Just Car Blog
|Chinese Investors Bidding For Fisker||
It’s always darkest, the old cliche tells us, just before dawn. By Fisker’s clock, then, we suppose it’s just about sun-up; after surviving a disastrous 2012, Fisker has good news on the horizon. Its battery supplier, A123 Systems, has a new owner in the form of Chinese auto parts giant Wanxiang, which means that Fisker will soon be able to resume production of its Karma sedan.
It’s been looking for an alliance within the auto industry, and it now appears that two Chinese firms are competing for majority ownership of the struggling electric automaker. One is Dongfeng Motor Group, which reportedly has plenty of cash but is saddled with a heavily-layered management structure and strong ties to the Chinese government. The second bidder is Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which purchased Volvo from Ford in 2010.
As Reuters explains, Geely is the favorite to win the Fisker bid, as it already has experience with investing in foreign automakers. It also has a more relaxed management structure, meaning that it can move more quickly in the bidding process.
While Fisker actively sought bids from companies around the globe, only Dongfeng and Geely emerged as serious bidders. The reasons why are complicated, but the short answer is that the Chinese government wants more electric cars, and investing in a foreign automaker using a range-extending electric car design is a way to get there.
Aside from more cash to fund operations, it’s not clear what this means for Fisker, which currently tasks production of its Karma sedan to Valmet in Finland. It’s possible that Karma production could be moved to China, which raises another question: will Fisker proceed with building its mass-market Atlantic sedan, and will it still open a production line in Delaware?
We suppose these questions will be answered in the coming months, but for the first time in a long time, Fisker has reason to be optimistic about its future.
|Tesla Is In The Black Per Tweet By Elon Musk||
While we’d be the first to say that electric cars, based on current technology and pricing, remain a long shot, the odds just improved for at least one electric car manufacturer. After missing a projection that the company would see a profit in November, Musk told followers on Twitter, “Am happy to report that Tesla was narrowly cash flow positive last week.”
According to Bloomberg, the message ended with, “Continued improvement expected through year end.” That makes sense, as sales of the Tesla Model S sedan are beginning to ramp up. A $2,500 price increase on the luxury sport sedan will go into effect in January, prompting buyers on the fence to place orders (or “make reservations,” in Tesla-speak) before year end.
Ironically, the news caused Tesla stock to drop by 2.1 percent at yesterday’s close in New York. “Narrowly cash flow positive” is still not enough to fill investors with confidence, and Tesla still has a ways to go in terms of ramping up production. The good news, however, is that the company appears to be on its way towards consistent profitability.
|Matt Farah Drives An Electric Delorean: Video||
If you’re a fan of the Drive Channel’s “Tuned,” starring Matt Farah, you know this: the Delorean is the great white whale to Matt’s Captain Ahab. Try though he might, Matt has never been able to drive what he considers a “satisfying” Delorean. That’s all the more frustrating since he blames the original Delorean for sparking his lifelong car jones.
Deloreans were good to look at, but not much to drive. Their Volvo-sourced engines only produced around 130 horsepower in U.S trim, which didn’t provide a lot of thrust for the 2,700 pound car. Had production lasted longer than two years, it’s entirely possible that more performance-oriented cars would have been offered. Sadly, by the end of 1982, the Delorean factory in Dunmurry, Ireland was shuttered.
Enter Stephen Wynn, who purchased the leftover Delorean parts from the bankrupt company and started DMC in 1995. Originally a parts supplier for Delorean owners, DMC began producing updated versions of the Delorean for sale in 2008. Its latest endeavor is an all-electric version of the Delorean, which it hopes to bring to market in 2013.
The production version of the electric Delorean will come with a 260 horsepower AC electric motor and enough lithium-ion phosphate battery power to give it (up to) a 200 mile range. The motor will also be good for 360 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to yield a 0-60 time of under five seconds. Top speed is said to be over 100 mph, but we suppose that’s limited by the car’s lack of gearing.
Matt seemed to like the prototype driven, although it was clear that A/C is a requirement for filming in Houston in the summer. We would have liked a bit more video on how the car handled, but it’s important to keep in mind that one-of-a-kind prototypes aren’t meant to be pushed to the limit.
