Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How To Get More Miles Out of That Hybrid

As the Detroit Auto Show approaches, there is much hype and interest in the latest Toyota Prius. The interior is to be roomier, the engine more powerful and fuel economy even better. Sounds like great news except for one thing; Toyota forgot to add a plug so that we could use domestic electricity for those short errands. The major auto manufacturers stubbornly refuse to give their customers the choice of running on electricity alone. Could it be that their ties to Big Oil are more than meets the eye?

From the Wall Street Journal:

"At the Detroit auto show next month, one of the most highly anticipated new vehicles will be Toyota Motor Corp.'s third-generation Prius hybrid. It features a roomier interior and better gas mileage than the current model, the best-selling hybrid in the world.

But even these advancements aren't good enough for Daniel Sherwood and Paul Guzyk. The two green-minded mechanics have been modifying Toyota's Prius hybrids, which get an impressive 50 miles per gallon, and converting them into plug-in electric vehicles, doubling the fuel efficiency of a car that many people already see as the be-all of fuel economy. They can't wait to do the same to Toyota's newest Prius model.

Messrs. Sherwood and Guzyk are at the forefront of a small but growing automotive insurgency. While Toyota promises to deliver a factory-built, plug-in electric car by late 2009, and General Motors Corp. says it will bring its Chevy Volt plug-in car to market in 2010, impatient mechanics already are making them with off-the-shelf parts.

"I don't know if Toyota meant to do it, but they gave us a car that's easy to hack into and easy to improve," says Mr. Sherwood, an electrical engineer and co-owner with Mr. Guzyk of 3Prong Power Inc., which has set up shop in a defunct Cadillac dealership building in Berkeley, Calif. It charges about $7,000 for the conversions, one of several such shops in California doing such work.

An electric-powered car works essentially like a regular hybrid -- it runs on batteries and has a gasoline engine as well. But electric-powered cars run longer in all-electric mode. Plus, they include an extension cord, so the batteries can be recharged by plugging the car into a 120-volt outlet. Beyond the Prius, some shops are converting the Ford Escape hybrid into a plug-in car.

To convert a Prius, the mechanics add a heavy tray of wheelchair batteries to a tool-storage space beneath the cargo deck at the back of the Prius hatchback. They strengthen the suspension, tweak the electronics and software and -- voila! -- the car that emerges from the shop is a plug-in hybrid, able to run as a pure electric before tapping its gasoline engine. Conversions take a couple days for a well-equipped garage with knowledgeable mechanics. For some conversions, they are able to add lithium ion batteries that have four times the energy density of lead acid batteries, meaning they'll go four times as long between recharging or, at moderate speeds, before tapping the gasoline engine. Getting those batteries is difficult and, since they're expensive, it can double the cost of a conversion.

Demand Slips

To be sure, demand for plug-ins has dropped along with gasoline prices in recent months, says Carolyn Coquillette, owner of Luscious Garage in San Francisco, another shop that does conversions. Low gas prices, along with car-conversion costs, mean it will take years for these Prius models to recoup the costs of the upgrades.

But price is not the point, converters say.

"My carbon footprint concerned me more," says Mary Goulart, an acupuncturist who got her Prius converted at 3Prong Power in October. She works six miles from her home in Berkeley, Calif., and is able to drive purely on electricity most days for her short commute.

Not all the converters are mechanics. Some are amateurs bewitched by the notion of electric transportation. Many people get technical information from a nonprofit advocacy group called the California Cars Initiative, or "CalCars," which evangelizes for electric vehicles and acts as a clearinghouse for news and information.

"We don't like what oil is doing to the world," says Chris Ewert, a 25-year-old resident of Wheaton, Ill., who did a home conversion with his brother, Andrew. "It makes some countries rich and other countries poor." With a little research, the Ewert brothers converted a 2004 Prius in their parents' garage two years ago, then converted a second car for their father -- who kept asking to borrow the keys -- more recently.

President-elect Barack Obama has proposed using tax credits and other incentives for consumers to encourage electric vehicles, though current incentives apply only to factory-built cars. There are several hundred plug-in cars on the road today, more than half in California, according to experts. Utilities have been among the most enthusiastic supporters and have been helping test prototypes for car makers. They also are working on grid integration issues to make sure the right support exists, such as recharging stations and discounted electric rates.

Some people don't think the infrastructure is in place to support the widespread use of plug-ins. "For plug-ins to be all encompassing and to replace basic hybrid technology, the electric grid would need to morph into something we don't have yet," says Jaycie Chitwood, Toyota's senior strategic planner for advanced technologies.

For Toyota, the conversion movement creates a headache. Officially, the company says it is neither for nor against conversions. But there are fears that problems with after-market conversions could sully enthusiasm for the factory-made plug-in Priuses it will offer fleet buyers in 2009. Toyota also frets about safety and liability issues, especially after a converted plug-in Prius caught fire in June. The incident is still under investigation, though the suspicion is that overheated lithium-ion batteries caused the fire. Whether the modifications void the warranty is unclear. Car makers like Toyota say they can void a warranty if the modifications are found to have done damage to the vehicle.

Dealers in the Middle

Caught in the middle are Toyota's dealerships. Hymotion 123 Systems Inc., a unit of battery-maker A123 Systems Inc. of Watertown, Mass., makes conversion kits and certified four Toyota dealerships nationwide to be installers. But at least one, Hollywood Toyota, withdrew last summer. Don Mushin, general manager, said he was told by Toyota executives that "it was probably not wise to go forward" due to liability concerns.

Many auto-industry experts and environmentalists see the plug-in car as a defining opportunity to reinvigorate the U.S. auto sector. Just this month, a group of U.S. technology companies formed a consortium to develop a U.S. manufacturing base for lithium ion batteries. The group intends to seek federal assistance to build a big manufacturing plant to make lithium ion battery cells for electric cars.

Energy Security Advocate

Andy Grove, retired chairman of Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., has emerged as a vocal advocate of dual-fuel vehicles and even has urged the computer-chip maker to branch into advanced battery manufacturing. Intel, through its venture-capital arm, says it has made small investments, but that it hasn't committed to doing anything more at this time. Mr. Grove says he thinks the U.S. needs dual-fuel vehicles for many reasons, including energy security.

Mr. Grove likens the grassroots conversion movement to "Rick Wagoner meets the Homebrew Computer Club" -- a reference to GM's chairman and the legendary group of California computer enthusiasts -- including Apple Computer Inc. founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who got together in Silicon Valley in the late 1970s and helped launch the personal-computer revolution. In other words, he thinks the foment among enthusiasts is important to GM, Toyota and other auto makers working on their own factory plug-in cars.

"I have a strong belief that unless we really push, nothing significant is going to happen," he says.

For some people, the plug-in-car concept is so attractive they sweep away other considerations.

Dave Moore, 53, started down the electric-car path when he became worried about climate change. On the waiting list for an $85,000 Audi sports car, he decided to buy a Prius instead and got it converted to a plug-in car for about $10,000. He figures he has a green car for less than half what the Audi would have cost.

Mr. Moore's commute from Snohomish, Wash., south down Interstate 5 to Seattle often has sizable backups. At low speeds, he's able to run longer on electricity without using gasoline. When traffic slows, he says, "I'm the only happy guy on the road."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Treasury Announces TARP Investment in GMAC

GM will get another $1B in monies.

WASHINGTON -- The Treasury Department today announced that it will purchase $5 billion in senior preferred equity with an 8% dividend from GMAC LLC as part of a broader program to assist the domestic automotive industry in becoming financially viable.

Under the agreement GMAC must be in compliance with the executive compensation and corporate governance requirements of Section 111 of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, as well as enhanced restrictions on executive compensation.

