Weekly Clean Energy Roundup: January 14, 2009

  • GM to Buy Lithium-Ion Batteries for the Chevy Volt from LG Chem
  • Chrysler, Ford, and Other Automakers Pursue Electric Vehicles
  • Honda and Toyota Face Off with New and Updated Hybrids
  • Advanced Gasoline and Diesel Engines Also Offer High Fuel Economy
  • Progressive Automotive X Prize Expanded to Include Major Automakers
  • U.S. Army to Lease 4,000 Neighborhood Electric Vehicles

    GM to Buy Lithium-Ion Batteries for Chevy Volt from LG Chem

    General Motors Corp (GM) announced on Monday that South Korea’s LG Chem will supply the lithium-ion batteries for the automaker’s upcoming plug-in hybrid vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt. In mid-2007, GM awarded a battery development contract to Compact Power, Inc. (CPI), a subsidiary of LG Chem, under which LG Chem developed the lithium-ion batteries and CPI integrated them into battery packs.
    However, GM has decided to build the battery packs itself at a U.S. manufacturing plant to be located in Michigan. Facility preparations will begin in the near future, with the production tooling installed by mid-year to support actual production in 2010. While the GM facility is being prepared, CPI will continue to manufacture the battery packs for the Chevy Volt prototypes.

    The Chevy Volt’s 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack is T-shaped, with the longer part measuring about six feet in length, and it weighs nearly 400 pounds. To support GM’s advanced battery efforts, the automaker also plans to build an automotive battery laboratory in Michigan. See the GM press release and the 2007 press release from CPI (PDF 110 KB).

    GM also provided tangible evidence that it plans to extend its plug-in hybrid technology to additional vehicles, as it unveiled a new concept plug-in, the Cadillac Converj, at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan.

    Incorporating the propulsion system from the Chevy Volt – the battery pack, the 120-kilowatt electric motor, and the four-cylinder engine-generator, collectively dubbed the "Voltec" electric propulsion system – the Cadillac concept vehicle has an all-electric range of 40 miles and a top speed of 100 miles per hour. The two-door, front-wheel-drive coupe recharges in eight hours using a standard 120-volt outlet, or in only three hours using a 240-volt outlet, the type commonly used for large electric appliances. The NAIAS opens to the public on Saturday and continues through January 25. See the GM press release and the NAIAS Web site.

    Chrysler, Ford, and Other Automakers Pursue Electric Vehicles

    Chrysler, Ford, and other automakers are also pushing forward in the development of electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (also known as range-extended electric vehicles).

    At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Chrysler unveiled the 200C EV Concept, a sports sedan with an all-electric range of 40 miles and an extended range of about 400 miles. It also added the Jeep Patriot EV, another range-extended EV, to its collection of EV concepts first unveiled in September 2008. The collection includes electrified versions of the Jeep Wrangler and the Chrysler Town & Country minivan, as well as a Dodge-branded EV sports car that’s based on the Lotus Europa S.

    Chrysler still won’t say which of the vehicles will be produced for North American markets in 2010, but the company has updated its Dodge EV with Dodge-specific front and rear ends and a Dodge interior, and renamed the vehicle as the Dodge Circuit EV, so maybe that’s a clue. See the Chrysler press releases on its 200C EV Concept and its overall electric vehicle plans.

  • If Chrysler does release an all-electric sports car in 2010, it will be in direct competition with two North American startup companies: Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive, Inc.

    Tesla produces the Roadster, an all-electric two-seater with a body inspired by the Lotus Elise and built by Lotus Engineering. On Sunday, Tesla started taking orders for the new Roadster Sport, an enhanced-performance version of the Roadster that will sell for $128,500 when deliveries start in June. Tesla has so far produced 150 Roadsters, which go for $109,000, and the 1,100 people on the company’s waiting list have the option of upgrading to the Roadster Sport.

    Meanwhile, Fisker Automotive unveiled the production version of its 2010 Fisker Karma, which employs Quantum Technologies’ electric drive to achieve an all-electric range of up to 50 miles. The range-extended 4-seat EV employs a lithium-ion battery pack to power two 201-horsepower electric motors and starts at $87,900. Deliveries will start late this year. Fisker also unveiled the Karma S concept, which features a retractable hardtop. See the Tesla Motors press release and Roadster Sport Web page, the Fisker Web site and the press releases for the Karma (PDF 81 KB) and Karma S (PDF 56 KB).

    While small startups are taking the lead in EVs in North America, Ford announced it will introduce an EV commercial van in 2010, an EV small car in 2011, and a plug-in hybrid by 2012. By then, it might be competing with China’s BYD Auto, which recently began selling a range-extended EV in China. The F3DM, a mid-size sedan, has an all-electric range of 62 miles and a top speed of 93 miles per hour. BYD Auto is exhibiting its vehicles in Detroit for the second year in a row, and along with the F3DM, the company is also exhibiting an EV crossover vehicle with a range of 249 miles, a larger version of the F3DM, a version with a continuously variable transmission, and a compact vehicle. With financial backing from Warren Buffet, BYD plans to introduce its cars to Europe and Israel in 2010 and in North America sometime later. See the Ford press release and the BYD Web site and media kit (PDF 154 KB).

    A nearer-term competitor in the North American market is Toyota, which plans to deliver 500 Prius plug-in hybrids to global fleets later this year, including 150 in the U.S. The lithium-ion batteries for the vehicles will be built at Panasonic EV Energy Company, Ltd., a joint venture of Toyota and the Matsushita Group. In Detroit, Toyota is displaying a small EV concept vehicle for urban commuters, the FT-EV. Although the company plans to launch such a vehicle by 2012, its primary emphasis is still on hybrids.

    Other overseas participants in the Detroit Auto Show include Mercedes-Benz, which is exhibiting three versions of a small concept car: an EV version, a range-extended version, and a fuel cell version. Mercedes-Benz isn’t announcing any commercialization plans, but its sister company, Smart, plans to launch an electric drive version of the Smart ForTwo by year’s end. The vehicle is on display in Detroit, but Smart hasn’t decided whether to market the lithium-ion-powered vehicle in the U.S.

    Even Johnson Controls is exhibiting a plug-in hybrid concept called the re3, which embodies the technologies the company can offer to automakers. Johnson Controls is producing lithium-ion hybrid vehicle batteries in France under a joint venture with Saft. See the press releases from Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, smart, and Johnson Controls.

    Honda and Toyota Face Off with New and Updated Hybrids

    While many automakers are looking to the future with various types of electric vehicles, for now the battle for fuel efficiency is still being won by hybrids. That battle took on a decidedly retro feel at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, where Honda unveiled the revived version of its Honda Insight, while Toyota revealed the third-generation version of the Toyota Prius. But although those names are strongly reminiscent of the situation back in 2000, the details have changed dramatically over the past nine years.

    The original Honda Insight, released in the 2000 model year, was a two-seat hatchback with a combined fuel economy of 65 miles per gallon (mpg), although that number would fall to 53 mpg under the recently revised standards, according to fueleconomy.gov. Unfortunately, sales of the diminutive car were always anemic.

    Honda plans to break depart from that history with the new Insight, slated to be released in April. To be labeled as a 2010 model, the new Honda Insight seats five, yet still achieves a fuel economy of 40 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway. But Honda’s main emphasis for the new model is affordability, as the 2010 Honda Insight will be priced below the cost of the Honda Civic Hybrid. See the Honda press release.

    In contrast to the original Honda Insight, the 2001 Toyota Prius, introduced in late 2000, was a four-door, five-passenger sedan with a combined fuel economy of 48 mpg, although that figure would drop to 41 mpg under today’s standards, according to fueleconomy.gov. It quickly became the best-selling hybrid in the world.

    The third-generation model still seats five, but it’s a roomier, more powerful vehicle that achieves a combined fuel economy of 50 mpg. Although it looks quite similar to the second-generation Prius, the 2010 Prius is more aerodynamic. It also has a 20% lighter electric drive system and a larger, more powerful engine. Among the available added features for the new Prius is a solar-powered ventilation system to cool the car while it is parked. Although pricing for the new vehicles has not been announced, the Prius is expected to cost more than the Insight. But only time will tell which vehicle will prove more popular. See the Toyota press release.

