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Automaker Roundup: GM/Toyota/Chrysler/Ford/Aptera/BYD
Oct 30, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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We're amazed at how large the backlog of news gets in one week! Here are summaries of leading developments from automakers (the Part II posting will cover other news; aplogies for any typos):

  • GM: analysis of declining sales; impact on product development & Volt
  • GM may have chosen Volt battery supplier
  • Car and Driver (p)reviews the Volt
  • Carmakers look to $25B loan fund for rescue
  • Ford's innovative driving display in its new hybrids
  • Ford questions competitors' efforts to hybridize large vehicles
  • Popular Mechanics test drives Hymotion/A123 Prius conversion
  • Autoweek test drives Toyota Prius conversion
  • Toyota repeats that batteries not ready for PHEVsy
  • Aptera wins Popular Mechanics Breakthrough '08 Award
  • BYD promises PHEV for Europe '09 and US '10

HOW GM IS HURTING; IMPACT ON VOLT: At a Sunday NYTimes Business section story, "General Motors, Driven to the Brink"­2008/­10/­26/­business/­26jane.html about the impact of its declining SUV sales on the company and communities where its factories are closing, see an eye-opening chart called "The Crumple Zone" that shows sales by SUV model growing from 1990-2003 and rapidly declining by 2008. And Motor Trend in "Beyond the Cruze: GM Delays Vehicle Launches, Product Development Through 2010"­6329940/­auto-news/­
cites an Automotive News story confirming that GM's develoopment of new SUVs and many other cars has been put on hold, but the Volt remains on track. Reporting on the Automotive News story, the Detroit News covers the company's response at "GM downplays report it is postponing product development spending"­apps/­pbcs.dll/­article?AID=/­20081029/­AUTO01/­810290441/­1148/­rss25 :
"We think they are probably overplaying this a little bit," GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson said. "We continue to align our resources behind our most important vehicle programs but we do make adjustments in our product portfolio on a monthly basis." The Volt, scheduled for production in late 2010, and Chevrolet Camaro, due next year, are insulated from any cutbacks, according to the Automotive News report. Wilkinson said today that the Volt production schedule remains unchanged.

GM MAY HAVE CHOSEN VOLT BATTERY SUPPLIER: It's been reported that GM has chosen Compact Power/LGChem as its supplier for at least the first run of the Chevy Volt sometime in 2009. LGChem delivered its first batteries to GM two months before the other contender, the Continental/A123Systems consortium. EVWorld's Bill Moore reports that the issue may have been based on who could best scale production, and positions the issue as a choice between a vendor sourcing batteries from Korea over one with production in China -- but no one has any inside information. (If you're an EVWorld Premium Subscriber you can see that at­general.cfm?page=insider&title=INSIDER%20COMMENTARIES .)The original source is Reuters­article/­rbssChemicalsCommodity/­idUSN2239779020081022?sp=true and see comments at­2008/­10/­22/­breaking-lg-chem-and-compact-power-inc-to-supply-volt-battery-packs/­

CAR & DRIVER (P)REVIEWS CHEVY'S VOLT: "Running On Empty: Is the 2011 Chevrolet Volt Hype or Hope? - Technology: 'E-REV,' not "Plug-In"­reviews/­hot_lists/­car_shopping/­
says the vehicle is "convincingly cool."but judges that, "Cost isn't the only thing that will limit the Volt's appeal…It will be compact, and its limited seating capacity and practicality may render it ill-suited as primary transportation for folks with large families. Further, its limited range also eliminates its usefulness to people that live in rural areas." [We'd venture a guess that unlike other vehicle reviews, this car gets criticized for not being perfectly matched to every possible car buyer!] The review offers a description of one feature: GM admits to certain caveats to its 40-mile range assertion, including driving style, of course, but also proximity to home. Typically, when the Volt's battery reads "empty" it still contains about 30 percent of its energy capacity. Keeping the battery from fully discharging down to zero extends battery life and performance, but if the Volt's navigation system "senses" you're headed home, the battery is allowed to discharge more deeply in anticipation of a good night's charge.

