First Responders Beware when Approaching Electrics and Hybrids

DANGER
DANGER

Electric cars, as well as hybrids, are very different from how conventional cars are built and operate. Thus, as more and more of these vehicles are introduced into the market and are used on the roadways, the higher the possibility of having an accident that may need emergency team assistance.

In many areas in the United States and in Europe, specialized training is now being undertaken by police, fire and emergency service personnel in dealing with high voltage systems for crashed electric and hybrid vehicles. The next stumbling block would be differentiating conventional from alternative vehicles when they are in a road mishap and their passengers need immediate attention.

One of the ways to assist first responders is the SAE International suggestion that electric and hybrid vehicles should have large stickers to inform the many of their electric fuel design. These would be inch high letters or badges on both sides and the rear of the vehicle to help first responders to identify and warn of their electrically charged nature. Another way would be to place lettering at the dashboard area, so that emergency personnel would see through the windshield.

This though, would not be a problem for high profile vehicles such as the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. This can help tremendously in differentiating an electric from a conventional for a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry, as there isn’t much of a difference between the two.

These recommendations are enumerated in SAE’s report entitled Hybrid and EV First and Second Responder Recommended Practice. The report provides references as to electrics and hybrids, as well as guidance for tow truck operators and other post accident handlers to avoid further mishaps and injuries.

According to Todd Mackintosh, Chairman of the SAE Technical Committee, “As electric vehicles enter the marketplace in greater numbers, it’s an appropriate time to recognize best practices that facilitate a safe response when these vehicles are in an accident.” He added that a ‘cheat sheet for first responders’ would be most helpful, not just in terms of safety of the passengers in the vehicle, but most especially for those first responders.

One of the more adamant recommendations is a ‘kill switch’ mechanism that would turn off battery power in the event of an accident. It also recommends standardization of the location of these switches in order to have easy access in times of emergencies.

The electric carmakers themselves are installing safety features. The Nissan Leaf’s battery pack is in an all steel case, designing it to sense a crash and disable its electrical charge. Ford for its part, has published ‘Electric Badges’ which are clearly marked logos on the doors and trunk lid to warn of possible electric shock. Cables are wrapped in orange high voltage warning sleeves under the hood of the vehicle.  GM’s Chevy Volt has helped create training modules for first responders.

Increasing Market Share for Hybrids in 2013

hybridcarsign
hybridcarsign

With more and more environmental issues becoming headlines, the integration of that thought in major choices such as purchasing vehicles become more paramount in the marketplace. There are increasing numbers of purchasers opting for green vehicles as their transportation of choice.

This has translated to an increase in demand and number of units purchased in 2013. This comes as a watershed moment as the very first hybrids were introduced in the late 90’s, yet were only given serious thought twenty years later. There are many reasons that lead to the long delayed integration and acceptance of hybrids are the higher costs, technological demands, and many other factors.

This change in paradigm has been observed by the research firm Mintel, as it observes the sales of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars reached a total of 440,000 units for 2012. This is a jump of 73% from the figures found in 2011. This increase was still quite high, even if there was a slowdown during November 2012. The major automakers are expecting to sell about 50,000 units as a whole for this year.

Aside from this environmental consciousness, other factors fueled the increase in demand. These include the increasing number of options and varieties of alternative fuel cars made available in the market in 2011. Mintel notes that there are nearly four times as many plug-in and electric car models available in 2012 alone. Some carmakers had just three models in 2011 but now have eleven separate models in 2012.

According to Mintel automotive analyst Collin Bird, “New midsize hybrid models, such as the Toyota Prius V and the Chevrolet Malibu Eco, have proven popular with consumers, in particular families, who want to buy green without sacrificing other features that fit their lifestyles.”

Bird added that the demand for alternative fuel cars would just continue on its growth in the near future by saying, “The segment will grow even further in 2013, with the launch of several new models, including the full Ford Fusion Hybrid series and the Honda Accord Hybrid, which will fulfill a wider variety of needs then conventional compact hybrids. Midsize plug-in hybrids will also enter the mainstream in 2013, with the introduction of the Ford Fusion Energi and the Honda Accord Plug-In, which will further improve mainstream acceptance of this, still, fairly novel powertrain segment.”

