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Jan 25

OnStar project promises renewable energy for recharging


As we’ve seen with the Volt and other green initiatives, GM is working to promote sustainability with perhaps its latest project being enablement of recharging from renewable energy.

On Monday, OnStar Communications contacted us and announced Volt owners “may soon be able to charge their vehicle using renewable energy.”

The actual time frame is “to be determined,” but the kinks are being worked out by OnStar and a company called PJM Interconnection with 17 Chevrolet Volts operated by Google’s Gfleet.


The way it generally works is OnStar-enabled technology receives a signal from PJM Interconnection showing the percentage of available renewable energy on the grid.

Data from this forecast is downloaded to the OnStar cloud, or Advanced Telematics Operating Management System (ATOMS). OnStar uses this signal to simultaneously manage the charging of many Volts and to match the renewable energy availability.

OnStar says a mobile app could be used to alert customers when renewable energy is available.

Google’s Gfleet is based at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and as many of you know, Google is highly involved in other green projects and automotive experiments that include cars that drive themselves.

At the same time, Google is naturally willing to collaborate with real human drivers, as the species does not yet seem ready to go extinct.

This week, the OnStar-enabled fleet’s technology will be demonstrated at the 2012 DistribuTECH Conference and Exhibition in San Antonio.

The public demo fits with an announcement by Nick Pudar, OnStar vice president of planning and business development, who said it is nearly ready for prime time.

“This demonstration shows that in the near future customers will have a real signal of demand for renewable energy,” said Pudar. “As customers configure their Volts to favor renewable energy for their charging cycle, this real demand signal will influence utilities to tap into renewable sources.”

Note that Pudar says demand will prompt utilities to increase (now limited) renewable energy supply.

We asked Adam Dennison, an OnStar Communications representative who sent the info, “How hopeful are you that this will have a measurable or significant influence that it will push utilities to adopt more renewable energy sources?”

In response, he said “We think that as EVs continue to penetrate the marketplace that customers will drive a variety of demands throughout different industries. Certainly we believe that the energy industry will be one of these. Based on the level of interest a number of utilities have expressed in OnStar’s Smart Grid solutions, we are pretty confident that that they’ll be willing to look to more renewable energy sources.”

At present, peak hours for renewable energy generation from wind is generally between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. according to PJM data.

OnStar says it would therefore be possible for customers to use Smart Grid solutions to further reduce their carbon footprint and – as is already possible regardless of energy source – “save money by charging during these off-peak times.”

“Solutions like this one will ultimately lead to increased renewable energy generation and allow Chevrolet Volt owners to be a key part of that energy transformation,” said Pudar.

If the renewable energy service goes into production, customers interested in using it would need to sign up. Dennison did not say if it would cost extra or be made available with existing OnStar service.

Once signed up, OnStar would regulate customers’ charging using the renewable energy signal.

This video is not directly about the current project, but OnStar says it highlights an app it did for Google’s Gfleet of Volts.

OnStar says this renewable energy technology is the latest addition to its suite of Smart Grid solutions.

For your review, OnStar says it has developed other “intelligent energy management technology solutions,” including:

Demand response – This solution connects utilities to companies that have intelligent energy management products. These companies can use OnStar to manage energy use for Volt customers who opt in for the service. This future service allows the customer to save money on energy costs while enabling more efficient use of the electric grid.
Time-of-Use (TOU) rates – OnStar can receive dynamic TOU pricing from utilities and notify Volt owners of the rate plan offers via email. Owners will be able to use OnStar to load the rate plans directly into their vehicle and access them to schedule charging during lower-rate periods.
Charging data – OnStar also sends and receives EV data that helps utility providers without having to interface with the vehicle’s electric vehicle supply equipment. This includes location-based EV data that identifies charging locations and determines potential load scenarios.


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Jan 18

GM and Powermat Studying Wireless Recharging of the Chevy Volt


Recently, GM announced a small investment in a company called Powermat.  That company makes wireless device charging systems.  Their current product allow users to place a receiver in the charge port of their device (cell phone, iPad, etc) and plug in the mat.  If the device is rested on the mat, it is wirelessly charged.