At the EVWorld mirror of the story­news.cfm?newsid=19493 , CalCars Technology Lead Ron Gremban commented: A single car cannot be everything to everyone, and new technologies are always larger and more expensive at first. The ICE has had 100 years of incremental development to compete against, but now we need to find alternatives. If no one had built or embraced the first $4000 brick-sized cell phones, we would still be tethered to landlines. The Volt is not only a really great effort and worthwhile risk, but also looks like a winner as well as a harbinger of better and better PHEVs to come. With 40 miles of electric range, gasoline consumption may average far above the expected 100 mpg moniker, because purchasers are unlikely to be those people who regularly drive hundreds of miles a day. Purchasers will not only be helping to make an eventually huge dent in greenhouse gas emissions, oil imports, and money sent to the middle east, but will also be largely insulated from predictable future oil price spikes and shortages (except temporarily, due to the world economic collapse, world oil demand has gotten very near production capacity, with China and India continuing to ramp up usage at double-digit rates). As a long (10 yr, 150k mi in CA) drivetrain warranty is legally required, any battery longevity issues will be GM's problem rather than the purchaser's. Besides, even if e.g. after 15 years, battery range has shortened to 30, or even 20, miles, most people will still use little or no gasoline during daily driving. By the way, unlike the article stated, once out of gasoline or E85 during a trip, one need not stop to charge, but only for a quick fillup. Also, people haven't yet had Volt driving experiences. Instant electric torque provided without delays or surges should really excite performance-minded drivers and put a smile on anyone's face (it often takes 1-3 seconds for even a performance car to get full power from an ICE to the wheels; we have just gotten used to and expect the delay). Posted by: Ron Gremban, CalCars' Tech Lead:

CARMAKERS LOOK TO $25B ADVANCED VEHICLE LOAN FUND FOR RESCUE: US Automakers contemplating mergers and facing analysts who see bankruptcy as a possibility have been looking to the $25 billion in loan guarantees designed to help them retool as a source of funds to stay in business. The NYTimes reports "White House Explores Aid for Auto Deal"­2008/­10/­28/­business/­28auto.html this route as one option, in addition to declaring the Big Three eligible for the $700B Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) or going back to Congress after the election for more support. The Wall Street Journal in "Bankruptcy Fears Rise As Chrysler, GM Seek Federal Aid"­article/­SB122506556122670509.html?mod=googlenews_wsj presents the broad picture of the state of the uato industry. It focuses on the difficult prospects faced by automakers (as well as suppliers and dealers) as consumer financing options remain limited and sales decline, especially among the most profitable sector, large SUVs and trucks. Sales could decline to levels last seen in the 1980s. The report says automakers are hoping to expedite the regulations being developed for the $25B loans. Or they may have the US invest in the carmakers as they did in banks, or buy up troubled loans using the TARP program. The Los Angeles Times " The end of the road for U.S. carmakers?"­business/­la-fi-autos28-2008oct28,0,1118586.story looks at worst case scenarios for the carmakers.

FORD TAKES LEAD ON DRIVING DISPLAYS: Green Car Congress reports " Ford Introducing New Instrument Cluster on Fusion and Milan Hybrids to Coach Drivers on Optimizing Performance"­2008/­10/­ford-introducin.html . "SmartGauge with EcoGuide," developed with leading interface firms IDEO and Smart Design, will provie four increasingly detailed levels of information to drivers of Ford's forthcoming Fusion and Milan hybrids. Edmunds Green Car Advisor­greencaradvisor/­2008/­10/­
says the two vehicles will be able to drive electrically up to 47 MPH -- much faster than the Escape, though until the car can plug in, the benefits are minimal. We hope the automakers that are ahead of Ford in plans for plug-ins will learn from these displays, which will be of even greater value for their PHEVs.

FORD DISPUTES BENEFITS/INDUSTRY MOTIVES ON HEAVY HYBRIDS: We've often pointed out that when you look at gallons per mile instead of miles per gallon, it starts to make sense that for 100 miles driven, raising a 10MPG vehicle to 20MPG saves five times more gasoline than bringing a 50MPG hybrid to 100MPG. For this reason, we've been glad GM has begun to hybridize its large SUVs -- though these vehicles are subject to criticism on so many levels, and though the implementation has been quite costly for relatively small improvements. Chrysler is working on a hybrid Dodge Ram; it had plans for large Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango hybrids until recent announcements that the Delaware plant that builds them will close.

The Daily Tech website reports­Ford+Calls+GM+Chrysler+Hybrid+Trucks+A+Publicity+Stunt/­article13297.htm that Ford is criticizing both companies' efforts. It quotes from an interview by Automotive News with Doug Scott, Ford division's truck marketing manager. In this excerpt don't miss Jason Mick's final three sentences. Mr. Scott harshly blasted his competitors' efforts saying, "It is a publicity stunt."He continued, "It is no different than what you are seeing with their large SUVs. They are not selling any Tahoe and Yukon hybrids. It's about something to advertise." Ford claims its EcoBoost technology, which uses traditional gasoline, trumps GM and Chrysler's hybrids. EcoBoost is a direct-injection technology, which Ford claims delivers 20 percent better fuel economy and 15 percent less CO2 than larger displacement engines. "In our case, we chose to have a democratization of technology like EcoBoost. Get more fuel efficiencies out there in mass and volume to as many people as you can, rather than focus all this energy on a very limited application that isn't going to be really appealing to many people," Mr. Scott stated. GM has similar efforts, but looks to top it off with even bigger gains from hybrid technology as well. Ford, however, is convinced that direct injection is good enough, and that its customers don't need more fuel efficiency than that.

One thing that is clear by Ford's latest attacks -- the auto industry is bitterly divided on the topic of large hybrids with GM and Chrysler supporting the majority opinion that they are necessary, and Ford taking a hard stand as the minority opinion that they are unwanted and a waste of resources. Ford also seems to be disapproving of the upcoming electric-car market, as the only major U.S. automaker with no plans to release a plug-in hybrid.

POPULAR MECHANICS TEST DRIVES THE HYMOTION/A123 PRIUS CONVERSION: Published Oct 29, the magazine asked, "Plug-in Toyota Prius Hybrid Test Drive: Is 100 MPG Possible with A123 Systems Hymotion Kit?"­blogs/­automotive_news/­4289528.html Here are some highlights of a generally favorable story that asks, "Do plug-ins live up to the hype? Let's find out." (By the way, my car, PHEV conversion #8 at­where-phevs-are.html , recently received a PHEV system transplant and is now a Hymotion L5 PHEV.) As with any electric car, the battery pack is the key to the system. The A123 unit is unique, the company says, because it can be completely depleted without sacrificing longevity. Current batteries, like the stock one in the Prius, use only a small portion of the available energy capacity. That helps to extend the life of these expensive packs. GM engineers say the Volt will use only half of its 16-kwh hour rating-it will be charged to 80 percent of its capacity and drained to about 30 percent. But A123 engineers say they've tested single-cell versions of their batteries and after 7000 cycles, the battery still retains over 80 percent of its full capacity. If we figure one charge per day, the A123 battery could potentially last for almost 20 years. Trials for multicell packs such as the one in the L5 module are ongoing, but engineers expect similar robustness. The Bottom Line: Financially, the Hymotion system makes little sense. Sure, it cost less than 50 cents to charge the battery each night, but the A123's 25-mile range only saved about a half-gallon of gas. At current gas prices it would take over a decade to save enough money to pay for the kit. On the other hand, saving money isn't the whole point. The idea is to find another way to power our cars that uses less oil. And for a lot of folks, that's all that really matters. Even though our electric range wasn't over 30 miles, other users, who are likely more skilled at stretching every electron, have achieved better than 30 miles on a charge. The Hymotion L5 appears to be a solid conversion. Other than the flickering battery display, the car felt like it could have come straight from the Toyota factory.

WE POSTED THE FIRST COMMENT AT POPULARMECHANICS.COM: Great report. Of course, as they say, "your mileage may vary." For any trip where the car drives mostly on the highway when the engine doesn't have time to warm up, results will be worse. For a range of conditions, see the results posted by's RechargeIT program at­recharge/­experiment/­ using the previous generation of Hymotion conversions -- 93.5 MPG average, 115.1 MPG for city trips. On the miles per gallon, the 100+MPG claim makes even more sense when you add the footnote "plus a penny a mile for electricity" (figuring about 125 Watt-hours/mile and 8 cents/kWh). We might also have included in that comment: A123Systems is competing for battery contracts with many automakers. That's why the author refers to GM. Generally a PHEV needs only 4-5,000 deep discharge cycles to last 100-150,000 miles, so A123's >7,000 cycle lab tests are very significant. And the story begin with an important misunderstanding: "Hymotion claims its kit will deliver between 30 and 40 miles of electric-only range." But right at the homepage,­hymotion you can read "100+MPG for 30-40 miles."

At "Taking It Higher On Electric Avenue, AutoWeek's Kevin A. Wilson­apps/­pbcs.dll/­article?AID=/­20081015/­FREE/­810109995/­1530/­FREE starts out with an offhand introduction that he couldn't have written two years ago: "Most of us know by now that a plug-in hybrid is a car with a hybrid drivetrain that can have its batteries recharged from the power grid. It's turning out, though, that such cars may come in more flavors than Starbucks has syrups." He then goes on to review what he says is a prototype of the vehicle Toyota will" offer corporate and fleet customers starting in late 2009." (We don't know if that's true or whether Toyota will deliver something better than a vehicle to which the company has simply added a second hybrid battery. He does say " The target for the production model is 10 miles of such range, enough for a lot of the trips many drivers make." Wilson enjoys the ride and goes on to compare the Prius design to the Volt's series PHEV design. Disucssing nickel-metal and lithium batteries, he concludes, "That neither variety is yet perfectly suited to the role of automotive propulsion may be inferred from the creation of a new group within Toyota's battery-engineering division only three months ago. Its mission is to determine what comes after lithium ion."

TOYOTA REMINDS US IT STILL PLANS PHEVS. On Toyota's Open Road Blog, Irv Miller, Group Vice President, Corporate Communications, in "Irv's Sheet: Of Plug-ins and Advanced Batteries"­2008/­10/­irvs-sheet-of-plug-ins-and-advanced-batteries.html presents Toyota's plans and its objections from the point of view of a profitable market leader intent on sticking to its game plan but periodically having to respond to critics and external pressures: We've not only been studying the use of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), but that we plan to begin offering them, on a limited basis, to fleet customers next year….I've seen a bit of skepticism about how serious we are about PHEVs and about our commitment to the lithium-ion batteries that will propel them…. We believe strongly in the viability of plug-in hybrids in some applications, and in their use of lithium-ion batteries. We believe so strongly, in fact, that we plan to begin production of PHEVs late next year. We also plan to begin assembly-line production of the lithium-ion batteries that will power them. Developed entirely in-house, these batteries will be built on a new assembly line at our Panasonic EV Energy (PEVE) joint-venture facility, 60-percent owned by Toyota.… Why wait? Why not offer this new technology to everyone right away?...We'll proceed carefully because it is one thing to develop lithium-ion battery packs. It's quite another thing to mass-produce them in a way that will allow us to be sure they'll be reliable over the long haul of a PHEV's service life….Even as we get under way with PHEV production, we'll continue studying the technology, the batteries, the production of those batteries, and the ways in which people interact with PHEVs. When we're confident we know what we need to know, we'll take the next steps toward wider distribution. We know there's a lot of PHEV interest out there. We just want to be sure we get our PHEV right. We're pretty sure the users of our vehicles wouldn't want it any other way.

