Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fritz Henderson, GM COO, Announces Core Brands as Chevy, Cadillac, Buick and GMC

GM's COO, Fritz Henderson has gone on record stating that their core brands will be Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. This is not much of a surprise as the matter was discussed during their hearings before the House and Senate when they begged for their lives. Pontiac will be downsized greatly and Saturn may just be jettisoned. GM really does not know what to do with SAAB and Hummer and it looks like they wish the two could have been sold in 2006.

One disturbing comment made by Henderson is that if gas prices remain low, Chevy will have a difficult time selling the Volt. GM really needs the Volt to be a smashing success, but it appears they are already preparing for a failure. Other manufacturers are moving quickly to bring plug-in electric hybrids to market and I fear GM will be left in the dust. GM should have offered the Volt this year, using existing lead acid or NiMH batteries, but instead they dragged things out by researching and developing more expensive Li ion batteries. The price of the Volt could have been lower initially with these batteries and coupled with the $7500 federal tax credit, it would have made a very viable purchase for consumers. Instead, we have to wait nearly two more years.

From Automotive News:

"General Motors will go to market with four core brands in the future: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. Pontiac will be shrunk "significantly," a senior GM executive told the Automotive News World Congress tonight.

GM COO Fritz Henderson said that GM is conducting a strategic review of its Saab and Hummer brands and that the "status quo" for the Saturn brand will not work.

"We need to do something different with the Saturn brand," he said.

Henderson stopped short of saying GM would outright shutter the brand, but he made it clear that it would not remain in the same capacity and form it is today.

Likewise, GM is working with the Swedish government on a plan to help the Saab brand.

"We're engaged with the Swedish government as we speak," Henderson said. "We've talked to investors and we'll see where it goes."

Three-quarters of Saab sales are in Europe, he said. "Saab is not a U.S. strategy."

Henderson said the four core brands comprised 83 percent of GM's total sales volume in the United States last year.

Going forward, the Pontiac brand will "shrink substantially," Henderson said. But the fact that GM is investing heavily in the Buick brand in China will benefit that brand in the United States.

"When you see the new LaCrosse, it will be very familiar to the one you've seen GM reveal in China," Henderson said.

Asked if GM should have followed the 2006 advice of Jerry York, Las Vegas billionaire Kirk Kerkorian's former representative on the GM board, to sell Hummer and Saab, Henderson said, "With the benefit of hindsight, you might say we should have moved then."

If oil prices remain low, GM would be challenged to successfully sell key future vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid sedan, he said. But GM is planning its future business around oil being $130 to $160 a barrel in the next few years. GM is projecting oil will be average about $53 a barrel in 2009, he said.

During his speech, Henderson outlined the volatile markets that led to GM's cash crisis late last year. He said that if GM does not get the second installment of the $13.4 billion loan the government granted, it will run out of cash before the end of March. GM is expecting a payment of $5.4 billion in the next few days, Henderson said. That payment was originally due last week, but was delayed by the change in administration.

The government gave GM the first installment of $4 billion on Dec. 31.

GM is working with its stakeholders to refine the viability plan it submitted to Congress on Dec. 2. In that plan, GM said it would direct most of its marketing and engineering resources toward Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.

Henderson said GM's next challenge isn't just streamlining operations and developing advanced technology, it's also fixing its public image.

"Our job is not only to build vehicles people want to buy," Henderson said. "But to communicate that people want to buy our vehicles."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fiat Looks To Purchase 35% Stake in Chrysler

More big news in the automotive sector as Fiat agrees in principal to purchasing a 35% equity stake in Chrysler. While this is good news for Chrysler, I am not sure it makes much sense in the long run. What exactly does Chrysler gain from this merger beside the obvious influx of cash? Fiat apparently wants a dealership infrastructure in the US to sell its products. Tell me what you think. Is this a good merger or no?

From Automotive News:

Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler LLC confirmed today that the Italian company intends to acquire an initial 35 percent stake in the U.S. carmaker.

In a joint statement, Fiat, Chrysler and Chrysler's majority shareholder Cerberus Capital Management L.P, said they have signed "a non-binding term sheet to establish a global strategic alliance."

The pact "would provide Chrysler with access to competitive, fuel-efficient vehicle platforms, powertrains, and components to be produced at Chrysler manufacturing sites," the companies said.

Under the terms of the deal, first reported on Monday by Automotive News Europe, Fiat would make available its distribution network in key growth markets. "Substantial cost savings opportunities" would be available to the alliance, the companies said.

The transaction already has the blessing of the UAW. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said in the press release:

"This is great news for the UAW Chrysler team and we look forward to supporting and working with them to ensure Chrysler's long term viability."

PRESS RELEASE: Fiat Group, Chrysler and Cerberus Announce Plans for a Global Strategic Alliance

Fiat S.p.A., Chrysler LLC (Chrysler) and Cerberus Capital Management L.P., the private investment majority owner of Chrysler LLC, announced today they have signed a non-binding term sheet to establish a global strategic alliance.

The alliance, to be a key element of Chrysler's viability plan, would provide Chrysler with access to competitive, fuel-efficient vehicle platforms, powertrain, and components to be produced at Chrysler manufacturing sites. Fiat would also provide distribution capabilities in key growth markets, as well as substantial cost savings opportunities. In addition, Fiat would provide management services supporting Chrysler's submission of a viability plan to the U.S. Treasury as required. Fiat has been very successful in executing its own restructuring over the past several years. The alliance would also allow Fiat Group and Chrysler to take advantage of each other's distribution networks and to optimize fully their respective manufacturing footprint and global supplier base.

The proposed alliance would be consistent with the terms and conditions of the U.S. Treasury financing to Chrysler. Per the U.S. Treasury loan agreement, each constituent will be asked to contribute to Chrysler's restructuring effort including: lenders, employees, the UAW, dealers, suppliers and Chrysler Financial. Such steps would greatly contribute to Chrysler's long term viability plan. Completion of the alliance is subject to due diligence and regulatory approvals, including the U.S. Treasury.