GMAC will issue warrants to Treasury in the form of additional preferred equity in an amount equal to 5% of the preferred stock purchase that will pay a 9% dividend if exercised.

Additionally, the Treasury has agreed to lend up to $1 billion to General Motors so that GM can participate in a rights offering at GMAC in support of GMAC's reorganization as a bank holding company. This commitment is in addition to the assistance previously announced for GM on Dec. 19. This loan will be exchangeable at any time, at Treasury's option, into the GMAC equity interests being acquired by GM in the rights offering. Furthermore, this loan will be secured and will have other terms and conditions as outlined in the attached term sheet. The ultimate level of funding under this facility will be dependent upon the level of current investor participation in the rights offering at GMAC.

Treasury exercised this funding authority under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). The preferred stock purchase and the loan to support GMAC's rights offering are part of an auto industry-focused TARP program that will include the $17.4 billion in assistance for domestic automakers announced earlier this month.

As previously indicated, Treasury will work with Congress and the President-elect's transition team on the appropriate timing for release of the remainder of the TARP funds to support financial market stability.

GMAC Receives $5.0 Billion Investment from the U.S. Treasury

The US Treasury has alloted $5B to GMAC from the TARP fund, since the Federeal Reserve determined that GMAC meets the qualifications of a bank.

NEW YORK, Dec. 29 /PRNewswire/ -- GMAC Financial Services today announced

that it has sold $5.0 billion of GMAC's preferred membership interests and warrants to the U.S. Department of the Treasury as a participant in the Troubled Assets Relief Program established under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. The sale was completed today.

GMAC also announced that General Motors Corp. (GM) and an affiliate of Cerberus Capital Management contributed to GMAC the $750 million subordinated participations in the $3.5 billion senior secured credit facility, as amended, between GMAC and Residential Capital, LLC in exchange for new common equity of GMAC.

In addition, GMAC announced that GM and an affiliate of Cerberus Capital Management entered into agreements to purchase $1.25 billion of new common equity. The U.S. Treasury and GM intend to enter into an agreement for the Treasury to fund GM's share of the new common equity.

GMAC also announced that the conditions to its previously announced separate private exchange offers and cash tender offers have been satisfied and that GMAC has accepted all of the validly tendered GMAC old notes and ResCap old notes. The GMAC offers and the ResCap offers are expected to settle promptly.

GMAC received approval of its bank holding company application from the U.S. Federal Reserve Board on Dec. 24, 2008. As a bank holding company, GMAC has improved access to funding to provide financing to consumers and businesses. In particular, the company intends to act quickly to resume automotive lending to a broader spectrum of customers to support the availability of credit to consumers and businesses for the purchase of automobiles.

About GMAC Financial Services

GMAC Financial Services is a global finance company operating in and servicing North America, South America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. GMAC specializes in automotive finance, real estate finance, insurance, commercial finance and online banking. As of Dec. 31, 2007, the organization had $248 billion in assets and serviced 15 million customers.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Nissan Motor corp. and NEC to Invest $1.1 Billion in Li Ion

Nissan Motor Corp. and their partner, NEC Corp., will invest $1.1B in their joint venture, Automotive Energy Supply Corporation. AESC will then use the capital to increase lithium ion battery manufacturing to supply a total of around 200,000 electric and hybrid vehicles per year by 2011 or later. Apparently, they have foreseen a much greater demand for the batteries in the not too distant future.

Let's hope their prognostications are correct and demand will be high!

From Green Car Congress:

"Initial annual battery output from the AESC plant in Kanagawa Prefecture is set to supply packs for approximately 13,000 vehicles.

The plant was to expand its output capacity to 65,000 vehicles by 2011, but the parents have decided to bring this forward to 2010. In addition, they now intend to build an additional factory in Japan in 2011 or later.

Furthermore, the two firms are considering setting up factories in the US and Europe to supply local automakers. These foreign factories may tap low-interest loans offered by their respective governments for the production of environmentally friendly vehicles."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Myers Motors NMG

The Myers Motors NMG all-electric vehicle is one of only a handful available for public consumption. What is unique about the NMG is that it is capable of freeway speeds. There are several all-electric NEV's (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles) for sale but these are limited to 25 mph top speed. In most communities, this limitation will get you run over, honked at or flipped off. Some of the NEV's can now be modified for a top speed of 35 mph, which may or may not be legal in your neck of the woods. But I digress, so let's return our focus on the very cool NMG, which stands for No More Gas.

The Myers Motors NMG began life as the Corbin Sparrow. Corbin had the original idea of a three wheeled all electric vehicle that seated one passenger with room for a couple bags of groceries. The car could travel about 30 miles with a top speed of 75 mph, meaning you could run on the freeway. Of course, you would not be able to travel far on the freeway! Nevertheless, Corbin had a great idea but could not maintain the marketing and quality necessary to succeed.

Dana Myers then stepped in to buy the ailing business and renamed it the NMG. He has worked hard to re-make the vehicle and promoted it well. The product today is a vast step up in quality from the Corbin days and their product support is solid. I have made the trip to Tallmadge, Ohio to visit their facility and drive the vehicle and I must say I am very impressed. It is quick and responsive and oh so quiet. You just cannot beat an all-electric vehicle.

The Myers Motors NMG is marketed towards the daily commuter who needs less than 30 miles range to get there and back. Of course, if you can plug the car in at work, that range may be doubled. I would personally like to see a two seat version and 50 miles range to make it worth the 30 grand selling price. Maybe some day, especially with Li ion prices coming down. Nevertheless, this is another brick in the road on our journey towards living oil free.

Visit Myers Motors here:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Gulf Oil CEO Predicts $1 a Gallon Gasoline

That's right, a dollar a gallon for unleaded and a barrel of crude for 20 bucks! Gulf Oil CEO, Joe Petrowski said that we could see see these prices early next year. Just as we watched prices skyrocket to $147.27 a barrel this past summer we are now watching them plummet, "there is a chance the market will overshoot on the way back down," resulting in much lower prices at the pump, Petrowski said during a talk in Newton, Mass.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

"Petrowski said that oil, which settled at $37.90 a barrel today, may fall to $20 a barrel. Average gasoline prices nationwide slipped under $1.60 a gallon yesterday, a four-year low.

Just four months ago, crude oil prices shot close to $150, and the average, per-gallon cost to consumers was more than $4. Crude has fallen nearly $27 in one month.

Petrowski became Gulf's CEO in 2005 after more than 20 years with other energy companies. He correctly predicted on Oct. 14, 2007, that oil, then trading at $83.69 a barrel, would rise to $100 within six months.

He said the price of oil should range from $40 to $60 a barrel, depending on economic activity, in order to keep pace with inflation."

I remember reading articles last summer that declared unequivocally we h43.67ad seen the end of 60 dollar a barrel gasoline. Here we are, talking about gasoline at one third that price. Guess the self proclaimed experts are anything but.

Most importantly, what does this mean for our country's efforts to become more oil free? I am afraid that $1 a gallon gasoline will weaken our resolve to build and buy alternative energy vehicles.

China's BYD Auto Group to Delay Non-China PHEV Sales

This is mysterious news as BYD chairman Wang Chuan Fu announces the F3DM and similar hybrid cars would be delayed until 2011 before being exported from China. No reasons were given and no explanation for the delay. Let's hope that they reconsider before 2011. We need as many as these cars as possible in order to live oil free.

From Reuters:

"China's BYD Co (1211.HK) plans to sell its plug-in hybrid cars, the country's first homegrown electric vehicle, in European and U.S. markets in 2011, BYD chairman Wang Chuan Fu told reporters.

BYD, which is 10 percent owned by U.S. investor Warren Buffett, originally aimed to sell the hybrid cars abroad in 2010 but Wang would not give any reasons for the delay.