The first automotive application expected to result from this partnership is an option for the 2012 Chevy Volt that will become available next year.  It will be a wireless charging mat in the center of the console that drivers can rest their cellphones on while driving to have them wirelessly recharge.

The technology works through the use of induced magnetic fields:

Powermat uses magnetic induction to transfer energy.   Specifically, energy is transferred from a transmitter (which will be embedded in vehicle) to a receiver (which is connected to or embedded in the device) through a shared magnetic field.   Communication between the Mat (transmitter) and the Receiver (personal device) allows the mat to deliver an exact amount of power for the proper length of time so that the transfer of power is safe and efficient and no energy is ever wasted.  When a device reaches full charge, power is shut off to that device. This not only saves energy, but it also prevents overcharging of the device’s battery, which can shorten battery life.

This story begs the question as to whether this option could this be all the relationship is about?  After all, GM Ventures is a VC unit that invests in small companies that may have big automotive futures.

Over the years there has often been talk and theoretical discussions about wirelessly charging not only small devices, but whole electric cars themselves.

The concept would be to have a large wireless mat in one’s garage, simply park on top of it, and the battery will recharge automatically.

Powermat spokesperson Scott Eisenstein admits his company is looking at how to charge large electric car batteries.  “Yes, we are certainly looking into that,” he said.

Also according to Volt vehicle line executive Tony Posawazt, so is GM. “We are studying many exciting new technologies for the future, said Posawatz.  “This includes wireless, hands-free inductive charging of the high voltage battery.”



Jun 20

Nikola Motor Bags $2.3 Billion in Pre-orders For Electrified Semi Truck


We’ll have a follow-up on this …

By Larry E. Hall


Perhaps there’s some magic when applying famous electrical engineer Nikola Tesla’s name to an electrified vehicle.

Salt Lake City-based startup, Nikola Motor, said in a press release it received 7,000 pre-orders last month for its Class 8 electric truck.

That translates to $10.5 million in reservation funds, and $2.3 billion in sales if all of the reservations go through.

Called “Nikola One,” the company says its electrified truck, which features a natural gas turbine range extender engine, is 10 to 15 years ahead of any other truck manufacturer in fuel efficiencies and emissions.

“We are the only OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to have a near zero emission truck and still outperform diesel trucks running at 80,000 pounds,” said Trevor Milton, founder and CEO.

To back up the company’s claims, on paper, the specifications are impressive.

The futuristic big-rig features a 2,000 horsepower turbine engine that sends power to a 320-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

The truck’s battery never requires recharging because the turbine will charge it as the vehicle drives.

Six electric motors, one on each wheel, propel the semi.

The tractor features 3,700 pounds-feet of torque, and a range of 1,200 miles with a 150-gallon natural gas tank.

In addition to natural gas, the turbine engine can be configured to run on diesel or gasoline fuel.

SEE ALSO: Wrightspeed Combines Gas Turbine And Batteries For Big Fuel Savings

Beyond the powertrains’s technology, the Nikola One offers the trucking industry’s first-ever independent suspension, along with torque vectoring for better ride and handling.

The truck will retail for $375,000, which is nearly double the price for a standard diesel semi-trailer. A leasing program costs $4,000 to $5,000 per month, depending on which truck configuration and options.

Nikola Motor is offering the first 5,000 customers who put down $1,500 to reserve a truck 100,000 gallons of free natural gas.

The free fuel offsets the monthly lease payments.

The above photo is a 3-D rendering, but a working prototype of the semi-truck will be revealed in Salt Lake City on December 2, 2016.

In order to make the prototype a reality, Nikola Motor will need a ton of money. The company says that it has completed a seed round of investing, and it is working on a series A round worth $300 million to be completed by December.

Hopefully, the company can meet production schedules, unlike that other electric vehicle maker that also uses Nicola Tesla’s name.

