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.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Synthetic Bio-based Motor Oil for Earth Day -- Look for More of this Soon

So how does bio-based synthetic motor oil, made from a blend of American grown base oils, sound to you? It could reduce our addiction to foreign, imported oil, and from petroleum. So you'd get to make a contribution to the US economy, reduce the power of OPEC nations and the cost of foreign oil imports, remove offshore oil spills, help out your pocketbook as oil prices skyrocket, and reduce noxious emissions into the atmosphere. Sounds pretty good to me!

In Celebration of Earth Day, Green Earth Technologies, Inc., a US manufacturer and marketer of "green" environmentally safer consumer packaged goods and products, has a campaign to "Change Your Oil, Change the World!", encouraging consumers to switch from their current petrochemical motor oil brand to G-OIL, the world's first and only American Petroleum Institute (API) Service SM Certified 5W-30 Bio-based Full Synthetic Motor Oil, grown and made in the USA. The company says the bio-based full synthetic motor oil provides superior performance and protection during the maximum oil change intervals recommended by vehicle manufacturers.

I think we're going to see a lot more synthetic motor oil and engine fuel in the next few years. As mentioned, oil prices are rising, government regulations toughening up, and a lot of consumers want freedom from oil addiction, improved pocketbook efficiency, and cleaner air. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Audi A3 Plug-in Hybrid Could Wed Clean Diesel and Battery Power

Audi could be in a very good position for attracting attention from green car shoppers. The company introduced an A3 plug-in at the Shanghai auto show this week. The version of the car being presented at the show is an A3 e-tron PHEV with a turbocharged, direct-injection 4-cylinder gas engine with a 20 kiloWatt electric motor and a rechargeable 12-kW-hour lithium-ion battery pack that can go 34 miles on battery before the gas engine kicks in. It will get up to 238 horsepower when gas and electric sources are operating in tandem.

So, what if Audi combined the award winning, high mileage turbocharged diesel engine A3 TDI with its plug-in hybrid technology? I would think the diesel engine range would be farther than the 34 miles the gasoline engine goes. The Edmunds article doesn't mention the diesel engine version. The A3 plug-in hybrid could be on the road by 2013. The gas-powered powered version of the new A3 is due to hit showrooms next year, and Audi also has shown an all-electric version of the present A3 sportwagon. But let's wait and see if clean diesel and plug-in are wedded someday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nissan Leaf Value of Zero Ad Spot Aimed at 3 Interest Groups

Nissan is showing a clever commercial called, "The Value of Zero," which rolls through images of zeroes including a frog's eye, a chalkboard numeral, a bald man's top of head, a pregnant woman's tummy. The benefits of zero, according to the ad spot are:

1. Zero dependency on foreign oil
2. Zero pollutants in the environment
3. Zero depletion of the ozone

Like other green vehicle and fuel marketing, this is attempting to reach three interest groups, which for many people cross over to varied beliefs and opinions:

1. Foreign oil -- could include George W. Bush, T. Boone Pickens, and millions of others with resentment towards the oil industry and OPEC.
2. Pollutants -- this is the classic concern about smog spewing from a car's tailpipe.
3. Depletion of the ozone -- addresses those concerned about climate change and global warming.

So, some people would agree with all three statements, some one out of three. A lot of people could care less about any of it, as long as they get gas in their car, money in their wallet, and food on the table. The Nissan ad is designed with a bit more sophistication, and is aimed at those with knowledge and opinions on the power and negative impact of traditional gas-powered vehicles and the oil needed to run them. Who would care enough to buy a Leaf.

"Suddenly zero starts adding up... Zero is worth everything," the ad says.

Monday, April 18, 2011

HELP!!! Your feedback needed on what should be covered as Automotive Digest Weekly Green goes daily

Before too long, Automotive Digest Weekly Green will become daily and called Green Automotive Digest Daily. We very much need to get reader feedback on what people want to know about green cars and fuels. So this is where you come into the picture…

How this works:
Read my concept (below) for daily newsletter subjects, and themes/topics that will be addressed. Keep in mind that breaking news stories will be covered every day – so it won’t just be about these topics each day.
Send me a reply email with your thoughts on the subject – jon@automotivedigest.com, or post a comment on this blog.

Here are some questions that might be useful for you to think about as you read the concept…

  • How much would this grab your attention? 
  • Would everything be covered that you’d want to read about? 
  • Is there anything missing that you want to read about? 
  • Would this stand out and be distinctive from other news and information sources you’re accessing on green cars and fuels, or that you have some familiarity with? 
  •  Any other thoughts on the subject? 

Having said that, here’s my concept for the format I’m thinking of about creating…

Monday: Green machines
Plug-in electric vehicles, hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, natural gas vehicles, propane conversions, flexible fuel vehicles, clean diesel engines, and fuel efficient gas engines. Plus, other green transportation modes – racing, motorcycles, jets, boats, big rigs, etc.

Tuesday: Clean energy and fuels
Battery technology, electricity plant power sources, renewables, biofuels, natural gas, propane autogas, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels.

Wednesday: Traffic gridlock solutions
Car sharing, mass transit, fleet management, vanpools, group transportation, bicycling, HOV lanes, telematics and navigation systems, vehicle safety, and intelligent vehicles and roads of the future.

Thursday: Smart cleantech
Charging stations, smart grids, connectivity, technology innovations, energy efficiency, hydrogen highways, green automaking and marketing, and corporate sustainability programs.

Friday: Best of this week
Reruns, highlights, and summaries of the editorial content from Monday through Thursday editions, covering all four daily categories and important news.

Themes and topics to cover:
  • Gasoline and diesel prices 
  • Recovering from our oil addiction 
  • Political battles and regulatory mandates 
  • Environmentalist group action 
  • Problems and uphill climbs faced by green vehicles and fuels 
  • The latest in charging, connectivity, and smart apps 
  • Green vehicle launches and makeovers 
  • Significant happenings around the world 
  • Advanced, innovative automotive technology 
  • Renewable energy and fuel 
“Other”
Your comments, suggested changes, viewpoints, questions, diatribes, insults, prophetic visions, shopping lists, etc. – whatever else you want to include with your feedback.

Rewards of taking this survey:
  • You will have a positive effect on a media source that some people read and take seriously, and that influences their decisions on green machines and fuels. 
  • If there are a few things I need to know about this editorial structure concept, tell me, even if I don’t want to hear it. Especially if I don’t want to hear it. 
  • I will only have good things to say about you! 
So go for it! Thank you, in advance.

Jon LeSage

Thursday, April 14, 2011

DOE Study Guide on Alternative Fuels to Know About

Ever wonder what categories of alternative fuels (something besides gasoline or diesel) are on the market, and which ones are in development? I do, and it's important to follow. Some of the race cars being tested around the world use these fuels and are testing out advanced alternative fuels and technologies. Solar race cars have been tested for years and could offer a renewable-energy powered car someday. As for now, the categories that are on the market and not just for test cars, according to Dept. of Energy, are:

Electricity
Ethanol
Biodiesel
Natural gas
Propane autogas
Hydrogen
Methanol

There isn't much methanol left, but it's still in use in small quantities. It was very big in the early 1990s, especially in fleet programs, but it eroded engines rapidly and wreaked havoc.

