by Zach McDonald | HybridCars.com
One of the best business moves Toyota has ever made was its decision to invest in the potential of nickel metal hydride batteries as a secondary power source for vehicles. Today, Toyota says it’s looking to the next generation of battery technologies to surmount the challenges facing modern electric vehicles.
According to Automotive News, Toyota is several years into the development of solid state and lithium air batteries, which have long been seen as potential replacements for today’s comparatively heavy and expensive lithium ion cells. Solid state batteries, which Toyota hopes to deploy in vehicles by 2020, offer an equivalent storage three to four times greater than lithium ion. Lithium air batteries are a few more years away, but have a storage density five times greater than today’s EV packs.
Toyota has been public about its skepticism concerning the potential for lithium ion-powered EVs. And though the company has invested in ventures ranging from its agreements with Sanyo to its partnership with Tesla in developing the new RAV4 EV, the presence of lithium ion batteries in Toyota’s vehicle lineup is relatively sparse. The only fully-electric vehicle the carmaker offers in the United States is the RAV4, which is a limited-production vehicle available only in California.
Future technologies could resolve many of the qualms Toyota might have had with diving head first into lithium ion. “Next-generation battery cells need to exceed the energy density in lithium ion batteries significantly,” Toyota managing officer for material engineering, Shigeki Suzuki, told Auto News. “We’ve been accelerating our development of those next-generation batteries technologies since 2010.”
One of the concerns facing EVs is potential supply limitations for materials currently vital to their production. Lithium and rare earth metals (which are used as magnets in most motors,) are just two of a number of resources that some worry could threaten the future of the plug-ins in the same way that limited oil supplies threaten ICEs. Toyota’s research into next-generation batteries and motors has been mindful of these threats, with the carmaker aiming to ditch rare earth intensive motors from its vehicles by 2020.
Toyota is by no means the only carmaker researching lithium air or solid state batteries, but its timeframe for releasing vehicles that utilize the technologies certainly seems to be more ambitious.
Subaru is expected to unveil its first production hybrid at the New York International Auto Show later this month—though it’s still unknown what that vehicle will be. In the meantime, the carmaker took the opportunity at the 2013 Geneva Motor Show to display a hybrid that’s at least a few more years away from making it to dealerships.
The Subaru Viziv concept is a crossover with a unique, low-slung silhouette that falls within the Subaru design vision while a the same time looking nothing like anything the carmaker has ever put on the road. But beneath the vehicle’s futuristic styling and car show concept bells and whistles—witness its upward-opening two-door, four-seat setup—lie technologies that Subaru is likely developing for implementation down the road.
The Viziv is powered by a diesel hybrid powertrain, a mix that has yet to make its way to the United States despite loud calls from diesel fans looking to boost their fuel economy to gasoline hybrid levels. In theory, the pairing makes a lot of sense: clean diesel vehicles tend to be more efficient than their gas-powered counterparts, and with the boost in city fuel economy offered by a hybrid regenerative braking system, diesel hybrids would be poised to be among the most efficient vehicles on the road that don’t plug in.
For the Viziv, Subaru is switching out its familiar all-wheel drive system for a “through the road” hybrid configuration that places a 2.0-liter diesel engine under the hood, which is aided by two electric motors hooked up to the rear wheels. When additional performance is needed, both the engine and motors can run in tandem. When it’s not, the motors can supplant the engine for better fuel economy.
Another feature attached to the Viziv at Geneva was Subaru’s new EyeSight system, which places two cameras behind the front windshield to identify other cars in motion around the vehicle and send signals that allow the car to automatically adjust to changing conditions. Cruise control is made easier by the EyeSight system, thanks to the car’s ability to slow down and keep a preset distance from other vehicles. EyeSight debuted as an option in the Legacy and Outback this year, though Subaru is said to be planning a lineup-wide expansion soon.
by Zach McDonald | HybridCars.com
A study from PA Consulting Group has ranked the Volkswagen Group ahead of four of the world’s other largest automakers in a rating of overall sustainability. The global auto giant, whose brands include Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Bentley and several others, beat out Daimler, BMW, Peugeot Citroen, and Toyota, earning an overall score of 81 points out of a possible 100—eleven points ahead of the next highest finisher. The difference between the second and fourth best scores was just two points.
