Why all electric and hybrid cars now?

Simple question, complex answer.  This will be part 1 of a multi part series on why you’re seeing a bunch of electric vehicles now and not 10 years ago or 10 years from now.  To start, I think the electric and hybrid questions have separate but related answers.  Let’s start with the hybrid question first.

The Prius has the most to do with why hybrid cars now.  Simply put, it was a huge success and the only huge success.  No other hybrid has captured the sales success of the Toyota Prius.  It’s not to say that no other hybrid car is better or worse, but for whatever reason, only the Prius has been successful.  Everyone wants to make a profit and even the Prius was projected to be a money loser when they started work on it.  Nobody wants to put out flops like the Chevy Impala light hybrid and Lexus hs250h but they all want to catch the elusive success of the Prius.

The government mandate for average fuel economy will increase to 35 mpg and hybrids are the easiest way to increase corporate average fuel economy (CAFE).  For a company like Ford which sells lots and lots of low mpg vehicles like the F150, it really helps.  On a side note, the new F150 now uses an aluminum frame and lost a lot of weight!  Pound for pound, aluminum is much stronger than steel and it doesn’t rust :)

Future tech – it seems like an obscure and rather abstract reason but it’s actually pretty important.  It’s much cheaper in the long run to use in house technology vs. licensed technology.  The first generation Nissan Altima hybrid used a modified Toyota Prius powertrain.  You can bet Toyota wasn’t giving them out for free and if you own the technology and patents, you control your competition.  Just owning the patents and not a finished product is enough to derail your competitors.  For example, if you have a battery that works 50% better because of some exclusive technology, you have a major advantage in the marketplace.  If your competitors want to use it, they have to pay you to license that technology.  Additional profits for you, variable expense for them.

If manufacturers don’t want to be caught flat footed in 20 years when the competition has significantly more fuel efficient cars and in about 10 years (2025) when the CAFE standards will make it much more expensive for manufacturers to not build fuel efficient cars.

Stay tuned for part 2 which will discuss the recent history of fuel economy standards since 1990, when California introduced their EV mandate.

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Tesla building confidence in an Audi R8 etron

Uk’s Autocar magazine cites Audi’s Urlich Hackenburg that the Audi R8 e-tron all electric sportscar appears to be greenlit.  This has been an on again, off again project with lots of concepts for the last few years.  Here’s the estimated specs:

250 mile range.  This is going to be a relatively heavy car due to the battery pack.

Rear wheel drive only.  They were considering all wheel drive like the rest of the R8 model lineup but RWD cut weight and increased battery range from about 150 miles.

Price: Exclusive.

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Seriously, wind thumping noise in the Volt needs a dealer fix?

A common complaint in many new cars is wind resonance at high speeds with a window all the way open.  This is due to better aerodynamics which we want.  This resonance often sounds like a flat tire or produces a pressure on your eardrums.  Sunroofs can also produce the throbbing sensation.  If you blow across an open bottle top you’ll get the idea.

Solution: open the thumping window more or less, open another window a crack to get some cross flow, or turn up the interior fan ventilation.  Any of these will stop the thumping.  The bigger issue for an economy car is that drag reduces fuel economy at speeds which can produce any thumping.  As a rule of thumb, it’s more efficient to use the climate control or adjust the fans to get a breeze at greater than 40-45 mph.

I guess this isn’t good enough for many people because the Chevy Volt now has a dealer kit to fix the thumping by disturbing the smooth aerodynamics.  It’s additional side mirror trim that sticks out and deflects the air into the cabin.  It requires at least a day for installation since it requires painting.  Just crack another window open!

From Autoblog

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Thinking about buying the VW all electric e-Golf

My driving style has changed in the last year and I no longer drive my VW Jetta TDI as much.  I usually put around 10,000 miles/year on it around town and in regular long trips.  Now I mostly drive it around town with only a few occasional longer trips.

I test drove the Chevy Volt and loved the fact that it was on battery most of the time – this meant no gas use at all except when I exceeded the 35 miles of battery range.  The new all electric e-Golf will be a similar setup, only using the battery until you run out of battery range (it never fully drains or recharges the battery to preserve battery lifespan).  I’d consider a used Chevy Volt but they’re holding their resale pretty well and I don’t like the idea that the previous owner keeps the huge tax credits – this hasn’t pressed down resale right now.  I have no idea how the e-Golf will handle but I’m sure it’ll be significantly heavier than the regular Golf which will hurt it as well.

The big factor will be price – how much will it cost after tax credits, if the tax credits are still available?  An average Golf TDI costs around $26-27,000 new which is expensive compared to cars in its class (although I believe it’s at the top of the class), and all the battery and motor equipment plus a generator motor could make its price well over $40,000.

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How Colombian FARC Terrorists Mining Tungsten Are Linked to Your BMW Sedan (and VW)

Bloomberg Markets is reporting that BMW, Volkswagen and Ferrari have been using tungsten ore sourced from Colombia’s FARC rebel terrorists. The extensive story focuses on Colombia’s illegal mining trade and calls into question the provenance of the rare ore that is used not only in crankshaft parts production, but is also found in the world’s computing and telecommunications industry for use in screens.