Look for a starting price in the $95,000 range when the electric Delorean hits the market. Want more info? You’ll find it on the DMC website.
|Rolls-Royce Abandoning Electric Cars – For Now, At Least||
When Rolls-Royce showed its Phantom-based electric car concept, the 102EX, at last year’s Geneva Motor Show, it caught a lot of people off guard. Rolls-Royce, after all, had a reputation for building the finest sedans, coupes and convertibles, all equipped with ample power and built without compromise. Could an electric car be built that would meet the expectations of the worlds most critical customers?
As Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös told Car and Driver regarding customer feedback on the 102EX, “The results were ambivalent.” Customers praised the car’s acceleration, silence and smoothness, but objected to the long charging times and insufficient range. We can imagine that Rolls-Royce buyers might object to sharing quick chargers with the likes of the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi i, too.
While a pure electric car isn’t in the near future for Rolls-Royce, a plug-in hybrid (like the Chevy Volt or the Fisker Karma) might be. When asked about alternatives to electric cars, Müller-Ötvös said that the plug-in hybrid configuration could potentially offer Rolls-Royce customers “the advantages of both worlds.”
We wouldn’t install a home charging system for your next Rolls-Royce just yet, though.
|Video: Is The World Ready For BMW’s Electric Cars?||
BMW has gotten a fair amount of exposure over its i-Series electric cars since originally debuting the Concept Vision Efficient Dynamics prototype in 2009. Unlike brands that show a concept and then abandon the idea as too complex or too expensive, BMW will put both the i3 and the i8 into production, with expected availability in late 2013. The i3 is designed to be an urban commuter car, with a limited range and modest performance. The i8 exists at the opposite end of the spectrum, as a no-holes-barred performance coupe that happens to be be fuel-efficient and green, too.
As appealing as the concepts may be, there are still some ugly truths to face about electric cars. First up is their limited range: in the case of the i3, the battery-only version of the car is expected to have a maximum range of 100 miles, similar to a Nissan Leaf. In the real world, this translates to as few as 35 miles, depending upon environmental conditions and driving style. Also, there’s the issue of recharging in an urban environment to overcome, since most city-dwellers won’t have the ability to plug their cars in overnight.
Opt for BMW’s REX range-extender in the i3, and most of the problems go away. Range is doubled, which should give the i3 driver a maximum range of between 160 and 200 miles (again, condition dependent). BMW isn’t clear if the i3 can be driven like the Chevy Volt, which can go from coast-to-coast if the owner tanks up every 300 miles or so.
The other ugly truth about electric, range-extended electric and plug-in hybrid cars is their cost. Batteries are expensive, and so are lightweight materials. BMW has made significant advancements in material science (namely with carbon composites), but they’re not saying what the i3 or i8 will ultimately cost. This much is certain: don’t expect to snap up an i3 for the same price as a $35,200 Nissan Leaf.
What’s you take on BMW’s i-Series? Is the world ready for a premium electric car brand, and would you be willing to pay the difference to buy a BMW EV over one from Nissan, Chevy or Mitsubishi?
|It’s The Economy Stupid: Reseach Shows Chevy Volt Interest Waning||
CNW Marketing Research recently conducted a study into consumer interest towards the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Their findings? Interest among both “early adopters” of technology and the general car-buying public is dropping. In March, some 21 percent of the early-adopter group expressed interest in the Chevy Volt, but by July that figure had dropped to just 14.6 percent. Worse, interest from those who consider themselves “EV enthusiasts” dropped from 25 percent in March to 17 percent in July. Across the board, less people are considering a Volt today than earlier in the year, and GM needs to figure out why, quickly.
As we see it, there are several factors in play here. First, the economy today isn’t any better than it was in March, and many of us feel it’s even worse. It’s tough to part with $40k for a four-seat sedan, especially when you’re worried about job stability or even putting food on the table. That leads us to point number 2: the Volt is a great car, and we understand why it costs as much as it does, but the average consumer does not. Many see it as competing with the Chevy Cruze, which is half the price and still gets highway fuel economy near 40 mpg. GM has two choices: they can either up the content of the Volt without raising the price (and lose more money on each car sold), or they can ramp up marketing to make the public more aware of what the Volt is (and isn’t).
And therein lies the problem: the Volt has become to most politicized car in the history of the auto industry. The far right hates it because it comes from Government Motors and is “just another hybrid” (which it isn’t, but why let facts stand in the way of good rhetoric). The far left hates it because it uses gasoline, not just “clean” electric power (which, ironically, is usually generated by burning some sort of fossil fuel). No matter how good the Volt is, neither side would be satisfied unless it got 1,000 miles per charge, 200 mpg when running on the generator and cost $10,000. Even then, the lunatic fringe would find fault with something.