Here's the other categories of fuel currently under development, much of which came to be under the Energy Policy Act of 1992:

Biobutanol - an alcohol that can be produced through processing of domestically grown crops, such as corn and sugar beets, and other biomass.
Biogas - produced from the anaerobic digestion of organic matter such as animal manure, sewage, and municipal solid waste. After it is processed to required standards of purity, biogas becomes a renewable substitute for natural gas.
Biomass to Liquids (BTL) - a term describing processes for converting diverse biomass feedstocks into a range of liquid fuels.
Coal to Liquids (CTL) - processes for converting coal into liquid fuels.
Fischer-Tropsch Diesel - made by converting gaseous hydrocarbons, such as natural gas and gasified coal or biomass, into liquid fuel.
Gas to Liquids (GTL) - a process for converting natural gas into liquid fuels.
Hydrogenation-Derived Renewable Diesel (HDRD) - product of fats or vegetable oils—alone or blended with petroleum—that have been refined in an oil refinery.
P-Series - a blend of natural gas liquids (pentanes plus), ethanol, and the biomass-derived co-solvent methyltetrahydrofuran (MeTHF) that are formulated to be used in flexible fuel vehicles.
Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel - diesel fuel with lower sulfur content enacted nationwide in 2010.

There might be other categories to consider, especially in realm of biofuels. It might already be included in the DOE's BTL category, but there's always investment, research, and development being made in algae biofuel, cellulosic ethanol, and other advanced biofuels. Synthetic fuels are also being tested, too, which are scientifically redesigned versions of gasoline and diesel with lower emissions and better efficiency.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Going Gaga for Green Jobs

As part of an environmental group in my hometown of Long Beach, Calif., I've become involved with networking with teachers and student groups to give educational presentations. I tell them "green cars and fuels," and other topics that can be presented by our group leadership. There's some interest on their part, but not really that much. Teachers are way busy with students, especially high school classes studying like mad for the state exams on english and math skills that teachers and students now have to devote nearly all their time to.

I recently got the idea of mentioning green jobs as the topic. I happen to be one of these people -- laid off a job two years ago and then going after green job opportunities, which led to being the editor of ADW Green and driving on the weekends for a green chauffeured transportation company. I will talk about it, and tell kids about the variety of training programs and job fairs available to them now. This can be connected to solar panel installations, recycling and waste management, tree planting and lawn composting, automotive service and maintenance, energy efficiency programs, and a variety of other opportunities.

So I called a principal at one of the local high schools, and mentioned topics we cover. When I said "green jobs," the response was, "When can you get here?" The school wanted me there for three days, and I had to say only two, and limited times on those days. I will be doing more of these presentations and writing a Frequently Asked Questions booklet on it, too. Clearly a hot topic.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Take on the KBB Top 10 Green Cars List

Kelley Blue Book just released its annual green car top 10 list, and here it is:

#1: 2011 Nissan Leaf | 99 mpg equivalent
#2: 2011 Chevy Volt | 93 mpg equivalent
#3: 2011 Toyota Prius | 50 mpg (51 city, 48 highway)
#4: 2011 Lexus CT 200h | 42 mpg (43 city, 40 highway)
#5: 2011 Honda Insight | 41 mpg (40 city/43 highway)
#6: 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid | 39 mpg (41 city/36 highway)
#7: 2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI | 34 mpg (30 city/42 highway)
#8: 2011 Hyundai Elantra | 33 mpg (29 city, 40 highway)
#9: 2012 Fiat 500 | 33 mpg (30 city/38 highway)
#10: 2012 Ford Focus | 31 mpg (28 city/38 highway)

My thoughts on the subject:
1. The mileage ratings come from the automakers and may not be exactly real world. The Leaf and Volt are the toughest ones to figure out with comparisons to EPA mileage ratings of conventional gasoline engine vehicles. The Volt rating is much higher than what the EPA gave it. Much of it has to do with the type of daily driving usage that goes into it. It's like Chevrolet execs saying Volt owners are typically driving 1,000 miles between charges. That would depend completely on your driving conditions; how many mile you drive per day, how often you charge the battery, and the climate and elevation conditions would be especially pertinent.

2. This is the first time the Toyota Prius hasn't made the number one spot in several years. It's kind of sad to see the icon of green cars drop down to number three.

3. There are no turbo-diesel engines like the Audi A3 TDI or Volkswagen Jetta TDI. These cars are known for excellent fuel mileage and high performance.

4. The Lexus CT 200 hybrid might make a splash in the luxury hybrid arena.

5. It's odd that the Fiat 500 made the list. It's new to the US market and there isn't much driver experience to tap into and cite as evidence that it's a good buy. The mileage is good, but there's several hybrid and conventional gas engine cars that do better and didn't make the list.



Monday, April 11, 2011

Nuclear Lessons Learned from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Chernobyl

As details come out on the Japanese nuclear power plant crisis, there's bound to be comparisons to three horrific incidents. Two of these being the atomic bomb attacks by the US in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the other being the nuclear power plant disaster in Chernobyl in 1986, that the Soviet government attempted to cover up.

This from Greenwire: "The collected medical histories from the survivors of the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki have never been more visible, as another radiation crisis has gripped Japan. With few exceptions, each invocation of the possible cancer risk -- or lack of risk -- poised by the failed reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has its origins in the lives of atomic bomb survivors."

This as a letter to the editor from attorney Raffaele Ferrante: "...nuclear power stations in general, when they stop working, require an infinite cooling of the radioactive materials, which, especially in the event of disasters, becomes very difficult to achieve, and which, for example, they are not managing to carry out in Japan. It is essentially an unequal struggle against heat. Heat which, if it sooner or later prevails against the emergency systems adopted to halt it, causes fusion, or, as at Chernobyl, explosion, but in the meantime -- until the final and perhaps unlikely cooling -- causes the release of radiation. A drama that cannot be resolved by covering the reactors with cement or anything else, because, at Chernobyl, it was possible precisely because the radioactive material had exploded, so all they covered was the debris of the explosion, which incidentally still continues to 'burn'. Here, however, this monstrous material, moreover in much greater quantities than Chernobyl, is still there, and should it explode or melt down, nothing would be able to contain it."

Perhaps the three damaged nuclear power plants in Japan -- Fukushima, Onagawa, and Higashidori -- have wreaked havoc on the population -- genetic mutation causing yet another wave of cancer for Japanese people. The Japanese government will have to do better than the Russians. Concealing damaging evidence makes it worse. Whatever must be done to resolve the crisis must be done. The future of nuclear power in Japan and in the western world, where it commonly serves as an electric power station energy source, must be examined carefully for public and environmental health and safety.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Honda Insight a Prius copycat but makes dollars and sense

I've mistaken the Honda Insight hybrid for a Toyota Prius -- it looks very similar, is about the same size, and is a hybrid. It's only been on the market for about two years and has done fairly well in sales lately as gas prices rise, but it does look like a Prius copycat. Given that opinion, how do they compare?

The Insight offers a combined mpg of 41, and an MSRP of $19,800. The Prius goes 50 mpg and has an MSRP of $22,800. So $3,000 more for nine more miles per gallon. That means if you drive 15,000 miles per year, you would need 300 gallons to fuel the Prius that distance, and about 366 to power the Insight. If gas is $4 a gallon, that means you'd be paying $264 dollars per year more to gas up the Insight compared to the Prius. That would take 11 years for the prices to even out with manufacturer suggested retail prices.

Gas will be going up over $4 a gallon nationally, and has already done so in California. So that time span will probably be much shorter. There are other things to consider for long-term ownership of these cars -- maintenance and repairs, durability and reliability, how long the battery lasts and what it costs to replace it, etc. So the Insight seems to make dollars and sense. But, do you like it enough? If you're really into the Prius, it would be a tough choice.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

You thought you had great mpg?