PA Consulting set out to measure the carmakers in three separate categories: Sustainability Strategy, which assessed on the basis of overall targets and clarity of reporting goals to the public; Product Portfolio, which measured the effectiveness of each manufacturer at developing and implementing green technologies; and Transparency and Operational Performance.
“The study shows that all companies have a robust sustainability strategy in place,” said Tobias Reich, automotive expert at PA Consulting. “Although Toyota is widely perceived as the most sustainable, Volkswagen comes out on top based on our study. Clear objectives need to be set and performance constantly monitored against set goals to improve the green performance and environmental impact.” The study said Toyota was in part hurt by the fact that it had already come so far in green mobility that its research and development spending for such technologies had tapered off compared to its competitors.
Despite being slow to plug-in electric vehicle market, VW may soon catch up with forthcoming fully electric and plug-in hybrid versions of its popular Golf, as well as the much talked about 261-mpg XL1. Volkswagen has been particularly strong in the wide range of technological configurations it has been developing, including hybrid, clean diesel, electric, natural gas and plug-in hybrids.
Recently, VW Group’s Audi brand unveiled its A3 Sportback G-Tron with bi-fuel power. The car will run on both gasoline and natural gas, giving it a combined range of more than 800 miles. Audi’s green strategy for the vehicle goes beyond the car itself though, as Audi will begin manufacturing a synthetic methane using a special process to recycle captured carbon and turn it into fuel for the G-Tron. When operating on this fuel—which Audi calls “e-gas”—the A3 produces emissions in the range of some electric vehicles.
by Zach McDonald | HybridCars.com
If you are the proud owner of an electric, plug-in hybrid or compressed natural gas vehicle in the California, you are currently eligible for a sticker entitling you single-occupancy use of the state’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. Unfortunately for future buyers, those stickers and the program that created them are scheduled to expire on January 1, 2015. That’s just 22 months left of passenger-free carpool lane fun.
So far, 31,000 stickers have been administered. Green stickers indicate plug-in hybrid or range-extended cars and are limited to 40,000 total. White stickers—which are awarded to electric-only and compressed natural gas vehicles—will be administered to all eligible vehicles throughout the life of the program. As 2015 draws closer, this benefit will become less and less valuable to potential buyers, limiting its usefulness to early plug-in vehicle adoption.
Thankfully for plug-in drivers, California assemblyman Bob Bloomenfield has introduced AB 266, which proposes extending the life of the stickers by a whole ten years, to January 1, 2025. If the measure is adopted, the current rules and limitations on gas-electric plug-ins will remain in place, but all stickers would remain valid through 2025. Pure-electrics and CNGs would be eligible all the way up until the termination date.
For those who doubt the value of the HOV incentives to motivating buyers, look back at the hybrid HOV incentives (which expired in 2011,) in spurring hybrid vehicle demand in the Golden State. As hybrid sales built and the number of stickers allotted under the program was reached, used hybrids with carpool lane access began to sell for as much as $4,000 more than those without. According to one insurance company estimate, a used hybrid with one of the 85,000 yellow HOV stickers administered was worth $1,200 more than a comparable vehicle.
According to GreenCarReports.com, committee meetings on the bill could begin as soon as early March. Stay tuned.
by Zach McDonald | HybridCars.com
After a 2012 rife with bad news, 2013 could offer a new beginning for Fisker. Recent news reports indicate that the company is currently the object of a bidding contest between two Chinese car giants capable of investing the money necessary to bring its second car, the Fisker Atlantic to market.
In the meantime, CEO Henrik Fisker is focused on the carmaker’s first product, the Fisker Karma, which has been out of production for more than seven months after deals with its assembler Valmet Automotive and battery supplier A123 systems went sour. In the case of A123, Fisker was unfortunate enough to have its supplier go bankrupt even as orders for the car remain unfilled.
