 43 per cent – almost exactly the same as well-established direct competitor the BMW M535D M Sport.

However, the residual value of EVs across the market is closing in on diesel competitors. The Vauxhall Ampera Electron's residual value of around 28 per cent after three years or 60,000 miles is bearing down on the Insignia SRI CDTi's 35 per cent, while the BMW i3 extender Suite at 39 per cent is just a few points away from the BMW 320d Sport's 43 per cent.

"Clearly, there is still a difference here between EVs and diesels but there are signs that it is closing all the time," Pontin added. "Crucially, when the overall running costs of an EV are taken into account, factors such as savings on fuel mean that they may beat traditional models."

EV ownership has increased remarkably after a slow start, with registrations under the government's plug-in grant scheme quadrupling over 2014. Initial sluggish uptake was attributed to fears over the range of EVs and how fast they might lose their value, especially as there was little transparency about how much battery packs might be to replace.

Renault offers battery leasing to get around the problem, but there are also signs that manufacturers have listened to consumers – after much pressing, Nissan has announced a new battery pack for the Leaf EV would cost €5,000 (£3,600), taking away a large degree of uncertainty over residual value (RV).

EU legislation setting a target of 95 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometre for average new cars in 2020 is likely to drive the market and with as many as 40 new EV models expected to go on sale in the next three years, RVs are expected to continue to hold up.

"EVs of one kind or another currently account for about two per cent of the market," Pontin said. "However, if the UK is to meet its 2020 emissions target of 95g/km per vehicle, their penetration must increase quite rapidly. As this happens and they become a more familiar part of our daily lives, we expect EV RVs to firm up and stabilise."

UK Highways Agency commissions study into wireless power on roads The Highways Agency has commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to undertake a feasibility study into the use of dynamic wireless power transfer (WPT) on Britain’s roads.

The Highways Angency wants to understand whether WPT can be used on motorways and major A roads, so it can prepare for and “potentially encourage” greater uptake of electric vehicles (EV).

Scheduled to report in spring this year, TRL will identify two near-market dynamic WPT technologies that could be suitable in future research and trials of the technology in the UK. The feasibility study will also consider “the requirements for integration with road infrastructure and maintenance, connection to the grid and requirements for provision of power and energy”.

In addition, TRL will look into approaches by vehicle manufacturers of integration into different classes of vehicle from cars to HGVs and busses, and investigate the viability of introducing the technology.

TRL said in a statement: “The purpose of the project is not to find an alternative to current plug-in charging infrastructure but rather to develop a comprehensive charging eco-system capable of delivering power to EVs via different methods. This is to facilitate greater and more flexible use of EVs in the UK, overcome range anxiety and allow switching to zero emission for vehicle types that have traditionally been accepted as not suitable for electrification, such as HGVs and coaches.”

Once the study is completed, TRL said it could be followed by a series of off-road “test track trials and accelerated pavement facility testing”.

Hon Hai (Foxconn) and Tencent partner in electric car business

(Reuters) - Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd on Monday said it has partnered Chinese social networker Tencent Holdings Ltd to develop opportunities related to electric vehicles, marking the latest tech foray into "smart" cars.

Hon Hai, WeChat operator Tencent and luxury car dealer China Harmony Auto Holding Ltd signed an agreement to work together in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, Henan province, the contract manufacturer said without detailing specifics.

The partnership would put Tencent on a par with online peers Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Baidu Inc, which have already moved into the nascent market for Internet-connected cars vie tie-ups with major auto makers.

Hon Hai said the coalition would form a working team drawing on its manufacturingcapabilities, Tencent's Internet platform and China Harmony Auto's dealership network, to explore commercial possibilities in smart electric vehicles.

Hon Hai, known more for assembling the bulk of Apple Inc's iPhones, already has experience with electric vehicles having manufactured the touch screens in some cars made by U.S. automaker Tesla Motors Inc.

The absence of a carmaker from its new partnership appears to put the group on a different tack to that of Alibaba or Baidu in targeting electric vehicles.