GM says drivers of the Chevy Volt have been driving 1,000 miles between gas ups. Pretty good, huh? So the way this is supposed to work is that average drivers are going short distances in their commuter car -- 30-40 miles, and the Volt holds up on the charge. They charge up at work or more likely at home, and don't need to use the gas tank for much of anything at all. Perhaps the EPA window stickers are going to be thrown out the window?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sugar Ethanol Could Be Good and Sweet for America

Corn-based ethanol has its enemies and critics in the US and beyond, yet it remains the main source of biofuels being used here now in flex-fuel vehicles and for 10% of the gasoline in about three quarters of US retail gas stations. One country that has been producing and gassing up on more ethanol than the US is Brazil, which gets its ethanol from sugar cane. There are a few experts who say sugar could work well as an ethanol source in the US, but coming from sugar beets instead of sugar cane.

In North Dakota, agribusiness specialists formed the Green Vision Group to explore sugar beets as a feedstock for ethanol production. The group is planning to build a $20 million plant to demonstrate the viability of energy beets as an ethanol feedstock, according to The Detroit Bureau. Cole Gustafson, a professor at North Dakota State University, makes good points about the benefits of sugar cane ethanol. Gustafson is working with Green Vision on its plans for a processing center, and said sugar plants have an advantage over corn because they require one less processing step. Corn’s starches have to be converted to sugar before the conversion to alcohol. Sugar cane ethanol could possibly be more cost effective and environmentally safe than corn ethanol.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Biofuels Huge Opportunity for Oil Companies, But Challenges Abound

Oil companies face impingement upon their traditional sphere of influence and challenges to grow the alternative energy side of their businesses, according to Accenture, which recently tracked the race for leadership in alternative fuels and technology between the US and China. According to the report, "Biofuels is the area that makes most sense for oil companies, as it aligns most easily to existing infrastructure and knowledge. However, biofuels growth in China will be carefully managed by government departments to ensure no impact is seen on the availability of food, although we are not seeing the level of government involvement that is afforded to electric vehicles."

Major oil companies are continuing to make investments in biofuels, but there's not one clear winner. Cellulosic and algae biofuels get a lot of support and funding, but both have significant limitations for meeting federal targets in the US and in China. Corn ethanol still takes the driver's seat in the US. As for now, China is fueling most of its vehicles with diesel and it's yet to be seen what alternative fuels and technology will expand in the rapidly growing Chinese transportation market.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Overhearing conversations about electric cars

At the Plug-in Electric Vehicle Infrastructure USA conference in San Diego last week, panelists spoke about the latest in electric car charging station integration across the country. Attendees included utility execs, charging technology suppliers, Mercedes-Benz, T-Mobile, consultants, and analysts. Small attendance but very detailed and technical chats between insiders. Here are a few things I heard in video interviews and what others nearby were talking about...

1. Research and development folks are testing out very fast charging technology (5 minutes?) that combine supercapacitors with batteries.

2. The nuclear meltdown in Japan is raising hackles about nuclear power in Washington DC and other places, but it's not appearing to deflate electric car support at this time. Dirty coal is a bigger issue to handle for public support of electric vehicles.

3. Batteries are the real issue for electric cars -- how long will they last in the Nissan Leaf, what will be the cost and impact of replacement, and what happens to the battery systems when they're removed?

4. Telematics and connectivity will play a big role in the future of the EV infrastructure for fleet and retail owners.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fleets Might Save the Day for Green Machines

It's still too early to know if consumer retail car buyers are taking plug-in electric vehicles from early adopters to mass market numbers. Coverage shows that gas prices will have to rise even higher, and public information will have to spread widely before consumers buy a lot of them. If the neighbor/cousin/co-worker has good things to say about the Leaf, Volt, or other plug-in car, then people will be won over. Questions need to be answered:  How much do you really save in lifecycle from purchase to remarketing? How safe and reliable are they? How does home charging work and what does it cost? How do you compare per mile expense of battery power versus gasoline? Are the environmental and oil reducing benefits worth me buying into it?

Fleet customers are very important. That should go without saying, but this time, the rules of the game are changing a bit. Fleets typically have ordered "jelly bean" cars that have been on the market for a while and the automakers need to unload them somewhere. Now, certain fleets have become early adopters for plug-in electric vehicles, as they are with hybrids, natural gas-, propane-, and ethanol-powered vehicles, and perhaps will be with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

President Obama just added weight to my fleet buyer argument. He just announced that the federal fleet will only be buying advanced technology vehicles (including hybrids and plug-ins) by 2015. We're talking about a 600,000 vehicle fleet -- very big. Obama has been getting criticized lately for dropping the ball on climate change and carbon emissions. I would say cheers to him for his strong support for green machines. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Big Day for Green Car News in my Email Inbox

Today was one of those days when media coverage was packed with significant stories about green machines, alternative and renewable energy, and other positive trends. (The Detroit Bureau continues to play a very important role in tracking these stories, and cheers to Environmental Leader.) So here are a few media highlights from my email inbox today:

The California assembly joined the senate yesterday in approving a mandate for 33% of the state's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, up from 20%.

President Obama says the federal government will buy only hybrids, plug ins, and other advanced technology vehicles for its fleet of 600,000 units by 2015. Cutting oil imports and using more domestic oil and gas is part of the new bi-partisan plan.

Pike Research predicts that the volume of plug-in hybrid electric vehicle sales in US will reach 204,110 by 2015. In the U.S. and Canada, plug-in hybrids will represent 71% of all electric vehicle sales in 2015.

Last year, clean energy investment across the globe grew by 30%, to $243 billion last year, with China continuing to solidify its position as the world’s clean energy leader by investing a record $54.4 billion in 2010.

Eco-friendly auto shops are popping up nationwide, offering green tune-ups for the masses with gas-guzzling vehicles.

Tesla Motors has sued the popular BBC program, “Top Gear,” claiming it maliciously lied about the company’s 2-seat Roadster. The episode said a Tesla Roadster experienced several breakdowns while being tested.

Speaking at the Center for Automotive Research’s conference, Canadian auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers said that vehicles with new powertrain technologies, particularly hybrids have been somewhat successful. He said this could be the decade of the hybrid as the technology finds its way into more cars.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Algae Biofuels -- Success or Failure?

According to Greenwire, algae biofuels are washing away, and photosynthesis is a better use of investment dollars. The publication says that while several startups launched into algae fuels over the past half decade, it's not growing... "Often ignorant of algae's biology, these companies stumbled into major physical and engineering hurdles that can derail most of their lofty goals, industry and government experts say."

The opposite is being claimed by market research firm Emerging Markets Online CEO Will Thurmond, who sees algae biofuels and a host of other advanced fuels, growing in global markets. Thurmond has done a lot of studies and speaking on the subject

So which one is true, which one more accurate? I recently heard that a well known author and advocate for biofuels just received $1 billion in investor funds for development of algae biofuels. As far as advanced biofuels go, it still seems to be the most valid and likely successful method as we move away from corn and sugar cane ethanol.


Monday, March 28, 2011

BP Covering Up Oil Spill, Nuclear Power Safety, Affordable 40s, OUCH Volvo

BP Covering Up Oil Spill: BP is not admitting how much oil got spilled last year in the Gulf following the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The company refuses to admit a figure on the amount of oil leaded or CO2 emitted in the spill, which has been named the largest oil spill in US history. BP said that it left these numbers out because of "a lack of definitive figures." Not even a good guestimate? 

