Monday, May 2, 2011

Batteries are biggest concern for future of EVs

Hybrid electric vehicle technology is good to read about occasionally to get a feel for what's next with plug-in electric vehicles. There are some differences -- the fact that hybrids haven't absorbed lithium ion batteries being a big one. However, the future of battery systems might be the most important part of the future of plug-in electric vehicles, and whatever revamped versions of hybrids are in the pipeline. 

  • The hybrid battery packs are designed to last for the lifetime of the vehicle, somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 miles, probably a whole lot longer. The warranty covers the batteries for between eight and 10 years, depending on the carmaker and the location.
  • Battery toxicity is a concern, although today's hybrids use NiMH batteries, not the environmentally problematic rechargeable nickel cadmium. "Nickel metal hydride batteries are benign. They can be fully recycled," says Ron Cogan, editor of the Green Car Journal. Toyota and Honda say that they will recycle dead batteries and that disposal will pose no toxic hazards.
  • There's no definitive word on replacement costs because they are almost never replaced. We have seen anecdotal reports of total battery replacements costing about $3,000.
That's much better than hybrid battery systems were known for delivering not that many years ago. You might have bought a hybrid with battery life of 50,000 to 60,000 miles and weak warranty coverage. There was also controversy over the enviro-landfill problems of big batteries being pulled out of Priuses and other competitors and dumped somewhere. Things look much better these days.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Glass Half Full or Half Empty for EVs & Hybrids?

JD Power and Associates has a sad, somber story to tell about the growth potential for hybrid and electric vehicles -- at least in its version of the story. The research company's take on its study results, along with much of the media coverage it received, says that sales of hybrid and electric vehicles will be less than what automakers have been hoping for. Consumers often cite saving money on fuel as a primary benefit of owning an alternative vehicle, yet the reality for many is the initial cost of these vehicles is too high, even as fuel prices in the US soar.

It was a bummer for me to read about the findings of the survey and market report from such as prominent automotive research institution. However, as has been said to me many times over the years in response to my habit of coming to negative assumptions and conclusions, you can see the glass as being half full or half empty.

Here's a taste of the HybridCars version of the story:

"The newly released J.D. Power and Associates 2011 US Green Automotive Study indicates major growth in consumer interest in green cars—including hybrids, clean diesel, plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars. The market research firm expects as much as 10 percent of sales to come from vehicles with these fuel-efficient technologies by 2016. That would represent a four-fold increase in the sales numbers for green cars compared to 2010."

I vote for half full!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Second Life Batteries Could Help Support for EVs in a Big Way

The future of plug-in electric vehicles will be dictated very much by the success ratio of their batteries. Some of the issues are:
  • Lifecycle of the battery technology -- how long with it really last -- 100,000 miles?
  • What will it cost to replace the battery? How much of the vehicle's cost is tied into its battery?
  • What will happen to that depleted battery? Will it become landfill and end up taking away the environmental benefits it produced in its under-the-hood days
The US Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, industry, and academia are teaming to give batteries from EVs a “second life.” NREL’s partner is an industry-academia team led by the California Center for Sustainable Energy. Possible secondary uses for lithium ion batteries include residential and commercial electric power management, power grid stabilization to help provide reliable electricity to users, and renewable energy system firming — which in this case involves using batteries to make power provided to the grid by variable resources such as wind and solar energy more useable. 

No one, as of yet, has comprehensively studied the feasibility, durability, and value of these batteries for second-use applications. So, results from the study can be integrated into strategic planning for extending battery shelf life. Recycling is a big part of corporate sustainability programs -- this could be an important one. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

EV Cup Replacing American Le Mans Series in Green Racing

I was sad to see American Le Mans Series cancel its Race for the Green day at the Long Beach Grand Prix this month. They had the event two years in a row, and we did several great video interviews there. Following green racing is important, as is tracking road tests, military vehicles, motorbikes, planes, boats, big rigs, etc,, that are trying out green fuels and technology. These can be proving grounds for advanced transportation that will eventually spill over to passenger vehicles. Don’t be surprised to see managers from Ford, Mazda, Toyota, GM, Tesla, etc., at green racing events, taking notes. 

Perhaps there is a replacement for American Le Mans Series green conference to fill the void? It could be EV Cup, an electric racing car series that culminates at the California Speedway on Dec. 17. There will be five races in Europe before that, and a series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on Nov. 26. I expect we’ll be at one of them 

Starting in August this year, the EV Cup will hold with five races in Europe before finishing in the U.S., cumulating in a race at the California Speedway (in Fontana, Calif.) on December 17, 2011. 