The firm officially launched the F3DM on Monday and said it will sell a total of 50 units of the hybrid cars to the Shenzhen municipal government and China Construction Bank (0939.HK).

Many of the world's big carmakers, including General Motors (GM.N), Toyota (7203.T) and Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE), are racing to develop electric and hybrid vehicles that could help to ease global environment problems such as carbon dioxide emissions.

The F3DM, which has a small gasoline engine as a back up, is available in 14 Chinese cities at 149,800 yuan ($21,890) per unit, Wang said.

The price tag is at the high-end of a range of between 100,000 yuan to 150,000 yuan estimated by analysts and doubles the price of a similar sized gasoline-powered car in China.

Wang told reporters the price was a bit high but it was lower than the same type of cars on sales in overseas markets.

"If the government can provide supportive measures such as tax incentives, the price of the cars can be reduced to the level that the public can afford," Wang said.

The company is aiming at corporate buyers initially and will expand sales to the mass market in the second half of 2009.

BYD is in talks with state power grid operators on setting up rechargeable facilities but currently the cars have to charge at home, Wang said. ($1=6.844 Yuan) (Reporting by Joanne Chiu; Editing by Keiron Henderson"

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wishing you and Yours a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. May all your dreams come true in 2009!

I am looking forward to the upcoming year as we live in historic times where Earth is faced with challenges left and right. Not the least of which is getting the populace delivered from its addiction to foreign oil. Buckle up because this could be a rocky road ahead!

Enjoy the Holidays!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chevrolet's Project Driveway Update

Chevrolet began Project Driveway in October 2007 with the intent of putting 100 + fuel cell vehicles into the hands of the public for testing. The lucky recipients would get to use the vehicles and then report data and findings back to Chevrolet for analysis. All that we know is that the Project is nearing 500,000 miles. It would be helpful if Chevrolet would release some data to the public instead of just a total number of miles driven. For example, how many people have been stranded, how many have run out of hydrogen, how far can the cars go on a fill up? Do the fuel cells and their range hold up over time? So many questions, so few answers.

To me, this has been the problem with fuel cell technology. How do you create the hydrogen delivery infrastructure and who pays for it? What is going to be the cost of the hydrogen cell vehicle? It currently costs about a million per. What will the price of hydrogen be at the pump and will the government have to subsidize it? How long do fuel cells last? Currently, they only last about 50,000 miles, which is pathetic.

Finally, why are we interested in using hydrogen fuel cells to make electricity for a car? Why not just plug the car into an outlet to get electricity? The infrastructure is already in place and is amazingly cheap. Hydrogen is neither.

Even with favorable results from Project Driveway, hydrogen fuel cells are destined for the trash heap. I can see no way around the roadblocks I mentioned above. What is your take? Tell me if you disagree!

From Green Car Congress:

"Chevrolet’s Project Driveway program&mash;the largest endeavor yet to put fuel cell vehicles on real roads—now has more than 100 vehicles out on the road, and will have logged 500,000 miles of fuel cell driving by Christmas.

The Project Driveway program began in Oct 2007 and will run through the end of 2010. Project Driveway puts Equinox electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells into the hands of drivers to gain real world experience and learning. More than 3,400 individuals have driven the fuel cell Equinox, either in short drives at media programs or special events, or as part of longer loan.

Prior to Project Driveway, no one had put 100+ fuel cell vehicles on the road. The program is mainly in the US., although some vehicles were sent to Europe and Asia. In the US, the vehicles are being placed with media, public policy leaders, business partners, celebrities and “regular” customers who have raised their hands via the internet.

Drivers generally have the vehicles for two months, although some placements, such as those with business partners Disney and Virgin Atlantic, run for the entire program. Jay Leno has been driving a fuel cell Equinox since April.

The vehicles are production Chevrolet Equinoxes, outfitted with GM’s fourth-generation fuel cell propulsion system."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

EPA Results for New Ford Fusion

The new Ford Fusion (and Mercury Milan)have just been given their mileage ratings by the EPA. 41 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. This may not seem like such a big deal until you compare the city EPA mileages to other four door sedans and you quickly understand these numbers are nearly TWICE as favorable as its competitors. The exception is the Toyota Prius which is smaller than this sedan. If every four door sedan in the US boasted these numbers, the oil savings would be astounding.

From Automotive News:

"The ratings put the hybrids' fuel economy at the front of the mid-sized pack, Ford said in a statement. Ford engineers spent three years revamping the gasoline-electric powertrain that debuted in the 2004 Escape Hybrid crossover.

The announcement underscores efforts by the Detroit 3 to bring more fuel-efficient vehicles to market.

During recent congressional hearings for federal bailout funds, the Detroit 3 were criticized for their past adherence to larger vehicles with poor fuel economy.

The latest version of Ford's hybrid powertrain again uses a one-speed continuously variable transmission. The size of the gasoline engine has been increased to 2.5 liters from from 2.3. The nickel-metal hydride battery pack is smaller and lighter but puts out 20 percent more power.

The Fusion Hybrid arrives in dealerships next spring with a base price of $27,270, excluding delivery charges that have not been announced. No price has been announced for the Milan Hybrid.

Ford may have the edge when it comes to driving on pure electric power. The Fusion Hybrid and Milan Hybrid can reach speeds of 47 mph on electricity alone, a higher speed than other hybrids.

"The Fusion Hybrid's ability to run at much higher speed in electric mode allows drivers to maximize fuel efficiently in many driving situations," said Praveen Cherian, Fusion Hybrid program leader. "This would allow drivers to travel around their subdivision and parking areas in all-electric mode."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Plug-In Conversions for the Toyota Prius

For the more budget minded, there is a company in California who has worked very hard to put together a DIY plug-in conversion package for the 2004 to 2009 Toyota Prius. To make things easier, Plug-In Supply of Petaluma, California has fabricated a battery box and collected the other hardware and software necessary to convert your Prius. Their complete system includes batteries, battery box, charger and wiring harness. They even offer an EV switch that allows operation up to 52 mph without the help of the internal combustion engine.

Here's how it works. Twenty batteries are connected in series yielding a pack voltage of 240 volts that is then connected to the Toyota NiMH battery pack in the Prius. The batteries are arranged nicely in a specialized battery box manufactured by Plug-In Supply that sits atop the spare tire in the rear well. the battery box is mounted on a hinge with hydraulic lifts so it can swing out of the way in case one needs access to the spare. Pretty nifty. The kit by itself retails for $4995 and most dealers will install it for a grand or so. This brings the conversion package to about $6,000.

While not as expensive as the Hymotion package, it still is a shock to most people's finances. This kit will allow 12 to 15 miles in all electric mode and is the PERFECT solution for those evening and weekend errands. If you have short commute to work, especially on city roads, you may even be able to avoid having the engine start at all. This is truly living oil free.

From Plug-In Supply:

Plug-In Supply Inc of Petaluma California is pleased to announce the availability of components and assemblies to build the Prius+ plug-in conversion invented by CalCars to convert a 40+ mpg Prius into a 100+ mpg Prius Plus (plus 1 cent/mile of electricity). With the conversion system installed, a Prius can be driven for the first 10-15 miles on electricity before reverting to standard Prius driving mode.

A PHEV owner plugs in the car overnight to recharge the battery pack. This saves gasoline by substituting cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity for a portion of the gas that would otherwise be used to propel the vehicle. Electricity from the outlet sells for less than $1 per gas gallon equivalent (GGE).

The Prius+ conversion is the original and most successful non-commercial PHEV conversion for the Toyota Prius car.

Plug-In Supply products allow dealers to complete high-quality PHEV conversions.

The conversion system uses new extended life lead-acid batteries (over 800 cycles), for better battery longevity than was previously available. The combination of longer battery life and lower price improves the affordability of converting a Prius.