Nuclear Power Safety: Nuclear experts will flesh out details of the crisis unfolding in Japan and its implications for nuclear safety in the United States for key Senate and House energy committees this week. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Executive Director of Operations Bill Borchardt will start the process speaking to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about the status of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors on Japan's northeastern coast. The trick will be for nuclear experts to calm nerves and assert that the US nuclear energy structure is much safer.

Affordable 40s: The trick these days is buying a fuel efficient car to offset gas price spikes. Car shoppers have a lot of options now looking for 40 MPGers from just above $15,000 to slightly less than $20,000 for a 2011 Ford, Chevy, Hyundai, or Smart. This doesn't even include hybrids or plug-ins. The Hyundai Elantra will probably be the highest volume selling member of the 40-mpg club.

OUCH Volvo: Volvo's anticipated electric crossover, the C30 Electric, has been impressive to hear about. In the historic Volvo tradition, it's done well in crash testing and should prove to be safe and reliable. The problem is a lease price, $2,100 a month -- OUCH!!! That is expected to plunge when the next Volvo battery car debuts.

Friday, March 25, 2011

5 Points on Fuel Cell Vehicles, EVs Free from Coal and Nuclear

Did you know that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are actually very fast charging electric vehicles? Not plug-in vehicles, but fuel-cell powered.

There are five pieces of the puzzle about hydrogen fuel cell vehicle technologies that are good to understand: a tank that stores hydrogen; a fuel-cell stack that converts hydrogen and oxygen into heat and water, creating electricity; lithium-ion batteries that store the electricity; a power unit that controls the flow of electricity to the electric motors that propel the vehicle; and unlike a battery-powered vehicle that can take six, seven, eight or more hours to recharge, a hydrogen refill takes about 3.5 minutes.

Another interesting fact about electric vehicles: a new study by a nonprofit called the California Center for Sustainable Energy recently found that 40% of consumers who own the all-electric Nissan Leaf also have solar panels on their homes. That is a really something, especially considering the fact that some observers are very nervous about electric vehicles being charged by kilowatts coming from coal- or nuclear-powered electricity plants.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Greenwashing Can Mean a Black Eye

A British survey found the UK public is highly skeptical of companies "greenwashing" -- promoting their green programs to reduce carbon emissions to sound good, but not necessarily taking action significantly or consistently. Just 7% of consumers take companies at their word on their actions to reduce climate impacts, according to a damning new report.

Businesses are risking a costly backlash due to customers’ perception of greenwashing, the UK's Carbon Trust said. Just over half of respondents said they are concerned that companies make one-time improvements to win publicity, before returning to business as usual.

The British survey is similar to what's been investigated in the US market, and which has been going on consistently in the past 10 years, especially the past 3-4 years. It's all in the realm of trends going on now -- corporate responsibility, ethics, accountability to the public and the environment, stricter government guidelines, etc. 

For automakers, suppliers, and dealers, there are strides being taken forward by certain companies encompassing the manufacturing process and end products -- what goes into the car, and its fuel efficiency and emissions. From there, what about the assembly plants and corporate offices  -- energy usage, recycling, conservation, etc. Some companies are putting a lot into this process -- Ford, Honda, GM, Toyota, and Tesla would probably be in the top five. It's still fairly new to the car business and scrutiny is being done in the process.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Europe's Nuclear Power Supporters for EVs Have Mess to Clean Up

It turns out that coal-fired power plants being the primary source of power for electricity generators plants isn't the only environmental concerns for plug-in electric cars. As a story in Automotive News mentions, the disaster in Japan's nuclear power grid has been sending shock waves around the world, especially in Europe. Nuclear power is a primary source for electric plants in Europe -- for example, electric plants in France are dominated by nuclear power. Nuclear power was a big part of the success formula for powering electric cars in Europe'a future.

Plans to have a million EVs on European roads by 2020 heavily relied on nuclear-generated electricity. Nuclear power is necessary for making EVs carbon neutral, proponents have said in Europe, and coal or natural gas as sources for power plants can't provide that neutrality, they say.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Blended Gasoline a No No for Many Car and Machine Buffs

Some people are quite upset that ethanol makes up 10% of the gasoline at 70% of US gas stations. And the fact that the number will be going up to 15% eventually under EPA rules. These critics include motorcycle and vintage/classic car drivers, along with owners of boats, snowmobiles and garden tractors, who don't get the same kind of performance out of E10 as they do out of pure gasoline. Here's what the New York Times has to say about it:

"Restorers of vintage cars point to problems caused by the decay of older rubber components like seals, gaskets and flexible fuel lines, which can deteriorate when exposed to ethanol-blend fuels. Some replacement parts are available in modern materials that resist alcohol damage, but not all are."

The ethanol/biodiesel industry is doing well supplying gas stations with ethanol for gasoline blends. There's also pressure from the federal government to increase the volume of renewable fuel distributed in the country. It's the source of conflict for various interest groups, and the pressure will be increasing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Confessions of a Green Car Chauffeur in Hollywood

The next time you go through LAX and see guys in the baggage claim holding greeting signs and wearing black suits, white shirts, and ties… take a second look… one of them might be me. While the employer will remain anonymous for now, I figured it was time to mention how I’ve been spending my weekends for the past few months. (If you invite me to a party on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, don’t take it personally if I can’t make it. Now, if you’re invitation is much better than lost income, I will take your offer into consideration. Another option you have for spending time with me is hiring me as your chauffeur for your social gathering on the weekend. I’ll see that you get a discount and will only request a very reasonable tip.)

Another surprise I’m going to announce right now: Chauffeuring can work pretty well in a Toyota Prius. I have yet to hear one person complain about getting into a Prius instead of a Town Car. The backseat is roomier than the original Priuses (now called Prii – see below) that you can still see driving by. And it’s a bigger car overall. I’ve been assigned a 2008 Prius with nearly 100,000 miles on it. I did get to test drive a 2010 Prius at an event last year. The 2010’s dashboard technology fills more space and is more graphically impressive, but it’s basically the same car in size and standard features.

Lately there’s been a lot of coverage of the upcoming Prius family – plans include the seven passenger Prius V and compact Prius C Concept – but don't say Prius, say Prii. Toyota got public feedback on how to pluralize the famous brand name now that there's going to be more versions of them on the road. Results were announced at the Chicago Auto Show, and voting was kicked off January 10th at the Detroit Auto Show. It went so well that Dictionary.com added the new word to its Prius listing. So it is now official.

When you talk to Prius drivers (me being one of them), they do have good things to say. There are a few criticisms too, including: 

  • The rear window could be better. Most of it is covered by a tinted layer to reduce glare, but it also makes rear view vision less clear. 
  • The car is low to the ground and balanced, but it is slightly clunky and noisy going over speed bumps and the like. 
  • The instrument panel is readable, but some of the data gets old. Is the Prius really getting 99.9 miles per gallon right now, and does that really mean anything? 
  • It's nice but not luxurious – the feel of a commuter car. 