Is the Volt perfect? No, and we’ll be the first to admit that it’s an ideal fit for a very narrow range of buyers. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit for a much broader audience, but most of those potential buyers don’t understand the difference between a Volt, a Nissan Leaf and a Toyota Prius.
GM can’t fix the economy (and we’re beginning to wonder if anyone can), but they can and must make the public more aware of the Volt. It’s about to launch from coast to coast, and unless GM does something to ramp up interest, sales aren’t going to increase substantially as the number of retail outlets goes up.
|Can An EV Be As Fast As A Bugatti Veyron?||
According to Henrik Fisker, the man behind the Fisker Karma, the answer to that question is “yes.” Fisker Automotive is working on a multi-speed gearbox, which (according to Fisker at least) should deliver “Veyron like levels of performance.” Fisker isn’t the first EV manufacturer to come up with the idea; early Tesla Roadster prototypes used a two-speed gearbox, but abandoned the design when it proved to be less than reliable.
In theory, Fisker’s idea is sound. Unlike an internal combustion engine, an electric motor develops its peak torque at zero RPM. Also unlike most internal combustion engines, electric motor performance output drops off suddenly at high RPMs. That’s one reason that Chevrolet chose to indirectly link the Volt’s engine to the drivetrain, since it improves high-speed (above 70 MPH) drivability. Linking an electric motor to a multi-speed transmission could produce stunning levels of acceleration, but it would require a very stout transmission to deal with the instant, maximum torque.
Such a car would be quick, but would probably have have limited battery range under maximum acceleration. Electric vehicles deliver the best range under partial throttle settings, but here’s another advantage of Fisker’s current design. Like the Chevy Volt, the Fisker Karma is a serial hybrid. It runs on battery power until the batteries are depleted, then it uses its gasoline engine to power a generator and charge the cells. Such a design would have a theoretically unlimited range, as long as you stop to fill up the tank from time to time.
Unlimited range and supercar performance from an EV? Now we’re talking.
Source: Left Lane News
|California Considers Mandating EV Sales||
Think you’re free to choose whatever kind of vehicle you want? Think again, but only if you live in California. The Golden State, long obsessed with tailpipe emissions and fuel economy, is considering a measure that will require automakers to sell a dedicated percentage of electric vehicles in-state, or face fines of $5,000 per non-EV sold. By 2018, the pending legislation would require 5.5 percent of new car sales to be EVs; by 2025, that percent would jump to 14 percent.
In 2011, the California New Car Dealer’s Association expects sales of 1.33 million new cars in California. It’s likely that new car unit sales will increase between 2011 and 2018, but let’s be conservative and use the 2011 numbers: by 2018, manufacturers will have to sell 73,150 electric cars in California. By 2025, that number climbs to 186,200 EVs, which begs the question of whether or not California’s power grid can even sustain the 2018 EV target.
That’s not to say combustion-engined vehicles will be outlawed in California, but if there’s a fine to be paid, neither the manufacturer nor the dealer will be willing to absorb it. Would a Ford Mustang still be attractive if it cost $5,000 more? How about a Hyundai Elantra?
Electric vehicles have their place, but they’re still not an equivalent replacement for gasoline-engined vehicles. Will EV technology improve over the next six years? Probably, but no one knows how much. Range will increase and costs will fall, but until you can build an EV with a 300 mile range (at highway speeds) and a recharge time equivalent to refueling a gasoline engined car (call it 10 minutes), they’re simply not going to replace combustion-engined vehicles. All the state legislation in the world isn’t going to speed up the development of replacement technologies.
Source: Left Lane News
|Mitsubishi Joins The Electric Car Party In The U.S.||
Mitsubishi has been been selling their i MiEv (for Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle) in Japan since July of 2009, and in 2010 the oddly-styled urban commuter went on sale in Hong Kong, Australia and Germany. The United Kingdom joined the distribution network in January of 2011, and the U.S. is slated to get the car (called the Mitsubishi i on these shores) around the beginning of 2012. Like the Nissan Leaf, the Mitsubishi i will be powered by batteries and an electric motor only; unlike the Leaf, it will have a range of less than 100 miles under ideal conditions. In fact, current projected range is said to be 75 miles based on U.S testing standards. Where will the Mitsubishi i shine against the Leaf? In pricing, for one.