The PbA20 PHEV Assembly is a complete, tested, and ready to install pack. It provides access to the spare tire and contains 20 PbA20-12 lead-acid batteries, plus all high voltage components and control electronics in a strong welded steel enclosure. Expect about 10 - 15 miles of EV mode range.

Battery chemistry: Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) or Lead Acid (PbA).
Expected battery life: 11+ years for LiFePO4, 2 years for PbA.

System weight: 150 lb for Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) and 360 lb for Lead-Acid (PbA).
Battery Pack Mounting Location: under rear cargo deck on top of spare tire. Battery box lifts up on springs to access spare tire.
Capacity: 5kW
Voltage: 256 VDC
Charge time: 4 to 8 hours from any 110 VAC / 15A outlet.
On-board charger mounts under front seats or in cargo area.

The PbA PHEV Assembly is also available without batteries.

Summary of the features of the Plug-In Supply Prius+ PHEV conversion:
Three mode operation, Normal Prius, Enhanced Prius and Electric Vehicle.
Normal Prius is stock performance, PHEV engaged.
Enhanced Prius mode engages auxiliary battery pack to enhance the performance during normal Prius operation.
Electric Vehicle mode means gas engine does not start. To exit this mode car must be brought to a stop, turned off then restarted. Car restarts in normal Prius mode.
Range in EV mode: 10 to 15 miles per charge. Depends on terrain and driving style.
Max speed in EV mode: 52 mph.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hymotion / A123 Sysytems Toyota Prius Conversion

Do you own a 2004 to 2009 Toyota Prius? These are the models years that can be converted to plug-in capability using the kit sold by Hymotion / A123 Systems. Hymotion started this business and then were later bought by A123 Systems, makers of Nanophospate Lithium ion battery cells. Their product is now a drop-in 5 kWh Lithium ion battery pack that works in conjunction with the Toyota Hybrid Synergy drive and allows the operator to drive in an all EV mode.

During installation, an EV switch is installed that lets the driver operate entirely on electrical energy without the ICE starting. The Prius can then travel about 15 or so miles using the additional battery pack and also boasts 100 mpg over the course of 40 miles. The 40 mile number is significant as it represents the maximum number of miles traveled by the majority of US commuters.

The Hymotion unit costs $9995 installed and is really one of the best aftermarket kits available to make your Prius a plug-in. Here are some specifics from the Hymotion web site:

"A123 Hymotion L5 Plug-in Conversion Modules are designed to convert Toyota Prius HEVs into PHEVs that can achieve up to 100 mpg for 30-40 miles*

Hymotion L5 animation here

Product Specifications

  • Designed for Toyota Prius, model years 2004 – 2009
  • ~ 5 kWh pack
  • 5.5 hour charge time
  • ~ 180 pounds
  • Up to 100 mpg for 30-40 miles within electrically assisted driving range
  • Meets strictest emissions standards in U.S.
  • Crash tested to federal new vehicle standards
  • $9995 – includes 3 year standard warranty and installation"
Of course, the difficult part of this upgrade is coughing up the 10 grand, especially in the ultra depressed financial times in which we find ourselves. However, in my opinion this is the best bang for the buck of ANY plug-in kit on the market.

In the future, I will look at other manufacturer's solutions to converting a late model Prius into a plug-in Prius. There are several options avaialble.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Plug-In Technology Legislation in the News

It wasn't so long ago that the term PHEV was unknown. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV's) simply did not exist and for the most part, they still don't! I recently posted information about the very first commercial PHEV, manufactured by BYD Auto in China, named the F3DM. It is fascinating to me how common and household this term has become and now, we are seeing the legislative bodies in the US recognizing the importance of PHEV's and the technology necessary to make them happen.

In Michigan, legislation has passed both houses allowing a 517.5 million dollar tax credit package for manufacturers of plug-in traction batteries. Michigan is extremely aggressive as it concerns the automotive industry and this bill proves that. From Green Car Congress:

"The Michigan Senate on Friday approved a package of up to $517.5 million in tax credits designed to encourage the manufacture of plug-in traction batteries in the state. The House had already approved the bill, HB 6611.

The package provides credits in four separate areas: assembly of battery packs with a minimum capacity of 4 kWh; engineering for pack integration into the vehicles; engineering for advanced battery technologies; and capital investment expenses for manufacturing facilities."

Refer to the link above to see a break down of the four separate ares.

Not to be outdone, especially in the speniding department, the US senate has proposed spending $1.63 billion for Plug-In technology and Infrastructure. Good thing the US is rich. Again, from Green Car Congress:

"A group of 12 US Senators, led by Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, is proposing $1.63 billion in federal grants through the US Department of Energy to ramp up production and drive down costs of hybrid and electric drive systems.

The package includes:

  • $1.0 billion in competitive grants to expand the US manufacturing base for advanced batteries and other essential components.

  • $295 million for R&D on new battery technology.

  • $90 million in grants for state and local business and governments to build the infrastructure and other resources such as rapid recharging stations to support plug-in and other technologies.

  • $95 million in grants for near-term truck and maritime port electrification, which saves energy and dramatically cuts dangerous pollution.

  • $150 million for research and development of smart grid technology that can save consumers money and help integrate plug-in vehicles while improving capacity and reliability of the nation’s aging electric system.

Bayh discussed his proposal in Indiana at a event gathering many of the state’s top automotive technology manufacturers, including Li-ion battery manufacturer Ener1. Ener1’s Indianapolis subsidiary EnerDel is the first company producing automotive lithium-ion batteries on a commercial scale in the US."

Both of these legislative initiatives are great news for citizens interested in living oil free now.

One of the biggest reasons for PHEV success is the California Cars Initiative, whose website can be found here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

White House Authorizes 13.4 Billion to US Automakers


President Bush has just announced that the embattled US automakers will receive 13.4 billion in loans from the Government. That sure is a peculiar number.

President Bush made the announcement this morning at 9 am. Bush also stated that 4 billion more may be used in February 2009.

"The terms and conditions of the financing provided by the Treasury Department will facilitate restructuring of our domestic auto industry, prevent disorderly bankruptcies during a time of economic difficulty, and protect the taxpayer by ensuring that only financially viable firms receive financing," according to a statement released by the White House.

The White House calculated this amount should stabilize the automakers through the end of March 2009.

"If the firms have not attained viability by March 31, 2009, the loan will be called and all funds returned to the Treasury," the statement says.

The funds will come from the TARP bailout, as expected and there are other conditions to these funds. These include limits on executive compensation and perks such as corporate jets, the automakers adhering to fuel efficiency and emission standards and opening books to government scrutiny.


Now can we resume our wonderful Holiday Season, already in progress?

Pickens discusses the lastest OPEC move

I want to include another post on my blog today from the Pickens Plan. Boone Pickens has a real and viable plan for our country as well as 80 years of wisdom to back up his words. While you may not like him and may think that he is in this for the money, which he is, but you can't detract from his perseverance and tenacity. I believe Mr. Pickens sincerely wants to see our nation get better, by becoming oil free now.

From the PickensPlan website:

Hey, Army! Get this!

If we ever needed a lesson in why we need to cut down on our dependence on foreign oil our “friends” over at OPEC gave it to us today. They have announced they are going to cut oil production by some 2.2 million barrels per day.

They are doing that so that the price will rise from where it is now, about $45 per barrel, to about $75 per barrel.

This is in line with what I predicted would happen last week. OPEC’s decision will likely lead to an increase in oil and gasoline prices in America and proves the point that we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil. This is further evidence that OPEC’s interests are not aligned with ours.

You can’t fault them for trying to maximize the value of a commodity they have, but you have to fault us as a nation if we don’t move fast in the next Administration to significantly reduce our dependence on foreign oil and the threat it poses to our national security and economy.

We have the domestic resources in wind, solar and natural gas to get the job done on energy and transportation, so let’s use them.”

This business of getting together to set prices is illegal in the United States but we don’t have jurisdiction over other sovereign nations. What we DO have is control over is how much foreign oil we use.

We need to take today’s statement by OPEC and use that as our rallying point to show the current leaders in Washington and - more important, the new Administration and Congress - that the Pickens Plan is the only plan which will reduce foreign oil by up to 50 percent over the next ten years.

The Congress needs to move immediately to give trucking companies and fleet owners incentives to replace gasoline and diesel fueled vehicles with natural gas.

We need to provide a long-term production tax credit (PTC) to build out wind farms in the Great Plains and solar farms in the Southwest. We need to be aggressive about retro-fitting homes and buildings with additional insulation and employ other energy-saving strategies.

We can’t allow OPEC - Saudi Arabia and Iran, Venezuela and Lybia and the others - to artificially determine what we will pay for oil. If we reduce our need for foreign oil, we can dictate terms to them, not the other way around.

The Pickens Plan is the answer. The time is now.

– Boone

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pickens Plan teams up with Owens Corning

I copied this from the Pickens Plan web blog since I felt it was a great example of someone trying to live oil free. What is ironic is knowing that Pickens made his fortune in oil. At least now he is exerting all his considerable will and resources into promoting alternate energy and alternate fuel for transportation. Check out his website here.

Boone and the Pink Panther

The Pickens Plan is moving ahead. Last week we teamed up with the American Lung Association.

This week we got a great partner when the Owen Corning company came on board.

We hitched up the T. Boone Express and took a ride to Toledo, Ohio where they are headquartered.

You know Owens Corning; they’re the guys who do insulation and have the Pink Panther as their mascot.

We were both pretty happy about the deal!

Owens Corning is helping us expand the Pickens Plan from our focus on energy production into the area of energy conservation. According to the CEO of Owens Corning, Mike Thaman, adding insulation to existing homes and buildings can save millions of dollars a year in imported oil - especially in the Northeast - and in natural gas in homes heated by gas or electricity.

Either way, that translates into less foreign oil and I’m for less foreign oil.
Mike Thaman invited me to do a town hall with the staff at the Toledo headquarters. But listen to this: They hooked up the video deal to 78 U.S. locations, five in Europe and two in Asia.

This is what the scene looked like from the control booth.

The important thing is that with the American Lung Association and Owens Corning this deal is gathering steam.

Barack Obama announced his energy and environmental team yesterday. Dr. Seven Chu, who won a Nobel Prize in physics, will be Energy Secretary. Carole Browner will be the person in the White House who oversees energy and the environment which tells me that Dr. Chu will run the labs but the policy will come out of the White House.

That’s a good thing for us. You remember I met with Carole Browner a week or so ago when she was heading up the Energy Transition Team.

A good day for the Pickens Plan, army. We’re marching forward!

– Boone

OPEC slashes output by 2.2 billion barrels per day

OPEC appeared desperate as it met recently, deciding to reduce its output by even greater numbers. It had already cut production by 1.7 billion barrels and now it needs even deeper cuts. Apparently, desperate times call for desperate measures and the oil producing companies do not like the 40 dollar price per barrel they are getting now.

From the WSJ:

The cuts by the 12-member Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, meant to be effective Jan. 1, are huge by OPEC standards and clearly intended to send a message. They would mark the swiftest reduction in the cartel's production since it began setting output quotas in 1982.

The new cut was 200,000 barrels a day more than expected, and two other big producers, Russia and Azerbaijan, said they may contribute an additional 600,000 barrels a day in cuts to show support. "We needed to do something big. Demand is falling fast," said Kuwait Oil Minister Mohammad Al Olaim.

But within minutes of the announcement, U.S. benchmark crude prices fell sharply. They ended up down 8.12%, or $3.54, to $40.06, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The plunge in oil prices is a rare dose of good news for the U.S., Japan and other struggling economies that rely heavily on oil imports. The sharp drop in oil prices amounts to the equivalent of a massive stimulus package for big consuming countries, worth hundreds of billions of dollars. That relief has taken some pressure off of airlines, shipping companies and commuters, and over time can pare the cost of goods ranging from car tires to children's toys. After soaring to more than $150 a barrel in intraday trading, oil prices have since plunged by more than $100 a barrel in just five months.

The extraordinary OPEC summit here on the shores of the Mediterranean reflected much of the grimness and tension now overshadowing the world economy. Delegates expressed astonishment at how deeply the economic slump has eaten into world-wide energy demand.

OPEC now satisfies around 40% of world oil needs, which stand just under 86 million barrels a day. OPEC officials acknowledge that Wednesday's agreed cuts probably won't reverse the fall in prices. A rebound may only happen, they say, when traders begin to see real declines in oil inventories and some hint that demand in consuming countries is beginning to pick up.

In a sign of the overall mood, Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali Naimi said he hoped the output cut would "bring the market into balance." But he acknowledged that the unprecedented move "may lead to higher prices or may not."

One thing is certain, oil prices will climb back up, and I sincerely hope the United States will be ready when it does.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chrysler to shut down production as sales plummet

As promised, an expansion of the earlier report.

From Automotive News:

"The shutdown affects 30 plants, including all assembly, powertrain, component and stamping operations. The company has 46,000 hourly workers, most of them in the United States, Canada and Mexico, a spokesperson said.

Chrysler had already planned to extend its normal holiday shutdown, which was slated to run from Dec. 24 through Jan. 2, to include Dec. 22 and 23. That means Chrysler will drop an additional two weeks of production if workers return on Jan. 19.

Chrysler's U.S. sales have fallen 27.7 percent so far this year. The decline steepened this fall as credit markets tightened. Chrysler sales fell 47.1 percent in November, the biggest drop of any carmaker.

Chrysler joined General Motors and Ford Motor Co. in pleading for a financial bailout in Washington. Chrysler asked for a $7 billion bridge loan. Chairman Bob Nardelli told lawmakers the company could run out of money in the first quarter of 2009 without the loan. The fate of the bailout is in the White House hands after it failed to clear the Senate last week.

Nardelli told Congress the company would end 2008 with $2.5 billion cash on hand. He said the company will owe suppliers $8.0 billion in the first quarter alone. That accounts for the lion's share of Chrysler's estimated $9.4 billion in first-quarter expenditures, he said in testimony. He said Chrysler burned through $1 billion a month in the third quarter.

In a recent meeting at corporate headquarters, members of Chrysler's dealer council said lack of consumer credit is stifling sales.

"Chrysler dealers confirmed to the company at a recent meeting at its headquarters, that they have many willing buyers for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles but are unable to close the deals, due to lack of financing," said a Chrysler statement. By Dec. 31, Chrysler will have slashed its workforce by 32,000 since its restructuring started in February 2007. That includes 5,000 white-collar employees who took buyout and early retirement packages Nov. 26. As part of the restructuring, Chrysler has cut 12 factory shifts, taking out 1.2 million units of annual production -- 30 percent of its total production."

Chrysler Will halt production for one month

Breaking News:

Chrysler LLC is shutting down all of its North American factories for a month due to the ongoing credit crisis and plunging sales. Chrysler announced today that all plants will be idled at the end of production Friday, Dec. 19. Employees will not return to work any sooner than Jan. 19.

Chrysler has maintained that without Government assistance it would be on the brink of collapse and now we have solid proof of their claims. Imagine the impact upon the thousands and thousands of families who will be hit hard over this Holiday season.

I will post more as it becomes available.

Crude Oil prices fall after Fed announcement

The price of light, sweet crude for January delivery fell about 91 cents, or 2 percent, lower to $43.60 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Immediately after the Fed announcement, prices dipped as low as $42.70 per barrel.

