Jan 13, 2009 (From the CalCars-News archive)
We're back online with CalCars-News after a break for a few weeks. We'll do our best to go back and point to the most important developments of the past month. Today's post summarizes and analyzes the breaking news from Detroit.
THE GREEN DETROIT AUTO SHOW: For the past few weeks, we've been hearing that the all-important show (which opened to media yesterday) would be muted because of the global fiscal crisis and the woes of the global auto industry, and that "environment-friendly cars" would be a principal focus. But if anything, the green car reality is exceeding expectations. The news from the show confirms that carmakers are approaching a tipping point. While not yet a wholesale commitment -- more like plans, intentions and limited experiments -- it's the start we've been hoping for.
GROWING COMPETITION: Because the automakers all watch each other, we can expect that the pace will continue to accelerate. Below we include a snapshot of today: company-by-company developments with our comments and some links to media. Since at Google-News you'll find over 3,000 stories about PHEVs in the past 24 hours, at the end of this post, we list many of our favorite sources and suggest a way you can customize your own news summaries.
FIRST, THOUGH, THIS IS A VERY SATISFYING MOMENT FOR ADVOCATES OF PLUG-IN VEHICLES. It vindicates our assertions that plug-in cars can be introduced now with today's technology and today's infrastructure. And from every direction we're hearing that plug-in cars could be a way to save the US auto industry. Today's favorite quote comes from Justin Hyde's the Detroit Free Press story, "Faith rests in hybrids, electric" http://www.freep.com/article/20090111/
"Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles could lead to the salvation and resurrection of the American auto industry, because that's a technology we're on the forefront of," said Daniel Weiss, director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.
[CAP was founded by Obama transition co-chair John Podesta. The story continues with Weiss accurately describing the relationship between the auto industry and the U.S. government, and making clear that it will take both to scale and speed production and market penetration:]
Weiss says the potential benefits of electric models to cut oil demand and global warming gases will make them viable eventually, but that governments should jump-start the first generation to get the less-expensive successors. "The government hand isn't necessary to get them off the ground," he said. "The question is whether plug-in hybrids will remain a boutique car or actually have any mainstream impact."
In a Reuters story, "AUTOSHOW-GM, rivals spark race for new batteries" http://www.reuters.com/article/marketsNews/idUSN1236017620090113 , Kevin Krolicki sees the automakers' announcements as a response to "skeptics [who] have offered a running rebuttal: show me the battery…. Taken together, analysts and green car advocates said the announcements showed the auto industry was beginning to make needed advances in battery technology to put a first wave of rechargeable electric cars like the Volt on the road. 'I'm truly delighted that GM and others are going to make these cars and that we can now start the electric car race,' said Felix Kramer, a California-based advocate for electric cars and founder of CalCars.org."
SUMMARY OF PHEV DEVELOPMENTS FROM THE AUTO SHOW
BYD showed its F3DM, the first PHEV on the market. BYD has a one-year headstart on the competition, though its cars are available in limited quantities, starting only in China. The company landed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, with a perceptive profile by long-time global automotive reporter, Norihiko Shorozou. Aptly titled, "Technology Levels Playing Field in Race to Market Electric Car," http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123172034731572313.html , the author speculates the BYD (10% owned by Warren Buffet's Mid-America Holdings) could become the first start-up to become a major automaker in 50 years. It helps that BYD, with 10,000 engineers and technicians, is the world's second-largest manufacturer of lithium batteries. And BYD's opportunity exists because electric vehicles (and series PHEVs) are easier and cheaper to design and build than internal combustion engine vehicles. (Example in the article: 210 primary parts in BYD's e6 all-electric vehicle, 1,440 in its F6 gasoline vehicle.)
TOYOTA AND THE PHEV RACE: The news from Toyota, which posted its first annual operating loss since World War II, is more about positioning. It announced what it had previously hinted at: the company will produce 500 lithium-battery Prius PHEVs in 2009, with 150 going to the U.S. Still no definite date for mass production.