I would add a few good points to this review: 

  • It's safe, reliable, and dependable. 
  • The interior is roomier and spacier than the first generation version, and a good one to pack luggage and drive somebody home from the airport. 
  • The only problem I've seen on a 2008 model with about 100,000 odometer miles is the air conditioning touch screen control panel went wacky recently and had to be replaced. 
  • The base price is about $23,000 these days. When people complain about hybrids costing $5K to $10K more than non-hybrid counterparts, it's hard to criticize the Prius for its price point. 
  • The mileage is very good – usually around 50 mpg combined. That needle doesn't go over to Empty for quite a while, and you're probably only filling up about 10 gallons. As gas prices spike up consistently, my love affair with the Prius deepens. 

As for chauffeuring, I don’t see this being my long-term career. I need the money now, and it’s good to be driving a green car and gaining real world experience about it. I also have driven a CNG-powered Town Car. Remember the story about the angry neighbor stopping by and telling me about his CNG Ford Contours that he couldn’t get repaired? I haven’t seen him since then. Perhaps he and his wife and dog did leave the country in rage over Ford and the EPA.

You do have to gas up the CNG version more often than a regular Town Car (it goes about 75% of the distance of a gasoline version before the tank runs out), and the Clean Energy natural gas stations can be few and far between. And there’s a bad thing that can happen – you run out of natural gas, and you have to be towed and sometimes have a service technician check out the valve before filling up the tank. Either way, you get towed before you can fill up again. You can’t walk to a gas station and fill up a plastic gas tank at the pump to take back to your car, when you’re working with natural gas. The CNG vehicle does have great emissions ratings and an HOV car pool sticker. Natural gas is a better buy than gasoline – especially as gas prices hike – and you do get used to driving it and gassing up regularly as part of your schedule. You can also get a more efficient, longer range natural gas vehicle, many of them LNG and some CNG, depending on the quality of the aftermarket supplier. The match between engine/drivetrain and natural gas as its power source can work well for certain makes and models like the Honda Civic GX and a few of the Ford and GM natural gas conversion light trucks.

There was also the opportunity I had to drive a Lexus RX450h hybrid. I drove a celebrity to an awards show back in October (yes, LA has awards shows that basically go from September until the Oscars in late February). When I drove him and his assistant onto the lot with a “Talent” sign on the dashboard, we were directed to a roped-off spot where media asked questions and flashed cameras. I felt like I was in a movie. Regardless of that, the RX450h was a treat to drive – very smooth, and plenty of power as needed. It’s a very comfortable and luxurious ride with great stuff to see on the dashboard control panel, almost too good as to be distracting. Getting better mileage than non-hybrid luxury SUVs is also a good thing.

I do have a lot of respect for chauffeurs. They have to get up damn early and wait in the dark for someone to come out of the house with their baggage. They get used to showing up early and waiting for someone who’s late, sometimes having to call in to dispatch and let them know. And always be 15 minutes early to the spot, never get lost, meet client requests at all times, and be at a high level of customer service. The tips can be good, and you do get to meet some, well, interesting people:

Five Categories of Hollywood Backseaters 

Talent
– Celebrities, usually actors who are referred to as “talent” by the entertainment industry, and where it’s possible you’ll access an event with that word on a dashboard sign to let the studio know you’ve got one in the back seat. One thing I’ve listened to while driving Hollywood celebrities is conversations they’re having where they tell a spouse, friend, or agent about the unsatisfying and frustrating meetings they’ve just had, where people aren’t being upfront about offering the work and what it will pay. Sometimes this involves bad words, such as, “They are totally f%8#cking me over!” Another interesting listen involved a guy who used to be in a famous pop group and had his own TV variety show a few years ago. His complaint was about his Twitter account – where somebody selling a lot of vitamins and supplements tried to sound like they were his buddy posting helpful suggestions about what and where to buy good stuff for their health. He had to out them in a few of his tweets before it stopped. Another crumb of interesting celebrity gossip: some of them take fake names to protect themselves from the paparazzi and annoying fans. One client uses a character name from an Ayn Rand novel. 

Friendly, Fun & Creative – You can have some really cool conversations with Hollywoodites. Sometimes they’re screen writers, production crew, marketing/communications people, or have absolutely nothing to do with entertainment biz, live in LA, and want to be chauffeured. They do ask good questions and have their own opinions about green cars. They actually speak to you as if you’re a real human being, not just a machine driving a machine. 

Distant & Detached – Usually nicely dressed, business like, packed with the latest smart technology that they live off oc. You can drive these people more than once, and they don’t remember you from before. This fact applies not just to Hollywoodites. I hear that chauffeurs know this cross country, cross industry. Business people living off their phone, sending emails, or spacing out in thought. 

Total Jerks – These people, usually men but sometimes women, seem to get a charge out of being total jerks and love that they’re known for spewing out rants and attacks as part of their image. Fortunately they’re rare. They might go to a club, or get picked up from a business meeting, and have plenty to say about their enemies in this world and how they’ve got them all figured out, and will one up them. Their assistants tell them they understand what they’re saying and agree completely, though I don’t think of any of us in the car believe it. 

Tightly Wound – These people are nonstop balls of nervous energy, usually obsessively compulsively attached to communicating with people and controlling as much in this universe as possible. One passenger called her friend and left a long voice mail, then texted her, then called her roommate and asked that she be told about the call and not being able to get through. She ended her trip giving me stark and sullen driving directions, seemingly not liking that I didn’t know her neighborhood like the back of my hand. Another passenger incessantly called a lot of people she knew, mostly leaving them long messages, unable to sit in that backseat with the quiet.

As a chauffeur, you have to pretend you’re invisible at these moments, blending into the dashboard. It’s nice to be treated like an equal human being, but that doesn’t happen all the time. So you focus on being of service, getting them there safely and on time, making sure they have all they need, carry their luggage, etc.

Most importantly, if they don’t tip you, let it go. They may think it’s covered in the corporate account, or be distracted, or don’t believe in tipping, or think they’ve already paid enough, or were not impressed with the service level, or annoyed with you for not being perfect about the driving route. I’ve been given verbal tips on earning cash tips from other drivers, and that’s cool. In the end, I work on letting it go. Tips are great but I strive to deliver a high level of service and get them there safely and on time. The tip is their choice.

Oddly enough, I do get a charge out of leaving for a trip on time. It might be 4:30 in the morning, and I’ve got my suit on, I’ve got the gas card and Nextel radio, and the car is clean and gassed up with a bottle of water and snack in a spotless back seat. I know where I’m going and have left on time. I radio the dispatcher and say, “I’m in route,” and the dispatcher says, “10-4.” Then I breathe deeply and feel I am right where I’m supposed to be in that very moment.

There’s also some very interesting conversations I get to have with other chauffeurs while waiting for clients to make it through the terminal. Like me, some of them have other career tracks they’re on and this work is extra. I do get to spend some time around veteran drivers who work a lot of hours and don’t care for it that much, but this what they do. And then there is that rare breed who love what they do, and have a lot of gifts to share on how to keep that car looking great, how to get out of traffic jams, and essentially read the client’s mind, meeting their needs ahead of time. These chauffeurs get great trips and are requested later by high-level Hollywood execs.

They don’t want to drive a Prius, though. They want to get a client in an SUV or Town Car, where the trips can be longer and the cash flow more plentiful. Sometimes they get “as directed” trips where the client tells you where to go and when to drop them off. I had one of these passengers on a Friday night. I waited about three hours for her to get out of a night club, and it went pretty late into the evening. I fell asleep probably four times until my phone woke me up and she said she was ready to go. The following Friday morning, I looked at my online checking account and saw how much I’d made that weekend. She was forgiven, and I held no grudge.