The Federal Reserve announced yesterday that it is cutting its interest rate for interbank lending from 1 per cent to between zero and 0.25 per cent. At this point, there is obviously no more cutting left and this was considered a very bold move by many. With the rate cut, the Fed also said that economic conditions "are likely to warrant exceptionally low (rate) levels for some time." Since there is no more room left to cut, the Fed will now have to act through "quantitative easing", which means they will add to the money supply in the form of loans to spur the credit markets, etc.

Meanwhile, OPEC has agreed to a production cut of 2 billion barrels per day, which analysts believe is the necessary reduction for the current lowered demand. While these analysts are probably correct, OPEC is more interested in halting the decline in value of a barrel of oil and cutting the supply usually is a good counter measure.

How low will the price of a barrel drop? Have we hit bottom? In the United States it looks like it will be some time before the economy can be turned around and I foresee demand falling even lower and prices at the pump getting smaller. Regular unleaded in central Ohio this week is around $1.53 per gallon. What is it in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

China's BYD Auto group releases the F3DM plug-in Hybrid for sale

This is huge. Really huge. Chinese automaker, BYD Auto has just put the F3DM plug-in hybrid up for sale in 14 cities. The "DM" in F3DM stands for dual mode, meaning the car can operate in pure electric mode or in hybrid mode, with the engine running. Why do I say this is huge? Mainly because this is the first mass produced plug-in hybrid in the world! Also, the Chinese have beaten Toyota and GM to the punch and will scoop them by at least one year, maybe more.

This car puts the other manufacturer's plug-in plans to shame. It boasts a 62 mile all electric range while the Chevy Volt will only get 40 miles and the Toyota Hybrid plug-in will only travel 10 miles! 62 miles will almost certainly meet the overwhelming majority of commuter's daily needs. The icing on the cake comes with its MSRP, which is $22,000 US. The Volt, with only 40 miles range is expected to retail for 40 grand. What a huge difference. One is affordable to the masses and the other is not.

The BYD F3DM is roughly the size and shape of a Toyota Corolla and the dual mode is really three modes:
1. Electric only - for 62 miles
2. Series hybrid - where the gas engine acts as a range extending generator
3. Parallel mode - where the gas engine and electric motor work together to provide propulsion.

This is a great car that will hopefully spur on the competition. I want one of these badly, but living in the United States means I will have to wait until 2010, when they are expected to be released. It is going to be a long year or so.

Monday, December 15, 2008

President Bush says auto bailout not quite ready

President Bush was en route to visit Afghan President Hamid Karzai and address U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he was asked about the US auto bailout. "We're not quite ready to announce that yet," Bush told reporters on Air Force One. Bush was then asked if the bailout would come from the 700 billion dollar TARP fund and he said, "I signaled that that's a possibility." He also stated that a decision would not take long although spokesperson Dana Perino said there was no timetable for assistance to the Big three.

More quotes from Yahoo News:

"An abrupt bankruptcy for autos could be devastating for the economy," Bush told reporters aboard Air Force One during an unannounced trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. "We're now in the process of working with the stakeholders on a way forward. We're not quite ready to announce that yet."

Bush wouldn't give a precise timetable but said, "This will not be a long process because of the economic fragility of the autos."

Looks like everyone will have to bite their nails for yet another day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bush Administration taking time to get it right.

The White House announced Friday that it would give aid to the distressed automakers but is going to take its time in order to get the package just right. They are meeting with the Big Three and trying to determine the amount of the loan as well as stipulations on its use. Look for an announcement on Monday of the details of this bailout.

From Automotive News:

Administration officials were gathering financial information from the automakers and assessing data such as their cash position, said Tony Fratto, a spokesman for President George W. Bush.

"We'll be focused on trying to get the policy right while considering the best interests of the taxpayer and our economy, and we'll take the time we have available to do that right," Fratto said. "No decisions have been made."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bush Administration Steps up to the Plate for US Automakers

The Bush Administration acted quickly and without hesitating. Late Friday afternoon, the White House announced that it would help the Detroit Three and not allow them to file for bankruptcy. My hat goes off to President Bush for his decisive action and making the announcement before the weekend. Even the stock market had a chance for a small rally before the closing bell. Basically, the White House reversed its prior stance of not touching the TARP funds and will probably use these monies for the bailout/loans.

Bush's spokeswoman Dana Perino said, ""A precipitous collapse of this industry would have a severe impact on our economy, and it would be irresponsible to further weaken and destabilize our economy at this time." Finally, someone with a bit of sense lets her voice be hear. She continues, "...the federal government may need to step in to prevent an immediate failure, the auto companies, their labor unions, and all other stakeholders must be prepared to make the meaningful concessions necessary to become viable."

This weekend, Administration officials are talking with the Detroit Three concerning conditions that must be met to receive aid and have not made final decisions on the size or duration of the package. What to look for is how quickly the Administration can get the funds to GM and Chrysler, who admit to being on the brink of financial collapse. With little more than two weeks left in the year, it looks like there is time to make the loans available.

The prominent Senator from Michigan, Carl Levin - D, had this to say, ""The effort to provide emergency bridge loans to U.S. automakers is still very much alive. I am encouraged that the White House said today that they will consider other options to assist the auto companies, including use of the TARP program."

GM has announced it would produce 250,000 less vehicles in the first quarter of 2009 and temporarily close 20 plants in Canada, US and Mexico. Some plants would even be closed for the entire month of January. Sales figures for ALL of the automakers selling vehicles in the US are down, ranging from 30 to 40 percent less than last year. The automakers are now scrambling to cut production and costs in reaction to the slumping sales.

Friday, December 12, 2008

White House considering use of TARP funds for Auto bailout

From the beginning, the White House was opposed to using any monies from the TARP fund for the auto industry but now, it seems they have changed course. The Bush administration wanted Congress to use the 25 billion that was approved for "re-tooling" the Big Three so that they would build more efficient vehicles. Unfortunately, Congress was dead set against that idea. So the next move was for Congress to pass new legislation that would give the automakers up to 34 billion in loans to avert bankruptcy. As we have seen, this number was reduced to 14 billion to see them through until the Obama administration could get in place. Now, in a shocking and stupefying move, a minority of Senate members have killed the 14 billion dollar bill.

These few Senators have decided they would rather micromanage the Detroit Three and tell them how to run their business and also dictate what union members should be paid. Instead of doing the right thing, these Senators have shirked their responsibility and are willing to see our economy sink to greater depths.

Make no mistake, the US auto companies will crash and burn without assistance and it could happen in a matter of weeks, which precludes Obama's team being of any help or consequence. If GM and Chrysler fail, then think of the jobs that will be lost, the companies that will fold and the impact it will have on our society and economy. I am reading every day of companies that announce massive layoffs like Bank of America, who announced today that 35,000 will lose thier jobs. Does Congress really want to see 500,000 more jobs lost from the auto industry?

Now, the only option left is the White House, who could carve out a small percentage of the monies from TARP and give it to the Big Three. TARP is the 700 billion dollar Troubled Asset Recovery Program which was really a bailout and FREE money given to evil, crooked banking institutions. Dana Perino correctly stated this morning, "A precipitous collapse of this industry would have a severe impact on our economy, and it would be irresponsible to further weaken and destabilize our economy at this time."

I incorrectly thought that our Congressional leaders would approve a bailout bill and now I think that the White House will provide funds for the auto industry. I just hope I am not incorrect once again!

Tell me what you think. Will the White House and Bush Administration save the day?

US Auto Bailout Dead, Now What?