A123 Systems was recently acquired by another Chinese company, Wanxiang Group, which is currently in talks with Fisker to resume supply of the Karma’s battery pack. The carmaker recently said that production will resume on the Karma “fairly soon.”
Perhaps in anticipation of that event, Mr. Fisker has been out promoting the Karma of late, making appearances at auto shows and sitting down with Autoblog Green for an extended interview. In it, Fisker confirms that his company has sold “close to 2,000 cars” to date, a number that he admits is a disappointment under the company’s old business plan but healthy under its current outlook.
“I have to say honestly, I felt like the first six months of , every time you saw one problem, there was another one coming. Then came the Presidential debates. It just didn’t stop,” Fisker told Autoblog. Fisker said his company has adjusted its model to reflect a slower timetable for its next vehicle, and is now focused on building its brand through the Karma
For Fisker, part of that effort involves personally connecting with. “If you own a Mercedes, you can’t go have dinner with Mr. Benz, because he isn’t around any more,” Fisker said. “But you can have dinner with Henrik, maybe, at some special events we’re doing. Even with our current customers, because we see them as brand ambassadors, I have had dinner or breakfast with at least 500 of them.”
Moving forward, Fisker said he likes his company’s chances. “I think we have a big advantage that our vehicles are already ready for some of the things that are happening in the future, whether that’s higher taxes in Europe on CO2 emissions, whether it’s 2025 fuel economy standards–we are the only luxury car with a gasoline engine that fulfills these standards.”
It remains to be seen when Fisker’s real “make or break” car, the Atlantic, will finally be released—or where it will be produced. Still, Fisker has been on its new path for more than a year and a half now, and as the company patiently waits for the investment it needs to move forward with the Atlantic it has had the time to restructure and adjust its goals. Once Karma production finally does restart, the central goal will be to expand its sales markets and grow the list of 2,000-some “ambassadors” Fisker has so far attracted.
by Zach McDonald | HybridCars.com
Last month, the Obama administration backed off its previously stated goal of having 1 million plug-in vehicles on American roads by 2015. Undaunted by the administration’s failure to live up to its milestone, California governor Jerry Brown announced last year that the Golden State would aim for 1 million zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) on its roads by 2020 and 1.5 million by 2025.
Last week, the state announced details about how it will work to achieve those ambitious goals. California’s Interagency Working Group on Zero-Emission Vehicles—which is composed of a dozen different state entities including the governor’s office, the California Air Resources Board and the California Energy Commission—was put in charge of drafting the plan. The ZEV Action Plan (available here) outlines four target areas of improvement for facilitating ZEV adoption:
- Complete needed infrastructure and planning
- Expand consumer awareness and demand
- Transform fleets
- Grow jobs and investment in the private sector
Within each area the plan outlines proposals and delegates responsibility to different state agencies for evaluating and implementing those proposals. Some of the highlights:
- Enable universal ZEV refueling access for California drivers through state funding for electric vehicle charging stations and improved coordination with municipalities.
- Consider a plan to require developers of new multi-unit buildings to dedicate a portion of parking spots to plug-in vehicle charging.
- Extend state plug-in vehicle incentives and advocate for federal incentives including a plan to change the $7,500 EV tax credit to a point-of-sale rebate.
- Consider waiving or reducing state sales tax on ZEVs.
- Promote non-monetary incentives for ZEVs, including single-occupancy carpool access and preferred parking spaces at state-owned buildings and parking lots.
- Ensure that by 2015, 10 percent of state fleet vehicle purchases are ZEVs, expanding to 25 percent by 2020.
Between its ZEV Mandate (which forces carmakers to sell a certain portion of zero-emission vehicles in the state for each conventional internal combustion vehicle,) and the new ZEV Action Plan to facilitate the success of those vehicles, California has again chosen to be proactive in promoting the latest clean vehicle technologies. In the coming years, the state will likely continue to remain the national leader in both plug-in vehicle sales and available infrastructure.
by Zach McDonald of hybridcars.com
Be it restaurant smoking bans or Pinot Noir, California has a way of setting trends that seem to inevitably spread throughout the country. For carmakers though, the importance of pleasing California drivers goes beyond their apparent influence on trends: not only is the state the U.S.’s largest auto market, it accounts for more than 10 percent of sales nationwide each year.