These long waits do give me more time with my heartthrob, the Prius. I spend a lot of hours in that driver’s seat, or walking around the car, stopping and waiting for a passenger, checking out the curves and lines. I’m used to the subtle sputtering noises and stammers the Prius makes as its motor kicks in, and the regenerative braking does its job. The Prius has its own personality that you get used to after a while, and start to get fond of. I’ve known a few people who are just plain addicted to the Prius and have owned two or three of them. They are true believers and will shop for different versions of the Prii models that are soon to come out.

The first couple of times I drove it, the car was a little awkward for me – having to step on the brake and hit the start button without a key. When stopping the engine, hitting the park button before hitting the power button again. Soon it became automatic, and I came to appreciate the back-up camera, fending off danger to small children and tiny animals.

Okay, that’s enough about the Prius and chauffeur gig. I do wonder if the next woman I get involved with will get tired of my attachment to the Prius, perhaps jealous, and will get wild ideas about doing the Prius in. Hmmm… could be a movie script I pitch to a client.

--Jon LeSage

Friday, March 18, 2011

Panic Attack Over Nuclear Disaster in America

For those paranoid about nuclear plant radiation ruining their lives, join the club...

Greenwire posted this: "It's long been a vexing issue in the scientific community, spurred in large part by public panic over nuclear power, waste and radiation: Why the terror? Compared to notorious killers like driving, smoking or drinking, nuclear risks -- though objectively carrying little danger in their modern deployments -- stir the deepest fears in Americans, a terror that is surfacing again as engineers strive to contain the crisis at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi power station."

My thoughts on the subject:

1. Some of this comes from baby boomers who were given "duck and cover" instructions by teachers years ago, when H-bomb tests were taking place and paranoia about Russian atomic bomb attacks was being felt. There were also a bunch of popular horror movies about the byproducts of this new technology -- giant ants and roaches destroying towns, families fleeing to live up in the mountains, etc.

2. Problems at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant stirred up fear and protest in the late 1970s -- see the Jane Fonda movie, "The China Syndrome," to get a good look at it. There were also a lot of No Nukes concerts led by Jackson Browne that were stirring up activists. 

3. The Russian debacle at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, where the government attempted to control the situation and the fact that a lot of people died immediately or from cancer soon after.

4. Nuclear power makes up 20% of our energy sources for electric power plants in America. It might be cleaner than coal, but it's still producing a lot of our energy, sometimes close to where we live.

5. Other countries (like France) use a lot of nuclear power for electricity -- this is widespread throughout the world.

6. As electric vehicles and renewable energy have become important issues in US and international politics, the source of power is a hot issue. Look for a lot of debate and commentary.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Nuclear Power in Your Plug-in Electric Vehicle

As more comes out on the Japanese disaster impacting its nuclear power plants, the actual safety and reliability of nuclear energy in this country is being explored and debated. The Dept. of Energy says that 103 nuclear units supply about 20% of the electricity produced in the US – second only to coal as a fuel source. Proponents of plug-in electric vehicles advocate renewable energy as the growing source of electric power plant energy, replacing dirty coal and potentially dangerous nuclear; natural gas would be much more acceptable to them, along with solar, wind, and other renewables. Some would say nuclear power is a renewable, and is much safer in the US. You can expect to hear a lot more about it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who Resurrected the Electric Car?

It’s been four years since “Who Killed the Electric Car?” was launched, and now its sequel is finally coming out. The premiere of “Revenge of the Electric Car” will take place as part of the opening weekend of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, and the festival opens April 20 and runs through May 1. The movie explores what happened in the years following the launch and death of GM’s EV1 and a few other electric cars. Today, the race is on for domination in the brand new car segment. The movie follows four lead characters and their efforts to win the race: Tesla’s Elon Musk, Renault Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn, GM’s Bob Lutz, and an independent car converter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cars Crave Clean, According to Exxon Mobil

While gassing up at an Exxon Mobil station near my house, I've noticed they've been promoting a new website with the slogans "Engines Adore Clean," and "Cars Crave Clean." When you go the site, you're offered a tour to take, a journey through your car. It tells you, "Exxon and Mobil have engineered gasoline on the molecular level to help clean up intake valves so it can perform at its best." When you click for the next screen, you're taken through an epic, beautiful view of gasoline flowing downstream with a very spiffy music soundtrack backing it up.

Then you go to a screen with three choices for the tour -- Fuel Injector, Intake Valves, and Combustion Chamber. You find out how its gasoline provides benefits to vital engine parts. So if you click through Fuel Injector, you learn how about, in a few milleseconds, dirty air can enter the picture and create a mess that Exxon Mobil's fuel can clean up for you.

My thoughts on the marketing campaign:

1. Prominent use of the word "clean," which is now the word to use to improve image for environmental impact, oil spills, advanced technology, space age progress, etc.

2. It taps into our love of cars and engines -- "Cars Crave Clean".... "Engines Adore Clean" As if your car is like having a dog or cat -- you're crazy about them and want to take good care of them.

3. Oil companies are taking on marketing promotions that are pretty new for them in this age of social media and online marketing. Like many companies out there. I would say their motivation is driven by the Gulf oil spill, the spiking cost of gasoline, and resentment toward oil companies for various reasons.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Japan Syndrome Shakes Up Nuclear Power Fears

The death toll has been growing in post-earthquake-and-Tsunami Japan. Right along with the devastating natural disaster, fear over nuclear power plants have stirred panic. More than a half-million people in Japan have been displaced by growing radiation fears and the massive swath of destruction. Japanese officials ordered people near the Fukushima nuclear power plant complex to stay indoors after a hydrogen blast Monday in the containment building of one of its six reactors, similar to one that occurred Saturday in a separate reactor, according to LA Times. Cabinet secretary Yukio Edano, speaking in a live TV broadcast, said it was believed that the reactor remained intact and "we think that the possibility of a massive radiation emission is low." But the apparently intensifying nuclear crisis sent a wave of fear and anxiety through the quake-battered country, as powerful aftershocks from Friday's temblor continued to rattle cities and towns. 

There is a connection between hydrogen and nuclear power. When you attend the hydrogen conference, the Idaho National Laboratory plays a part in the industry alliance and there is connection between the technologies. Nuclear power is much safer than it used to be -- but it really wasn't long ago that the movie "The China Syndrome" (starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Douglas) and No Nukes concerts with Jackson Browne and other activists brought a lot of attention to the dangers of nuclear power. The Chernobyl disaster in Russia in 1986 also heightened the fear over the safety and sanity of nuclear power. A good chunk of electricity in the US is created through nuclear-powered plants, and this is common around the world. It is a cleaner technology than fossil fuels, but the safety factors are always there. Think Hindenburg disaster for hydrogen and Chernobyl for nuclear -- and now the crisis in Japan -- and you're reminded of the panic these technologies can cause. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ford Converts More of its Michigan Plant to Solar Power

Automakers are building sustainability into their manufacturing process, especially GM and Ford. Following last year's power sourcing from solar panels, Ford Motor Co. has done more at its Michigan assembly plant, one of the state's largest solar power generation systems. The system is the result of collaboration between Ford, DTE Energy, Xtreme Power, the city of Wayne, and the state of Michigan -- and has been covered by Environmental Leader. DTE Energy installed the 500-kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel system at Michigan Assembly.