One of the fastest growing markets is the younger generation that is environmentally conscious as to their carbon footprint. Mintel found that nearly 34% of the purchasers in 2012 were aged between 25 to 34. Many in this age bracket believe that it would be easy to get their returns on the investment in the hybrid car as gas prices continue to rise. The trend is further expected to rise in 2013 and the years to come as innovations and improvements in the technology and design continue for the hybrid market.

Electric Car Sales Buoyed for November

Electric cars
Electric cars

The month of November is a high point in the electric car revolution, as this month is the fourth consecutive month where sales records have continued to increase. The increase for this month was attributed to the introduction of the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in electric hybrid into the market.

The steady upsurge was observed by Aaron Chew of the Maxim Group, as he counted 7,600 electric cars sold in November. This makes the total count for 2012 at 47,500 and the experts predict that the year would close at about 56,000 electric and plug in hybrid electric vehicles sold.

Other incentives have helped buoy sales for the electric car. These include Nissan’s U.S. $199 leases and U.S. 5,000 price breaks on the Leaf, jumpstarting sales for the year. There have also been a number of new models that have widened the selections of buyers for electric cars. Ford for its part sold 1,259 units of the C-Max Energi just in November, a month after it was introduced into the market. The highest seller was the Toyota Prius plug in at1,766 units followed by the Chevrolet Volt, which posted 1,519 units sold. Tesla, despite its secretive sales records, was said to have sold 1,150 of its Model S sports sedans in the same period.

Despite the sales, there are still some major issues that electric cars face in the coming years, some of which are as follows:

a)      The Cost. While electricity is much cheaper compared to gasoline, the cost of amortizing an EV is still way above the standard costs for an internal combustion engine vehicle. The prices though are steadily decreasing, making it more affordable to purchase an electric vehicle in both the short term and long term.

b)      The Source. While the main issue with gas guzzlers is the emission of pollutive greenhouse gases from the vehicle, electric cars do not have this problem. The main issue is the generator of electricity, which is still the coal fired electric generator. Even with natural gas generators, there are still emissions created and thus allocation of this pollutant factors must still be addressed.

c)       The Technology. The main drawback is still the power source of electric vehicles as the range and effectivity is still determined by the amount of electrical power stored in the battery packs. While many of these battery developers are bellying up because of the prohibitive costs and limited market scale, the improvements in the technology are around the corner to make the electric car as dependable as it is affordable as the standard gasoline powered car.

The Value of Hybrids in Change

Hybrid Cars
Hybrid Cars

According to the latest numbers, less than one percent of total cars on U.S. roads are fully electric. This though was not always the case, as back in 1900, 34 percent of cars in Boston, Chicago and New York were electrically powered, while half of the total vehicles on the road then were powered by steam.

The misconception is that a powerful force would suppress one technology in favor of another one, the former crushed by the wheels of progress. Scientific and business historians though, have different take on the matter. These experts identified that the culture as well as the technologies that constantly shape and be shaped by it. This is a messy process that would determine eventual winners and abject losers.

There are many reasons why Americans should have adopted electric cars a long time ago. The early versions of electric vehicles were easier to operate compared to their gasoline powered cousins, with a cleaner and better smelling by product. While the battery range and speed was limited, a greater majority of the travel done using cars are just short trips well within the range of these vehicles.

According to David Kirsch, Associate Professor of Management at the University of Maryland and author of “The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History”, “We drive gas powered cars today for a complex set of reasons but not because the internal combustion engine is inherently better than the electric motor and battery.”

The Electric Vehicle Company was the largest carmaker in the United States at the turn of the 20th century and at the same time, the biggest car owner in the country. The system then was that EVC rented or leased its vehicles instead of selling them, allowing an individual to take the car for short trips but not assume ownership. This is due to the company mindset that the individual did not have the technical wherewithal to maintain the vehicles. Unfortunately, a series of business deals left the company bankrupt and with it, the future of the electric vehicle.