Nikola Motor Company

This article appears also at


Feb 09

Chevy Dealer Says Sales Charged by Volts


By Tim Healey


The Chevrolet Volt is doing wonders for one particular Canadian Chevrolet dealership.

Bourgeois Chevrolet in Rawdon, Quebec specializes in electric vehicles, which is one reason that dealer principal Samuel Jeanson stocks as many new and used Volts on the lot as he can, even though they take longer to sell than conventional gas-powered cars.

Bourgeois Chevrolet sold almost 300 electric vehicles in 2015, with nearly 200 of them being new. Jeanson tells Automotive News that he figures the profit per vehicle is about the same as it for conventional gas-powered cars. Already, the dealership has pre-sold 43 2017 Volts and 33 Bolts, which haven’t gone on sale yet.

Jeanson sells high numbers of electric (or in the case of the Volt, extended-range electric) vehicles despite being in a small town located about 50 miles from the nearest big city (Montreal). He does this because he does business a bit differently than most dealers.

Dealerships are generally reluctant to stock too many EVs because of the higher cost of having them lounging on the lot. In addition, salespeople who work on commission might not want to spend more time presenting the features of an EV to customers – customers who have lots of questions when it comes to EVs, which in turn makes the process take longer. So Jeanson pays his salespeople a salary instead, to keep them from losing out on income while they work a deal involving an EV.

Salespeople also help walk consumers through the math involved in the cost of ownership of an EV – such as comparing the cost of the electricity needed for recharging versus the cost of gas. Sales staff help customers determine if it’s cheaper for them to commute every day with an electric vehicle or a conventional gas-powered vehicle.

There are several other key sales initiatives that Bourgeois uses – the central being that customers can take the vehicles home for extended test drives to see if they can/want to live with a Volt over the long term. Furthermore, many staffers own EVs, but all staffers are trained to become electric vehicle experts.

This business model could provide an example going forward for other dealerships that are looking to sell more EVs.

This article appears also at


Jan 07

GM reveals 2017 Chevy Bolt


By Jeff N


Today General Motors introduced its much-anticipated 2017 Chevrolet Bolt at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

There, in a keynote address by Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, the 200-plus-mile range EV was presented as the first in a new era of cheaper longer-range electric cars.


“Lots of companies are talking about building electric vehicles,” said Barra, “but the Chevrolet Bolt EV actually delivers on the promise of long range at an affordable price.”

GM has said the production will begin before the end of this year at a suggested price of about $37,500 before available federal tax credits and other incentives as applicable.

Barra did not specify how much more than 200 miles the driving range would be, and this is expected to be revealed later.

The car’s in-floor battery, she said, can be charged to 80-percent capacity within as quick as 60 minutes.


Also not specified are battery capacity or the Bolt’s estimated EPA electrical efficiency rating. Additional specifications may be disclosed later this month at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. The sales strategy for the Bolt is likely to target local commuting or regional driving.

The Bolt was first introduced as a surprise concept car just a year ago at NAIAS. When hints emerged that it might be approved for production many observers initially assumed it would be a 2018 model year that would not arrive for at least two years. Others doubted it could achieve its price target or thought that the targeted 200-mile range would be under perfect conditions rather than a more conservative EPA window sticker estimate.

SEE ALSO: GM Shows Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept In Detroit

Cars are usually developed with parts from a broad array of suppliers but GM struck an unusual deal to source many of the Bolt’s primary components from subsidiaries of the car’s battery pack supplier, the LG conglomerate of South Korea. This it did in return for an agreement to drive down battery cell costs.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

GM disclosed last year that it is paying LG only $145 per kilowatt-hour with prices expected to drop to $100 by 2022. This cost savings is critical, and is substantially less than several hundred dollars per kwh such cells would have cost just a few years ago.

With the Bolt’s likely 50-60 kWh pack, the cost of the cells alone is probably close to $8,000 which should help the car toward being profitable at a price close to half of a 70-kwh Tesla Model S large luxury performance car with similar range.