The public/private partnerships must work effectively for these projects to go anywhere. Perhaps there will be a thriving renewable energy industry with cash flow streaming from venture capitalists and stockholders. For now, it takes government agencies and funding, NPOs, and corporations to make it work. The Michigan Assembly project is funded by a $3 million investment from DTE Energy’s SolarCurrents program, a $2 million grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission in support of the state’s smart-grid initiative, and approximately $800,000 worth of in-kind contributions from Ford.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Electric Cars Inspiring Espionage and Bad Behavior

Chinese carmaker BYD is getting in trouble for possibly stealing patent right information for its product plans. A report published on Internet whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks show, the battery firm turned electric vehicle manufacturer backed by multi billionaire Warren Buffet could be guilty of these transgressions and more. According to Reuters, which was given access to the leaked documents through a third party, the US government was sent diplomatic cables detailing BYD’s lack of respect for International patent law. 

Bad news on the international electric car front intensifies. The plot thickens in France as Renault continues to unravel the potential espionage mystery that led to the company firing three of its executives in January.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Addicted to the Prius

The number of Toyota hybrids sold over the past decade or so has officially passed the three-million mark, hitting 3.03 million back on February 28th, says Autoblog Green. Most of these are the Prius, and that pioneer green car has been joined by the Camry hybrid and a few Lexus models. What's most interesting is the speed at which Toyota is selling hybrids now: The first million took nine years, 10 months; the second million, two years and three months; the third million? 18 months.

When you talk to Prius drivers, they do have good things to say, me being one of them. There are a few criticisms too, including:
  • The rear window could be better. Most of it is covered by a tinted layer to reduce glare, but it also makes rear view vision less than clear.
  • The car is low to the ground and balanced, but it is a bit clunky and noisy going over speed bumps and the like.
  • The instrument panel is readable, but some of the data gets old. Is the Prius really getting 99.9 miles per gallon right now, and what does that really mean?
  • It's nice but not luxurious -- basic commuter car.
I would add a few good points to this:
  • It's safe, reliable, and dependable.
  • The interior is roomier and spacier than the first generation version, and a good one to pack luggage and drive somebody home from the airport.
  • The only problem I've seen on a 2006 model with about 100,000 odometer miles is the air conditioning touch screen control panel went wacky and had to be replaced.
  • The mileage is very good -- usually around 50 mpg combined, but that needle doesn't go down to zero for quite a while and you're only filling up about 10 gallons. As gas prices spike up consistently, the love affair with the Prius deepens.
  • The base price is about $23,000 these days. When people complain about hybrids costing $5K to $10K more than non-hybrid counterparts, it's hard to criticize the Prius for its price point.
And the verdict is? Call me a Prius addict.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fuel Saving Tips as Annoying and Necessary as Dentist Appointments

Taking on those healthy habits for saving fuel and lowering your gas bills is kind of like what they recommend to you during dentist office visits. You need to do a few things regularly or you'll regret it later. As gas prices go up nearly each and every day, the stress level increases when pump prices are viewed. So, here are a few from TrueCar.com...

Drive Smoother: Aggressive driving has an impact on how much fuel you consume. When driving, pushing the gas pedal hard or slamming the brakes will lower your average fuel economy. Aggressive driving can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent on the highway and five percent around town.

Slow Down: Most vehicles get the most amount of fuel efficiency when driving between 45 and 55 miles per hour. The Department of Energy (DOE) figures that for every five miles you drive going in excess of 60 mph, you could lose somewhere between seven to 23 percent of fuel efficiency.

Reduce Idling: Turn off your engine if you're waiting for more than 20 seconds. Idling wastes more gas than turning off your engine and restarting it. 
 
Use Premium Fuel Only When Needed: Regular unleaded fuel won't hurt most vehicles even if premium unleaded fuel is required. 
 
Shop for Gas: Web sites like GasBuddy.com and certain GPS devices can help you search for the lowest gas price and save you the hassle of burning more fuel while looking for cheaper gas.

Purchase a Fuel-Efficient Car: Buying a new car that is more fuel efficient, such as a hybrid or diesel vehicle, makes good financial sense as gas prices continue to rise.

Monday, March 7, 2011

My Resentment for, and Addiction to, Automotive News

Automotive News is a unique info source for car biz coverage. I resent that my paid subscription is running out and I have to decide whether to come up with more or lose my access. In the meantime, here are four stories from the weekly issue that really stood out:

Fisker Automotive Inc. plans to use its recently acquired, former GM, plant in Delaware in part to build vehicles for other automakers. Fisker plans to use only one-third of an installed 300,000 units of capacity at the plant in Wilmington, Del., for its vehicles, which will be built there in late 2012.

The Chevrolet Volt turned in a lackluster performance for efficiency in its first series of cold-weather road tests, according to Consumer Reports. Fun to drive, ride is good, but doesn’t make financial sense, according to the magazine’s auto test center director. The Volt fell short of its maximum range potential under battery power. People seeking value and fuel efficiency are better off with hybrids like the Prius and Ford Fusion.

Toyota aims to slash the cost of hydrogen fuel cell technology before it starts selling its fuel cell sedan in 2015. The company plans to tackle costs several ways, including using less platinum in the fuel stack, fewer components, and simplifying the design.

Rolls-Royce, of all companies, has built an electric vehicle. The Phantom EE, unveiled at the Geneva auto show, is a concept. And the company is quick to say that it's nowhere near production. It will have the largest battery pack ever fitted to a passenger car, the company said.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Automotive Digest a Cool Car Town to Visit

In case you were ever wondering how Green Machine Digest and ADW Green got started, it's good to know a little bit about the parent organization, Automotive Digest. It was started up by Publisher Chuck Parker in 1998. At the time, he saw the future of media, that it was all going online, and decided to start up a new brand covering the auto industry. His concept was that people are getting inundated with information content from several sources, and the internet promised to change the rules of the game. The idea was to give readers a content hub to scan through every day with tight news summaries, executive interviews, statistical charts, resources and links, and eventually videos and social media. Sort of "one stop shopping" for all things automotive, of interest to leaders in the field.

In October 2009, AD started up Automotive Digest Weekly Green during a time when groundbreaking news and developments were coming out Detroit, Washington, California, and across the globe on a daily basis. It's siblings include Dealer Digest Daily, Dealer Management Weekly, and Fleet Management Weekly. ADW Green is trying things on a bit differently, with this blog and its Twitter page. Covering green machines is a good place to do it -- a brand new industry with technology innovations and product launches that would have been unbelievable not long ago. And it's in the Automotive Digest family, a good place to be for resources, team talent and support, and a respected brand name to fly under.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Plug-in Hybrids Better than Gasoline Versions

So plug-in hybrid vehicles, aka extended range, are very appealing to a lot of people. There aren't too many on the market, the Chevy Volt being the symbol, and many are in the works. Here's why people are looking forward to it:

1. Much of the time you're on battery power, freeing you up from OPEC-controlled, smog spitting, ridiculously expensive, gasoline.

2. When the battery runs out, the gas engine kicks in, reducing your range anxiety and giving you a lot more miles to cover before charging up your battery again.

So what if there were a way to move beyond battery and gasoline in a PHEV? Wouldn't that be the coolest thing? Here's a few thoughts on that subject...

1. The Algeus is being driven around by "Fuel" director/star Josh Tickell, a big believer in biofuels and freedom from oil. It's a Toyota Prius converted aftermarket into a plug-in hybrid version, and its gas engine has been taken over by algae biofuel. Very cool! The problem is there's only one of them out there now, and algae biofuel has some big stumbling blocks to surmount before making it to your nearest gas station.