As a consideration for Fiat Group's contribution to the alliance of strategic assets, to include: product and platform sharing, including city and compact segment vehicles, to expand Chrysler's current product portfolio; technology sharing, including fuel efficient and environmentally friendly powertrain technologies; and access to additional markets, including distribution for Chrysler vehicles in markets outside of North America, Fiat would receive an initial 35 percent equity interest in Chrysler. The alliance does not contemplate that Fiat would make a cash investment in Chrysler or commit to funding Chrysler in the future.

"This initiative represents a key milestone in the rapidly changing landscape of the automotive sector and confirms Fiat and Chrysler commitment and determination to continue to play a significant role in this global process. The agreement will offer both companies opportunities to gain access to most relevant automotive markets with innovative and environmentally friendly product offering, a field in which Fiat is a recognized world leader while benefitting from additional cost synergies. The deal follows a number of targeted alliances and partnerships signed by the Fiat Group with leading carmakers and automotive suppliers over the last five years aimed at supporting the growth and volume aspirations of the partners involved," the CEO of Fiat Group, Sergio Marchionne said.

"A Chrysler/Fiat partnership is a great fit as it creates the potential for a powerful, new global competitor, offering Chrysler a number of strategic benefits, including access to products that compliment our current portfolio; a distribution network outside North America; and cost savings in design, engineering, manufacturing, purchasing and sales and marketing," said Bob Nardelli, Chairman and CEO of Chrysler LLC. "This transaction will enable Chrysler to offer a broader competitive line-up of vehicles for our dealers and customers that meet emissions and fuel efficiency standards, while adhering to conditions of the Government Loan. The partnership would also provide a return on investment for the American taxpayer by securing the long-term viability of Chrysler brands in the marketplace, sustaining future product and technology development for our country and building renewed consumer confidence, while preserving American jobs."

"This is great news for the UAW Chrysler team and we look forward to supporting and working with them to ensure Chrysler's long term viability," said Ron Gettelfinger, President United Auto Workers (UAW).

"We're on board with this important strategic initiative as it will help preserve the long-term viability of our great company, its brands and of course UAW-Chrysler jobs," said General Holiefield, Vice President, United Auto Workers (UAW).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Toyota Announces Plan to Lower Prius Price in Response to Honda Insight

Here is some rather big news. Toyota will be taking an aggressive stance on its pricing of the Prius in order to compete with Honda's Insight. Competition is great, eh?

From Green Car Congress:

The Nikkei reports that Toyota Motor Corp. plans to lower the price for the existing Prius hybrid when it begins selling the more fuel-efficient third-generation Prius (earlier post) later this year to counter Honda Motor’s new Insight hybrid (earlier post).

Japan’s top automaker will continue to sell the existing Prius after the new version’s release in May. While the new Prius, which will boast improved fuel-efficiency, is expected to carry a hefty price tag, Toyota plans to cut the price for the current model to around 2 million yen. Rival Honda is slated to release the Insight hybrid in February, with a starting price of less than 2 million yen.

The new Prius will come equipped with a 1.8-liter engine, compared with the current 1.5-liter version, improving the car’s fuel efficiency 10% to 36-40km per liter. With this improvement, the price is expected to rise to around 2.5 million yen. The remodeled Prius will be offered through all four of Toyota’s sales channels while the existing version will be sold only through two.

Toyota will position the current Prius as a low-end model targeted at corporate users, simplifying the interior design to lower its price.

Sales of the Prius in Japan in 2008 rose 25% from 2007, to more than 73,000 units.

44th US President Barack Obama and His Energy Policy

Barack Obama will be sworn in tomorrow as the 44th President of the United States amidst a gargantuan amount of hoopla. Apparently, Obama will be a saviour to the masses and everyone will live happily ever after. Obama is being hailed as a great choice for our country because he is black. Or is he? Actually, he is more caucasian than anything, due to his mother, and then he is Arab, due to his father.

Which brings me to the point of this post, namely what will be Obama's energy policy, considering his heritage? Will he set up a real policy that begins the process of weaning this country from foreign oil, or will he continue to feed OPEC and other oil producing countries? His campaign was based on change and he has stated he wants a change in energy policy, but will he deliver? I sincerely hope so. George Bush and Dick Cheney did not want any change in the oil policy, which was very evident by our increasing dependence on foreign oil. But will Obama break our addiction?

Obama said he is in favor of tax credits for those who purchase battery electric vehicles, when they become available. Already, Congress has passed legislation allowing up to $7500 in tax credits on car puchases with a certain sized battery. The battery must be greater than 4 kWh's energy density. For comparison, the Toyota Prius' battery is 1.3 kWh's. Will Obama push to have this tax credit increased? It needs to be $10,000 minimum in my opinion. Chevy is going to price their Volt around 40K MSRP and without the 10 grand in credits, the masses simply will not be able to afford it.

What about alternative energy? Will Obama push for the Pickens Plan, or push for solar or wind? Is he going to allow more oil drilling here in the States? Along with the current economic crisis, our energy crisis should be his primary focus as this nation cannot continue to give our money away to nations that hate us. We need to completely transform the transportation sector and utilize alternative energy, mostly in the form of electricity, and do it fast.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Subaru Stella EV To Make its Debut This Summer

More good news for those of us who desire alternative energy vehicles. Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI), who make Subarus, will commence delivery of the Stella plug in vehicle this summer. Unfortunately for those of us who live in North America, these cars will be for sale only in Japan.

The Stella EV will have a top speed of 62 mph (100 kph) and a range of 50 miles or 80 km. I presume that Subaru is going to try and keep the cost low for this vehicle as the battery pack only contains 9.2 kWh's of energy. The battery technology is Lithium ion with a nominal voltage of 346V. The 50 mile range is sure to give most commuters some anxiety and the 62 mph top speed may deter freeway use. However, for those individuals who need not travel on roads with posted speed limits greater than 55 mph, this car could be perfect.