The Mitsubishi i will start at $27,990 for the base model, excluding the $7,500 federal tax credit. By comparison, the Leaf starts at $33,630, nearly $6,000 higher for a vehicle with similar capabilities. The Mitsubishi i will also come in an “SE” model, including such amenities as a 360-watt, eight speaker audio system, 15” alloy wheels, fog lamps and a leather wrapped steering wheel. If you want more, SE models can be ordered with a Premium package that includes a nav system, rearview camera, heated outside mirrors and a FUSE hands-free infotainment system. Even loaded up, the Mitsubishi i stickers at $32,780, which is still below the price of an entry-level Nissan Leaf.
Mitsubishi has announced a four-step process for ordering their EV in the United States. Prospective buyers must register with Mitsubishi (at i.mitsubishicars,com) to set up an account and spec out an i. Next, you cough up a PayPal deposit of $299 for the car and $99 for the mandatory home electrical inspection. Third, you schedule the home inspection to see if your current electrical service can handle charging the Mitsubishi i, and finally you wait to hear from a Mitsubishi rep who confirms your order and tells you when to expect delivery.
What’s your take on the Mitsubishi i? If you live in one of the markets where it’s currently being sold, have you driven one? Is it a challenger to the Leaf, or is it just a novelty that will disappear from the market when (or if) fuel prices stabilize?
|Tesla Updates Us On The Model S||
Remember the Tesla Model S? The uber-sexy sedan that was going to be the first four door EV we all lusted after? Tesla wants to remind us that the project is moving along, even if it isn’t front and center in the news on a daily basis. The car is currently in Alpha testing, which means that engineers are flogging the snot out of prototypes to see what breaks and what doesn’t. Later this year, Tesla will move to Beta testing, where more Tesla employees and industry insiders are tossed a set of Model S keys, with the instructions to “tell us what works and what doesn’t”. If everything progresses as planned (which almost never happens), Tesla Model S deliveries in the United States will begin mid-year 2012.
The first 1,000 cars produced will be Model S Signature Series variants, complete with a 300 mile battery range and a price tag of $77,400 before the $7,500 EV tax credit. Expect these cars to come fully loaded, including unique badging identifying the car as a Signature Series limited edition model. Tesla will also offer less expensive Model S sedans, with varying ranges. Mid-pack is the 230 mile range Model S, with an expected price tag (excluding tax credit) of $67,400; if that’s still too rich for your blood, the base Model S, with a 160 mile battery range, will start at $57,400 before you factor in the tax credit. Full pricing (and a list of options) is expected to be released this summer.
The Models S will launch in the United States first, but sales will expand to left-hand drive EU countries by the end of 2012. A right-hand drive version is planned, with deliveries projected to begin mid-2013 if all goes well with the other Model S launches. Tesla claims that their 2012 production capacity is 5,000 units, but they expect to ramp this up to 20,000 units per year by 2013. Let’s hope so, since the Tesla Model S could very well be the world’s first aspirational electric car. Speaking for myself, I can’t wait to drive one.
|Nissan Esflow: An EV For Enthusiasts?||
As of this writing, there is one electric car in the world of note to enthusiasts, and that’s the Tesla Roadster. The price of admission starts at $109,000, but if you want the best power and handling you need to step up to the $128,500 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5. The difference really is academic, since very few consumers can afford to drop either amount on a topless sports roadster, even one that potentially saves the planet. The Nissan Leaf is quite a bit more affordable, but that’s not exactly a sporting ride. Why can’t a manufacturer build an EV that appeals to both Greens and Gear Heads of more modest means?
Nissan has apparently been asking themselves the same question, and they chose the Geneva Motor Show to roll out their latest EV concept. Called the Esflow, the concept car pushes all the right buttons for the enthusiast. First, it uses two electric motors, mounted mid-ship, to drive the rear wheels in a proper mid-engine, rear drive layout. Next, it positions the lithium ion batteries for optimum weight distribution, in order to further benefit handling. To save weight, the chassis is made from aluminum, and a wraparound windshield ensure that the driver has an unobstructed view of the road ahead. Nissan isn’t giving details on motor output, top speed or even curb weight, but they are claiming a 0 to 100 KPH (62 MPH) time of under five seconds and a range of 240 kilometers (149 miles) on a single charge.