Now, for the first time, a hybrid has topped the list of the most popular new cars in the Golden State. In 2012, the Toyota Prius outsold the second-place Honda Civic line by more than 3,500 units, making it the most widely purchased platform in the state with a total of 60,688 vehicles sold.
The figures include sales of the Prius, Prius v, Prius c, and Prius plug-in hybrid, which combined to sell more than 236,000 vehicles in the United States last year—up 73 percent from 2011. Toyota also regained its lead as the world’s largest carmaker in 2012, thanks in part to robust hybrid sales. In Japan, the Prius and the Prius c were the two best selling vehicles last year, with the state of California ranking as the top market for Toyota hybrids outside of their home country.
What has led to the Prius’s meteoric rise in California? One contributing factor last year may have been gas prices, which hit record highs in the state thanks to refinery fires and other supply setbacks. But independent of the ups and downs of the oil market, Californians have always been a little greener in their driving preferences. The state was the first in the country to popularize the Prius, and has led all other states by leaps and bounds in hybrid and electric vehicle adoption.
Does this most recent feat mean that the Prius will overtake Ford’s F-150 pickup truck this year as the most popular vehicle in the U.S.? Probably not. At the very least though, it signals that hybrids are here to stay and should continue their brisk growth in popularity throughout the United States.
by Zach McDonald of HybridCars.com
Toyota’s decision to release the RAV4 EV exclusively in California instantly ensured that buyers of the car would receive an additional $2,500 in state incentives on top of the $7,500 federal electric vehicle tax credit. But thanks to a series of additional perks, the first lithium ion battery-powered crossover utility vehicle available in the United States will now be even more affordable.
With a substantial (and expensive) Tesla-built 42-kWh battery pack, the RAV4 EV starts at $49,800—in league with many luxury hybrids. In addition to $10,000 in federal and state credits, Toyota will reportedly tacking on $7,500 in incentives—including $5,000 cash back and $2,500 in “loyalty cash” for returning Toyota customers.
In all, some RAV4 EV buyers could pay as little as $32,300 for the vehicle (though availability is limited.) As a final enticement, buyers who act before January 7, 2013 will also be eligible for zero-percent financing.
Toyota is offering a 36-month, $599-per month deal for leasers.
The RAV4 EV first hit California roads on September 24. Toyota plans to limit sales to 2,600 vehicles by 2014, and there has been no announcement as to whether the carmaker plans to continue its arrangement with Tesla to produce more vehicles beyond that point. The crossover is the only fully-electric SUV available in the United States market, carrying a range of 103 miles and equivalent efficiency of 76 electric miles per gallon.
by Zach McDonald: HybridCars.com
This week, Volkswagen will launch the Eco Up! compressed natural gas vehicle in Europe. Yet another variation on the ever-versatile Up! small car platform, the Eco Up! requires just 2.9 kilograms of natural gas to go 100 kilometers—equivalent to more than 55 mpg on gasoline. The car represents one of several powertrain configurations Volkswagen has explored using in the Up!, joining the plug-in electric e-Up!, as well as diesel, hybrid and fuel cell models that have been shown off since VW unveiled its New Small Family (NSF) series back in 2007.
For Volkswagen, the Up! platform is yet another illustration of the company’s “all of the above” strategy for limiting emissions and increasing the fuel economy of its global lineup. The car is not destined for the United States—where consumer-driven natural gas vehicles are relatively rare—but it could appeal in other countries like Pakistan, India, Brazil and Argentina, where CNG-powered cars make up a significantly higher share of the market. Volkswagen estimates that natural gas cars will make up 4 percent of the market in its native Germany by 2020, or roughly 1.4 million vehicles.
Were the Eco Up! to come to the United States, it could might provide some stiff competition to the Honda Civic GX, which is currently the only natural gas model on the market here. But where the Civic GX gets a combined 31 mpg in fuel economy, the Eco Up! rivals the efficiency figures of hybrids like the Toyota Prius.
