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.

Nissan’s Luxury Line

nssan
nssan

Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury line, continues its legendary design, performance and technology with the all new 2014 Infiniti Q50. According to Infiniti President Johan de Nysschen, “This exciting new Infiniti Q50 stretches the boundaries of what a sports sedan can be, propelling Infiniti in a bold new direction.”

One of the iconic features of the Infiniti line is the ‘double arch’ grille design along with the arch roofline and crescent cut C pillar. Like its predecessors, the Q50 provides sporty aggressive styling with the distinctive LED headlamps and marker lights further highlighting the sharp outlines of the car. Other improvements include the narrow, roll formed, A and B pillar doors that help provide better entry and exit from the car and more space within the cabin itself. The Q50 contours of the body line provide better airflow and decreased drag with zero front and rear lift effects. All these exterior improvements have been designed to provide greater strength and agility for better overall performance.

The Infiniti Q50 would have two options for powertrains. While there is a conventional powertrain, the main focus of the line would be its hybrid powertrain system. The Q50 would feature the latest Infiniti Direct Response Hybrid System with Intelligent Dual Clutch Control. This system features a 3.5 24 valve DOHC aluminum alloy V6 engine and a one motor/two clutch motor control powered by laminated lithium battery array. The V6 engine provides an estimated 296 horsepower and can turn an estimated 255 lb-ft of torque. The electric motor on the other hand, is rated at 50 kW with an estimated output of 67 horsepower and turn 199 lb-ft of torque. Thus the net power output of the Q50 is at 354 horsepower, making it quick to accelerate with fuel economy in mind.

The Q50 powertrain is controlled by a seven speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, allowing for manual shifting or steering column mounted paddle shifters built from magnesium. Options include rear wheel drive or the intelligent All Wheel Drive system that Infiniti provides. The handling is governed by Infiniti’s four wheel independent multilink suspension where the front is a single pivot double wishbone design while the rear has a multi-link coil spring designed Dual Flow Path shock absorbing system providing greater camber stiffness and better riding comfort. The suspension is tuned for sport purposes, creating a more agile and stiff vehicle drive compared to its predecessors.

For safety, the Q50 has the very first Active Lane Control system that utilizes a camera based straight line stability system to improve vehicle stability and driving capability. This is a level up from the Lane Departure Prevention system to prevent lane drifting but also to adjust to driving conditions as well as road surfaces.

Let’s all wait for this new hybrid luxury car design from Nissan.

New Models for Top Electric Vehicle Brands

ENGINEelectricCAR
ENGINEelectricCAR

2013 has ushered a new rush of models coming from the major car manufacturers who are seeking to get ahead in the electric car revolution. Nissan and Cadillac have just recently unveiled their newest models at the Detroit Auto Show.

Nissan has unveiled its latest crossover plug-in hybrid concept named the Resonance. This is essentially an upgrade to its current Murano crossover, this time with a plug-in hybrid drive train. The concept focuses on being lightweight, as well as having an aerodynamic design, using the V-Motion Look that begins at the front grille of the vehicle and moves throughout the hull of the car until the now familiar boomerang shaped headlamps.

The Resonance design team consisted of the Nissan Design America under the aegis of Shiro Nakamura, Nissan’s Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer. Other innovations include a ‘floating’ roof design which was executed through the use of steeply cut pillars that frame a full length glass panel on a D-pillar design. It also utilizes the concept ‘one motor, two clutch hybrid’, where the 2.5 liter dual overhead cam (DOHC) internal combustion engine works hand in hand with Nissan’s high performance electric motor. The battery pack is made from lithium ion which drives Nissan’s XTronic CVT or Continuously Variable Transmission System.

According to Francis Bancon, Nissan Motor Co.’s Division General Manager for Product Strategy and Planning, “Resonance is meant to be provocative, energetic and engaging- even polarizing. Its edgy yet sophisticated design, combined with an environmentally sensitive powertrain and intelligent utility provides a clear exciting view into the future of crossover innovation.”