Nissan isn’t talking price, either, but they do reference a young male demographic, which clearly makes the Esflow an “affordable” EV sports car. I say build it, and the demand will certainly follow.
|Tesla’s Model S Alpha Road Test Video||
Just when I was getting ready to question if Tesla’s Model S sedan would ever see the light of day, the company has released video of an Alpha test mule racking up miles on the back roads of California. I’ve got a background in product development, so I completely understand the importance of Alpha testing something: the goal is to take a product that’s 75% complete, then use it until it breaks and figure out what needs improving. If Alpha testing sorts out most of the bugs, the next step is Beta testing, which usually involves more than just engineers (in some cases, potential customers get access to pre-production hardware). Assuming the Beta test goes well, the next real milestone is usually production of a final build candidate. That said, in twenty years of hardware and software product development, I’ve yet to see an Alpha or Beta test go smoothly. Video below.
Still, I’m happy to see the stunning Tesla Model S on the road. Their own development schedule calls for Beta testing to begin in 2011, along with crash testing. That also requires suppliers to be lined up and their manufacturing facility to be in working order. Tooling equipment must be in place, the stamping facility must be operational and they’re going to need a paint shop as well. If all goes as planned in 2011, production validation (go / no go, I suppose) is scheduled for 2012, followed by the first production candidate build and, ultimately, production. When Tesla gets to that point, their plan is to build 7,000 Model S sedans in the first year, with production ramping up to 20,000 per year after that. Tesla’s current estimated list price for the Model S sedan is $57,400, but don’t be surprised if that creeps upward prior to launch.
As for how the Alpha test mule drives, Autoblog quotes Tesla’s Vehicle Dynamicist, Graham Sutherland, as saying, “The first Alpha is amazingly agile for a car of its size. It has great handling balance and poised ride with communicative steering. Just goes to show what combining a low center of gravity with a very stiff body structure can achieve.” It sounds like the pre-production cars have remained true to the Model S’ original design, and that’s a very good thing indeed.
|Volt/Ampera Next-gen Offerings to Add More Appeal||
With the unveiling of the next-generation Chevrolet Volt (Opel / Vauxhall Ampera) soon, General Motors plans to bombard the auto world with a significant extended-range offensive.
The spectacular demand that is in place for the Volt/Ampera has caused the company to slow down on adding more variants.
With the next-generation launches, the company will be able to add more production facilities that will enable them to introduce a sub-brand of the Volt/Ampera. This move will introduce three models to the market – an Astra-sized hatchback, a bigger version of the current Volt/Ampera and a crossover.
Officials at GM say that the new cars coming out as next generation variants will definitely be cheaper and simultaneously offer a longer electric range. Pricing is also likely to become even more competitive with governments in many countries offering incentives for electric vehicles.
|Toyota-Tesla RAV4 EV Teased||
The first pictures of Toyota’s RAV4 EV have been released, giving the industry a look at the vehicle before t is unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show. A lot of eyes are waiting to see this, especially because it was jointly developed with Tesla, after Toyota entered into a $50 million agreement with the company for collaboration on EV technology.
Sources at Tesla have said that the RAV4 will possess range and acceleration that will be beyond what other announced electric vehicles of this class will give. The launch is set for 2012, and more details are expected to be released on November 17th.
Toyota states that the vehicle will debuts at the Los Angeles Auto Show media days, on November 17, and top officials will address the accompanying news conference.
|Audi A1 e-tron Promo Video Shown||
Audi has released a promotional video highlighting the almost completely electric version of its compact hatch, the Audi A1 e-tron. The exciting new version possesses an electric motor that produces 75 kW (102 PS) of power (45 kW / 61 PS continuous) and 240 Nm (177 lb-ft) of torque (150 Nm / 111 lb-ft continuous) and is ably complemented by the 12 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
If you want to drive it only in electric mode, this vehicle will take you 50 km (31 miles), which can be stretched to 250km with the help of the range-extending engine. This is an interesting addition that the car has – a 15 kW single-piston rotary engine, which charges the batteries while the car is running.
The vehicle reaches top speeds of 130 km/h and does 0 to 100 km/h in 10.2 seconds. Reports say that the CO2 emissions and fuel efficiency are good – 1.9 liters/100 km (European cycle) and emissions of 45 g/km. As of now, only the video has been released, the world is still waiting to hear production and launch details.
Here’s the video: