Tag Archive | "Electric Cars"

Tesla’s Elon Musk: Hydrogen Fuel Cell-Powered Vehicles Are ‘Silly’


DETROIT – Speaking in the Motor City on Tuesday, electric carmaker Tesla Motors’ co-founder and CEO Elon Musk again dismissed hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars as irrational, reported MLive.

“I just think they’re extremely silly,” he told reporters at Automotive News’ annual World Congress. His comments came on the same day Honda Motor Co. showed off its latest advancements in hydrogen fuel cell technology with its FCV concept at the 2015 North American International Auto Show. Toyota is also proudly displaying its production model, hydrogen fuel cell-powered Mirai at the show.

Musk argued that hydrogen acts as an energy storage unit, not a source of it, making it impractical for powering vehicles. He called drawing hydrogen from water “an extremely inefficient” process.

“If you’re going to pick an energy storage mechanism, hydrogen is just an extremely dumb one to pick,” Musk said.

He added, “The best-case hydrogen fuel cell case doesn’t win against the current-case batteries. So then obviously it doesn’t make sense. That will become apparent in the next few years. There’s no reason for us to have this debate. I’ve said my piece on this. It will be super obvious as time goes by.”

In addition to co-founding Tesla Motors, Musk, 43, helped launch and is currently the CEO of SpaceX, is chairman of SolarCity, and is a co-founder of PayPal.

He told reporters Tuesday that with Tesla he spends most of his time as an engineer and product architect.

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Tesla Aims to Leapfrog Rivals


Tesla Motors Inc. plans to offer hands-free highway driving in its Model S electric sedans in 2015, putting it as much as a year ahead of other luxury brands in offering autopilot functions in automobiles, according to people familiar with the company’s plans, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Other auto makers, including General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG’s Audi, have said they’re aiming to launch hands-free highway driving systems by roughly 2016. Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz now sells a system that can pilot a car on a freeway, but it is designed so that drivers must keep a hand on the wheel.

Tesla’s plan for rolling out a semiautonomous driving system, which it calls Autopilot, and several other safety and driver assistance capabilities, presents as much of a challenge to its rivals as any of the individual features, said analysts. Chief Executive Elon Musk sketched out some of the company’s plans in suburban Los Angeles Thursday night, but said little about timing.

Tesla is installing in new Model S sedans radar, cameras and other equipment to enable hands-free highway driving, an automated parking system and other driver assistance and safety features. To eventually activate certain convenience features, including hands-free highway driving, will require purchasing an optional $4,250 technology package, the company said on its website.

The company plans to upgrade the software in these cars through “over the air” updates to enable the features and functions over the coming months. Established car makers have been much slower to adopt the frequent, over-the-air software upgrade approach common in the world of cellphones and other digital devices.

“Tesla is able to bring forth enhancements in product through over-the-air updates that would take other auto companies years to commercialize,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote in a note on Friday.

On Tesla’s website, the company said “progressive software updates over time” will “ultimately” give the Model S Autopilot the ability to operate in automatic mode from highway on-ramp to off-ramp.

New Model S sedans shipping now will include some features already common in rivals’ luxury vehicles, including lane departure warning, which signals when the car is drifting out of its lane. Other driver assistance features such as a cruise-control system that can respond to traffic conditions are expected to be released this year.

More advanced autopilot features, including hands-free highway driving, an automatic lane-change function and the automated parking system should be delivered to cars by the first half of next year, the people said.

Tesla’s moves come as auto makers are racing to deliver features that allow the car to shoulder more of the tedium and stress of stop-and-go traffic and long highway drives.

Mercedes-Benz S Class and E Class models were the first to offer features that automatically keep a car centered in a lane, navigate freeway curves and maintain a set speed up to 124 miles an hour. The system uses stereo cameras, which mimic human eyes, radar and ultrasonic sensors to feed information about the car’s surroundings into onboard computers, but requires the driver to keep a hand on the wheel.

GM’s Cadillac division promises in 2016 a system it calls “super cruise” that allows hands-free operation of a car at highway speeds. Volkswagen’s Audi, BMW AG and other luxury brands also have signaled plans to offer hands-free “advanced driver assistance systems,” or automated driving features, around 2016.

As for parking, BMW and Lexus, among others, now offer parking assist systems that enable their newer vehicles to maneuver themselves into a parallel parking spot, but drivers have to remain on board. Mr. Musk is promising he wants his system to allow drivers to leave the car and let the vehicle park itself.

Mr. Musk’s promise of autopilot systems could spur rivals to speed up their plans to launch similar features, analysts said.

“The media attention…will likely accelerate the ADAS/semi-autonomous rollout efforts of other” auto makers, Barclays analyst Brian Johnson said in a research note.

On other features Mr. Musk highlighted, Tesla is a follower.

German luxury car makers already offer all-wheel-drive systems on most of their models, and about 36% of the vehicles they sold in the U.S. in 2013 are equipped with the systems, according to WardsAuto data cited by Barclays.

BMW’s i8 plug-in hybrid, which competes with the upper end of the Tesla Model S range, has a small gasoline engine that drives the rear wheels, and electric motor that drives the front wheels.

Tesla says its approach to all-wheel-drive is superior, because its system delivers faster acceleration than a standard Model S and has 10 miles additional driving range over a single-motor model. Most gasoline powered cars with all-wheel drive are less efficient than two-wheel drive models.

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BMW and Tesla Executives Meet to Discuss Electric Cars


Executives from German carmaker BMW and U.S.-based Tesla Motors Inc met this week in a move which could lead to the creation of charging stations usable for different types of electric cars, reported Reuters.

BMW and electric carmaker Tesla are seeking ways to raise the popularity of battery-powered vehicles, which consumers have shunned due to their limited operating range, the scarcity of charging stations and the time it takes to recharge them.

“Both companies are strongly committed to the success of electro-mobility and discussed how to further strengthen the development of electro-mobility on an international level,” a BMW spokesman said in a statement on Friday.

BMW said the meeting had taken place on Wednesday but declined to comment in detail about the nature of the talks, or about which BMW executives had met with Tesla.

In a conference call on Thursday, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said there had been talks with BMW about how to promote the use of electric vehicles and how to make better use of Tesla’s network of charging stations.

Carmakers including General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche have committed to adopting a common SAE combo standard for fast-charging connectors.

Fast-charging stations allow electric vehicle owners to recharge batteries up to 80 percent in less than 20 minutes.

Today, the Chevrolet Spark and the BMW i3 for example can use the same battery recharging stations.

Tesla has, however, developed its own network of high-speed charging stations including along key autobahn routes in Germany in an effort to make electric cars viable for long-distance commuting.

Tesla’s charger system can be fitted with an adapter that allows its cars, including the Tesla Model S, to be recharged on both the SAE chargers and its own system.

Sharing Patents

Tesla also said on Thursday that it would allow others to make use of its intellectual property in the hope of speeding up development of electric cars by all manufacturers.

Musk said this included all of Tesla’s patents, including several hundred current ones and several thousand in the future.

German premium auto makers have been keen to collaborate with Tesla.

In January, Daimler Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche said the German maker of Mercedes-Benz cars was open to deepening its partnership with the U.S. firm.

Daimler holds a 4.3 percent stake in Tesla, which is already supplying it with electric motors and batteries for its Smart Fortwo electric vehicle (EV) and the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV.

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New Report Says Except For Tesla, Electric-Only Vehicles Are Failures So Far


Via Forbes:

Expensive and range threatened pure electric vehicles have failed to meet sales targets, and over-ambitions global projections will have to be scaled back, investment bank Morgan Stanley said in a report.

Traditional internal combustion engines will take up the slack for a while yet, while fuel cell powered vehicles will come more into favor, the report said.

Expect early success too for plug-in hybrid vehicles, which lack the purity of battery-only but offer an acceptable compromise of limited clean driving without range anxiety.

Renault of France famously used to claim that 10 per cent of global car sales would be electric-only by 2020. This is more likely to be closer to one per cent, the report said.

Only Tesla Motors Inc, with its luxury battery-only sports car the Model S, can claim success, Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said in the report.

High prices and range anxiety have crimped buyer enthusiasm for electric cars despite generous subsidies offered by some governments. Also, the advent of plug-in hybrid vehicles, which offer substantial battery–only and local emission free range of up to 40 miles before internal combustion engines kick in to save them, are undermining the case for battery only. Not only are battery cars pricey with unpredictable range, they also need a hugely expensive network of charging stations to make longer journeys even remotely viable.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) avoid this expensive network necessity. PHEVs like the Mitsubishi Outlander SUV and upcoming VW Golf sedan will offer green enthusiasts plenty of scope for city driving on electric power only, knowing that the gasoline engine will kick in and offer a range equivalent to a conventional vehicle. The Chevrolet Volt too, a so-called extended range electric vehicle, has conventional range with its gasoline engine generating electricity when the battery runs out of juice. With the availability of PHEVs, battery-only vehicles are only likely to appeal to blinkered green purists and zealots.