The Bolt’s battery pack is hidden under the floor of the car so it does not intrude on interior space, unlike the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.


Recharging an empty battery can be done overnight at 240 volts (likely at 6.6 kw AC) at home, work, or local shopping areas. It can also charge faster at a DC charger. Existing DC chargers support a peak rate of anywhere from 25 to 50 kw. GM did not disclose the Bolt’s peak DC charging rate. It can presumably also be charged slowly using an ordinary 120-volt outlet for customers who usually drive shorter distances. A overnight 120-volt charge could add up to 40-50 miles of range, for example.


The partnership with LG also brings that company’s expertise with state-of-the-art consumer electronics. LCD displays are used for both the driver and a 10.2 inch center infotainment console. The center display supports phone integration using either ApplePlay or Android Auto. Previously paired Bluetooth phones are detected when they are near the car so that phone calls can be quickly transferred to the car’s speaker system after entering the vehicle.


The Bolt’s rear camera can feed live video to a display built into the rear view mirror allowing the driver to see a wider viewing angle behind the car than with a conventional mirror. Another camera system provides a “surround vision” providing a “bird’s eye view” during low speed driving and parking. The navigation system has been modified to suggest driving routes that improve EV range and known charging stations can be listed on the screen. In addition, various configuration settings are tied to the driver identity rather than having to be reset manually if the car is shared with other members of a family.

The Bolt body underpinnings are believed to be uniquely modified for its flat battery pack based on a version of a common suspension platform shared with the similarly sized Chevrolet Trax, which the EPA classifies as a small SUV. The higher ceiling height and relatively ample rear leg room in common between the Trax and Bolt may appeal to some customers who find the Volt too cramped. The rear storage is tall but relatively shallow and provides 16.9 square feet of space.


It isn’t clear how many Bolts can be manufactured during the first full year of sales. Car makers have to estimate parts orders in advance and there may be a limited initial supply of the new high energy density battery cells, for example.

The Bolt will be built at GM’s Orion Assembly plant in Michigan.

This article appears also at


Oct 29

Volt, Leaf and PEV charging Realities studied by Idaho National Lab



Recently, the largest plug-in electrified vehicle infrastructure demonstration in the world uncovered many findings, including that the Chevy Volt traveled only 6-percent fewer all-electric miles per year than the Nissan Leaf despite having less than half the EV range.

Before we get to that, we’ll brief a few highlights to give a greater grasp of the context of the study, and another central takeaway was charging stations need not be as ubiquitous as gas stations.

Is this common sense? Maybe if you are already attuned to living with a plug-in electrified car like the 8,700 vehicles studied for a period of three years consisting of Leafs, Volts and Smart EDs.

Initiated in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Energy and run by the Idaho National Lab, the counterpoint key finding about a new kind of automotive paradigm was the most important places to charge are home, workplace, and public “hot spots” that serve multiple venues.

Anyone who thinks public “charging stations” must be equal in number and placement to public gas stations is not on board with the actual needs of the new way of things, says the federal study.

Charge Point America project, Chrysler Ram PEV Demonstration, General Motors Volt Demonstration, South Coast Air Quality Management District/Via Motors PHEV Demonstration, and The EV Project – installed roughly 17,000 charging stations and deployed approximately 8,700 PEVs across the U.S.

Charge Point America project, Chrysler Ram PEV Demonstration, General Motors Volt Demonstration, South Coast Air Quality Management District/Via Motors PHEV Demonstration, and The EV Project – installed roughly 17,000 charging stations and deployed approximately 8,700 PEVs across the U.S.

Serving EVs the most like a gas station does for an internal combustion engine (ICE) car, DC level-3 quick charging used with the Leafs was also advantageous, and these findings answered early questions about how to transition to electrified cars.

“A commonly cited barrier to adoption is the lack of public places for PEV drivers to plug in their vehicles,” says a document highlighting the study. “To reduce this barrier, critical questions must first be answered: How many and what kind of charging stations are needed? Where and how often do PEV drivers charge? How many electric vehicle miles are traveled and what level of petroleum reduction can be achieved?

Data was collected by INL from a variety of sources in five separate projects. Its research partners agreed to participate in what was described as a real-life laboratory. These were the Blink Network, ChargePoint, General Motors, OnStar, Nissan North America and Car2Go.

In all, 130 million driving miles were evaluated and six million charge events were evaluated.

Home charging could be AC level 1 (ordinary wall current), or level 2 (240-volt, like a dryer would use). The study accounted for 17,000 AC level 2 and DC level 3 charge points.

About half of all project participants who’d volunteered to let their charge events be monitored charged from home. Leaf and Volt drivers, the study found did 85.5 percent of their charging at home.

Source: ChargePoint.

Source: ChargePoint.

Among those who charged away from home, the vast majority favored three or fewer away-from-home charging locations.

This state of affairs contrasts widely from gas stations on every corner, and an obvious reason is implicit for why this is: charging takes a lot longer. Even level 3 charging at 480 volts can take up to half an hour or so, and level 1 or 2 charging take several to many hours.

So to put a charger where the car will not be parked for other reasons – such as to go shopping or to work – would make less sense than a gas station where a 3-minute fill-up is possible. PEV owners simply are not prepared to stand around that long and wait. (See what we meant by common sense – but maybe this is not always intuitively obvious).

As for those times when a public charger might have been accessible, the study found behaviors compared to ICE drivers shifted here too.

“PEV drivers adjust their charging habits based on conditions, such as fees and rules for use,” said a study fact sheet. “Drivers were less likely to plug in at work if they had to pay to charge or if they were required to move their vehicle after charging.”

On the other hand, more often than not people were polite and got along when they did need to use public chargers installed at their place of work.

“PEV drivers charging at work were generally courteous and worked together,” said the study. “They used social media to communicate, moved their vehicles to allow others to charge, and even plugged in neighboring cars after they finished charging.”

And, when strategically placed public level 2 charging was accessible – such as near shopping venues, or the like – these “saw very high usage,” or about 7-11 charges per day.
Nonetheless, the cars that took advantage of this were the minority.

“Overall, 20 percent of vehicles studied were responsible for 75 percent of the away-from-home charging,” said the findings.

Volt vs. Leaf

Among extended-range electric Volt and all-electric Leaf drivers, the study found the Volts traveled only 6-percent fewer electric miles than Leaf drivers despite having significantly less electric range per charge.

Volt e-range varies from 35-0 miles; Leaf range varies from 73-84, by EPA reckoning.

Volt e-range varies from 35-0 miles; Leaf range varies from 73-84, by EPA reckoning.

How did the Volts do this? For one, because they have gas back-up, the drivers had no fear of running right up to the end of the electric range, unlike Leaf owners which must stay within a comfort zone lest they run out completely far from a charger. The Volt drivers also recharged more intraday – a trick that can serve any plug-in hybrid to increase effective daily range.

Specifically, INL found Volt drivers charged on average 1.5 times per day and Leafs charged 1.1 times per day. Leafs also tended to recharge earlier as they had no gas backup like the Volts.

“Volt drivers averaged slightly more miles traveled annually than the 2013 national average, while Leafs studied were driven noticeable less,” said the study adding a bit that could not have been said if it had been written by Chevrolet: “Volt drivers tended to fully deplete their batteries, whereas Leaf drivers favored recharging with significant charge left in their batteries. This is an expected difference between pure electric vehicles like the Leaf and range-extended electric vehicles like the Volt.”

“Volt drivers averaged slightly more miles traveled annually than the 2013 national average, while Leafs studied were driven noticeable less,” said the study adding a bit that could not have been said if it had been written by Chevrolet: “Volt drivers tended to fully deplete their batteries, whereas Leaf drivers favored recharging with significant charge left in their batteries. This is an expected difference between pure electric vehicles like the Leaf and range-extended electric vehicles like the Volt.”