Unbelievably, the UAW has refused wage concessions and now the bailout bill is dead in the Senate where it was defeated on a procedural vote. I can hardly believe it as I truly thought there would be some form of bailout. Now they are counting on President Bush to use funds from TARP, which doesn't seem likely. What a mess.

From Yahoo News:

"Their efforts in Congress squashed, U.S. automakers are depending upon a reluctant White House to quickly provide a multibillion lifeline to help them avoid imminent collapse.

General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, which have said they could run out of cash within weeks, have few options left after the dramatic defeat in the Senate of a $14 billion bailout for the domestic auto industry.

Its demise late Thursday prompted immediate calls from lawmakers in both parties for the Bush administration to tap into the $700 billion Wall Street bailout to rescue the beleaguered auto industry. The bill failed after talks broke down over the refusal of the United Auto Workers union to meet Republican demands for aggressive wage reductions.

The Senate rejected the bailout 52-35 on a procedural vote — well short of the 60 required — after the talks fell apart.

"I dread looking at Wall Street," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in anticipation of Friday's stock market reaction. "It's not going to be a pleasant sight."

Stock markets in Asia and Europe dropped sharply on Friday after getting word of the bailout's failure.

The Bush administration has repeatedly said the Wall Street bailout fund should not be used for emergency aid to the automakers because it was designed to restore stability to the financial sector. Following the vote, the White House said it was studying its options.

"Plan B is the president," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said action by President George W. Bush was the "only viable option."

General Motors and Chrysler are in the most immediate danger while Ford Motor Co. has said it does not need federal help now, but could face collateral damage if one of its domestic rivals fell. With the economy in recession, the auto industry has struggled under the weight of lackluster sales and choked credit markets.

Detroit's carmakers employ nearly a quarter-million workers, and more than 730,000 others produce materials and parts for cars. If one of the automakers declared bankruptcy, some estimate as many as 3 million U.S. jobs could be lost next year.

The White House said it was disappointed by the vote and the legislation "presented the best chance to avoid a disorderly bankruptcy while ensuring taxpayer funds only go to firms whose stakeholders were prepared to make difficult decisions to become viable."

Many congressional Republicans and some economists said the companies would be best to pursue a prearranged bankruptcy that would allow them to restructure quickly. But most Democrats and the carmakers rejected that, arguing it would quickly lead to liquidation because consumers would never buy cars from a bankrupt auto company.

As it lobbied unsuccessfully on Thursday, White House officials said the weak economy couldn't afford the collapse of the auto industry. President-elect Barack Obama said an industry shutdown would have a "devastating ripple effect" on the already battered economy."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The New Dodge Electric Vehicle

This picture is a stealth image of the Dodge EV taken at night.

I wanted to take a break from the circus sideshow that is our legislative body and talk about something exciting, like electric cars! A few months back, Chrysler announced that it was working on three prototype EV's and PHEV's. There was a Jeep model, a Chrysler mini van model and a Dodge sedan. Of the three, the Dodge was the coolest and sportiest and did not resemble an electric car at all. The Jeep looked just like a run-of-the-mill model as did the mini van. However, those two were plug in hybrids that have an ICE and maybe 40 miles electric range as opposed to the all electric Dodge. Don't misunderstand me though as I would love to be able to walk into a dealership and purchase a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

The specifications for the Dodge EV are impressive. Powered by a 200 KW electric motor and a 26 kWh lithium ion battery pack, the car will accelerate from 0 to 60 in 4.7 seconds. That is very quick. Its range is reported to be 150 to 200 miles, which seems like a stretch for only having a 26 kWh pack. The Tesla EV uses a battery pack twice as large and its range is 200 to 250 miles. Hopefully, Chrysler's numbers will hold up for us.


"We have some stealthy spy shots of a rolling prototype of the Dodge EV, an all-electric two-seat sports car that is part of the electric-car blitz Chrysler says it will start in 2010.

This is a lightly restyled Lotus Europa--look closely, it’s quite similar. Even though these shots were taken from a distance and at night, we now see for the first time a prominent Dodge crosshair grille. The prototype also has large wheels and is orange and white, in contrast to the yellow-and-black version unveiled earlier this year.

In the back we also see taillights with a definite Dodge vibe, and the contoured door panels seen on the earlier prototype remain. It’s sort of like a watered-down Viper or a sexed-up Stealth.

The Dodge EV is a plug-in that draws power from a 26-kilowatt-per-hour lithium-ion battery pack that shoots volts to a 200-kilowatt electric motor that drives the rear wheels. That engine is rated at 268 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. Chrysler says the range is expected to be 150 to 200 miles on a charge, and this pocket rocket can go from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds."

It sure would be nice if Chrysler decided to bring the Dodge EV to market in 2010. They previously announced that one of the prototypes would be offered by then.

Future of Auto bailout bill uncertain

As we saw yesterday, the House of Representatives passed their portion of the auto bailout bill but now it seems to be hung up in the Senate. George Voinovich, Sen - R Ohio, has already stated that there is not enough support in the Senate for passage. They need 60 votes to overcome any Republican delays and do not have it yet. The Republicans are spouting off that they are uncomfortable with the car czar, uncomfortable with spending 14 billion without the auto manufacturers having a clear plan and do want to see tougher environmental issues as part of the bill. I think these Republicans are just grandstanding, thinking they are protecting the taxpayer when in reality, they are accomplishing just the opposite.

From Yahoo News:

"A House-passed bill to speed $14 billion in loans to Detroit's automakers stands on shaky ground in a bailout-weary Congress, undermined by Republican opposition that could derail the emergency aid in the Senate.

Republicans are challenging lame-duck President George W. Bush on the proposal, arguing that any support for the domestic auto industry should carry significant concessions from autoworkers and creditors and reject tougher environmental rules imposed by House Democrats.

The House approved the plan late Wednesday on a vote of 237-170. It would infuse money within days into cash-starved General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Ford Motor Co., which has said it has enough cash to make it through 2009, would also be eligible for federal aid.

Supporters cited dire warnings from GM and Chrysler executives, who have said they could run out of cash within weeks, and concerns that a carmaker collapse would erase tens of thousands of jobs and jolt an already bleak economy.

Democrats and the Bush White House hoped the Senate would vote on the legislation as early as Thursday. But based on concerns raised by GOP senators — and a still-uncertain level of support even among Democrats — they had a lot of work to do.

A leading Senate Republican opponent said Thursday that he cannot back spending $14 billion of taxpayer money on a plan that would call for a restructuring of the industry, but which fails to detail just how that would be accomplished.

"I think that is putting the cart before the horse and isn't reponsible in terms of tax dollars," Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana said on CBS's "The Early Show."

"A lot of members of the Senate have questions, on both sides of the aisle, about the strength of the so-called auto czar," he said on CNN Thursday morning. "We think this auto czar will have very strong, sweeping powers, and we think that's reflected in the legislation. So we're going to keep talking to them (senators). The president and other members of the administration will be reaching out to Republican senators this morning."

Let's hope that our political system can actually work and that our representatives reach across the aisle and come to an amicable agreement.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Politicians at it again, Auto Bailout Delayed

Well, I should have seen this coming. Instead of quickly agreeing to a mere 14 or 15 billion dollar bailout bill, our Democrats and Republicans cannot find common ground. Earlier, the White House and Democrats agreed in principal to a bailout plan, but now the Republicans are rearing their heads and refusing to sign off on the bill. We are not even sure if there will be a vote this week when originally we thought the President would have it on his desk before the weekend. This is a depressing setback.

From Automotive News:

"A final Senate vote on legislation that would provide emergency loans to the Detroit 3 may not come until this weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned today.

Reid, D-Nev., said some provisions of the bailout bill are being negotiated, but the main obstacle is resistance by Senate Republicans to an expedited vote.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the GOP leader, responded that Republicans can't agree to quick consideration of legislation they have not seen.