APTERA WINS POPULAR MECHANICS BREAKTHROUGH '08 AWARD: The magazine's cover screams "300MPG Car" plus a large photo. At­breakthrough08 you can see all the winners. After a Leadership Award for Engineering for a Developing World that went to MIT's Amy Smith, next is a writeup and video about the Aptera vehicle, winning for " a new, ultraefficient automotive category." The Carlsbad, CA company, an Idealab spinoff, raised $24M in the July­8301-11128_3-9998153-54.html . It has recruited a CEO and others from the traditional auto industry­2008/­09/­04/­
, and has 3600 $500 pre-orders from Californians for both vehicle types. Excerpts: Five years ago, engineer Steve Fambro thought, 'What would a vehicle with no drag look like?'" The Aptera Typ-1e, which should be available by the end of 2008, became Fambro's answer. It could prove revolutionary, opening up a new automotive category of ultra-high-mileage automobiles designed for real-world drivers and--at $30,000--priced for them, too. The Typ-1e's drag coefficient is an astounding 0.15, compared to 0.26 for the Toyota Prius. At just 1500 pounds, the two-seater is lightweight. The body is made of an ultralight composite--Fambro's partner, Chris Anthony, used the material in wakeboard boats he'd designed--bonded to a metal safety cage. As a three-wheel vehicle, the Typ-1e is exempt from some safety requirements, yet it meets or exceeds crash-test guidelines for conventional cars. The company is launching the all-electric Typ-1e with a 120-mile range and a recharge time of 8 hours. Next year, it plans to follow up with a plug-in hybrid, the Typ-1h, which should get 300 mpg for the first 120 miles and never go less than 130 miles on a gallon of gas. Aptera is also planning a larger vehicle with seating for four. At that URL see a 6-minute video showing he vehicle's components, design and safety features and at­blogs/­automotive_news/­4287508.html?series=60?series=60 see photos of the futuristic-looking three-wheeler stopping NY traffic on its way to the Breakthrough Award event.

BYD SEES US PHEV IN 2010: BYD Automotive, a subsidiary of a large Chinese battery manufacturer, showed a vehicle at last year's Detroit Auto Show and originally said it would have PHEVs in use in last summer's Olympics, followed by domestic sales in China this year. Since then, MidAmerican Energy Holdings, a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway paid $230M for a 10% stake in the Hong Kong-listed company. Reports, which point to the conclusion that the company is not yet far along in development, are sketchy and mix up the company's hybrid, PHEV and EV plans: MOTORAUTHORITY reports that "China's BYD to sell plug-in hybrid in U.S. by 2010."­chinas-byd-to-sell-plug-in-hybrid-by-2010-in-us.html According to BYD's exports general manager, the company is " talking to some third-party consulting and engineering companies to get a thorough understanding of the safety standards" in the U.S., which will be integral in the vehicle's success into breaking into the U.S. market. While its ambitions for the U.S. and European markets may be bold, BYD is still in the early stages of development - currently the company does not sell a hybrid in its home market of China. BYD has confirmed it is planning to market a hybrid sedan in China by the end of the year and will eventually step into the European market within the next two to three years. The information comes from BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu, who told reporters from Automotive News China that the new hybrid sedan would be able to travel 110km on electric power alone. Chuanfu also predicts that sales of the car will top 500 units per month in China and will eventually reach 2,000 sales per month by next year. While BYD has not yet confirmed which models will be getting the hybrid powertrain, the BYD F3 is the sedan most likely to be fitted with the carmaker's new hybrid drivetrain. THE UK GUARDIAN reports " China BYD lines up EU channel for hybrid car"­business/­feedarticle/­7940138 The company signed up 10 distributors for its plug-in hybrid car in Europe ahead of its targeted entry into that market in 2010, a senior company executive said on Tuesday. The firm, which soon plans to begin selling its first electric hybrid car in China, also wants to ship it to Europe, where potential fleet buyers including Deutsche Post AG's delivery arm DHL Express have indicated initial interest, said Henry Li, general manager of BYD Auto's export trade division. "We'll start selling in Europe before we get into the United States," Li told Reuters in a telephone interview. He added that the company had started working with regulators in Europe and in the United States -- where it has yet to secure local distributors -- to pass stringent safety and emissions standards mandated for new entrants. "We will start with our hybrid models if everything goes well. Electric cars will be the step after that, as they need a well laid-out charging network," he said. BYD is scheduled to launch its first all-electric car, the E6, in China in the second half of 2009, he added.

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