It’s not only buyers who are spooked by the price of electric vehicles. Manufacturers are taking a hit too. Earlier this week Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne pleaded with the public to avoid buying battery powered Fiat 500s because every time one moved off the dealer lot his company lost $14,000.

Morgan Stanley’s Jonas headlined his report “EVs are Dead, Long Live Tesla”.

“Tesla aside, the auto industry’s push into EVs has fallen far short of expectations. Just a few years ago, forecasts for global EV penetration were as high as five or 10 per cent by 2020. From today’s perspective, we think penetration in the one per cent range would be respectable,” Jonas said.

Jonas said manufacturers will look more to hydrogen-powered fuel cells as they seek to meet harsh fuel consumption rules.

(Europe demands average fuel consumption equivalent to 57.4 miles per U.S. gallon by 2021. The U.S. rules are a less aggressive 54.5 mpg by 2025. China has introduced tough rules too.)

Internal combustion engines are rising to the occasion.

“We are bullish on the internal combustion engine technology through the next decade. A combination of software, weight-reduction, mild-hybridization, high-speed transmissions, boosting turbo and injection systems show great progress in achieving CO2 (carbon dioxide) and fuel economy improvement,” Jonas said.

Tesla’s success was more down to its supercar performance than its electric power, he said.

Electric vehicles still have their cheerleaders, though.

In a recent report, IHS Automotive conceded that EVs had fallen short of expectations, but pointed out that the pace of sales exceeded that of early hybrid cars.

“With EV adoption exceeding the historical precedent of hybrids, this means the trend toward EVs is still progressing, although at a lower rate than many had expected,” IHS Auto said.

IHS Auto agreed that PHEVs would be an important stepping stone to electrification.

“Motorists like the safety and freedom to travel for longer distances without being constrained by charging intervals, which is why PHEVs are a good alternative. IHS Automotive predicts that by 2020, global production of PHEVs will exceed EVs by a ratio of 55:45. PHEVs could be a critical stepping stone to pure electrification of the power-train in the years following the year 2020.”

Meanwhile, unless battery only cars can offer perhaps twice the range at half the price than now some time soon, sales will continue to stumble.

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Ford Ramps Up Electric Vehicle Development and Production


DEARBORN, MI – Ford is adding new green jobs, doubling its battery-testing capabilities and speeding electrified vehicles to market by at least 25 percent, creating more fuel-efficient choices for customers.

“The good news for customers is that they not only have more choice, but they have faster access to Ford’s latest and greatest in fuel-saving technologies and vehicles,” said Joe Bakaj, Ford vice president of Powertrain Engineering. “This stems directly from our decisions to deliver true power of choice by expanding our dedicated electrified vehicle team and further investing in our facilities.”
Ford is investing $135 million in the design, engineering and production of key components – including advanced battery systems – for its next-generation hybrid-electric vehicles going into production this year. For example, Ford’s battery-testing capabilities will double by 2013 – to a total of 160 individual battery-test channels. This includes investing in more of the highly specialized machines that can test and simulate everything from power and performance to life and thermal behavior over a complete range of temperatures and possible operating conditions.
Also, Ford is dedicating a 285,000-square-foot research and development lab here to focus almost entirely on hybrids and electrification. The building, formerly known as the Advanced Engineering Center, has been renamed the Ford Advanced Electrification Center and houses most of the 1,000 engineers working on hybrid and electrification programs. Ford has also continued to build its electrified team, with 60 engineers hired in the past year and dozens more positions to be filled this year.
Ford is also reducing the cost of its current hybrid system by 30 percent versus the company’s previous-generation system. Plus, Ford is launching five electrified vehicles this year as part of its power of choice strategy to deliver leading fuel economy across its lineup, and plans to triple electrified vehicle production capacity by 2013.
“We know what it takes to build world-class hybrids and are building on that expertise,” said Kevin Layden, director, Ford Electrification Programs and Engineering. “We’re continuing to invest so Ford can continue to lead in the delivery of top fuel economy, durability and driving dynamics in our electrified vehicles.”

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Honda Electric Car Gets 118 MPG, But Costs Add Up


DETROIT — At 118 miles per gallon, the Honda Fit electric vehicle is the most fuel-efficient in the United States. But getting that mileage isn’t cheap — and it isn’t always good for the environment.

Honda announced the eye-popping figure this week, making the small, four-door hatchback more efficient than electric rivals like the Ford Focus, Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. It goes on the market this summer in Oregon and California, reported The Detroit News.

The electric Fit has an estimated price tag nearly twice as high as the gasoline-powered version. It would take 11 years before a driver makes up the difference and begins saving on fuel.