The ore is mined by the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army), and exported to Pennsylvania, where it is refined. The refined ore is then sent over to Austria, where a company called Plansee turns it into a finished product. Now, it’s important to note that we aren’t talking about the world’s supply of tungsten here. In 2012, Plansee’s American refinery purchased 93.2 metric tons of tungsten, valued at $1.8 million. That’s peanuts, with the entire Colombian tungsten mining industry producing just one percent of the world’s supplies.

That doesn’t make indirectly supporting FARC any more acceptable, though. BMW, VW and Ferrari are all committed to not accepting mineral supplies from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is also in the grips of a guerrilla insurrection funded, in part, by illegal mining. The same commitment would figure to extend to Colombian mining, but as BMW points out, it’s difficult for a multi-national manufacturer to know where every item in its supply chain comes from. A company spokesperson says as much, telling Bloomberg, “These few grams out of the billions of tons of raw materials passing through the BMW supply chain are of no practical relevance.”

This response is perhaps somewhat blasé, but BMW, Ferrari and Volkswagen aren’t directly negotiating with the FARC rebels, and we’d be stunned if the three manufacturers were even aware of where the tungsten was coming from. By the time it arrives in their respective factories, it’s traveled from Colombia, to Pennsylvania to Austria, making for a rather difficult web of countries and networks to track. Even so, with Bloomberg drawing a spotlight on the activities, we’re assuming a few phone calls are going to be made.

from autoblog

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Volkswagen ditches blue emotion name for the electric Golf, names it e-Golf

I thought VW had a pretty nice name for the all electric version of the Golf, the Golf blue-e-motion or bluemotion. This was the name for the prototype all electric Golfs that were running around Wolfsburg, Germany. If you visited the Autostadt in Wolfsburg, they would even let you take a ride in one. However, a few weeks before the official release of the electric Golf, VW’s press release says e-Golf.

Seriously, why did they ditch blue-e-motion or bluemotion for a generic name like e-Golf? It’s as generic and bland as Golf-i or Golf v2. Why not just call it the electric Golf. I wonder what was said in the corporate or marketing meeting which killed any e-motion behind the name.

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VW Golf vs. Audi A3 hybrid and TDI sales numbers

I recently went to the VW museum in Wolfsburg where the 25 millionth VW Golf had an ignominious hiding spot behind a curtain in storage. Just last month, VW built the 30 millionth VW Golf and Audi just announced they built the 3 millionth Audi A3. Even though that doesn’t sound like a lot, the Audi A3 has only been around since 1996 and the VW Golf has been around since 1974. Assuming even sales every year (I know that’s not right but I don’t have any other yardstick), that means the A3 sells 176,470/yr and the Golf sells 769,230/yr. That’s a factor of 4.35 per year.

Both the all new Audi A3 and will come in TDI and plugin hybrid form and I wonder which one will be more popular! They’ll share a 1.4L turbo engine and 8.8kWh battery since they’re based off the same platform. Which would you want?

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China mandates fuel economy standards: 34 mpg by 2015, 47 mpg by 2020

Current fuel economy averages in China are about 30 mpg and although 4 mpg doesn’t sound like a lot, the number of cars and cost to implement greater fuel economy is a great challenge…a great wall if you will. (Sorry, had to go there) Luckily, a centrally run government can mandate these sorts of things and then get them done quickly. However, 47 mpg average is quite a great leap forward (sorry again!). What does this mean? Lots of hybrids and plugins and a boost for the Chinese auto market manufacturing capability, especially in the area of advanced clean cars.

Although China has a reputation for dirty air (and quite justified), there are some real steps towards reformation like natural gas taxis and more attention on the environment vs. economic development. The real significance of this mandate is that this is the first fuel economy standard that China has set and the largest car market in the world influences the rest of the world, especially when it comes to hybrids and plugins.


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VW XL1 video at the Geneva auto show 2013

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VW Golf Hybrid rated at 188 mpg? A closer look at the fuel economy rating.

The VW Golf hybrid was just confirmed for model year 2014 and is rated at 188 mpg!  However, before you say this number can’t be real, it probably is and you probably won’t get that mpg except in optimum conditions.  I predict the fuel economy rating of the VW Golf hybrid will be in the 90 mpg-e (e for equivalent) range.  Maybe up to 100 mpg-e or high 80s, somewhere in that neighborhood.  How did I arrive at this number?

First, the 188 mpg rating is a projected number for the European driving cycle which favors city driving and benefits from things like engine start-stop features.  The US driving cycle does not gain anything from engine start-stop even though it will increase real world fuel economy.  So if your driving habits are mostly city where hybrids shine and less highway, expect a higher mpg-e and real world mpg.

Most of this is because the VW Golf hybrid will be a Chevy Volt style hybrid instead of a VW Jetta style hybrid or Prius hybrid.  The Golf has a 31 mile electric only range vs. the Volt’s 35 miles electric only range and 94 mpg-e rating.  The Jetta hybrid and Prius hybrid have an insignificant or limited electric only range.  Even the Prius plug-in hybrid with lithium ion batteries has only an 11 mile electric only range and is rated at 95 mpg-e.

So even though the plug-in Prius has a very short electric only range, it still gets a high mpg-e rating in the 90s.  So I’m calling the VW Golf hybrid mpg-e rating in the 90 mpg-e range, or as the Chevy Volt calls it, 200 mpg!

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