I would personally prefer to see this car with a 100 mile range and 70 to 75 mph top speed. These numbers easily cover the overwhelming majority of US commuter's needs. Of course, you would need twice the battery capacity which probably doubles its cost. We need mass production of Lithium batteries to bring their cost down and make the technology more available to the masses.

The next two years are going to be great for alternative energy vehicles. I am personally very excited to see the next years unfold. We will soon have a great choice of electric vehicles at showrooms and also competition for our hard earned dollars.

Thanks FHI and Subaru for giving us one more choice!

From Green Car Congress:

uji Heavy Industries (FHI), maker of Subarus, will begin delivery of the plug-in STELLA (earlier post) this summer, according to FHI President & CEO Ikuo Mori in his New Year press conference speech.

More than 100 units are to be delivered mainly in metropolitan areas of Japan. FHI is calling 2009 the “First Year of Electric Vehicle”.

The Subaru Plug-in STELLA Concept combines the electric drive system employed in the R1e (earlier post) with the Subaru STELLA minicar platform. FHI plans to use the plug-in STELLA Concept in the development and test-marketing of the next generation of EVs in Japan in the near future.

The STELLA EV seats four, has a maximum speed of 100 kph (62 mph) and a range of 80km (50 miles) per charge. A 9.2 kWh, 346V Li-ion battery pack drives an electric motor with 40 kW output and that develops 150 Nm torque.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Crude Oil at $35 Per Barrel Today But Where Is Cheap Gas?

My little crude oil widget tells us that the price of a barrel of crude is selling for $35 at the time of this writing. This represents a mere fraction of the prices we witnessed in 2008, when the going rate was $144 per barrel. These low prices persist even as OPEC has cut production output by 4 billion barrels daily.

Here is what I do not understand, "Why are prices at the pump still $2 per gallon or more?" Everyone knows that when the prices for crude go up, we see an INSTANTANEOUS rise at the pump, so why is the opposite not true? Why are gas prices still $2 a gallon now when they were $1.50 a couple months ago at the same crude prices?

I believe that oil companies are keeping the prices high intentionally to keep their profits up. They got so used to huge profits these past few years that they must now be going into withdrawal. Like a drug addiction, greed is overwhelmingly powerful and my thinking is that Big Oil needs more profits.

What are you paying at the pump today? It is still $1.99 in central Ohio but should be lower.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Detroit 3 Just Say No to Tokyo

In an attempt to appear pious and cost cutting and all that, the Detroit Three have pulled out of the Tokyo Auto Show. This is probably too little too late to save their hides, but we shall see.

From Automotive News:

"The Detroit 3 automakers have pulled out of this year's Tokyo auto show to cut costs.

Ford Motor Co. this afternoon confirmed Japanese media reports that Ford would not be participating this year.

"At this time, participating in the show just isn't a strategic priority," spokeswoman Jennifer Flake said. "Given everything else we have to balance in that region and in that market, that's not where we've chosen to prioritize our time and our resources."

Flake said she could not give information about the status of Mazda or Volvo in the show.

Exhibiting in the show, which is held every two years, cost General Motors $2 million in 2007. That's money better spent elsewhere, said Rick Brown, president of GM Asia Pacific.

"We won't be participating," Brown told Automotive News today. "If you really look at the business conditions that we are in right now, where we really have to make a bang out of every buck we spend, it's simply a business decision."

Chrysler made the same decision.

"Chrysler decided, under the current challenges and market situation the company faces, to pull out of TMS in 2009 in order to secure limited resources invested efficiently on activities necessary to sustain our business," Kaori Beppu, spokesperson for Chrysler Japan, said in a written statement today.

"We regret that we will be losing a great opportunity to appeal the company's presence at one of the international auto shows, but Chrysler will continue to offer Japanese consumers the very attractive product portfolio as well as the quality services."

The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association is debating whether to cancel the event.

Brown said the Tokyo auto show can be a good forum to promote the GM brand. But the money is better channeled into other local marketing efforts, he said.

GM's decision to stay home is sure to raise eyebrows among the company's detractors in Japan, Brown said. But any bruising to the company's image will be short-lived, he said.

"If you're going to the Tokyo motor show to raise the corporate flag or just do it for corporate presence, I think those days are gone," Brown said. "It's not a good business decision."

The 41st annual Tokyo auto show is scheduled for Oct. 23-Nov. 8. Press days are to be Oct. 21 and 22. The theme is "Fun driving for us, eco driving for earth."

Discussion about canceling the show is driven in part by the decision of some non-Japanese automakers to shun the October venue amid the global financial crisis. But some Japanese exhibitors also are proposing that this year's event be canceled.

The show's steering committee will decide by early next month whether to postpone the show, said Toshihiro Iwatake, JAMA's executive director.

A number of non-American companies dropped out of this month's Detroit auto show, including Nissan Motor Co., Suzuki Motor Corp., Porsche AG, Rolls-Royce and Land Rover. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. canceled its corporate presence, but local Mitsubishi dealers put together an exhibit."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

BYD Auto Shows Off Their F3DM, F6DM and E6 Crossover

It is my opinion that BYD Auto from China has got it all together. They have beaten every major auto manufacturer by offering the production F3DM plug-in hybrid vehicle for sale in China, a full year before anyone will have one. Now they are showing us the upcoming F6DM (about the size and shape of a Camry) and the crossover battery electric E6. This company means business. You make dislike the company for being Chinese and make fun of their quality, or whether or not the cars will come with lead paint, but their business acumen is second to none.

BYD wants to be a world leader in the automotive sector and they are well on their way. Personally, I would buy the F3DM TODAY if it was offered in the US. As it stands, I will have to wait until 2011 and by then, I will hopefully have many more options. The pictures below are great.