2. Peugeot finally took the wraps off the look-awaited 3008 Hybrid4, the first diesel-electric vehicle in the world. This model will be available in a limited edition of 300 units, which will be ready to hit the market in the fall. According to the Detroit News, the 3008 Hybrid4 is equipped with a 163 horsepower 2.0-liter HDi diesel engine driving the front wheels. Not a plug-in hybrid vehicle - a regular hybrid running on diesel instead of gasoline, but a step in the right direction.

Ok, this is very cool but only 300 of them are coming out. And how many come to the US from Europe? Probably zero to a couple, as it's most likely launched in France. The good news here is that diesel is much cleaner these days because of government restrictions on what's sold (ultra-low sulfur), and diesel engine technology is way more efficient and cleaner than it used to be. So a diesel hybrid will probably be better than a gas engine hybrid - more miles per gallon and a bit cleaner. The downside is that diesel is a bit more expensive than gasoline, but if it's more fuel efficient, that could balance it out.

And what about any other fuel combinations? Natural gas or propane and plug-in hybrid? Flexible fuel version of a plug-in hybrid marrying ethanol and battery power? And what about this hydrogen hybrid I've heard about? 

All of this new vehicle technology is exciting, even though it can stir up fears stemming from 1950s sci-fi/horror flicks where scientists screw up and accidentally produce humongous ants, turtles, rats, etc., that eat us alive. It's good that there are strict safety requirements on vehicle these days (thank you, Ralph Nader), and that Society of Automotive Engineers and Underwriters Laboratories are extremely cautious and addicted to testing before they endorse new technology and vehicles.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

6 Good Green Car Stories, 3 of them from Geneva

1. Mass-market automakers like Toyota, Fiat, and Ford say green technologies on display at the Geneva Motor Show will help them weather the impact of skyrocketing fuel prices.

2. Google has invested in a startup called Transphorm, whose power-conversion efficiency technology could some day help create more efficient electric cars.

3. Electric motorcycle king Zero Motorcycles now has the Zero XU, the fifth in its product line.With instant torque from zero rpm, no shifting, a low weight, a low seat height and a removable power pack, the bike could be ideal for those who live in the city.

4. Volvo Cars is presenting the world's first diesel plug-in hybrid, the new V60 Plug-in Hybrid, at the Geneva Motor Show.

5. There will be a European debut of a Honda EV concept and plug-in hybrid at the Geneva Motor Show.

6. A new air-conditioning refrigerant can now be used by automakers in new cars and light trucks to help meet federal standards for greenhouse gas emissions. The chemical, HFO-1234yf, has a global-warming potential that is 99.7 percent less than the current chemical, HFC-134a, used in most car air conditioners, the EPA said.







Monday, February 28, 2011

Hyundai Hybrid Ad Snipes at Prius, Other Moments in Oscar Awards

Hyundai did most of the automotive advertising during the Academy Awards last night as it becomes more aggressive and big spending in the US market for its Hyundai and Kia products. It seems to be working for them. One commercial stood out promoting the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. The voice over said, "It's not the first hybrid, but it might be yours." So, there are actually other hybrids on the market besides the Prius and you might like the Sonata Hybrid even more, the ad suggests.

Overall, the Oscars were a bit lackluster even with their amusing young co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco. "The King's Speech" winning all the major awards took some of the wind out of the sales of the Oscars appealing to younger demographics. Hathaway and Franco could banter and be cute together, but it was still the Oscars, for better or worse.

As for other green moments, two stood out. "Let's Pollute" was nominated for best animated short movie, and "Gasland" for best documentary. "Let's Pollute" offers a satire on old educational student movies instructing people how to be better polluters for a better blighted tomorrow. "Gasland" showed an image of a man nearly burning himself to death turning on his kitchen stove, living right near a shale field where "fracking" is being done for natural gas. Natural gas vehicles are part of a tough climate now with pressure on natural gas safety as fracking grows by leaps and bounds each year.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Plug-in Cruise Ships, Toyota's Own Charger, EV Building Codes, EVs Get Rooted

Ships go Plug-in: The Port of Los Angeles has installed electric accessory power to supply three separate cruise lines. The port says it is the first worldwide to provide Alternative Maritime Power to three cruise lines. In the last few weeks, ships from Disney Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Norwegian Cruise Line have all used AMP Mobile technology, specifically designed for the port’s World Cruise Center. The system allows cruise ships at berth to plug into either 6.6 kilovolts (kV) or 11 kV electrical power distribution systems, instead of running their diesel engines.

Toyota's Very Own EV Charger: Toyota has announced that it will launch its own home electric car charger. While Toyota’s charger will work with non-Toyota cars, this definitely seems like a way for Toyota to sell its chargers to people buying the plug-in Prius. The Japanese manufacturer is hoping to sell 50,000 plug-in Prii (the now official plural of Prius) starting in 2012.

Cleaning Up Building Codes: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory yesterday published case studies of four locations that have crafted plans to encourage drivers to go electric. Rather than financial or technical hurdles, the biggest priority of these cities is updating the permitting process around home and public charging stations. Although it's not necessary, most plug-in electric-car owners are expected to have a dedicated charge port installed at their homes, which will work at 240 volts and cut charge time roughly in half. One of the concerns automakers and potential buyers have is long delays in getting these chargers installed since building codes don't always explicitly address them.One of the concerns automakers and potential buyers have is long delays in getting these chargers installed since building codes don't always explicitly address them.

Green Machines Getting Rooted: The Electric Drive Transportation Association describes itself as "the preeminent trade association representing battery, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell electric drive vehicles." Not just plug-in electric vehicles, which encompasses pure electric and plug-in hybrid. Hybrid electric vehicles and fuel-cell vehicles are included in the membership, which is very good to hear about. All of these routes are important to green machines taking root in the auto industry.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Econation Takes Chauffeured Transportation Award

Econation, a Los Angeles-based chauffeured transportation company, is the very first green transportation provider to win one of LCT Magazine's influential Operator of the Year awards. The company's fleet is entirely green - hybrids and alternative fuels - and serves sustainability officers and entertainment industry executives who wish to have this option. Congratulations Econation. Read more here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tweeting about Green Machines

Tweeting has grown in leaps and bounds in recent months, catching up with Facebook in the universe of social media. Twitter has grown so popular that, of all people, Denis Leary (infamous comedian/character/star of "Rescue Me") has a bestselling book taken from his daily tweets, called Suck on This Year: LYFAO @ 140 Characters or Less. Further evidence of Twitter taking over social media for now: will.i.am, one of the two Black Eyed Peas famous lead singers, tweeted during half time at the Super Bowl while he and his band entertained 111 million TV viewers.

Automotive Digest Weekly Green now tweets daily @AutoGreenDig. We invite you to follow, and invite us to do the same. Just like with the Green Machine Digest blog, there's enough happening in green cars and fuels every day to spend time sifting through the news and gossip, and posting social media comments. ADW Green will remain a weekly newsletter for now, and the blogging and tweeting keep it live and fun.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Correct Name for Growing Prius Family

When you're talking about the growing Prius family -- plans include 7 passenger Prius V and compact Prius C Concept -- don't say Prius, say Prii. Toyota got public feedback on how to pluralize the famous brand name now that there's going to be one version of it. And coming up with this could help the brand marketing as buzz abounds over the new word. 

Results were announced at the Chicago Auto Show, and voting was kicked off January 10th at the Detroit Auto Show. It went so well that Dictionary.com added the new word to its Prius listing. So it is now official.