Another car manufacturer, namely Cadillac, has announced that it would be launching its Cadillac ELR in 2014. The vehicle based on the Converj concept unveiled back in 2009, the latest reincarnation of that design would include the brand’s very first Extended Range Electric Vehicle.

While related to the Chevy Volt, the Cadillac ELR would draw its power from a 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and able to produce 295 pound feet of torque. Once the battery charge is depleted the gas powered generator would then take over, providing another 300 miles of range after the projected 35 miles of all electric range.

The main focus of the ELR is its emphasis on luxury in both the exterior and interior of the vehicle. According to Cadillac, the ELR styling ‘establishes a new, progressive proportion for the brand’, yet at the same time retains its identifiable design themes, such as the vertical headlights and taillights that has been synonymous with the brand since 1948.

Its aerodynamic design allows only 0.305 coefficient of drag, which helps extend range for the vehicle. This is achieved through the small details such as, tapered fascia corners, active grille shutters, sharp rear edges, and rear spoiler designed to optimize airflow. The HiPer strut front suspension and Watts compound crank rear set up is fully utilized under the Continuous Damping Control system for a comfortable ride. The vehicle has four driving modes, with special emphasis on the Hold mode which defaults to generator mode when the battery charge is depleted.

The interior accentuates modern elegance with integration of technology showcased in the Cadillac CUE with Navigation System which is in essence an eight inch full color touch screen display.

Clearly, the electric car revolution is in full swing.

Nissan to Unveil 2013 Leaf

NSSANleaf
NSSANleaf

The Detroit Auto Show is the venue where the 2013 Nissan Leaf would be formally unveiled. A sneak peek though has been scheduled this weekend for the Bay Area Nissan Leaf Owners Association. The new version promises to provide better range, faster charging, and a lower starting price; specific areas that Nissan’s market research have identified as problem areas for the company.

Nissan is listening, according to Gary Lieber, co founder of the Bay Area Nissan Leaf Owners Association, who added, “I can point to half-dozen things on this 2013 car that directly resulted from meetings this group had with Nissan.”

That specific meeting was held at Luscious Garage, a service shop that specializes in hybrids and electrics located in San Francisco. Nearly sixty (60) owners or lessors of Nissan Leaf cars attended.

For its part, Nissan, through its spokesperson Tim Gallagher said, “The 2013 enhancements were simple, small changes, a nice generational move of the car.” The increase in content and the decrease in the sticker price became a possibility through the production of the 2013 Leafs from Japan to its assembly plant located in Smyrna, TN.

When inquired about the price change, Mr. Gallagher stated, “I was impressed. It’s a good number.” He did decline as to the exact figures before the official announcement. The process of decreasing the price was made possible through the stripped down S model, which comes without a navigation system or a Quick Charge port. These features were available only in the SL model and comes basic in the SV version, currently the cheapest model in the line.

The new features in the 2013 Leaf include LED headlamps, fog lighting, and 17 inch alloy wheels, as well as leather seating for the SL model. There are also optional premium upgrades including a seven speaker audio system from Bose and an ‘around view monitor’. This is a system has cameras upfront, back and side mirrors for parking assistance.

Another major area would be ‘improvements for range management’. Instead of installing bigger battery in the Leaf, the current eighty (80) mile range would be extended but Nissan would remained mum as to the farther range available on a single charge. One of the identified improvements include an aerodynamic change from the front fascia, a more power efficient heater and a B-mode that increases regenerative braking. There is also a display for the charge state of the battery by percentage.

The charging time for the 2013 Leaf when utilizing the 240 volt charger would have an upgrade to a 6.6 kilowatt onboard charger from the 2012’s 3.3 kilowatt charger. This would result an additional twenty (20) miles for charging, instead of just twelve (12) miles. The 2013 Leaf would be able to fully charge in just four (4) hours instead of the current seven (7) hours.

Simple improvements include a light for the charging port as well as the function to open the charging port door from within the car or through the key fob.