The Irony of the Fiat 500e

FIATlogo
FIATlogo

The first Fiat 500 Elettra concept car was unveiled back in 2010 during the North American International Auto Show. Its maker Chrysler, announced that it would build these compact electric vehicles for the United States and would be formally known as the 500e. It is to the carmaker, a vehicle it did not want to build in the first place.

The very first Fiat 500e was offered to the public last November 2012 at the Los Angeles Auto Show, with the first deliveries already made in the first few months of 2013. The motor of the Fiat 500e is a 111 horsepower or 83 kW rated permanent magnet three phase electric motor with a synchronous drivetrain with an ability to produce 147 lb-ft of torque. The power comes from a 24 kWh rated lithium ion battery pack that has its own internal liquid cooling/heating system. With this, the range is at eighty miles or 130 kilometers, with city driving range up to a hundred miles. Full charge can be achieved in less than four hours using the electric vehicle’s 240 volt on board charging module.

The Environmental Protection Agency has rated the vehicle at 87 miles or 140 kilometers and has a combined fuel economy of 116 miles per gallon for city driving, while on the highway fuel economy is rated at 108 miles per gallon.

According to Consumer Reports, the Fiat 500e is one compact but powerful vehicle that is easy to drive. Its reviewers had praised it by saying “It was clear that Chrysler engineers didn’t just phone this one in. They actually sweated the details and came up with an EV that’s fun and appealing.”

The designers had termed the design inspiration as ‘retro-futuristic’ and this was translated into all aspects of the vehicle. For the exterior, the basic Fiat 500 was modified to have a more aerodynamic bumper shields for both the front and the rear. Also modified were the side sill and the door mirrors with a liftgate spoiler to help in directing airflow for the three door hatchback.  For the interiors, the 500e has a seven inch thin film transistor display that provides information on charge/power, driving range, and other useful information found in its Electronic Vehicle Information Center. This new system utilizes pictographs in order to illustrate vehicular functions. All this information is accessible from your smartphone through an app.

For a car that a car giant didn’t want to make, the details make the Fiat 500e worth a second look.

Monster Truck Circuit Goes Electric

MONSTERTRUCK
MONSTERTRUCK

Monster truck shows are a staple in the heartland of the United States, a spectacle of automobile carnage where trucks with gigantic wheels do obstacle courses to run over old model cars. The highlight is the Bigfoot, where older cars are crushed afoot. While there are many gasoline powered monster trucks are now running the circuit, one has clearly separated itself from the pack.

Meet the first all electric monster truck, officially known as the Odyssey Battery Bigfoot No. 20 Monster Truck. While it has been on display in trade shows, the Autorama Car Show in Kansas City MO would be the first time the vehicle would be put to the test.

The Bigfoot No. 20 is powered by three rows of ten (10) EnerSys Odyssey batteries that provide 360 volts of power to a 260 KW, or 350 horsepower electric motor. These batteries are very different from the standard lithium ion batteries used in current model electric cars. Each battery weighs nearly thirty eight pounds and can produce 540 amps for cold starts and a maximum output of 1200 amps for about five seconds. Put together, the battery can force the electric motor to create 850 ft-lb of torque.

While this is superb power, there are certain disadvantages are apparent. First is the number of deep discharge cycles. In a standard lithium ion battery, there are thousands of discharge cycles that can be done and a life span of decades before the battery’s service life is spent. For the Odyssey batteries, it is limited only to 400 deep discharge cycles. Secondly, lithium ion batteries provide all the power needed in a standard electric car while in Bigfoot No. 20, there are additional batteries needed for the power steering and the brakes to operate.

Thus in its maiden show in Kansas, officials said that Bigfoot No. 20 would be participating in “two car-crush demonstrations per day” or a politically correct way of saying that the electric monster truck would pulverize old conventional engined vehicles that stand in its way.

According to Jim Kramer, Vice President for Research, Technology, and Driver Development for Bigfoot 4x4, Inc. said, “Developing a custom electric monster truck is part of our ongoing efforts to keep up with ever-changing technology. The Odyssey Battery Bigfoot No. 20 Monster Truck started off in static displays, but it is now ready to perform car crushes.”

