Ten Electric Cars Coming in 2012

January 3, 2012 lacarguy Tags: , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments


The year 2011 was a landmark year for EVs. We witnessed regional launches of the Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt. These two plug-in cars were the start of a new era for electrified personal transportation. The current American car auto fleet, however, is enormous—and two models alone cannot create change on a large scale.

During 2012, these two plug-in cars will have—depending how you look at it—either competition in the marketplace or help in the movement to electrify transportation

This coopetition includes the Ford Focus Electric, the much-anticipated Tesla Model S, and others. Pike Research predicts that more than 250,000 plug-in vehicles will be sold globally in 2012. Regardless of whether or not this prediction comes true, 2012 will bring more choices in vehicle style, brand, size, performance, and price, for cars with cords.

Here is Top 10 countdown of plug-in cars to look forward to in 2012:

10. LEAF and Volt (Expanded Markets): First on my list is expanding availability of the two cars that kick-started the new era of plug-in vehicles. General Motors rolled out the Volt in four stages during 2011, making it available nationwide at the end of the year. Canada and the UK can expect to see Volts in 2012. The LEAF began shipping to the UK, Japan, and some US states in 2011. Nissan says the LEAF will be available in all 50 US states by March of 2012.

9. Smart ForTwo Electric Drive: Daimler reports that it will launch its third-generation Smart ForTwo Electric Drive to 30 markets around the world in September of 2012. This is a three-month delay for the two-seater initially planned for June 2012. Daimler claims the delay is due to quality control issues at the battery supplier Li-Tec.

8. Honda Fit EV: The Fit EV is scheduled for release in Oregon and parts of California next summer. Only a few hundred cars are expected to reach US shores during 2012, with 1,100 scheduled for production during the next three years.

7. Mitsubishi i: The updated Mitsubishi i-MiEV has been shipping in Japan and the UK for several months. The town of Normal Illinois received hundreds of i’s in 2011 as part of a test program and publicity campaign. The first regularly ordered i was delivered to an owner in Hawaii in December 2011. The national-wide US rollout is scheduled for July 2012. The i is a nice addition to the available EV portfolio because at $29,125 (before state and federal incentives) it is one of the most affordable highway-capable EVs.

6. Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid: With the “Prius Goes Plural” campaign, Toyota has added the Prius V, Prius C, and (relevant to this topic) the Plug-in Prius (PIP). The Prius has a loyal following among green drivers. PIP will be the Prius with the highest MPG rating in the Prius family. This will make it the car of choice for many Prius fans, even with its price premium over the standard model. PIP will be available in 15 states in spring 2012 with nationwide availability in 2013.

5. Ford Focus Electric: Ford initially announced that these were going to start shipping in December 2011. One or two may go out the door, but any real volume won’t happen until Spring 2012. I am looking forward to seeing the EPA rated range and price information. This is the first pure EV of this era from one of the Big 3. It will be a bellwether.

4. Fisker Karma: First promised in 2009, Karma reservation holders have been repeatedly delayed. And with each delay the price ratcheted up, from an initial $80,000 price tag now to $106,000 (as of Dec. 13, 2011). There were a few token deliveries in 2011, including handing key-fobs to Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Gore and Colin Powell. 2012 should be the year for mere mortals, although you will need six figures of cash to make it happen.

3. Toyota RAV 4 EV (Redux): This vehicle is a joint effort between Toyota and Tesla. The original RAV 4 EV was a favorite among the millennium era EVs. It is scheduled for sale in mid-2012. Initially sales will be limited to California.

2. Ford C-Max Energi: The Ford C-Max Energi is a plug-in hybrid version of the Ford C-Max wagon (or compact multi-purpose vehicle, or MPV, as it is referred to in the UK). The 2013 Ford C-Max Energi is planned for launch in North America in 2012, and Europe in 2013.

1. Tesla Model S: This is the car I am most looking forward to driving. Tesla followed the tech development model with an alpha and beta phases in 2011 and production samples are now on the road. Tesla plans to build and sell 6,500 units in 2012. However, unless you are already a reservation holder, you are out of luck because 6,500 people have already put down $5,000 each to get a place in line to buy one. Deliveries are expected to start mid-2012.

