Recent Moves Sign of EV Death Knell Again?

electric motor
electric motor

Many pundits of the electric car revolution are singing the blues again as major moves from supporters seem to undertake measures to back away from fully realizing the revolution.

In similar moves, two of the largest electric car makers are taking what is called pragmatic decisions regarding the future of their respective electric car fleets. These carmakers are Nissan and Toyota respectively and their recent moves are being describes as the death knell again for the electric car.

Nissan, through its chairperson Charles Ghosn has invested billions of dollars into the electric car revolution. These include providing models such as the Altra and the Hypermini and its flagship vehicle the Nissan Leaf, which is fully battery powered. Now, the Japanese car giant is shifting its gears towards the model followed by Toyota, which is the promotion of gasoline powered hybrid cars. Toyota for its part, shunned developing fully electric vehicles for a variety of reasons and this has proven very successful for them, retaining the market lead with its powerhouse Prius line.

Part of the disenchantment with electric cars is range anxiety. At its peak, the best electric cars can only run just a fraction of an internal combustion engine’s ability. This is compounded by the fact that it takes five times longer to fully charge an electric vehicle and the lack of infrastructure to support electric cars, such as repair shops, charging stations and other services. Another major factor is the higher front end cost of the electric vehicle compared to a regular gasoline powered vehicle, even with the benefits and other incentives, still makes it an expensive option.

All these put together has created a very lukewarm response by the buying market. For Nissan, 9,819 Leaf electric cars were sold in the market, with under 50,000 already on the road now. Since its unveiling, the Leaf has successively failed to meet its sales projections, even with all the add-ons and improvements added on to the vehicle.

Toyota on the other hand with its hybrid formula, already has twelve models under its wing, four of them just for the Prius line alone. In 2012, a total of 327,413 hybrids were sold in the United States alone, while 1.2 million were sold worldwide. Total worldwide sales have reached five million for the Prius.

As Nissan cuts back on its EV investments and Toyota refuses to go all electric, it is clear that the electric car is having issues with the market. Does this mean that the electric car revolution is in its death throes again?

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.

Speeding On an Electric Vehicle

toyotatesla
toyotatesla

Unless you are late for a flight or bringing someone to the hospital, speed is not always an issue with electric vehicle. This is often sacrificed for fuel efficiency and environmental preservation. One of the best cars for sudden bursts of acceleration is the Toyota RAV4 EV. This crossover electric is able to suddenly reach speeds up to 75 mph. Under certain conditions, the Toyota RAV 4 can reach up to 100 mph. The reason for zip in this often staid vehicle line that prides itself in reliability and dependability is the participation of Tesla Motors under the hood.

The RAV 4 EV is able to marry the Japanese calming presence with the California cutting edge spirit. The 2012 model would start to be made available in sixty Toyota dealerships throughout California. During its unveiling, the Terminator, then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was on stage with maverick Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota Motor Corp.

The unveiling was similar to a movie premiere, with Governor Schwarzenegger saying, “The Prius is an extraordinary car that goes more than fifty miles per gallon. That was revolutionary.” He then moved to a Tesla Roadster, saying “You can do something that is very sexy-looking, that goes from zero to sixty in less than 3.9 seconds.” He ended by saying “Both of those forces now come together.”

The company’s choice of the RAV 4 as the model for the Toyota-Tesla venture was filled with uncertainty when the two vastly different car companies met. The Tesla group had to learn the full Toyota full model line, choosing which one to make into an electric vehicle. On the other hand, Toyota’s people were just opening their minds to the EV system for the first time in their engineering careers.

The RAV 4 was chosen largely through its ability to carry a battery pack that can provide great range. One of the requirements set by Toyota’s CEO was that the vehicle be built in North America, as well as having a previous experience with EV design and handling. The RAV 4 had electric models totalling 1,500 vehicles built between 1997 and 2003.

One of the major changes made was the battery capacity of the RAV 4, built by Tesla and had a 41.8 kilowatt hour span. The current average stands at 24 KwH. The bigger battery also provides power for other functions, such as air-conditioning, music and other accessories. The large battery pack also provides a good center of gravity for the vehicle, as it is located beneath the center of the cabin.

This battery is able to provide power to drive 273 pound feet of torque and run 154 horsepower. Zero to sixty can be attained at just seven seconds, which is nearly the same as an internal combustion RAV4 using a V-6 engine. The brake system of the 2012 RAV 4 is taken from the Prius, which also features regenerative braking technology.

