Apr 25, 2009 (From the CalCars-News archive)
BELOW: We see some encouraging signs that Honda may finally consider PHEVs; Bright Automotive showcases its IDEA, which will probably be the most technologically advanced PHEV; Boston Consullting Group replies to our critique of its approach and its report; major media stories in Fortune and the New Yorker, and news about events.
HONDA EDGES TOWARD PHEVS: Among major carmakers, Honda has been the most critical holdout on plug-in hybrids. That may be changing. Green Car Congress reports http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/04/honda-hybrids-20090423.htm that the company may be evolving its views: "instead of being a bridge technology, hybrids are expected to remain in the mainstream for quite some time," says Kenji Nakano, Senior Chief Engineer, Honda R&D. In addition to its simple lightweight hybrids, Nakano says "We'll do our best to promote hybrid technology which leads to electric drive [such as plug-in hybrids]."f
This is a welcome development from the company that with its early Insight, had the distinction of selling the world's highest MPG car. Until now, Honda has said it didn't think production and component costs could justify PHEVs. And it didn't seem convinced there was consumer demand. It's continued to place its bets on fuel cells and, someday, on pure EVs. We're looking forward to more news!
BRIGHT AUTOMOTIVE'S IDEA: LIGHTWEIGHT, COMMERCIAL PHEV VAN: This week, Indiana-based Bright Automotive went out of stealth and unveiled its IDEA van in Washington, DC. This is an immensely significant "clean-sheet" vehicle: the company has rethought everything in order to increase vehicle efficiency by a factor of five to ten. There's lots to say about this vehicle: see details and graphics at Bright's website, starting with the press release at http://www.brightautomotive.com/press-releases/bright-automotive-announces-world-s-first-purpose-built-100-mpg-vehicle-for-commercial-and-government-fleets.html . We'll try to give you some perspectives and information you may not read in the (plentiful) mainstream and automotive coverage:
- Bright was spun out of the Rocky Mountain Institute. For over 30 years, RMI has introduced to the world new ways of thinking and new solutions about energy. It was founded by physicist/futurist Amory Lovins (read about him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amory_Lovins ). The IDEA incorporates one key approach that Amory and RMI call "tunneling through the cost barrier," most famously shown in Amory's home (the original RMI office). When you super-insulate (which is costly), at a certain point, you no longer need a heating system. Even 7,000 feet up, electric lights and systems and human beings make enough heat to keep the building warm. Tunneling means discontinuous, sudden improvements in efficiency -- and cost savings. Another example: in an industrial facility, when you simplify twisted pathways and spend more on wider pipes to move liquids, at a certain point, you can downsize pumps and use less energy to run them.
- How does this concept translate to cars? In the popular book, "Natural Capitalism," Lovins and co-authors talked about how we design vehicles where the payload (a single passenger) is only 5% of a vehicle's weight. Bright calls its version of tunneling through he cost barrier "mass decompounding." By cutting 1,000 pounds from the vehicle and improving its aerodynamics, the IDEA can go further on less energy. It can use a smaller battery pack and downsize the electric motor and gasoline engine. This in turn further reduces the weight . .
- Bright is strategically aiming at fleet markets -- the customers who most look at lifetime Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Its staff is chock-full of auto industry and battery design veterans. It got its start with support and concepts early on from Alcoa, Duke Energy, Google.org, Johnson Controls and the Turner Foundation. The vehicle, designed with a 30-mile all-electric range, uses what's called a "through-the-road hybrid" in which the electric motor powers one axle, the internal combustion engine the other. The company is still seeking additional investors and has applied for funds from the US government's advanced vehicle "retooling" program.
