BMW ActivE Issues Come to Fore


It has become industry practice before a vehicle is made available in the market, that carmakers test drive their cars to a select few for a number of months. This process would allow the carmaker insight into the performance and use of the vehicle for eventual upgrade and tweaking.

One of the cars that have undertaken this process is the BMW ActivE, the German automaker’s electric conversion of a BMW 1 Series two-door sedan. As of late, there are 700 vehicles currently on the roads today.

Last January 17, 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a recall for BMW ActivE electric vehicles that were built between August 17 and December 19, 2011. The main reason for the recall is the inadequate gear lubrication. This is one of the reasons for the recall and may be a result from the inadequate sealing of the drivetrain housing assembly. When gear lubrication goes below a certain level, the electric drive motor and gear assembly can suddenly fail, causing the gear to grind on the output shaft of the electric motor that would cause splining failure.

When the electric motor splines, then a new motor needs to be fitted into the vehicle. There have been sixteen (16) reported failures for those with the new BMW ActivE. In response, the carmaker had modified the design of its electric motor alongside a new gasket to prevent the loss of gear lubrication. The recall is being done to address all the existing areas of concern, from the fitting of a new gasket between the motor and gear assembly as well as proper sealing of the two components. Since half of the cars produced had already been modified during its regular servicing, the recall would just cover the others either those who have already been serviced or would still be serviced in the future.

The recall was issued through a letter sent by BMW to those affected vehicle lessees.

Other concerns that have been aired include the reduced range of the vehicle during cold weather, down to seventy (70) from the hundred (100) mile BMW rating or the ninety four (94) EPA mileage rating. Also criticized is the limited trunk space of the vehicle, but overall many of the users of the ActivE are happy with their vehicles on the road.

The first production electric vehicle is set to reach showrooms in 2015, with the 2014 BMW i3 being unveiled in this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show.

Toyota Issues Prius Recall

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius

In an unprecedented move, the biggest Japanese automaker Toyota is recalling 670,000 units of its Prius hybrids it produced between 2004 and 2009. The focus would be the U.S. market, where reports of loss of steering and hybrid powertrain issues have been reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This is just part of the total recall of 2.77 million units, which include not just the Prius but also the Corolla and the Wish worldwide. These vehicles distributed worldwide are being recalled because a specific metal in the steering mechanism is not able to withstand the stresses involved in its operation. According to a statement from the company, “the part could wear out of the steering wheel is frequently and forcefully turned to the full left or full right position while driving at low speeds and that could result in the loss of steering ability.”

The first reports on the metal failure came to the attention of the carmaker back in February 2010, but the results were inconclusive. This year, specifically last February, Toyota was first notified of the steering loss of a unit in the United States. After a thorough investigation, the Japanese automaker finally identified the cause of the issue and decided on issuing a recall to correct the mechanical problem.

A second recall would cover 350,000 units and would involve the replacement of an electric water pump that may fail and shut down the hybrid powertrain system. This though would not affect the gas engine’s operation, according to an email from Toyota spokesman Bryan Lyons.

Toyota reported to the NHTSA the water pump issue back in 2009 and was redesigned for 2010. However, pump failures continued and Toyota was finally able to identify the problem as a coil wire that once scratched would corrode and break leading to the water pump failure. This is the second time that the Prius hybrid system had a problem with its cooling system. Back in 2010, the company undertook a customer satisfaction campaign that covered 390,000 model 2004 to 2007 Priuses sold in North America. The company promised to replace the coolant pump as it could result in malfunction leading to stoppage in the operation of the hybrid system.

Also covered in the email from Mr. Lyons, the service campaign dealt with a “different problem than the new recall.” It reiterated that the customer satisfaction program was sufficient as the vehicle can still run on the gasoline engine alone. It further reiterated that there have been no reports on any accidents in the United States related to the recall issued. The recalls though is deemed voluntary but once a safety problem has been identified, the company is required to inform the NHTSA within five (5) business days its recall plan and failure would result in fines and penalties.

NHTSA Closes Volt Investigation


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.