With gas prices falling, the high sticker price for electric vehicles is becoming more of a barrier for American buyers, even though the vehicles are far more efficient than their gas-powered counterparts. That’s hurting sales of electrics.

Through May, carmakers sold just over 10,000 electric vehicles, less than 0.2 percent of U.S. car and truck sales.

That’s because the numbers don’t add up for the average consumer.

The electric Fit needs 28.6 kilowatt hours of electricity to go 100 miles. At the national average price of 11.6 cents per kilowatt hour, that costs $3.31.

A gas-powered automatic-transmission Fit, which gets 31 miles per gallon, needs to burn 3.2 gallons to travel 100 miles. At the national average price of $3.57 per gallon of gasoline, that’s $11.42.

People drive an average of almost 13,500 miles a year, so a typical driver would spend $446 on electricity for an electric Fit over a year, and $1,542 on gasoline for a regular Fit.

Honda has valued the price of an electric Fit at $29,125 after a $7,500 federal tax credit. That’s $12,210 more than the gas-powered Fit — a savings of $1,110 per year to make up the difference between the electric and the gas-powered version.

Customers don’t want to spend the extra money up front and wait for years for payback, said Geoff Pohanka, who runs 13 auto dealerships in Virginia and Maryland, including three that sell the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt electric cars.

“People are smart. They’re looking for the deal,” he said. “Is somebody going to fork out $15,000 more for something that gets them less range than their car now? It’s not happening.”

At first, Honda will only be leasing Fit EVs in Oregon and California, for $389 per month. The subcompact seats up to five people and can be recharged in three hours with a 240-volt charging station. A fully charged Fit EV can go 82 miles, meaning a daily commute could cost nothing for gasoline.

And leases can make sense for consumers. Carmakers can lower rates and subsidize deals in order to make a car — especially one with new, expensive technology — more attractive to buyers.

Jesse Toprak, vice president of market intelligence for the car-buying site TrueCar.com, said he tested an electric Chevrolet Volt, driving it less than 35 miles a day from his Los Angeles-area home to work and back. The cost of leasing it — $369 a month — is comparable to the $300 he would spend on gas.

“In a lot of these cases, I’m surprised that people are not lining up to get these things,” he said.

The comparison between gas and electric cars also can vary with geography, largely because energy prices vary widely across the country.

In Oregon, where gasoline is 18 percent more expensive than the national average and electricity is 16 percent lower, an electric Fit will save $121 per month in fuel. In Connecticut, which has the highest power prices in the country, the monthly savings are just $83.

The fuel used to generate electric power and the cost of gasoline also vary by region —and that affects how environmentally friendly an electric car purchase is.

In Midwestern states that rely heavily on coal, driving an electric car produces 18 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than driving a typical gasoline-powered car, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Surprisingly, driving an electric car there produces 50 percent more greenhouse gases than driving a 50 mpg electric hybrid.

In the Northeast and Northwest, where a bigger portion of the power is produced with nuclear reactors, hydroelectric dams, natural gas-fired power plants and wind farms, an electric car will produce 76 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a typical gasoline-powered car and 56 percent fewer emissions than a hybrid.

No matter what the energy costs, Honda expects to trumpet the Fit EV’s 118 mpg figure, even though it will lease only 1,100 of the cars in its first two years on the market.

Honda predicts that the initial customers for the Fit EV won’t be focusing on a cost-benefit analysis. Instead, they’ll want to make a statement about cutting greenhouse gases and reducing dependence on foreign oil, said Robert Langford, Honda’s manager of plug-in electric vehicle sales.

Like the rest of the auto industry, Honda isn’t sure when or if electric vehicles will ever replace those that run on gas, he said. The company keeps constant watch on sales of electric cars already on the market, such as the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt.

“That’s constantly on our mind right now and on our radar screen,” said Langford.

Chevrolet doesn’t actively market the Volt’s 94 mpg figure, because it’s too confusing to explain to consumers that the car can drive that distance while running on electricity. The Volt, unlike other electrics, has a small gas engine on board to generate power for the car after the battery is depleted.

What resonates more with consumers is that the average Volt driver goes 900 miles before buying gasoline, said Cristi Landry, the car’s marketing director.

She also isn’t sure when electric cars will go beyond the environmentally conscious buyer and into the rest of America’s driveways.

Electric vehicles, Toprak said, won’t sell en masse until customers know they will ultimately save enough to take a risk on new technology.

“You’re not buying it to save the trees,” Toprak said. “You’re buying it to save money for yourself.”

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