This led to some overstatements in the media, such as the headline by Michelline Maynard of the NY Times: "Toyota Plans to Leapfrog G.M. With a Plug-In" http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/automobiles/autoshow/12toyota.html . Maynard saysToyota Motor Sales USA President James Lentz "did not say why Toyota had sped up its program. But if Toyota stayed on its new schedule, it would win at least a psychological advantage over G.M., said Andrew Shapiro, an industry analyst with the Casesa Shapiro group. 'G.M. announced it first, and Toyota gets it to the market first,' Mr. Shapiro said. Maynard then points out that "Mr. Lentz sought to play down any impression that Toyota was in a race with G.M. The initial Toyota plug-ins will not be available to individual consumers, unlike the Volt, which G.M. says will go on sale to the public at the end of 2010. She may not know that in fact, Toyota might not beat GM with its introduction of 500 vehicles, since GM has already said it may bring some vehicles to test customers in late 2009. We all know, however, that Toyota is fully capable of speeding up these timetables if it chooses to do so -- and, as The Godfather said so eloquently, if public demand and government incentives make them "offers they can't refuse."
TOYOTA'S NEW PRIUS: The company finally unveiled its long-delayed third-generation Prius. (Technically fourth-generation, since the first version was available only in Japan starting in 1997.) The 2010 Prius looks only slightly different, but everything has been improved and optimized. The results are better MPG and more bells-and-whistles. Notable from our perspective: the EV button has been enabled globally (not just in Europe and Japan) for about a mile of electric-only driving. The car offers an optional photovoltaic solar roof. (This is mainly important symbolically -- as we respond often to inquiries, the available power is sufficient to pre-cool the car on hot days. With today's technology, you need solar panels on a garage roof for enough power for double-digit mile electrical range.) And the user interface has been improved with a heads-up display showing driving efficiency -- now, like the Camry, showing one-minute intervals instead of five on the MPG indicator. See Toyota's website on the car at http://www.toyota.com/vehicles/minisite/prius/ ; see photos of the exterior and the displays at http://jalopnik.com/5128924/2010-toyota-prius-bigger-longer-and-with-higher-fuel-economy; and read the Toyota specifications at http://www.toyota.com/vehicles/minisite/prius/assets/site/pdf/2010_Prius.pdf . (The company also announced plans to sell a lightweight two-passenger 50-mile-range EV in 2012 - and a hydrogen fuel-cell car in 2015.)
GM PICKS LG CHEM AS VOLT BATTERY SUPPLIER: After months of speculation, GM announced it has chosen the Compact Power/LG Chem consortium to provide batteries for the first generation of the Chevy Volt. GM also announced it will develop its own in-house capacity to manufacture batteries, with a large new design laboratory. Kevin Bullis reports that GM could use batteries from other suppliers in future vehicles at "GM to Build Its Own Batteries" http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/21957 . See "GM CEO Rick Wagoner Announces Chevy Volt Battery Details" http://jalopnik.com/5129294/gm-ceo-rick-wagoner-announces-chevy-volt-battery-details for the press release and analysis. (On the photo on that page, we're glad the announcement included not only GM's Ric Wagoner and Bob Lutz with LG Chem CEO Peter Kim, but also Denise Gray, Director of Hybrid Energy Storage Systems, the powerhouse behind GM's battery programs.)
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE A123 SYSTEMS? A123, which with Contintental had bid for the Volt contract (and is in a pre-IPO quiet period), clearly hopes for deals with other automakers. Announcing plans to build a factory in Michigan, it described partnerships with Chrysler and Better Place. The company hopes to take advantage of up to $335M in state tax credits and is seeking $1.8B in loans from the US DOE's $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program to make enough lithium-ion batteries for 500,000 plug-ins or 5 million hybrid vehicles by 2013. See the company's announcement at http://www.a123systems.com/news/135 and "A123Systems to Spend $2.3B Building Factories in Michigan" http://earth2tech.com/2009/01/07/a123systems-to-spend-23b-building-factories-in-michigan/.
GM EXPANDS VOLT TO ESCALADE: The company showed a concept Cadillac Converj, using the same technology as the Chevy Volt to make the point that it plans the extend electrification to more models. It has branded its "revolutionary electric propulsion technology" formerly called E-Flex as "Voltec." Although we had seen some indications the company might drop its use of the term "EREV" (extended range electric vehicle) instead of "series plug-in hybrid," it's sticking to that name. For more about the no-compromises luxury Cadillac (which also includes a PV solar roof to power accessories), see http://media.gm.com/us/gm/en/
CHRYSLER: MORE PHEV PROTOTYPES Chrysler shows more "production-intent" series PHEVs, based on existing platforms, which means it can design and test them quicker. The compact SUV Jeep Patriot and the 200C EV Sedan join the Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler minivan series PHEVs showed last year. And the Dodge Circuit EV sportscar updates the Lotus prototype previously shown. For an entertaining speculation, see Dan Neil, writing in the LA Times, "Chrysler (again) works to design itself a miracle," http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-design11-2009jan11,0,4856432.story -- which begins, "The company has a long history of pulling itself out of deep trouble. This time, it's counting on electric cars to save it."