The New Lexus on the Road

LEXUS
LEXUS

It has been five generations of ES sedans since its unveiling back in 1989, with over a million still being driven on the roads. Now, the newest Lexus ES, the ES 300h now has a hybrid powertrain and was recently unveiled at the New York Auto Show last April.

The first orders of the vehicle would be accepted starting August 2012.

The Lexus 300h has an EPA combined fuel economy rating of forty miles per gallon, with a seamless delivery of 200 horsepower from the four cylinder Atkinson engine. It is a dual overhead cam 16 valve with variable valve timing with intelligence or VVT-i. It further has an electronically controlled sequential fuel injection (SFI) for its front wheel drive engine with electronically controlled continuously variable transmission.

The frame is a unitized steel body with front MacPherson strut-type independent suspension and rear dual link MacPherson strut-type independent suspension. Furthermore, it has a four wheel power assisted disc brake system with ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist, Traction Control, and Vehicle Stability Control. The vehicle can accelerate between zero to sixty mph in 8.1 seconds with a top speed of 112 mph.

The price would be unveiled just before its release date and is viewed as the top reason for the acceptance or rejection of the model. According to Brian A. Smith, Vice President of Marketing for Lexus, “The premium levied on the buyers of the hybrid, versus the non-hybrid ES 350 would be the lowest in our line up.”

There are subtle differences between the ES 350 and its hybrid counterpart. These include a rear spoiler on the down low and exhaust pipes hidden differentiate the hybrid version. The 300h has a drag coefficient of 0.27 and is designed to have a thrusting prow and deeply embedded fog lights between two tiered “spindle grilles” that makes the Lexus different from other models.

For the interiors, there is squared and angular look reminiscent of 1980’s interiors, a disappointing look for the luxury brand. What is original though is the use of optional bamboo wood accents which works best with the environmental sustainability view of the hybrid. This vehicle has been certified in California as a super ultra low emissions vehicle.

For passenger space, the front and rear accommodations are comfortable, but hybrids lose three cubic feet of trunk space because of the 1.6 kilowatt hour nickel metal hydride battery pack.

The car has a dash mounted selector to change from throttle to steering response while in Sport mode. The selector also changes to hybrid power according to the tachometer response, with the Eco mode emphasizing fuel economy while the EV mode allows for a maximum distance of 1.5 miles, when running under 25 mph.

The 2013 ES model has a standard seven inch display screen with its known Display Zone, with an analog clock and other Lexus only accents and styling. The lower half of the dashboard is the Operations Zone, where the HVAC system and its Enform infotainment system, with the three modes and the push button EV mode.

The Electric Cars Coming Soon

electricsedan
electricsedan

By the year 2014, quite a number of electric vehicles would be arriving in showrooms near you. The carmakers are Fiat, Mitsubishi and Tesla, and have confirmed new vehicles to come very soon.

For Chrysler and its partner Fiat, CEO Sergio Marchionne sent the word out through Twitter that the electric Fiat 500 would start production by year’s end. The tweet read, “At Chrysler we are working on an electric version of the Fiat 500 that we’ll begin manufacturing later this year.”

The question would be its market availability either by late 2012 or early 2013, but a Chrysler Canada spokesperson had confirmed that the Fiat 500 EV would be sold in Canada. The vehicle is expected to compete with the new Smart ForTwo EV by Mercedes-Benz that would be made available come September.

Other rivals for electric vehicle supremacy are the Toyota iQ and the Honda Fit EV. While these vehicles are still to be confirmed as available in Canada, Toyota is pushing ahead with the introduction of the RAV4 EV when the Canadian International Auto Show opens in Toronto. The RAV4 EV would be going head to head with the Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in EV, which would be unveiled in the Geneva Auto Show in March. For its part, Mitsubishi had started advertising the Outlander and the range extended EV would be available for sale during the 2012 fiscal year. According to a statement from the Japanese carmaker, “(The Outlander) will use a plug in hybrid system derived from MMC’s already existing EV technology.”

The third and most intriguing announcement came from Tesla, as it opened with its Model X crossover. The biggest splash for this EV platform is the falcon-wing rear doors. They are similar to the gull wing door design as they open upwards but an extra hinge allows it to be folded inward towards the body of the vehicle. The company said that the doors are not concept features but are actually headed for production.

This uses the same flat battery set-up of the Model S sedan and has cargo space both at the front and back even if all seats are occupied.  The Model X would be all wheel driven and would have either the 60 or 85 kWh battery packs that would be able to travel 370 and 480 kilometers. The Model X would weigh ten percent more than the Model S sedan but would be able to travel from 0 to 96 km/h in just 4.4 seconds.

With these new vehicles coming up, who says the electric car revolution is slowing down?