In addition to the California Speedway race, U.S. race fans will be able to see the race series at the iconic Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey California on November 26, just after Thanksgiving, the second all-electric racing event due to happen there this year. 

The race includes former competitors in American Le Mans Series as well as Formula One British champion Damon Hill and former BBC Top Gear Stig Ben Collins. Could be pretty good stuff – looking forward to it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chrysler Getting Rid of GEM Neighborhood Electric Cars

It's not surprising to hear about Chrysler Group unleashing low-speed electric car maker GEM. It's lineup of bubble-shaped glorified golf-buggies is being sold to Polaris Industries, Inc., makers of everything from snowmobiles and off-road all-terrain vehicles through to motorcycles and its own neighborhood electric vehicles.

Last year, Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) was the focus of a harsh study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that didn't like what it was discovering after doing crash tests on GEM cars. IIHS made a very good point -- these vehicles are safe and reasonable in gated communities such as senior living facilities and work stations where the speed level is low and the risks of head on crashes are basically gone. But out on the road with cars going well over 35 mph, the neighborhood electric vehicles and their passengers are too vulnerable.

GEM has been around for quite a few years. I can remember going to the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Institute annual conference in 2007 and seeing the company's display and golf-cart type vehicles in the ride and drive. It's similar to the hydrogen industry bringing fuel cells to vehicles such as fork lifts -- there are a lot vehicles out there used for commercial apps, and they're a good place to test out new technology like battery-powered and fuel cell vehicles.

Monday, April 25, 2011

GM No Longer Villain in “Revenge of the Electric Car”

Carmaker executives featured prominently in “Revenge of the Electric Car” – GM’s Bob Lutz, Renault-Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn, and Tesla’s Elon Musk – walked the red carpet Friday at the film’s Tribeca Film Festival opening. General Motors should be especially happy with the movie. It comes out five years after “Who Killed the Electric Car,” which was very critical of the company for pulling the plug on the EV1; that car was to be the very first mass market electric vehicle following the crank-up cars from 100 years ago.

"Revenge of the Electric Car," directed by Chris Paine, traces the efforts of GM, Nissan Motor Co., and Tesla Motors to build and sell electric vehicles, starting back in 2008. GM and Tesla gave Paine extensive behind-the-scenes access – as long as footage would not be shown until 2011 – after GM's Volt was in production. Renault-Nissan restricted filmmaker access.

Lutz and GM have long-insisted that the decision to kill the $1 billion EV1 program was not because of conspiracy, but because the company couldn't profitably make EVs that were dependable. Ghosn takes a cautious approach in the film, telling staff to not talk too much about the Leaf, waking up competition. And it delves into Musk sorting through production delays and sifting through problems that had to be resolved before Tesla Motors stood a chance of succeeding.

I’m very much looking forward to the movie coming to theaters in LA, and have seen the original three times.

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's Not All About the Electric Car

While battery-powered, along with alternative and renewable fuel, vehicles are a big part of cleaning up the emissions problem, cargo and people transport vehicles are a very big part of the solution. As has been mentioned here and in ADW Green, there's a lot going on in green transportation moving this forward -- commercial and government fleets, taxi services, executive and luxury transportation, heavy duty trucking, utility and service vehicles, airplanes, ships, mass transit buses, and motorcycles are all seeing testing and deployment of electric vehicles, hybrid technology, biofuels, natural gas, propane autogas, and fuel cell vehicles. Airports and harbor ports are good places to watch to see where a lot is being done in vehicle technology and fueling stations.

Within 10 to 15 years, the 17-mile 710 Freeway corridor will achieve zero emissions for freight transportation at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of CALSTART. Amburg was one of the speakers this week on a panel put on by South Coast Air Quality Management District. Van Amburg sees this happening through dual-mode hybrids trucks, which would run on battery power in the ports and on a hybrid engine outside the port area.

The LA and Long Beach ports have had a fight on their hands moving toward their emissions targets. Long Beach settled a federal court lawsuit by the American Trucking Associations and the LA port is still tied up in litigation. It is moving forward, even if it ends up being less strict than the LA port authority had originally intended. And then there's the question of cargo ships and their fuel sources. Much more is to be done for cleaning the air in this, and other, rapidly growing ports.