    Toyota’s Lexus division also adds a new wrinkle to the competition, with the debut of the first dedicated luxury hybrid. The 2010 HS 250h, available in late summer, combines a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with a hybrid system to generate a combined 187 horsepower. The vehicle will be most fuel efficient in the Lexus lineup, but Toyota has not released an estimated fuel economy or price for the new vehicle. The HS 250h is considered to be an entry-level vehicle for the luxury market. See the Toyota press release.

    Advanced Gasoline and Diesel Engines Also Offer High Fuel Economy

    While most automakers at this year’s North American International Auto Show are emphasizing new ways to incorporate electric batteries into their vehicles, a small contingent of automakers is instead emphasizing their advanced engine technologies. Included in that group is Ford, which is debuting its "EcoBoost" engine in the 2010 Lincoln MKS, a four-door sedan.

    The 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6 engine delivers the performance of a larger V-8 engine through the direct injection of gasoline into the engine cylinders and through the use of dual turbochargers, which pump more air into the engine for more power. The engine will be available on the Lincoln MKS this summer, and by 2013, more than 90% of Ford’s North American lineup will be available with the EcoBoost engine. The EcoBoost engine will also be available on the 2010 Ford Flex crossover, and Ford incorporated it into the Lincoln C concept, which pairs the engine to a lightweight, dual-clutch, six-speed transmission to achieve a projected 43 miles per gallon during highway driving. See the Ford press releases on the Lincoln MKS, the Ford Flex, and the Lincoln C.

    While Ford is wielding its technological prowess in advanced gasoline engines, Audi and Volkswagen are displaying the latest in clean diesel technologies. Audi unveiled the Sportback concept, a four-door hatchback with a 3.0-liter, V-6, turbocharged direct-injection (TDI) diesel engine that includes an automated system to shut down the engine when stopped at a traffic light. The result is an estimated fuel economy of nearly 40 miles per gallon.

    Volkswagen is also flexing its diesel-fueled muscles, revealing the Concept BlueSport, a clean-diesel compact roadster that can reach 60 miles per hour in 6.2 seconds but can also achieve a combined fuel economy of 42 miles per gallon. See the press releases from Audi and Volkswagen (PDF 38 KB).

    Progressive Automotive X Prize Expanded to Include Major Automakers

    The Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize announced on Sunday that it has established a new Demonstration Division designed specifically for large automakers. While the Progressive Automotive X Prize is mainly intended to award teams that demonstrate clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed the fuel economy equivalent of 100 miles per gallon of gasoline, the new Demonstration Division will allow manufacturers to display and promote their currently available high-efficiency vehicles.

    While the new division isn’t eligible for a share of the $10 million prize purse, it will address the fact that actual high-volume production vehicles involve substantial tradeoffs and face more engineering challenges than developmental vehicles that are capable of being mass produced, but have not been engineered and optimized for large-scale production. The vehicles must be either in production of committed for production and sale in the United States or the European Union by 2012. See the press release from the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize.

    The new Demonstration Division will also present a rare opportunity for major automakers to display their hypermiling skills. "Hypermiling," by the way, is defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary at the attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one’s vehicle and one’s driving techniques. It also happens to be the 2008 Word of the Year for that dictionary, according to an entry on the Oxford University Press blog.

    U.S. Army to Lease 4,000 Neighborhood Electric Vehicles

    The U.S. Army announced it will lease 4,000 Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) over the next three years. NEVs are small, low-speed EVs that can’t be driven on highways, although some states allow their use on local roads. The Army plans to use NEVs for transporting people around its bases, as well as for security patrols and maintenance and delivery services.

    The Army accepted its first six NEVs at Virginia’s Fort Myer on Monday and will lease 600 NEVs this year, followed by 1,600 NEVs for each of the following two years. With a full eight-hour recharge, the NEVs can travel 30 miles at a top speed of 25 miles per hour. See the Army press release.

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    Kevin Eber is the Editor of EREE Network News, a weekly publication of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

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