More of this great story from Green Car Congress:

"China’s BYD Auto showed the production version of its F3DM (dual mode) plug-in hybrid electric vehicle at the North American International Auto Show. The PHEV, which has gone on-sale in China, will begin US sales in 2011, according to the company. The company also showed the F6DM, a larger version of the F3DM due to go onsale this year, as well as an all-new battery-electric crossover, the e6.

BYD Auto, which is a subsidiary of China-based BYD Group, the leading provider of NiCd batteries (65% global market share) and lithium-ion cell phone batteries (30% global market share), uses BYD lithium-ion iron phosphate cells in its energy storage system. BYD says that its battery packs retain 80% of initial capacity through 2,000 full charge and discharge cycles, and have a 10-year lifetime.

The dual mode system runs the vehicle on electricity at start-up and under short-to-mid-range conditions. When the vehicle needs more power during acceleration, the gasoline engines and the electric motor drive the wheels together (parallel hybrid mode), providing the most power output. The engine also serves as a range extender for the system under electric drive (series hybrid mode). (Earlier post.)

Dm1_2 Dm2_2
Cutaway model showing the engine and motor of the DM powertrain. Click to enlarge. Under the hood of the F3DM. Click to enlarge.

The F3DM. The powertrain combines a 50 kW (67 hp) 1.0-liter gasoline engine, a 25 kW generator and a 50 kW traction motor. Combined range is 360 miles (580 km) with a 100 km (62 mile) all-electric range. BYD says that the F3DM consumes ≤16 kWh/100km, or 258 Wh/mile. (To provide a comparison point, the Chevrolet Volt is designed to consume 8 kWh in 40 miles, or 200 Wh/mile.)

Acceleration from 0-60 mph is 10.5 seconds, with a top speed of 93 mph (150 km/h). The battery pack can be fully recharged from a household outlet in 7 hours. BYD says it can be quick charged to 50% capacity in 10 minutes.

The F6DM. The F6DM shares the same powertrain as that of the F3DM. Combined range is 267 miles (430 km) with an all-electric range of 62-miles (100km).

The e6. Click to enlarge.

The e6. BYD says it is planning four motor combinations for the e6, which can offer all-wheel drive with front and rear motors: 75 kW; 75 kW + 40 kW; 160 kW; and 160 kW + 40 kW. Electric power consumption will be less than 18 kWh/100km (290 Wh/mile).

Also present at the Detroit press conference was David Sokol, the chairman of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, the Berkshire Hathaway unit that last year took a 10% stake in BYD. (Earlier post.)

Sokol said that MidAmerican invested in BYD primarily because of the battery technology. Sokol later told Reuters that whether or not BYD manufactured their own cars wasn’t relevant to MidAmerican, because the real expertise was in the development of the batteries, the motors and the control systems.

At the show, BYD chairman Wang Chuan-Fu said the company would consider licensing its low-cost battery technology.

Market For Lithium Ion Battery Materials to Grow 89% in 5 Years

Are you looking for a good place to park some investment money? Maybe, just maybe you should consider companies that supply the materials for Lithium Ion battery manufacture. Lithium Ion batteries are used in all our computer laptops, cell phones, power tools, AA batteries and soon in your electric car. The demand for these products will not abate in the foreseeable future so now may be the time to invest.

From Nikkei:

According to a report by market research firm Fuji Keizai Co., the market for lithium-ion battery materials will increase to ¥618.7 billion (US$6.9 billion) in 2012, an 89% increase from 2007.

Among key ingredients, the market for positive electrode materials is seen increasing 81.2% to 270 billion yen [US$3 billion]. Separators, which are vital for battery safety, are expected to become a 111 billion yen [US$1.24 billion] market, double the 2007 size.

The lithium ion battery market is projected to grow at a 11% annual pace in the years ahead as use of notebook computers, power tools and mobile phones expands. In the future, demand could also be seen from electric automobiles and hybrid vehicles.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ford Announces Accelerated Plans For New HEV's, PHEV's and BEV's

Bill Ford, Ford's Executive Chairman, used the Detroit Auto Show to unveil their aggressive plans for bringing green autos to market. They will have two new battery electric vehicles (BEV's) as well as plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) and next generation hybrid vehicles. Their plan is almost as robust Chrysler's. I really look forward to seeing these vehicles in the showrooms.

From Green Car Congress:

Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford unveiled an accelerated plan to bring next-generation hybrid-electric (HEV); a plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV); and battery-electric (BEV) vehicles to market quickly and more affordably during the next four years.

The plan, unveiled at the 2009 North American International Auto Show, leverages Ford’s work with a range of partners—utilities, suppliers, policymakers and universities—in areas including batteries, manufacturing and infrastructure. For starters, Ford will introduce in North America:

  • A new battery electric commercial van in 2010. In the UK, Ford is collaborating with Tanfield to offer battery-electric versions of the Ford Transit and Transit Connect commercial vehicles for fleet customers in the UK and European markets. (Earlier post.)

  • A new battery electric small car in 2011 to be developed jointly with Magna International. The electric powertrain will be applied in a new-generation C-sized global vehicle platform. The BEV will first be introduced in North America, with the potential to migrate to the European and Asia Pacific markets down the road.

    Ford plans to introduce electrified powertrains (battery electric or plug-in hybrid) into two major new global product platforms: a new Focus-size C-car platform and another Fusion-size, CD segment platform. By 2012, Bill Ford said, the company will have four high-mileage BEVs. (The likely development direction for BEVs is to move onto smaller platforms—e.g., down to a B-size platform—from the C-size, according to Barb Samardzich, Ford Vice President of Powertrain Engineering.)

  • Next-generation hybrid vehicles, including a plug-in version by 2012.

New BEV by 2011. Ford is collaborating with Magna International on the new battery electric vehicle targeted for 2011. Magna will provide the BEV electric traction motor, transmission, motor controller, Lithium-ion energy storage system, battery charger and related systems. Magna will also share in the engineering responsibility to integrate the electric propulsion system and other new systems into the vehicle platform architecture.