Because of this, investors turned their back on electric vehicles, leading to hiatus in the development of this technology in the following years. On the other hand, gasoline powered companies improved their technology and lowered their overall purchase cost. Thus, in the next twenty years instilled in the American psyche what a car was and it has been hard to wean them from this mindset.

Kirsch added, “Part of what makes infrastructure is its invisibility. When we have to create infrastructure for ourselves — installing charging stations at our houses, for instance — we make the invisible visible. It becomes an overwhelming task, like having to remake the world. Most people just want a car.”

For his part, Kirsch thinks hybrids would help society change from its old ways. For many, hybrids do not need separate infrastructure nor is there a need to change driving habits overall as well as learn complicated maintenance procedures. The familiarity of the current mindset as well as the rich history would help push hybrids to the top of the market in the near future.

The Jetta Hybrid Fastest Ever

volkswagen logo
volkswagen logo

German car giant Volkswagen has recently announced that the Jetta Hybrid was timed to be the fastest production made hybrid vehicle in the world. The 2013 model was clocked at the annual Speed Week of the Southern California Timing Association.

The vehicle was driven by Motor Trend Associate Editor for Road Test Carlos Lago. The compact sedan was specially modified to reach its top speed of 185.394 mph or 298.363 kmh as it ran a course at the Bonneville Salt Flats over at Wendover, Nevada.

To comply with the Association Rules, the company advised that it would use a modified powertrain from its Research and Development team at its facility in Wolfsburg, Germany. The modifications would ramp up the horsepower capability of the hybrid vehicle. From its Wolfsburg facility, the engine was brought to the Volkswagen Test Center in California for final calibration and implementation of drivetrain design. Other modifications to the vehicle were undertaken by A-Salt Racing of California and Advanced Product Engineering for safety and reliability of the car as it ran the Salt flats.

According to Marc Trahan of Volkswagen, “It was a real challenge to integrate the complex hybrid elements and generate the power needed to run at these speeds. The Jetta Hybrid Land Speed Record project shows both the sporty nature of our hybrid offering and the technical excellence of our engineers in Wolfsburgand in the Test Center California.”

The 2013 Jetta Hybrid was unveiled last January 2012 and would become available in the U.S. market by the year’s end. The company boasts that the vehicle would have a combined fuel economy of 45 mpg or 19.1 km/l. This translates to nearly a twenty percent reduction in fuel consumption for a similarly sized vehicle with a regular drivetrain. The vehicle has a 1.4 liter four cylinder turbocharged direct injection gasoline engine that weighs in at just 216 lbs or 98 kg producing 150 horsepower. The vehicle can accelerate from zero to sixty in less than nine seconds and is the first seven speed DSG dual clutch automatic transmission hybrid vehicle in the world.

Aside from the conventional engine, the 20kW electric motor can provide an additional 27 horsepower and utilizes a 220 volt, 1.1 kWh lithium ion battery pack with sixty individual cells placed behind the rear seat. At full electric mode, it can reach up to 44 mph or 70 kmh but only for about 1.2 miles or 1.9 km at this speed. Like many hybrids and electrics, the Jetta utilizes regenerative braking systems to recharge the battery using kinetic energy at a higher rate of efficiency compared to other similar systems.

This operates when the driver of the Jetta releases the gas pedal to step on the brake, the decoupling clutch disengages the internal combustion engine so that all the stopping is done by the brakes of the vehicle rather than the combination of brakes, drag of the drivetrain, and engine torque. This efficient system is able to return energy to the battery to recharge it.

Depending on the charge of the electric vehicle, the gasoline engine of the Jetta Hybrid stops running when the car is at full stop in city driving or in accelerate/decelerate situations during bumper to bumper traffic. When the Jetta driver puts the car’s transmission in the S position or in manual shift mode, the drive train system is able to produce horsepower from both engines measuring at 170 hp.

Volkswagen says that the Jetta Hybrid is its quietest car in its class and company and comes in at a curbside weight of 3310 lbs or 1501 kgs. The technology in the car includes Bluetooth technology, LED tail lights and a satellite radio system from SiriusXM. Other safety features include having six airbags, anti-lock braking system and the Electronic Stability Control system.