Fisker Karma Recalled


Fisker Automotives, the builder of the plug-in hybrid 2012 Karma, has recalled all its units because of a possible coolant leak issue. Each of the units has a sticker price of $100,000 and only fifty units have been sold.

The coolant issue is a result of the improper installation of hose clamps to the vehicle’s battery array. This causes the coolant to leak and may result in a fire. When coolant enters the battery compartment, an electric short can occur that can result in a fire. According to the company, there have been no reported incidents with the Karmas it has sold to the public.

To address the issue, the company would replace the whole battery pack of the Karma. The company has already built 239 Karmas, with fifty already in use by purchasers. All these vehicles would be replaced.

The Fisker Karma is manufactured at Valmet Automotive in Finland. The Environmental Protection Agency has rated the fuel economy of the vehicle at 52 miles per gallon or 4.5 liters per hundred kilometers at all electric mode. In gasoline mode, the vehicle has a rating of 20 miles per gallon.  Despite its good exterior, the Fisker Karma is considered as a subcompact.

The vehicle gets its power from a couple electric motors that produce a total of 403 hp. The electric motors get its fuel from a 22kilowatt lithium ion battery built by A123 systems. It also gets its power from a 2.2-liter gasoline engine that turns a 175 kW generator. The unique design of the Karma is the mating of a generator to the motors that also recharges the battery through the mechanical driving force of the wheels. This design was made by Quantum Technologies, called the Q-Drive hybrid drive train.

An additional power source of the Fisker Karma is the solar paneled roof created by Asola Advanced and Solar Systems GmBH. This solar generator also helps in recharging the battery array aside from assisting in the cabin’s climate control system. The solar array is able to produce half a kilowatt of power a day and adds up to five miles of range distance per week. As an add-on, the company can provide a solar panel installation to allow the home to charge the Karma entirely off the grid.

Before the recall, the company reported that the company has received a total of 1,300 orders for the Karma. It is also one of the priciest models of electric vehicles in the market today and was first unveiled in the 2010 Paris Motor Show.

GM Upgrades Chevrolet Volt


Last Thursday, General Motors announced that structural changes to its electric vehicle flagship, the plug in electric Chevrolet Volt. The changes would involve upgrades to the steel structure and the liquid cooling surrounding the battery array as a response to issues regarding the risk of catching fire after a crash.

Company officials said that they have given the blueprints for the upgrades to federal safety regulators who have been focused on investigations as to fire risks involved with the Volt. The company is optimistic as to the action would be able to satisfy the government’s safety concerns as to the previous issues with the battery array.

In response, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a statement on its website responded that the changes “should address the issue” but the investigation remained open.

For its part, the changes are defined by GM as voluntary “enhancements” and reiterated that neither the car nor the battery would be recalled. All that needed to be done to qualify would be Volt owners to take their cars to the dealership, similar to a formal recall.

Marry Barra, GM’s Senior Vice President for Global Product Development said through a conference call, “We are choosing to go the extra mile to ensure our customers’ peace of mind.” She added that the changes would make the Volt “even safer because it is already safe.”

Last June, a Volt caught fire three weeks after crash tests conducted by the government damaged the battery and cooling system. A second fire occurred after further testing last November that triggered the federal investigation by the NHTSA.

Last Thursday, the carmaker had undertaken four crash tests of Volts with the upgraded cooling and structure system resulting in no intrusions into the battery array and no coolant leakage. These were the two factors determined by the NHTSA as the causes of the Volt fires. For its part, the NHTSA said that it had subjected a modified Volt to the same tests that lead to the original fire. It found no signs of the damage that was the original cause of the fire.

In a statement, the NHTSA said, “The results of that crash test showed no intrusion into the vehicle’s battery compartment and no coolant leakage was apparent. The preliminary results of the crash test indicate the remedy proposed by General Motors today should address the issue of battery intrusion.”

For its part, the NHTSA would continue to monitor the car but expected that the investigation would be concluded in the next few weeks. It said that its testing showed that there is no risk of fires if the battery pack was not damaged or had no coolant leaks.

As of date, GM had sold nearly 8,000 Volts since the car was introduced in 2010. The Volt is plug-in hybrid that travels 35 miles on battery power before running the gasoline engine.