The BEV technology is already applied in a Ford Focus mule that has been in road testing for the past six months.

The 23 kWh battery pack comprises seven modules of 14 lithium-ion cells. The battery arrays are packaged in the vehicle trunk and underseat space. The new electric vehicle has a targeted pack range of up to 100 miles on a single charge. The system currently under test in the mule is delivering 80 miles on a single charge. The BEV test vehicle can be charged from either a standard 220-volt or 110-volt power outlet, with respective charge times of 6 or 12 hours.

A motor controller and inverter convert the battery’s direct current to AC. A 100 kW permanent-magnet, chassis-mounted electric traction motor operates on three-phase alternating current (AC). The BEV uses a single-speed transmission.

The powertrain, including the motor and gearbox, are packaged under the hood just like a gasoline powertrain, using existing powertrain mounts. This makes the electrified vehicle uncompromised in terms of robustness and low noise and vibration.

The test unit incorporates key components from Ford’s hybrid technology, including the electric climate control system. The high-voltage air-conditioning compressor is the same found in the new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid.

In October 2008, Magna Electronics, an operating unit of Magna International Inc., acquired BluWav Systems LLC (formerly Wavecrest Laboratories), a developer and supplier of controls, motors and energy-management systems for hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles and battery electric vehicles. (Earlier post.)

BluWav had concentrated on five main product areas: Motor design; Motor control hardware, software, and drive electronics; Vehicle requirements analysis, system optimization, and performance validation; Vehicle control systems; and Energy storage systems.

Grants and Partnerships. The US Department of Energy (DOE) also has awarded Ford Motor Company a $10 million grant for research, development and demonstration of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). Ford received the grant for the continued development of a demonstration fleet of 20 PHEVs. The total project cost is $20 million; the government will fund $10 million of the program.

In June, Ford delivered the first flexible fuel capable plug-in hybrid electric SUV to the Department of Energy. (Earlier post.) The Ford Escape Plug-in Hybrid, capable of running on gasoline or E85, is part of the demonstration fleet Ford is developing in partnership with Southern California Edison, the Electric Power Research Institute and Johnson Controls-Saft.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is collaborating with Ford Motor Company on a three-year analysis to evaluate technical approaches for integrating PHEVs into the nation’s electric grid system, a key requirement to facilitate widespread adoption of the vehicles.

Ford also has entered into a four-way “Eco-Partnership” in China to expand its global expertise with electric-powered vehicles. Ford, Changan Auto Group and the cities of Chongqing, China and Denver, Colo., are exploring ways to develop projects to help further energy security and promote economic and environmental sustainability. Areas of focus could include developing electrified vehicle technologies, green city planning, efficient urban transportation and grid integration.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chrysler Surprises Detroit With its 200C Electric Concept Vehicle

Chrysler has already announced three EV's for the future and added a fourth today, a Jeep Patriot extended range vehicle to join the Wrangler. Now, Chrysler has added another extended range EV under its badge, the 200C EV.

From Automotive News:

"Chrysler LLC jolted automotive journalists ready to see the world premiere of four production-vehicle-based electric cars and trucks at the Detroit auto show, adding a surprise electric show car dubbed the 200C EV.

Chrysler co-President Jim Press said the 200C and other electric vehicles show "there's evidence here of ongoing investment in the future."

The stylish concept car features the same range-extending electric drive system deployed in several other production-intent Chrysler EVs revealed at the Detroit show, including the Town & Country EV minivan, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EV and Jeep Patriot EV.

Chrysler also unveiled the all-electric plug-in Dodge Circuit EV, a Lotus Exige-based electric concept with an estimated range of 150-200 miles. The latest iteration now has its Dodge cross-hair grille and other Dodge styling elements fully in place. Versions of the Town & Country, Circuit and Wrangler Unlimited were shown publicly last summer, but the Patriot is an all-new entry to the portfolio of models developed by ENVI, Chrysler's environmentally friendly car engineering arm that draws its name from the first four letters of "environment."

Chrysler has said it plans to put at least one of the electric vehicles into production in 2010; the company now promises at least three more EV models will follow by 2013.

"Chrysler's broad portfolio of electric vehicle prototypes clearly demonstrates that we are well on our way to bringing electric vehicles to our consumers' garages," said Frank Klegon, Chrysler executive vice president for product development.

Between its ENVI electric-drive vehicles and GEM neighborhood electric vehicles, Chrysler wants to put 500,000 of its electric vehicles on the road by 2013.

Although the 200C EV Concept is furthest from production, the rear-drive, four-seat sedan capable of 0-60 mph in 7.0 seconds flat is the most advanced expression of ENVI's efforts to date. Chrysler says the concept provides a clear view of what we'll see in a next-generation Chrysler performance sedan.

Based on a shortened version of the rear-drive Chrysler 300C full-sized sedan, the mid-sized 200C EV is a performance sedan that blends the style, performance and amenities sought by car enthusiasts and environmentally conscious consumers alike.

"The Chrysler 200C EV embodies our passion for problem solving by combining the best of engineering and automotive design," said Ralph Gilles, Chrysler vice president of design. "With the 200C EV, we were able to maximize the effectiveness of the ENVI powertrain with the stunning, wind-cheating vehicle shape, while pushing toward the future with the avant-garde interior and advanced in-vehicle connectivity."

Chrysler said the 200C EV's exterior styling focuses on efficiency while coupling Chrysler's design roots with the larger proportions of the Chrysler 300 to create a modern product.

The highly sculptured interior is free of switches and levers, with all vehicle functions and features managed via a panoramic multimedia touch screen, a passenger-dedicated portion of the screen dubbed "techno-leaf," and a stowable tablet PC.

Chrysler says that like its extended-range ENVI siblings, the 200C EV is capable of driving up to 40 miles on battery-only power, while a small gasoline engine and on-board electric generator produce electricity to extend the driving range to 400 miles.