There are other plug-in cars—from smaller and less proven companies—that could make it to market in 2012, most notably the Coda Electric Sedan. But Coda, as well as BYD, Zap, Zenn, and Wheego—are dark horses in the emerging market. Of course, the only thing that would be truly surprising in this tumultuous nascent industry would be a year with no surprises.

Electric Car Charging Goes Wireless

December 15, 2011 lacarguy Tags: , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

By Jim Motavalli

Inductive EV charging—look, ma, no wires!—is gaining momentum, with Daimler testing concepts for the new battery version of the B-Class Mercedes and Nissan actively contemplating making it an option on the 2014 LEAF. Wireless charging leader Evatran will sell wireless kits for the LEAF and Chevy Volt next year, and it’s even hooking up with Sears Home Services to bring its Plugless Power to the masses.

The basic technology is familiar from wireless phone charging and the electric toothbrush. There are a few basic obstacles to creating larger versions for cars: high cost; the 10 percent average energy loss today when transferring power from a floor-mounted transmitter to a car-based receiver; and a start-from-scratch regulatory climate. But there’s no question that wireless charging, which creates a magnetic field to pass an electric charge from one coil to another, is on the ascendancy. It certainly addresses anxiety over having to learn a new way to fill your car up with energy—all you have to do is park, and these automated systems will do the rest for you.

Technology on the Move

It’s far too early to tell if wireless technology will eventually triumph over the wall-mounted home charging system, and no automakers have formally adopted it. “All we have done is shown this technology,” says Nissan’s Steve Oldham. “We haven’t confirmed anything. The stuff that is out there is speculation.” But Popular Mechanics claims that wireless will be an add-on for the luxury Infiniti version of the LEAF in 2014. The Rolls-Royce 102 EX Phantom, which I recently test drove in New York, is also set up to use a wireless charger from HaloIPT.

In the system that Nissan demonstrated, drivers simply align their vehicle over an inductive charging mat. A dashboard-based navigation system uses sensors to guide the rear wheels into place. The touchscreen hosts buttons to start and stop a charging session.

In Alignment

Daimler has teamed up with Conductix-Wampfler on plug-free charging for the Mercedes E-Cell. According to Conductix, one big hurdle is the need for exact alignment between the charger and the vehicle. The signal can travel only six inches or so, so the driver is likely to need an automatic parking system to ensure a good lock-in.

Major auto supplier Delphi and wireless leader WiTricity have their own system under development, using technology invented at MIT. Randy Sumner, a spokesman for Delphi Packard Electrical/Electronic Architecture, told me that automakers have shown considerable interest in wireless charging, which could accompany the second-generation EVs coming out in the 2014-2015 time frame.

Priced Like Navigation?

Wireless chargers have definitely gotten smaller and more efficient. Dave Schatz of WiTricity told me he expects consumer systems to eventually cost no more than car-based GPS navigation. Evatran’s Plugless Power floor-based unit is now the size of a small hubcap, with up to 97 percent efficiency between the charger and the car. It’s also more forgiving of poor alignment. Evatran is testing the system on a fleet of a dozen Chevy Volts. But it’s still far too expensive, at $5,000 for an all-in system in 2012.

The General Electric wall-mount WattStation is now available at for $1,099 (none used yet), so Evatran’s Sears play makes sense. According to co-founder Rebecca Hough, Evatran will make its wireless hardware kit (for the Volt and LEAF) available in 2012 for approximately $2,500, with installation (unpriced so far) extra. The basic installation is for people who are lucky enough to have dedicated 240-volt lines in their garages; the standard install includes that line.

Some regulatory and safety issues have yet to be worked out. Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) are set to introduce standards for wireless in the second quarter of next year (fast for SAE), and waiting for that has hindered plans for commercial and public wireless charging. Obviously, you’d want this at Starbucks and the big-box stores, but companies aren’t likely to go ahead without the standards in place.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) issues standards for the strengths of magnetic fields, and Hough says that Evatran has no trouble meeting them. She also says that wireless will incorporate many of the safety provisions built into SAE’s J1772 standard, including safety interconnects and shutoffs.