ARMY GOES ELECTRIC WITH CHRYSLER: In a very encouraging related note, the Army announced it would lease 4,000 "non-tactical" neighborhood electric vehicles, with the first ones coming from Global Electric Motorcars of Chrysler http://www.army.mil/-newsreleases/2009/01/12/15707-army-announces-historic-electric-vehicle-lease . We hope this is a preview of other federal purchases included in Barack Obama's campaign program.
FORD GOES HYBRID AND ALL-ELECTRIC: Ford, which could be accelerating work that is so far leading to a handful of PHEV Escapes, showed its Fusion hybrid, positioned as a competitor to the Toyota Camry. The company plans an EV van in 2010, a passenger EV in 2011 and a PHEV in 2012. Dan Neil at the LA Times wrote about the Fusion (which can drive briefly up to 47 MPH on electricity) on December 19: "2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid: 52 mpg and the darkness before dawn" http://www.latimes.com/classified/automotive/highway1/la-fi-neil19-2008dec19,0,2503132.story :
"On a test drive of a Fusion Hybrid last week in West L.A. traffic, I managed, without much trouble, to get 52 mpg in mixed city-highway driving. Wait, so, has somebody invented the car of the future and didn't tell us? It's a worthy question. The scolding undercurrent of recent congressional hearings on the auto-industry bailout was the notion that Detroit had failed to invest in next-generation technology that could help wean us off foreign oil. Not so. What they did fail to do was sufficiently commercialize this technology so that it was ready and waiting at dealerships when people got stampeded this year by spiraling gas prices. Had Ford made a few hundred thousand of these cars available in June -- along with the financing to sell them -- we'd be erecting 50-foot equestrian statues of William Clay Ford and Alan Mulally in city squares, and the streets of Dearborn, Mich., would be repaved with diamond cobblestones."
Neil also points out: "The nickel battery will please many in the green-car movement who argue that the search for the perfect battery -- a la the Chevy Volt -- has only delayed development of the good. ( Edmund Burke said the worst thing a man can do is do nothing because he can do only a little.)"
HONDA: The company is sticking to its gameplan of hybrids and fuel cells, plus the possibility someday of pure EVs. Its new hatchback Insight is positioned to be the lowest-price hybrid for sale in the U.S. Asking, "Why Doesn't the New Insight Get Better MPG than the Civic Hybrid?" http://blogs.motortrend.com/6398120/
green/why-doesnt-the-new-insight-get-better-mpg-than-the-civic-hybrid/index.html Motor Trend found out that the company (having been burned once with the "muscle hybrid" Accord, is now trying for a car that is "Clean and Green, Fun and Affordable." We hope someday Honda will see electrification as the way to optimize their goals.
FISKER: The California company showed a production version of its $87,900 Karma series PHEV. It has presold 1,300 and said it planned to sell 15,000 annually. It also showed a concept convertible version for 2011. The company announced it has 22 dealers and is seeking a total of 40. http://www.freep.com/article/
WAYS TO STAY INFORMED: We get news from lots of sources, including the subscribers and other readers of CalCars-News. If you don't want to rely on us, today you'll find roundups on the auto show and in general you can keep up through these top green cars websites (alphabetically): http://www.autobloggreen.com | http://www.evworld.com | http://www.gm-volt.com | http://blogs.edmunds.com/greencaradvisor | http://www.greencarcongress.com | http://www.hybridcars.com | http://blog.wired.com/cars/ .
DO YOU KNOW ABOUT "RSS (Real Simple Syndication) FEEDS? If not, ask a friend to set you up so you can see the latest from these sources -- miraculously and automatically, all on one page. While you're at it, consider adding a few other favorites from the automotive and clean-tech world: http://www.climateprogress.org | http://earth2tech.com | http://www.greentechmedia.com | http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/ | http://jalopnik.com | http://readjoel.com/joel_makower | http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com | http://www.technologyreview.com/energy . Then there are the carmakers: http://fastlane.gmblogs.com | http://blog.toyota.com . And, of course, http://www.calcars.org/news-archive/ and the advocates: http://plugsandcars.blogspot.com | http://revengeoftheelectriccar.com .
P.S. This Saturday, come to Santa Monica, CA for the "Inaugural Parade West" -- bring your EV or PHEV if you have one....see announcement at http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/eaa-phev/message/3273