Other ENVI vehicles revealed by Chrysler include:

Jeep Patriot EV, which combines ENVI's Range-extended Electric Vehicle drive system with a compact front-drive sport-utility vehicle.

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited EV uses a range-extending electric powertrain in an off-roader. Though only a 4x2 drivetrain as shown in Detroit, a 4x4 version is in development.

Chrysler Town & Country EV, incorporating the same powertrain into its utilitarian front-drive seven-passenger minivan."

Toyota's FT-EV To Be Unveilied at Detroit Auto Show Today

Toyota will unveil its new FT-EV electric car today at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show. The car will have a 50 mile range and a limited top speed designed for urban commuting.

Toyota has said, "Toyota’s FT-EV concept imagines an urban dweller, driving up to 50 miles between home, work and other forms of public transportation.” The concept is slated for delivery in 2012.

Don't we have enough of these vehicles? Miles, Zenn, Gem and Zap all make these little city electric cars and the market for them doesn't seem to be that robust, so why is Toyota joining the fray? Why can't Toyota go one step further and produce an all-electric highway capable vehicle like their RAV-4 EV?

Friday, January 9, 2009

2009 Detroit Auto Show - NAIAS

It's that time of year once more. The Detroit Auto Show begins this weekend with the press having the floor all to themselves. The show runs for two weeks and there is great speculation as to what, if any, surprises we will see.

During these crushingly depressed times, how can the automakers show their optimism and enthusiasm? All auto sales are down between 30 and 40 percent and GM and Chrysler are still on the brink of bankruptcy. Will they show us anything that could possible increase their sales and cause the public to get excited? Even with massive rebates and incentives, sales were way down in December, so what will it take to get customers buying again? It still looks like business as usual to me.

Toyota will have their new Prius which is basically the same as the old Prius, only slightly larger and slightly more powerful. Toyota refuses to add a plug.

Honda will have their Insight, which might be the best car announced yet. It gets comprable fuel economy as the Prius but is supposed to sell for $18,000 MSRP. I would be tempted to buy one, but still, there is no plug.

GM has the Volt, but it will still not be ready for two more years. A ridiculously long wait.

Ford and Mercury have a new hybrid that also gets mileages similar to the Prius. This could be another vehicle worthy of purchase, however, still no plug.

Chrysler has three or four EV's, but they are not due for two years as well.

In case you couldn't tell, my mantra as of late is, "No plug, no deal!"

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Miles XS500 Electric Motor Vehicle

Miles Electric Vehicle Company has been working on a four door all electric sedan which is supposed to make its debut in 2010. It has been called the Javlon, XS500 and now their website names it the Miles Highway Speed Sedan. Whatever you choose to call it, the car promises to be all that.

The Highway Speed Sedan is a quantum leap for Miles as they currently market NEV's (Neighborhood Electric Vehicles), which are limited to top speeds of 25 mph. While these cars are great for running errands, you will tend to avoid busy routes with 35 mph posted limits. If you try to drive the NEV on these streets, you hold up traffic, get honked at and maybe even flipped off! Some states are revising the law to allow these vehicles to travel at speeds up to 35 mph and there is a growing aftermarket for kits that will override the 25 mph limitation. However, the new Highway Speed Sedan is going to solve that problem for you.

The Miles electric vehicle will have top speeds in excess of 80 mph and a range of 120 plus miles. The Miles website also claims a "run time" of 240 minutes, which if accurate, means you could conceivably drive 30 mph for four hours straight. If you live in town and work in town, then the charge should last you almost four days. If you have a 30 or 40 or 50 mile one-way commute, then this car is the one for you. The overwhelming majority of Americans have a commute distance to work of 40 miles or less (round trip). The only limit for this car is when a long drive is needed, greater than 120 miles. This limit is easily overcome with careful planning so that the car can be recharged while eating or at a hotel, etc. Most Americans only travel long distances once or twice a year, so that should not be a factor in deciding to purchase this vehicle. Some options for these long trips include using the family's second car or using a rental car for the trip.

Now for the bad news. The Highway Speed Sedan will be available to consumers at a MSRP of $40,000 to $45,000 depending on options. Most Americans like their options, so I am guessing the majority of these cars will be sold for $45,000. There is good news however. The US Government has already passed legislation that will give a $7500 rebate for the purchase of this car. Some are speculating that Obama will try and increase this subsidy to $10,000 when he is in office. For the sake of fun, let's say we bought the $40,000 model and received a $10,000 rebate. That would mean the car costs $30,000 plus tax. For a four door mid sized sedan, that is still a hefty pricetag, but I truly think it is worth the investment.

The Chevy Volt will retail at almost the exact same price as the Miles car, but the Volt has the advantage of an internal combustion range extender. With the Volt, you never have to worry about range as gasoline stations are ubiquitous. There are other considerations to take into account. An all-electric vehicle has very low maintenance costs and very few moving parts. An internal combustion vehicle has very high maintenance costs and a ton of moving parts. Over the life of the car, you will pay much more for the Volt than the Miles. Oil changes, radiator flushes, tune ups, belts and hoses, etc., etc. You get the picture.

So what do you think? Would you rather have a Volt or a Miles Highway Speed Sedan?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Toyota to Halt Production for 11 Days

Still need proof that the economy is sour and that no one is buying automobiles? Toyota has just announced that it will stop production at its Japanese plants for 11 days in February and March. The move is unprecedented in Toyota's history and comes on the heels of abysmal December sales results.

Toyota's sales slumped a whopping 37% in December which is an even greater loss than Ford or General Motors. The month of December was horrific overall for the major auto makers but Toyota's sales results were surprising. In December, Toyota runs its "Toyotathon" sales event to spur on the end of year buying, but it obviously failed. Now, the Toyota dealers are sitting on lots full of new cars, which is the reason for production cuts.

The big question is, "What will Toyota do to right the ship?" Aside from the plant closings, we will soon see just what Toyota is made of and whether or not they can reverse this sales trend.