That market has largely failed to flourish in China, though the government has given it years of subsidies and support. The government has redoubled efforts to promote electric vehicles, renewing tax breaks and setting aggressive emission standards.

Hon Hai has manufacturing operations across China and has been working to diversify from the competitive, low-margin contract business. As part of that drive, it bought around 10 percent of Zhengzhou-based China Harmony Auto last year.

China Harmony Auto was not available to comment on the latest partnership. Tencent declined to provide immediate comment.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Electric vehicle batteries 'already cheaper than 2020 projections' The cost of electric vehicle battery packs is falling so rapidly they are probably already cheaper than expected for 2020, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change.

Electric vehicles remain more expensive than combustion-engine equivalents, largely because of battery costs. In 2013 the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated cost-parity could be reached in 2020, with battery costs reaching $300 per kilowatt hour of capacity.

But market-leading firms were probably already producing cheaper batteries last year, says today's new research. It says its figures are "two to four times lower than many recent peer-reviewed papers have suggested".

High costs, falling

Even though the EU electric vehicle market grew by 37% year on year in 2014, it still made up less than 1% of total sales. High cost is a major reason why electric vehicles have failed to break through, alongside range and a lack of recharging infrastructure.

The new research is based on a review of 85 cost estimates in peer-reviewed research, agency estimates, consultancy and industry reports, news reports covering the views of industry representatives and experts and finally estimates from leading manufacturers.

It says industry-wide costs have fallen from above $1,000 per kilowatt hour in 2007 down to around $410 in 2014, a 14% annual reduction (blue marks, below). Costs for market-leading firms have fallen by 8% per year, reaching $300 per kilowatt hour in 2014 (green marks).

Cost estimates and future projections for electric vehicle battery packs, measured in $US per kilowatt hour of capacity. Each mark on the chart represents a documented estimate reviewed by the study. Source: Nykvist et al. (2015).

For the market-leading firms, shown in green on the chart above, costs last year were already at the bottom end of projections for 2020 (yellow triangles).

The paper estimates prices will fall further to around $230 per kilowatt hour in 2017-18, "on a par with the most optimistic future estimate among analysts". The crossover point where electric cars become cheapest depends on electricity costs, vehicle taxes and prices at the pump.

In the US, with current low oil prices, battery packs would need to fall below $250 per kilowatt hour for electric cars to become competitive, the study says. Behavioural barriers to electric vehicle uptake present additional hurdles to widespread adoption.

The paper says:

"If costs reach as low as $150 per kilowatt hour this means that electric vehicles will probably move beyond niche applications and begin to penetrate the market more widely, leading to a potential paradigm shift in vehicle technology."

Learning rate

To reach that level, costs will have to fall further. But a commercial breakthrough for the next generation of lithium batteries "is still distant", the paper says, and many improvements in cell chemistry have already been realised. This seems to pour cold water on frequent claims of new battery types "transforming" the electric vehicle market.

However, there are still savings to be made in manufacturing improvements, industry learning and economies of scale, which have already brought down costs in recent years. Cumulative global production and sales of electric vehicles are roughly doubling annually, the paper says.

That means the 30% cost reduction expected at Tesla Motors' planned "Gigafactory" battery plant by 2017 represents a "trajectory close to the trends projected in this paper". On the other hand Renault-Nissan's plans to build battery manufacturing capacity for 1.5 million cars by 2016 havehit the buffers as electric car sales have trailed expectations.

There are large uncertainties in the paper's findings. Despite being the most comprehensive review to date, it relies on "sparse data" and acknowledges that a secretive industry might avoid revealing high costs, or conversely might subsidise battery packs to gain market share.

Overall it is "possible" that economies of scale will push costs down towards $200 kilowatt hour "in the near future even without further cell chemistry improvements", the paper concludes. If the paper is right then electric vehicle uptake could exceed expectations. That will be a good thing for the climate - just as long as the electricity that fuels them is not from coal.