Of course, with CNG vehicles, gas mileage numbers are just the beginning of the story. As a transportation fuel, natural gas is estimated to burn about 25-percent cleaner than gasoline, at about two-thirds the cost (depending upon market conditions.) Billionaire energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens has spent the better part of the last five years promoting natural gas as a more sensible, cost-effective auto fuel than gasoline in the U.S., but has so far been unsuccessful catalyzing a major shift among consumers.
Still, CNG’s undeniable economic advantages as well as its popularity overseas make it an intriguing alternative to gasoline, diesel and batteries, and according to VW, the possibilities for natural gas go far beyond the abundant international reserves that promise to keep prices relatively low for the foreseeable future.
Volkswagen believes that biomethane—which can serve as a renewable substitute for the fossil-fuel form of natural gas—could be the answer to lowering the fuel’s carbon footprint even further. “When 20-percent biomethane is added to the natural gas at the refilling station, this by itself reduces CO2 emissions by 39 percent,” said the company in a press release announcing the Eco Up! “When fueled with pure biomethane, the cars emit up to 97-percent less CO2.”
Currently, VW says biomethane is available at more than a quarter of the natural gas filling stations in Germany.
Will the United States ever yield a significant market share to consumer natural gas vehicles? Depending upon how high gasoline prices rise in the coming years, there could be room in the market for any car that promises to save drivers more than half of their fueling costs. In order for that to happen though, an infrastructure of CNG filling stations will have to emerge—as well as broader availability of vehicles like the Civic GX and Eco-Up! Whether or not the latter happens is squarely in the hands of carmakers like Volkswagen.
by Zach McDonald: HybridCars.com
According to a recent report by What Car, Audi has plans to release a small plug-in hybrid boasting fuel efficiency in the neighborhood of 1 liter per 100 km—or roughly 235 mpg. Audi’s head of research and development, Wolfgang Durheimer, told What Car that although the car hasn’t yet been confirmed for production, it’s one of several new plans for high-efficiency vehicles he has been trying to institute since taking over his post in September.
The vehicle would be built around the carmaker’s A1 platform, but would likely be fine-tuned for optimal aerodynamics and outfitted with ultra-lightweight materials. The conceptual and technological underpinnings of the car are based around parent company Volkswagen’s “one-liter” program, which has been experimenting with vehicles capable of hitting the vaunted efficiency mark for more than a decade.
Confirmed for release in Europe for 2014, the Volkswagen XL1 will be the first “one-liter” production vehicle ever sold. A prototype of the two-seat XL1 was photographed testing in March sporting a set of gullwing doors. The car draws its power from a two-cylinder turbo-diesel engine paired with a 27-hp motor attached to a small lithium ion battery pack. The car will be tuned to switch between electric and gas-electric modes depending upon use to ensure maximum efficiency. Audi’s version of the vehicle would likely carry a very similar configuration.
Despite the range of measures geared at optimizing efficiency, Audi’s attempt at a one-liter would remain true to the carmaker’s luxury standards. “I’m not talking about a car with a lot of deficiencies and things lacking, but a car that delivers everything that a car needs to deliver to the customer, in terms of seat space, climate conditions and comfort,” said Durheimer to What Car.
It’s still not known how much the VW XL1 will cost when it hits the market next year, but given the cost of high strength, light-weight materials, it figures to be very expensive for a two-seat car. An Audi version of the vehicle would likely add a significant luxury premium to whatever the XL1 costs. Neither car would be expected to post earth-shattering sales numbers, and at this point it’s a relative long shot that either are headed to the U.S. market.
Still, Volkswagen and Audi are further demonstrating their commitment to high-efficiency vehicles through a wide range of drivetrain configurations headed to different markets around the world. After establishing a reputation for clean diesel TDI vehicles in the 2000s, both Volkswagen and Audi have lagged somewhat in releasing battery powered hybrids or plug-ins. Now, with multiple plug-in concepts headed to market and in test fleets, it’s beginning to look like the Volkswagen Group’s answer to fuel economy will be “all of the above.”