Hybrid and electric vehicles have been capturing plenty of publicity, and growing numbers of Americans are taking an interest. Translating that interest into an actual purchase is proving to be more difficult.
According to the 2011 AutoTECHCAST Study released by Harris Interactive, potential buyers are concerned about such issues as driving range and the infrastructure (especially for electrics), price compared to a conventional vehicle, and possible maintenance problems.
As reported in the study, 40 percent of consumers who are somewhat interested in a hybrid, or not at all likely to consider buying one, have reservations about replacing the batteries when they’re depleted. Selling price versus long-term savings on fuel was a factor expressed by 46 percent of survey respondents.
Concern over limited driving range for a pure electric vehicle was expressed by 43 percent of respondents. Last year, the figure was 36 percent. Nearly as many (38 percent) felt that charging the vehicle each day would be inconvenient, and 30 percent thought daily charging would be too costly. more
Without a doubt, the Number One worry by motorists who might like an electric car is the prospect of running down the battery, becoming totally immobile. Limited range has been the primary obstacle to EV sales. Plenty of shoppers who could be attracted to an electric develop a case of what’s come to be called “range anxiety,” halting further consideration of an EV.
Even in regions where public charging stations have been erected, drivers have to wonder what might happen if they stray too far from the network of such facilities, and can find no place to “plug in.” Charging stations have been emerging in significant numbers, but they still cover only a minuscule area of the country. In the vast midwestern United States, for instance, no one could count on finding a convenient electrical outlet if an EV’s battery pack happens to become fully discharged. That’s the main reason EV sales have been so skimpy outside of states like California, which has pushed hard for a growing network of public charging facilities.
AAA, known for more than a century for its roadside-assistance services, has come up with a potential–if partial–solution. The nation’s largest motor club has announced a pilot program that will soon be underway in six metropolitan areas. Roadside-assistance trucks will be equipped with mobile electric-vehicle charging capability, providing both Level 2 and Level 3 charging to stranded AAA members with “depleted” electric vehicles. more
Okay, let’s admit this right away. I have range anxiety. While I like the idea of a fully electric car, I think I’d always be eyeballing the gauge that tells me how far I have left on a charge. Luckily, I’m not left out of the enjoyment of the EV car sweepstakes, thanks to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt—an electric car with a gas-powered engine always waiting to kick in if you need more power, or run the battery dry of juice.
So the question is, how different is driving the Chevy Volt versus your current everyday ride? The answer is: surprisingly similar, and yet intriguingly different.
Well, there’s no shock at first glance. The 2011 Chevrolet Volt is a handsome, modern 4-door sedan. Sleek and aerodynamic, it still has room for four (sorry, a rear center console quashes a space for a fifth person) and a convenient hatchback for loading in stuff.
Inside feels more futuristic, with two 7-inch LCD screens, one in front of the driver, and one on the center console. The soft touch buttons under the center stack are really neat, making switchgear in most modern cars feel clunky by comparison. more
Recommendations for dramatically increased fuel economy over the next decade and beyond have garnered considerable attention. Currently, the rules call for a 35.5 mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirement by the 2016 model year. The big question is: What then? Proposals for gas-mileage targets ranging from 47 to 62 mpg have been stated, to take effect no later than 2025. Will fuel savings offset the higher cost of such a fuel-efficient vehicle?
A recent study by the Center for Automotive Research found that with a 62-mpg standard, the amount that a motorist would save in gasoline over a five-year period would not exceed the increased cost of the complying vehicle. As a result, the 62-mpg requirement favored by environmentalists would not be cost-effective. In contrast, several of the less dramatic CAFE targets (47, 51, or 56 mpg) would result in fuel savings that exceeded the increased cost of an average vehicle.
The Obama Administration has put forth a preliminary proposal for increased CAFE standards in 2025, but a specific figure has not yet been stated. Automakers claim the situation deserves more study–but that’s generally a euphemism for outright opposition. more
Typically, there are three ways to address a serious obstacle to progress. You can study it intensely and perhaps interminably, hoping to come up with a workable solution eventually. You can simply complain about it, insisting that a solution is beyond reach. Or, you can take tangible action to initiate the first steps toward making it happen.
