Chinese EV Partners with Rental Firm

carrental
carrental

In a move to make the company truly global, Hertz has opened its participation in the latest New York Auto Show with the BYD E6 battery car. It stood side by side with the Chevrolet Volt that has been improved to accommodate wireless charging.

The two vehicles are part of the fleet of rental options in the Hertz Rental Auto offices in Shenzhen, China. These two vehicles are also being prepared to become part of the Hertz fleet in the United States.

According to Jack Hidary, Global EV Leader for the rental company, said, “We get a lot of support from the Chinese government.” He then explained the attraction with the E6, as the government of Shenzhen has fast-tracked the development of infrastructure to accommodate the EV, such as the construction of charging stations.

Shenzhen is also the only city in China offering the upgraded E6 to purchasers, with residents of the city purchasing electric vehicles such as the E6 receiving rebates around 120,000 renminbi or about U.S.$19,000. Currently, the cost of the E6 is about U.S.$58,000 in China and would be lower once it reaches the United States.

In another statement, Rich Broome, a senior vice president at Hertz, said that the company has a 600 rental cars in five cities throughout China and is projected to increase to 1,500 when 2013 rolls around.

Michael Austin, BYD America’s Vice President, said that the Hertz EV rental program would also be opened up in Beijing and Shanghai, where residents enjoy similar subsidies. He added, “The rental market is still very young in China. Many of the cars are being rented to chauffeurs.”

Austin further states that Shenzhen would have 500 E6 taxis on its streets and would also be converting its 1,600 vehicles into plug-in electrics, all made by BYD. Purchasers of electric vehicles would enjoy two free Level II chargers that would be installed near their homes or in their work facility built by their local utility together with low nighttime charging rates. The city currently has a hundred DC fast charging stations, also built by BYD. The E6 has a large sixty kWh battery pack that can provide 185 miles of range. These batteries can be fully charged at these stations in just half an hour.

It is expected that the E6 would be certified for sale in the U.S. by the end of 2012. These cars would be available for fleet purchasers such as Hertz but retail sales would soon be done when the charging infrastructure is developed further. He adds, “We feel the E6 is clearly ready for the American market. The performance, style and size are all very good.”

Top Electric Car Makers Facing Difficulties

electriCONCEPT
electriCONCEPT

The turn of the year has not been good to two of the top electric carmakers in the world today. Tesla is facing an issue as to the freezing of its electric battery pack when left uncharged for long periods of time. Chevrolet is also facing an issue, as it ordered a pause to the production of its prized Volt.

Chevrolet announced that it would be halting production of the Volt for five weeks starting end of March because of the vehicle’s oversupply in its dealerships. This would result in 1,300 layoffs in the Detroit site where the Volt is built. This is another sign of trouble for the plug-in hybrid flagship of the vehicle. The first issue was the failure to reach the projected sale of 45,000 Volts in the United States. The second issue was the NHTSA investigation as to the battery fires on the Volt.

According to GM spokesperson Chris Lee, the production is scheduled to stop on March 16 and resume on April 23. This is the third time that production of the Volt has been halted since the vehicle was made available in December 2010. He said, “Sales for the Volt in February were significantly better than January and we anticipate that to continue. We see good things in the future but right now we had to make this adjustment.”

This also affects the production of the Opel Ampera, the European version of the Volt.

As for Tesla, the issue revolves around leaving its pricey Roadster low on charge and unplugged for extended periods of time. When the battery becomes fully discharged, the whole pack becomes unusable and needs to be replaced, costing the owner $40,000.

Warranties for this battery replacement become cancelled as the owner’s manual provides advisories and warnings for owners on leaving their electric cars unplugged for extended periods of time. This has spawned a new term, called “bricking”, which also means describing electronic devices that have become useless because of corrupted software.

Tesla’s Chief Technical Officer, J.B. Straubel, who was in a conference on electric vehicles in San Diego, said that all batteries can result in total failure mode but only less than ten Roadsters may be predisposed to have the problem. He added, “If you ran your conventional engine without oil, whose fault would it be? It would be the owner’s.”

The electric car utilizes fail safe systems, including the ability to isolate the battery when charge gets low, use of a backup twelve volt battery and a separate wake up call function. Tesla though does not have these systems for the Roadster, but because of this issue, newer models would have a “deep sleep” mode and other protective systems.

NHTSA Closes Volt Investigation

firesign
firesign

Last Friday, federal safety regulators have formally closed their investigation on the fires that occurred with the Chevrolet Volt. The report found no evidence of a defect and the plug-in vehicles posed no greater fire risk as any other vehicle on the street meeting an accident.

Despite the favorable results, the main problem would be rebuilding consumer confidence in the vehicle. In the larger picture, the safety concerns regarding the reliability of electric vehicles can hurt the advancement of electric cars in the automotive market. According to many industry experts, while the fires were unfortunate, it was good it occurred within testing facilities but these create chilling effect to the interest of the general public to accept new technologies.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also released for the first time photos relating to the aftermath of the Volt catching fire last June. This fire occurred in a remote area near Burlington, Wisconsin and was discovered after it had burned itself out. Also included in the release are videos as to the November testing, where it showed a firefighter fighting flames in a wooden shed where two Volt battery packs were placed under observation.

The two month long investigation undertaken by the NHTSA found that “no discernible defect trend exists”. It also added that the modifications proposed by General Motors are more than sufficient to reduce the possibility of a fire occurring during an accident.

The agency further added, “Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline powered vehicles. Generally, all vehicles have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash.”

The final safety report from the federal agency on the Volt investigation further disclosed the fire on a third battery pack last December 12, six days after the battery was exposed to coolant from the Volt’s liquid cooling system. This pack was one of the six arrays tested to study the conditions that resulted in the June fire. This December fire had consumed a Volt and three other vehicles that were also located nearby in the testing facility.