This validation for the “extended-range EV” concept Volt fans love to bandy about sounds like it could have been written by GM’s marketing department, but it was not. This was the finding of researchers working for a federally funded project.

The number of Volts in the study were however fewer – about 1,800 versus 4,000 Leafs, but the Volt drivers proved more diligent in maximizing eVMT (electric vehicle miles traveled).

Average monthly vehicle miles traveled varied seasonally but was otherwise consistent over time.

Average monthly vehicle miles traveled varied seasonally but was otherwise consistent over time.

That was for generation one – and now the just-being launched 2016 Volt has 53-miles range instead of 35-40 for gen one. True also, Nissan will have 107 miles for 2016 and maybe nearly double that for gen-two when launched either 2018 or maybe 2017.

Leaf and Volt drivers performed most  of their charging at home.

Leaf and Volt drivers performed most
of their charging at home.

As described in the opening section, the main charge point for Volt and Leaf drivers was at home overnight. The INL researchers noted PEVs have an advantage over internal combustion cars in that – while the ICE can fast fill – it does not have the advantage of fueling at home.

About half of Volt drivers tended to use level 1 charging for its smaller 16.0-16.5 kwh battery, and the other half used level 2 at home.

Leaf drivers, while level 1 compatible and equipped with a level 1 cord included with the car like the Volt gets as well, tended to charge with level 2. All Leafs in the program were set up with level 3 compatibility via CHAdeMO connectors. All had level 2 at their homes. Away from home, 8-percent of charge events used level 3, and the rest was a mix of level 1 or level 2.

92% of Volt drivers and 77% of Leaf drivers did most (at least 80%) of their away-from-home charging at three or fewer locations." width="668" height="521" class="size-full wp-image-360962" /> 92% of Volt drivers and 77% of Leaf drivers did most (at least 80%) of their away-from-home charging at three or fewer locations.

92% of Volt drivers and 77% of Leaf drivers did most (at least 80%) of their away-from-home charging at three or fewer locations.” width=”668″ height=”521″ class=”size-full wp-image-360962″ /> 92% of Volt drivers and 77% of Leaf drivers did most (at least 80%) of their away-from-home charging at three or fewer locations.

The study, linked here, goes on to show numerous comparisons between home, workplace and other public charging patterns.

The bottom line is the plug-in lifestyle is possible with some adaptations over ICE ownership, and need not be a hardship. While true, Nissan did recently divulge it loses 25 percent of its Leaf buyers who are not prepared to accept range, charge time, and lack of accessible infrastructure in their daily orbit.

If we were to counterpoint this for the Volt, objections for it include its limited back-seat space. GM has not said it loses a lot of Volt drivers though, and they remain overwhelmingly loyal, though no doubt some have other criticisms beside.

This is not to ultimately compare the two in any comprehensive manner, as that would be its own lengthy article.

What the study found was people do learn to live within limits, even with first-generation PEVs.

And now the second-generation cars are either coming or due in the next year or two with greater capabilities.

The first 200-mile range electric car priced in the mid $30,000 range before subsidies is to be the 2017 Chevy Bolt. It’s expected to be followed by the second-generation Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model 3, and whatever other surprise we learn of next.

How usage patterns will shift for “mainstream-priced” EVs with far more range than a 73-84-mile gen-one Leaf remains to be seen.


The existing advantages for the Volt with gas backup appear poised to carry forward with greater effect due to longer e-range. For its part, GM said OnStar data prove 80 percent of gen-one cars drove gas free on a daily basis, and now 90-percent might do that with the longer range Volt just released.

This may be so, but plug-in watchers are also wondering if EVs, including the long-range sibling Bolt may in themselves help with range anxiety the Volt for now answers with gas-engine backup.

It and others still will have limits too, however, and “200” miles would mean less in actual use – as discovered by first Leaf drivers – because no one can run them to zero, and less-than-tame driving will also sap range from ideal window sticker values.

Undoubtedly more discoveries are in store.

Brief fact sheet.

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