Ever since modern-day electric vehicles (EVs) began to reach the market at the end of 2010, plenty of people have been complaining that they’re impractical because of limited range. Others believe there might be an answer to the range question, but they’re certain a lot more study and experimentation will be needed.
At least one prominent tech company, and one governmental entity, is taking the third route: take that first step without further delay.
On June 1, the Oregon Department of Transportation selected AeroVironment Inc. to develop the first phase of a “Green Highway” on the West Coast. High-power (Level 3) electric vehicle fast-charging stations will be set up at eight locations, along the 150-mile stretch of the I-5 Corridor–from the California state line to the Willamette Valley. more
Nissan has launched a humorous, and powerful, new ad campaign for the Nissan Leaf called, “What if everything ran on gas?” The 60-second answer is a well-executed look through the sci-fi “What if?” machine, revealing the challenges of petroleum-fueled computers and horror of a dentist with a pull-start drill.
The full ad will make its world television debut during the NBA’s The Finals on June 12, with brief teasers to be broadcast prior.
The full ad below takes a direct swipe at the Chevrolet Volt, an extended-range hybrid that can operate strictly on electricity—provided the daily needs are limited. But, the Volt has a huge advantage over the Leaf in that simple gasoline extends the operating range to hundreds of miles and the infrastructure for doing so, aka gas stations, is very well established.
Self-proclaimed GM PR flak, Jason Laird, responded with a return jibe via Twitter: A carmaker poking gentle fun at our product ignores tow trucks they need and rental cars they recommend as backup to their product.
Toyota is going full throttle into the world of electronic emersion, with its Entune infotainment system, telematics, and now “Toyota Friend”—a social network for its customers.
Teaming with Salesforce.com to develop the platform, Toyota will offer a private social network for Toyota customers and their cars. Launching in Japan, Toyota Friend will be first introduced on electric vehicles (like the Toyota-Tesla RAV4 EV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHV) due in 2012.
On electrified cars, the network will enable Toyota owners to share experiences and even power outlets for recharging. Customers can choose to extend their communication to family, friends, and others through public social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The service will also be accessible through smart phones, tablet PCs, and other advanced mobile devices. more
Fuel-cell powered cars look to be the next frontier in automotive evolution, operating on the most plentiful atom in the universe by converting hydrogen gas into electricity. Beyond cost, infrastructure—or lack there of—has been a real barrier. But today, the first pipe-fed hydrogen refueling station opened in California, moving this sci-fi transportation solution closer to becoming science fact.
The station is a collaborative effort between Toyota, Air Products, Shell, South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), and the Department of Energy (DOE). Due to the challenges of transporting hydrogen, there are two core solutions for getting this gas into cars: create it on site or pump it by pipe. This is the latter solution. more
In order to compare fairly, we’ve separated current-model hybrid cars from those with ordinary gasoline engines, providing the top five in each category (plus a few runners-up and a quick look at diesels). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides separate estimates for city and highway driving, plus a third figure for combined driving.
Among the hybrid-powertrain cars, Toyota’s Prius tops the frugality list by far, with an estimate of 51 mpg in city driving and 48 mpg on the highway, for a combined figure of 50 mpg. Runner-up is the new-for-2011 Lexus CT 200h, estimated at 43-mpg city/40-mpg highway for a total of 42 mpg.
Just behind, tied for third place, are Honda’s two hybrids: the Civic Hybrid sedan and the new CR-Z two-seat coupe. Both earn estimates of 40-mpg city/43-mpg highway for a combined figure of 41 mpg. However, with manual shift the CR-Z drops to 31/37 mpg (34 mpg combined).
Ford’s hybrid sedan duo ranks in fourth place. The Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ Hybrids are estimated at 41-mpg city/36-mpg highway, for a 39-mpg combined figure.
Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid sedan scores the fifth spot for fuel economy, at 35-mpg city and 40-mpg highway, for a combined estimate of 37 mpg. more
Electric cars have yet to win the hearts of American drivers whose busy lifestyles don’t have room for long periods of downtime while the batteries recharge. Hybrids, on the other hand, are doing better, thanks to their ability to run on electricity or fossil fuels, as needed. Chevy’s Volt is fulfilling that mission so well, according to GM, that a survey of early adopters of the Volt shows that they’re going as much as 1,000 miles between fill-ups at the gas station.
The Volt is powered by batteries backed up by a gasoline-powered electric generator that kicks in when the charge drops. The EPA estimates the Volt will go about 35 miles on its batteries, with some drivers covering almost 350 miles more on the gasoline generator. Voltistas who don’t drive very often or very far typically plug the car in more frequently, using less gas and relying more on the batteries.
The Volt costs $41,000 in the U.S. Both the Volt and an Opel/Vauxhall version of the Volt, called the Ampera, will go on sale in Europe in November. GM sold 1,201 Volts here in the first quarter of the year, and hopes news of the car’s range and flexibility will help lift alternative-drivetrain cars out of the curiosity category and into the realm of practical transportation.
At the New York International Auto Show (NYIAS), Nissan will showcase a motorsports interpretation of its breakthrough Leaf electric car. Dubbed the Leaf NISMO RC, this race car features a 3.9-inch shorter wheelbase than the regular consumer model, and it is 0.8 inches longer and 6.7 inches wider. The most dramatic difference is height, with the NISMO RC sitting more than a foot (13.8 inches) lower than the production Leaf. At 2,068 pounds, the race car weighs in at about 40 percent less than the production vehicle. more
Chevrolet will showcase on of its hottest concept cars this century at the 2011 Seoul Motor Show this week, the Mi-ray. Celebrating the brand’s centennial, this hybrid proves that green machines from mainstream brands needn’t be dull. The powertrain is configured to operate as an electric-only front drive, or all-wheel drive with the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine motivating the rear wheels.
The name “Mi-ray” translates to “future” in Korean, and the car is described as the first future-looking concept GM has debuted in South Korea. more
For a small company, Telsa Motors has been making big ripples in the automotive industry with its electric roadster, Toyota partnership, and soon its electric luxury sedan. Even though the first Alpha-build Model S began road evaluations in December 2010, and it won’t be delivered to customers until mid 2012, the company has stated that pricing will begin at $49,900, after a $7,500 federal tax incentive.
Pricing is tiered based on the storage capacity for the lithium-ion battery pack and projected range, climbing in $10,000 increments. The base car will promise a 160-mile range. The middle model touts a 230-mile range for $59,900, and the top model will give 300 miles for $69,900. more
As Apple has taught us in recent years, an “i” makes everything better. BMW hopes so, as it has launched its new green division called i. Not very search engine friendly, nor easy to pluralize (see Toyota Prii), the brand will be the home to envelope-pushing vehicles and technology that will shape the future of mobility. Or so BMW says.
The first vehicles will include the BMW i3 and i8, not to be confused with the BMW 328i. That’s totally different. (We’re sensing some showroom challenges with this naming.)
Look for more to come about i, as the electrified brand makes its appearance at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show and beyond. more
Ford has donated one of the two Focus Electric prototypes featured on “The Jay Leno Show” in a recurring celebrity driving segment to the Petersen Automotive Museum. These Electric Orange sedans were used throughout the 2010 season for the Green Car Challenge.
Actress Drew Barrymore was the first celebrity guest to accept the show’s racing challenge. Other participants included Steve Carell, Sheryl Crow, Rush Limbaugh, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Serena Williams. At the end of the run, it was Dr. Phil McGraw who recorded the fastest lap of all the celebrities to drive the vehicle. The Focus Electric will now be parked in the museum’s permanent Alternative Power exhibit. more