From Automotive News:

"Toyota Motor Corp. will halt production at its Japanese plants for 11 days in February and March as plunging U.S. sales has left dealers' lots full of unsold cars.

A 37 percent slump in December sales in Toyota's biggest market was its sharpest fall in more than a quarter of a century and worse than declines at U.S. rivals General Motors and Ford Motor Co.

"I never expected the crisis to spread this fast and leave this deep a scar," Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe told reporters at a event in Tokyo hosted by Japan's top business lobbies.

Toyota had already announced a three-day production stoppage for this month at its 12 directly operated Japanese plants -- four car assembly plants and eight for engines, transmissions and other components.

A sweeping suspension of domestic production is almost unprecedented. In 1993, Toyota halted output for one day as a strong yen crimped sales.

Japanese-built cars make up around 40 percent of Toyota's volume in the United States, where industrywide sales dropped 18 percent last year to their lowest levels since 1992.

Automakers across the world are cutting back production as consumers, hit by tight credit, shy away from big-ticket purchases even as companies boost sales incentives.

Honda, Nissan Cuts

Domestic rivals Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. have both cut output plans by at least 200,000 vehicles for the year ending March 31, and analysts expect further adjustments before then.

Toyota does not disclose the number of vehicles affected by production stoppages. Together, the four Japanese assembly plants built an average 130,000 vehicles a month in 2007, according to the latest available data. Toyota plans to turn the 11 days in February and March into a paid company holiday, a spokesman said.

Toyota warned two weeks ago it would post a first-ever annual operating loss, blaming a relentless sales slide and a crippling rise in the yen, and said it would adjust production as needed beyond January.

Analysts said the U.S. sales slide was no surprise -- it was Toyota's 11th monthly decline for the year -- and the outlook for the global car industry remains tough.

"For the stock market to re-evaluate this sector, there are two prerequisites: the end of negative news flow and an outlook for a return to the black in the next business year," Merrill Lynch auto analyst Koichi Sugimoto wrote in a client note.

"In that respect, we'd have to say the (U.S. sales) results were disappointing."

With virtually all markets weakening, Toyota said it would suspend operations at the 12 plants for six days next month and another five days in March.

On Monday, data showed Toyota's Japan sales slid 18 percent in December, and were down 7.4 percent for 2008.

Auto industry executives have warned that 2009 will be difficult and unpredictable.

"I'd like to believe that we'll hit bottom (for the U.S. economy) some time this year," Toyota's Watanabe said. "But if you look at the automobile market now, it's very, very tough. We need to proceed with the assumption that this situation could continue."

REVA to Produce Li Ion Vehicle and Fast Charging Station

The India based car company, Reva has announced big plans for its newest car. Their current electric car is the REVAi, or G-Wiz in the UK and the next iteration will be the REVA L-ion which utilizes Lithium Ion batteries. The new model will have a top speed of 50 mph and a projected range of 75 miles. This car is perfect for the urban dweller and can even be driven on roads with posted speed limits of 55 mph, although I would hesitate to do such. Unfortunately, there are no plans to market this car in the United States.

From Green Car Congress:

"Reva Electric Car Company (REVA), the maker of the REVAi electric city car (G-Wiz in the UK) (earlier post) has launched the Lithium-ion powered REVA L-ion in Europe.

Based on the REVAi platform, the REVA L-ion offers a range of 120 km (75 miles) per charge and a maximum speed of 80 km (50 miles) per hour. REVA has also developed a new proprietary intelligent battery management system for the L-ion that tracks the performance of each cell. REVA will offer a three-year battery warranty.

REVA is also introducing a fast charge station capable of charging the REVA L-ion to 90% in one hour.

The new REVA off-board fast charge station uses three-phase power and is primarily aimed at organizations that require constant vehicle availability during the day and will be offered to purchase or lease. The REVA L-ion’s normal full charging time is six hours using ordinary mains electricity, with an 80% charge taking 3.5 hours.

The REVA L-ion (classified as a quadricycle under UK and European law) and fast charge stations will be available to pre-order from REVA distributors in Norway, UK, France, Cyprus, Greece, Spain, Belgium and Ireland from February 2009, with the first test drive vehicles and customer deliveries commencing May 2009.

Customers will have the option of outright purchase or battery leasing, with prices to be announced by the end of January. REVA is also developing upgrade kits that will enable existing REVA owners with an AC motor and lead acid powertrain to upgrade to the lithium-ion powertrain later in 2009.

The REVAi features a 13 kW (peak) AC induction motor that develops up to 52 Nm (38 lb-ft) of torque.

Bangalore, India-based Reva Electric Car Company is a joint venture between Maini Group of India and AEV LLC of California and is venture-backed by lead US investors Global Environment Fund and Draper Fisher Jurveston."

Monday, January 5, 2009

2009 Detroit Auto Show - NAIAS

It is that time of year again. The 2009 Detroit auto show begins this Sunday, January 15th and runs for two weeks through the 25th. This is the first auto show featuring bailed out US Automakers. To be fair, other countries have have offered assistance to their car manufacturers, so the US is not alone. The Canadian Government announced their aid package right after the United States.

Most major automakers are currently on a shoestring budget, trying to make ends meet and trying to weather the current financial storm. So the question becomes, "What can we expect this year in Detroit?" In light of lower fuel costs (read: cheap gas) and the premium price tag associated with hybrid vehicles, will the manufacturers eschew the green vehicles and promote high profit gas guzzlers once again?

Honda is marketing its new Insight heavily and if it actually demos with a MSRP of $18,000, I am sure it will be a hit. Toyota will be showcasing its new Prius that actually is not so different from the current model. Toyota claims the new model will have a bigger engine, more room and slightly better gas mileage. The question for buyers will be, "Is the price premium of a Toyota Prius worth it or should I go with the Honda Insight?" In these difficult economic times, I cannot see the masses paying a premium for these vehicles.