- Bright is nonprofit RMI's fifth for-profit spinoff (see http://www.rmi.org/images/PDFs/NSC/RMI_Timeline.pdf ). One of them, E Source, was sold to the UK's Financial Times in 1999, becoming a leading industry publication on electric efficiency. Hypercar may be the best-known (until now) spinoff from RMI. In 1991-1999, RMI incubated the Hypercar Center, putting into the public domain early thinking about vehicle efficiency and lightweight materials, modularizing design, and full optimization.RMI then spun off Hypercar Inc., which designed the 99MPG hydrogen fuel cell SUV called "Revolution." (Read about this from the links in section 15 at http://www.calcars.org/resources.html .) Hypercar morphed into Fiberforge.com, selling composite manufacturing techniques to industry. But before that, Hypercar was the inspiration for CalCars and co-sponsored our founding meeting in 2002. (Our thanks to Hypercar co-founder David Taggart http://www.interleafcomposites.com/about_us.html , former Lockheed Martin Skunkworks engineer, who helped get CalCars off the ground. You can read about the early history of Hypercar in an interview with Michael Brylawski, formerly RMI/Hypercar/now Bright at http://www.autobloggreen.com/2007/01/24/interview-with-michael-brylawski-of-rmi-part-one-history-of-t/ ) Now, Bright aims to produce 50,000 vehicles a year by 2012 (and 5,000 jobs) -- a sweet vindication for 20 years of work and thought. Bright's IDEA will, as you can read on the RMI home page http://www.rmi.org "turn Rocky Mountain Institute's lightweight, hyper-efficient vehicle concept into reality." If you add to that RMI's role in launching its Smart Garage, which has been working on vehicle to grid and on Project Get Ready http://www.projectgetready.org , you can say that the organization has helped significantly to tip the scale toward vehicle electrification.
BOSTON CONSULTING GROUP RESPONDS TO OUR CRITIQUE: In our last two postings on CalCars-News you've read about management consultant BCG's role with the Obama Administration's Automotive Task Force. BCG has now responded to our comments by standing firm -- see its reply and our further reply at http://blogs.edmunds.com/greencaradvisor/2009/04/auto-task-force-advisors-respond-to-criticism-of-advice-on-plug-is.html . (We also challenge some of the basic math on BCG's market penetration assumptions, talking about what it would take to get 20 million instead of three million plug-ins worldwide by 2020.) Meanwhile, we've been working to get our perspective to members of the Task Force.
FORTUNE (AND WARRENT BUFFET) PLUG IN: Fortune magazine's April 27 issue devotes all of pages 38-62 to "The Great Electric Car Race." On the cover, we see Berkshire Hathaway's CEO Warren Buffet standing in front of a BYD plug-in vehicle, smiling and holding an orange extension cord. We haven't found a single URL llinking to all the stories, so here they are:
- A long story about BYD, the first automaker to sell a PHEV, in which Buffet's MidAmerican Energy has bought a 10% share. http://money.cnn.com/2009/04/13/technology/gunther_electric.fortune/index.htm
- "Car Wars" reviews prospects for competition between Asian, American and European carmakers for plug-in dominance, focusing on the history of GM and the Chevy Volt. http://money.cnn.com/2009/04/14/autos/taylor_electric.fortune/index.htm
- "Energy czar" Carol Browner (Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change) talks about federal commitments to plug-in hybrids. http://money.cnn.com/2009/04/14/news/newsmakers/schlosser_browner.fortune/index.htm
- Another long story focuses on battery development, with a profile of domestic manufacturer EnerDel. http://money.cnn.com/2009/04/14/technology/keegan_battery.fortune/index.htm
- The collection ends with a call by former Intel CEO Andy Grove for action to spur U.S. battery manufacturing. http://money.cnn.com/2009/04/16/technology/grove_battery.fortune/index.htm
THE NEW YORKER ON GM'S FUTURE: a long story by Peter Boyer, "The World of Business The Road Ahead: Is there hope for the American car industry" http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/04/27/090427fa_fact_boyer (registration required -- you can purchase access to a single issue) -- tells the story of GM in recent decades. The article culminates (as does the company's story, in the visit of the Automotive Task Force to the GM Technology Center to showcase the Chevy Volt as the company's future hope, and draws a direct path from that visit to Obama saying his goal for the domestic auto industry is that "The United States of America will lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars."
NEXT WEEK: This week at San Francisco Bay Area events we go from the crowds at the Pacific Coast Dreams event this Sunday to next Sunday's Hillsborough Concours d'Elegance: see blog posting about the event at http://www.hillsboroughconcours.blogspot.com/
PHEV 48-STATE TOUR WRAPS UP: Catch up on the final days of the "All American Spirit of DC Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle All Around America (PHEV3A) EVducational Tour" by "EVJerry" (Jerry Asher, with support from Joe Lado and many others) in a converted Prius http://www.spiritofdc.com which concluded in Washington DC last week (see press release at http://www.pr.com/press-release/144998 .
REGISTRATION NOW OPEN FOR PLUG-IN CONFERENCES: Sign up now for the fifth annual "powerUP!' conference In Wenatchee, and a second annual conference, Plug-In 2009, in Long Beach, CA August 10-13. CalCars will participate in both. And you can make a last-minute decision to go to Stavanger Norway May 13-16 for the 24th International Electric Vehicle Symposium. Links to all three at http://www.calcars.org/events.html