By the way, claims for inductive charging are somewhat confusing, because there’s a difference between the efficiency measured charger-to-car and the overall system. Evatran boasts an only three percent communications loss, but the overall system is currently at 91 percent. Company engineers think that 93 or 94 percent system efficiency is doable relatively soon, but going beyond 95 percent is a long-term prospect. Would we be happy with a gas station that spilled five percent of the gas on the ground?

John Gartner, a senior analyst at Pike Research, says that widespread will take years to roll out. “It’s of interest to most top automakers, many of which have internal programs in development. The consumer market is still years away. There’s still no common SAE standard, and you don’t want vehicles tied to charging docks, and the cost ($500 per car) is too steep to include on vehicles that aren’t going to use it all of the time. The technologies are all pretty different, so unlike cabled charging, some companies would be left out of any standard that is eventually passed. Qualcomm surprisingly is going after the market in a big way with its recent acquisition of HaloIPT.”

Still, wireless is probably here to stay, but it will take time to develop. “Pike Research sees the market growing slowly from 2013 ($26 million globally) to $233 million globally by 2017,” Gartner said. “Fleets that can share charging docks are the mostly likely early adopters.”

The bottom line here is that inductive charging, which appeared to be abandoned from the last generation of EVs, is now looking more and more practical as a long-term solution. Even if wireless does eventually triumph, however, wired charging is still likely to dominate the early EV years simply because the units will be in place and working. But there’s no reason they can’t happily co-exist.

Toyota Plans for Major Hybrid Growth in U.S.

December 9, 2011 lacarguy, Toyota Tags: , , , , , , , , 2 Comments

by Zack McDonald –

At last year’s Detroit Motor Show, Toyota vice president for U.S. sales, Bob Carter, offered a bold prediction for the direction his company plans to take in the United States over the next decade―and for the country’s vehicle market in general. “We will end the decade with Prius being the number one nameplate in the industry,” said Carter, predicting that the Prius would soon overtake the Camry as the company’s most popular model in the U.S.

Toyota plans to complete work with Ford on a brand new hybrid system for pickup trucks by the end of next year

Almost a year later, it has become increasingly clear that Toyota’s big talk about hybrids is no greenwash. After almost singlehandedly growing the hybrid market from obscurity in the United States, Toyota now sees hybrids primed to conquer the mainstream―and has no intention of ceding its dominance in the sector.

According to a report in Automotive News, Toyota plans to as much as double the number of hybrids it sells in North America by 2015, to 400,000 vehicles per year. Top executives at the company told the publication that Toyota will seek to greatly expand its manufacturing base here―particularly hybrid drivetrain components―in an effort to reduce its reliance on the Japanese supply chain. Growing the American hybrid market will do a great deal to make that shift possible, and Toyota is in the process of radically expanding its U.S. lineup to include more than a half-dozen hybrid models by the end of next year―with even more reportedly on their way.

“Hybrid technology is a trump card for fuel-economy improvement,” said Toyota global research and development head, Takeshi Uchiyamada, in the article.

Toyota also told Automotive News that it plans to complete work with Ford on a brand new hybrid system for pickup trucks by the end of next year. The first Toyota vehicle to be outfitted with the drivetrain will likely be a hybrid version of the Tundra, the carmaker’s largest and most fuel-thirsty pickup, with a combined rating of just 16 mpg.

Even a few miles-per-gallon improvement in a truck like the Tundra will pay big dividends in terms of its operating cost, which could make the car a hit among the fleets and private businesses that make up a substantial portion of the pickup market. Ford’s F-150 EcoBoost model has led all F-150 models in sales this year―accounting for 40 percent of purchases―thanks to its EPA-rated 22-mpg fuel economy.

By expanding its gas-electric offerings across more and more segments, Toyota will be able to grow production of hybrid components, allowing it to reach the economies of scale necessary to diversify its supply chain in the Americas. For hybrid buyers, the important takeaway is that Americans can expect more models and shorter waiting periods in the coming years, as the gas-electric leader seeks to broaden its hold on the market.