GM has no vehicle like the Honda Insight or Toyota Prius, so they are a non-factor at this show. The Chevy Volt will not even be ready by next year's show. Chrysler is not expected to introduce a similar vehicle either. Ford and Mercury have a four door sedan that is supposed to get 47 mpg which would make it the only competitor. It could be a bare bones show this year, so be prepared.

What I would like to see is lots of vehicles with plug-in capability. Unfortunately, I will see no such thing as all auto manufacturers oppose the plug with vehemence.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Chrysler, LLC Gets Their Billions

They were supposed to get the funds before the end of the year but better late than never works just as well. Chrysler received their initial $4 Billion loan today from the US Government.

From Automotive News:

Chrysler LLC today received an initial $4 billion emergency loan from the U.S. government, two days after the government completed a parallel payout to its larger rival General Motors.

"This initial loan will allow the company to continue an orderly restructuring," Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli said in a statement.

U.S. Treasury Department spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin confirmed that the government had sent the $4 billion in funds to Chrysler today.

GM received $4 billion in emergency loans on Wednesday. Both Chrysler and GM have said they need the infusion of government cash to meet payouts to suppliers at a time when a plunge in auto sales has drained their cash holdings.

Officials have not spelled out why the loan to GM and a separate $6 billion funding for its affiliated finance firm GMAC were completed ahead of the Chrysler transaction.

In an email to employees, Nardelli suggested that the complexity of the deals had delayed the first payout to Chrysler, which had been expected to be completed before the end of the year.

"The Treasury Department has been working to complete the multiple, complex financial arrangements quickly and sequentially. The magnitude of these discussions was significant," Nardelli said.

When major automakers release results on Monday, December auto sales are expected to show that industry-wide sales fell to the lowest full-year level since 1992.

Under terms of the government bailout, Chrysler and GM will have to submit restructuring plans by mid-February and demonstrate that they are viable by the end of March.

Chrysler is controlled by Cerberus Capital Management LP, and as the only privately held of the Detroit-based automakers it faced the most scrutiny in congressional hearings on the proposed bailout for the industry.

Cerberus also owns 51 percent of GMAC.

The Bush administration approved a $17.4 billion bailout for the auto operations of GM and Chrysler in December.

Of that total, GM has been promised another $9.4 billion in government loans under that program in addition to the $4 billion payment made on Wednesday. The final $4 billion of the bailout approved for GM will require Congress to approve the funding.

Chrysler was given $4 billion by the U.S. government after asking for $7 billon.

The bailout represents the second U.S. government rescue of Chrysler in 28 years.

Rival Ford Motor Co has not sought government loans but has asked for a $9 billion line of credit it could tap if business conditions worsen beyond its projections.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Prognostications for Hybrid Auto Sales in 2009

As 2009 commences, we are looking at cheap gasoline once again. Honestly, I never expected to see prices this low again in my lifetime. In fact, I never thought that I would see sub three dollar per gallon prices again.

What does this mean in terms of alternative fuel vehicle sales? We have only had these prices for a few months and yet we are already seeing marked declines in hybrid sales. Granted, all automobile sales are currently depressed, yet the sales of hybrid vehicles is even more so. It is extremely difficult for the average consumer to pay the premium for hybrid vehicles in light of cheap gas. Economic times are dictating the sales of automobiles much more than green technologies.

What do you think will happen this year? Will EV's and PHEV's be forgotten in these days of cheap gas? Will US automakers return to business as usual and will we lose all the momentum for alternative fuel technologies we have built up? I hope not.

A sobering article from

Americans’ appetite for hybrid cars is evaporating as tumbling fuel prices and tighter household budgets trump environmental concerns.

The sudden reversal in what was, until a few months ago, one of the hottest segments of the world’s biggest car market creates a new area of uncertainty for carmakers, such as Toyota, General Motors, Ford Motor and Honda, that are investing heavily in hybrids and other fuel-efficient technologies.

Industry executives, including Alan Mulally, Ford’s chief executive, have joined environmentalists in urging US politicians to consider the hitherto taboo idea of raising petrol taxes as a way of encouraging fuel conservation.

US hybrid petro-electric sales in November shrank 53 per cent from a year earlier, compared with a 37 per cent drop overall, according to Autodata, a market-research firm. December sales, to be announced on Monday, are to show a similar trend.

Sales of most hybrid models have dropped sharply. Demand for Toyota’s Prius hatchback, the top-selling hybrid, fell by almost half in November from a year earlier. The Camry sedan was down 57 per cent, and the Ford Escape crossover 35 per cent.

The setback has been pronounced for larger models, touted as much for performance as fuel economy. Sales of the Lexus RX400 sport-utility vehicle are now little more than a third of the level a year ago., an online motor service, reports that searches for hybrids on its websites are running at less than a quarter of their peak in May.

George Pipas, Ford sales analyst, said: “The lower gas prices are, the tougher the proposition is to pay a premium for a hybrid engine.”

Hybrid vehicles typically cost $3,000-5,000 more than their petrol equivalents. Toyota has used up tax credits available for hybrids, and several other manufacturers are close to their limit. estimates that a Prius owner must now wait more than eight years to recoup the extra cost of the vehicle in fuel savings, compared with three and a half years when the petrol price climbed above $4 a gallon last spring. The average price is now about $1.61.

Mr Pipas said that belt-tightening in the face of the weakening economy had become the dominant factor in the US car market. Small cars accounted for 18.7 per cent of sales in the three months to November, up from 16.6 per cent a year earlier, in spite of the slide in petrol prices.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Oil Free Now! would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a happy and prosperous New Year. We hope you achieve all your resolutions and goals in 2009.

Let's hope for a global push towards living oil free and that the technologies needed to accomplish this will make it to market. Technologies such as wind and solar energy production and vehicles that utilize alternative energy must insinuate themselves into the marketplace this year. Government and grass root support must play a big role in this transition and the state of the World is ripe for change.

All the best in 2009!