An "agreement in principle" between congressional Democratic leaders and the Bush White House on provisions of the loan bill was reported late yesterday. The House may take up the bill today.

But Reid conceded that some items remain unresolved. He said it has been difficult to reconcile the desires of the Senate, the House, the Bush administration and the incoming Obama administration.

Reid confirmed that Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., the vice president-elect, has agreed to vote on the measure if needed.

McConnell signaled potential stumbling blocks. He said the bill must require concessions from unionized Detroit 3 workers and must ensure that the automakers will be put on a path to long-term survival without more taxpayer money.

He also warned that Republicans will resist a provision in the bill that the car companies must drop litigation against state greenhouse gas rules."

It looks like there is still quite a bit of work to be done before the bill can be brought to a vote. Tell me what you think. Will we have a bill before the weekend? It looks doubtful to me!

We Have an Agreement! Auto Bailout now on Track

Late Tuesday night, the White House and Congressional leaders were able to come to terms in fabricating the so called Auto Bailout Bill. Actually, the bill will have a more formal name once it is presented in the House and Senate. This is very good news indeed and we can look for a vote as early as today (Wednesday). Most of the terms in the agreement are the same as we have already heard, that it will be 15 billion, there will be a car czar, no big bonuses for the CEO's, etc.

From Automotive News:

"The White House and congressional Democrats on Tuesday night reached an agreement in principle on a $15 billion proposal for bailing out U.S. automakers and forcing them to restructure or fail, officials said.

A Bush administration official and a Democratic leadership aide said the outline covered key points but final issues needed to be resolved and put in writing.

Democrats have arranged to have the House of Representatives vote on a bill as early as Wednesday and send it to the Senate for consideration.

..."Bipartisan hard work has paid off," said Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan whose home state headquarters General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC.

"I understand an agreement has been reached," Levin said in a statement.

The bailout is designed to allow GM and Chrysler to avert threatened bankruptcy through March with short-term loans. Ford Motor Co. is not requesting immediate help but would like a $9 billion line of credit in case its finances worsen.

The parties that negotiated the tentative deal agreed last week that the money would come from an Energy Department fund established in September to help Detroit make more fuel-efficient cars.

The administration official said the negotiators satisfied the key White House concern in the talks that companies receiving aid obtain the necessary concessions and make other changes to prove they can survive and compete.

In addition to providing loans, the proposal would force automakers to answer to a presidentially appointed trustee -- or "car czar" -- and make the government their biggest shareholder.

The overseer will have powers to shape a restructuring of the companies, withholding further loans if progress toward a turnaround stalled.

A major provision would permit the czar to recommend a bankruptcy restructuring if companies borrowing money fail to obtain the necessary concessions.

Some Republicans wanted some sort of bankruptcy option included as an incentive for labor and other stakeholders to agree on givebacks."

Stay tuned, as always. Hopefully we will have the results of the votes by the end of this week.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

GM's Rick Wagoner admits "disappointing and betraying" its customers

It seems as if Mr. Wagoner is clutching at straws now. The only question remaining is why the timing of this confession? Will it help him keep his job and/or will it help GM secure the loans it so desperately needs?

From Reuters:

General Motors Corp on Monday unveiled an
unusually frank advertisement acknowledging it had "disappointed"
and sometimes even "betrayed" American consumers as it lobbies to
clinch the federal aid it needs to stay afloat into next month.

The print advertisement marked a sharp break from GM's public stance
of just several weeks ago when it sought to justify its bid for a
U.S. government on the grounds that the credit crisis had undermined
its business in ways executives could never have foreseen.

It also came as Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, who has led the
automaker since 2000, faces new pressure to step aside as GM seeks
up to $18 billion in federal funding.

"While we're still the U.S. sales leader, we acknowledge we have
disappointed you," the ad said. "At times we violated your trust by
letting our quality fall below industry standards and our designs
became lackluster."

The unsigned open letter, entitled "GM's Commitment to the American
People" ran in the trade journal Automotive News, which is widely
read by industry executives, lobbyists and other insiders.

In the ad, GM admits to other strategic missteps analysts and
critics have said hastened its recent decline.

"We have proliferated our brands and dealer network to the point
where we lost adequate focus on the core U.S. market," the ad
said. "We also biased our product mix toward pick-up trucks and

But GM also says in the ad that it was hit by forces beyond its
control as it tried to complete a restructuring earlier this year.

"Despite moving quickly to reduce our planned spending by over $20
billion, GM finds itself precariously and frighteningly close to
running out of cash," the ad says.

A failure of GM would deepen the current recession and put "millions
of job at risk," according to the ad, which also highlights the
automaker's pledged restructuring and intention to begin repaying
taxpayers in 2011.

GM spokesman Greg Martin said the ad was an attempt by the automaker
to present "a pledge directly to the public."

"We believe we need to deliver this commitment unfiltered since
quite a bit of media commentary has not kept pace with our actual
progress to transform the company," Martin said.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, a Democrat from
Connecticut who is central to the effort to craft an auto bailout
bill, on Sunday said GM should replace Wagoner.

GM says Wagoner has the support of the company's board.

A look at Project Better Place

Today I would like to have a look at Project Better Place. The company was publicly launched as Project Better Place, by Shai Agassi on October 29, 2007 but now they seem to go by Better Place instead. The concept for this company is unique and may very well become the industry standard. Better Place is working to build an electric car network using technolgies available today. Their goal is sustainable transportation, global energy independence and freedom from oil. Very admirable goals, in my opinion.

How it works:

Basically, Better Place is building an electric car infrastructure. This entails the electric car, the batteries, the charging stations and locations for battery swapping. Better Place is currently deploying its plan in Israel but hopes to come to California in the future.

The electric car will come from the Renault-Nissan Alliance which is 100% electronic and will be powered by a battery developed by suppliers such as Automotive Energy Supply Corp. (AESC), a joint partnership of Renault-Nissan and Japanese manufacturer NEC and others, like A123. A first prototype of an EV debuted in Tel Aviv in January 2008.

The batteries will be Lithium Ion type and can reliably deliver driving distances of over 100 miles on a single charge and replenish themselves at approximately one minute per minute of drive time. Better Place is hoping that as these batteries become mass produced that the economies of scale will drive their cost down and make it much more attractive to consumers.

The most unique part of the plan is their Battery Exchange program. From their website:

Battery Exchange Stations

"In addition to widely deployed charge spots, the Better Place network will provide fully-automated battery exchange stations. These swap stations are designed to extend the driver's journey beyond the 100 mile range of a fully-charged battery. Because most of today's driving is within 40 miles of the home, a visit to one of these facilities will be infrequent when compared to the number of times we currently have to pull into a gas station.

These Better Place battery exchange stations are even more efficient and convenient than conventional gas stations. Each is roughly the size of your average living room. Like the charging spots, they are fully automated. A driver pulls in, puts the car in the neutral gear, and sits back. The battery exchange station does all the work. The depleted battery is removed, and a fully-charged replacement is installed. In under three minutes, the car is back on the road. It's just like an automatic car wash, a quick, effortless, drive-through experience.

The battery exchange stations will be able to accommodate any Better Place-compliant vehicle. All manufactured batteries will be stocked so that any electric vehicle with a swappable battery, regardless of make or model, can pull in and be serviced."

Finally, the most critical piece of the puzzle in my estimation are the Charge Spots. These are the regular interface points between the electric car and the power grid. If a society is to adopt the electric automobile, then these charge spots need to become fairly ubiquitous. Some of the locations for the charge spots are parking garages, retail spaces, street curbs, as well as within the homes of driver's everywhere.

I sincerely hope Better Place succeeds so that the world will know this technology is feasible and ready for prime time.