With this monster on wheels, gone are the days of electric cars being pictured as wimpy golf carts to now pure muscle on steroids powered by battery electricity.

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?

Hydrogen Powered Electric Vehicles for the Future

electriCONCEPT
electriCONCEPT

Nissan Motors, Ford Motor Corp, and Daimler, three of the leading names in the automotive industry are in the midst of forming an alliance regarding an alternative fuel source. The three would form a new international brain trust with the aim of developing hydrogen technology as an energy source. The goal is to create “the world’s first affordable, mass market-fuel cell electric vehicles as early as 2017.”

Amongst the terms of the agreement would be equal sharing in costs for the development of the common fuel-cell stack, as well as other systems designed “to speed up the availability of zero-emission technology and significantly reduce investment costs.” The announcement was made in Germany through Daimler’s Research and Development Head, saying that the partnership would produce 100,000 vehicles but there was no clear milestone set. For its part Ford, through its spokesperson Alan Hall said, “We’re not talking about volumes in terms of our participation.”

This is very similar to the strategic partnership entered into by BMW and Toyota, whose goal was to develop new technologies. Daimler for its part previously announced it would make a commercially viable fuel-cell car by 2014 or 2015 so the new partnership launch date would be a step back in that promise. Daimler, through its spokesperson Matthias Brock, said the new time frame was ‘revised planning.’ He further added, “In fact, we skip the planned intermediate step with lower volumes and go directly toward large-scale production. All partners together plan to bring a five-digit number of fuel-cell electric vehicles on the market.”

On the other hand though, many experts believe that the three way partnership would be a very positive step and form a stronger alliance in the long run. Nissan Americas Senior VP for Research and Development Carla Bailo, said that "fuel cell technology was the next logical step in the company’s introduction of zero-emission vehicles."

She added, “This progress has helped us convince us that Nissan will be ready to provide an affordable, fuel cell electric vehicle to the mass market as the infrastructure to support comes on stream.”

Ford spokesperson for Europe Monika Wagener also added that the fuel cell vehicles could overcome the range limitations of battery electric vehicles once the hydrogen infrastructure has been properly established.

Thus the electric vehicle revolution continues.

Tale of Two of Carmakers

Electric Car Companies
Electric Car Companies

Honda, after its losses from the recent earthquake in Japan and flooding in Thailand, is clearly on the rebound. On the other hand, Coda Automotive is on teetering on the edge of financial problems that is affecting its manpower complement.

In a recent statement, Honda has opened its Marysville, Ohio plant to begin assembly of the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid within 2013. The Accord Hybrid is the redesigned 2013 accord but utilizes the more complex plug-in hybrid propulsion system. The vehicle would go on sale by the fall, according to Honda spokesperson Ron Lietzke.

The Marysville plant is currently manufacturing the Accord Coupe and Sedan, together with the Acura TL. There are 4,400 employees in the plant and an additional fifty employees as well as an increase of US$23 million in investments.

There are two other hybrid models currently being built in the United States, namely the Civic Hybrid and the Acura ILX Hybrid, both in the Greensburg, IN. The first Accords were built in the Marysville plant back in 1982 amidst skepticism from consumer experts as to the capacity of American workers ability to meet the high quality demands of the vehicle. This was clearly addressed after a number of reliability studies have shown that it was the assembly methodologies that created the quality vehicle and not the nationality of the workers. Overall, there are four plants for Honda in the state of Ohio employing 13,500 individuals and comprising nearly U.S. $800 million in total investments in the country. In these plants engines and transmissions are built, as well as the research and design center where engineers can design new models.

This is a far cry from the landscape that Coda Automotive is currently in. Last December 26, 2012, the company announced through its Facebook page that its Coda Experience Center, located at the Westfield Mall in Century City, would be closed down. This was soon followed by layoffs last January 4, 2013, after laying off fifteen percent of its total staff last December alone.

In a statement, Coda said, “(Coda) furloughed a number of employees as the Company takes necessary action to bolster its financing and better position the business going forward.” It added, “The Company has kept in place a sufficient number of staff to keep the Company operational and remains committed to the continued development and distribution of its products.”

The company reassured that it will continue to provide services to its dealers and customers and termed that this is “a temporary action to allow the company to strategically direct resources towards critical operations and put the Company on a more sustainable path.”