For its part, General Motors issued a statement, “NHTSA’s decision to close their investigation is consistent with the results of our internal testing and assessment. The voluntary action that GM is taking is intended to make a safe vehicle even safer.”

Another issue is now brewing on the horizon regarding the fires to the Volt. GM’s CEO, Daniel F. Akerson is set to testify before a House subcommittee hearing into why the NHTSA waited until November to disclose the June fire. Speculation has been growing that the delay in the announcement was due to pressure from the Obama administration to hide the fires because the government owns 26 percent of the carmaker.

Is the Chevrolet Volt a True Hybrid Car?

Even though General Motors has been in the news of late after applying for bankruptcy protection in U.S., the company is set to emerge as a more powerful and sustainable force in the US car market after agreeing a deal with the U.S. government. While the company’s overseas divisions are in the process of being sold off, the main U.S. business will emerge from bankruptcy for business as usual.

The Chevrolet Volt is expected to be General Motors next venture into the electric car market although it is causing significant controversy across the sector. While officially it is classed as a hybrid, offering electric and fuel power, the company has chosen to describe it as an electric vehicle equipped with a "range extending" gasoline powered internal combustion engine.

Why does GM make it so difficult for itself in the electric vehicle market!

The Chevrolet Volt

The main element of the Chevrolet Volt which is causing so much controversy is the "plug-in hybrid system" which in simple terms means that the vehicle is propelled by electric power. This power comes from on-board lithium ion batteries which can be "refuelled" at an electric charging point or buying a gasoline engine. So while the power which is running the car is purely electric, the systems which produce the electric to power the car are split between gasoline and battery power.

How far can the Chevrolet Volt travel on one charge?

This is where General Motors becomes unstuck because it has been revealed that the Chevrolet Volt is only able to travel 40 miles (64 km) on a full charge of the lithium ion batteries although this can be extended to in excess of 600 miles (over 1000 km) when the gasoline powered internal combustion engine kicks in. The gasoline powered system either charges the lithium ion batteries or the internal combustion engine drives the electric generator which then powers the car itself.

So when you consider that this "hybrid" vehicle is only capable of 40 miles on a full battery charge, although it can reach a further 600 miles using a gasoline powered internal combustion engine to recharge the batteries, is this a true reflection of what consumers require?

Many people believe this is something of a half-hearted attempt to hit the hybrid market and something which could backfire significantly in the future by tempting some consumers to a vehicle which many believe is not a true hybrid.

Why is the Chevrolet Volt still described as a hybrid?

While the Chevrolet Volt is attracting much controversy in the electric vehicle market, with many people scratching heads as to why the vehicle itself can be referred to as a hybrid, the answer is simple. Due to the fact that they gasoline fuelled internal combustion engine has no direct link to the wheels of the vehicle it is technically known as a hybrid - or a plug-in hybrid. As the internal combustion engine either recharges the batteries in the vehicle or powers a generator which then transfers power to the wheels the vehicle is strictly speaking "powered by electric".

Expected sales of the Chevrolet Volt

The Chevrolet Volt will be available in U.S. showrooms toward the end of 2010, even though it will be officially known as a 2011 model, and there are plans to roll it out across the world. The company used the British International Motor Show in July 2008 to confirm that the Chevrolet Volt, Opel Volt and Vauxhall Volt would be hitting the market in 2011. The Volt will also be known as the Opel Ampera in many parts of Europe, with an agreement for it to be produced and sold by GM Europe (although this agreement may be in doubt as the European subsidiary of General Motors is currently being sold off).

As the UK car market is being used as the entry point into Europe, the company has also announced plans to introduce the Volt brand into Australia by 2012. We fully expect more announcements along the way as GM looks to increase the exposure of the Chevrolet Volt and hopefully try to regain some of the power lost over the last few months.

Did General Motors do a deal with the US authorities?

There is a growing suspicion that the U.S. authorities have colluded with General Motors in the creation of the Chevrolet Volt primarily because of the position the company holds in the U.S. economy and the number of employees dependent upon the operation. It was no surprise to see that in October 2008 the United States authorities approved the Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act of 2008 which set aside over $700 billion for the development of hybrid vehicles.

Under the terms of the stabilisation act each hybrid vehicle attracts a $7500 tax credit if it has a battery pack capacity of 16 kWh or more. Interestingly, this particular band fits perfectly with the credentials of the Chevrolet Volt and therefore opens up the possibility of massive government subsidies for a company which is currently on its knees.

The price of the Chevrolet Volt

While initially, when taking into account the $7500 subsidy from the U.S. authorities, General Motors had hoped to sell the vehicle for around $30,000 it looks as though it would be nearer $32,500. The price in the UK has been set at around the £20,000 mark which is as near as you could get to the mass market for a hybrid vehicle of the type and size of the Chevrolet Volt. The Australian market, which is set to open in 2012, will see the vehicle sold for around $30,000 which is a price that should attract significant interest from consumers.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that General Motors already has significant experience in the electric car market, controversial or not, it is surprising to see the company launched its own hybrid vehicle which many believe is simply a revamped traditional gasoline powered vehicle. Whether the company is looking to "hedge its bets" or simply not willing to go down the road of a purely electric car is unclear but the deal with the U.S. authorities, which will see a $7500 tax credit for each vehicle sold, is something which will help the company make a success of the Chevrolet Volt.

It is uncertain as to whether General Motors, in its current form or its future form, will ever make a significant mark in the electric vehicle market. Indeed many people believe that the company’s heart is not in the sector which is disappointing if true.